worship

2 Chronicles 7, Habakkuk 2

Today we’re scheduled to read 2 Chronicles 7 and Habakkuk 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 7

This chapter in 2 Chronicles 7 is a spiritually satisfying one to read. The temple has been built and it is a wonder to behold. Nothing man makes is truly worthy of the Lord but God was pleased to show his presence there (v. 1) because it was a structure built with love for him and it was done to the very best of human ability at that time. When God demonstrated his glory to the people, they worshipped him in thankful prayer (v. 3), animal sacrifices (vv. 4--5, 7) and music (v. 6). The people enjoyed a festival of dedication (vv. 8-9) and went home “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done.”

Then God told to Solomon that he would answer his prayer of dedication (vv. 11-16) and the Lord affirmed to the king that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord (vv. 17-22). Verse 10 describes the fitting conclusion to this event: “On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.”

I usually feel this way at the end of a good pastor’s conference or an encouraging retreat. Spiritual crescendos like the one described here leave me feeling like I have spiritual momentum to walk with God without ceasing. But it doesn’t take long before living in a sin cursed world with a sin nature drags you back to reality.

But days like this are a preview of what all eternity in God’s kingdom will be like. We will work in God’s kingdom and live in a society there but we will also spend much time learning about the Lord, praising the Lord, and fellowshipping with other believers in the Lord. These activities will bring us more pleasure than any entertainment or recreation we enjoy in this life. That’s because our sin nature will finally be eradicated and we’ll be perfect by the grace the of God.

Hopefully you’ve experienced something like what is described in this chapter. I hope our Sunday services feel this way to you regularly. Moments like these give us a boost in our walk with God and remind us what God has promised for us in eternity. So savor those moments and be encouraged! God has so much in store for us when his promises are finally and fully fulfilled.

1 Chronicles 26-27, Micah 4

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Chronicles 26-27 and Micah 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 26-27.

Sometimes you call a company to talk to a specific person but you don’t have that person’s extension number. If a real, live person answers the phone you can just ask to be connected. Frequently, however, you will get an automated response to your call. It will tell you to press 1 for this, press 2 for that, etc. One of the options is usually, “For a list of all extensions, press *” or # or one of the numbers. Then you can listen as, one by one, in alphabetical order, the name and extension of each employee of the company is read to you.[1]

This portion of scripture is like that directory of extensions. Starting back in 1 Chronicles 22, David began making preparations for Solomon to become king and build the temple. From chapter 23 through chapter 26 today, we’ve been reading lists of names of people who served in the Lord’s tabernacle in some way. Here in 1 Chronicles 27, we have ...uh... chronicled for us the men who served as leaders in David’s army (vv. 1-15), the leaders of the tribes of Israel (vv. 16-24), and leaders in David’s administration (vv. 25-34). The impression this list makes is that David’s kingdom was large and well-organized. Each person who served was known by name and his role in the kingdom was documented. Notice just a few of these details: • There were royal storehouses (v. 25) and they were organized into districts, towns, villages, and watchtowers. Two men were responsible for these storehouses. • There were geographical assignments for certain things such as “the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills” (v. 28) and “the herds grazing in Sharon” (v. 29). • The king had men on his staff who were his confidant (Hushai) and counselors (Jonathan and Ahithophel (vv. 32-33).

Within these administrative lists, there are indications that some of the men were especially skilled in their jobs. Among the gatekeepers of the tabernacle, some “were leaders in their father’s family because they were very capable men” (26:6). Others were described as “capable men with the strength to do the work” (26:8). Jonathan, David’s uncle was “a man of insight and a scribe” (v. 32). He sounds like exactly the right man for that role.

My point in all of this is that sometimes people complain about “organized religion.” There are some who believe there is virtue in being disorganized and loose with details and responsibilities. Many people dislike accountability even though they accepted responsibility for the results of an area. These lists of men and their responsibilities show us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God’s servants in worship and kingdom administration were highly organized and their responsibilities were clearly defined. Not many people love administration--I sure don’t--but administration serves a purpose: it enables people to glorify God by serving others consistently and reliably.

Where is your place in the administration of God’s work in our church? If you are a leader, are your people well-organized with clear roles and responsibilities? Could it be that one of the best ways you could serve the Lord right now is to put some effort into administration?


[1] If you don’t know what I’m talking about, call 734-434-4044 can press 2 after my automated voice answers the phone.

1 Kings 8, Ezekiel 38

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel 38.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 8.

