Revelation 14

Read Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone. Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5; they were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c). As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

Revelation 8

Read 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 seal 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 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.

Revelation 4

Read Revelation 4.

After addressing the churches on earth in Revelation 2 and 3, John’s vision of the Lord causes him to be transported to heaven to see what is happening there (v. 1). The purpose of this vision was to convey to John and to us the greatness and holiness of God. Despite all the problems his churches on earth were dealing with, God was not worried. He was sitting on a magnificent throne (v. 3) surrounded by worship (vv. 4-8). And what was the content of that worship? It was to proclaim the holiness of God (vv. 8) and his worthiness for worship (v. 11).

cThe word “holy” means “set apart.” It is used elsewhere in the Bible of God’s moral purity, his freedom from sin, in the sense that he is set apart from ungodliness. But the word “holiness” is also used just to describe how different God is from us and everything else that exists. The creatures worshipped God for his holiness, for his uniqueness in all things (v. 8). And why was God so different, so distinct? Because he “created all things” (v. 11). God is the only one who understands reality as the Creator–the one who planned and caused it. Even if we could understand everything God knows (we can’t, but go with me here), we still wouldn’t know AS God’s knows because he knows all things as the Creator. We only ever know anything as created beings. This means that:

  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is independent; we are dependent on him.
  • God knows everything because he planned and made everything; we know anything only because he gave us the ability to observe and learn as well as create tools and instruments to help us.

God’s greatness–his holiness–is an inexhaustible truth. This is why living creatures (v. 8) glorify him and why spiritual leaders fall down before him in worship (vv. 9-11).

Before Jesus revealed anything to John about the last days, he reveled to John the power and majesty of himself. This is so that he and we would develop an awe for him that causes us to worship him as the twenty-four elders did.

Did this passage strike you, giving you a new vision of God’s power, greatness and holiness? The spend some time worshiping the Lord for his holiness just as the elders did here in 4:9-11.

Philippians 4

Read Philippians 4.

When we read Philippians 1 last week, 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?

1 Corinthians 14

Read 1 Corinthians 14.

Paul continued writing about miraculous gifts in this chapter and he recommended the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues (vv. 1-25). Paul made several points in this chapter to try to correct the errors of the Corinthians:

  1. Tongues in a church’s gathering are useless (v 6: “what good will I be?” and v. 28). They do not edify other believers (vv. 1-12) and they make unbelievers think that you are insane (v. 24).
  2. Interpreted tongues are useful (vv. 13-17) so pray for that gift if you find yourself speaking in tongues.
  3. Tongues are given to benefit unbelievers not believers (vv. 10-11, 21-22a). The benefit Paul has in mind here is the benefit of hearing the gospel in one’s own language with out a translator (v. 21). Since the Corinthians all shared a common language, there was no need for anyone to speak in tongues, particularly if there were no interpreter. So the Corinthians shouldn’t seek the gift of tongues or elevate it to the ultimate expression of spirituality.
  4. The gift of prophecy edifies believers (vv. 3-5, 19) and it convicts unbelievers (vv. 22-25), so it is a superior spiritual gift to tongues.

There are two larger principles in this passage beyond speaking in tongues and prophecy:

  1. The goal of church gatherings is to edify believers primarily (vv. 5, 12, 19, 26c) and secondarily to convict unbelievers (vv. 24-25).
  2. Church gatherings should be done in an orderly way (vv. 26-40). Chaos does not please the Lord (v. 33).

These two principles should guide anyone leading a church and planning a worship service. They should inform you if you find yourself looking for a church someday. The second of these two principles is drawn from a basic principle about God’s nature: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (v. 33a). As followers of Christ, we should seek order in our everyday lives as well. Is there chaos somewhere in your life? What is one action today that could move you a step closer to peace and order in that area?

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 each Sundays, do you prepare yourself well?

I don’t mean getting your best Sunday clothes together the night before.

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)?

Matthew 26

Read Matthew 26.

During this final week before Jesus’s death, the Bible tells us he had a predictable daily schedule. During the day he taught in the temple and people showed up early to hear him At night, he left the city of Jerusalem and climbed the nearby hill called the Mount of Olives where he spent the night with his disciples. See Luke 21:37-38 for these details.

Here in Matthew 26, Jesus was in Bethany which is on the Mount of Olives. After teaching all day in the temple, he was enjoying a meal in the home of “Simon the leper” (v. 6). In verse 7 we were told that a woman came and anointed his head with some “very expensive perfume.” This made Jesus’s disciples angry and they complained that, if she wanted to do something good with the perfume, she should have sold it and given the money to the poor (v. 9).

Jesus defended the woman’s actions (v. 10), calling what she did “a beautiful thing.” Caring for the poor was and is important to Jesus but so is loving him. Some acts of worship are extravagant, so seemingly wasteful that they invite criticism. But when they come from a heart of love for God out of a desire to serve and please God, they are beautiful, not wasteful.

