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Through the Bible, May 15

Reading: Isaiah 40; 42:1-17; 44:1-11

Summary: Remember, the second half of Isaiah (40-66) looks primarily to a future chain of events when after Judah is taken into Babylonian captivity, they return to their homeland.  But national faith has taken a blow.  What implication does the fact that the nation had been overthrown by a foreign power have on their God?  Actually, nothing.  That’s not exactly true as those events were not a result of God’s weakness, but rather His sovereignty. He rules even over the Babylonians and used them as an instrument in His hand.

Still, an important message from Isaiah is that Jehovah alone is God.

Devotional Thought:

God is Impressive

Little children are sometimes taught to sing: “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty; there’s nothing my God cannot do.”

No doubt we should be duly impressed with how big and strong God is.  No power or force or influence can overcome Him.  His presence cannot be contained by space or even time.  What would threaten or challenge me fades with a whimper when seen alongside God.  How reassuring is God’s greatness.

At times, though, it’s not power and size that I need.  As a child, I reveled in my big, strong father, but my mother’s tender arms frequently met my greatest need.

Too, God is mighty to rescue and protect and defend and conquer.  Those are most appropriate in their time.  But it’s not every time.  He is equally capable to caress and to soothe and console and comfort and to cheer.  That also is most appropriate in its time.

In Isaiah 40 two statements of God’s might and magnitude serve as bookends to a beautiful depiction of His tender care.  “Behold, the Lord God comes with might and his arm rules for him…Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weight the mountains in scales and hills in a balance” (Isa. 40:10, 12).  Between them, is this: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (v. 11).

As impressive as His might is His tender care.

Through the Bible, April 21

Reading: No Scheduled Reading

Thoughts and Reflections: This is the catch up for the third week of April (15-21).  No readings are planned, but below are some points to ponder based on this week’s readings.

  1. The Bible makes no bones about the extent of Solomon’s wisdom: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30). That is remarkable itself, but so is the fact that people were drawn to this man for his wisdom.  He was world-renown.  “And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34).

People were drawn to, desired, and appreciated wisdom.  Who today is renown for their wisdom?  The fact is, we’re just not that interested in it.

“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” (Prov. 16:16)

  1. The book of Proverbs is actually a collection of collections of Proverbs. Notice these verses:

“The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (Prov. 1:1)

“The proverbs of Solomon” (Prov. 10:1).

“These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” (Prov. 25:1).

“The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.” (Prov. 30:1)

“The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:” (Prov. 31:1).

  1. We sometimes think we know what God is up to; we’ve got figured out His actions and His deeds. Probably not.  “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Ecc. 11:5).

Devotional Thought:

I’m Not Alone

A woman still in the throes of grief in the weeks following her husband’s untimely death, commented on the value of a book on grieving she has been reading, “It let me know that I’m not going crazy.”

It is so good to know that we’re not alone, that we’re not isolated in our hurts and pains and sorrows, that the emotional turmoil and even confusion we feel is a shared experience.

This isn’t exclusive to grieving, but for any trouble we may face.  And that’s where one of the great values of the Psalms lies. So many of the Psalms allow the believer to know that their questions, uncertainty, anger, weariness, angst, or whatever, have been felt before and have been felt by others.  It is not a sign of failed faith or spiritual bankruptcy.

The misguided notion that in order for us to come to God and be received by Him we can only approach Him with all our “ducks in a row,” a high level of confidence and assurance, and an already sanitized and well ordered life is wrong.  It’s not emotionally or spiritually healthy.  The Psalms introduce to us people unsure and hurt and angry and searching.

The inscription of Psalm 102 says this well, “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.”

It matters not what I’m feeling or what I’m experiencing, it’s not new to God.  He’s heard it before and He’s seen it before.  It will help me to work through whatever it is, if He now hears it from me.

Through the Bible, April 17

Reading: 1 Kings 9-11

Summary: It’s interesting that God appeared to Solomon a second time following the construction of the temple to encourage the king to faithfulness (1 Kings 9:1-9).  It almost serves as a precursor to his fall under the influence of his many foreign wives.  The description of this turn of events (1 Kings 11:4) should be read alongside Deuteronomy 17:17.  Warnings long preceded Solomon’s very regrettable course of action.

