Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, 1 Corinthians 16

Read Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, and 1 Corinthians 16 today. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27) which maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but probably not an example critics would bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12).

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not her (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be.

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof.

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is putrid enough that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird. No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, Galatians 1

Read Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, and Galatians 1 today. This devotional is about Numbers 7.

Numbers 7:2 says that the leaders of each tribe of Israel made offerings to the Lord to be used by the Levities and priest in their Tabernacle ministry. Those offerings were, according to verse 3: “…six covered carts and twelve oxen—an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle.”

The oxen in this gift were not given to be slaughtered for sacrifices; they were to pull the carts that were also part of this gift. This kind of utilitarian offering was not commanded by God so Moses might have been uncertain if it was even appropriate to receive them as offerings. God spoke up, however, in verses 4-5: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the tent of meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires.’”

Te oxen and carts were useful and, therefore, a legitimate gift to the Lord for his work. Not every Levite needed them which is why the Lord said, “Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires” (v. 5). Nevertheless, they were helpful to some of the Levites and, therefore, they were a thoughtful gift for the Lord’s work.

This is a reminder that people who serve the Lord in full-time ministry—pastors, church-planters, foreign missionaries, college and seminary professors, and others—need tools. Tools are an essential part of doing our work well for the Lord. I was away from my office when I wrote this devotional, but I was able to write it on a Macbook that our church purchased for me. I’m grateful that we have money in our budget for good tools; otherwise, the only productive time I would have would be time spent in my office.

I am involved in a few ministries outside of our church. My role is small and usually consists of me just giving advice. One of these ministries is frugal and spends money carefully and wisely. In terms of raw dollars, not a lot is spent of staff salaries or ministry expenses but in terms of percentages, a fair amount goes to those things. It would be an error, however, to think that the money spent on salaries and expenses is wasted. The people who receive pay offer valuable advice, guidance, leadership, and teaching. Without them, there would be no ministry, so paying them for their work and providing them with the tools they need is money well spent for God’s kingdom, even if it is not directly spent on the ministry’s core work. It is something to keep in mind when you choose which ministries to support and how that support is spent.

The men in this passage gave something they made to God’s work. As a ministry leader, I would honestly rather people gave money to the church so that we can decide whether to buy a certain kind of tool or what kind of tool we think will be most useful. But occasionally people buy stuff and donate it to the church. We’ve had people donate computers, projectors, couches and other kinds of furniture, and many other kinds of tools or materials that I can’t think of at the moment. Gifts like these–especially if they are things we actually need and will use (which is not always the case with donated stuff)–are a blessing to God’s work.

If you tithe faithfully to this church, thank you! Your obedience and generosity makes our ministries possible. If you are tithing but also have skills you can use here or see needs for physical things that you’d like to donate to the church, let this passage encourage you to contribute to God’s work in those ways.

Genesis 45, Job 11, Hebrews 3

Read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Hebrews 3.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still living with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him.

First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery. At that point, they felt the battle was over and they had won decisively and permanently. So much for those dreams Joseph had….

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. The dreams Joseph had as a boy have come true and he now exercised power that God had prophesied he would have.

How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

I think that most of us would want some kind of revenge. Many would at least be tempted to extract some rough justice. More than a few people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would eagerly use that power to punish the brothers severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised Joseph’s ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. God had promised to bless Abraham’s descendants. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

This realization, plus the evidence that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as God had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you.

But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?

Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, Psalm 85

Today we’re reading Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, Psalm 85.

This devotional is about Proverbs 13:7: “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.”

Two of the best books I’ve ever read about personal finance were written by the late Thomas Stanley. They are The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind. Stanley was a research professor who studied millionaires in America. He found that most millionaires did not come from wealthy families. Instead, they acquired wealth by owning their own business or businesses and being frugal with the money they made. They were far more likely to drive Ford F-150s than any make or model of sports car or luxury car.

In one of the books (I think it was The Millionaire Next Door) Stanley quoted a millionaire he had interviewed as part of his research. This man was a Texan and had a phrase to describe people who drove expensive cars and wore expensive clothes. That phrase was, “Big hat; no cattle.” The image is of a man who thinks he’s a cowboy because he wears a big cowboy hat but he’s not a cowboy because he’s got no cattle. A “big hat; no cattle” person, then, spends like he’s wealthy but, in part because he spends so much, he has very little actual wealth.

Thousands of years before “Big hat; no cattle,” was first spoken, Solomon observed the same truth. Here in Proverbs 13:7, he warns us to beware of appearances when it comes to wealth. On one hand, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing.” This is able to project the appearance of wealth by spending money on expensive items. While he or she may have excellent taste in fashion, they have little to nothing in actual assets because they don’t make enough money to both save money and buy expensive luxury brands. Car leases with low monthly payments and easily available credit cards make the appearance of wealth easier than ever. But the fact that someone drives a BMW and wears Gucci shoes tells you nothing about that person’s actual level of wealth.

On the other side, Proverbs 13:7 says, “another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” This is the person who spends far below what he or she earns. People in this category may have a high income or an average to low income but they spend as little of it on consumer items as possible. Instead of spending everything they earn, they put the money in savings. Once they have enough saved, they look to buy assets that build wealth instead of material objects that lose wealth. Which is better–to buy a $1000 iPhone or $1000 in Apple stock? The Apple stock is not tangible or visible. It doesn’t impress your friends or new acquaintances. But, if it is a good investment (and this is not investment advice, by the way), that $1000 can grow and keep increasing in value long after the iPhone has been recycled.

People in our world make snap judgments about someone’s wealth based on the cost of what they own but, the truth is that what someone owns has nothing to do with how wealthy they are. In fact, the more they spend money, the less likely they are to be building wealth. Those who become wealthy live frugal lives, save money, and invest it well.

This passage does not commend us to be greedy; it encourages us to be wise about what we do with the money that God enables us to earn. How are your finances? Are you saving and trying to build wealth as a good manager or do you spend every dollar that comes your way? Which of the two types of people described in Proverbs 13:7 would God want you to be? How can you get there?


Here’s an article from Dr. Stanley’s blog where he wrote briefly about all of this: http://www.thomasjstanley.com/2014/05/america-where-millionaires-are-self-made/

Genesis 45, Job 11, Psalm 43

Today, read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Psalm 43.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still at home with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him. First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery.

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. Joseph here had the very power that God had prophesied he would have. How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

Most people would be tempted to extract some rough justice for how his brothers treated him. Many people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would use that power to punish severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised his ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and that he would bless them. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This realization, plus the realization that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as he had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you. But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.