Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Reviews: Why Christmas? and Why Easter?


When given the chance to review Why Christmas? and Why Easter?, I jumped at the opportunity.  As the dad of a two year old son with a little girl on the way as well, I desire to be a good steward of the responsibility God has given me to train my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  I want to teach that that Christmas is about much more than Santa Claus and presents.  I want to teach them that Easter is about Jesus and His resurrection, not bunnies that lay eggs.

Barbara Reaoch has provided me with an excellent resource to do just that with Why Christmas? and Why Easter?  As I flipped through my copy of each book, I found myself impressed with the layout and design.  The illustrations are also well-done.  They very much add to each day's reading rather than distracting from it.

Each book is designed to be used in the four weeks leading up to their respective holidays.  Each day has a reading from the Bible, some additional thoughts related to that reading, questions for discussion, a memory verse for the week, and a song for the week.  Each of these different components will keep children engaged in family worship.

I appreciate that the "How to use this Devotional" page underlines the importance of actually reading the Bible rather than just the devotional material.  The devotional material is intended to supplement and support the Scripture reading rather than replace it.  In fact, understanding the devotional material requires that you read the Scripture passage for that day.

While my son is only two and does not completely understand everything I am saying when I read to him, I expect these two books will be a resource that I will use for many years to come.  The theology is solid.  The devotionals are written in a way that is easy for children to understand.  And they are intended to point our attention to Christ.  It is my judgment that both books do an excellent job of doing exactly that.

You can purchase Why Christmas? here and Why Easter? here.

I was given a copy of each book in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews program.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Book Review: Heaven, How I Got Here



Heaven, How I Got Here is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a while.  Colin Smith does an excellent job of helping the reader think through the events of Jesus' last day on earth from the perspective of the thief on the cross.  The book is a great idea, and is very well done.  I recommend it to anyone desiring to think through the events of the cross in a fresh way.

You might ask how it is possible to write an entire book from the perspective of someone that we know so little about.  That was my question when I first heard about the book.  The book begins with a short chapter imagining what the thief's life must have been like as a child growing up in a Jewish family under Roman occupation.  This helps set the stage for the rest of the book.

Each chapter is then identified by a time of day, beginning with breakfast and ending up in heaven with Jesus.  I found this approach to be really helpful in thinking through the events of Jesus' last day.  The thief's perspective is an interesting one that ought to be given adequate consideration.

One thing that I expected when I picked up this book is that it would be filled with a lot of conjecture.  Since we don't know a lot about the thief, I figured the author would have to make up a lot of stuff to write a book on his experiences that falls just short of 100 pages.  That is not the case at all.  Smith masterfully weaves what we do know together with some things that we can be almost certain about.  The book should not really be characterized as historical fiction.  It tells a real story in a very accurate way.

Finally, the thing I loved most about the book was the way it proclaims the gospel.  It is as if the thief on the cross were sharing the gospel with you from heaven as you read the book.  While he would not have understood all of the things he shares when still on the cross, the setting is not the cross but heaven.  He is writing from a fuller knowledge of the gospel.  The writer masterfully uses the entire New Testament to share the message of the gospel from the thief's perspective.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book.  I hope to make use of some of it in our Maundy Thursday service at church.  You can purchase the book here.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews Program.

Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 8


You can find the devotionals I wrote for week 8 of our 2015 Bible Reading Challenge below.  Email me to take the challenge.

February 16, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 9-10 and Matthew 27:24-44

Devotional:

One of the unfortunate things about reading through the Bible in a year is that the Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading for each day are not directly linked together.  But every now and then you come across a day when the two are very closely related.  Such is the case today.

We have been reading in Leviticus over the last few days.  Over that time we have seen the instructions that God gave concerning sacrifices and offerings.  If you are like me, you have been overwhelmed by it all.  The instructions God gave to His people were very thorough.  He didn't leave out any details.  It is intended to remind us that our God is a holy God.  He does not play around with sin.  He is holy, and He requires holiness from His people.

Then today we read a story about Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu.  The Bible tells us that they offered unauthorized or strange fire before the Lord.  This was done against God's commands.  Immediately, fire came out and consumed them.  They died as a result of their disobedience to God.

They thought sacrifices were something that could be taken lightly.  They certainly didn't think they would lose their lives over it.  God once again demonstrated His holiness.  He requires obedience from His people.  That is not partial obedience, but complete obedience to Him.

Now fast forward to Matthew 27.  We are reading about the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We are reminded of all the suffering He endured on our behalf.  We are reminded that He is in fact the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.

The Leviticus laws and story of Nadab and Abihu certainly demonstrate that God is serious about sin and holiness.  But the fact that God would have His own son murdered to pay for sin demonstrates even more clearly how serious God is about sin and holiness.  God requires holiness from us.  He does not settle for partial obedience; He requires complete obedience.

The comforting thing in all of this is not that we have been obedient to the level that God requires.  We most certainly have not.  Our hope is in Christ.  Our hope is in His righteous life.  Our hope is in His death in our place.  God can look at us and see righteousness because of Jesus.  God knows that we are not perfect.  That does not mean He accepts anything less than perfection.  He means that He has made a way for us to be perfect, through the shed blood of His own Son.

Prayer Focus: Give thanks to God today that you are not bound by the sacrificial laws of Leviticus.  Give thanks to God that He sent His only begotten Son to die as a sacrifice for your sin.


February 17, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 11-12 and Matthew 27:45-66

Devotional:

When reading Leviticus, it is easy to focus on the endless list of laws God gives.  It is easy to feel a bit overwhelmed.  But as I was reading Leviticus 11 today, I was overwhelmed by the grace of God.  I saw three examples of God's grace in Leviticus 11.

First, I think it is important to note that God gave His people food to eat.  We can sometimes focus so much on what the Israelites COULD NOT eat that we forget about all of the things they COULD eat.  We do the same thing in talking about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil found in Genesis 3.  God gave His people all of trees in the garden from which to eat (Genesis 2:16-17).  There was only one tree from which they were not to eat.

The same is true in Leviticus 11.  God created a wide variety of animals.  Certainly He told His people that they could not eat certain ones.  However, this left a wide variety of animals that they could eat.  God's gracious provision is seen in this way in Leviticus 11.

