service

2 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 4

Today we’re scheduled to read 2 Chronicles 19-20 and Zechariah 4.

This devotional is about Zechariah 4.

God was moving his people back to Jerusalem in the days of Zechariah and, in this chapter, the Lord sent some encouragement to the leaders. Zerubbabel was the leader in charge of rebuilding God’s temple (v. 9) and he is the leader named in this chapter.

When the people returned to Jerusalem, they were poor. They had an immense amount of work to do rebuilding the city and the temple; but the resources they had to do that work were miniscule.

A massive job to do and few resources to use are the perfect prescription for discouragement. God sent Zechariah to Zerubbabel to remind him that he had the ultimate resource in God. How would he be able to rebuild that temple? “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (v. 6). The natural, financial, and human resources at Zerubbabel’s disposal were few but only resource he needed was spiritual, the power of almighty God.

As a result, neither Zerubbabel nor God’s people should give up or be discouraged by meager beginnings. As verse 10 says, “Who dares despise the day of small things....” Everything that exists once started as something small and modest. Every large church, for example, was once a small church; indeed, it was once merely the idea and desire of a small group of people. If God is in the project, it will not be stopped; if he is not in it, it will not ultimately succeed.

Are you ever tempted to look at your ministry or your life or something else that belongs to God and think, “This is never going to amount to anything!” Verse 10 would rebuke you: “Who dares despise the day of small things...?” Trust God that the desire to serve him matters. Your resources may be few and the beginning may be humble but God is more than powerful enough to make something great.

1 Chronicles 28, Micah 5

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 28 and Micah 5.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 28:9: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”

Solomon left behind a kingdom that was incredibly wealthy, a city with impressive architecture, a government that was well-organized and well-run, and a library of wisdom literature that he personally authored. These are impressive accomplishments for anyone. If you consider the time in which Solomon lived, they are even more impressive.

That’s how Solomon’s public life ended but this chapter tells us how his public life began. David, his father, had already publicly enthroned Solomon as his successor; in this chapter, David publicly charged Solomon to build the Lord a temple (vv. 2--6).

But David wasn’t content to see that Solomon constructed a great edifice; he wanted his son also to walk with God. Embedded in the charge of this chapter was a charge from David to Solomon to walk with God (vv. 8-9). Part of that charge to walk with God was to do so “with a willing mind” (v. 9b). The word translated “mind” here is a word that describes someone’s “spirit,” his inner person. David’s command to Solomon, then, is not just to do the Lord’s work but to put his heart and soul into it.

And God would know whether or not Solomon directed the building of the temple this way because, as verse 9c says, “...the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.” This was a huge project; would it be done as an act of love for God or just to get it done as quickly as possible so that Solomon could move on to other things? God knows the difference even if nobody else can tell.

Think about your ministry for God--greeting people on Sunday morning, making coffee or serving donuts, preparing your AWANA challenge for Wednesday night’s counsel time, practicing your instrument for worship team, advancing the slides during the worship service, editing the video livestream, or any number of other ministries that you do for the Lord. Are you doing them with a “willing mind/spirit” or just half-heartedly doing what you have to because you were asked or volunteered out of guilt?

God knows when our ministry is wholehearted, halfhearted, or nohearted,. He will reward us accordingly in the last day. In my experience, the key to doing wholehearted ministry is to remember that you’re doing it for God not for recognition or because “somebody’s got to!” Let’s remind ourselves what God has done for us and that it is a privilege to serve him by serving his people. That will give us a willing mind as we going about serving Christ.

1 Chronicles 9-10, Amos 6

Today, read 1 Chronicles 9-10, Amos 6.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 9, believe it or not.

• I did not go into the ministry so that I could decide what color to paint the walls in the hallway of the church building. • I did not go to seminary to learn what a 501(c)3 corporation is and what the government requires of it. • I did not accept the position of Senior Pastor to spend my life pouring over budgets and financial reports. • I do not study the Bible to try to get people to give more money to the church, spend more time serving in the body, or just show up regularly and on time for the worship service on Sunday. • I don’t get paid to order guitar strings or bulbs for the projector or copier paper.

I went into ministry to serve the Lord. I did it to study and teach God’s word. I serve the Lord to equip God’s people to reach out to others with the gospel.

But...

...all the stuff on that list above--and more--is necessary. It is mundane and, in the light of eternity, doesn’t seem to matter. But it does matter because it enables us to serve the Lord, to minister to people, and everything else that goes along with being the Lord’s church in this age.

Our last few days reading 1 Chronicles have taken us through this lengthy genealogy. Maybe you’ve skipped reading these chapters. I don’t blame you, but they are worth reading because they matter. Here in chapter 9, we read about the names of the first men who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity ended (vv. 2ff). Many of these people were “priests, Levites and temple servants” according to verse 2. These people were listed by name in verses 10-21.

We understand from reading the Old Testament what priests do: They offer sacrifices and teach God’s people the Law (v. 13).

The Levites were an entire tribe of descendants of Levi. God had set apart for his ministry. Some of them were priests. All priests were Levites but not all Levites were priests. In fact, most Levites were not priests but served in more mundane ways. This chapter lists them by name (vv. 14-21) and gives us some insight into their duties: • Verses 22-27 tell us that some of them were guards. God’s temple had its own private security. These men were there to keep the temple from being robbed (vv. 26-27). • Verse 28 tells us that some of these men were accountants. Well, sort of; accountants count things and these men counted the equipment used in the Lord’s service. Their work made sure nothing got stolen. That is, in part, what modern accountants do, too. • Verse 29 tells us that some of these men were a bit like janitors. They made sure the things needed for the Lord’s service were in good working condition and that the temple had all the supplies it needed for the ministry. • Verse 30-32 tells us that some of them were like cooks. They “took acre of mixing the spices” in verse 30 while others baked the bread that was used in the temple according to verses 31-32. • Verse 33 tells us that there were musicians. They got free apartments in the temple and were not required to do other things besides play and sing with great skills.

