OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Jan 17]--Calling Things By Their Right Names

Isaiah 5:18-20

Do you know what a euphemism is? I’ve always loved those, haven’t you? We used to call them “garbage collectors.” Now they’re “sanitation engineers.” There’s a whole industry out there called “Political Correctness” that takes unpleasant realities and makes them sound a lot better.

I think that this one verse could solve so many problems in our society. Let’s take politics for a moment. How often have you wished that a person running for office would speak plainly? It’s not “revenue enhancement.” It’s “tax increases.” “Collateral damage” is another way of saying that a military operation has (hopefully accidentally) killed civilians.

It’s pretty often that people use language not to make their meaning clearer, but to obscure it. We can laugh about it at times, but today’s passage shows that the Lord considers callings things by their proper names to be pretty important.

The prophet pronounces God’s judgment (that’s what “woe” means) upon people who call evil good and good evil. Telling people what they needed to hear, that was “bad.” Telling people what they wanted to hear, that was “good.” Can we have some examples that I think are applicable in the modern day?

Let’s take the issue of abortion. Have you ever noticed that the people who advocate the practice (or at least want it legal) never actually mention the word? They use words like “choice” or “reproductive rights,” or "women's health," but rarely (if ever) actually use the term “abortion.” Another word you’ll never hear them use? “Child.” Or “baby.” If they ever have to talk about what's in the mother’s womb, they always refer it as a “fetus.”

Or take it into the realm of religion. If you tell someone that the only way to get into Heaven is by placing your faith in Jesus Christ, that’s being “judgmental,” or “shoving your religion down my throat.” If you tell them that the God who created us also has expectations of us, then you’re not “showing love.”

If you’re a believer and you’re feeling smug right now, don’t be. Christians can be pretty fuzzy on their terms as well. Here’s my favorite one: Using the term “mistake.” I'm sure you've heard it (or said it): “We all make mistakes.” My friend, if you accidentally substitute a “9” for a “6” in adding up expenses on a spreadsheet, that’s a mistake. If you plan to pick up milk in the grocery store and forget to do so, that's a mistake. If you lie to someone, that’s not a “mistake.” The Bible has several words for it: “rebellion,” “transgression,” “iniquity,” but the most common one is “sin.” It’s not a mistake. It’s not an error. It’s sin. Literally it’s “missing the mark,” like aiming an arrow at a target and missing it. God has a standard (which is perfection), and you missed it.

Jesus did not die for my mistakes. He did not bleed because of my innocent errors. He died because of my nasty, rotten, stinking, filthy sin. I need to call it what it is.

But I don’t want to end on a negative note. Jesus doesn't forgive mistakes. He forgives sins. He knows all about all the nasty things I’ve thought and done, and he forgives it all for the asking. But just like with Alcoholics Anonymous, you can’t do anything unless and until you admit you have a problem. And it all starts when you call things by their proper names.

Lord Jesus, please point out any areas of my life that are harboring rebellion. Help me to call it what it is, and accept your total cleansing. Thank you.

[Jan 16]--Exalted by What?!

Isaiah 5:11-17

If there’s one thing I think most Americans have no problem with, it’s the idea that God loves them. I know it’s the popular stereotype out there of a lost person who’s so burdened by guilt that they can’t fathom that he actually cares about them. Now, I grant you that there are people in the world who actually do feel weighed down by guilt and who have a deep sense of having offended the Almighty. But I think we’ve got the concept of the love of God down pretty well, for the most part.

We’re so used in this country to thinking of him as our buddy. That’s why I think it’s so important to read the entirety of the Bible, not just the parts we like. That’s also why it’s so important to read the prophets. If you can read the prophets and come away thinking of God as Santa Claus, then you haven’t been reading the same books I’ve been reading.

Of course, if you’re familiar with the prophets at all, then today’s passage sounds like a lot of others you might read in that section of the Bible. The Lord is angry with his people, he’s going to punish them, here’s how he’s going to do it, etc. But there’s one particular phrase I want to focus on in today’s passage, because it revolutionized my thinking about God, and I’m hoping it might do the same for you.

Read vs. 16 again, slowly. God will be exalted by his justice. Think this through with me, will you?

You’ve heard of The Purpose Driven Life? Great book and concept, by the way. But what about the Purpose-Driven God? What’s God’s purpose? What’s most important to him? Saving people? Showing them love? Well, that is important to him, but that’s only a means to an end.

The ultimate purpose of everything that God does is to gain glory for his name. Now, before you squawk at that and say “Well, that’s pretty vain and self-centered!” let me remind you of something. He actually deserves every ounce of glory that he gets. If all the angels and all humanity and all of creation bowed down to him and proclaimed how wonderful and great he is, it would only be what he rightly deserves.

So why was I saved? Because he loves me? Well, that’s part of it, but not the main or most important part. The reason I was saved was so that my salvation might glorify him. In Heaven, he'll be able to point to me and say “That’s how merciful and powerful and loving and gracious I am!” He can (and does) take the worst of sinners--what he finds in the bottom of the sludge of humanity--pulls it out of that mess, cleans it off, and turns what he finds there into a new son or daughter.

But that’s not the only way he gets glory. He's also glorified by his justice. His holy and righteous name is exalted by his justice.

Please don’t misunderstand me. If you’ve read this for any length of time, you know I believe that God doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. He wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he turn from his ways and live.

But that doesn’t change the fact that his punishment of sin shows how holy and righteous he is. I don’t know if he’ll ever do this, but picture this with me: He'll be able to point to someone in Hell and say “THAT’S how much I hate sin!!!” People in Hell will get precisely what they deserve, and that also displays aspects of his character which deserve to be honored and praised.

So how does this affect me? Because he could've chosen to glorify himself only through the punishment of sinners. But he's chosen--just on his own initiative--to also glorify and lift up his Name by pulling lost sinners out of the mess we’ve made for ourselves. He's sovereignly chosen to being glory to his Name by turning damnable rebels into adopted children and heirs.

Aren’t you glad?

Yes, I am. Thank you. All praise and honor and glory and thanks belong to you. To you alone.

[Jan 15]--Swords Into Plowshares

Isaiah 2:1-5

I’ve mentioned this before, but let me reiterate: If you’re looking for a step-by-step chronology for the return of Christ and the end of human history as we know it, then you’re looking in the wrong place. I’m not going to delve into the details of eschatology; instead, I’m going to stick to some basic principles which just about any Bible-believing Christian can agree to.

Having said that, I think today’s passage can enlighten us on today’s world, and the one to come.

