Genesis 18-19

It would be impossible to overstate how vastly different the announcements in these two chapters are. The first was a blessing and the next a curse. The first was news of joy and the second news of disaster. Naturally, these wildly differing announcements would evoke starkly different reactions, right? Wrong. Upon hearing that she and Abraham would have a son in their old age, Sarah laughed. The Lord’s response indicates that Sarah was struggling to believe that God could perform such a miracle. At the very least, she was having trouble getting her head around the idea. Laughter–did she think God was joking? Well, Lot’s sons-in-law did, or at least they thought Lot was joking when he warned them to flee the city’s coming destruction.

These are not easy passages to read. The wickedness of Sodom’s residents was appalling and dehumanizing, both for those they sought to abuse and for themselves. This passage shows us how dangerous sin is. It distorts and twists the image of God in humanity beyond recognition. It is evil to treat with disdain those upon whom God has bestowed dignity. Evil is no joke. But neither is God’s relentless pursuit of the restoration of humanity and all that He has made. Through the twists and turns of the story–and Genesis 19 has a lot of those–we see a God who doesn’t give up on His people. He doesn’t require perfection–Abraham, Sarah, and Lot’s family make that clear–but He does invite us to believe.

Matthew 9 is another chapter with a lot happening. You might not have time to read it all right now, but the response Jesus received in verse 24 sounds especially familiar. When Jesus arrived at the home of the ruler who had asked him to come and revive his daughter who had died, “He said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.” Let’s just admit it: Jesus says some things that are hard to believe. Why? Because sin and evil have distorted and twisted God’s design and purpose for our lives, which is exactly why Jesus came–to restore in us what sin has stolen. And even when it is hard to believe it can be done, He is able. Matthew 9:25 reports, “But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.” You can trust Jesus.

Job 38-39

[19] “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
[20] that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
[21] You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!

Job 38:19-21, ESV

Can I make a confession? I love these chapters, but it might be for the wrong reason. As God peppers Job with question after question, it becomes readily apparent that Job isn’t going to have any answers. God even takes a breath in verse 18 to give Job an opportunity, “Declare, if you know all this.” Job did not know all this. Job did not know any of this. God, however, wasn’t finished. With a verbal takedown that would quickly go viral in today’s social media world, God picks right back up with more questions before landing a sarcastic knockout blow, “You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” Don’t you love it? I know I do, but why? Does part of us love God’s decisive verbal victory over Job because we’d like to win an argument so decisively over our opponents, whoever they might be? Is that not what our current culture of outrage and social media offer–a chance to win the point for our side while “owning” our opponents?

If you’re anything like me, you might love a passage like this because your tendency is to place yourself at the center of the narrative, but for us to do so would mean we wildly miss the point of God’s epic monologue. As much as we’d like to see ourselves as the social media mob cheering God on or view ourselves as the ones with all the answers, we just aren’t. We are–like Job and his friends–the ones who need to hear and sit in the shadow of God’s questions. When we find ourselves there, then we probably won’t find as much opportunity to rant at others as if we have all the answers, and we probably won’t feel as much need to “win” every argument on every issue. After all, it’s not Job (or us) but God who knows all the answers. His gift to us in this passage is the questions.

Recognizing the holiness of God’s sovereignty is humbling, reminding us of how many more questions we hold than answers. None of us know everything about everything, so the truth is that we would do well to approach most subjects more concerned about learning than losing. Where God has gifted you with knowledge, expertise, and experience, steward that gift well, but where God has gifted others with knowledge, expertise, and experience, let’s listen and learn with humility. And above all, when we’re tempted to ask questions that assign sides or declare winners and losers, let’s make sure we’re listening to the One with all the questions.

