Pastor Keith's devotional goes through the books of the Bible a chapter at a time. Each day he shares thoughts and insights from a pastor’s perspective that are intended to be encouraging, challenging, and life changing. Here’s how Pastor Keith's daily devotional works best:
Really, it’s as simple as that. Okay, here we go…
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. (vs.1-2)
One typical point of stress for couples getting married is who they should put on the guest list. Since the church only has so many pews, and the reception hall is only so large, well really, there’s only a finite number of people that can be invited. Of course, the trick is to invite everyone you really want to be there without insulting anyone, especially elderly Aunt Mable who lives in Nova Scotia or your third-cousin Ralph who’s the black sheep of the family. Looking back, I’m sure the couple that got married in Cana of Galilee about two thousand years ago were super glad they had invited Jesus and his mother to their wedding. Oh my, if they hadn't, they would have started their marriage off with a day of ruin, disappointment, and embarrassment; after all, how rude and unthoughtful is it to run out of wine?
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (v.3)
No wine? No problem…if Jesus is sitting with his mother at table 14 in your wedding reception hall. At the prompting of his mom, Jesus got up and calmly solved the problem by turning about 525 liters of water (that was in six stone jars) into wine, which, if you do the math, was the equivalent of 700 bottles of wine (standard 750ml wine bottles) or 58 cases of what the surprised sommelier described as ”the good wine (v.10).” Wow, I wish Jesus had of been at the wedding reception I was at a couple of years ago when they ran out of mac & cheese – it was so yummy cheesy good!
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (v.11)
Isn’t it enough for us to just hear about Jesus to believe? Come on, do we really need to see signs to convince us? Well, throughout the New Testament we find Jesus and his disciples did lots of signs and wonders so that people’s attention would be drawn to the gospel message (Jn 12:18), to confirm the gospel message (Mk 16:20), and to prove the power of God (1 Cor 4:20). The reality is the Jesus performed a great many signs so that people might believe and find salvation in his name. I encourage you to be thankful (and blown away) that we follow Jesus, the Son of God, who not only did amazing miracles long ago, but also can still do them today.
Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1 Thes 1:5
The ancient Greeks were really good at going crazy deep in their pursuit of philosophical truths. One question they often tossed around late at night was, “What was the essence of the beginning?” Wow, what a great question! They correctly reasoned that everything couldn’t come from nothing; there had to be something responsible for making the material universe; they called this driving primary force (or wisdom, or whatever it was – they really weren’t sure) “logos”, which in English gets translated to “Word.” Interestingly enough, the Apostle John started off his Gospel with defining not what “the Word” really was, but rather who it was and still is – Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (v.1)
In a profound, concise, and elegant manner, John revealed the answer (and way more) to the mystery and marvel of the Word that the Greeks (and Jews) hadn’t been able to figure out for thousands of years. He started by saying something no one had ever thought of before; not only was the Word in the beginning, but the Word was with God and in fact, was God. Whoa! Who expected that? He continued to explain the Word by stating that all things were made through the Word, absolutely everything. But he didn’t stop there; as a bonus he also wrote that in the Word was life and this life was the light of men – and the darkness would never overcome it. Okay, I think you’ll agree; there’s enough truth and mystery in John’s opening paragraph to keep the Greeks and Jews (and all of us) mulling over this “Word” for at least a couple thousand years.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (v.14)
Oh, just to make sure no one missed it, John revealed that the Word he had just talked about wasn’t some Star Wars “force,” but in fact was Jesus, a real person who had walked on the earth, a person whom the disciples had not only seen, but been blessed to have seen his glory, the glory of the Living God. How about you? Have you come to the conclusion that in the beginning was…Jesus? Have you received him as your Savior and thereby come to find his grace and truth in your life (v.12)? I encourage you today to memorize the first five verses of today’s chapter so that anytime you want to, you can go “back to the beginning” and renew your awe and appreciation of the Word, Jesus Christ.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19-20)
When we get sick, like really sick, and we know whatever we have isn’t going to go away with resting in bed and sipping gallons of hot homemade chicken soup, we usually have to resort to going somewhere to get medication or see a doctor. So, we take off our bathrobe, put on our coat, grab the car keys, and trek off to the local pharmacy, doctor’s office, or maybe even the emergency room at a hospital. Why? Because that’s what we always do, that’s what everyone else does. But what if I told you that in the days of the early church, the first place people went to when they became sick was to church…to be prayed for by the elders?