Second, we see that God told the Israelites what was unclean.  He could have kept this information to Himself.  He could have allowed them to unknowingly defile themselves.  Yet He graciously told them what not to eat.  God desires relationship with His people.  He sought to prevent them from defiling themselves by giving them the information they needed.

Finally, we see that God made a way for them to be made clean.  This is perhaps the most gracious act of God seen in Leviticus 11.  God told them what not to eat and/or touch.  But He also made provision for them to be made clean if they defiled themselves.  He told them exactly what they needed to do to be made clean.

This of course reminds us of the cross.  It reminds us that we are all unclean.  God has told us what to do to walk in righteousness.  We often fail and defile ourselves.  Yet God has made a way for us to be made clean through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  We can be reconciled to God.  He has poured out His grace on us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Prayer Focus: Give thanks to God for his sovereign provision.  Give thanks to God for His grace in providing a way for you to be made clean.


February 18, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 13 and Matthew 28

Devotional:

Today's reading brings us to the end of Matthew's Gospel and one of the most well-known passages in the Bible.  I am talking about the passage of Scripture that we typically refer to as The Great Commission.  This commission from the lips of Jesus to His disciples has received many names through the years.  One of my favorites is "The Marching Orders of the Church."  I think this name embodies what Jesus was intending to do when He spoke these words to His disciples.

Jesus was getting ready to ascend into heaven.  These men who had been following Him for three years would no longer have Him by their side.  They would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve as leaders of the newly formed church, the body of Christ still present on earth.  So Jesus gave them these instructions to guide them as they carried forth the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

While first given to the eleven (post-Judas), these words were not intended to be limited to Jesus' original disciples.  These are our instructions.  They are our marching orders as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Much has been said about these instructions, but I want to focus your attention on the primary command in the passage.  That primary command is to make disciples.  We do this as we go, and we do it by baptizing and teaching.

You will notice that the primary command in the passage is not to make converts.  Now certainly making disciples begins with seeing people converted, but it must not stop there.  We should measure the church's fruitfulness not merely by asking whether people are being converted, but by asking if they are being discipled.

God is certainly in the business of saving men and women, boys and girls.  But He does not save them to leave them where they are.  He desires to grow up each of us to be mature followers of Jesus.

So the application for each of us is to ask whether we are growing as disciples of Jesus.  This is the will of God for you—that you would mature as a follower of Christ.  Then we should ask whether we are participating in seeing others grow as disciples of Jesus.  The Great Commission was not given to pastors only.  It was given to all believers.  We all share the responsibility of helping others grow in Christlikeness.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to grow as a disciple of Jesus.  Pray that God would use you to help others grow as disciples of Jesus.


February 19, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 14-15 and Mark 1:1-20

Devotional:

Today we turn our attention to the second of four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark.  Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four, but the accounts of specific events are often longer than in Matthew and Luke.

Who was Mark and why did He write an account of the life of Jesus?  The Mark who wrote this Gospel is the John Mark of Acts 12.  Mark was not an apostle, but we see in the book of Acts that he was a close companion of the apostles.  While some disagreement between Mark and the Apostle Paul shows up in Acts 15, reconciliation between the two appears to have taken place by the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy.  Paul asked for Mark to come to him in his final days because he was "useful [to Paul] for ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11).

But what about the first twenty verses of Mark?  We notice immediately that Mark does not begin his Gospel in the same way that Matthew and Luke began theirs.  Matthew started with a genealogy of Jesus and a brief birth narrative.  Luke begins with a rather extensive birth narrative.  Mark begins with the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus' baptism is recorded for us in the first verses of Mark.  We see the identity of this one that Mark is going to be telling us about.  He is the one who is mightier than John the Baptist.  He is the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  He is the Father's beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.

This is the one whose life Mark is going to trace through this Gospel.  He is 100% man.  He is 100% God.  We will observe Him perform many miracles.  We will see him show love and compassion to the down and out.  We will see Him rebuke the self-righteous.  He is the one who came to give His life as a ransom for many.  He came to take away the sin of the world.

This is the Jesus we love.  This is the Jesus we worship.  Allow yourself over the next month as we explore Mark's Gospel to set your mind and heart on Jesus.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God through His Spirit would help you to see Jesus clearly through the Gospel of Mark.


February 20, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 16-18 and Mark 1:21-45

Devotional:

This is probably a good time in our journey through the Bible for us to pause and think about the Mosaic Law for a moment.  We have seen all kinds of laws as we have moved through Exodus and Leviticus.  What you may have noticed is that Christians typically believe that some of these laws are still in effect today and others are not.  How do we distinguish between the two?

One answer that is sometimes given is that any law that is repeated in the New Testament is still applicable for Christians today.  This approach is unsatisfactory.  There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the Old Testament has been abolished.  In fact, Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

But still, we do not observe laws concerning how to trim our facial hair (Lev. 19:27) or what kind of fabric we can wear (Lev. 19:19).  But why?  Is it simply because we don't like those laws and they seem terribly inconvenient?  If that's not the reason, how do we distinguish between the laws that are still for today and those that are not?

Theologians have typically understood there to be three types of laws contained in the Law given by Moses to the people of Israel: moral, ceremonial, and judicial.  The moral law is a reflection of God's holy character.  It includes the 10 Commandments along with other laws that are moral in nature such as Leviticus 18 which talks about unlawful sexual relations.  Because these laws are a reflection of the holy character of God, and God is unchanging, these laws do not change.  They transcend time and culture.  This is the law that Paul tells us in Romans 2 is written on our hearts.

Then there is the ceremonial law.  These are laws that had to do with temple practice.  Leviticus 16 gives instruction concerning the Day of Atonement.  God gave His people very clear instruction regarding how they were to deal with their sin before a holy God.  He also gave instructions concerning cleanliness to protect His people from disease and sickness.  The ceremonial law is not completely detached from the moral law.  Instead it is the application of the moral law.  But we believe that the moral law has different application for us today.  We no longer worship in the temple, and we have more knowledge concerning cleanliness and disease than the people of Israel in that day.  Also, Jesus was he fulfillment of the sacrificial system.