After years of planning, preparing and building, the temple of the Lord was complete. It was time to move in! Solomon called for all the leaders distributed among the tribes and towns of Israel (vv. 1-2). He called them to Jerusalem so that they could witness the ark of the covenant and all the objects used for Israel’s worship being moved into the temple (vv. 3-9). Then, to confirm that what Solomon had done was according to God’s will and to demonstrate that the new temple, not the old tabernacle, would be the official place of worship, God made his presence visible in the temple. A cloud that represented God’s glory filled the place, demonstrating his presence there (vv. 10-13).

Solomon then turned to the people who witnessed this event and spoke words of praise to God and explanation to them about the meaning of all of this (vv. 14-21).

Finally, Solomon spoke to the Lord; his prayer in verses 22-60 displayed his devotion to the Lord and his desire for how this temple should function in Israel’s life as a nation. He began by worshipping God for who he is (v. 23a) and for the promises he had kept (vv. 23b-24). He continued by asking God to continue fulfilling his promises to David (vv. 25-26). Then he asked the Lord to let this temple be a place where God’s people can get an audience with him. He asked that God would listen day or night and be merciful in forgiveness to his people (vv. 27-30).

Then Solomon asked the Lord to listen and judge when God’s people came to him asking for justice (vv. 31-32). He next asked that the Lord would hear their prayers of repentance when he disciplined them with war losses or famine (vv. 33-40, 44-45). He asked that even Gentiles living in the land of Israel who pray would be heard so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (v. 43). He asked the Lord even to hear, forgive, and restore his people even if they sinned so much that he allowed them to be exiled to a foreign country (vv. 46-50). The basis for his prayer was God’s redemption of the people from Egypt (vv. 51-53).

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to observe this dedication service and to hear Solomon’s prayer and praise as well watch the offerings begin (vv. 62-64) and enjoy the feast that followed (vv. 65-66). Solomon left this event “joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel” (v. 66). I’m guessing everyone who attended felt the same way. Hopefully for some of them, the memory of this event caused them to turn to the Lord in prayer during their times of need, just as Solomon prayed that they would.

Ceremonies like this one can be so helpful in steering our emotions in a godly direction, but this was a rare occasion in the life of the nation of Israel. It was like Pentecost is to our faith as Christians—an important, rare demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power. After this, though, Israel went back to their routines. A farmer living far away in Galilee would visit this temple as part of his observance of the Jewish feast days, but if he needed forgiveness or justice, he would have to pray toward this temple in faith that God would hear and answer him. There was no visual smoke to give him assurance of forgiveness or of an answer to his need; he just had to take it on faith that God’s will would be done.

While we have no literal place like the temple, we actually have better access. Instead of seeking forgiveness by offering our prayers and bringing an animal to burn, we come seeking forgiveness based on the finished sacrifice of Christ. Instead of thinking that the Lord is among us as a group because the ark of his covenant is in Jerusalem, we have the promise of the indwelling Spirit and the assurance that, collectively, we are the temple of the living God when we gather together as his church (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Cor 6:16). Although Solomon’s prayer was certain to be answered because it was based on God’s covenant with Israel, we have the assurance of Christ that he hears and answers our prayers according to his will when we ask in his name. But, like the ancient Hebrews, we have to act on these promises to get the blessings. Let’s not just long for God’s work and intervention in our lives; let’s ask him for it based on all he has done for us and promised us in Christ.

2 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 22

Today’s readings are 2 Samuel 15 and Ezekiel 22.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 22.

This chapter in Ezekiel details many of the sins that Jerusalem (a representative of the whole nation) committed against God. These sins were the reasons for God’s judgment that would fall on them through the Babylonian empire. Their sins can be put into three stacks:

The leaders used their power selfishly. The main power that any government has that nobody else has is the power to use physical force--including death--without accountability for it. The leaders of Jerusalem were guilty of this according to verses 6 and 25. The people in general mistreated people who needed protection (vv. 7, 12), thought very little of God and his worship (v. 8), were violent (v. 9a), idolatrous (v. 9b), and committed many kinds of sexual sins (vv. 9c-11). The priests and prophets refused to lead God’s people to worship and obey him (vv. 26-28).

These are all symptoms of the same problem: “...you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” This is listed last, in verse 12, in the long list of sins in verses 6-12. For us, the last thing on the list is usually the least important but in ancient societies, the last thing on a list was the MOST important thing. The most important thing was placed last so that it would be remembered. In this passage, then, God is complaining that his people have forgotten him and, because of that they were guilty of many other sins against him.

When believers like you and me neglect our spiritual life and choose not to walk with God daily, we deviate in many ways from God’s will. Our sins are symptoms of how we live life on our own terms rather than obeying God because we love him and worship him daily.

