This is the Gospel: Jesus Calls us to Faith and Repentance

Psalm 51:1-19Joel 2:12-13Mark 1:14-15Romans 5:1-2Romans 10:9-10


“Sorry, not sorry.”

This phrase has gained a firm grip on our culture by way of music and memes. Regardless of how it’s spun or who is doing the spinning, it’s always the bones of an apology minus any meat. In other words, it’s a skeleton phrase, nothing but a shell. “Look, I’m going to tell you ‘I’m sorry,’ but the truth of the matter is I’m not sorry at all.” And yes, it’s always accompanied by a rather carefree, if not defiant, attitude.

While it may no doubt involve using the word “sorry,” there is something much deeper going on when the word “repentance” surfaces in Scripture. It is nothing if not a meaty word, impossible to spin.

“Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Tear your hearts, not just your clothes” (Joel 2:12-13).

When it comes to repentance, tearing your clothes, whether literally or figuratively, could be involved. But that could also be nothing more than a “sorry, not sorry” stance. An empty gesture, merely a shell. God is crystal clear on the matter—empty gestures won’t fly. As they used to say, “Close, but no cigar.” 

Repentance is all in: a total turning of your mind, body, soul, and strength. You were headed in this direction, this way of thinking, this way of behaving, but now you’re turning the other way, the opposite of before. By all means if you need something tangible to symbolize your repentance, like tearing your clothes, do it. But more importantly, tear your heart and pray with the psalmist, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Tear your heart. Sounds sorta harsh, doesn’t it? That’s probably because it sorta is, or at least it will feel that way. But stop and consider just who it is you’re turning to—the LORD your God. The psalmist describes our God with phrases like “faithful love” and “abundant compassion.” Words like these make Him sound sorta merciful, don’t they? That’s because He is; He’s merciful beyond our wildest imagination.   

The word “repent” unfortunately conjures up images of sweaty evangelists on street corners, pacing back and forth yelling hellfire and damnation messages to mostly disinterested crowds. But it is precisely the word that Jesus used when He came announcing the kingdom: “Repent.” But here’s the deal: Jesus didn’t stop with that one word, and what follows is what sets Him apart from any doomsday huckster. “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). 

The only reason you and I would turn from this to that is because “that” is infinitely better, grander, and more beautiful. And He is. Jesus is.  


Written by John Blase


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

This is the Gospel: Jesus Lived, Died, and Rose Again

John 3:16-17Matthew 15:29-31Luke 18:31-33John 19:28-30Romans 5:6-11Philippians 2:5-11


It is an unlikely story. But I only just realized this.

Recently, my wife and I surprised our kids by taking them to the Humane Society. We’d seen a kitten on their website and thought he would be would be perfect for our family. But when we got there, we realized he had a twin brother. As we walked up to them we saw them playing together. Not having the heart to separate them, we left with two orange kittens, and before we even got home they had new names: Aslan and Judah.

My youngest did not like the name Aslan and was insistent we call him Buddy instead. You see, he did not know the story of Aslan. At nine years old, my son is not much of a reader. He prefers the outdoors and sports to books. So we decided to have a family movie night, complete with burgers and fries and peach cobbler, to watch The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and hopefully convince him that Aslan is indeed a good name.

I know this story backwards and forwards. I’ve been reading it since fourth grade when my parents bought me the books. I’d read through them almost every other year growing up. But I noticed something new while watching the movie with him: It is an unlikely story.

My son knows that Aslan represents Jesus, and he knows the story of Jesus very well. But he was still surprised by Aslan’s death and the fact that he died to save Edmund. He actually kept asking us, “He is coming back, isn’t he?” as if he was worried Aslan would stay dead and the evil witch would win.

It was almost as if the story was so unlikely that it was hard to believe, even though he knew the story behind the story. The unlikeliness of the life, death, and resurrection of Aslan mirrored the very unlikeliness of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul says, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). I often find this hard to believe, if I’m honest. Not on a factual level but on a personal level. I know how much like Edmund I am. I know the evil that resides in my heart. I know the betrayal I have shown toward the King. And so it seems unlikely that after living a perfect life, He would die to save me and then rise again to conquer death.

It all sounds so unlikely, but it’s a true story. And it’s the best news I’ve ever heard.


Written by Matthew B. Redmond


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

This is the Gospel: We Can't Save Ourselves

Isaiah 24:1-6Matthew 19:16-22Romans 8:5-1118-25Hebrews 7:26-28Hebrews 9:22


While eating at a burger joint in our neck of Houston, my then two-year-old son decided it would be fun to run around the makeshift, cobbled together “playground”—its main feature being an old, rusty, hollowed-out school bus. As it was getting dark, he ran behind the bus to explore, and I immediately thought, There’s no telling what’s back there. I’d better go get him. His two-year-old legs were pumping fast, but I caught up with him just in time. 

It was so dark behind the bus we couldn’t see what was on the ground right in front of us. So I used the flashlight on my phone to light my son’s path as he ran and laughed in the dark—but I saw trouble. A pile of jagged chunks of concrete lay just a few tiny strides away, but my young son didn’t see it. I semi-lunged to grab him as he began to fall headfirst into a pile of hospital bills. I scooped him up, jumped over the concrete, tweaked my ankle on the landing, and told him, “Look at that, buddy. I just saved your life.”

My son couldn’t save himself. Forget the fact that he didn’t yet have the muscles or agility to avoid what he was barreling toward; he didn’t even know he had a problem. This is our twofold dilemma also. We don’t possess the power to remove ourselves out of the path of God’s wrath, out of the power of sin, or out of the ways of the world. And it doesn’t even register with us that we have a problem—until the Lord opens our eyes. 