Also, a notable visit paid to Solomon by a foreign dignitary (1 Kings 10) is used by Jesus in his preaching to illustrate the kind of search and inquiry for wisdom and truth that condemns many religious persons then and now (Matt. 12:42).

Devotional Thought:

A Foolish Purveyor of Wisdom

I can remember my parents making the observation during the disciplinary process, “You know better than that!”

They were right.  And I’m not the only one for whom this phenomenon is true.

That has led to another observation: people sometimes know better than they do.  While ignorance is rarely ever a favorable condition, knowledge is not a sufficient antidote for wrong behavior.

Nowhere is this fact any more evident than in the case of Solomon, the wisest man in the world.

Solomon knew so much.  He knew that fearing God is the foundation of all wisdom and man’s purpose for existence (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Ecc. 12:13).  He knew that a wife (not to mention 700 wives; 1 Kings 11:3) could pose a great challenge (see Prov. 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24).  He knew that life is filled with many pitfalls, hazards, and temptations that required much discernment, courage, and faith.

And, on top of all he knew, he also had been explicitly reminded of the rewards and blessings of faithfulness to God and the dire consequences of failing to do so (1 Kings 9:4-9).

Still, incredibly, Solomon forsook God (1 Kings 11:4-8).

Obviously, we may allow influences into our lives that supersede our knowledge, that surpass our devotion to God, and eclipse all warnings and encouragements.

To succeed where the wisest man failed does not require greater knowledge or understanding, it does not mean that we must be better informed, warned or encouraged than he. For all that Solomon knew, he did not do.

Really, it all comes down to doing what we already know; and that’s why Jesus put ultimate emphasis on actually doing His will (Matt. 7:21; Mark 3:35; Luke 6:46).

Through the Bible, March 31

Reading: Psalms 34, 56, 57, 63, 142

Summary: We’ll return again today to Psalms that are ascribed to the time of David’s life prior to his reign as king (see the March 30 reading introduction). These Psalms relate to his experiences among the Philistines as well as his hiding in caves and the wilderness as he eluded King Saul.

Devotional Thought:

What Comes Out of Your Mouth

The mouth is the bucket that brings up what is in the well of our hearts.  (I can’t take credit for that thought, but I don’t know to whom credit is due.) A very good indicator of the genuine interest and concern and focus of our lives is what we talk about.

Think about that in terms of your every day speech and your relationship with God.  Are the names of God and Jesus on your lips daily?  Is praise of Him and the telling of His great love for us reserved only for certain places and times and in certain company?

Listen to the opening lines of Psalm 34:

I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul makes its boast in the LORD;

let the humble hear and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

and let us exalt his name together!

(Psalm 34:1-3)

This certainly is behind the otherwise curious statement God made to Joshua when commissioning him as Moses’ successor to lead Israel into Canaan.  He charged him to keep all the Law which Moses had given, not to turn from it to the right or the left, to meditate on it day and night, and that it “shall not depart from your mouth” (Josh.1:7-8).

What we love we think about, and what we think about we talk about.

How does God fit in that formula for you?

March 29-31, Supplemental Readings

Extra Days: Supplemental Readings

March 29-31

            Since this month contains days beyond 28, as did January, we will use these last three days of the month for supplementary readings.  As explained then, these are further readings based on ideas or concepts introduced during the regular reading schedule of the month.  These are intended to provide further insight and illustrate how the Bible is a connected, unified whole–not just a loose collection of spiritual writings.

Through the Bible, March 25

Reading: 1 Samuel 24-25

Summary: David finds himself with an opportunity to end this horrible life on the run when Saul accidentally provides an easy chance for David to kill him.  Few people would ever do as David did.  He refused to kill the one who so desperately wanted to kill him.  No matter what, Saul was still God’s anointed king.

After a very brief (almost unfairly so) announcement of Samuel’s death, the incident of Nabal and Abigail is related.  This event gives some insight into David’s life on the run.

Devotional Thought:

Who Will Be Remembered?

“After I’m dead I’d rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one” (Cato).