Solomon’s temple was meticulously designed, built with the utmost skill, and lavishly furnished. God does not need physical buildings; he wants his people to worship him from the heart in truth, not necessarily in the finest places.

But worship from the heart can cause people to do unusual things. The musician who practices and practices in order to play his or her part perfectly, not just adequately, is doing “a beautiful thing” if he or she does it for Jesus. So is the church that gives sacrificially to build a church building that is beautiful, not just good enough. The same can be said for a teacher who labors to study the word in depth and thinks about the best words to describe and illustrate and apply what God’s word says.

What is the best thing you have–the best skill you have?

  • Is is making money?
  • Is is singing or playing a musical instrument?
  • Is it encouraging others?
  • Is it teaching?
  • Is it making meals?
  • Is it decorating or making art?

Do you show your love for Christ in the way that you use the best thing(s) that you have? Are you willing to sacrifice–extravagantly, even–not to impress others or because you feel like you should but just to do “a beautiful thing” for God?

2 Chronicles 5:1-6:11, Revelation 4

Read 2 Chronicles 5:1-6:11 and Revelation 4 today. This devotional is about Revelation 4.

After addressing the churches on earth in Revelation 2 and 3, John’s vision of the Lord caused him to be transported to heaven to see what was happening there (v. 1). The purpose of that vision was to convey to John and to us the greatness and holiness of God.

Despite all the problems his churches on earth were dealing with, God was not worried. He was sitting on a magnificent throne (v. 3) surrounded by worship (vv. 4-8).

And what was the content of that worship? It was to proclaim the holiness of God (vv. 8) and his worthiness for worship (v. 11). The word “holy” means “set apart.” It is used elsewhere in the Bible of God’s moral purity, his freedom from sin, in the sense that he is set apart from ungodliness. But the word “holiness” is also used just to describe how different God is from us and everything else that exists. The creatures worshipped God for his holiness, for his uniqueness in all things (v. 8).

And why is God so different, so distinct?

Because he “created all things” (v. 11). God is the only one who understands reality as the Creator–the one who planned and caused it. Even if we could understand everything God knows (we can’t, but go with me here), we still wouldn’t know AS God’s knows because he knows all things as the Creator. We only ever know anything as created beings. This means that:

  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is independent; we are dependent on him.
  • God knows everything because he planned and made everything; we know anything only because he gave us the ability to observe and learn as well as create tools and instruments to help us.

God’s greatness–his holiness–is an inexhaustible truth. This is why living creatures (v. 8) glorify him and why spiritual leaders fall down before him in worship (vv. 9-11).

Before Jesus revealed anything to John about the last days, he reveled to John the power and majesty of himself. This is so that he and we would develop an awe for him that causes us to worship him as the twenty-four elders did.

Did this passage strike you, giving you a new vision of God’s power, greatness and holiness? The spend some time worshiping the Lord for his holiness just as the elders did here in 4:9-11.

1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5 today. This devotional is about Amos 5.

Idol worship in Israel was a constant problem after the kingdom was divided. Not all of God’s people neglected the Lord, however. There were some who maintained their worship of the Lord. These people, apparently, were longing for God’s judgment which is often called “the day of the Lord.” That phrase is used about prophetic, end time events in the Bible that are still future to us, but it was also used for days of judgment in the Old Testament that have already happened.

Verses 18-20 warned those who wanted to see their countrymen punished: “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light…” (v. 18). Those who wanted God’s judgment to fall on Israel must have believed that they would be safe. They reasoned that performing the rituals of worship that the Lord commanded would protect them for his judgment. They must have been surprised, then, when the Lord said through Amos, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps” (vv. 21-23).

It is quite surprising to see God reject the worship of his people, especially since the prophets were constantly calling them to repentance (v. 6). What was the problem with the worship of those Amos described in this chapter?

There are two problems with it. First, they joined with the rest of their idol worshipping countrymen in exploiting others in court (compare verses 7, 10, and 15a with 24). Although these Israelites may have been obedient to the Lord’s commands about worship, they were disobedient to his commands in their ethics and morals. They lived a dual, hypocritical life so that they appeared devout on Saturday but lived like pagans on Sunday through Friday.

The second problem with this group was that their worship of the Lord was not exclusive and wholehearted. Verse 26 says, “You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.” The God who had redeemed them from Egypt long before (v. 25) was now just like every other false god they worshipped. They may have kept the ceremonial law of God but they broke the very first law of his commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We face the same kind of temptation—to worship the gods of materialism, worldliness, self-centeredness, or whatever—while showing up faithfully to church on Sunday and performing the outward acts common to Christians. We also can be tempted to worship the Lord with our lips while abusing his children in our everyday life. Let’s look within today and consider whether our devotion to the Lord is complete and whether or not it is reflected in our daily ethics and morals. That’s the kind of worship that God wants because it is the kind of worship that comes from a changed heart.

1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5 today. This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on. 

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can perform rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture. 

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves.

Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23). 

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about it? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things–church attendance, etc.–are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.