When God shines the glorious light of the gospel through the person of Jesus Christ, that’s when we see. Our sins and their just judgment are illuminated, and we see there is hope in Christ alone. His death. His resurrection. His victory over our sin. Jesus rescues us from the damning dilemma. We can look to Christ with child-like faith and groan from our souls, “You saved my life.” 

In this life the groaning never goes away completely. Our struggle with unbelief and and sin and weakness continues: ”We also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). But as followers of Jesus we have been given His Spirit to remind us of the gospel and to help us pray as we wait for Him to make all things new.


Written by J.A. Medders


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

The Gospel: All People Are Sinful By Nature

Genesis 4:1-16Genesis 6:5-6Jeremiah 17:9-10Romans 6:20-23


I grew up pretty scared.

When I look back over my life, particularly my early life, I see that it was dominated by fear. Don’t get me wrong, I was brought up in a loving Christian home. I never lacked for food, clothing, shelter, education, or friendship. I am the fourth son of a Baptist minister, and so I was heavily involved in the life of the church. But really that was part of the problem, because out of everything I was afraid of, God was who I was afraid of the most.

After walking down an aisle at the age of nine during an altar call, I repented of my sins and was baptized. But then I kept on sinning. And from my experience, sinning as a teenager feels much worse than sinning as a nine-year-old. There were sins I wanted to shake but could not. So I was afraid.

I knew I was a sinner. That was clear to me. But I thought I was a sinner because I committed sins. At the time, I thought I was only battling against the individual sins we talked about in youth group, but it felt as if I was battling something outside of myself. So I continued to steel myself against threats in the shadows.

I had it all wrong. My problem wasn’t that I was a sinner because I sinned. My problem was that I sinned because I am a sinner. I was shooting at my shadows when I really needed to be directing all my attention toward something deeply wrong inside of me.

Imagine going to a doctor with a gaping wound that is bleeding everywhere, the blood seeping through your clothes and onto the floor. But when the doctor finally arrives, instead of treating you, he looks at you and says, ”We really to need to clean up that blood.” This is how I used to think about my sin. I thought my actions were the problem, but really they were just symptoms. The real problem was rooted in my own heart.

As Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, writes, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Learning this was revolutionary for me. I was good at repenting and wanting to fight against sins I was struggling with. But my pastor explained that, in the midst of my internal struggle and my repentance, I needed to believe the gospel. He helped me to see the fullness of the good news: Jesus not only justifies us. He also sanctifies us, making us more and more like Him as we trust Him to change us. 

I was laboring under the delusion that I was justified by grace and sanctified by gritting my teeth and trying to become more holy. But the problem of my sin runs far too deep for that. I cannot work my way into righteousness. It seems so counterintuitive, but once I realized this truth—that my heart is the problem—I was able to turn to God in thankful desperation and repent. What’s more, I found it easier to say “no” to sin. And it wasn’t because I’d become a better person. No, when I saw the depth of my sin, I saw more clearly the beauty of the gospel. Because of Jesus I am reconciled to God. I don’t have to be scared of Him anymore. Fear is no longer my motivation for repentance—now it’s my love for Him.


Written by Matthew B. Redmond


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

The Gospel: Humanity Rebelled Against God

Genesis 3:1-19Deuteronomy 28:15-19Isaiah 1:4-5Romans 5:12-14


Eden. Even today in our post-everything world, the name stirs up images of some innocent paradise, some half-remembered dream. Everything was going along so well in the first two chapters of the Bible’s first book. God’s voice said, “Let there be light!” and that singular domino tipped the other elements of creation, causing an explosion of life in all its stunning wonder—from fruit trees to great sea monsters, to male and female in His own image, complete with a garden to hold everything on display. And the divine verdict on it all? Very good.

“Eden. With, of course, its serpent. No Eden valid without serpent.” — Wallace Stegner

Free will. It was at the core of the very good creation. The God-ordained freedom to choose. And into the gift of that freedom slithered the most cunning of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. The serpent’s voice said, “Did God really say…?” and that singular question was just enough to root doubt in the mind of the woman and man. God had given them the world, so to speak, yet the serpent suggested there might be something more.

“God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5).

With her God-given freedom the woman took and ate what God had deemed off-limits. Then the man, in that same freedom, took and ate as well. And no doubt with juice still on their hands, their eyes were opened. Sin and all its dark consequences snaked into the world: shame, pain in childbirth, and work by the sweat of the brow—just to name a few. Humanity rebelled against God, “turned their backs on him” (Isaiah 1:4), and the beautiful melody of Eden was broken. 

And yet it is worth noting that while the serpent was cursed, the man and woman were not. They would indeed bear the burdens of the curse, but they themselves were not. Even as it looked like all was lost, something else stirred in the ruins, something that was very good. The hope of the Coming One.    


Written by John Blase


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

The Gospel: God made man in his own image

Genesis 1:26-31Psalm 8:1-91 Corinthians 15:47-49


The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Crowds herd their way through the Louvre in Paris to catch a glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. Guinness World Records lists the Mona Lisa as having the highest insured value for a painting, assessed at $100 million in 1962. That’s about $600 million today. But how much do you think a print of the Mona Lisa fetches? Peanuts. You can get one on Amazon for $7. 

So why the canyon-sized price difference between the art hanging in Paris and the copy hanging in your local coffee shop? One is a work created by the artist himself; the other by a laser printer.

Do you realize the masterpiece of the Artist of artists is you? The Almighty God knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Every human—regardless of race or age or gender—has this same inherent worth and dignity because they have been made in the image of the one true God (Genesis 1:27).