For over 60 years, the United Nations has been the last, best hope for peace in the world for a lot of people. It’s a place where nations can air out their differences without resorting to armed conflict. It’s a place where non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) can coordinate in order to provide things like clean water and medical supplies where most needed. At least that’s the theory.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Quite frankly, it’s usually a place where bad nations can pretend to be on the same moral level as good nations. Nations whose governments routinely imprison, torture, and murder dissidents can be on the U.N. Human Rights Council. And it certainly hasn’t prevented many conflicts, as far as I can tell.

I’m all for peace. I don’t like people getting killed. I don’t like seeing people suffer. So if anyone is trying to prevent things like that, then I applaud their motives.

What went wrong? To answer the question, let’s take the example of a doctor. If he examines a patient and gets the diagnosis wrong, then his efforts are going to be useless at best. At worst, he’ll have a dead patient. You can’t cure a disease if you haven’t diagnosed it correctly.

The point of the U.N. was so that nations could sit down and discuss their grievances with each other. But is a lack of understanding the cause of most wars?

Um, no. The cause of most wars is because evil people do evil things. It’s a heart issue. What James said about the micro situation in the churches is just as true in the macro level: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” That’s the problem.

This misunderstanding is so beautifully illustrated in their motto. They took as their slogan (so to speak) a verse from today’s reading, a promise that one day the nations of the world will “beat their swords into plowshares.” The nations will take all their resources which are used to kill people and turn them into more productive uses, like producing food.

That would be wonderful, but when is it going to happen? Once we all sit down and truly understand each other? No, it'll happen at the end of human history (as we know it) and Christ returns to set up his Kingdom. Until we see that happen, there will be no lasting peace in the world. Until the nature of mankind is radically changed (from the inside-out), nothing will really change on the outside either. When the nations of the world are willing to listen to what the Lord is saying (as pictured here), true peace will come. Not until then.

How does this apply to us?

First and foremost, we need to keep our expectations realistic concerning peace in the world. If you have a hundred people in a room, you know what you have? A hundred sinners. If you get 10,000 in a room together, what do you have? 10,000 people who have sinful natures whose first instinct is towards selfishness and other antisocial behavior. When you hear someone talk about the hope that we’ll eventually bring about a world without war or cruelty or poverty, you know that person is lacking in wisdom.

But I can’t leave on that note. Even if we aren’t going to see perfect peace in this world, we can see peace in our personal lives. Wherever our Savior reigns, there is perfect peace. In your home, in your family, and especially in your relationship with God, you can bend that sword into a plowshare right now. Just trust and obey, and you’ll see it.

Lord Jesus, that’s what I want in my life. I’m submitting my life to you, right here and right now. If there are any areas of rebellion, then I’m throwing up the white flag right now.

[Jan 14]--Come On, Let’s Talk This Over

Isaiah 1:16-20

Have you ever gotten debt collection calls? OK, I’m man enough to admit it: I’ve gotten more than a few in my time. I don’t for one second condone getting behind on your bills, but I've let it happen to me. You screen your calls and let the voicemail pick up whatever number you don’t recognize. The calls start picking up in frequency, until it seems like you’re getting one every ten minutes. And what do you do? You dodge them. You avoid them. You let them call and call and call, and you pretend that they don’t exist.

But then I gutted up and actually picked up the call, and usually—in my experience—they're willing to work with you. I mean, they’d rather get paid off in little increments than get nothing, right? I gotta tell you, there’s nothing like the relief of knowing that you’ve settled the issue.

I think of those experiences whenever I read today’s passage. The God of Israel had an official complaint against his people. They had entered a covenant, sort of a contract, and they were falling far short of what they’d agreed to. So the Lord was bringing them up on charges, and had issued a “warrant,” so to speak. They were ducking and dodging him like the debtor who’s screening his calls.

Can I remind you of something from the previous verses? These are not pagans. They are members of the nation of Israel. They were performing the religious rituals which he'd commanded. And as we saw yesterday, God was sick of their “worship.”

You see my friend, hypocrisy and going through the motions? That’s hiding from him. They were involved in a sinful lifestyle, but you don’t have to be living in blatant sin in order to be ducking God.

And the Lord is stretching out his hand to them, pleading with them. He’s saying “Let’s talk this out now before it gets any worse.

And what will be the result?

Your stained soul will be washed clean.

The nasty filth which has hung over you like a cloud will be gone.

He's offering not a temporary reprieve, but a full and permanent pardon.

You will know—not guess, not hope—but know that you’re forgiven.

How can he do this? How can he take me and wash me clean, remove my stain?

Well, Isaiah had some strong hints, but his hints eventually became flesh and walked among us.

The promises he made were fulfilled as a Man hung on a tree.

We’ll look more closely at those promises in a few days, but for now I want to issue a call. Hide-and-seek time is over. If you’ve been faking it, then you need to come to him. Talk it out with him. Maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus; in that case, this really applies to you. Quit dodging him. I promise that your situation will only get worse until you come clean. Please read this if you haven't done so already.

But maybe you are a believer. You’ve placed your faith in him, but the earlier fire you had is gone. You show up on Sunday, say all the right words, sing all the right songs, and then go home. Why are you doing that? Whom are you trying to kid? I promise you, God enjoys your “worship” even less than you do.

When are you going to stop screening your calls?

Lord Jesus, I fall so far short of your standards. I mess up—no, I sin against you so often. Please forgive. Please cleanse, as only you can.

[Jan 13]--When God Hates Your Worship

Isaiah 1:10-15

I remember reading one of the most shocking statements I ever read about worship a few years ago. Someone was writing about being bored in a worship service. The singing was boring, the announcements were boring, and the sermon was. . .well, you can guess. The guy writing this article says that he can almost imagine the Lord saying “You know, I think I’d rather be watching a Lakers game too.”

Sometimes I wonder about how God is reacting to our worship experience. Let’s be clear, though: If you’re bored, it’s quite possible that the problem is with you, not the leaders. If you haven’t been cultivating your personal worship time, your TAWG during the week, then don’t expect some wonderful time of meeting with him on Sunday morning. As one of my pastors liked to point out, your worship time on Sunday should be just a big continuation of what you’ve been doing during the week, except in a congregation.

But there is such a thing as a worship time which the Lord hates. I’m not talking about pagan worship or heretical worship. I don’t see anything in this passage that indicates that their theology was off in any significant degree. They'd been fulfilling the Law, at least as far as the ceremonies were concerned. He doesn’t complain about the lack of sacrifices or the lack of attendance at the religious festivals.

