Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, Galatians 1

Read Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, and Galatians 1 today. This devotional is about Numbers 7.

Numbers 7:2 says that the leaders of each tribe of Israel made offerings to the Lord to be used by the Levities and priest in their Tabernacle ministry. Those offerings were, according to verse 3: “…six covered carts and twelve oxen—an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle.”

The oxen in this gift were not given to be slaughtered for sacrifices; they were to pull the carts that were also part of this gift. This kind of utilitarian offering was not commanded by God so Moses might have been uncertain if it was even appropriate to receive them as offerings. God spoke up, however, in verses 4-5: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the tent of meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires.’”

Te oxen and carts were useful and, therefore, a legitimate gift to the Lord for his work. Not every Levite needed them which is why the Lord said, “Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires” (v. 5). Nevertheless, they were helpful to some of the Levites and, therefore, they were a thoughtful gift for the Lord’s work.

This is a reminder that people who serve the Lord in full-time ministry—pastors, church-planters, foreign missionaries, college and seminary professors, and others—need tools. Tools are an essential part of doing our work well for the Lord. I was away from my office when I wrote this devotional, but I was able to write it on a Macbook that our church purchased for me. I’m grateful that we have money in our budget for good tools; otherwise, the only productive time I would have would be time spent in my office.

I am involved in a few ministries outside of our church. My role is small and usually consists of me just giving advice. One of these ministries is frugal and spends money carefully and wisely. In terms of raw dollars, not a lot is spent of staff salaries or ministry expenses but in terms of percentages, a fair amount goes to those things. It would be an error, however, to think that the money spent on salaries and expenses is wasted. The people who receive pay offer valuable advice, guidance, leadership, and teaching. Without them, there would be no ministry, so paying them for their work and providing them with the tools they need is money well spent for God’s kingdom, even if it is not directly spent on the ministry’s core work. It is something to keep in mind when you choose which ministries to support and how that support is spent.

The men in this passage gave something they made to God’s work. As a ministry leader, I would honestly rather people gave money to the church so that we can decide whether to buy a certain kind of tool or what kind of tool we think will be most useful. But occasionally people buy stuff and donate it to the church. We’ve had people donate computers, projectors, couches and other kinds of furniture, and many other kinds of tools or materials that I can’t think of at the moment. Gifts like these–especially if they are things we actually need and will use (which is not always the case with donated stuff)–are a blessing to God’s work.

If you tithe faithfully to this church, thank you! Your obedience and generosity makes our ministries possible. If you are tithing but also have skills you can use here or see needs for physical things that you’d like to donate to the church, let this passage encourage you to contribute to God’s work in those ways.

Leviticus 11-12, Isaiah 7, Luke 24

Read Leviticus 11-12, Isaiah 7, and Luke 24 today. This devotional is about Luke 24.

Remember those women in Luke 8:2-3 that Luke said traveled with Jesus and the disciples? Luke named a few of them: “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others” (v. 2b-3a). He had told us that they “were helping to support them out of their own means” (v. 3b).

That passage in Luke 8 is the only insight we are given in the Gospels–at least, that I can think of–about the financial support of Jesus ministry. Think about 13 men traveling to different villages, towns, and cities. Where did they sleep? Where did they get their meals in an age before restaurants? These women provided them the money they needed to buy food; they probably also prepared food when needed, found places for everyone to sleep at night, brought Jesus and the disciples water during the day. Maybe they helped mend clothes and wash them, too, but it seems clear that they volunteered to help Jesus and his disciples in whatever way was needed.

Here in Luke 24 these women emerge from the shadows again (v. 1, 10). The passage says they came “very early in the morning” (v. 1) to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried. My guess is that they figured this would be the last of their unheralded acts of service on behalf of Jesus. When Jesus’ burial was complete, they might have stayed for a few days to mourn his death and remember his life, then they would return to Galilee and re-enter daily life.

Instead of doing the sad, unpleasant, and difficult work of embalming Jesus’ body, the women were surprised to hear the message that Jesus was risen from the dead (vv. 3-7, 10)! The angels that reported this news to them said to them in verse 6, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” That happened back in Luke 9:22. It was just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the benefits of being on Jesus’ support team was that they could listen to him teach as they served or during the moments when there was nothing immediate to do. Verse 8 here in Luke 24 says, “Then they remembered his words” which tells us that they were in the audience when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah so they heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Now God had chosen them to be the first people learn of Christ’s resurrection.