We image, or reflect, certain attributes of God—love, mercy, kindness, community, grace—because God has made us to be like Him, to proclaim Him, to spread His glory. While lions, eagles, and breathtaking mountains are wonders of creation, none of them compare to the glory of a baby who is just discovering her nose, or an elderly man teaching his grandson how to fish. Every person you meet matters. They matter to God, and they should matter to you and to me. 

The principalities and powers of this present age continually tempt us to deny the truth that we are made in God’s image. Gossip, slander, sexism, racism, assault, and all forms of abuse are attacks on the value and dignity all human beings have by virtue of being made in the image of God. The incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, makes God known to us in all His perfection. Where we fail as image-bearers, Christ succeeds, redeems, and makes new in the work of the gospel. 

If people made in God’s image are of more worth than a sparrow—and Jesus says they are—and the Lord knows when even one sparrow falls to the ground—and He does—then He certainly values you more than can you imagine (Luke 12:6–7). The truth is you and everyone you meet is infinitely more valuable than the $600 million Mona Lisa. Let’s love and honor one another according to the sky-high price tag God attaches to people made in His image.


Written by J. A. Medders


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

The Gospel: God created the Heavens and the Earth

Genesis 1:1-25Isaiah 45:12John 1:1-5Hebrews 11:3


I remember when I first understood the gospel. It was January 21, 1989, at around 7:30 p.m., in a small retreat center in rural Indiana. I was fifteen years old, in love with the pastor’s daughter, and new to the youth group. I had grown up around the church since I was in kindergarten, but Christianity was something my parents were involved with. As their son, I was along for the ride.

But at a youth group retreat in the frozen fields of the midwest, I heard the gospel and it took hold of me. I knew my life was going to be transformed by the simple yet profound message of God’s mercy and grace given through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

The gospel follows a basic four-part trajectory: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. God created the world and human beings as good. We rebelled against Him, breaking our relationship and falling away. The only way for that relationship to be redeemed would be for us to somehow live up to God’s perfect standard of holiness, which we could not do. So God sent His Son to live in our place, pay the wages of sin on our behalf through His death, and defeat the power of death by rising from the grave. Jesus lived the life we’ve all failed to live, died the death we all deserve to die, and offers His perfect record of righteousness as our substitute, restoring us to our Creator forever.

Today’s scriptures focus on the beginning: creation. God made this world and everything in it. And what He made was good. There was a time when things like sickness and death, deception and decay, betrayal and grief and greed had not entered into the heart of man. And the promise of the gospel is that there will come a day when those things will be done away with forever. But for now, we all live with the ache in our hearts that longs for everything that is broken to be made right. We feel this way because we were created to live in a world that is unbroken and untouched by sin. Today’s scriptures speak to that.

I have much to learn and I’m far from perfect, but my life has been transformed by the truths you will read in this reading plan. Millions of others around the world and throughout history share the same story. The gospel, as the apostle Paul says, is the transforming power of God for those who believe (Romans 12:2). I pray your time in these verses from God’s Word would encourage, clarify, and transform according to the Lord’s perfect will for your life. May He do the same in me.


Written by Russ Ramsey


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Brides for Benjamin

Judges 21:1-25Deuteronomy 12:8-142 Samuel 24:18-25


Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Only when it’s dark enough can you then see the stars.” 

Judges ends on a dark note. As we come to the end of this book, we see a nation of people who have taken step after step away from the Lord. We’ve seen Israel take on the religious convictions and practices of their Canaanite neighbors. We’ve seen them abandon God. And we’ve seen their world unraveling.

In this last chapter, infighting among the tribes of Israel has led to Benjamin’s defeat at the hands of the others. But now those other tribes are beginning to fear that their victory will lead to Benjamin’s extinction. Panged with regret, they assemble to come up with a solution to ensure Benjamin’s survival. Their answer to this problem: wives. The tribes will find and deliver wives for the men of Benjamin so they can build up their numbers to a sustainable level.

As you read this chapter, let the ugliness of what’s happening hit you. People are being slaughtered. Oaths to never forgive are being taken. Young women—probably teenagers—are being kidnapped and given over to the men of Benjamin as part of a solution to a problem Israel brought upon itself. 

This is where the road to apostasy had led God’s people—to violence and human trafficking, to vengeful hearts and survival of the fittest. They no longer look anything like the “blessing to the world” God told Abraham they would become. 

Why is this book in the Bible? It certainly isn’t a book about how to follow after the Lord. If anything, it’s the opposite—a book about how to abandon the Lord. So where is the redemption in this book?

The redemption in Judges is in the ache for a king, for someone to come and lead God’s people with righteousness and peace. For someone to seek the Lord’s counsel and to love God’s people. For someone to not only serve themselves, but to lay down their life for their friends. 

When looking at the Bible as a whole, we see that Judges highlights Israel’s desperate need for God. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel follow, describing how Israel gets its king in young David—a man after God’s own heart and a focused warrior whose struggle is for peace. But even more than that, Israel’s need for a king is addressed in Christ, the eternal King who rules at the right hand of God as our Prince of Peace. 

Our need for Jesus, the bright morning star, runs deeper than we know or are willing to admit (Revelation 22:16). But the darkness of a book like Judges helps us see how much we need Him, and gives us cause to rejoice that He has come. The Lord has not left us in darkness. In fact, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Amen. Thanks be to God.


Written by Russ Ramsey

Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

War against Benjamin

Judges 20:1-48Deuteronomy 18:1-5Proverbs 16:33


We have all seen the gruesome pictures or heard the staggering reports of what happens on a battlefield. It seems like every day, one nation somewhere is at war with another nation. Death abounds. Suffering persists. Peace is nowhere in sight.