How is your spiritual life? I hope these daily devotionals have helped you walk with God and build a habit of meeting with him daily. It is possible, however, to read the word daily and still not fellowship with God in prayer and worship. What’s the state of your heart? How is your relationship with God? Have you forgotten him? Is that starting to show up in sinful choices you make with your daily life?

Judges 8, Jeremiah 21

Today we’re reading Judges 8 and Jeremiah 21.

This devotional is about Judges 8.

Gideon was a very reluctant leader from the beginning of God’s call on his life. Although he stepped up to the demands of leadership in verses 1-21 of today’s chapter, he didn’t fundamentally change. After he did what God commanded him to do, he retired as Israel’s judge and committed Israel’s further leadership to the Lord (v. 23).

But, before leaving the scene, he accepted a large amount of gold from the jewelry taken from the dead Midianites Israel had defeated (vv. 24-26). Verse 27 told us that “Gideon made the gold into an ephod” which is a garment worn by the priests when serving the Lord or asking for Him to reveal his will. Our passage doesn’t tell us why Gideon did this but it is very possible that Israel’s priesthood was not functioning well. In Judges 17 we’ll read about a man who hired a Levite to be his priest and in Judges 20 we’ll read about God’s people going to the ark to inquire of the Lord. That’s really about all we find of the formal aspects of worship in Judges. So Gideon may have made this ephod to assist his own personal worship of God.

Whatever his reason for making it, the ephod became an object of disobedient worship for Gideon, his family, and Israel. Verse 27c says, “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Instead of being something that honored the Lord, it became a means by which people broke the first two commandments.

This is why God commanded his people not to make graven images in the Second Commandment. Graven images can become “other gods” by which some people break the first commandment. Anytime we give more reverence to an object of worship than we give to God, we are in the territory of idolatry. It might be a cross on a pendant or hung on the wall, a painting or stained glass window of Jesus, water from the Jordan river, the elements of communion, the old Bible of a family member or loved one, or the writings of some Christian author that we study with more reverence than we do God’s word itself.

Is there anything that started out as a reminder of God that has taken on too much reverence for you? Is there any person or writing who has become more authoritative in your life than God’s word? Are you more likely to ask for the advice of a trusted Christian pastor/teacher/friend than to ask God directly for wisdom? Don’t let tools for serving the Lord become more important than the Lord himself.

Judges 4, Jeremiah 19

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 4 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

Idolatry is the most frequently mentions of all the sins of Israel and Judah that God complained about through the prophets. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God. Of course it was offensive because he is the true God and idols are not but it is also true that human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to abortion. We worship money and wealth which leads to many other kinds of sins. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god--even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation--and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Today, read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31). But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “...rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104

Today we’re reading Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104.

This devotional is about Psalm 104.

It is really satisfying to do something and be happy about how it turns out. It might be a picture that you took that looks really good. You had it framed and put it up in your home and, periodically when you walk by, it just makes you smile. Or maybe it is a picture that you painted, or flooring that you installed yourself, or a piece of furniture that you repaired or restored. When we do something that turns out well, it brings us a very satisfying sense of pleasure.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 104 believed that God must feel that sense of satisfaction when he looks at creation. As verse 31b says, “may the Lord rejoice in his works.” The Psalmist certainly rejoiced in God’s works. From verse 1 through verse 30, the songwriter detailed what God has created and praised him for it. Then, in verse 33, he announced his intention to “sing to the Lord all my life” and in verse 34 stated his desire: “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” Of all of God’s work, this satisfies God the most. When men and women whom he created worship him and desire to please him even in our thoughts, then God is truly glorified. All of this happens by God’s grace to us in Christ and, when it does happen, it brings immense pleasure to our Lord.

When we take time to think about God in his fullness and awesomeness, those thoughts elevate us spiritually. They cause us to stand in awe of God’s greatness and create in us a desire to know and serve the God who redeemed us. Take some time today to think about the size, complexity, beauty, and intricate detail of the world around us that God created. Then praise him and ask for his help to have a heart and mind that aspire to be pleasing to him.

Leviticus 14, Proverbs 28, Psalm 100

Today we’re reading Leviticus 14, Proverbs 28, Psalm 100.

This devotional is about Psalm 100.

This simple song oozes with joy. Verse 1 calls all the earth to “shout for joy.” Verse 2 commands us to worship him “with gladness” and come before him (in worship) “with joyful songs.”

Joy is an attractive emotion. But why should we do all this shouting and singing and worshipping with joy? The answer is in verse 3. That verse is the hinge on which this Psalm turns. We should worship joyfully because we belong to God:

  • He is God (v. 3a) and he made us (v. 3b) therefore we are his (v. 3c). What you make, you own. What you own, you control. We belong to God because he’s God and we’re his creation. But, the verse goes on and says:
  • We are his people (v. 3d). This refers to God’s covenant with Israel. His promises to Abraham and his descendants formed a unique relationship which made all Israelites “his people” in a more significant sense than “his by creation.” This promise to Israel still stands but we Gentiles have been grafted into it by God’s grace (see Romans 11:13-17).