Finally we have the judicial law.  The judicial law was also application of the moral law.  It gave instructions to the Israelites concerning how they were to deal with sin in their midst.  What should happen to someone who kills one of God's image bearers?  What should happen to someone who commits adultery?  These questions and more are answered in the judicial law.  Israel was a theocracy ruled by God.  Therefore, God gave them clear penalties for certain sins.  We do not observe the judicial law today because we do not live in theocratic Israel.  We live in a different country with different penalties for things like murder.  We are therefore subject to the governing authorities over us.

So why is all of this important?  What application is there for us today?  It is important that we not dismiss God's Law.  We do not get to pick and choose which laws we like and which ones we don't.  We must submit ourselves to God's standards for life revealed in the moral law because these standards are a reflection of the holy character of God.  God says several times throughout Leviticus, "Be holy as I am holy."  This is the call of God on our lives.

Of course, ultimately, this is only possible in the person of Jesus Christ.  We are not holy.  We have disobeyed God's moral law.  We need grace and forgiveness.  Our only hope is if we can have a righteousness that is not our own.  That righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus.  Jesus took on our sin on the cross that we might become the righteousness of God.  May we repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would give you understanding of His Law as you read and study.  Thank God for the righteousness of God in Jesus.  Thank God that you are no longer bound by the extensive ceremonial and judicial laws.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7


Check out these devotionals, and join the challenge by visiting our church website.

February 9, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 34:1-35:29 and Matthew 25:1-13

Daily Devotional:

Today's New Testament contains a parable that Jesus told concerning his return.  Matthew 24 focused on Jesus' return and the events surrounding it, and His return will continue to be the focus throughout the rest of Matthew 25.  Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross.  He will be leaving His disciples soon.  Therefore, He does what any good leader would do—prepare His followers for the time when He would not be with them anymore.

As we know, Jesus often taught with parables.  This occasion was no different.  He tells a parable about ten virgins.  It is important to remember at the outset that we cannot derive meaning from parables that was not intended by Jesus.  Jesus is not condoning or recommending polygamy.  He is merely illustrating His relationship to His church when He returns.

So as we read the parable, we should note that Jesus is the bridegroom.  We should also recognize that the virgins represent those who claim to follow Christ.  Jesus uses the imagery of a wedding feast because this is the picture He presents us throughout the New Testament of His relationship to His church.  He is the bridegroom.  The church is His bride.  Revelation 19 tells us of a marriage supper one day where the Lamb of God (Jesus) and all the redeemed (the church) will be present.

So Jesus tells this parable about ten virgins who each took a lamp with them to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were wise, and five of them were foolish.  The five wise virgins took oil with them to keep their lamps burning.  The five foolish virgins did not bring any oil.

Jesus tells us that the bridegroom was delayed.  He doesn't mean to communicate that his coming is any later than planned, only that it is later than the virgins might have expected.  You see the connection between our waiting for Jesus' return and these virgins waiting for the bridegroom.  Jesus has not come as soon as we might expect Him, but He will come.

The virgins slept and waited for the bridegroom to come.  When He did, they were awakened by a loud cry.  They quickly jumped up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish five didn't have any oil to put in their lamps.  And the wise five had only enough for their lamps.  Thus, when it came time to meet the bridegroom, only the wise five were able to go into Him.  The foolish five did not get to join the feast because they were not prepared.

Jesus is calling His disciples to prepare themselves for His return.  They would not be present on earth when He returned—though they didn't know that—but they needed to prepare themselves and know how to prepare others.  Much of the New Testament is about preparing for the return of Jesus.

How do we prepare for Christ's return?  We must be about the things that He has told us to be about.  We should be growing in Christ-likeness.  As time passes, we should become more and more conformed to the image of Jesus.  We should also be living our lives in faithfulness to Jesus' command to make disciples.  Through doing these things, we can make sure that we are prepared when Christ returns.

The message of this parable is not to tell you when Christ will return.  The truth found here is that He will return.  You are left to answer whether or not you will be ready.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would remind you of the pending return of Christ.  Pray that His return would motivate you to be about the work He has called you to do.  Pray that He would help you in this work through His Holy Spirit.


February 10, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 35:30-37:29

Devotional:

If you are like me, the last week of your Bible reading plan has been difficult.  You have been going strong for over a month now, but you feel yourself starting to slip away.  You have managed to trudge through all of the laws and tabernacle dimensions and specifications thus far, but you know that Leviticus is coming.  Leviticus will bring more laws.  It's not exactly what you consider to be riveting stuff.

I hear you.  I feel your pain.  If you have slipped away a bit already, it's not too late to catch back up.  You can't be too far behind at this point.  Find some time in the next week to sit down and do several readings at one time.  You can do it!

Now, because I know it is easy to read over this section of Exodus and struggle to see the point, I want to focus today's writing on our Old Testament reading.

We have seen over the last week that God gave Moses some very specific instructions concerning the construction of the tabernacle.  He told him who to put in charge.  He told him what the dimensions were to be.  He told him what kind of wood should be used.  God gave instructions concerning the priestly garments and various items that would be housed in the tabernacle.

Wow!  God has been very specific regarding what He expects.  But what would be the purpose of the tabernacle?  It would be a place for God's people to meet with Him.  It would be a house of worship for the people of God.

God was not concerned about the specifics of the tabernacle because He is some kind of control freak who wants to tell us exactly how to do everything we do.  God was concerned about the specifics of the tabernacle because He cares about His people.  He cares about His relationship with them.  He created them to worship Him.  He brought them out of Egypt to worship Him.  And as God, He has a specific way that He is to be worshiped.

This has very clear application for us.  God has created us to worship Him.  He has brought us out of the bondage of our sin to worship Him.  God has also given us some fairly specific instructions about how we are to worship Him.  We worship through song.  We worship when we read the Bible and devote ourselves to studying it.

We also ought to worship in the way we live our lives.  Romans 12:1 says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  We worship God with our lives when we humbly recognize that we belong to Him.  We are to offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice, allowing Him to take our lives and use them for His honor and glory.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to offer your life to Him as a living sacrifice.  This is your spiritual worship.


