Thursday, June 3, 2021

June 3 - 1 Kings 9, Romans 8

 Key verse: 1 Kings 9:9

Big idea: Worship starts with obedience.

After Solomon completed the Temple, God came to him in a second vision, like the one where He had granted him wisdom. This is not as well known as the first, but it is perhaps even more important. In this chapter, God reaffirms the covenant that He had made with David in 2 Samuel 7. God's blessing would not depend on the faithfulness of the whole world, on the faithfulness of all of Abraham's descendants, or even on the faithfulness of all of Israel. Instead, God would give His people His presence through the Temple if David's son was faithful, and forsake the Temple and the land if David's son was faithless. God's rescue plan that we first considered in Genesis is now nearing its fulfillment: there is only one more stage of narrowing left. One particular Son of David would perfectly obey, redeeming Israel and through Israel the whole world. 

The connection between the Temple and obedience is not arbitrary. Truly experiencing God's presence is inseparable from holy living. When we love God, our first response will be to recognize Him as who He is: the King. If we reject obedience (the most basic form of worship), all of our other worship is superficial and meaningless. As Samuel said back in 1 Samuel 15:22, "to obey is better than sacrifice". 

Discussion idea: Why did God wait to give this assurance until after the Temple was built? How does the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD relate to Jesus' final victory as the rightful King?

Prayer focus: Thank God that He provides His presence and the opportunity for us to worship Him through Christ's perfection, despite our sin.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

June 2 - 1 Kings 8, Romans 7

 Key verse: 1 Kings 8:56

Big idea: Worship gives rest.

Back in Exodus 33, when the Israelites had built the golden calf and Moses had to plead with God to continue personally dwelling among them. God's answer was staggering, "My presence will go with thee and I will give thee rest." From the Garden of Eden on, people had lost both the presence of God and their own home because of sin, and were forced to wander apart from Him. It was impossible to restore one without the other: there is no rest without God and no real understanding of God that does not bring rest. Here, when the Temple was finally completed, the presence of God came to rest in the Temple (like He had in the Tabernacle), and His brightness was so intense that no one could enter. Solomon prayed to dedicate the Temple, and said something very interesting: "Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us."

Israel had been in the land of promise for centuries, but when the Temple was inaugurated, a new level of peace and rest became available to them. They could rest in His forgiveness, His provision, and His promises. The knowledge that He would not leave them or forsake them gave them rest. For us, there is no greater rest than in worshipping the God of grace. We do not need to earn His love, but can rest knowing that we have His Spirit by faith.

Discussion idea: Have you ever felt refreshed and rested after a time of worship? What is the connection?

Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of faith that brings peace and rest.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

June 1 - 1 Kings 6, Romans 6

 Key verse: 1 Kings 6:29

Big idea: Worship is a taste of paradise.

Four years into his reign, King Solomon was finally able to do what God had forbidden David to do: build a permanent Temple. Since the end of the book of Leviticus (about 500 years earlier), people had gone to the tent known as the Tabernacle to worship God. But David desired to build God a permanent structure, more fitting of the importance and glory of God. The Lord told David that he would not build God a house to be worshipped, but that God would build David a house - a family. The first heir in that family, Solomon, was now ready to build the Temple. It was a large, impressive structure, where the larger population of Israel could be accommodated, which would be durable enough to last for generations.

Two elements of the Temple are especially worthy of note. First, much of the Temple was covered in gold. This was no casual display of Solomon's wealth, although it certainly did demonstrate that, but an important part of the Temple's symbolism. At the heart of the Temple, in the "holiest place" (literally, "holy of holies"), was the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant that represented God's throne, flanked by two large statues of angels. The gold all around reminds us of Revelation 21:21, where we are told that the streets in the New Jerusalem are like pure gold. Whatever Revelation 21 means, the throne and gold together show us that the Temple was meant to be a taste of the new age now. 

Further, our text tells us that the Temple was engraved with palm trees and flowers. While the gold points forward, this garden imagery points back to the Garden of Eden. While Adam had walked with God in the Garden, that consistent access to God was lost because of sin. But in the Temple, when sins were covered and peace was restored, there was a sense in which people were able to experience a taste of Eden too. The New Jerusalem, when Heaven comes down to Earth, includes Garden imagery too (Revelation 22:1-5). Throughout the whole Bible, God weaves a thread of His presence with His people, where what we lost is restored, and even more is given to us.