But then, after describing how we belong to God by creation and by grace, the Psalmwriter says this, “we are... the sheep of his pasture.” This image suggests God’s care for us. He provides for us “his pasture” which we need in order to be nourished and healthy. He protects us from predators and cares about our spiritual well-being. We’re in good hands because they are his hands, the hands of the perfect shepherd.

Because we belong to God, he watches over and cares for us. What more reason, then, does a person need to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (v. 4)? Verse 5 affirms that God is good, he is loyally-loving, and he is faithful. Why? Because we belong to him.

This is directly opposite to how we think. We think (in our sinful thought patterns, that is) that to belong to God means to be controlled, manipulated, subjected, harassed by rules and punished severely. This Psalm argues the opposite. Because we belong to God he will take care of us. Most dog owners will feed and water and care for their dog because it belongs to them. Most of the same people won’t do anything for the stray dog that goes wandering through their backyards. The stray dog may be “free” to what he wants, but he becomes dirty and starved in the process. The dog that is truly free is the one that is loved and cared for.

This is why we rejoice. We belong to God but he loves us and will provide everything that is good for us like a great shepherd provides for his sheep. This is something to be joyful and bring glad praise for today.

Have you approached him “with thanksgiving” (v. 4) yet? If not, do that next.

Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, Psalm 82

Today we’re reading Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, and Psalm 82.

This devotional is about Exodus 34.

In Exodus 33 we read, yesterday, that Moses wanted to see the glory of God (33:18). God promised that Moses would hear an announcement of God’s goodness (33:19) and see a glimpse His glory (vv. 20-23).

Here in Exodus 34, we read Moses’s description of how God kept that promise. Whatever Moses saw, he did not describe it for us in this passage. He did, however, describe what he heard. When God wanted to show Moses his glory, God proclaimed his name: “The LORD, the LORD” (YHWH, v. 6b) followed by a description of God’s character: “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (vv. 6c-7).

When God wanted to reveal his glory, he described himself in words, in theological propositions. He did show Moses something at various times (see Ex 24:10, 33:11, 23) but whatever Moses saw was a physical representation of God (probably, the person of Christ) not the essence of God. That’s because God is spirit (Jn 4:24, 1 Tim 6:15b-16) so a visible, physical presence is not part of his essence. The only aspect of God that we can understand is his Word--his description of himself in human languages.

If you want to know God, learn theology. That’s how God has revealed himself. The better you learn your theology, the better you will know God. But truly knowing God goes beyond memorizing statements about his character. Truly knowing God requires experiencing his character; that is, we see his compassion, his grace, his slowness to anger, his abounding love and faithfulness, and his forgiveness. We see these truths he has revealed about himself--first in his Word as we read about his work in the lives of others, then in our own lives as we walk with him. Again, if you want to know God, learn theology; then notice how theology impacts and changes everyday life.

What Moses learned about God in this passage is paradoxical. On one hand, God is “compassionate” “gracious” “slow to anger” “abounding in love” and “forgiving [of] wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (vv. 6b-7). Verse 7b, however, says that God “...does not leave the guilty unpunished....” How can God forgive wickedness without leaving the guilty unpunished? The answer is Jesus. We know God’s love and forgiveness in him because he received the punishment that we guilty sinners deserved. This is the glory and greatness of our God. When we consider these things, they should cause us to act like Moses who “...bowed to the ground at once and worshiped” (v. 8).

Exodus 9, Job 27, Psalm 57

Today’s readings are Exodus 9, Job 27, and Psalm 57.

This devotional is about Psalm 57.

If the superscription is correct--and it probably is--then David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. The king that he attempted to serve was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and hiding in caves like an animal. Yet, in the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, David took time to praise God.

This song appears to have a chorus which is sung in verse 5 and again in verse 11. In verses 1-4 David called out to God for mercy, looking to God for his refuge rather than the cave he was in at the moment. After the first chorus in verse 5, he began recounting his woes again, but then turned in verses 7-10 to praising God for his love and faithfulness.

This song illustrates the encouraging power of praise. David had plenty of problems that would be worthy of singing a lament. Instead, however, he laid his problems before God’s throne and chose instead to sing his praises. When the song was done, not one of his problems was solved, but I’ll be he felt better emotionally and was strengthened and edified spiritually.