Before we go any further, we need to get past the notion that God is against rituals or ceremonies. I know that it’s popular to deride them or pretend that ritual=legalism. We aren’t required as New Covenant believers to observe the O.T. holy days, although I think it’s a great idea to be familiar with them, since they're shadows of the reality that is Christ. We need rituals. As Dennis Prager has noted, this is how the Jewish people have kept their identity and history over the last 4,000 years, despite everything that’s happened to them. If you don’t have rituals, you’ll forget the truth that’s been handed down to you. I mean, even in the Church Age we have what could easily qualify: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The words ritual and ceremony have bad connotations to modern ears, but they shouldn't.

But the problem here is that they were just going through the motions of worship. They were performing the sacrifices and ceremonies that God had commanded them to, but their hearts weren't into it at all. The shell was there, but the kernel was missing. There was no personal relationship with their Redeemer.

And the Lord hated it. He says that their religion was a “burden” to him. That’s the sad irony here: I’m sure the people who were participating in this “worship” were enjoying it about as much as a root canal, but the God who supposedly was the beneficiary, the object of this worship, was enjoying it even less.

You’ll see this again and again in the prophets. He hates to have people blatantly turning their backs on him, but he hates just as much—or maybe a little more—to see fake worship and hypocrisy.

But there’s a cure for this ailment. And that’s what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Father, I am so sorry for the times I’ve tried to impress others with my worship. There’s only One Person who I need to impress, and that’s you. Holy Spirit, please lift me up out of myself and into your presence. Thank you.

[Jan 12]--Rebellious Nation

Isaiah 1:1-9

OK, enough beating around the bush. We’ve looked at various topics surrounding the prophets, so now we’re going to take the plunge. We’re going to do some studies in Isaiah for the next few weeks. Of course, as I keep reminding you, this is a devotional, not a commentary. We’re not going to go over every verse, just some themes from his book that I’d like to cover.

I don’t know if I’ve shared this before, but Isaiah is probably my favorite book of the prophets. The main reason for that is its completeness. More than any other O.T. book, it tells us a lot about God, mankind’s sin, the hope of Messiah, God’s grace towards us, and even some very strong hints about the afterlife. In fact, it’s actually easier to list the things it doesn’t touch on. Romans is my favorite book in the N.T. (and actually in the entire Bible) for the exact same reason. Inside me there’s a systematic theologian that’s just dying to get out, I suppose.

Another odd coincidence concerning this book is the way it’s arranged. There is a very sharp break in tone about 2/3 of the way through it. For the first 39 chapters, the focus is on God’s judgment; there are passages which talk about grace and forgiveness and restoration, but the emphasis is on not-so-pleasant subjects. In the remaining 1/3 (27 chapters), the emphasis is on his grace, mercy and power on behalf of his people. Do you see what I mean by the coincidence? There are 66 chapters in Isaiah, and there are 66 books in the Bible, and the relative emphasis in each section is the same. I don’t put a lot of stock in it being some esoteric message, but it is an interesting thing to point out, and it helps keep a rough outline in our head.

Another slightly odd thing about the book is the placing of his calling. He goes for five chapters before he relates the story of his calling as a prophet in chapter six. He tells us quite a bit, as if he can’t wait to get the message out before he starts to talk about himself. I think we need to brand this on our foreheads (metaphorically): The message is infinitely more important than the messenger. We need to keep that focus.

So here’s a few points I’d like to make from today’s passage:

• You might've missed it, especially if you’re not too familiar with the Torah, but this is pretty important. Notice how he calls the heavens and the earth to listen to his complaint? Starting with the Law of Moses, this is a pattern in Scripture: A legal complaint or charge has to have two or three prosecution witnesses. When the Lord established his covenant with the nation of Israel, he called heaven and earth as witnesses. A covenant is an agreement, a contract. And Israel had not been keeping up to their obligations, to say the least. They'd broken God’s law, and even more important, they'd broken his heart.

• People love to emphasize how “judgmental” the God of the O.T. is as contrasted with the God of the N.T., as if they’re two separate Gods instead of one. But keep this mind: Behind every announcement of judgment is a loving God who’s reaching out to sinful people. He’s not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Or to quote another prophet, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked man turn from his ways and live.

• I want to remind you, and I’ll keep doing it as long as it keeps coming up—God didn’t have to send the prophets. He was under no obligation to do so. He'd given the Law of Moses, so no Israelite needed to guess as to how the nation was doing spiritually. If he just destroyed the nation with no further warning, he'd be giving them precisely what they deserved.

• Anywhere this side of the Great Divide, all of his judgments are mixed with mercy to some degree. In the midst of this outpouring of his just anger on the nation, the prophet points out to them that the Lord was still leaving them some “survivors.”

As we go through the “harsh” passages in the prophets in the next few months, let’s keep these points in mind.

Father, I can personally testify that you've not treated me as my sins deserve. You're the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. I know that, and I’ve lived it.

[Jan 11]--Calling, Phase Three: Preparation

Isaiah 6:8-10

So we have the encounter with holy God, we have the necessary cleansing, and now comes the last phase. How does the Lord prepare his prophet?

This is one of the hardest concepts from the Bible to grasp, but it’s there, and we have to deal with it. There is a theological term for what God describes in vss. 9-10: Judicial hardening. Before we understand what it is, we need to clarify what it’s not. It’s not a case of God seeing someone who’s trying hard to follow him and obey him and please him and saying to that person “Tough luck, buddy! I'm closing the door on you right now!”

It’s the same idea of what the Lord did to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrews go, it’s not like the Lord made him do something he (Pharaoh) didn’t want to do. Pharaoh had already rejected God’s message multiple times. What happened after that--as best as we can understand--was that the Almighty confirmed the decision Pharaoh had already made. God chose not to rescue him from his own foolish choices.

It was the same here. Vss. 9-10 are ironic, almost like saying “Israel, I’m telling you to do this, but I know you’re not going to listen to me.” You might even say it’s roughly equivalent to “Go ahead, be stubborn!”

Before we move on from that point, we need to keep in mind what we saw with the story of Micaiah a few days ago: God will not leave himself without a witness. If someone wants to hear the truth, the Lord won’t leave them in the dark. He didn’t have to send Isaiah at all. But he did.

But there’s more to this: a message for Isaiah as well. God was telling his prophet, right off the bat, that he (Isaiah) was going to be a failure, at least in some sense of the term. Getting the the nation at large to listen to him and repent? That wasn’t going to happen, for the most part.

If you ever get serious about sharing the Good News about Jesus with those around you, you really need to develop a “thick skin.” You’re going to be rejected more often than accepted. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but it’s one we have to absorb.

