From Bitterness to Hope

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

The Book of Ruth tells a story of hope during a dark period in Israel’s history. We know Ruth took place “during the time of the judges” (1:1), which in itself had plenty of ups and downs. Specifically, Ruth occurred when a famine struck Israel. A man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons sought refuge in Moab. They migrated for a season to a foreign land seeking to survive.

While there, the two sons found wives; but then tragedy struck. All three men died.

When the famine ended, Naomi planned to return to Israel, and attempted to convince her daughters-in-law to remain behind, thinking it would be better for their future. Orpah stayed but Ruth refused.

“Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth told Naomi.

So, the two ladies went to Israel. But when they arrived, Naomi made a request of those who knew her, “Don’t call me Naomi,” which means pleasant. “Call me Mara,” which means bitter. In the society of that day, land and resources passed from one generation to the next through father and son. With them dead, Naomi felt she had no hope. This hopelessness came across in her self-given nickname.

That was just the beginning of the story, however. Turns out there was a man named Boaz, a close relative who could marry Ruth and redeem the land that belonged to Elimelech. The women concocted a plan that was guided by God’s providence. Long story, short, Boaz and Ruth married, Boaz redeemed the land, and the two had a child.

Bitterness turned to joy and hope. Even more, this child, Obed, became the father of Jesse who was the father of David, the great king of Israel whom God chose and to whom God gave promises that led ultimately to Jesus being the great Son of David.

There is a line in the book The Return of the King that states, “Everything sad will come untrue.” In the book, it actually is in the form of a question–will this be? The answer for Naomi was Yes!

But the move from bitterness to joy and hope that Naomi felt was only a small taste of what we experience through Jesus. He is the greatest Redeemer. He does not simply ensure the future of our land and family but of our lives in eternity. He gives a joy that never ceases. And when he returns, all bitterness will be no more. King Jesus forever makes the sad untrue.

All scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Sometimes You Need to Learn It More than Once

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

Jesus did something astonishing in Mark 6. He fed a crowd of five thousand men (plus women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish. When the crowd finished eating, he sent his disciples to pick up the scraps and they returned with twelve baskets full–more than what they began with.

You would think that such a thing would leave a lasting impression, but two chapters later in Mark 8 we read about Jesus miraculously feeding four thousand. He told the disciples that he had compassion for the hungry crowds and wanted to feed them. The disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

It was as if they completely forgot about the miracle with the five thousand and the fact that they were in the presence of the Son of God. It’s a little surprising that we don’t read in response that Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit,” like he did with the Pharisees in 8:12

After the confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus warned the disciples to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees,” meaning their teaching. The disciples misunderstood and thought Jesus referred to the fact that they had brought no bread with them. Jesus then asked them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” He then brought to their attention the feedings and the amount of food they collected when it was finished.

It was Jesus’ way of saying they were missing the point. Bread didn’t matter; He did. He could multiply molecules into enough bread to fill their stomachs time and time again. And it was all because of who Jesus is. The Pharisees didn’t get it and in that moment the disciples didn’t either.

This reminds us that we need to be reminded–constantly reminded. As saints-in-progress, people saved by the grace of God who are being transformed into more Christ-like people by that same grace, we need to be reminded of God’s grace and to constantly set our eyes on Jesus. Our hearts are slower to learn than we want them to be.

That is why church gatherings are so important. They remind us of the grace and power of Jesus on a regular basis as a group of rebels-turned-sons-and-daugthers feast on God’s word, cry out in prayer, and sing praises to our great Savior-King.

Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version.

God Is Bigger Than Your Fears

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

You can’t help but chuckle a little when you read the story of Gideon in Judges 6&7. In 6:12, the Angel of the Lord says to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, valiant warrior.” This just after we’re told that Gideon was threshing wheat in secret to hide from the Midianites. Those enemies of Israel, after all, had been oppressing the people by destroying the produce of the land.

What we read about Gideon shows more a fearful man than a “valiant warrior.” He hid in a winepress while threshing grain. He tore down an altar of Baal, but did so at night “because he was too afraid of his father’s family and the men of the city.” Then, when God used him to gather an army and fight Israel’s enemies, he first requested that God give him a sign and then another using a fleece so he could be sure. Finally, after promising Gideon victory with a small army, God told him:

“But if you are afraid to attack the camp, go down with Purah your servant. Listen to what they say and then you will be encouraged.” (7:10-11)

And Gideon did just that.

It is an irony that God would call Gideon a “valiant warrior,” when Gideon was obviously a fearful man. Yet, God still used Gideon and worked through him. Despite Gideon’s fears, God did turn him into a valiant warrior.

God is bigger than our fears. Sometimes, he overcomes our fears by granting us great courage. Other times, he overcomes our fears by working in our lives despite them. The trick to conquering fear is trusting in the God who is infinitely stronger, infinitely bigger, and infinitely wiser than anyone else.

All scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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One Purpose of the Old Testament

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

The Old Testament comprises about 2/3’s of the Bible, yet some Christians who aren’t sure what to do with it and therefore have not read much of it. The main purpose of the Old Testament is to point us to Jesus. In John 5, Jesus himself said that the Scriptures (at that time: the Old Testament) all testified about him.

The Old Testament sets the stage for where we find ourselves now in the story of God and his plan to rescue humanity from our rebellion against him. The books and stories of the Old Testament drip with truths about our need for a Savior and how God is the only true Savior and the Great King.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, gives us another purpose of the Old Testament. He speaks of stories of Israel’s failure, especially in their wilderness travels, and says, “Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6).

In addition to showing us our need for Jesus, the Old Testament is meant to give us examples of what it means to be faithful to God and what it means to not be. The examples of faith, we embrace and emulate (like described in Hebrews 11); and the examples of faithlessness show us things to avoid.