Genesis 1-2

It’s Labor Day in the United States–which besides marking the unofficial end to summer is a holiday dedicated in part to honoring the achievements and contributions of American workers. It’s a holiday that acknowledges both the value of work and also the need for rest. Of course, those realities aren’t unique to America. Genesis 1-2 point us to the pattern of work and rest established by God in creation. God spoke the universe into existence, and then, when His work was finished, He rested. Having created humanity in His image, God also commands us to work, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). Throughout Genesis 1-2, we see a vision of work that honors the Creator and leads to the flourishing of His creation, offering us an alternative vision to the hurry and drudgery that can wear us down. Being created in the image of God means that we have been created to work. We are made for a purpose by a God who has a plan for our lives, a plan for work that produces real fruit in our lives and in the world. But being created in the image of God also reminds us of the limitations of our work. We can make a difference in the lives of others and in the world, but we also require rest, in which we trust that the God who spoke all things into existence is able to hold it all together.

So, today, let’s take a moment to think about the work that we do. Whether it’s your job, your business, your service to your community or to the church, why do you do what you do? Take time to remember how your work honors the Creator and leads to the flourishing of His creation. And then, let’s take a moment (as those created in the image of the God who rested) to rest.

Beginning this week, our daily devotionals will be following the F260 Reading Plan from Replicate Ministries, which you can download below. The plan includes weekly memory verses. We invite you to join us each week as we hide God’s word in our hearts, beginning with this week’s verse:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27, ESV

Psalm 65

[9] You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
[10] You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
[11] You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
[12] The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
[13] the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

Psalm 65:9-13, ESV

With fall on its way (even if it doesn’t feel like it) the harvest season is also on its way, and when you live in an area with a lot of farms, the signs of the harvest are everywhere to be seen. Combines move through the fields and also from field to field. If you’re in a hurry, it might not be your favorite season, but if we are open to the beauty of the season, it can become your favorite season. Harvest is a reminder of God’s faithful provision. And God’s provision reminds us of all that God has done for us–not just by providing physically but also as the God of our salvation. Yeah, maybe the trip to town takes a little longer when you’re traveling behind a large piece of farm equipment or a wagon filled to overflowing, but instead of getting frustrated, what if we took the moment to be grateful–remembering how God has provided and how God saves? What if our voices joined the meadows and the valleys to “shout and sing together for joy?” How has God blessed you today? How can you praise Him?

Psalm 10

[1] Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1, ESV

Have you ever been stumped about how to initiate a difficult conversation? You know you need to say it or ask it, but you don’t know how to make the transition from regular, easily-flowing conversation to the difficult matter at hand. We’ve all been there, finding at times that there simply is no way to soften the blow, so it’s best just to be honest. That’s where the psalmist was–not with a friend or family member but with the Lord–and to be honest, we’ve all been there. Psalm 10 isn’t about questioning God’s character or justice. It’s the cry of a heart that clearly sees the wreckage of injustice and oppression, the destruction brought about by the greedy and powerful. The innocent are murdered and the helpless are crushed at the hands of the wicked. How does what we see clearly before our eyes square with the righteous character of God revealed in His word?

By starting with the difficult lament of pain and injustice, the psalmist helps us see that God is not far away, even when it feels like it. He is not hiding, even when we can’t see His hand. He is king forever and ever. Nations come and go, oppression changes forms, but as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” How do we know that to be true? The Bible tells us so:

[17] O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
[18] to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:17-18

As we feel the weight of the brokenness around us, let’s cry out to the Lord who hears.

Matthew 6:5-13

Jesus is a great teacher. He’s much more than that but never less than that. During his public ministry, He spoke with power and illustrated His points with stories and imagery. But Jesus also passed another test that any teacher must pass–He led by example. Throughout the gospels, we find Jesus praying exactly as He teaches His disciples to in Matthew 6–with authenticity, humility, and faith. In fact, even here in Matthew 6, He makes it clear how His disciples should pray, saying, “Pray then like this…”

Jesus doesn’t just tell us how to live and how to pray. He shows us. And His goal isn’t just that we would recite His words on a daily basis (although that’s not a bad idea). The goal is that our prayers would also give God the glory and praise He deserves by seeking His will and depending upon His provision. Pray then like this:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13, ESV