The good news (with small letters) is that God doesn’t count success with noses. He counts success by one standard: Obedience to what he says. If we do what he tell us to do, if we go where he tell us to go, if we say what he tell us to say, then we’re successful. Obedience doesn't lead to success. Obedience is success. 

Once again, I want to share one of my favorite sayings:

It matters not if the world has heard,
     or approves or understands;
the only applause we’re meant to seek
     is that of nail-scarred hands.

--B.J. Hoff

Lord Jesus, I want to be successful, please. Not by the world’s standards, but by yours. Because I’m not going to have to give an account to them, only you.

[Jan 10]--Calling, Phase Two: Cleansing

Isaiah 6:5-7

I think if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have some major problems with modern Christianity as typically expressed in America. Of course every culture has some sin issues and some blind spots, but since I’m an American, that’s what my focus is going to be on. If I was Japanese or Indian or Peruvian, I'd probably have gripes about those societies, or at least I hope so. Anyway, two big problems I have with American Christianity are A) Its lackadaisical attitude towards sin, and B) Its overemphasis—to the point of flippancy—concerning the intimate nature of our relationship with God Almighty.

The great thing is that whatever your problem, whether personally or as a national church, the Bible has the cure for you. The underlying problem is that we tend to focus on the problem we're the least in danger from. In a church that’s overrun by antinomianism, we like to just concentrate on passages which talk about the free grace we have in Christ. If we look hard enough, I'm sure we can find churches that are in danger of legalism, but I don’t think that’s the major problem in America.

The reason I bring this up is that today’s passage, actually all of Isaiah 6:1-10, provides a great corrective for what ails us. When we fall into the trap of thinking of God as our “Buddy” and our “Pal,” then the first few verses of chapter 6 should bring us back to reality. And today we see how God deals with the issue of sin in regards to his servants and representatives.

Now, let’s think a little deeper on this. Does God use flawed people? Well, considering that it’s either that or stick with using angels from the throne, then the answer is “of course.” But what about someone who has an area of habitual rebellion? What about someone who is actively being disobedient to something God has made clear? Does he use those people as well?

My friend, our Lord uses Satan all the time to fulfill his purposes. Once again, we need only see how he manipulated sinful people and (I believe) demonic forces to accomplish the Atonement. So of course he can use someone who’s actively in rebellion as a part of his plan.

But does he use rebellious people as his representatives? That’s the more pointed question, and as near as I can tell, the answer is “No.” In fact, he takes that rather seriously. According to Paul, what was one of the Lord's major indictments of Israel? “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Israel was supposed to be the Lord’s representatives on earth, and they brought shame to his Name.

If you want to be a representative of the Lord, then it starts with a true encounter with him. I don’t mean just a point in which you “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” I mean a point at which you come face to face with the otherness of God. He is holy. He is sovereign. He's the One before whom angels dare not bare their faces.

When you do, you’ll quickly go from point A) God is holy to point B): You are not holy. The closer you get to him, the starker will become the sin in your life. Sins that never seemed to be that big a deal will become much more heinous in your eyes. You know what’s happening? You know how when two people spend time together, they start to become like each other? That’s the same principle here: As you spend time with him, you’ll start to become like him, and part of that will be that you start taking sin more seriously, like he does.

It’s necessary. If you’re going to represent him, then he has to start cleansing you. But you might be saying “But I’m not a preacher or a pastor or an evangelist!” Oh, please. You think you’re getting out of this just because you’re a “lay” person? If you're a believer in Jesus, then he's appointed you as his representative. And just like Isaiah, he’s not giving you much of a choice. As someone once told me, every Christian is a witness. The only question is whether they’re a good witness or a bad one.

Lord Jesus, it’s painfully obvious that I have a long ways to go in taking my sin seriously. My sin is what nailed you to the Cross. My sin was the whip lashing your back. May I never take that lightly. If I’m going to be your ambassador, I need to start representing you a lot better.

[Jan 09]--Called

Isaiah 6:1-4

Enough with the generalities! For the next few months we’re going to be looking at different prophetic books and seeing what God has to tell us through them. Of course we’re going to start with one of the greatest, namely Isaiah. Perhaps his greatness can be discerned from the fact that the N.T. quotes him more than any other prophet. In fact, he’s the most quoted O.T. writer outside of the Psalms. He’s certainly the most prolific.

But how did he become a prophet? Did he just pick the job because he couldn’t find anything else to do? Did he take some aptitude test?

No! My friend, what’s true of the prophets is true for any would-be minister. My dad once told me “If you can do anything else in life, you’re not called.” You don’t pick it; it—or rather, he—picks you.

If you have a Bible with good study notes (I recommend the NIV Study Bible), then you might know that the King Uzziah’s death was a devastating blow to Judah, and likely a devastating blow to Isaiah. He must've thought that this was going to be a time of political turmoil and spreading injustice. He might've even thought that the world was spinning out of control, and that it seemed like no one was in charge.

But a vision of the Lord disabused him of that notion. Whether he was in the physical temple or not, he entered the true temple of the Lord which we rarely see in this life. He saw the majesty of the Lord Almighty. What was he supposed to get out of this?

The Lord is on the throne of everything. Who’s on the earthly throne is not really important. You know the saying attributed to Harry S. Truman, “The Buck Stops Here”? People like to “pass the buck,” in other words duck responsibility. Truman’s slogan was meant to convey that he was in charge, that he and no one else was going to make the hard decisions that every good leader has to make, and he was going to take responsibility for them. With all due respect to President Truman, the buck didn’t stop at his desk. The Lord put him there in that position of responsibility, and God removed him from it as soon as his (God’s) plan called for it.

He’s attended by angels as his servants. Mind you, as we noted several times, these are creatures before whom righteous men are tempted to bow and worship. These are creatures who need to reassure people every time they appear “Don’t be afraid!” And these creatures do not dare to bare their face before the Almighty.

• And what does God reveal about himself though the worship of these angels? He is holy. He is separate. He’s utterly unique in the universe. And the angels don’t just tell us he is holy. They say “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” This is important because the ancient Hebrews didn’t have punctuation like we do. They had no exclamation mark or italics or bold face. So they emphasized by repetition. Twice saying something meant it was important. To say something three times was the superlative; it was basically saying that God is the holiest of the holiest of the holiest.

You know what question I’m going to ask next, right? What does this mean to me? Well, what was the Lord trying to tell Isaiah through this vision? It’s a wonderful image of worship and it reveals the majesty of the King of Heaven. But why did the Lord show this?