Try this for yourself the next time you feel discouraged and/or afraid. Choose a song of worship that lifts your heart and sing it out loud to the Lord. Sing it as a duet with your favorite recording or acapella by yourself. If you need to, get in your car and drive so you won’t be observed or overheard or take a shower if that’s where you do your best singing. But, however you do it, harness the encouraging power of music and let it minister to your soul. It lifted David through some very serious problems that you and I will never face. If it worked for him, it will probably help you, too.

Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22

Today, read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

God was doing something in Jerusalem. Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small. But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But spiritually, they were powerful. God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks. Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, however, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would dwell, and eventually where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40). They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40). The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). This shows what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people. When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done. This can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for Nick Slayton and all the worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day. Given that it is Monday and you may not like what you will face this week, why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Psalm 3

Today we’re reading Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Psalm 3.

This devotional is about Ezra 3, so read that chapter if you can’t do all of today’s reading.

The events recorded in Ezra happened late in Old Testament history. They happened after the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and after those kingdoms were divided into the Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Because of idolatry, God used the Assyrian Empire to scatter the northern kingdom of Israel. Years later, God then used the Babylonians to take the Southern Kingdom into captivity. Daniel and his friends were living in Babylon due to that captivity. Daniel, while reading Jeremiah, realized that the captivity would end after 70 years. Ezra recorded what happened after that 70 years of captivity ended.

First Cyrus the king of Persia was moved by the Lord to send the people of Judah living in exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We read about that in Ezra 1. Ezra 2 recorded the names of those returned. At the end of Ezra 2, yesterday, we read, “When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site” (Ez 2:68). Then, today in Ezra 3 we read that the people “assembled together as one in Jerusalem” (v. 1b). They built an altar and began the routine sacrifices commanded in Moses’ law (v. 3). They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4) and began rebuilding the Temple (vv. 7-13).

One thing that is impressive about this chapter is how quickly the people organized to begin worshipping the Lord together as a group. Verse 1 refers to the “seventh month” but that doesn’t mean seven months after they arrived. It means the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the month when the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated (v. 4, 6). Although Ezra did not say so, the events of verses 1-6 happened probably only 3 or 4 months after the exiles returned to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem they returned to was a mess. It had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years before and was uninhabited during that time. When they got there, they had to figure out who owned what property, then repair or rebuild some kind of home to live in. They also needed to make a living, so they also had to begin working to start an economy going again. Verse 3 says that they “had settled in their towns” but that “settling” was only a bare subsistence. They were far from a thriving, vibrant community at that point.

And yet, they began their worship as a nation and their obedience to God’s word pretty quickly. It is true that Cyrus sent them there to rebuild the temple (chapter 1), but it would have been easy to make excuses--very plausible excuses--about the importance of making sure they could survive before they began worshipping God corporately again. They also could have said, “Well, we need to rebuild the temple first, then we can do the sacrifices and feast days.” But the temple took two years to get going (v. 8). Rather than wait, their faith in God and zeal for his glory caused them to obey his word as soon as they could.

All of this indicates what a priority worship was for these Israelites. Unlike their ancestors who worshipped idols and mixed God’s word with pagan gods and rituals, the 70 years of exile had chastened them and had shown them the importance of faith in God’s word and obedience to it.

I wonder if we would respond the same way? If some natural disaster wiped out all of our homes and businesses and leveled our church building, would those of us who survived that want to get together as soon as possible to start worshipping again?

I’d like to think that gathering again as a church family would be very important to us. Maybe a tragedy like that would make it so. But, when I think about how many people in our church attend our Sunday worship here and there, I wonder. Many people are faithful to our worship services Sunday after Sunday but many others attend for a Sunday or two, then disappear for weeks at a time. They all have reasons but how many of those reasons are just excuses laid on top of poor priorities? And that’s just Sunday services we’re talking about. Small group attendance and Calvary Class attendance is even more random and unpredictable.

This passage, and the coming of a new year, give us a chance to think about our priorities and where our time is spent. The fact that you’re reading these devotionals probably puts you in the category of people who are committed to the Lord and his work in our church. But, there is always the temptation to get distracted and let priorities fall out of whack. Don’t let that happen to you and, if you have a chance to encourage someone else who isn’t attending regularly, take the opportunity to speak to them for their good as a believer in Christ.

Revelation 19

Today’s reading is Revelation 19.

In Revelation 18 God defeated Babylon. At the end of chapter 19 (vv. 11-21) Christ returned to personally defeat the Beast.

In between these two victories, we read verses 1-10. Have you ever been to a sporting event--a football game or basketball game--where the cheering was so loud and so intense that it muffled every other sound? Verse 1 describes the worship of our Lord in similar language when it says, “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” It was “the roar of a great multitude in heaven.” Verse 6 echoes this when it says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.’”

