May 7, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God with Us”

Exodus 25:10-16

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

Throughout history, mankind has constructed many remarkable structures and buildings.  Just think about the Great Pyramids in Egypt, the palace at Machu Picchu, the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.  But, probably the most important structure that was ever built in history was the Ark of the Covenant. The very center of God’s presence was the ark, which was placed in the Holy of Holies – the innermost tent in the tabernacle.  

Like the other articles in the temple, it was made from acacia wood (v. 10), which was a highly durable wood.  The ark was covered with pure gold and it had been treated to remove any impurities (v. 11). Obviously, anything less could not be a fitting piece of furniture for the King of kings. Basically, the ark was a box fitted with poles so that it could be lifted onto the shoulders and carried without being touched directly. These poles were never removed (vv. 12–15), probably so that the ark could be carried off at a moment’s notice. The ark went everywhere that Israel went, even into battle (Josh. 6), and the ark’s constant availability to be picked up and carried off symbolized God’s willingness to go with His people wherever they might go.  I like how one author, Daniel Hyde, describes the Ark:

“Here is such a mind-blowing idea about the God of the Bible that we have to pause for a moment. The eternal God who is not constrained by the existence of time, the infinite God who is not bound by the constraints of space, the transcendent God who dwells above and beyond all time and space, and the immense God who fills all time and space condescended to the weakness of His people and became manifest for their benefit in one locale. This God is not bound by time, but He bound Himself to the time-bound experience of His people. This God is not bound by space, but He bound Himself to this box. He is above all creational constraints, but He bound Himself to them. He is everywhere, but He was there.”

One lesson we can apply today is that God’s presence is with us now and forever.  In John 17:17-18, Jesus reminds us that the Holy Spirit is in us which ensures us that his presence is always there and He will never leave us.  This means we can have comfort amid pain, joy amid sorrow and assurance that God is with us even when it does not seem like it. Have confidence and draw near to Him!

Prayer:  Lord, thank You for the story of the Ark of the Covenant because it reminds us that You are a God who is still dwelling in our midst.  Thank You that we can come to You freely because of the blood of Jesus!

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 23:1-5: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.  3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Questions to Consider

  1. As believers, what do you think it means to not be ‘in want’?
  2. How should this truth free us from anxiety and worry?  Why is this important to understand?
  3. How can these verses challenge and comfort you today?

Notes

  1. As a shepherd, He is the one who is our provider. He satisfies my needs. That is the place where God wants to bring us. He wants us to be independently dependent upon Him, to need Him alone.
  2. It also means that he provides for our practical needs such as food, job, possessions, etc.  We should never worry or be in want but rather continually trust in Him. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, God’s goodness and mercy follow us (v.6), which ought to give us confidence in our Great Shepherd.  
  3. Take some time and mediate on what this means for you in every area of your life.

Evening Reflection

James 4:8: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. 

Be encouraged that we can have intimacy with our Holy and Majestic God!  Take some time in prayer and worship to draw near to him!

May 6, Monday

The AMI QT Devotionals from May 6-12 are provided by Pastor David Kwon of Journey Community Church (Raleigh).  David, a graduate of Drexel University and Columbia International University (M.Div.) is married to Helen (“Pie”) and they have three beautiful daughters (Cara, Phoebe, and Ruth).  

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Giving God Your Best’

Exodus 25:1-9

The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. 3 And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, 5 tanned rams’ skins, goatskins,  acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

When my first daughter was younger, I attempted to help her put together a dollhouse that we got from a yard sale.  It seemed easy enough except that this dollhouse came with a list of complicated instructions and required tools, which I didn’t think we had. (We ended up having the tools.)  The attention to detail in kids’ toys is nothing compared to the attention God paid to every detail in the tabernacle.

The tabernacle was a revolutionary idea — a place where God would live among His people. God’s instructions were so specific that they would make toy designers scratch their head. What was the reason for so much detail?  The items God told the Israelites to use to make the tabernacle — gold, silver, bronze, fine linen, spices, and gems — were not ordinary building materials. These were high quality, top of the line, valuable items. God asked Israel to give Him their best, and He promised to do the same in return (Exodus 25:8-9).  