Because in the days and years ahead, Isaiah’s calling was going to lead through some very dark valleys. He saw through his visions the destruction of his beloved nation. He was going to endure persecution which was par for the course. Tradition tells us that he was finally sawn in half by a wicked king. And in the dark days to come, he needed to know what type of God he was serving. When you’re serving a God before whom angels bow, then you can endure whatever comes.

Father God, please improve my vision of who you are. Holy holy holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of your glory.

[Jan 08]--Last Of His Kind

Matt. 11:1-15

Again, I’m going to help you in your next game of “Bible Trivia.” Who was the last O.T. prophet? If you answered “Malachi,” then you need to actually do the Scripture reading before you read my devotional. The answer’s John the Baptist.

I spent several days a couple of years ago studying the life of John, so we’re not going to go too much into that. I just wanted to submit some thoughts on what our Lord says about this man before we move on to some a more systematic study in the book of Isaiah. So what does Jesus say about this man, and how is it relevant to us?

First off, we need to keep in mind that the prophets had an incomplete understanding of what they were talking about. I thoroughly believe--and most commentators I’ve read agree with me--that John’s actions in sending his disciples were for his own benefit, not just for the disciples’. He'd preached and served faithfully for many years, and his reward so far was a dark prison and impending death. My theory of his source of doubt is that he suffered from some of the common misunderstanding of what the Messiah came to do. Of course, he had a vastly greater comprehension of the Messiah’s atoning work than anyone else of his generation. But apparently he was under the impression that the arrival of the Messiah was going to bring about a “regime change” in the world. When Messiah came, he would set up a physical kingdom and would restore Israel to prominence, and would slay all God’s enemies, etc. “And if that’s the case, what the heck am I still doing in prison? If Jesus is about to set up his kingdom, he needs to hurry if my head's going to stay attached to my shoulders.”

The prophets don’t seem to have really mentioned in their writings the fact that the Messiah would be coming twice, not once. We’re going to get into this later, but for now we need to grasp this concept: They tended to blur the two comings into one in their writings.

So what does Jesus have to say about John? We need to keep in mind that Jesus had just (very gently) rebuked John for letting doubts creep into his head. Perhaps the audience gathered from this that Jesus was putting John down or disrespecting him. Absolutely not! Jesus tells us:

• You know the stereotype of the politician who sticks his finger in the wind, sees which way it’s blowing, and then plots his course based on popular opinion? That’s the exact opposite of John. He was serving the Lord as best as he was able, and he couldn’t care less what people thought or about being popular.

• He willingly gave up creature comforts in order to fulfill Gods plan for him.

• He's specifically predicted in Scripture. There are very few men who could point to a prophetic statement in God’s word and say “Yeah, that’s talking about me!" but John could. He was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1.

• Among those born from women, there was never anyone greater than John. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not David. Not Solomon. Not Isaiah. Not Jeremiah. None of them was greater than John.

Again, why is this important? Because in spite of all this, the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than him. That applies to you (if you’re a believer) and to me. No matter how insignificant I am or feel, I’m greater than John. Not because of what I’ve done (as if I could ever equal his accomplishments, duh), but because of who I am in Christ.

That’s why I wanted to make this point. Your understanding is so much greater than John’s it’s not even funny. He only had the partial picture. You have all the revelation that humanity’s going to get until Christ returns. He had a pretty decent grasp of what Jesus was going to do. You’ve personally experienced what Jesus did.

You have so much more than John or any other prophet ever did. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you grateful?

Yes, Lord, I am. Now please let me show that.

[Jan 07]--Comfy?

1 Kings 22:1-28

OK, I know that today’s reading is a little longer than you might be used to here, but I really needed to present these verses, because they touch on some really important issues. I couldn’t really summarize the story and do it justice.

First, let’s get the weird/controversial part out of the way, then we can move on to more productive things. What the heck is up with Micaiah’s vision? God sent this—what, deceptive spirit? Evil spirit? Demonic spirit?—to Ahab’s court? Let’s use our God-given common sense and what we know from the rest of God’s word to work through this very obscure story.

• Did this literally happen in God’s court, or is it just a symbolic vision? Did this literally happen up in Heaven? Well, one of my principles in interpreting Scripture is that I take it literally unless I have some very good reason to think otherwise. There are some difficulties in accepting a literal interpretation, but they’re not insurmountable. So therefore, I lean towards a literal understanding, but I want to be charitable towards those who look at it symbolically.

• We need to think very carefully about this. Our Lord is the source of all truth, and our Savior is Truth Incarnate. He never ever ever lies to us, and his officially appointed messengers will never do so--ever. At least, they won't insomuch as they're truly representing him. However, he can and does sometimes use evil spirits, just like he uses evil men, to accomplish his purposes. That doesn’t mean he approves of all that they do. In fact, they might be in the act of sinning while they’re being manipulated in order to fulfill his plan. The ultimate example of this, of course, is the Passion of our Lord.

• Did God send a deceiving spirit to Ahab in order to destroy him? If you interpret the vision literally, then yes. But he also sent Micaiah with the truth. Ahab was not deprived of what he needed to know. He had a true prophet of God standing right in front of him, telling him that if they went forward, he (the king) would die. If Ahab was really interested in the truth instead of hearing what he wanted to hear, he had access to it. The only reason he didn't listen to what the true prophet was saying was because he freely chose to listen to the lying ones, who only echoed what he was planning to do anyway. 

So now we come to the main point of today’s reading, at least as it regards our study of the prophets. My friend, listen very carefully. I don't believe that today we have biblical prophets who have the same authority as Isaiah or Amos. However, inasmuch as your preacher on Sunday faithfully teaches God’s word to you, he’s all you need anyway. That’s God’s word to you. If you’re waiting for some special “word from the Lord” besides what’s in the Bible in front of you, you’ve got a long wait ahead.

Why do I bring this up? Because if you can sit in front of a preacher Sunday after Sunday and feel perfectly comfortable doing so, then something’s wrong with either you or him. He’s not like a flight attendant on a plane, offering you a pillow and asking if you’re “comfy.” If nothing that he says ever pricks your conscience, then that’s not good.

That was Ahab’s problem, as if it wasn’t obvious. The whole way that he judged whether a prophet was “good” or not was whether the “prophet” told him what he wanted to hear. Why have a prophet then? I've never quite understood why any leaders ever have “yes men” around them. Besides stroking the leader’s ego, what good are they supposed to do?

But before we point the finger at this foolish king, we need to stop for a moment. There's a little bit of Ahab in all of us, isn't there? Isn't there?

Lord Jesus, I point and laugh at Ahab, but sometimes it’s not funny. When you’re speaking, I need to listen and obey.

