Day 97: Proper worship

Judges 17-18; Luke 10:25-42

Key Verses

Judges 17:6
Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Luke 10:36-37
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

As the time of the Judges comes to an end, somehow, God managed to preserve his people in spite of their apostasy. Yet, this nation was full of people who had no clue how to worship God according to the Mosaic law.

The rest of the book of Judges switches its focus from the threat of foreign invaders to its own inward chaos. The author is persuading the reader that Israel desperately needs the leadership of a godly king. The story recorded in Judges 17-18 is so preposterous that it seems cartoonish!

And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods…

And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest” (Judges 17:5; 12-13).

Since when did people start having their own personal priests?? And this priest doesn’t have an altar or a tabernacle, no, he has Micah’s shrine and carved images to facilitate proper worship. It’s ludicrous!

Fast forward to today’s reading in Luke. At this point in history, the Jews were so absorbed with proper worship – that they had added many extra laws which made the old laws seem permissive. This concern with observing the Mosaic law is obvious from the details in Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan. There was a distinction between the Priest and the Levite. Not just any Levite could be a Priest. Only a descendant of Aaron could be a Priest. I’m sure this detail was overlooked by Micah, our character from Judges ;)

But it is interesting that Jesus takes all of these religious regulations and turns them upside down. The story of the good Samaritan illustrates that it is not the “law-abiding” Priest and Levite that meet the standard of the Law – but rather it was the hated “half-breed” Samaritan who did what was acceptable – that is to sacrificially love his enemy.

Isn’t Jesus wonderful??!! He wants so much more for His people than mere religion!! The rules only teach us we’re not good enough! Then we can look to Jesus with a desperate need to be rescued. This is proper worship! Humble, reliance on the Savior.

Mary understood. She knew that nothing was as important as sitting at the feet of her Lord. All of life could wait – Jesus was in her house! What could be more important than that?!

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Day 358: Trust in God’s good plans

Habakkuk 1-3Revelation 15

I love Habakkuk because he is honest before the Lord. He questions God’s justice and goodness. After dialoguing with the God of the universe, the book of Habakkuk ends in praise…not because he receives answers to his questions – but because He comes to a deeper understanding of God’s character. He accepts God’s mercy and goodness even though he doesn’t understand His ways.

As we struggle daily with the fallenness of this world…especially with the world’s violent opposition to the gospel and God’s people, we can look to Revelation for comfort. For God uses Satan’s attacks upon the Church against him. The martyrs enter eternal bliss – and their sacrifice brings God eternal glory. Against all earthly logic, persecution causes the church to grow!

And in the fullness of time, God will bring judgment on the ungodly. Until that day, we are to stand strong.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 357: The Redeemed and The Adversaries

Nahum 1-3Revelation 14

We tackle the book of Nahum today :)

Nahum is a judgment oracle written to proclaim absolute and irrevocable judgment against Nineveh, the great capital city of Assyria. In many ways, Nahum is a tragic sequel to Jonah, for after the Ninevites listened to Jonah’s message and repented, they reverted back to their idolatrous and violent ways – ultimately destroying the Northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Nahum was probably written after the fall of the Northern Kingdom and during the height of the Assyrian empire. Revealing God’s absolute sovereignty, Nahum foretells Nineveh’s inevitable destruction which occurred when Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 BC.

Listen to Nahum’s timeless words…

The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness (Nahum 1:7-8).

These words are graphically depicted in today’s reading from Revelation.

We see how the Lord protects His people as the 144,000, representing the total number of redeemed from all ages, surround the throne with loud and glorious worship. They are sealed by the name of the Father written on their foreheads, which is in direct contrast to those who have the mark of the beast (13:16-17). The redeemed are seen as being pure and celibate – but celibacy is a figurative term for not chasing after other gods (not committing adultery with idols).

Surely… The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7).

In stark contrast to the glorious picture of the redeemed worshiping before the throne is the scene of the angels harvesting the earth. For the unrighteous are harvested and thrown into the great winepress. With gruesome imagery we read of the blood flowing from the winepress of the wrath of God.

Surely… He will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness (Nahum 1:8).

In the middle of these graphic images is a brief, but oh-so-important exhortation!

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Revelation 14:12).