Discussion idea: 1 Corinthians 3:5-17 uses two metaphors to describe the church. What are they? How do they connect to the imagery within the Temple?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for giving me access to Your presence through the cross. I did not need to go up to a Temple or a Tabernacle, or climb up to Heaven or down to the grave. You came to me! You let me know You and experience Your love. Help me to never take that for granted and to rejoice in that worship today.

Monday, May 31, 2021

May 31 - 1 Kings 3, Romans 5

 Key verse: 1 Kings 3:9

Big idea: Worship is the heart of wisdom.

Today's text picks up after the death of King David, when his son Solomon began to reign. The Lord came to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he wanted. Solomon could have asked for military might, personal wealth, long life and good health, or ten thousand other things. Every child who has ever seen the movie Aladdin probably has some ideas about what they would ask for if the opportunity arose to have anything their heart desired. But the king's answer was different: he asked for a wise heart to govern the people. The king knew that God had given him an extraordinary task, and his greatest desire was to handle that task well. To do that would require the ability to discern between difficult choices, to find a middle way between bad options, and to represent God well in all that he did. 

It is no coincidence that Solomon wrote, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," in Proverbs 1:7. At the time that he prayed, we do not have any evidence that Solomon had any extraordinary wisdom beyond his love of God. But the wisdom to put God's will for his life first led to all other wisdom. For you and me, we cannot expect to be visited in a dream and be given unmatched insight into every situation, but we can cling to God's promise in the book of James that if we ask God for wisdom, He will give it to us generously. If wisdom is the practical skill of living, what could be more central to being wise than having the single most important priority of all in place? God was pleased with Solomon's response, and as a reward for his humility, promised to give him all of the things that he did not ask for as well. Jesus put it this way, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." The principle is the same and God is still faithful.

Discussion idea: How does the story that ends this chapter illustrate Solomon's wisdom? How might a lesser king have resolved that same situation?

Prayer focus: Lord, make your Word and Your Spirit a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Help me to seek Your kingdom first, and know that everything else will be added.

Friday, May 28, 2021

May 28 - 2 Samuel 24

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 24:24

Big idea: When God reigns, He sometimes calls on us to give much.

2 Samuel 24 is a challenging chapter. God was angry with Israel, so he incited David to conduct a census and then judged them for the census? Strange. Worse still, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan (a Hebrew word that means adversary or accuser that tempted David. What is going on here? Let me propose a theory that is shared by several scholars. Under David's rule, the united Israel was going stronger and stronger, and as they grew in strength, they were more and more proud. There was no reason for them to conduct a census - God was their strength, not raw numbers, and a census in the Bible was a sacred act. The people were not the king's to count as if they were his property; they were God's own people first and foremost. God was angry with the Israelites for their pride, and allowed Satan to tempt David. David sinned by proudly numbering the people, and in response to this, God judged the nation, and tens of thousands died.

When the judgment stopped, the angel of the Lord stopped at a large stone threshing floor. It is at this place, where God's wrath was stopped, that the Temple would eventually be built. But I am interested in one little verse today, toward the end. When David went to the main who owned the threshingfloor and asked to buy the land to build an altar. Araunah said that it was not necessary to buy it - he could have it, the oxen, and the tools to make a fire. But David said that he would not give God what cost him nothing, and bought the land and the oxen. 

Real worship is costly. We can give cheap worship: flowery language and symbolic gestures. But if God is really the King of Kings, then we must be prepared to give Him the painful and the inconvenient. We must be ready to strip down everything that seems precious to us, and give him the things that are of great value. What have you given up for Jesus?

Discussion idea: What costly act of worship is God leading you to? Where can you "give until it hurts"?

Prayer focus: Lord, make me a living sacrifice, open and vulnerable for whatever You ask.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

May 26 - 2 Samuel 7, Romans 4

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 7:11

Big Idea: God's great promises begin in the smallest details.

2 Samuel 7 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. It serves as one of the great links in the chain of the biblical story, like God's promises to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, or to Abraham in Genesis 18. David decided that he wanted to build a Temple - a house for God. But God told him "no," and promised instead to build David a house. Sometimes, God says no to one thing so that He can offer a bigger yes. God would not build a palace for David, but a family, that would carry on an everlasting dynasty. God had promised Abraham to bless the whole world through him, and now he would bless the nation through the obedience of David's line. Ultimately, one descendant of David's perfect obedience would bring the hope of salvation to the whole world! 