It is difficult for us to imagine what eternal life will be like, so language like this helps us get a picture to look forward to. The most exciting game you’ve ever witnessed and cheered for will not compare to the excitement and joy and loud shouts of rejoicing that we will make for our Lord. The most enthralling musical concert you’ve ever witnessed will sound like an out-of-tune middle school band recital compared to how we’ll sing and shout the praises of God.

Eternal life will not be boring; it will be infinitely better every moment than the greatest highlights of your life. This hope of eternal life can carry us, it can help us “hold to the testimony of Jesus” while we wait for him to return. When your life is disappointing or worse, remember what God has promised to us in Christ. Then, sing a song for worship and thanks to him as an expression of hope and faith for that coming day.

Revelation 8

Today’s reading is Revelation 8.

The seventh and final seal was broken by Christ at the beginning of our chapter today. Recall that the seven seals were holding the scroll of God’s wrath closed. Jesus was the only person capable of opening them and, as he opened each one, devastation happened on earth.

The horrible things that happened on earth during the opening of seals one through six were the result of man-made aggression or natural disasters. When Christ opened the seventh death here in Revelation 8:1, the angels got involved making the outpouring of God’s wrath an overtly supernatural thing. The results were even more severe than during the first six seals (vv. 7-12).

Within this description of destruction, however, we read in verse three that “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Twice in these verses “the prayers of all God’s people” are described in terms of aromatic incense offered in worship to God.

This is how God experiences our talk to him. While we may be suffering, crying out for help or for justice and pouring out our fears and anxieties, God receives our prayers as beautiful acts of worship. This is because our prayers are expressions of pure dependence on him. They honor him as the only one who can do the impossible and provide for us when we have no where else to go.

Prayer is an extraordinary gift to us but it is also a beautiful act of worship to God. I hope our studies of the Lord’s Prayer are helping you to pray. I also hope that this passage helps you understand how much God enjoys hearing us pray. Take some time today and offer this act of worship to him; the fact that you look to him honors him, regardless of what you talk to him about.

Philippians 4

Today, read Philippians 4.

When we read Philippians 1, last Thursday, I described to you the giving track record of the church in Philippi. Thanking the Philippians for their financial support was one of the key reasons that Paul wrote this letter. We saw that in verse 10 when we read, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.” Later in verse 14 Paul wrote, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles” then he went on to describe different times that this church had sent him money:

  • “when I set out from Macedonia” (v. 15b)
  • “when I was in Thessalonica... more than once” (v. 16)
  • “now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent” (v. 18c).

The result of this most recent gift was that Paul was “amply supplied” (v. 18b). Their giving allowed him to rent a house in Rome for two years (Acts 28:30a) while he awaited trial there. Although he was under house arrest, Acts 28:30b-31 records that Paul “...welcomed all who came to see him [and that h]e proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” Although Paul used this money to pay for his personal needs, having his personal needs taken care of allowed him to serve the Lord. So Paul could tell the Philippian church here in chapter 4:18b that their gifts were, “...a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Years ago we brought in someone to do ministry here at Calvary and one of our members at the time asked me if he was being paid. I answered truthfully that, yes, of course he was being paid. The member in question suggested (not subtly) that his work was not really ministry since he was being paid. I’m not often dumbfounded, but I was then. ”I get paid by the church,” I finally managed to tell her. She had no problem with that, but an outsider was somehow not a legitimate servant of God because he was paid for his work. There are plenty of scriptural passages that refute her, including one from my message Sunday, Luke 10:7, “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages” (emphasis added). Yet even though God’s servants consume what is paid to them or even prosper from it, that does not detract from the fact that their work is done for the Lord. Paul saw the gifts that the Philippians sent him as timely provisions for his needs--yes--but also as acts of worship to God. Remember those words in verse 18: “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Do you believe that? Do you believe that giving to God’s church, God’s servants, God’s work, and even the poor, are actually gifts to God himself? Do you believe what verse 19 said, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”?

If you believe these things, are you giving faithfully to the Lord’s work?

Psalms 84-86

Let’s prepare for worship together today by reading Psalms 84-86.

Psalm 84 provides us with a great passage to help us prepare to worship together this morning. In this song, the Psalmist describes the joy he feels when he thinks about coming to the Lord’s Tabernacle to worship. Remember that in the Old Testament. the Tabernacle and then the Temple were the places where God’s presence was promised to be. God is spirit and everywhere present in the fullness of his being, but in order to unite Israel spiritually and keep her worship from being polluted by pagan gods and ideas, God designated a central altar and sanctuary to be the place of worship. He promised to make that tent (the Tabernacle) and later that house (the Temple) his “dwelling place” on earth.