[Jan 06]--Another Bad Sign

1 Sam. 9:1-10

Before we move on from distinguishing a false prophet from a true one, I need to address one other sign that’s a pretty good indication. Hopefully you’re familiar enough with the story that I don’t have to go into too many details. God had acceded to Israel’s request for a king, and he (the Lord) had chosen Saul, who had no idea about any of this. Saul and his father’s servant went to look for some lost donkeys. They heard about a “seer” (the common term for a prophet at the time) in the district of Zuph who might give them supernatural insight into the location of the animals. Please notice Saul’s objection to going to this “man of God”: They didn’t have anything to pay him. The servant countered that he had a little money which they could use to induce the seer.

What’s important to me is not so much Saul’s story, but what this little conversation reveals in passing. Saul assumes that they need to pay a “man of God” in order to get his help, and the servant with him doesn’t question Saul’s assumption. That to me exposes what was the norm among—not the laity—but the prophets, the “men of God.” Their reputation was “If I’m going to help you, I need to see the cash first.”

Now, we need to tread carefully and think clearly. Is it wrong for full-time ministers to be paid for their work? Absolutely not! If you read Paul’s discussion on this in 1 Corinthians, he has two points to make: 1) If someone is working full-time in service to the Kingdom, if they make their living from the Good News, then the church should pay them for this. That is the norm for God’s kingdom. This is a not a term I use very often, but Paul actually says that these ministers have a “right” to expect support from the church. If the church (either as a local body or as an organization) can support its ministers with a decent living salary, it’s obligated to. 2) However, there might be circumstances in which the church can’t support someone on a full-time basis, and in which case the preacher/pastor/minister/missionary will have to find another means of support. The most important thing is that God’s work be done. The Good News is the only thing that’s important.

But if someone’s main concern is money, that’s a problem. And trust me, if money is the most important thing to them, that fact will come out. If you watch someone on TV and they spend as much time on asking for money as on supposedly sharing their teaching (which much of the time is heretical anyway), then that’s a problem. If they claim that you need to come to them for help and for a “donation” of “only” a certain amount of money you can get a handkerchief soaked with sweat from their brow, there’s a problem.

That’s a sign of a false prophet. Don’t listen to them. Don’t pay any attention to them. Don’t try to pick out the “good” parts from the “bad” parts. In due time, God will deal with them.

But we can't let the bad apples cause us to avoid the flip side of this truth. If someone makes their living in working for the Kingdom, then their wage should (ideally) come from believers’ support. Both Paul and Jesus make it clear: “The worker deserves his wages.” Dear sibling in Christ, please be generous with the man of God whose job it is to spiritually feed you. Don’t cop out with “He should only be concerned about heavenly rewards.” Yes, he should. And if he’s like most ministers, he’s not concerned about money for himself. If he was, he’s in the wrong profession, and he knew it getting in. But that in no way excuses you from doing what the Lord expects you to do. Got it?

Father God, the love of money is such a trap. Please help me to be free from it. Let me show that freedom in my generosity with others.

[Jan 05]--Test #2

Deut. 13:1-5

Yesterday we talked about the first test to know whether or not someone really was a prophet or just shooting off his mouth. If what he predicted didn’t come true 100% of the time, then he was a false prophet, and the Lord had zero tolerance for that. Obviously I don’t believe in the death penalty for anyone falsely claiming to speak for God. In the Age of the Church, our weapons are spiritual, not physical. We confront lies with the truth from the Scriptures, and we pray that the Spirit will open peoples’ eyes. But we should take falsely speaking in God’s name just as seriously as he does.

Now we come to the second test, and it’s one that causes some head-scratching sometimes. Maybe the prophet predicts something, and lo and behold it comes true! Does that establish his bona fides? No. Passing the test of accuracy was necessary but not sufficient to prove he was legitimate.

Now here’s where it gets confusing. According to this passage, it might not be just coincidence that what a false prophet comes true. It might be the Lord himself who brings it to pass. Why? Because he’s testing his people to make sure they truly love him.

This might seem really strange to us, but it's a pattern we see repeatedly in Scripture. It was a similar situation in the incident regarding the prophet Micaiah and King Ahab, which we looked at a couple of years ago. Also, according to Paul, in the Last Days the Lord himself will (in some sense) send the lost world at large "a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness." But please keep this in mind: Even when the Lord allows or (in some sense) "sends" false teachers or false prophets or the Antichrist, he still never leaves himself without a witness to the truth which people can listen to if they choose to. The Jews of Moses' day had the Torah. Ahab had a true prophet of the Lord standing right in front of him. People in the End Times will have God's word and some remnant of God's people to tell them that the Antichrist is not someone to follow. People never have an excuse to follow Satan's lies. 

What message is Moses trying to get across to them? Well, from my readings of the Prophets and from my studies, I have an answer to that question. He doesn’t really go into detail in today’s passage, but there are some things we can understand from the whole of his word.

First, we need to understand that the main purpose of a prophet was not to predict the future. He would predict the future, but that wasn’t the primary reason he was talking. He was there to draw God’s people back to the Lord. To the degree he made any predictions, he did that to establish some credibility. But that was only to get people to listen to his message.

So the second test which they had to pass in order to genuine was "Is what they're saying in accord with what we've heard so far? The "god" that they're pointing us towards, is it the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or some other god?"

This addresses a main problem a lot of folks have with the prophetic literature. To the degree they do study it, they do it to get an outline for the future. They want to know who the Anti-Christ is, or what God’s plan for modern Israel is, or whether we need to be Pre-Trib or Post-Trib or something else. You might actually find some clues to those type of questions. But inasmuch as you approach prophetic literature and ask questions like that, you’re missing the main point.

The main point of prophecy for us is twofold: A) Comfort you if you’re experiencing really hard times, letting you know that your Father has it under control and cares about you, or B) Slap you upside the head and let you know that he's not pleased with how you’ve been acting. In the case of the first hearers of these oracles, they were directed back to the God of the Torah, back to the Teachings of Moses. In the case of modern Christians, the prophets are here to bring us back to our Redeemer, to the One who loves us and who died for us.

Have I made it clear? Predictions are a side-issue here. Getting into a right relationship with the Lord is the main thing.

Second, and this goes along with what I said yesterday, we need to carefully examine every word that comes out of every preacher’s or teacher's mouth. If some guy claims that “God told me. . .” then I’m really skeptical. And quite frankly, all the preachers I’ve heard making claims like that also teach something that’s not in accord with the Bible. They might teach that God wants all believers to be rich and healthy, for example. Others have a really skewed view of Jesus or salvation. Once I know that they’re promoting false teaching, why should I listen to anything else they have to say?