First Samuel chapter 25 opens with the matter of fact statement, “Now Samuel died.”  Another sentence follows, but that’s it.

Taking notice of Samuel’s death in understated fashion is typical for the Bible: two sentences and twenty words total (in the ESV).  That’s barely an acknowledgment and seems hardly fitting for such a spiritual giant and courageous leader of God’s people.  Does he not deserve more than that?

Compare that to David’s son Absalom.  Hardly a more conniving, scheming, disrespectful, and self-absorbed person can be found in Scripture.  Yes, when he died, this rebel’s body was thrown into a pit and covered with stones (2 Sam. 18:17), but previously Absalom had taken measures toward preserving his posterity:  “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley…and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day” (2 Sam. 18:18).

Absalom had a monument; Samuel did not.

Or did they?

Really, Samuel’s monument is his own life.  His service, faithfulness, commitment, and love for God and His people are unequalled.

To this very day, we are blessed by knowing about Samuel and are encouraged to a deeper and stronger relationship with God by his life.  That is Samuel’s monument.

Where’s Absalom’s?

Through the Bible, March 7

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: Today is the scheduled “Catch Up” day for the first week of March (1-7), and so no reading is assigned for today.  Below, though, are some thoughts to consider in light of this past week’s reading.

  1. An issue that rises frequently in a study of the conquest of Canaan is imperialism–that is, one people taking and occupying land that belongs to another people. The conquest was not simply an act of aggression on the part of Israel, rather they become God’s instrument of punishment against these nations for their great wickedness.  See Genesis 15:16, Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 9:4-6.  As a matter of fact, this is one reason that over 400 years transpired from the time the land was promised until it was occupied.  Any earlier conquest and it would have been premature judgment.
  2. Sometimes Scripture tells us just enough to cause us to want to know much more. Such is the case with the “commander of the army of the Lord” whom Joshua encounters (5:13-15).  Joshua bows down and worships him.  What is more, he tells Joshua to remove his sandals because where he stands is holy.  This has led many to conclude this is an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Possibly so.
  3. A well-known Negro spiritual is based on the events of Joshua 6. It is aptly titled, “Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho.” It speaks to the exceptional faith and leadership of Joshua.

“You may talk about your man o’ Gideon
You may brag about your man o’ Saul
There’s none like good ol’ Joshua
At de battle of Jericho”

The song also makes a wider and appropriate application.

“Yet bold and brave he stood
Salvation in his hand
Go blow them ram horns Joshua cried
‘Cause the devil can’t do you no harm”

And yes, the song very likely spoke strongly to the African American battle against slavery as they looked for those “walls come tumblin’ down.”

Devotional Thought:

Strength and Courage; Courage and Strength

Can you remember a time when you wished you were stronger? An opponent gained the upper hand due to superior strength or work remained undone as the stores of strength dwindled.

At other times strength wasn’t the issue, but courage.  Fear crept in and kept us from doing what we could have and should have done.

How apropos that when it fell to Joshua to lead Israel finally into the promised land that God charged him to be both strong and courageous.  And He didn’t do it just once, but three times (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18).

Joshua knew the people whom he was to lead.  God himself said they were an “obstinate people” (Ex. 32:9). He also knew they were about to embark on a mission unlike anything they had ever done.  For the past 40-plus years they had been traveling through the wilderness.  Yes, there had been the occasional battle to be fought, but now it was a campaign of conquest and occupation.  Not only was it a massive undertaking, it was all brand new.

What is more, their lives were to be led by the law given by Moses which was not be deviated from “to the right hand or to the left” (Josh. 1:7). It was time for courage and strength.

Considering the “present evil age” in which we live, the spiritual warfare in which we’re engaged, the influences and temptations that allure us at every turn, not to mention the ongoing struggle to deny self and carry our own cross, the seeming impossibility of keeping “oneself unstained from the world,” strength and courage are indeed the order of the day (see Gal. 1:4; Eph. 6:12; Matt. 16:24; Jas. 1:27).

Also remembering that He will be with us and never forsake us, and knowing that He is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” there is every reason to be strong and very courageous (see Josh. 1:9; Eph. 3:20).

Strength and courage are an unending need. Thank God He gives an unending supply.