Perseverance is the evidence of an internal saving faith. God gives us grace for both salvation and sanctification. But we must strive to enter his rest! “To be judged by the Almighty God and to be without rest for ever is a worse fate than we can imagine, and we are to be warned and to warn others. In contrast with this, how glorious is the rest and joy and blessedness of those who die in the Lord” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg. 198).

Almighty God, please grant us the strength to persevere to the end. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on the glorious rest awaiting your children. Help us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you, God,” with great endurance and faith!! (Micah 6:8) Amen.

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 350: Temporal vs. Eternal treasures

Amos 4-6Revelation 7

Revelation 6 ended with the question: Who can stand? For the 7th seal represented the final judgment – the Day of the return of Christ. But before the 7th seal is opened, there is an interlude in which John is shown how the saints are protected in the opening of the seals… In essence, Revelation 7 answers the question raised in the previous chapter…

Who can stand under Christ’s judgment? Only those sealed by His grace.

Revelation 7 gives us a glimpse of both the past and future for the believer. John is shown a scene from the past when God seals His servants. This does not remove them from the suffering to be inflicted on the earth – but preserves them as God’s own for the final day. The 144,000 who were sealed is a symbol for completeness. In other words, “everyone who will be saved and who will persevere through the trials and tribulations of this age is protected by God. Not a single one can be harmed spiritually. What amazing comfort this must have been for those suffering already within the seven churches!” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 109). And this is a comfort to us who live in the midst of suffering and evil in today’s world.

Once the complete number of God’s servants is sealed by God, the scene switches to show their glorious future…our future before the throne of God!

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

John goes on to describe our glorious future in Christ!

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

When you consider the future that awaits the believer, the stern warnings in Amos toward Israel become more meaningful. For Israel was trading the true God for powerless idols. They were offering the true God their bare minimum while oppressing the poor to become rich. They chose the fleeting treasures of this world over the glory of an eternity spent with God.

Because of God’s love for Israel, he sends trial and strife in order to turn their hearts back to Him (Amos 4:6-11). But they refuse Him. They refuse His grace. They refuse His love, and they are left unprotected from the four winds of judgment who bring calamity upon the earth.

What treasure do you seek? Temporal or eternal? Forsake the idols of this age and return to the True God!!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book,Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 347: The Throne Room

Hosea 12-14; Revelation 4

The last chapters of Hosea are heart-breaking as Hosea describes the inevitable destruction that will come because of the nation’s refusal to repent. But the book ends with the hopeful promise that God would restore and build His Kingdom…

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon (Hosea 14:7).

His judgment is revealed in the context of His faithfulness to redeem his people. This is actually a summary statement for God’s work through all of history and according to the book of Revelation, this is how He will work in the future as well.

This is why John is transported “in the Spirit” to God’s throne room. John is shown God’s glory and Protection of the Saints before he is shown God’s judgment on the earth. This is so important that I will write it again…God’s judgment is revealed in the context of His faithfulness to redeem his people!!!

So what does John see in the throne room of God???

The images that John describes harken back to the opening chapter of Ezekiel – when Ezekiel was also shown a vision of the Glory of God.

And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald (Revelation 4:3).

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. […]Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around (Ezekiel 1:26-28).

I get the sense that both John and Ezekiel tried to find words to adequately describe the scene and found themselves limited by the use of only words. For words cannot possibly sum up the Glory of God!

Then John sees 24 elders sitting on thrones, dressed in white and wearing crowns. Their presence fulfills the promises given to the seven churches of the ones who overcome…”clothed in white, ruling with him, sharing his throne” (2:10; 2:27; 3:5, 3:113:21). The number 24 could represent both 12 tribes of Israel + 12 apostles – most likely representing all of those who are redeemed in Christ. This represents us, if we are redeemed in Christ!

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal (Revelation 4:5-6).

This passage reveals God as judge. “The sea of glass, of the perfection of crystal, separates God in his holiness from everything else. It is this sea which will disappear later (21:1). In other words, there will come a time when sin and sinful people have been judged and God’s people will no longer experience this sea which separates them from their God” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 72).

John then observes four creatures that were around the throne (4:6). John’s description recalls images from both Ezekiel and Isaiah’s visions of God’s throne room (Ezekiel 1:10, 18 & Isaiah 6:2-3). These creatures represent all of God’s creation: wild & domestic animals, birds and humans all “looking this way and that way in order to serve him and worship him” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 73).