As the Psalmist thought about approaching the Tabernacle to worship, he spoke of “how lovely” that place was (v. 1). Given what we have read about the design and construction of both the Tabernacle and the Temple, they were truly magnificent structures, the best humanity at that time could give to the one and only God. But the Psalmist was not drawn to that place because of its appearance; rather, according to verse 2, it was the opportunity to be with God that sparked his desire to go there: “...my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The opportunity to give to God, to sing to him in worship, and to hear from his word made this songwriter sing with excitement.

One thing I’ve never noticed in this song before is the words of verse 3: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” These words make me wonder; as the Psalmist walked toward the Tabernacle or even within it’s courts, maybe, he looked up in the trees and saw that some birds had made their nests there. “What lucky ducks!” he may have thought, “to make your home in the sanctified place of the Lord!” You would fall asleep at night and rise each morning in his presence. Your days would be filled with the smells of burnt offerings and incense offerings, with the sounds of singing and the public reading of scripture. What could be better than to live in such a place if you love God and desire to worship him. Accordingly verse 4 goes on to say, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” And, later in verse 10, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” For a believer, there is no better place to be than where the Lord is.

These days, we have the promise of God that he is with us always, that he hears our prayers and is exalted in our worship anywhere we offer them to him. Still, though, the Bible says that there is a special presence of the Lord within his church when she gathers. First Timothy 3:15 says, “...God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Note that the church is not the building where we meet, it is the people who have joined together to be the local expression of the body of Christ. The Lord’s presence is with us as we gather to worship, whether in Ypsilanti, Michigan or..., I don’t know... say, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Given this truth, don’t you want to be there when we gather for worship today?

I thank the Lord for the time we’ll have as we come and worship. Be there and join with us to experience the joy of God’s people and be blessed by him. God’s favor falls on us like the light of the son when we worship him and live obediently to his word (vv. 11-12), so come and receive it with the rest of your family in Christ.

1 Corinthians 11

Today we’re reading 1 Corinthians 11.

Paul seems to have finished addressing the questions and matters that the Corinthians had written to him about and, here in chapter 11, he moved on to things he was concerned about within the church.

Generally speaking, Paul was concerned with how chaotic the worship services of the Corinthian church were. Starting here in 1 Corinthians 11 and continuing through 1 Corinthians 14, Paul instructed the Corinthians about aspects of their worship that were not glorifying to God. In today’s chapter, 1 Corinthians 11, Paul addressed two problem areas. They are (1) how women worship (vv. 1-16) and (2) how the entire church practiced the Lord’s supper (vv. 17-34).

When this chapter was written, it was customary for women in the Roman world, at least, to cover their heads as a symbol of submission to their husbands. But it was also becoming fashionable for women in that culture not to submit to their husbands and to show their lack of submission by not wearing a head covering. In verses 2-16, Paul rebuked some of the wives in Corinth who had stopped wearing head coverings. Although women were (and are) equal to the men in their importance to God and their position before God in Christ, on this earth God commands women who are married to live in submission to their husbands. Verse 3 explained that Christ, the Son of God, was in submission to God the Father. Although he is equal with the Father in every way, he functions in submission to the Father in everything. Likewise, wives should live in submission to their husbands. Shedding the symbol of that submission in the worship service was improper (vv. 13-16), so married women in the church should show their proper relationship to their husbands by covering their heads in the worship service. This was the first of two ways that the Corinthians needed to straighten up their worship services.

The second way in which they needed to bring order to their worship services is in their practice of the Lord’s supper (vv. 17-34). The Lord’s Supper was practiced as part of a full meal that the church shared together. The church met on Sunday, as we do, but unlike in our culture, Sunday was a typical work day so the church gathering happened at night. The wealthier members of their church could arrive earlier than the more common workers and slaves in their church family could. Apparently the Corinthians were not waiting for the whole church to be gathered before they started the meal and Lord’s Supper observance. Instead, people would arrive and start eating and drinking. By the time those who were poorer arrived, the food was gone and many people were drunk (vv. 20-21). Paul rebuked the Corinthians for this practice (v. 22), then instructed them again about how the Lord’s Supper began in the church (vv. 23-25). The Lord’s Supper is a sacred act of worship (v. 27) so it should be observed in a way that unifies the body (vv. 18-19, 22) and in a way that is reverent (vv. 27-34).