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (v.14)
Wow, I think you’ll agree that in the days we live in, the last place someone would seek help when he or she was sick was the church – and only then as a last resort. Why is that? Well, the argument can be made that since God has given us well-trained doctors (and pharmacists) with incredible medical knowledge and skills, we really don’t need to go the elders of the church anymore. Okay, so if that’s the case, let’s rip the last half of James 5 out of our Bibles, because it’s an outdated practice. Wait. Don’t. Do. That! While it’s true that God can use doctors and modern medicine to heal us (oh my, that’s a good thing for which we should all be very thankful and take full advantage of when we’re sick), it doesn’t mean we should totally abandon a clear scriptural command to seek the prayers of the elders of our local churches for physical (and maybe even spiritual) healing.
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (v.15)
When a person comes forward for healing after one of our Sunday morning worship services, it’s not unusual for me to ask that person if there’s anything he or she needs to repent of before I anoint them with oil and pray for their healing. My feeling on this is that spiritual healing is much more important than physical healing. Now, it’s been my experience that not everyone I pray for gets physically healed (but some definitely do), but I’m 100% convinced that every single person who sincerely repents of his or her sins before God finds spiritual healing in the form of forgiveness and freedom from his or her sins. The next time you become sick, I encourage you to seek out the elders of your church and ask them to anoint you with oil and pray for your healing; remember, the prayer of faith of a righteous person has great power.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (v.16b)
Here’s our new vocabulary word for the day: hedonist. By definition, it describes someone who is intent and singularly focused on obtaining self-indulgent pleasure. A person who is hedonistic will stop at nothing to obtain the pleasure upon which they’ve set their eyes; sadly, their self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure (whether sexual or otherwise) consumes them. Interestingly, if you trace back to the root of the word, you’ll end up with the Greek word “hedone,” which in our Bibles, is usually translated as pleasure, lust, or passion. As you would expect, the Scriptures warn us of going down that dark path.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (v.1)
I’m pretty sure that every single human being who has ever walked on the face of the earth has felt their passions raging within them. I say that, because even the Apostle Paul wrote that he saw in his “members” another law waging war against the law of his mind (Rom 7:23). Paul’s problem was that he knew the right thing to do, but he often times ended up doing the thing he hated (Rom 7:15); you know, like all of us. Now as it so happened, hedonistic tendencies were so strong among Christians in the days of the early church, James tell us they literally stopping at nothing (even resorting to murdering each other) to get the benefits of the selfish pleasures for which they were looking. Hmm, makes you think; are there hedonistic Christians today?
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Other than the original sin that we’re born with (Rom 7:16), another reason we oftentimes abandon reason, restraint, and self-control is that we’re constantly being tempted by the devil – and giving in to those temptations. No, don’t go there; don’t any of us dare say, “The devil made me do it.” The reality is that, yes, we are tempted, but God has given us the power and spirit of self-control (Gal 5:22-23; 2 Tim 1:7) as well as a way of escape out of every temptation that comes our way (1 Cor 10:13) so that we can successfully resist the devil’s wiles – if we chose to. I encourage you today to live a life of repentance and godliness, something that can only happen if we continually draw close to God (v.8).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)
If you were just about to be sworn in as the President of the United States, there’s little doubt that some fears of the great responsibility of the office would come swirling into your head. Let’s see, you would be getting the launch codes to nuclear missiles, have to deal with crazy foreign dictators, and maybe worst of all…you would have almost every single word that comes out of your mouth recorded by the press; your words, especially the words that you didn’t mean to come out of your mouth, would be analyzed, judged, and discussed by the pundits on public television and, more often than you would want, end up causing havoc on social media all around the world. Oh my, that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (v.2)
Really, how could anyone [perfectly] control his or her tongue at every public appearance (or at the workplace), every private behind closed doors meeting (while you’re in your house), and even while walking down the hallway of the White House on the way to grab a sandwich (or waiting in line at McDonalds)? Wouldn’t that be unbelievably Intimidating – that we would be judged for every careless word that comes out of our mouths? Oh, hold on; forget the press; the truth of the matter is that all our words are already being recorded and that we’ll be judged by God for every careless word we've ever uttered (Mt 12:36-27). Wow, don’t you just want to put a piece of tape over your mouth right now?
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (v.6)
Have you ever wondered where all the careless, mean, and overall ungodly words that sometimes come out of our mouths (and get us into all sorts of trouble) actually come from? The answer is pretty simple; Jesus tells us that all our words come from our hearts (Mt 15:18-19), which, as Jeremiah tells us, are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). Aha, so it seems that if we’re to better control the words that come out of our mouths (and avoid creating forest fires in our homes, work places, and churches), it would make sense for us to concentrate on working on cleaning up our hearts first. I encourage you today to do all you can to purify your minds and hearts so that you’ll never have to worry about someone (especially an angel) recording or jotting down a careless word that comes out of your mouth that will one day cause you shame or regret.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (v.10)
Let’s see if we can count the ways upon which people can base their biases: age, race, gender, sexual orientation, finances (or lack thereof), country of origin, street address, fashion sense (or not), education, vocabulary, dialect, sports team affiliation…okay, I think you get the idea; people can base their biases, prejudices, and predispositions on just about anything at all. But here’s the weird thing, God doesn’t show partiality to anyone for anything (Acts 10:34, Rom 2:11, Gal 2:6). Hey, wait a minute; does that mean we’re not to show partiality to anyone as well?