This amazing scene which our human minds can not fully comprehend culminates in worship. For God is holy, almighty and eternal. In addition to John’s vision, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel were also given visions of God’s throne room, and all four men, when faced with the Glory of God, joined the members of the throne room in WORSHIP.

This should be our response as well…As we consider that we are His redeemed; He has clothed us with the righteousness of His Son and will remove the sea of separation to dwell with us forever…we should cast our crowns before Him and cry with all creation…

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book,Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 340: God is Life

Psalm 146, Psalm 148, Psalm 150; 1 John 5
(Psalms 147 & 149 were read on Day 273)

Today we end both 1 John and the book of Psalms. We have spent 44 straight days in Psalms!

1 John ends fittingly with John’s purpose for writing…

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:12-13).

In Jesus is life. When we believe in the Son, he gives us new life through His Spirit and equips us to love others and keep His commandments. Because of the Spirit’s power at work within us, John writes that His commands are not burdensome (vs. 3). Rather they are life to the believer!

John’s purpose was encouragement. We, too, should be encouraged by John’s message. It is a message of hope because it’s the gospel!! Our response to the gospel should be a deep internal gratitude – which pours out as praise…

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! 
(Psalm 150, the final Psalm!)

Day 327: A humble response to a gracious God

Psalms 105-106; James 4

Psalms 105 & 106 are historical Psalms. Psalm 105 focuses on God’s faithfulness while Psalm 106 highlights Israel’s faithlessness. Overarching both historical accounts is the fulfillment of God’s Covenant promises to Israel (105:7-11; 106:44-45).

These two Psalms paint a beautiful picture of God’s sovereignty and grace. Listen to the psalmist’s description of God’s dealings with the patriarchs…

When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!” (Psalm 105:12-15)

This is a God worthy of our praise…especially considering the sinfulness of humanity – so aptly described in Psalm 106 and James 4…

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 1:1-4)

Who is this God that stoops to have a relationship with sinners? Why would the creator of the universe desire to have a relationship with usThe answer is mysterious and should evoke a humble gratitude – a heart willing to submit to One so powerful AND so good!

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6-8).

Day 326: The power of the tongue

Psalms 103-104; James 3
(Psalm 102 was read on Day 228)

James warns us in Chapter 3 of the destructive power of the tongue…while today’s Psalms display the redemptive power of the tongue! These Psalms should be spoken aloud. The power of poetic praise is like a balm of truth for the poor in spirit.

Use your voice to speak the steadfast love of the Lord!

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14).

Day 299: God’s far reaching Grace

Psalms 7-91 Timothy 1

1 Timothy is the first of Paul’s three pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). In it he encourages Timothy to stand strong against false doctrine and to rely on Christ to lead the church in Ephesus effectively.

The best defense against false doctrine is truth! But Paul doesn’t deliver a dry sermon outlining systematic theology…No! He writes to Timothy of the grace he experienced through his own conversion…

…formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:13-14).

Who is this God that saves the worst of sinners? He has stooped so low to have a relationship with us!

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4)

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)

Day 298: Striving for simplicity

Psalms 4-62 Thessalonians 3
(Psalm 3 was read on Day 119)

Even though we live in a fallen world, we are still created to enjoy God – and often, we do this through simple pleasures…working our hands in the tilled ground, washing away our thirst with cold water, rising early to watch the sun rise or sleeping after a hard and satisfying work day.

There’s a simplicity to following God that is hard to find in the busy-ness of our western culture. If we can break through all the many demands on our time and attention – and just be in the presence of God, we will find rest.

There is no striving at the foot of the cross. Only trust. A very still sense that God is faithful and he will accomplish it – whatever the it is that we are anxious about…he will accomplish it.

The truths of Scripture can lead us into rest. Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 3 remind me of the elegant simplicity of following God… trusting in his faithfulness (3:3), working quietly to earn a living (3:12), and praying for God’s peace and presence (3:16).

Even the Psalms echo these sentiments. They speak of pondering in our hearts (Psalm 4:4), sleeping in peace (4:8), seeking God in the morning (5:3), and the comforting truths that God hears our weeping and accepts our prayers (6:8-9).

It’s a paradox, but I challenge you to strive to live a simple life. For in simplicity we find… rest, a quiet trust, and peace. Ultimately, we find Jesus.

“You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus.” -Fernando Ortega