When we come together to worship on Sunday, do you prepare yourself well? I don’t mean getting your Sunday best together. I mean, do you think about your relationships and whether they are glorifying to God (vv. 2-16) and do you think about how to unify the body of Christ and show favor to the disfavored in this world (vv. 21-22)? Do you take time to examine yourself and your life and come before the Lord in a reverent, worshipful way (vv. 27-28)?

Psalms 8-10

Let’s prepare for the Lord’s Day by reading Psalms 8-10 today.

And what a great group of Psalms to read to prepare our hearts for worship. Each one of them calls us to think deeply about the greatness of God. Please read them all for the good of your own soul, but I’m going to write about Psalm 8, specifically verses 3-9. In this passage, David laid on his back in the countryside around Bethlehem and turned his eyes toward the sky. With his sheep gathered in the pasture around him, he looked up into the clear dark sky. There were no city lights on earth to impair his view and no clouds to hide what was beyond our atmosphere. And what did he see? Stars. A vast, black canopy in every direction punctuated by points of light scattered everywhere. As he thought about those dots of light, small but intensely bright, he must have known that each of those stars was like our sun. But think about how far away you would have to be for our sun to look like the North Star, for instance, looks to us. So he realized that beyond the earth was an enormous place full of suns like ours so far away he couldn’t even imagine the distance.

We don’t know if David wrote this when he was a shepherd or if he wrote it while he was king, perhaps unable to sleep some night or just remembering the peacefulness of his shepherding days. One thing we can conclude, however, is that David reflected on the vastness of space and the glory of the heavenly bodies far beyond us. If the created universe is that big, that magnificent, then even the greatest king on earth is like a gnat in comparison to God’s creation and, of course, compared to God himself. So in awe and worship David cried out in verse 4, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” He then went on to meditate on how much God has entrusted to us. As weak and insignificant as we are compared to God and his universe, God made us kings over his earthly creation (vv. 6-8) so that we could master and enjoy it all as his gracious provision to us. This gives us a glimpse of the majesty and kindness of God. His majesty is seen in the greatness of his creation; his kindness is seen in how he has exalted us and provided for us through that creation.

In addition to all that God has done for us in Christ, our role in this world calls us to worship the Lord and wonder at his greatness. It also gives us a hint of what awaits for us when we see him and live finally and fully redeemed on the new earth. Let these truths encourage your heart and prepare you to worship as we gather together for worship this morning.

1 Chronicles 16, James 3, Obadiah, Luke 5

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Chronicles 16, James 3, Obadiah, Luke 5. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 1 Chronicles 16.

As far as we know, the musical aspect of worship did not exist in Israel’s tabernacle before David came along. I could be wrong about that because the Bible just doesn’t say much about Israel’s worship practice, other than what was in Moses’ law. There were some “songs”--probably more poetry that was chanted than songs that were sung--like Moses’ and Miriam’s songs. Maybe they were used in some group settings in the tabernacle. But, as far as I can tell, until David came along, worship in the tabernacle consisted of teaching the law and offering various kinds of offerings--sin offerings, burnt offerings, grain offerings, incense offerings, etc. 

Our passage for today, 1 Chronicles 16, seems to be the place where music was introduced formally to Israel’s worship. David (and probably many others before him) worshipped personally as he played the harp and sang to his sheep. But now, according to verse 4, the more musically-gifted Levites were organized and charged with the task of making music before the Lord. “He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel” (v. 4). That was their job! Instead of making show bread or offering burnt offerings, or teaching the law, these men (listed in verse 5a) were to spend all of their time in musical worship (vv. 37-38, 41-42). Performing this task involved preparation--writing worship songs and rehearsing personally and as a group. It also, of course, involved playing and singing publicly before the Lord: “They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, 6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. That day David first appointed Asaph and his associates to give praise to the Lord in this manner: ‘Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” 

What a gift the Lord gave to his people--both Israel and the church--through David. Our worship is greatly enhanced by music. Good worship songs teach God’s word by reminding us of what God has done and introducing our children to God’s mighty works: “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, you his servants, the descendants of Israel, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob. He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth” (vv. 12-14). Good worship songs focus on God’s character (v. 29c, 34) and call us to trust in his promises (vv. 15-18). They call us to reflect on God’s works and to be thankful and give thanks to him for his grace (vv. 34-36). Paying people to make music to glorify God for the worship of his people may seem like a luxury, but David’s decision to do this and his leadership to organize it has blessed generations of believers ever since.

I give thanks for our worship leader, Nick Slayton and for all who serve on our worship team. I give thanks for hymn writers, song writers, musicians, and singers that God has blessed with talent and desire to be used for his service. Pray for them to keep walking with the Lord and to keep serving him for his glory. If you use music as part of your personal devotional/worship time, take a moment to pray for the musicians and songwriters you will listen to today.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.