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (v.19)
Can you imagine a poor person coming into your church, walking up the aisle to get a seat in the front row, and before he sits down, a deacon comes by, grabs him by the collar, and makes him take a seat in the back row of the sanctuary? Why would the deacon do that? Well, the seat the poor guy was about to sit down on was the exact seat where a very rich man of the church usually sat; you don’t want to disturb the richest donor in the church, right? Apparently, in the days of James, stuff like that was happening in churches on a regular basis all over the Jewish Christian world. Aren’t you glad people don’t succumb to their biases, prejudices, and/or predispositions when visitors (or even regular members) walk into your church?
Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (v.4)
Oh, what a call out! Those in the church who were “making distinctions” among themselves were said to be judging (not supposed to do that) with evil thoughts (“Hmm, what can I get out of this?”). The bottom line is that we’re supposed to show honor to all men and women, regardless of the color of their skin, their net worth, or even their citizenship status; if we don’t, then we're said to be sinning before the Creator of all mankind (vs.6, 9). Let’s remember, the neighbors that we’re supposed to love according to the “royal law” aren’t just the ones in our neighborhoods, but everyone we meet at the bus stop, at the ball field, and especially in our churches (v.8). I encourage you today to do a double check to make sure you haven’t unknowingly stepped into the [ugly] judgment zone of pre-judging and showing partiality.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Tim 5:21)
I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. (Job 32:21)
Fun fact: There are 66 books (1,189) chapters) in the Bible. To date, I’ve written chapter devotionals on 59 of the books (if you're wondering, that's 1,066 chapters) . Ah, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel; only 7 more books (123 chapters) to go! At this rate, I should finish in April, just a couple of weeks after Easter.
No one likes to get sick; no one. For that matter, no one in their right mind would look forward to unexpectedly losing a job, having his or her house burn down, or getting a divorce; again, no one. To avoid stuff like that, we have doctors and hospitals, home and health insurance, and marriage seminars and counselors, Why is that? It’s because we can’t see any possible benefit in pain and suffering. We run from it, pray against it, and overall just hate it; there’s simply no joy in it at all. Or is there?
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (vs.2-4)
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit this; when I’ve got the flu, I’m not particularly joyful; if you doubt that, you can just ask my wife. On top of that, I can tell you that if you come into my room when I’m coughing, wheezing, and sneezing and tell me to be joyful, well, let’s just say that you’ll have wished you hadn’t come for a visit. So why is James telling us to count it as joy when we find ourselves in the midst of trials? Could it really be that God uses trials to test our faith? And if that’s the case (and it actually is), shouldn’t we have a different spiritual mindset when we encounter trials…especially the really nasty ones?
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (v.12)
Here’s a prayer request I rarely hear when I visit someone who is experiencing a serious trial in his or her life: “Please ask God to use this trial to increase my faith and further my sanctification so that I might be more pleasing in his sight.” Wow, instead of complaining, getting angry, or even blaming God for the woeful situation we find ourselves in, what would it be like if we instead recognized God as being sovereign, loving, wise, as the One who is in total control over all things, including our [good and] bad circumstances (Dt 32:39)? Whoa, what if we started seeing our trials and tribulations as being in the perfect and purposeful plan of God - for our benefit and his glory? The next time you find yourself in a trial (really, it’s only a matter of time), I encourage you to be thankful that God isn’t quite yet done with you; he’s still bringing you to completion (Phil 1:6).
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)
He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel. (v.13b)
While it’s true that King Zedekiah did in fact stiffen his neck and harden his heart against God, and while it’s equally true that he did all sorts of evil things to lead the people astray (right in front of God's face), the fact of the matter is that just because he was the last [evil] king of Judah, he’s really not the one to get all the blame for the total spiritual collapse, destruction, and exile of the nation of Israel. When you think about it, it was really a plus four hundred year group project; almost everyone in Israel participated in some way with the country going up in flames.
The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. (v.15)
Talk about the love and compassion of our Heavenly Father! It’s not like the Israelites were going off the deep end and God just shrugged and turned his back on them; that wasn’t the case at all. For over four hundred years he had sent dozens and dozens of prophets to speak into the lives of the wayward Israelites, his chosen people…but to no avail. Oh man, why hadn’t they listened? Makes you think, doesn’t it? If you’re currently involved in some sin, and maybe have been for some time, just how long do you think God has been trying to get your attention?