Several examples of faithlessness to avoid that Paul gave include: idolatry, sexual immorality, and complaining, especially against God’s provision or our perceived lack thereof (10:7-10).

Paul also warned that we must keep careful watch on ourselves, after all we are prone to face the same temptations as those in the ancient past. But Paul gives hope of God’s faithfulness–he supplies ways out of temptation, if only we will seek them by seeking God and following his ways. (10:11-13)

Even though the Old Testament might contains things that seem foreign to our culture and the modern mind, it is very relevant to our lives. The Old Testament, after all, is God’s word, inspired, profitable, and able to correct, rebuke, and teach (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, let us not fail to embrace the Old Testament as well as the New as we seek to grow in Christ through a devotion to his word.

All scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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The Promise Keeping God

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

If we’re honest with ourselves, when we read through the Bible there are parts that cause our eyes to glaze and we wonder: What’s the point? Genealogies can do this. So can chapters like Joshua 13-21. In these chapters, we read verse after verse about how the Promised Land was divided up among different persons and tribes of Israel.

We know that all Scripture is “God-breathed and profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), but we might question just how profitable.

So what do we do when we encounter passages and chapters that cause us to struggle?

We learn to see the beauty in the words.

To see the beauty in Joshua 13-21, we have to reach all the way back to Genesis 12. There, God took a man named Abram and made him a promise: I’m going to give you a numerous offspring, they are going to inherit a land, and through them you will be a blessing to the whole world.

Abraham’s offspring were the people of Israel, and despite the number of times that they disobeyed, failed, and grumbled throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, God kept pressing forward with his promises. He chose Abraham (Abram), he loved Abraham, and he loved the offspring he promised to Abraham. He had made promises, and he would keep them.

As the Bible’s story unfolds, we find that those promises ultimately led to Jesus, the faithful, unfailing Son of Abraham who made it so that people from every tribe, tongue, and peoples could become children of Abraham through him–a new promise given to us.

Those chapters in Joshua remind us that God will be faithful to the promises he made us through Jesus, because he was faithful to the promises he made to Abraham in the past. The division of the land is a declaration that Abraham’s offspring inherited the very thing that God said they would. Though it took centuries after God first appeared to Abraham, God’s word proved true.

So, we can have confidence that God’s word to us will one day come true. Even if it’s years, decades, or centuries before we see the fruit. God has promised us salvation in Jesus. He has promised us resurrection after death, glorified bodies, and a share in the new creation. We experience part of those promises today. Some are still future.

But God is always faithful.

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Drained to the Dregs

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

God is judge.

That statement is controversial to some, especially to those who want to view God as one who would never discipline or punish. But the Bible is clear: God is judge.

The good news is that God is a fair judge. He judges both motive and action. He will not be bribed or bought. He will do only what is just and equitable.

The bad news is that God is a fair judge. We all have done evil. We all have acted with unrighteousness. We cannot earn or buy our way out of this. When compared to his demand of perfect righteousness, we all fall short. We all fall under his judgment.

Psalm 75:8 says of this judgment: “For there is a cup in the Lord’s hand, full of wine blended with spices, and he pours from it. All the wicked of the earth will drink, draining it to the dregs.”

Dregs are what’s left in the very bottom of the cup–not just the liquids, but any sediments that have settled there be they from grounds or backwash. To drain to the dregs is to drink down every last drop.

Yet, this psalm of God’s judgment opens with thanks (75:1) and closes with praise (75:9-10). How can that be? If all of us have done evil and fall under God’s judgment, then how do we become people of thanks and praise?

The answer is Jesus.

God is fair and just, but he is also loving and merciful. We can’t escape his judgment, so he gave us himself. God the Son willingly went to the cross where he drank the cup of God the Father’s wrath all the way to the dregs. When Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished,” he meant, in part, there remained no wrath left for those who would trust in him.

There remains not even a drop.

For sinners, unable to save our selves, this is the best news. News that leads us to praise God for his kindness. News that leads us to thank him for his grace.

All scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

Follow the Leader

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

By nature, most people are followers. Even those in various leadership positions typically have someone else who they follow. As such, we tend to gravitate toward our favorite personalities–those men or women who have had a positive influence on our lives, who possess wisdom, and who shares that wisdom in a way that encourages us to follow.

The problem, however, is when we elevate one leader over another in order to elevate ourselves.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and chastised them for divisions that stemmed from preferences for different leaders. We read:

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by members of Chloe’s people that there is rivalry among you. What I am saying is this: One of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” Or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name? – 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (CSB)

Paul, Apollos, and Peter (Cephas) were all men who loved Jesus and had a great impact on the early church. Paul was a missionary who worked to found the church. Apollos was an excellent speaker who came later and edified the church. Peter was the original leader among the Apostles.

Each contributed much to the life of the early church (and through Scripture to our churches as well). Be it because of personality, tone, style, or location, different groups in Corinth began to elevate one leader over the other and used this as a source of pride against their fellow church members. Then some would respond by saying, “Those human leaders are good for you, but we follow Jesus.” Given the tone of Paul’s remarks, this wasn’t an act of humility encouraging others to grow deeper in Christ, but rather an act of self-righteousness and seeming spiritual superiority.

Paul rebuked the church by saying, “Enough!” Jesus is the true Leader, the rest are just servants who point to him. (Paul continued with and expanded on this thought in 3:5-9 where he calls Apollos and himself “servants”–one who planted and one who watered, while God gave growth.)

We need to remember this today. We might have our favorite pastors, authors, or mentors. We might belong to different church denominations.

But there is only one Jesus, the Leader of leaders, our King.