We pick up today in Judges chapter 20, where another battle is about to take place. After the rape and murder of a Levite’s concubine in chapter 19, four hundred thousand armed men from the tribes of Israel (except for the tribe of Benjamin) are commissioned to exact revenge and justice on her oppressors, men from the Benjaminite city of Gibeah. A civil war was at hand between the unrepentant tribe of Benjamin and the other tribes of Israel. After two costly battles for the combined Israelite forces, they continue to call on the Lord for help. 

The Lord tells them to go back into battle and promises them He will give them victory the next day. His hand alone is mightier than every sword wielded by their foes.

It’s easy to focus here on the battle itself. We ask, “Why would God allow so many people to die? Why does the Bible condone war if death is the enemy? Why doesn’t He just fix everything right now?”

In some ways, we don’t have all the answers to these questions. There is a mystery to God’s work that we couldn’t understand, even if it were explained to us (Romans 11:33–36). That said, the Bible is not entirely silent on this issue, either.

The Bible records human history, so we should not be surprised to see sin and death and war in its pages and in our world. Indeed, God would be lying to us if He didn’t show us in Scripture how badly sin has affected us. That said, we know for sure that He will make all things new. This is clear throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15; Ezekiel 36) and into the New Testament (Revelation 21–22). Our passage today gives us a glimpse of this. On the one hand, rape and murder and war are the result of life in a fallen world. On the other hand, we see God as a good Judge, dispensing justice for the oppressed and marginalized. In a perfect world, God does not need to judge evil; in a broken world, He would be a monster not to.

Praise be to God that through Christ His wrath toward evil has been absorbed for us. Jesus went to the cross so we don’t have to. He took on the rightful judgment of God toward sin, bearing it all as a sacrifice for us. And by the Spirit, we can now walk in newness of life, working every day to join God in His mission of redeeming all things for His glory and our good (Matthew 28:18-202 Corinthians 5:11-21).


Written by Brandon D. Smith

Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Outrage in Benjamin

Editor’s Note: Some passages in Judges deal in subject matter that might be especially painful for some readers. Though many of the wounds we receive in this life are deeply personal and unimaginably painful, when they appear in God’s Word, we are reminded that He sees them. Whenever sin is addressed in Scripture—whether through teaching or story—it comes to us in the context of God’s unwavering commitment to bring an end to all evil in this world through the finished work of Christ (Revelation 21:3-4). We are praying for and with you as you read.

//

Judges 19:1-30Jeremiah 8:18-9:32 Corinthians 6:14-18


Sometime last year, my father-in-law was certified to do controlled burnings on his farm. He had to go through extensive training so he could learn the procedures requisite to carrying out what is understood to be the lawful burning of brush on his property. He was literally licensed to play with fire. Needless to say, my three sons thought this was the coolest thing ever. After all, what little boys wouldn’t want to take a flamethrower and burn things! My mother-in-law, however, was insistent that the boys shouldn’t be allowed to be out with their grandfather while he did the burnings, since there was an enormous threat of getting burned, or of a wildfire starting and consuming everything in its path—including my boys. 

Once individuals practice idolatry, there is the risk of it spreading like wildfire. We see this throughout Israel’s history, and perhaps nowhere so clearly as in the account of the Danites and Micah in Judges 17–18. No sooner had the members of the tribe of Dan heard about the household gods and personal Levite that Micah had taken to himself, than they wanted those things for themselves. 

This was not pagan idolatry in the strictest sense of the term. This was synchronized idolatry among the covenant people of God. That’s what made it so exceedingly dangerous for them, and so abominable to the Lord. Micah had done what so many have sought to do throughout human history—he personalized his religion so that it would fit according to his own desires. The Danites then envied the idolatrous liberation that Micah had seemed to attain. Once they took the household gods and the Levitical priest to themselves, the synchronized idolatry burned among them like wildfire, and it burned for many generations (Judges 18:30). 

There is a warning here for us today. While we may not be setting up carved idols in our homes or among our friends and family members, we are constantly being encouraged to synchronize the true worship of God based on Scripture with what seems to fit with our own desires and the practices and values of our culture. The path to hell really is paved with good intentions. However, idolatry is a wildfire of rebellion against the Most High God. 

Jesus came into this world to be the Great High Priest of His people. He lived and died and rose again in order to bring us into the presence of God and to make us a people who worship Him in spirit and truth. Jesus dealt with the wildfire of our idolatry by extinguishing the fire of God’s wrath as He hung on the cross for our idolatrous sin. When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we take them off the idolatries of this world and in our own hearts.


Written by Nick Batzig 

Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Dan's Invasion

Judges 18:1-31Deuteronomy 17:18-20Psalm 78:56-66


Sometime last year, my father-in-law was certified to do controlled burnings on his farm. He had to go through extensive training so he could learn the procedures requisite to carrying out what is understood to be the lawful burning of brush on his property. He was literally licensed to play with fire. Needless to say, my three sons thought this was the coolest thing ever. After all, what little boys wouldn’t want to take a flamethrower and burn things! My mother-in-law, however, was insistent that the boys shouldn’t be allowed to be out with their grandfather while he did the burnings, since there was an enormous threat of getting burned, or of a wildfire starting and consuming everything in its path—including my boys. 

Once individuals practice idolatry, there is the risk of it spreading like wildfire. We see this throughout Israel’s history, and perhaps nowhere so clearly as in the account of the Danites and Micah in Judges 17–18. No sooner had the members of the tribe of Dan heard about the household gods and personal Levite that Micah had taken to himself, than they wanted those things for themselves. 