2 Kings 19

What do you do when your back’s against the wall? Do you strategize? Do you come out swinging? Do you feel sorry for yourself? Do you run and hide? Do you pray? In 2 Kings 19, we find out what King Hezekiah did an impossible situation–at least by human standards. Sennacherib and his army were too powerful for Hezekiah and his defenses. He’d tried scheming and fighting back, but it just led to the clear realization that a fight with Sennacherib was one that Hezekiah did not want and could not win. So, finally, Hezekiah recognizes what was the reality all along–he was totally dependent upon God for the deliverance of his people:

[15] And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. [16] Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. [17] Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands [18] and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. [19] So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

2 Kings 19:15-19, ESV

Hezekiah didn’t downplay the desperation of his nation’s situation. He tore his clothes. He mourned. He was honest with himself, his people, and with the Lord. His prayer shows us how to pray when our backs are against the wall, or actually how to pray any time–with complete reliance on the mercy and power of God. What do you need to take before the Lord today? He’s listening.

Psalm 90

[1] Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
[2] Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90:1-2 (ESV)

The final stop on our Summer Vacation sermon series took us to the new heaven and the new earth that was revealed to John and then to us in Revelation 21-22, where a loud voice on the throne said, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” That is the description of a place Jesus is preparing for those who believe in Him, a place where we will one day dwell with Him. It’s a place where we will experience without interruption and without any stain of sin what we are able to experience today through prayer. It will be different then, when we stand before Jesus face to face for all of eternity, but God will not be different.

Though we do not see Him physically before us, God welcomes us to pray to him as Moses does in Psalm 90. He is our dwelling place, a safe place, a refuge–in all times. At their longest, our lives are short, so may we learn to pray as Moses did–that our days would be spent wisely, enjoying the God who invites to dwell with Him.

[12] So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
[13] Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
[14] Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
[15] Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
[16] Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
[17] Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:12-17 (ESV)

Isaiah 65:17-25

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

Isaiah 65:17

There is some debate about the best way to understand Isaiah’s words about new heavens and a new earth. Some read Isaiah’s words as a clear reference to eternity future, to the new heaven and new earth described in Revelation 21, while others, due to references to death and sinners in verse 20, see it as a description of Jerusalem restored in the period beyond the exile, albeit a more figurative and idealized picture of that period. Since people have been debating that point for years, I doubt we’re going to settle it in this devotional, so instead, I’d like to focus our attention on what is clear in Isaiah 65–namely that God promises unrivaled and uninterrupted joy to those who trust in Him.

God did not create the world or His people for the ultimate end of weeping and distress but for joy and gladness, and where vanity and calamity mark the days in which we live, God sees a future marked by peace and prosperity in His presence. Believing those truths about God and His purposes for His people are the path to joy that lasts forever, joy that can start today. Will you be glad and rejoice forever in the promises of God?

Job 12

As we’ve traveled to various biblical locations on this summer vacation, one of the truths we have seen with the most frequency is that God puts us in a particular place for a particular time with a particular purpose. From Eden to Horeb, from Babylon to the valley of dry bones, even in the unexpected pit stops along the way, God is at work. We’ve seen it on this journey and in our own lives, and we read it in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

We know this to be true because the Spirit of God impresses it upon our hearts, but we also know the Scriptures are honest about another reality–because we don’t see all things, we don’t always see how all things are working together for our good. That is where we find Job–right in the middle of the darkness with nothing left but a few friends who are more eager to cast blame than to offer comfort. Job’s response to those friends in chapter 12 begins with a biting sarcasm, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.” Job’s friends thought they had it all figured out. They did not. So Job goes on to let them know that he has a few things figured out himself, “But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these?”

Job had some things figured out, but he knew he didn’t have everything figured out. He also knew that the wisdom of God has no rival, “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.” Job didn’t see how all the pieces of his life fit together, but neither did his friends. They just thought they did. Job spoke of a God who puts people in a particular place for a particular time with a particular purpose, a reality that he knew could be both comforting and confounding (even at the same time).

For us today, Job’s words don’t answer every question we might have about our lives, but they do contain reminders we need. They point us to the One who actually does have it all figured out. I pray we seek His wisdom for this day.