February 11, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 38-39 and Matthew 25:31-26:13

Devotional:

The final section of Matthew 25 is one of the most troubling passages for me in the whole Bible.  I am frightened by the very thought that Jesus could possibly say to me, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."  Whew!  That is scary stuff right there!

This passage is intended to serve as a warning.  Some try to explain away the warnings of the Bible.  They say things like, "Jesus isn't writing to true Christians here," or "No one can lose their salvation."  I understand those statements, and I agree with them to a certain extent.  No true Christian will experience the eternal fire that Jesus is talking about here.  And I certainly believe that those whom God has saved will endure to the end.

But is that the point of the passage?  Does Jesus really issue a warning here just to assure professing Christians of their eternal salvation, and damn those who are apart from Christ?  I don't think so.  Passages like this should cause each of us to take a long hard look at our lives.

I grew up in a family where I never wanted for anything.  My parents worked hard and provided for my sister and me.  There was always food on the table and clothes on my back.  I never once wondered whether there would be something for me to eat when meal time came around.  Such is still the case in my adult life.  I work and provide for my family.  All of our needs are taken care of.

If I am not very careful though, I will allow my "success" in life to cause me to think less of those who are not as well off.  I may think things like "That person doesn't have money to buy food because they used it to purchase cigarettes" or "That person is homeless because they are too lazy to work."  While those things may often be true—though they certainly are not always true—it is important that I not allow my heart to grow heard to "the least of these."
Caring for "the least of these" will probably mean that I become an enabler at times and have to reevaluate whether I am really helping.  It will likely mean that I will be taken advantage of from time to time.  But I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying on the Day of Judgment, "Why did you help that person who was suffering?  They did that to themselves.  You should have left them alone."  I can imagine though that I will one day be held accountable for times I looked the other way when I could have given someone a cup of cold water in Jesus' name.

I am not suggesting you can meet every need.  I am not necessarily suggesting that you should meet every need even if you can.  I am saying that my heart is often cold and hard toward the needs of those around me.  I am saying that I need to hear the warning Jesus issues in this passage.  I am saying that I need to cling tightly to the cross of Jesus when I selfishly turn the other way rather than allowing myself to be an instrument in the hands of Jesus.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would soften your heart to the needs around you.  Pray that He would give you wisdom to know how to help those who need it most.


February 12, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 40 and Matthew 26:14-35

Devotional:

Obedience is a word that stirs up all kinds of thoughts and emotions, but it is an important word throughout the Bible.

From the beginning of Exodus 39 to the end of Exodus 40, we are told 18 times that Moses and the people of Israel did as the Lord commanded them.  Remember all those regulations?  God told Moses who to put in charge, what the dimensions of the tabernacle were to be, what kind of wood should be used, and how to make the priestly garments and various items that would be housed in the tabernacle.  God gave very clear instructions, and they obeyed.  They did all that He commanded them.

We need to be reminded sometimes that God requires obedience from us.  I think of 1 Samuel 15:22 which says, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams."

There are some who want to get away from talking about obedience.  They want to talk about grace and mercy.  They want to think about the obedience Jesus accomplished on our behalf rather than the obedience God requires of us.  We are not under the Law but under grace, they declare.

While it is true that we are no longer under the Law, that truth is not a license to pursue lawlessness.  The Apostle Paul asked rhetorically, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?"  He then answered his own question, "By no means!"  We are dead to sin.  Therefore, we ought not continue in it.

The fact that we are not under the Law but under grace does not mean that God no longer requires anything from us.  Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commands.  John said something similar in 1 John 2:3 writing, "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments."
Then, once we have spoken of the obedience God requires of us, we can talk about His grace and mercy.  We can talk about how Jesus was the only perfectly obedient one to ever walk this earth.  We can talk about how He took on our sin and died in our place.  We can talk about how we have been credited with His righteousness, and God is able to look on us just as if we had never sinned.

None of that makes any sense though if we don't first talk about obedience.  None of that makes any sense if we don't first remind ourselves of what God requires of us.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God, through His Spirit, would help you to walk in obedience to Him today.


February 13, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 1-3 and Matthew 26:36-56

Daily Devotional:

Today we come to the events that unfolded in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray.  He also went there to be arrested.

Upon arriving in Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples to wait for Him while He went off to pray.  He took Peter, James, and John with Him a little further, but eventually told them to wait as well while He prayed by Himself.  There in the Garden of Gethsemane that night, Jesus prayed the most submissive prayer that has ever been prayed.  He prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

Then He came to His disciples and found them sleeping.  After rebuking them, He went back to pray some more.  This time He prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done."  Jesus was perfectly in tune with the will of the Father.  He knew the plan for His life.  He knew why He had taken on flesh to dwell among men.

Once again, He came to His disciples and found them sleeping.  This time He would not retire to pray again.  Instead He said, "See, the hour is at hand, and the son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."  The Bible tells us that while Jesus was still speaking, Judas appeared.

He betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and Jesus was arrested.  But not without Peter first attempting to rise to His defense.  Though Jesus had spoken to His disciples often about His pending death, they still did not understand.  They did not understand that Jesus had an appointment with destiny.  He would give His life as a ransom for many.  He would give His life for them.

Then Jesus was arrested.  His disciples deserted Him.  And He was on His way to the cross.  We will read more of these events over the weekend.

But there is something I want you to see in all of this.  Jesus' enemies had been out to get Him for a while now.  He was creating quite the stir, and they wanted to stop it.  But they had been unable to do anything until now.  His time had not yet come.  Until now.

You can imagine how the disciples felt that things were spiraling out of control as Jesus was arrested and taken away.  What would happen to Jesus?  What was going to become of their lives?  Would they be arrested and killed as well?  They couldn't see the whole picture.

But as you observe the way Jesus responded to all of this, you never get the sense that He felt like things were unraveling.  He knew that things were taking place exactly as planned.  He knew that the Father was bringing all things about according to His good plans to save a people for Himself.  He knew that.  He understood it.  And He submitted Himself to it.

What a picture of calmness!  He was in the Father's hands.  He knew that God was in control.  He trusted Him, even to the point of death.