This was not pagan idolatry in the strictest sense of the term. This was synchronized idolatry among the covenant people of God. That’s what made it so exceedingly dangerous for them, and so abominable to the Lord. Micah had done what so many have sought to do throughout human history—he personalized his religion so that it would fit according to his own desires. The Danites then envied the idolatrous liberation that Micah had seemed to attain. Once they took the household gods and the Levitical priest to themselves, the synchronized idolatry burned among them like wildfire, and it burned for many generations (Judges 18:30). 

There is a warning here for us today. While we may not be setting up carved idols in our homes or among our friends and family members, we are constantly being encouraged to synchronize the true worship of God based on Scripture with what seems to fit with our own desires and the practices and values of our culture. The path to hell really is paved with good intentions. However, idolatry is a wildfire of rebellion against the Most High God. 

Jesus came into this world to be the Great High Priest of His people. He lived and died and rose again in order to bring us into the presence of God and to make us a people who worship Him in spirit and truth. Jesus dealt with the wildfire of our idolatry by extinguishing the fire of God’s wrath as He hung on the cross for our idolatrous sin. When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we take them off the idolatries of this world and in our own hearts.


Written by Nick Batzig 

Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Micah's Priest

Judges 17:1-13Leviticus 26:1Hosea 11James 3:9-12


There is a subtle but deadly danger lurking in modern Christianity. It is found in a false religion that masquerades as true faith. This false faith seeks to control or tame God, recreating Him into a more palatable God we are comfortable with. It is found in the hearts of those who ignore or reject the commands of God. Too many people would rather have a god who does not contradict them or say “no” to their desires. This is idolatry, plain and simple. The mirror of Micah’s narrative in Judges is a haunting reminder of this.

Judges chapter 17 opens with a thieving son (Micah), an unjustly forgiving mother, and both of them committing apostasy together. In the discussion between the two, it is revealed that some of the stolen silver is used for pagan purposes—namely, to violate God’s explicit command against making idols. Micah created a personal shrine apart from God’s tabernacle, and established his own priesthood apart from God’s directed system. This was the homemade worship of a homemade god. Remember these words of warning from Leviticus: “Do not make idols for yourselves … for I am the LORD your God” (26:1).

The devastating truth of this text is that Micah is attempting to worship God as he pleases. However, this is a form of worship that does not please God. It is the essence of idolatry. An idol is not necessarily a statue; it is most readily a posture of the heart. Idol worship reveals that we do not want to submit to the one true God as He is. Therefore, we depict God as we like and worship Him as we please. In the end, we will find that we are not worshiping the real God, but rather an idol that cannot express the full range of God’s glory, and cannot deliver the full force of God’s power. Idols can never deliver on their promises.

In verse 8 of Judges 17, the narrative takes another turn toward idolatry. Micah meets a Levite who had departed from Bethlehem in Judah in order to find a place to stay. This priest was dissatisfied with God’s arrangements for his life, and Micah was all too happy for this priest to legitimize his idolatrous shrine and homemade religion. So the priest found his place, and Micah wrongly thought he had secured the Lord’s blessing by hosting the priest.

Micah wanted a proper Levitical priest to justify his rebellion. The priest wanted to live out his role according to his own desires. Both Micah and the Levite were shifting their lives, even their convictions, to do what was most comfortable for themselves. They rebelled against the one true God, and made a god of their own.

This is what happens when you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibilities and crosses your will. If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, you will never have a God who can contradict you, only one who suits your desires. The emptiness of a Micah-like religion is shown when you try to recreate God in your own image. The God of the Bible has revealed Himself as He is. You either believe in Him, trust Him, and turn to Him in submission, or you pursue the detestable false idol of self-made religion.


Written by Matt Capps


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Samson's Defeat

Judges 16:1-31Jeremiah 15:15–16Hebrews 11:32–38


The Samson story hurts my heart. Reading it today, it struck a particular nerve. Let me try to explain what I mean. One thing I see in my own heart, and in the culture all around me, is a tendency to treat almost everything as a potential punch line to a joke. I worry that we don’t take enough of life seriously, and as a result, don’t take our own lives seriously.

Samson was a man with a gift—a God-given gift. In the story of Delilah’s attempt to seduce him to learn the source of his strength, Samson treats this God-given power as a curiosity or a parlor trick. It’s almost like he and Delilah are playing a cat-and-mouse game, and he’s just messing with her.

Samson doesn’t seem to regard his power as a gift to be used. He doesn’t seem to care that Delilah has openly told him she wants to learn how to break him. He doesn’t seem to revere the Lord much at all. We all know the type—the person born with a gift, who seems bent on squandering it for personal pleasure. It’s a hollow existence.

This struck a nerve with me today because I believe we live in an age when reverence is in decline. I worry how this loss of a sense of the sacred is shaping us as people and as a society. 

When Samson finally tells Delilah his secret—that his strength is in his hair—two things happen. First, Delilah gets to work stripping Samson of his gift. And second, we discover that Samson didn’t understand his gift. Judges 16:20 tells us that when Samson’s hair was cut off, it wasn’t his strength that left him; it was actually the Lord’s strength that left him. Samson’s strength was not merely physical. It was spiritual.

God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. We can rest in knowing this is true because He has purchased us by the blood of Christ and we are now and forever His. The deal is done. But God also tells us that when we bury our talents or use His gifts for our own pleasure at the expense of others, it is possible that His discipline will be to remove those gifts, or at least the opportunity to use them. I don’t want to live that way, but I see the potential for that in my heart. I bet you do too.