Although it isn’t the point of this passage, this story suggests a truth that may encourage you today which is that some of the greatest blessings of following Jesus occur when we are doing the difficult, unpleasant, unnoticed work of serving him. If you are discouraged because you feel like your life and or your ministry in the church is often overlooked, unnoticed, unappreciated think of these women. You may be tempted to think that your life doesn’t matter much, but God sees. He knows what your love for Christ leads you to do for him even if nobody else ever knows.

And, God may just surprise you one day with an unexpected blessing; it won’t be anything as big as an angel informing you that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it will be a blessing nonetheless. So don’t be discouraged or give up serving Jesus.

Judges 7, Jeremiah 20

Today’s readings are Judges 7 and Jeremiah 20.

This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too. Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel. He had no military experience, and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Calvary Class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

John 3

Today read John 3.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Actually, it is a big ugly secret but I don’t think most Christians know about it. The secret is: envy and jealousy are not sins that church members struggle with only. Pastors and ministry leaders struggle with it, too. I have–more often and more recently than I would like to admit.

On the outside, we are glad for the ministry success of others. And, when we’re thinking biblically, we are genuinely glad for God’s blessing on other churches. I really don’t think that we are in competition with other churches. Our competition is entertainment, relaxation, sleeping in, working extra weekend hours, materialism, secularism, and all kinds of other noise that distracts people from church attendance and, ultimately, from the gospel message.

I want all my friends to succeed and I want other gospel preaching churches in our area and elsewhere to be reaching people in salvation, baptizing them, discipling them and, therefore, growing in numbers and in spiritual life.

But I want our church to prosper as well. I want us reaching people and baptizing them. I want to see the people who attend and are members of our church to be showing up enthusiastically ready to worship and grow on Sunday. I want to see you bringing friends, too, and to see others coming for the first time.

So, when our church attendance is up and down but others I know are adding additional services to accommodate all the growth, it is hard not to want what they’ve got. So the latter half of John 3 is just for me today. John the Baptist’s disciples are concerned about Jesus’s success. They were alarmed that Jesus was preaching and baptizing and that “everyone is going to him” (v. 26d).

John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived–apart from Jesus, of course–had a godly response: “ To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven’” (v. 27). Jesus’s success–anyone’s success–results from God’s blessing. John was happy to see Jesus doing well because he understood who Jesus was (vv. 28-30). John served faithfully in the role that God called him to fill. Now that role was nearing completion (v. 30) and John couldn’t have been happier about the attention Jesus was receiving.

Are you jealous of anyone, envious of anyone else’s life? There is a lot that could be said about that. On one hand, appearances are not always reality and, when that’s true, reality always emerges eventually. Also, there is the whole matter of “sowing and reaping” and sometimes our struggles result from what we’ve been sowing.

But we all need to remember the sovereignty of God over this life. He has different purposes and plans for each of us. If we are faithful to what God commands us to do and calls us to become, if we are sowing good seed and doing it consistently, then we need to trust God with the results.

2 Corinthians 5

Today, read 2 Corinthians 5.

Yesterday in 2 Corinthians 4, we read that Paul and his companions did not lose heart despite the hardships they faced because they have a ministry that transforms lives by the power of Christ. Today’s reading continued the theme of serving the Lord despite the costs that come with it. Another reason not to lose heart is eternity–“we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (v. 1b). Believers should long for eternity (vv. 2-8) but live for Christ with the time we have on this earth (vv. 9-10). Living for Christ means reaching out to non-believers with the life-transforming power of the gospel message (vv. 11-21), so this is why Paul and his team kept traveling, kept giving the gospel despite the pain of persecution and the difficulty of dealing with disrespectful churches.

There are so many powerful verses in this chapter!

  • verse 7: “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
  • verse 10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
  • verse 11: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.”
  • verse 15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
  • verse 17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”
  • verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
  • verse 21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But the one that stands out to me today is verse 9, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” Pleasing God is not the same as trying to earn his love or his salvation. That’s impossible; God loved us unconditionally when we were still sinners and saved us as a gift of his grace alone. But, once saved by God’s grace, we want to become holy like he is and to rescue sinners like he did. God is pleased with these things because they are the evidence of the life of the Holy Spirit within us (v. 5) and because they show that we are “no longer living for” ourselves “but for him who died for” us “and was raised again” (v. 15).

Now that we are God’s children, our goal is to please him with our lives. Is this a goal that we think about daily? Whatever you face today, consider what it would look like to please the Lord in the things you pay attention to, the decisions and choices you make, and what you do with the time in front of you.

Luke 24

Today’s reading is Luke 24.