Oh that we would experience this kind of deep seated trust in the plans of the Father in our lives!  He is sovereign.  He is in control.  He is orchestrating all things according to His good purposes.  May we pray with Jesus, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

Prayer Focus: Pray that God's will and not your own would be done in and through you today.  Pray that His will would become your will.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 6


Here are some more devotionals from our 2015 Bible Reading Challenge.  You can join the challenge by visiting our church website.

February 2, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 20:1-21:32 and Matthew 21:23-46

Devotional:

Today we come to the Ten Commandments.  Yes, commandments.  Not suggestions.  We could focus the rest of this year's devotionals on the Ten Commandments and still not exhaust all that there is to say about them.  You are likely very familiar with the list.  Maybe you have the list memorized in order.

1. No other gods.
2. No idols.
3. Do not take the Lord's name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not bear false witness.
10. Do not covet.

As you look at this list, you will notice that the first four commandments focus on our relationship with God.  The final six commandments focus on our relationship with one another.  In a few days we will see Jesus' response to the Pharisees in Matthew 22 when asked which commandment is the greatest.  Jesus responded by summing up the Law, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."  He then gave the second greatest commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Note that the two commands Jesus gave in response to the Pharisees' question correspond with the two tables of the Law.  Jesus' first command has to do with our relationship with God, and summarizes the first four commands.  Jesus' second command has to do with our relationship with other people, and summarizes the final six commands.

This is important because it helps us to see that the list of commands in Exodus 20 is not exhaustive.  It is not intended to be a list prohibiting every possible sin.  In fact, we could say that just as Jesus' list of two commands in Matthew 22 is a summary of what God requires of us, so is the list of ten commands given to Moses in Exodus 20.

Jesus said as much in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:27-28).  Jesus said similar things with regard to anger, divorce, oaths, and loving our enemies.  Jesus makes it clear that obedience to God is not limited to rigid obedience to a list of ten commands.

I love the way the Westminster Larger Catechism deals with the Ten Commandments.  As an example, it asks in Question 136, "What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?"  To which it replies, "The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any."

The WLC does the same thing for all ten commands, making clear the broad scope of each command.  You can read what the WLC has to say about the other nine commands here.

My point is that we may be tempted to look at the Ten Commandments and think we are in pretty good shape.  I have never murdered anyone.  Check.  I have never committed adultery.  Check.  I am not a thief.  Check.  But the WLC, and Jesus in Matthew 5, make it clear that we have all broken all ten commands.  There is none righteous, no not one.

So what hope do we have?  Our only hope is Jesus.  He is the only one to perfectly obey the Law.  He is the one who died in our place to pay for our sin.  His righteousness is credited to the account of all those who repent of their sin and place their faith in Him.  This is our source of hope.

Seek today to live a life pleasing to God by the power of the indwelling Spirit in your life.  But when you fail, and you will, trust in the one who already lived the perfect life in your place.  It is only through His righteousness that you can truly please God.

Prayer Focus:  Pray that God would help you to obey His commands by the power of the Spirit in your life.  Pray that God would direct your attention to Jesus when you fail.


February 3, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 21:33-23:33 and Matthew 22:1-33

Devotional:

As I read the laws given by God to His people in Exodus 21-23, I am reminded that God loves His creation.  He certainly loves His covenant people, the spiritual children of Abraham, with a special love.  But He loves and cares for all of His creation.

People sometimes think of the God of the Old Testament as a God of judgment.  He doesn't care about people.  He just goes around killing and destroying.  The people of Israel are protected, while everyone who gets in their way is destroyed.  But today's reading should give us a different perspective.

The list of laws given in this section of Scripture is intended to protect.  Slaves, sojourners, orphans, widows, poor, and others are protected by these laws given by God to His people.  We are reminded that God cares about the oppressed.  He cares about those who suffer.  And not just the oppressed of Israel, Exodus 22:21 provides protection for sojourners as well.

Don't just skim over the laws found in Exodus as if they are unimportant.  Take time to consider the love and care God has for the people He created, His image bearers.  We talked at length about our status as image bearers of God as we were moving through Genesis.  The same principle is found here.  God cares for those who bear His image, and we should too.

Think also about yesterday's devotional.  The final six commands focus on loving our neighbor.  That is exactly the focus of the list of laws in today's reading.  These laws contain clear applications of the sixth commandment (do not murder) and the eighth commandment (do not steal).
We sometimes think of the law as an unnecessary burden.  But the reality is that God has given us His Law as a gracious gift.  He desires good for us.  Allow today's reading to give you a renewed understanding of and appreciation for the Law.

We will continue to consider God's Law more as we move through the Old Testament.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to care for the oppressed as He does.  Pray that God would give you a renewed understanding of and appreciation for the Law.


February 4, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 24-25 and Matthew 22:34-46

Devotional:

We looked at the great commandment a couple days ago when talking about the Ten Commandments.  As we read today the passage that contains the first and second greatest commandments, I want to consider them a little further.

It is interesting that the two greatest commandments were given in response to a question by the Pharisees.  Jesus was always receiving questions from the Pharisees.  These questions were usually intended to trick Him into saying something they could use against Him.  You would think they would get the hint.  Jesus answered in a way that silenced them and made them look foolish every single time.

This occasion was no different.  The Pharisees wanted to know which commandment was the greatest.  Maybe Jesus would say, "You shall have no other gods before me."  Or maybe the prohibition against murder or adultery would top Jesus' list.  No.  Jesus refused their trap and essentially said that no command of God can be pitted against another.  They are all important.  Obedience to all of them is essential for walking in righteousness.

The commands to love the Lord with all that you are and to love your neighbor as yourself sum up the entire Law.  You cannot love neighbor and murder someone, or even have hatred in your heart toward them.  You cannot love God and take His name in vain.

We sometimes like to pit one command against another.  We like to think of some commands as more important, usually the ones we are more inclined to observe anyway.  But this is not the way Jesus spoke about the Law.  He made it very clear that there is a God in heaven.  He has revealed His Law to mankind.  His Law is perfect.  And He requires perfect obedience to His perfect Law.  There is no way around His requirements.