As you read this story about a very familiar character in Scripture, examine your own heart before the Lord. Do you treat sacred gifts as playthings? Do you use your unique abilities to exploit others, or to serve them? Do you treat your talents and gifts as personal traits, or as resources for the good of those around you? Our gifts don’t come from ourselves. They come from the Lord. May we take that truth seriously, and use our gifts for the good of others and for the glory of God.


Written by Russ Ramsey


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Samson's Revenge

Judges 15:1-20Psalm 106:40-48Isaiah 40:27-31


Samson strikes out on his adventures equipped with incredible strength, overcoming his enemies. He spends most of his time affiliating with the worldly Philistines, and while we are told that Samson “judged Israel twenty years” (Judges 15:20), we rarely see him actually serving his own people. And the Israelites don’t seem to be aware that he is judging them either. “Don’t you realize that the Philistines rule us?” they ask (v.11). 

Samson hardly seems like a hero of the faith, yet we find him listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews chapter 11. Indeed, we see many moments of seeming spiritual triumph. “The Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him” at Lehi, as Samson single-handedly overthrew the Philistines there (Judges 15:14). It is difficult to know how to weigh this gift of the Spirit against the rash blood-feuds and turmoil in which Samson is constantly embroiled.  

Not all of Samson’s actions are unjustifiable. In fact, in many ways the book of Judges is a bit ambiguous, leaving lots of room for interpretation. It can seem as if Samson is simultaneously rash and righteously indignant. He takes personal vengeance upon the Philistines, but also strikes a blow against the oppressors of Israel. He bases his actions on one of the most fundamental principles of justice: “I have done to them what they did to me” (v.11). Of course, this very principle is also cited by the Philistines: “We have come to tie Samson up and pay him back for what he did to us” (v.10). Human justice falls short, and man finds himself in an eternal cycle of revenge.

This cycle of revenge, like the cycle of the judges, is the human story. In some seasons, God sends human deliverers like Samson, imperfect though they may be, who endure affliction and persecution, yet whose weakness is turned to God’s purposes (Hebrews 11:34). 

The cycle is unfulfilling and unending, except for the intrusion of unmerited grace. In Christ, God gives us what we don’t deserve: deliverance. Unlike Samson, Christ is perfect and holy, truly set apart. He took upon Himself the brunt of God’s just wrath. Unlike the temporary rescue of the judges, Christ’s salvation is eternal.

God has heard the cry of His people: “Save us, LORD our God, and gather us from the nations!” (Psalm 106:47). And He has sent His salvation in our just Deliverer, Jesus Christ.


Written by Caleb Faires


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

The Birth of Samson

Judges 13:1-25Numbers 6:1-12Isaiah 9:6


One of my great joys as a pastor is visiting and praying with families who have just welcomed a new child. Even if the child is their third or fourth, there is still a palpable sense of joy in the room. No parent I’ve spoken with in the hospital has shown me their newborn child and said, “Look at him. He’s so ordinary.” In Scripture, God often interrupted dark days with the announcement of a child’s birth. The birth of the child signaled hope, that God was at work even when things were dark. 

Think about the beginning of Exodus. Pharaoh forgot about Joseph and enslaved Israel for 400 years. The dark days of Israel’s slavery seemed as if they would continue unabated. But then God protected Moses, one of the Hebrew children who should have been put to death. Here in Judges 13, Israel repeated the cycle of falling away from the Lord, and the Philistines ruled over them for more than a generation. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife to announce that she would have a son. Ruth gave birth to Obed during the days when the judges ruled in Israel. The book of 1 Samuel begins with the narrative of Samuel’s birth, and uses wording reminiscent of Judges chapter 13.

We know where this is headed, don’t we? The Old Testament narrative concluded, and then Israel did not hear from God for 400 years. They languished under the yoke of Roman rule, but God ended His silence with an angel visiting Zechariah, telling the priest that his barren wife would give birth to a son, John (Luke 1:5–25). And then the angel Gabriel visited a young virgin to tell her she would have a Son who would save His people from their sins (Luke 1:26–38).

The announcement of Samson’s birth came with the declaration that he would be “a Nazarite to God from birth” (Judges 13:5). Following the instructions of Numbers 6:1-12, he would be “holy to the Lord” all the days that he was separated from the things forbidden by the vow.

The hope God brings to His people is always accompanied by a call to be holy. This summons is not a call to abstain from cutting our hair, but rather a devotion of the entire heart, soul, mind, and strength to God. We give Him our whole selves, cutting ourselves off from the influence of the world around us, and putting our indwelling sin to death in Christ Jesus. We are not alone in the fight to be holy. It does not rely on us having enough fortitude to say “no” to temptation because God is always at work in us through the power of His Spirit. 


Written by Scott Slayton



Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Samson's riddle

A number of years ago, I met a famous person I had long respected from afar. This is always a tense experience, isn’t it? Most of us, I think, when we encounter famous people, get nervous to some degree. It happens to me less now than it did before because I have interacted with a number of “famous” Christians through my job. But still, especially when meeting some people, my palms get sweaty. Beyond that tension, I’m afraid that when I meet a famous person he or she is not going to be nice. Meeting someone we admire only to learn he or she is human is disorienting and disappointing.

In Judges 14, we continue to read about Samson, a judge appointed by God, a distinguished leader of God’s people, and a massive disappointment. We have already been exposed to Samson and his background, but it is here in chapter 14 that we see his disobedience. In verses 1–4, Samson disobeys the will of his parents and seeks a Philistine woman “because she seemed right to [him]”  (v. 7). This is a foreshadowing of his weakness. For all his physical strength, for all his natural gifting, he is proving to be weak in character. 