Remember those women in Luke 8:2-3 that Luke said traveled with Jesus and the disciples? Luke named a few of them: “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others” (v. 2b-3a). He had told us that they “were helping to support them out of their own means” (v. 3b). That passage in Luke 8 is the only insight we are given in the Gospels–at least, that I can think of–about the financial support of Jesus ministry. Think about 13 men traveling to different villages, towns, and cities. Where did they sleep? Where did they get their meals in an age before restaurants? These women provided them the money they needed to buy food; they probably also prepared food when needed, found places for everyone to sleep at night, brought Jesus and the disciples water during the day. Maybe they helped mend clothes and wash them, too, but it seems clear that they volunteered to help Jesus and his disciples in whatever way was needed.

Here in Luke 24 these women emerge from the shadows again (v. 1, 10). The passage says they came “very early in the morning” (v. 1) to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried. My guess is that they figured this would be the last of their unheralded acts of service on behalf of Jesus. When Jesus’ burial was complete, they might have stayed for a few days to mourn his death and remember his life, then they would return to Galilee and re-enter daily life.

Instead of doing the sad, unpleasant, and difficult work of embalming Jesus’ body, the women were surprised to hear the message that Jesus was risen from the dead (vv. 3-7, 10)! The angels that reported this news to them said to them in verse 6, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” That happened back in Luke 9:22. It was just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the benefits of being on Jesus’ support team was that they could listen to him teach as they served or during the moments when there was nothing immediate to do. Verse 8 here in Luke 24 says, “Then they remembered his words” which tells us that they were in the audience when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah so they heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Now God had chosen them to be the first people learn of Christ’s resurrection.

Although it isn’t the point of this passage, this story suggests a truth that may encourage you today which is that some of the greatest blessings of following Jesus occur when we are doing the difficult, unpleasant, unnoticed work of serving him. If you are discouraged because you feel like your life and or your ministry in the church is often overlooked, unnoticed, unappreciated think of these women. You may be tempted to think that your life doesn’t matter much, but God sees. He knows what our love for Christ leads us to do for him even if nobody else ever knows. And, God may just surprise you one day with an unexpected blessing; it won’t be anything as big as an angel informing you that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it will be a blessing nonetheless. So don’t be discouraged or give up serving Jesus.


BTW: Logos Bible Software, the Bible study software I use has created a pretty cool webpage describing what the tomb where Jesus was buried was probably actually like. Click here to see it: https://www.logos.com/encounter-easter

Matthew 9

Today we’re reading Matthew chapter 9.

Jesus accomplished a remarkable amount in just 3 and a half years of ministry. Not only did he save the human race from eternal destruction, he left behind a committed group of people to spread that message around the world. In addition, he taught truth in memorable ways so that both his words and his methods of instruction are still studied today.

A man like this must have worked a hundred hours a week or more, right? Maybe. The gospel writers certainly didn’t tell us that Jesus took vacations. But he lived in an age before machines, so he didn’t ride a plane, a train, or an automobile. Instead, he walked everywhere he went. You and I would consider that a waste of time, but that’s what he did. Jesus also lived before electric power so the things he did happened mainly from sunrise to sunset. This means that he took time to rest on a daily basis.

Going further, we never read of Christ being in a rush. He was always on the move, but never in a hurry. Although he was aware of the time of his death, he never worried about the clock running out before he accomplished what he needed to do. Yet he was aware of the great needs around him. As we read today in verses 35-36, Jesus busily taught and healed but there were so many people with needs and Christ “had compassion on them” (v. 36). What was his reaction to this? It had two aspects.

First, Christ called the disciples to pray (v. 38a). Instead of thinking that he had too much to accomplish to spend time praying, he himself withdrew frequently to pray and he called on the disciples to pray in response to the great needs he saw around him.

Second, Christ prayed for workers (v. 38b). His solution to the vast needs around him was not to work more or pick up the pace of his labor but to ask God to multiply the number of laborers. This is wise. Who can accomplish more–10 men working 50 hours a week or 500 men working 10 hours a week? The math is easy; multiplying workers is far more efficient and effective than working longer at a frantic pace.

Like everything Jesus did, we would be wise to follow his example. When we’re too busy to pray, we’re doing it wrong. When we try to get more done by working more hours at a breakneck pace, we’re doing it wrong. This is true in all of life but especially and more importantly in ministry. Wherever you’re serving the Lord, if you feel overworked and burdened by God’s work, it’s time to start asking God for helpers. Then, when he provides them, take time to train them well then use them wherever they can make the greatest impact for God’s work.

This is my mission for 2017 as your pastor: to do less ministry myself and more praying for and training God’s people. Want in? I’ll be talking more about this soon….