So here we have, recorded in the pages of holy writ, the names of men who serve the Lord in more “basic” ways than we usually think about. They didn’t write like Isaiah, preach like Elijah, or inquire of the Lord like Abiathar. But their work was important because it made the temple a safe place to come and worship as well as one that had everything the worshippers needed at all times.

In our church we have people who count the money that is collected in the offerings on Sunday. They work in teams and make sure that every penny is counted and accounted for with absolute integrity. We have others who account for the finances of the church and prepare financial statements. Some of you come in and clean the church on Saturday night. Some prepare the elements for communion on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. Some clean the baptistry and changing rooms before we baptize. Some get up early to buy donuts and make coffee. Some come in the evening or on Saturday to repair chairs, replace burned out bulbs or broken light fixtures. All of this stuff needs to be done and you do it faithfully; so faithfully, in fact, that nobody thinks about it because it is always just ready.

At times these tasks may seem tedious. They might get old and you may wish you could spend that time doing something more fun. In those moments, remember 1 Chronicles 9. God knows the names of everyone who serves him. He sees your work that is done for his glory. He will reward you for loving him and his body in these often overlooked ways.

If you’re not serving the Lord in any capacity, why not? There is something that everyone can do. God sees and rewards even the most basic acts of service that are done in his name.

1 Kings 7, Ezekiel 37

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 7 and Ezekiel 37.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 7:1.

The last verse of 1 Kings 6, which we read yesterday, told us that Solomon spent seven years building the temple of the Lord.” The first verse here in chapter 7 says, “It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace.” The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired and were long after both the Old and New Testaments were complete. Someone decided to end chapter 6 with the statement that the temple took seven years. The same person decided to start chapter 7 with the contrasting statement that Solomon’s palace took thirteen years to build. That was an unfortunate decision because the original author meant for these two statements to stand back to back as contrasts. He wanted us to know that Solomon spent much more time on his home than he did on the Lord’s house.

I guess Solomon’s house could have been beset by construction delays but that’s probably not why his house took so much longer to build. If we compare the dimensions that are given in chapters 6 and 7, we will see that Solomon’s house was much larger than the temple. Notice:

1 Kings 6:2 says the temple was 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits. 1 Kings 7:2 says the palace was 100 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits.

So the two buildings were the same height but Solomon’s house was much bigger--longer and wider--than the temple he built for worshipping the Lord.

Solomon’s house wasn’t just a residence; it was a government building where he also lived. We can see that in verse 7 where we read about “the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge...” and then verse 8’s statement, “...the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design.” But the human author of 1 Kings wanted us to see that Solomon’s palace was much larger and took much longer to build than the temple did. The point is that Solomon did an incredible job building a house for the Lord but he spent even more money building a house for himself. He was self-centered, materialistic, and showed poor priorities in the contrast between these two buildings.

Do our lives reflect the same struggle with priorities or self-centeredness? Do we give our best energy to our career or our hobbies but give leftovers to serving the Lord? Do we spend money lavishly on ourselves while being stingy when it comes to financially supporting the Lord’s work?

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Today’s we’re scheduled to read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord. Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped of Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy she prayed so earnestly for but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

John 21

Today’s reading is John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected (see Acts 1:6).

This must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “...that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

While it is true that Peter had seen Christ before this, it is also true that the memory of his denial of Jesus was still fresh in his memory. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love--his commitment--to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus--doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

Psalms 72-74

Today’s Sunday Psalms are Psalms 72-74.

The problem with political power is that there is an ever-present temptation to use that power for the benefit of the powerful rather than for the benefit of the nation. Probably every government scandal ever happened because the leader(s) acted in their own best interest against the interest of the whole nation. This is true in other power centers such as business, sports teams, and, yes, even churches.

Psalm 72 is refreshing in its cry to God for a king who rules with justice and desires to “bring prosperity to the people.” Solomon, at least at this point in his life, wanted God’s grace so that Solomon would put what was right ahead of what was best for himself. His song here Psalm 72 is refreshing compared to the self-serving words and actions of too many leaders. How blessed, prosperous, and joyful a nation (or corporation or church or family or whatever) would be if its leaders had this kind of servant’s heart.

Unfortunately, Solomon’s ambition in this chapter did not work out fully in his life. No leader is perfect but Solomon gave way to the temptations of leadership as Israel’s king. Only Christ, the perfect king, could rule and reign in the way Solomon described in this chapter. The failures and abuses of our human leaders should, because we know Christ, make us long for his kingdom to be established when we will rule and reign with him in righteousness.

Until then, though, we have the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God in the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit within us to help us be the kind of leader that Solomon described in this chapter but failed to be on his own. If you are a leader of any kind--ministry, civic, government, family, business, etc.--do you view your position as a platform to benefit others to the glory of God? Do you try to embody the traits of a servant leader who makes decisions and sets a course for the good and service of others instead of the enrichment of yourself? Ask God to endow you with righteousness and justice (v. 1), to bring prosperity to those you serve (v. 2), to deliver the needy around you (vv. 12ff) for the glory of God.

And, as we come together to worship the Lord this morning, let the failures of human leaders turn your heart to claim God’s promise of a future kingdom by faith and to long for the day when he will rule over us more perfectly and completely than Solomon could have imagined in this chapter.