So, what can we learn from God’s instruction to His people about giving?  Here are a few lessons:

  1. Giving to God is an important sign of our commitment to Christ.  Our willingness to give to the Lord is one of the main indicators of our spiritual health.  Generosity is one of the vital signs of a healthy believer and if we are not consistently giving, it probably means we are not growing.
  2. Giving should be done out of gratitude from the heart.  When we are touched by God’s grace, we feel compelled to give.  There is something about giving to God that makes the heart sing because we know it is worship to Him and it is one of the best ways we can use our finances.  
  3. We should bring God the best we have to offer.  This is what it means to give from the heart – when we put in our best effort.  Many of the items that were used for the tabernacle were costly and that should be the same for us.  We ought to give in a way where it is costly but also seeing it as an opportunity to participle in God’s work and mission.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to be a generous person especially when it comes to the area of money.  May I be a person who views my possessions with an eternal perspective. Amen!

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6


Lunch Break Study

Read Philippians 4:10-13: I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Questions to Consider

  1. How was Paul able to find contentment despite writing this letter from a Roman jail cell?
  2. How does Paul connect his contentment with his circumstances?
  3. What is the Lord’s promise according to v. 13?

Notes

  1. He was able to find contentment because Christ was his life and that was all he needed.  Paul was able to learn the secret of contentment through his relationship with Christ Jesus.
  2. His contentment was not based on his circumstances.  At times he had plenty and other times he was in need; on either situation he knew how to stay content despite what life may have thrown at him.
  3. The Lord gives us strength to find our contentment in Him.  We have the power to overcome any circumstance we face.

Evening Reflection

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully[d] will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:6-7).

“No person was ever honored for what he received. He was honored for what he gave.”  – Calvin Coolidge

Today, we were reminded how important it is to give our best to God through our finances.  It means living a life of contentment and generosity. Think specifically of some ways you can be more generous.  Here are some questions to think about:

  1. How do you want to grow in generosity?  (Be specific)
  2. Who will keep you accountable?

May 5, Sunday

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“What do you want, really?”

Exodus 24:3-7 (NIV)

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

As part of my daily devotional reflection, I listen to lectures and sermons from the late Howard Thurman, a pastor, theologian and modern-day mystic. In one such recordings, he challenged his hearers to ask a simple, but I think profound, question – What do I really want? In this he presses all who choose to respond to examine our lives and discern where our efforts and energies are directed and directing us. And to ponder what is really worthy of the offering of our energy and resources, our days and ultimately our life. I offer his words for your reflection today:

What do I want? What do I want, really? What is it that is the fundamental thing that I am after with my life? What is the meaning of all the activities, and all the strivings, and the struggles? What after all is my point? Am I really concerned ultimately with providing some windbreak against the world around me? Am I really concerned about the accumulation of economic power which will give to me some sense of quiet security and tranquility without the threat either of poverty or some other kind of insecurity that can be measured in terms of dollars and cents, of things and property? Is this the be all and end all of my striving? Or is it for something else? Perhaps for fame or a certain kind of honor so that my name or my memory will be preserved and men will take cognizance of my presence, not because of what I may be in and over myself, but because of the kind of image that my life projects on the screen on which other men are looking. Is this the thing that I’m after? What is it that I really want? What is it that’s capable of making me bring to bear upon a single end or focus or purpose all of the resources of my life, my thinking, my dreaming, my struggling. So that in the fulfillment of myself this thing will follow.

As I’ve pondered these questions for myself, I’ve been excited as some of the deepest desires of my heart begin to come into focus. I’ve also been sobered as I take account of my daily efforts and humbly acknowledge their distance from those desires. What are the deepest desires of your heart? Toward what end are your daily efforts and strivings directed? When you close your eyes for the final time, what do you want your life to have been for?

Yesterday, AMI family gathered to honor the life of Pastor Johann Kim. Since his passing on Easter weekend, I’ve read countless reflections on the impact of his life and ministry from folks all over the world through emails and social media posts. I’ve especially marveled this week at the kind of life that’s lived in such a way that when it’s all said and done on this side of eternity, family and friends in the midst of grief and longing are able to experience some measure of peace and even joy in knowing the eternality of the life and work of their loved one who has gone Home. When we are clear about our life’s purpose and when that purpose is kingdom-oriented, the impact of our lives will always be some hundred-fold, exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we could imagine. I am so grateful for the cloud of witnesses, the ancestors, the saints who have gone before us who were willing to live their lives in this way.