Through the Bible, March 2

Reading: Joshua 5-8

Summary: Last Preparations, Jericho and Ai

It’s fitting that two events transpire once Israel has crossed Jordan into Canaan: the males are circumcised and the Passover is observed.  Both of these events are primary reminders of the Israelites’ identity, the God whom they serve, and His great feat of liberating them from Egypt.

The first two cities conquered provide valued lessons for these people at the outset of their conquest; Jericho in victory and Ai in defeat.

Devotional Thought:

Same Ol’, Same Ol’

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Can you imagine someone from the ancient near east–that is, biblical times–suddenly being transported into the present day?  The technological advancements, the fast-paced lifestyles, the radically different customs–it would all be mind-boggling.

At the same time, they would also see that some thing have not changed at all.  That’s because they never do and never will.

Take for instance man’s struggle with temptation and sin.  It is no different today than it has ever been since the beginning.

Look at the details of Achan’s sin at Jericho.  When he finally confessed his wrong he said “I saw…I coveted…I took” (Josh. 7:21).  Those are the essential details.  Not what he saw or what he did with it after he took it.  Those fundamental facts of how temptation and sin work remain unchanged with the passing of so many centuries.

Isn’t this exactly how James explains this process?  “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

This is just one evidence of the Bible’s divine origin. No, it may not be able to help you more effectively use your tablet device or help you shave two points off your golf game or give you tips on a better tax strategy.  What it can and does do, is teach every generation and every culture about God, His will, our sin, and how we may, through what God has done, be restored to a right relationship with Him.

Even an ancient story like Jericho, Achan, and Ai teaches me things I need to know to successfully live in a time and place and circumstances so very, very far removed.

Through the Bible, February 1

Read: Exodus 1-2

Summary: The Birth of Moses

God is well aware of the horrible conditions in which His people are living in Egypt.  Pharaoh’s efforts to quell the growing number of these detested foreigners included killing all the male babies.

Into this circumstance an exceptional baby is born to parents of most notable faith.  That God’s hand is with this child becomes quite apparent as one who by the king’s authority is to die, ends up nurtured and reared by that same king’s own daughter.  Coincidence?  No, providence.

Though all seems to be in order for Moses to take his place as deliverer, he instead is forced to flee for his life.  It appears that he has failed.

Devotional Thought:

Who Is At Work?

“Do not be too quick to claim to hold the key to the cabinet where God keeps his purposes” (A. McLaren).

That is wise counsel, but hard to follow.

Sometimes it seems so obvious what God is doing in our lives. Then, based on that perception, we take confident action.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out like we think it should and we’re left dazed and confused as to what happened and where God went.

Moses is a perfect example.  God was at work saving his life as an infant and placing him in the security of Pharaoh’s own palace to be raised with all the advantages that afforded. It would seem that God was putting him in a place from which to deliver His long-oppressed people.  Moses even took bold action in that direction.  It turns out there was much more to God’s plan, and Moses’ own place in it, than he could have imagined.

It would be prudent to remember that Satan is also alive and well and at work.  And, he is, above all else, a liar and able to appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).  Might it well be that he is able to make what he can do to appear as if it’s coming from God?

It’s worthy of consideration.

My Delight is the Lord, December 30

Principled Lives

December 30, Friday: God’s Story (1)

Scripture Reading: Acts 25:13-26:32

The Romans were a principled people when it came to their judiciary. As Festus explained, “it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him” (Acts 25:16). Had such noble principles of justice governed Paul’s trial, it would have turned out quite differently. The problem is that those principles must be exercised by people and sometimes people are less than noble; Festus and Felix for instance. So it is also with God’s word, it is true and right. The trouble comes when people fail to embrace what is true or practice what is right. As serious as we should be about identifying timeless principles and eternal truths, we must be no less so about living them.

Questions to Ponder:

  • How did Festus summarize Paul’s charges to Agrippa? (25:19)
  • Why do you think Paul resisted a change of venue back to Jerusalem? (25:20-21)
  • Of whom was Paul’s audience comprised? (25:23)
  • Why did Paul believe Agrippa was aware of what he said? (v. 26)