This quickly reminds us that we do not measure up.  There is no escape route.  We need Jesus.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees thought that they were Law keepers.  They looked at themselves and their level of obedience, and they were proud.  Look at us.  See how faithful we are to God's Law.  They too had elevated some commands as more important than others by their thoughts and actions.  While they may not observe some commands, they always kept the most important ones.  Or so they thought.

In this passage, Jesus confronts them in their self-righteousness as He did throughout His ministry.  He was always pointing to Himself as the only way for man to be made right with Him.  This was true for the Pharisees.  It was true for His disciples.  It was true for Jew and Gentile alike.  We all need Jesus.

If you are like me, you are tempted to think of yourself as a Law keeper.  You are tempted to look at the way you live your life and see righteousness.  This passage reminds me that I am not righteous.  It reminds me that I do not always love God.  It reminds me that I do not love others as I should.  I need a righteousness that is not my own.  I need the righteousness of Jesus.  And you do too.

Prayer Focus: Ask God to help you see the unrighteousness in your life.  As you see areas of sin, confess them to God, repent, and trust in the righteousness of Jesus as your only hope of being right with God.


February 5, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 26-27 and Matthew 23

Devotional:

The scribes and Pharisees do not have the best reputation among Christians.  We love to give them a hard time, and rightly so.  Jesus gives a whole list of reasons why in today's New Testament reading.

Matthew 23 contains seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees.  Each woe focuses on the hypocritical practices of these religious leaders.  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and the plat, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence," Jesus said.

The problem was not that they had laws.  The problem was not that they expected obedience to these laws.  The problem was that they themselves did not keep the Law as they should.  Oh, they obeyed some of the laws.  They wanted everyone to look at them and see how righteous they were.  But they were not really concerned with obedience to God.  They were not worried about the issues of the heart that people could not see.

Jesus was always rebuking the Pharisees.  He was always pointing out their hypocrisy.  But people often misunderstand why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.  He didn't rebuke the Pharisees because they were too righteous.  He didn't rebuke them because they erected really high standards for themselves and kept those standards.  Instead, He rebuked them because they were not righteous enough.  They did not meet the standards they had established, and they did not meet God's standard.

Christians sometimes like to point to Jesus' treatment of the Pharisees as a reason why we should not have high standards.  High standards lead to pride and self-righteousness.  Seeking to live a godly life means that you are like the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked.

But God has given us a very high standard.  He has given us His Law.  Godliness and obedience to the Law is actually a standard so high that we cannot attain it on our own.  This was the problem with the Pharisees.  They failed to recognize that they fell woefully short of obedience to the Law.  In fact, they were always trying to trap the only one who never sinned.  Rather than placing their trust in Jesus and depending on His righteousness, they sought to destroy Him.

We have a lot to learn from Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees.  The lesson is that of not being hypocritical.  We do not avoid hypocrisy by lowering God's standards for us.  No, we avoid hypocrisy by striving to put off the works of the flesh and put on the fruit of the Spirit.  We avoid hypocrisy by recognizing when we fail, and clinging tightly to the cross of Christ as our only hope.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to flee from hypocrisy.  Pray that God would help you to do this by striving for righteousness and clinging to Jesus when you fail.


February 6, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 28-29 and Matthew 24:1-14

Devotional:

We began Matthew 24 today, and will be looking at the rest of the chapter over the weekend.  This is a chapter that often elicits significant debate concerning various perspectives on the end times.  There is a lot that we don't know from this passage, likely because God never intended for us to use it to develop extensive charts and make sure predictions concerning the last days.  But there are some things that we see very clearly in Matthew 24.  I want to focus this devotional on a few of those things.

The first thing that stands out to me is the promise of false teachers in verse 5.  The New Testament is full of warnings concerning those who seek to lead the people of God astray.  Such is not unique to the last days, but this verse seems to indicate that that kind of thing will only increase.

The reality that false teachers have always existed, and will always exist until Christ returns, should motivate us in our efforts to know God's truth through His Word.  It should also cause us to be alert.  The Bible is our standard of truth.  If it contradicts God's Word, it is false.  May we be people who commit ourselves to God's truth.

The second thing I notice is the promise of persecution.  This also is something that Jesus promised throughout His ministry.  It is not unique to the last days.  Jesus experienced persecution.  His disciples experienced persecution.  Countless Christians around the world today choose daily to follow Christ even though it may cost them their lives.  Certainly persecution will increase in the last days, but it is not unique to a certain period of time.

I like what Jesus says in verse 13, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."  Jesus is not saying that we somehow earn our salvation by enduring.  Rather, He is saying that those who endure to the end prove that they are the ones whose lives have truly been transformed by the gospel of Christ.  Jesus' words here should motivate us to endure.  By this we prove to truly be His disciples.

Finally, I want to point out the uncertainty Jesus left His disciples with concerning the timing of His return.  This was not by accident.  Jesus did not intend for them or us to know when He will return.  But that hasn't stopped people from creating prophecy charts and attempting to predict Christ's return. 

Ignore those predictions.  Jesus told us that no one knows when He will return.  He has made clear for us what we are to do while we wait.  We must commit ourselves to being conformed more and more to the image of Jesus through the work of the Spirit in our lives.  And we must devote ourselves to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to all people.

May we cling to the reality that Christ WILL return.  And may we ignore man's predictions in favor of God's instructions.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to be obedient to the things He has given you to do prior to the return of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 5


You can find my Week 5 Bible Reading Challenge devotional writings below.  Click here for more info.

January 26, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 4-6 and Matthew 17:1-20

Devotional:

Yesterday we began Exodus.  The book opens by picking up where we left off in Genesis.  Joseph, his brothers, and all of that generation had died.  There is also a new Pharaoh in Egypt.  Where the previous Pharaoh had been benevolent toward Joseph and the people of Israel, the new Pharaoh felt threatened by the Israelites and sought to make life difficult for them.

Today I want us to think about the first six chapters of Exodus in relation to God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.

Exodus 1 tells us that the people of Israel were multiplying rapidly.  Pharaoh expressed his concern in verse 9, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us."  Because the Israelites were growing in number so quickly, Pharaoh determined to make things more difficult for them.  He even sought to kill the Hebrew baby boys in an effort to control the population.  His efforts proved futile as we are told "the people multiplied and grew very strong" (vs. 20).