But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (v.16)
The Israelites were so arrogant and absorbed in their sins, they not only didn’t listen to the Word of God as spoken through his prophets, but they actually made fun off (and even killed a few of) these faithful messengers of God. After a very long time of patience, God finally made the call that there was no remedy for the Israelite’s disease of sin; his hand of mercy was withdrawn and the anger of his wrath arose. If you’re one who is messing around with sin, has been called out on it multiple time by friends, family, Christian friends, and/or directly by the Holy Spirit, I encourage you not continue in that sin until there is “no remedy” and you end up experiencing the discipline of the Lord, but instead take advantage of the mercy of God by heeding their counsel today, right now, before it’s too late, by repenting of your waywardness, confessing your sins, and committing to obediently following Jesus anew with your whole heart, heart, and soul yet once again.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom 2:4-5)
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Rev 3:3)
Josiah kept a Passover to the Lord in Jerusalem. And they slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month. (v.1)
As part of King Josiah’s spiritual reclamation project in Israel, he decided to observe the Passover, something that had been neglected for quite a few years. Ah, but this wasn’t going to be your standard Passover, in fact, it went down in history as being the best one since the days of the prophet Samuel (which means he managed to outdo all seventeen kings of Judah who had come before him). Life was good in those days, so why didn’t King Josiah just mind his own business and enjoy ruling over his spiritual restored kingdom? Well, I guess the answer to that query is that he’s just like most of us; he liked to meddle in the affairs of others.
After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to meet him. (v.20)
The story goes like this: One day King Josiah woke up in his peaceful kingdom to discover that Pharaoh Neco was marching the Egyptian army through one of the main roads of Israel on the way to a town on the Euphrates river in Iraq named Carchemish in order to join forces with the Assyrians who were anticipating a huge battle against the incredibly powerful allied forces of Babylon, Medes & Persians, and Scythians. Truth be told, the Egyptians had absolutely no intention of stopping to do battle in Israel; really, they were just passing through on route to their destination (vs.20-21). Now, for some crazy reason, King Josiah wasn’t content to watch them pass through and call it a day; no, he decided to make a statement and engage the Egyptian army in battle on the plains of Megiddo in northern Israel.
And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” (v.23)
I’m thinking Josiah must stuffed cotton in his ears so he couldn’t hear the wise words of Pharaoh or the counsel of his military advisors who surely had to have told him there was no way in the world the Judean army could win a battle against the mighty Egyptians. Oh well, Josiah just couldn’t let well enough alone; instead, he ended up starting what would be known in the history books as The Battle of Meggido. Sadly, he ended up getting shot by enemy archers, being slung in a chariot, and brought back to Jerusalem to die of his wounds. Oh my, I encourage you today to stay away from meddling in the quarrels of others, keeping in mind that arrows... and dog bites...can really hurt.
Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. (Prv 26:17)
If you lost your Bible, how long would you wait to jump on Amazon Prime and get a new one delivered right to your front door within two business days? Would you wait a day, week, month, or a whole year before you placed your order? Really, how long could you go on in your faith without having your own personal copy of the Word of God? Well, now here’s something interesting: the Israelites lost their one and only copy of the Law and didn’t even think of placing an order with Scribes Prime to replace it; in fact, over time (some think over fifty years) the memory of even having the Law faded from their memories, so much so, it came to the point where they didn’t even bother looking for it…or living by it.
While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses. (v.14)
Don’t you love it when you’re cleaning your house and unexpectedly find something you’ve lost and had given up hope of ever finding again? That’s sort of what happened during the work project of repairing and restoring the temple that King Josiah had ordered. Quite unexpectedly, as they were busy cleaning out a certain chamber, Hilkiah the priest found the long lost and apparently completely forgotten Book of the Law. As it turned out, the finding (and reading) of that book ended up being the catalyst that turned the kingdom of Judah upside down…and right side up for God.
Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it before the king. (v.18)
Clearly, King Josiah was extra-sensitive to the Word of God; as soon as he heard the words of the Law read by his secretary Shaphan, he realized Israel was in some serious deep trouble; he got so upset, he even tore his clothes (v.19). He understood that God’s wrath was coming upon [rebellious] Israel like a speeding freight train. What could he do? Well, after a quick consult with Hulda the prophetess, he decided to lead a spiritual revival by making a covenant with God to obediently follow all that was written in the Book of the Law with all his heart and soul (v.31). The result? All the people joined him in following God. Now, the question is this, what would have happened if the Book of the Law had never been found…or read…or heeded? I encourage you today to keep good track of not only where your Bible is at all times, but what it’s saying at all times. Okay, quick: do you know where your Bible is right now?
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart! (Psa 119:31-32)