But I want to end on a positive note here. the Lord has given us the Scriptures, not just to fill our heads with knowledge (though that’s part of it), but to draw us to himself. That’s the main point of all portions of his word—Not just the prophets, but every word from Genesis 1:1 to the last verse of Revelation. Do you approach the Bible with that purpose in mind?

Father, I want to not only know the word of God, which is important. The reason I love the word of God so much is because it's the way I access the God of the word. That’s what I desire, that’s what I long for.

[Jan 04]--Predicting the Future

Deut. 18:14-22

If you read the prophetic part of the O.T., you might notice something about God’s character and priorities. Over and over and over he gives warnings that A) False prophets will come, B) God will hold his people accountable if they listen to these charlatans, and C) He really really really hates it when someone presumes to speak in his name when that prophet is not from him. I’m sure that the President would get royally ticked if I, Keith Bird, stood up at a press conference and said “This is the new policy of the White House. . .” Someone from said White House would immediately make it clear that I don’t have any authorization to speak in the name of the President. I’m just a guy with my own opinions.

Why was he so angry at someone speaking in his name when they weren’t supposed to? Well, for one thing they always were there to deceive people, usually away from the one true God of Israel. God only knows what motivation they had, but my guess is that most of the time it was an issue of money. Maybe sometimes they wanted to feel important about themselves, but I think moolah was the primary reason.

But I want to focus for just a moment on point (B) from above. Remember the story of the Fall of our first parents? Both of them tried to shift the blame to someone else. The woman in particular tried to excuse herself by saying “The Snake deceived me.” Did God accept that excuse? Um, no. Because she really knew better. Just like the people of Israel. If they listened to a false prophet, the Lord accepted absolutely no excuses in that regard.

Why not? How could they tell a false prophet from a true one? Well, he gave them two tests for anyone who claimed to speak for himself. Tomorrow we’ll look at one, but for today we’ll examine the other one in today’s reading. It’s pretty obvious: If what the prophet predicted came true, he passed the test. If not, then he was a false prophet, and the punishment for doing this was pretty severe. Again, the Lord took this a whole lot more seriously than we do.

Why is this important to us? Because God was setting a standard for his word that was pretty high. If a man claiming to be a prophet made a prediction, 80% wasn’t good enough. 99% wasn’t either. Do you remember the soap commercials that claimed to be 99 and 44/100% pure? Still not good enough. If he made one prediction that was not 100% accurate, then he was a false prophet and was subject to the death penalty.

Why is this important to us today? Well, I see three applications. First, this should strengthen our confidence in God’s word. If the standard was any lower, then we might come away wondering “Is the book of Isaiah really straight from God?” If this was just a guy with an opinion, then you can dismiss him. But say he was a prophet, but some of his opinions got somehow mixed in with the stuff from God? Didn’t happen. Either all of it comes from God, or none of it. So you can and should trust it.

Second, I fear for a lot of preachers on TV. Please don’t misunderstand me. I have nothing against preachers using TV per se. I’m referring to anyone who glibly says “God told me. . .” To put it mildly, I’m extremely skeptical of anyone claiming that they’ve received a message from the Almighty which is on the same authority as Jeremiah. And quite frankly, you should be too. The Lord takes it seriously when someone claims to speak directly from his throne, and I haven’t seen a preacher yet who does this that changes my opinion in general about them. And from what I’ve read from Scripture, they have a lot to answer for.

And third, this is a warning to people like me. When I teach straight from God’s word and take care to interpret it accurately for you, I’m on solid ground. But when I present an opinion which doesn’t have as much support from the Bible, I need to be clear that I’m doing that. I need to be extra careful. If I ever say “God told me. . .” then the next thing you should be asking for is book, chapter, and verse.

We all need to be concerned about this. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Father God, your word is the only sure light, the only sure path we have in this dark and confusing world. May we listen, and obey.

[Jan 03]--Spirit-led and Spirit-filled

Numbers 11:24-30

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Jewish people have regarded Moses as the prophet par excellence since he walked the earth. Of course this is reinforced by his epitaph written as the last words of the Torah: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

He was the prophet through whom the Lord liberated his people and brought them to the Promised Land. Unlike other prophets and people who encountered the Almighty, Moses spoke with God face-to-face. Through him, the Lord gave Israel the Law, by which he revealed his will and provided a national charter and constitution, by which the people were to be governed. This included instructions concerning the Tabernacle, proper worship, the Aaronic priesthood, the sacrifices, and the host of laws which—if followed—would keep the people healthy, prosperous, happy, and in a right relationship with their Redeemer.

So Moses is considered to be the model and standard by which all later prophets were to be measured and were expected to follow. And there was one essential requirement which a prophet had to have. He had to be led by and filled by the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit doing his work, a prophet was just a man with opinions. With the Spirit moving him to speak, however, the prophet could proclaim what was on God’s mind, straight from the Throne of Heaven itself. The Spirit made all the difference.

Why am I making such a big deal over this, and what does it have to do with today’s passage? Because this story opens a window into the heart of Moses, yes. It shows his humble spirit in that he graciously was willing to share authority and the Spirit’s power. He didn’t see the Spirit of the Lord as something to hoard to himself, but something to be shared with as many people as possible.

But even more than that, it’s a picture of the future Church. He knew that it would be best if the Spirit was shared with not just himself, not just a few elders, but all of God’s people. He wanted the blessings that he got from the Spirit—the power, the changing of his character, the closeness to the Lord—to be available to all the redeemed. The Spirit within him enabled him to speak the very words of God, and he wanted all God’s people to be able to do that.

How is this relevant to today? If you’re asking that question, then you haven’t been reading the Blog for very long. I spoke of this before, but it’s worth repeating: Moses’ dream came true on Pentecost and with the birth of the Church. Now every believer has full access to the Holy Spirit, just as Moses did. Now, I believe that the canon is closed—we aren’t going to write Scripture. But we have full access to the Lord’s abiding presence in our lives. Right now. The division of “haves” and “have-nots” in this regard is gone.

And in a sense you can reveal his word to others in a way that even Moses couldn’t. When you share with a lost soul that the Savior loves them and wants them in his family, you’re doing something extraordinary. When you see a sibling in Christ who desperately needs a word of hope from God's truth, you can be a “prophet” to that person. Remember, a prophet is just a mouthpiece. When you share God’s truth in the power and by the leadership of the Spirit, you’re all the prophet that person needs.

Will you do it?

Yes, Lord, I’ll be your mouthpiece. Whatever you want me to tell that certain someone, I’ll do it. Just give me the words to speak and a heart of compassion.