Samson shares a riddle with Philistine men at his marriage feast. He will pay them handsomely if they solve the riddle within a week, and they will pay him if they don’t. Because they have trouble solving the riddle, they threaten Samson’s wife, which leads her to squeeze the answer out of him, despite Samson not giving the answer to his mother or father. He loses the bet because his wife gives the Philistine men the answer. This leads Samson to kill thirty other Philistine men in order to pay up his end of the bet.

Flashes of Samson’s strength, reliance on the Spirit of God, and anointing give glimpses of what the true Savior of God’s people, Jesus, would one day look like. Some may have thought Samson would be the deliverer of Israel, but unfortunately, he sought his own way and was undermined by his weakness. 

In Isaiah 11 we read that the Savior of the world would shoot up from the stump of Jesse, in the line of David, and deliver the people of God from their disobedience and weakness. His justice would be righteous because His wisdom is from above. Jesus, our perfect Judge (Matthew 25:31-46), “will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, he will not execute justice by what he hears with his ears” (Isaiah 11:3).


Written by Chris Martin

Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Conflict with Ephraim

Judges 12:1-151 Samuel 8:19-22Ecclesiastes 5:4-7


My friends, Ross and Jake, like to tell a story about the day that forged their friendship. It was the day of Jake’s “intervention.” No, Jake was not a drug user or an alcoholic, but he did have a persistent issue that threatened to damage all of his friendships. You see, Jake had a frustrating tendency to break off plans at the last minute. 

On this particular occasion, Ross, Jake, their wives, and a few other friends had planned a Saturday afternoon cookout. Ross’s wife had bought the burgers, brats, and all the fixings. They’d set up the patio furniture and the corn hole boards. They were less than an hour away from the party when the phone rang. A college buddy had offered Jake two tickets to the game that afternoon. He’d gotten a better offer, so he ditched the cookout and headed to the game instead. 

Now, this was hardly the first time that had happened, so Ross was angry. Later that night, he drove over to Jake’s place to confront him. When Jake tells the story now, he changes his voice to show just how gruff Ross was: “We can NOT be friends if you keep doing this. I want your friendship. I need your friendship, but your word has to MEAN something.”

Friendship is built on fidelity. Broken commitments, on the other hand, can kill. Jephthah was a man who, on the surface, seemed to care a lot about keeping his vows. In fulfillment of a rash promise, he sinfully sacrificed his own daughter (Judges 11:30-40). And when the Ephraimites broke their covenant obligation to fight with him against the Ammonites (Psalm 78:9-1167-72), he turned his sword against their entire tribe, wiping out 42,000 men (Judges 12:4-6).

But while Jephthah seemed to care about vows, his rashness shows us the instability and infidelity of his heart. He was faithful to himself but lacked fidelity to God’s ways. In his heart, Jephthah only did what was right in his own eyes. His mouth spoke too quickly, and his words brought futility and destruction —both to his own household and to the Israelite tribes he was supposed to lead. Jephthah had a short judgeship—just six years compared to an entire generation for the judges who’d preceded him (Judges 3:11,305:318:28)—and it marked the beginning of a downward spiral for the nation. 

Perhaps you’ve never been as rash as Jephthah, but we’ve all been enamored with the “better offer.” It’s tempting to let our eyes wander to the next best thing, rather than being faithful to the friendships, spouse, family, or church community where we’ve been called. 

Where do we find the strength to be faithful? Where do we find the power to keep our vows? We can only find this strength in remembering that God has been faithful to us. He is a loyal God who kept His promises by sending Jesus Christ to save us. Our God is faithful and true (Revelation 19:11), and in Christ, all of His promises are “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20).  


Written by Jared Kennedy


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Jephthah

Judges 11:1-40Leviticus 18:21Leviticus 20:2-5Matthew 5:34-37


Judges is a historical account of one of the most tragic periods in Israel’s history. It’s a tragedy that reads like a Coen brothers’ movie, like Inside Llewyn Davis or A Serious Man, demonstrating a consistent, unmitigated downward spiral. Even the quick glimmers of hope propel people into deeper and darker circumstances. 

Judges 11 is no exception to that sort of downward progression into darkness, lawlessness, and brutality. It is not so much a handbook of how things should be, but rather a lesson in how terribly dark things become when God’s people abandon His guidance. 

Jephthah came from humble and painful beginnings. The son of a prostitute, he was driven from his tribe by his half brothers (Judges 11:1). Had the Law of the Lord been faithfully taught in Israel in those days, and had the Israelites chosen to faithfully follow it, Jephthah would’ve had a much different framework for his decisions. 

Leviticus chapters 18 and 20—which significantly predate the Judges period and should have informed Israel’s conduct and culture during that time—unequivocally condemn child and human sacrifice. In fact, while many of Israel’s neighbors practiced child sacrifice, the punishment for such an act in Israel was death (Leviticus 20:2). 

Readers typically have a variety of reactions to Jephthah’s decision to fulfill his rash oath. Some believe that his decision to keep his word was honorable; others find it barbaric and evil. Frankly, it seems like the inciting problem was that he made such a foolish oath to begin with. The oath that Jephthah saw as piety, we can see now as utter folly.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a clear and helpful teaching on how we should make oaths, promises, and vows: 

“Again, you have heard that it was said to our ancestors,
‘You must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord.’ But I tell you, don’t take an oath at all: either by heaven, because it is God’s throne; or by the earth, because it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King” (
Matthew 5:33-35).

He goes on to give a bit of rationale for this teaching, saying, “‘Do not swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black’” (Matthew 5:36). 