Prayer: Gracious God, I thank You for the gift of my life and all the resources You’ve store within me. I am so easily distracted by business and all that seems to be an urgent necessity. But, help me today to pause and ponder my purpose. Make me aware of my heart’s desires and my contribution to Your coming Kingdom. Help me to redirect and reorient any of my daily efforts that are misaligned with Your good plans for my life and the world. Remind me of those who’ve walked this path before and finished well. May their lives encourage, challenge, and comfort me on my journey. You Kingdom come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 5

May 4, Saturday

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“I Can Only Imagine”

Exodus 24:15-18 (NIV)

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

As I read the text above, one single question came to mind: “What was it like on that mountain!?” Moses went up to meet God on behalf of the people. Other than how long he was there, the scene’s appearance from outside, and what Moses brought down when he disembarked, we know little about what happened up there. What we do know is that Moses met God.

Can you imagine… standing in the presence of God? Can you imagine what it’s like to be, as the song goes, “surrounded by [God’s] glory”? What would that feel like? What would be your response? For now, we can only imagine. But one day, when God calls us home, we won’t have to imagine anymore. Halleluiah!  And we have a greater invitation than Moses did at that time. Now, God’s people will not merely behold God for a time, receiving a covenant that will one day be superseded by something greater. Instead, we will be welcomed into the new heavens and earth as partakers in an eternal covenant. We will receive perfect bodies and hearts and live forever in communion with God and one another in an incorruptible world. Now, what will that be like? I am overjoyed just thinking about it!

One spiritual discipline I’ve come to value over the years, about which I shared earlier this week, is exercising my imagination in musings about the world to come. We don’t know much about that world, but we know enough about God to know it’s good. When we spend time thinking about life eternal and the day we will see God face-to-face, we find encouragement to press on in difficult times, hope for another day, and a joy in the face of despair. We find power, amid draining distraction, to keep our eyes on the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44-46), worth the exchange of all we have and all we are.

One literary work that helped me begin imagine the world to come is C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. While imperfectly groping at something mysterious and unsearchable, it highlights truths about our eternity with God through a fictional story about people making their journey to the other side.

For your encouragement today, I offer Lewis’ words:  

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.

‘…[In heaven,] what happens to [the Saved] is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be a vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts, memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.’

And the words of the Apostle John:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:3-7)

One day we will see God face to face, and then the new world will come in fullness. I can hardly wait! How about you?

Prayer: Creator and Redeemer, in an overflow of joy You created the world and in a display of love You redeemed it. You graciously call me Your own and delight in relationship with me. I am so grateful. Help me today to remember that one day I will be with You and see You face-to-face. Help me to find comfort in knowing that one day all that is good in life and the world will remain and all the hurts and brokenness will fade away. This is what You have promised and I trust in You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 3-4

May 3, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God’s Guidance Today”

Exodus 23:20-21 (NIV)

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 

In every season and iteration of doing life with God, in biblical times and today, the people of God are given God’s guidance for life’s journey. For the Israelites after the exodus, a visible manifestation of God’s presence was given. A pillar of smoke by night and fire by day guided their journey through the wilderness. God promised, in the verses above, to send a heavenly messenger ahead of them for the purposes of both guidance and protection. All the people had to do was pay attention to God’s messenger, listen and obey.

It almost seems silly that God would command them to listen and not rebel against the angel. After all, they are in the wilderness with no clue how to get to the place they are going. God brought them out of the place they left and God alone could lead them to wherever they are headed. Furthermore, God is promising both guidance and protection. Why on earth would they rebel against that!? Well, we know how the story goes. The journey through the wilderness was long and hard and the hearts of the people were far from formed in righteousness. And, thus, rebellion was swift and sure.

I often wish we had physical manifestations of God’s presence today. A clear, audible voice to say do this or that and a visible manifestation of Godself guiding and protecting us every day. But even with those things in place, we too would rebel. And although we are without smoke and fire, God has not left us alone—we have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is our help, who comes alongside us to guide our steps and guard our way. God’s Spirit within us forms our heart so that we are able to not rebel and so are positioned to experience the fullness of God’s promises, the abundant afforded in Christ. But sometimes, at least for me, it’s hard to know when the Spirit is speaking and how God is calling me to obey.