[Jan 02]--Mouthpiece

Ex. 7:1-2

I mentioned yesterday this aspect of the job of prophet, but we’re going to examine this in greater detail yesterday. I said yesterday that a prophet is a mouth, and that’s what a prophet literally is. Just like in today’s passage, the pattern was for God to call someone and then send that person (usually a man) to the intended audience. You’ll see a pattern that comes up repeatedly: The prophet starts out with “This is what God says. . .” (or traditionally you might've heard it as "Thus sayeth the Lord."

This is so important for us to understand. Despite what skeptics might contend, a prophet doesn’t present his own opinions and pass them off as God’s word. At least a true one won’t; of course, there were plenty of false ones walking around, looking to make a fast buck.

That’s why studying these books is not optional for believers. When Jeremiah says something in the name of the Lord, that’s God talking to us. Maybe we’re not the original intended audience, and we have to be careful about applying what they say to modern-day believers. But this is God’s word just as much as the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments. It all comes from the same Holy Spirit.

In fact, Peter had something to say about this. In his second epistle, he gives us one of the best explanations of Divine inspiration that you’ll find in the Bible. This is what he says: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” First off, he emphatically affirms that the writings of the prophets are not the invention of human imagination. They don’t have a human origin at all. But the wonderful truth is outlined for us in vs. 21. He says that the human authors were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. The word there was used for a wind blowing a sail on a boat. The Spirit was the guiding Person behind all the writings of the prophets, and he superintended all of it so as to tell us exactly what we need to hear. He used the personal background, vocabulary, and personality of each prophet for his own purposes, so that each author sounds different, but they each present a consistent message.

Why do people not read the prophets as much as they read the Psalms or the Gospels or other parts of Scripture? Well, to be honest, some of it’s not so appealing to us at first. There are parts that my natural predisposition finds boring. There are plenty of parts on which the scholars don't agree on the interpretation. And if the “experts” don’t agree on the interpretation of something, I can guarantee you that it’s going to be tough for us to understand.

But we do ourselves a great disservice if we ignore this section of Scripture. And despite the impression you might've gotten from certain Bible teachers and preachers, their greatest value to us is not to give us a detailed chronology of the End Times. If you’re looking in the Prophets section for clues as to who the Anti-Christ (or to confirm your suspicions), then you’re missing the main point. They tell us so much more than that.

And I’m giving away some of what I’ll say later, but their main benefit to us is that they show us our Savior. If you want to know Jesus, then you need to be familiar with all of what Scripture says about him. If the only stuff you know about Jesus comes from the Gospels, then you’re missing out. And you wouldn’t want to miss some of Jesus, would you?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your word, which truly is a light shining in this world, which can be pretty dark sometimes. May I interpret your word correctly, and let me find you there. Please speak, and help me to listen.

[Jan 01]--New Beginnings And A Look At A Mouth

Genesis 20:1-7

Welcome to the New Year! I remember a bit of wisdom that my last manager gave me while I still worked in pest control. At the end of the fiscal year, he gathered everyone and said “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that this is a new year and all the mistakes of the last year are gone. You have a slate that’s wiped clean. The bad news is that this is a new year, and all your accomplishments of the past year are gone too.” There’s some truth to that. In Christ, we know that every morning his mercies are new. All your failures are gone, and he’s never going to bring them up again. But also we need to move forward concerning our walk with him. I know that the Spirit has rebuked me sometimes because I’ve been resting on what I did for the Lord in the past. I know that I’ll get rewarded for service some day, and the Lord never forgets what we do for him. But my focus always needs to be on today, not on the past--That applies to both failures and to successes.

Before we get to today’s study, I have just one more bit of housecleaning. If you’re getting this by email, then it might've been a while since you visited the actual TAWG Blog website, which is as it should be. But I'd like to point you to something else my website offers. I’m a huge believer in reading the Bible systematically from cover to cover on a regular basis. If you don’t then you tend to go back over and over and over to the parts of the Bible which you like best and neglect the parts which aren’t as naturally appealing. Please let me remind you: Paul didn’t say most Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. He didn’t say all Scripture except for the boring parts. He said all Scripture. That means from Genesis 1:1 to the last verse of Revelation. Does your Bible reading reflect that truth?

That’s why I have both the 2-year and 3-year Bible reading plan on my web site. You need Microsoft Excel, or at least a reader for Excel in order to access it (which is free). Why not a one-year plan? Well, there are plenty of those out there for you to use, and if that works for you, then please continue it. I find, however, that a lot of people (myself included) get intimidated and discouraged if we miss a day and get behind. You miss a day or so and find that you need to read 10 chapters of Jeremiah or Ezekiel, which (let’s be honest), would be a beating. So I offer the other plans so that you can take your time and more easily catch up if you miss a day or two. The three-year plan is my favorite, and my wife and I have been doing it for several years.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the plan for this year. God willing, we’re going to spend about 6 months in the prophets, and then the remainder of the year in the epistles of Paul and others. I feel the need to remind you: This isn’t a commentary, so we’re just going to do an overview of both sections with some of the main themes.

Along the way, we’re going to do a couple of topical studies to break up the rut. The ones I have in mind are on prayer and evangelism/witnessing. Hope you’ll stick with us for the ride, and it’ll be a blessing to you.

Now, finally, let’s take a brief look at today’s passage and subject. By the way, if you’re ever playing Bible trivia, and the question is “Who was the first person to be called a prophet in the Bible?” you know the answer. Genesis 20:7 is the first mention of the term.

What is a prophet? There are a couple of aspects to the job-description, but literally a prophet is a mouth. He (or she, there were a few female prophets in Scripture) was a representative between God and humanity. Most of the time, this is in the direction of representing God to mankind, but today's an exception.

Abraham didn’t go out and preach, as far as we know. He didn’t go to people and tell them “This is what God says” like Jeremiah or Amos did. But he was a prophet in that 1) God had revealed things to him that he didn’t to anyone else, and Abraham did convey that truth to humanity eventually (otherwise we wouldn’t know about it), and 2) Abraham would intercede for Abimelech to God and plead with God to forgive him.

If you know me, then you know what’s coming next, right? This is the part where I ask “So what? How does this affect me right now?” I don’t believe we have biblical prophets today. But there’s a sense in which we can fulfill that role right now. We're the only representatives on earth between humanity and the Lord today. And part of that role is to “stand in the gap” between God and mankind, and a huge aspect of that is intercession. It’s a huge responsibility and privilege to stand before God and plead with him for others. Do I take this as seriously as I should?

Father God, it’s amazing to me that you actually want to hear from me and expect me to take on that responsibility. Thank you. By your grace, I want to take up that challenge.