But thinking about Jesus adds even more to the story than that. David had wanted to build a building where God could dwell, but the House where God dwelt most fully was not one made by human hands, but the body of Jesus. When the Word became flesh, the house that God built for David was the house that David could never build for God. Today, believers are God's house in the world, both as individuals and as the gathered church. We are the place that God's presence rests, and the house where He loves to be worshipped. The promise of this chapter is our hope and our joy, and it all began when God told David, "No." 

Discussion idea: Why does Nathan assume that it would be okay for David to build a Temple? Why does God wait to give David the promise of an unending kingdom until this chapter?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to trust Him to use the small inconveniences and detours in your life to accomplish His plans.

Key verse: Romans 4:21

Big Idea: The greatest and the least all need the gospel.

Sometimes heroes seem to inhabit a different world than the rest of us. Who can think about Apollo 13 without wondering if Jim Lovell is made of a different kind of flesh than we are? Or look at Winston Churchill without doubting if we would have the strength to stare staggeringly powerful evil in the face and hold onto hope against hope? Could anyone claim to be like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, giving their lives to try to take the gospel to the Huaorani people, and Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, going to love the very people that had killed their husband and brother (respectively)? For Paul's Jewish readers, Abraham was like all of these combined. He was the founder of their nation, who with staggering faith had marched across the known world to go to the land God had promised. He was a religious, patriotic, and cultural icon. He lived centuries before the Law of Moses was given, and was the first to be ritually circumcised according to the commandment.

How does he fit into Paul's radical claim that because we are all sinners, incapable of attaining righteousness by obeying the Law, we are all saved by faith alone? Isn't Abraham's faithfulness the perfect example of someone who was saved by good works? Paul's answer is a challenge to read the Old Testament account carefully. God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (although his wife was too old to have children), that he would have a certain land, and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him (ultimately, a promise that one of his descendants would be the Messiah). Abraham believed God and God credited that faith to Abraham as if it were a life of righteousness.

Abraham's relationship with God, Paul points out, was because of his faith in God before he was circumcised. Before Abraham took the mark of a Jewish man, he was already God's. He did not comply with the Law first or join a religion first, he simply believed God's Word. The hero came to forgiveness the same way as the murderer Saul and the same way as you and I can. God could have had Abraham be circumcised first, but He controlled the order so that we would know that external acts of obedience follow a change of heart, not the other way around. 

Discussion Idea: Why is Abraham's salvation recorded in Genesis, according to Romans 4:23-25? The Bible includes a lot of history; how does God use examples to help us?

Prayer Focus: Pray for the ability to grow in faith, and take God at His Word.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

May 25 - 2 Samuel 6, Romans 3

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 6:22

Big idea: When God reigns in our lives, no one else's judgments matter.

Since our last reading, David has consolidated his reign over all twelve tribes, set up his capitol in Jerusalem and intended to bring the ark there. For the journey of about nine miles, David secured a previously unused cart. It was clearly intended to be an act of reverence, no cart that had ever carried anything else was worthy of carrying the ark of the Lord. They began their journey with all kinds of instruments and a tone of celebration. Then, when the ark began to fall, Uzzah reached out to stop it. He certainly intended to respect the ark, but paid for it with his life. David tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem on his own terms, with his own ideas about how to respect God, but it would never work. In fear, David stopped the ark for several months, until he heard how God was blessing the household where it was. David was reminded that God is a blessing God, and that the judgment of Uzzah was a response to their sin, not a sign that God wasn't good. So he prepared to bring the ark to Jerusalem, but carried by people this time, apparently with no instruments but trumpets and voices, and David himself led the procession, wearing a linen ephod. It certainly looked less dignified than the first attempt, but it was what God wanted.

The party took six steps from Obed-Edom's house to see if God would permit them to continue, and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving when He did. As they proceeded, David danced ("twirled") before the Lord with all of his strength, in worship. His wife and the daughter of Saul, Michal, looked down from a window and despised David. This was no way for a king to behave. A linen ephod was little more than a loincloth, and while a child might wear it, it was hardly appropriate for a grown man, and still less the dignity of a king. When Michel accused David of humiliating himself before the servants, what she probably meant was that he had humiliated her. But she had revealed her heart in any case. David explained that he was not dancing before the servants, but before God, and that he did not care what anyone else thought. Before God, he was happy to be humiliated. David knew that when he honored God that God would bless him, and told Michel that the servants would honor him just the same. In their first attempt to move the ark, people would have been pleased. In the second, God was.

Discussion idea: Why was God so particular about how the ark was moved? How can we replace God's will with what seems good to us or what looks good to others in worship?

Prayer focus: Ask God to teach you to be humbled before Him, and to trust Him to exalt you before others.