But how does this relate to the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12?  You will remember that God told Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation" (Gen. 12:2).  He later told him, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them, so shall your offspring be" (Gen. 15:5).  Now in Exodus 1 we see God keeping His promise.  We see Him multiplying Abraham's offspring in Egypt, even under adverse conditions.

Then look at the end of Exodus 3.  God is giving Moses instructions concerning the exodus from Egypt.  In doing so, God promises Moses that He is going to bless the people of Israel as they leave.  They will not leave Egypt empty handed.  The women will receive silver, gold, and clothing from the Egyptians.  Now take a peek at Exodus 12:35-36 where we see that God gave the Israelites favor with the Egyptians.  The Hebrew women received silver, gold, and clothing just as God had promised.

But what about Genesis 12?  How does this relate?  You will also remember that God told Abraham, "And I will bless you" (Gen. 12:2).  The promise was one of material blessing.  We saw God keeping this promise throughout Genesis, and here in Exodus 3 He continues to show Himself faithful concerning His promises.

Let's look at one more.  Consider Exodus 6.  It is filled with language that is intended to remind us of the Abrahamic Covenant.  First we see God identify Himself to Moses as the Lord saying, "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty" (vs. 3).  Then He refers to the covenant explicitly, "I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners" (vs. 4). 

Though Abraham's descendants were in a foreign land, God had not forgotten them.  The Lord heard the groaning of the people, and He had determined to do something about it in accord with His covenant with Abraham (Ex. 6:5-6).  He would bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who dishonor them (Gen. 12:3).  They were His people, and He was their God.

We are about to observe God do something spectacular.  His power is about to be on full display.  All of this is in keeping with His purposes.  He will glorify Himself, and fulfill His promises to His people.

I love studying the Old Testament and seeing the promises of God.  I love being reminded that He is a promise keeping God.  He has made a lot of promises to those who are in Christ.  The New Testament is full of them.  It should bring us great joy to know that He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever.  He has always kept His promises, and He always will.

Prayer Focus: Spend some time today thinking about the promises of God.  Give praise to God for the promises He has made.  Thank Him in advance with great surety that He will prove Himself faithful to those promises.


January 27, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 7-8 and Matthew 17:21-18:14

Devotional:

Several times during Jesus' ministry we see the disciples arguing over who is the greatest.  In our New Testament reading today, Matthew tells us about a time when the disciples came to Jesus asking, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  Maybe Jesus would name Abraham, Moses, or David.  Surely the disciples wondered where they would find their own names on such a list.  After all, they were the ones chosen to be Jesus' closest followers.

But Jesus surprised them all.  He called over a little child and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  The disciples were probably wondering what in the world was going on.  A child?  What could Jesus mean?

Jesus continued, "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."  There it is.  The secret to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is humility.  Of course that doesn't seem to fit with the way we typically think about greatness.  It certainly wasn't the answer the disciples were expecting from Jesus.

It is important to note that Jesus not only spoke to His disciples about true greatness, He modeled it.  In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the humility of Jesus in His leaving heaven to take on flesh and dwell among us.  This proved to be the path to exaltation for Jesus, as Paul writes, "Therefore God has highly exalted him" (Phil. 2:9).

Do you aspire to be great?  Greatness is not a bad desire.  Jesus never condemned His disciples' desire for greatness.  Instead He redefined greatness.   Greatness is not attaining wealth or prestige.  Greatness is not receiving the applause of men.  Greatness is not having people to serve you.  No, true greatness is found in humility.  True greatness is found in serving others.

The beautiful truth in all of this is that Jesus not only modeled true greatness for us, He died to attain it for us.  Let's face it.  You and I are not humble.  Even when we appear humble, it is often false humility.  We need the humility of Jesus.  We need His sacrifice on our behalf, such that God can look on us and see humility rather than pride.  This is possible not because we are humble, but because we have received the righteousness of Jesus through His shed blood on the cross.

So strive for true greatness today.  Seek to walk in humility.  And when you fail, look to Jesus, our example and sacrifice.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to walk in humility.  Pray that God would help you to cling to Jesus when you fail.


January 28, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 9-10 and Matthew 18:15-35

Devotional:

Matthew 18 is an important chapter because it reminds us of our shared responsibility to one another in the body of Christ.  Jesus first gives instruction regarding how we should respond when someone sins against us.  He then tells a parable to illustrate the necessity of forgiveness in our relationships with one another.

So how does Jesus say we should respond to conflict in the church?  He lays out four steps for dealing with issues of sin.  The first step is very informal.  You have a conversation with the person who has wronged you.  You don't go talk to everyone else and build a team of allies.  You don't slander this person through gossip.  Instead, you go and speak to your brother or sister about the situation.  If they repent, the issue is resolved.

The second step becomes a little more involved.  Here it is important that you involve one or two others.  Your first attempt at reconciliation didn't work, so this time you bring along a brother or sister in Christ to aid in clear communication.  We are all guilty of sometimes not being as clear as we think we are.  We may need someone to help us in our conciliatory efforts.

As Jesus continues, He gets more formal in the instruction given.  If your efforts failed in the first two steps, then you should move to step three and tell it the church.  This involves the gathered assembly.  The goal is still reconciliation.  The hope is that the voices of numerous people calling this brother or sister to repentance will be heard and reconciliation will take place.

Finally, Jesus says that when all of these efforts have failed, the only thing left to do is to treat the unrepentant sinner as an unbeliever.  How are we to treat unbelievers?  With the love of Christ, calling them to repentance and faith.  Identifying someone who claimed Christ as an unbeliever is not the action of an individual believer or church leader.  This is the action of the gathered assembly.  It is the church to whom Christ has given the keys of the kingdom as we saw in Matthew 16.  The hope is still reconciliation, but at this point those efforts at reconciliation change in how they look.

What is the good news in all of this?  We do not do it alone.  Jesus promises in verse 20 to be with us when we gather together as His church.  This is a comforting reality.

Jesus concludes the chapter with a parable illustrating forgiveness.  How fitting to follow up his teaching on confronting sin with a section on forgiveness!  Forgiveness is not easy.  In fact, Peter thought he was being very generous when he suggested that we should forgive seven times.  Jesus said, "No, seventy times seven."  Woah!