Though Jesus did not mention Jephthah’s actions directly, it’s reasonable to think that many of His Jewish listeners would’ve been very familiar with the story. While it would’ve been easy for them to see the foolishness apparent in Judges 11, Jesus helps them see the ways that this sort of hasty and faulty thinking has seeped into their own lives. His loving, compassionate, and wise counsel to His listeners also extends to us now: Our “yes” should mean “yes,” and our “no” should mean “no.” “Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).

Our speech is an action. What you say and how you fulfill it is indicative of who you are and Whose you are. Jesus, in His lovingkindness, wants to remind us that we do not and cannot control or know all the hairs on our own head. When we make rash pronouncements and yoke ourselves to unpredictable variables rather than the eternally consistent God, we back ourselves into a corner. The real foolishness of swearing upon “your mother’s life” or “your wife’s honor” or even, as many do, “to God,” is that while you may be earnest, you do not control the future—not even a little bit. 

Letting your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” frees you from the uncontrollable uncertainty of tomorrow. It also strengthens the weight of your simple words in making commitments. Swearing “to XYZ” might seem like a stronger binding, but the real strength lies in simple and wise straight-shooting answers, rooted in a life anchored to Christ.

Written by Andrew Stoddard


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Israel's Rebellion

Judges 10:1-18Isaiah 30:15Luke 15:11-32


With two daughters under the age of five, it seems like my daily routine is trying to manage their fickle emotions. On the one hand, both are sweet and kind in their own unique ways, yet defiant and stubborn on the other. One moment, they want to love and hug one another and their parents. The next, they’re itching for a fight. Around and around we go, ad nauseam. 

At my best, I can be extremely patient with them. I can pray in the moment and remind myself that God is patient with me, and He will help me to be patient with them. At my worst (and probably most often), I can be short-tempered and impatient, doing anything I can think of to appease the situation and have control over their emotions. Of course, as anyone with kids knows, trying to control a child’s emotions is like trying to contain the force of a hurricane with an umbrella.

The story of Israel in the Bible is not much different than what I just described about my own household. Just when you think Israel recognizes the goodness of the Lord and trusts Him to lead them, their hearts turn on a dime, as they grumble and complain about His apparent reluctance or inability to meet their every need in that moment. 

In our passage today, the Israelites engage in the worship of other gods. It seems they do this primarily because of the instant gratification of receiving mercy from other nations. For them, the most expedient way to obtain comfort was to give into the demands of the other nations, bowing down and worshiping those gods over the Lord.

Rightly so, God is unhappy with this situation. He reminds them that He’s the one who delivered them from slavery in Egypt and so much more. As a result, He tells them He won’t deliver them—He’ll leave it up to the gods of the other nations.

Now, unlike me when I’m frustrated or impatient with my children, God’s anger is righteous and perfect. He is not snapping at them because He is spiritually immature or because He wants His own comfort; rather, He’s frustrated because He knows the other gods cannot deliver them. He knows that worshiping idols will lead to not only immediate, but eternal, destruction.

Just like my daughters, Israel’s hearts can be fickle and immature. But unlike me, God is consistently and immovably loving and patient and kind. His discipline is never a result of sinful emotion, but out of His perfect love for us (Hebrews 12:4-11). May we remember that God’s commands, and even His judgment, are ultimately for our good and His glory—found most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus and by the sealing of the Holy Spirit.


Written by Brandon D. Smith


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website

Judges: Abimelech becomes King

Judges 9:1-57Psalm 68:11-14John 4:19-24


If you ever needed proof that the Bible isn’t G-rated, here it is. It seems like today’s reading was taken from a Hollywood plotline instead of the pages of Holy Scripture. Yet, here we are in the midst of a family conflict that would make the disputes of any mob family pale in comparison.

If we see anything in this story it should be ourselves and the corruption of our own hearts. Any one of us could be Abimelech. Instead of looking to the Lord and trusting in Him to provide a leader when his father Jerubbaal (Gideon) died, Abimelech took matters into his own hands. He took power by force, murdering any potential rivals to a supposed “throne” in Israel. He did whatever he thought necessary in order to win status and authority. We’re capable of doing the same.

We may read Abimelech’s story and feel as if we would never stoop so low as to murder our own brothers, yet Jesus teaches that whenever we possess hatred in our hearts toward our brothers we are murderers (Matthew 5:21-22). We may see the brazen way in which Abimelech torches his own people and his own city out of pure spite for their betrayal of him and think we’d never be so wicked. But each of us is capable of the same hatred and wickedness. Whenever we are divisive, gossiping, playing for power in the church, we believe and behave just as Abimelech did. We may scoff at the cowardly way Abimelech dies by having his servant armor-bearer run him through so that his reputation isn’t ruined because he was killed by a woman. But we, too, can be cowardly and seek to protect our reputations, lying and manipulating others to make ourselves look heroic instead of helpless.

All of this shows our radical need for God’s forgiveness and empowering grace. We need redemption. We need a Savior. Tragically, there is no redemption in Judges chapter 9—it’s all bad. But we do have a Savior who will rescue us from the curse our evil should bring upon us. We have Christ who died because of the anger we have toward our brothers. Christ laid down His life for our gossiping tongues, hateful hearts, and divisive actions against His people. His righteousness becomes ours through faith, so we don’t have to manipulate others to keep our reputation. Our identity is secure in Jesus Christ. 

We are capable of great evil—just like Abimelech. But we are deeply loved in Christ, and His Spirit has given us new hearts and a desire to obey. Let’s repent and turn to Him again today. Let us be true worshipers of the Father in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).


Written by Jeremy Writebol


Blessings.

*This devotional was taken from the He Reads Truth website