The parable is of a man whose debt was forgiven by a king.  Immediately after having his own debt forgiven, he went to his own debtor and demanded payment.  When his debtor didn't pay because he couldn't pay, the man had his debtor thrown into prison.  Jesus likens this parable to the way we often treat forgiveness.  We have been forgiven so much in Christ.  How dare we withhold forgiveness from others!

In this section, we are reminded that we should deal with sin in a serious manner.  We should first remove the log from our own eyes.  We should then seek repentance of sin among our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And we should be prepared to represent Christ to them by offering forgiveness seventy times seven.  The idea is that there should be no limit to the amount of times we are willing to extend forgiveness.

Challenging and convicting words from Jesus this morning.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to take sin seriously, first in your own life, but also in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Then pray that God would help you in your efforts at reconciliation and forgiveness.


January 29, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 11-12 and Matthew 19

Devotional:

We have been reading over the last couple of days about the ten plagues that God brought upon the people of Egypt.  God plagued Egypt in these ways because of Pharaoh's unwillingness to allow the Israelites to leave.  Today we read about the final plague and the Exodus from Egypt.  I want to share a few thoughts from the narrative of the plagues before we move past it.

One thing that stood out to me as I was reading is the fact that the magicians of Egypt were able to repeat the first two plagues.  Aaron struck the Nile with his staff just as the Lord had instructed him, and all the water turned to blood.  Afterward, God allowed the magicians to perform the same act by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart was hardened as a result.

The second plague resulted in a swarm of frogs.  Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and frogs came up and covered the land.  Frogs were everywhere!  As if that wasn't enough, the magicians performed the same act by their secret arts.  It is interesting that the magicians were able to do the plague, but they were unable to reverse it.

Then came the third plague and the magicians were rendered powerless from there on.  At that point, because they were unable to repeat the plague, the magicians recognized that the plague had come by the finger of God.  Pharaoh's heart remained hard, and he failed to listen to the magicians' counsel.

I have a lot more questions about all of this than answers.  Why did God allow the magicians to perform the same feat he had done?  Why did they want to?  Shouldn't they have demonstrated their power by reversing the plagues?  Why did God decide after two plagues to no longer allow the magicians the ability to copy His feats?

The narrative leaves these questions unanswered.  We do know that God had hardened Pharaoh's heart at the outset, and was continuing to do so as the plagues progressed.  It was not until the final plague, the killing of all the firstborn in Egypt, that Pharaoh finally decided he had had enough.

In all of this we see ten disturbing, yet impressive, displays of God's power.  Nothing will stand in His way.  No one can prevent Him from accomplishing His purposes.  He is not an angry dictator looking for someone to destroy.  All Pharaoh had to do to make it stop was allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.  But neither is God afraid to pour out His judgment on those who shake their fists at Him as Pharaoh did in Exodus 7-12.

As we come to the final plague and the Passover celebration in chapter 12, we are given a foreshadowing of something that would take place many years later.  This time God would not take the life of anyone's firstborn but His own, His only begotten Son.  Jesus would lay down His life in the place of all those who would repent of their sin and believe on His name.  He would be our Passover lamb, dying in our place.

As you think about the judgment of God on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, don't stop there.  Be sure to also consider the salvation given to the people of Israel.  Consider even the numerous warnings and signs God gave to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.  Finally, reflect on the salvation that God has given to us in Christ Jesus.  God is a God of holiness, wrath, and judgment.  But He is also a God of mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.  Rejoice in this God today.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would soften your heart toward Him and His Word.  Pray that God would continue to remind you of all you have received in Christ Jesus.  Thank Him for His grace, forgiveness, and salvation.


January 30, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 13-14 and Matthew 20:1-16

Devotional:

Do you ever feel like you've allowed the most jaw-dropping stories in Scripture to lose their awe factor for you?  Today's reading includes one such story for me.  I have been a regular attender in church since 9 months before I was born.  I have heard the story of Moses parting the Red Sea countless times.  In fact, I have heard it so many times that I must be careful not to skim quickly over Exodus 14 without giving it much thought.

Maybe you are like me.  Maybe this awesome story of God's power and deliverance doesn't stir your emotions anymore.  Maybe you need some help thinking about it in a way that fills your heart with worship to the God who controls every single atom in His creation.

You see, I am talking about the God who spoke everything into existence.  Before He decided to create, there was nothing but Him.  The Godhead was together in perfect unity and self-sufficiency, but that is all there was.  Then God spoke.  And everything we see around us each day came into existence.

Now, in Exodus 14 there is a massive barrier between God's people and the safety God desires for them.  Pharaoh and his armies were bearing down on them.  God's people had nowhere to go.  How will they cross the Red Sea?  The people were terrified.  Moses should have left them in Egypt, they thought.  Now they are going to die in the wilderness.

But then God intervenes.  The God who first spoke water into existence, and formed the land in such a way that gathered the Red Sea together.  God instructed Moses to lift up his staff over the sea.  Moses obeyed.  And when he did, God drove back the sea he created with the wind he created, such that the people of Israel were able to walk through the Red Sea on dry ground.

Wow!  God showed up, and He showed off.  And as if that were not enough, when the Egyptians attempted to cross after them, God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand again over the sea.  And when he did, the wind stopped and the waters of the Red Sea crashed over the Egyptians.  The Bible tells us that not one of them remained.

God reminded the people of Israel that He was their God and they were His people.  They could trust in Him.  Exactly what the future held for them was uncertain in their minds.  But they could trust in the one who holds the future.  He is the one who upholds the universe by the word of His power.  He is Lord over His creation.

This God is still in control today.  He still upholds the universe by the word of His power.  He is still sovereign over every single atom.  Does that create worship in your heart?

Look, I don't know what is going on in your life.  Maybe you just received a terrifying diagnosis from the doctor.  Maybe you just received news of new life in the womb of one you love.  Maybe you just got a new job.  Or maybe you just lost your job.

While life is often uncertain and difficult, I want to encourage you to trust in God.  He is sovereign over His creation, and He cares for His people.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to trust and worship Him today.