I’ve picked up a few tools over the years that have been helpful:

(1) Time in God’s word (Scripture), time with God’s people (fellowship), and time in God’s presence (prayer): God has revealed Godself in Scripture, God’s presence resides in God’s people, and God has promised to meet us in prayer.

(2) Contemplative practices and Sabbath rest: In contemplation, the heart and mind are able to slow down and become aware of oneself, one’s surrounds, and God’s presence (which is always near). Likewise, rhythms that honor Sabbath leave margin for us to sense God’s movements.

Regardless of your preferred practice, we must each find ways to sense the movement and hear the voice of God’s Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Prayer: Dear Lord, guide me toward Your path, toward Your will, toward Your Son.  Thank You for the Word and the Spirit through which I’m guided by You daily.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 2


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 139:1-12 (NIV): You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Question to Consider

  1. In the first few verses, what is the psalmist (David) emphasizing about God? Why is this such mind-blowing truth?
  2. How does David respond to God’s intimate knowledge of and constant nearness to him?
  3. How does God’s intimate knowledge of you make you feel? Does it encourage you or make you feel “hemmed in”? How does knowing God is always near make you feel? Fearful or safe? Why might you feel this way?

Notes

  1. David is focusing on God’s intimate knowledge of him. God knows the intricacies of his heart and all the facts of his life. God knows his daily movements and is aware of his mundane activities and even his travel plans. Even when David thinks he’s far from God, God is so near as to know David’s thoughts. God knows his words and everything about him. Because theology teaches us that God is all-knowing, the awesomeness of these statements may be lost upon us. God is infinite and has no reason or need to be so actively mindful of you or me. God chooses this. Just imagine what it would take for you to exist in the kind of relationship with another person that was so intimate that you could make these statements about them.
  2. Not positively… David feels trapped or hemmed in by God. Even if he wanted to escape, he feels like he couldn’t. That’s a fearsome thought. This is of course David’s initial response. Later in the Psalm he is thankful for God’s presence and invites God to “search and know” him.
  3. Personal reflection.


Evening Reflection

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Two questions, informed by Romans 12:1-2, have come in clutch for me as I seek to discern the leading of the Spirit in my life. The first is, “God, what do you want me to do for you?” or, to put it a different way, “How can I offer myself to You in worship in this specific situation?” The second is, “What do I want to do for and with God?” or, “In light of my resources (time, talent, treasure) and the sort of person God has formed in me, how can I intentionally and strategically orient and direct the whole of my life toward the end of maximum Kingdom impact?” The first question is a micro kind of question and has been helpful in all the little decisions that come my way on any given day. The second approaches Spiritual guidance on a more macro level and has help me keep the end goal in mind.

What kinds of questions help you discern God’s guidance in your life? Spend time reflecting on Romans 12:1-2. What would it look like for you to offer yourself (your time, talent, and treasures) in worship to God in your present context? In light of your personality, gifts, resources, passions and experiences, what might strategic Kingdom building look like in your life long term?

May 2, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Let’s Celebrate!”

Exodus 23:14-17 (NIV)

“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. 15 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed. 16 “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. “Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. 17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.

In his book on spiritual disciplines, John Ortberg dedicates a chapter to celebration – the discipline by which one cultivates joy. God is a joyful God, but we, God’s people, are not naturally a joyful bunch. Joy is something that, on this side of heaven, must be intentionally cultivated. One way we do this is through rejoicing and relishing in the good (past and present) in our lives and in the world.

God makes celebration a requirement in the law because God is a joyful God. And when God’s people celebrate, they don’t just remember what God has done but throw an outright party as they do. Scripture tells many stories of God’s people and their festivals. These worshipful gatherings were filled with songs of praise, collective remembering of God’s faithfulness, and table fellowship (good food and drink). These gatherings were central to the life of God’s people. Jesus’ first recorded miracle was literally re-stocking the wine for a party. The culmination of God’s redemptive work in the world is described in Revelation as a wedding feast (think wedding reception, but only the fun parts… none of the awkward couple dances and toasts).

Ortberg retells the story of creation to contrast to the typical human heart with God’s joyful heart.

Imagine Genesis if God approached his work as we so often do:

In the beginning, it was nine o’clock, so God had to go to work. He filled out a requisition to separate light from darkness. He considered making stars to beautify the night, and planets to fill the skies, but thought it sounded like too much work; and besides, thought God, “That’s not my job.” So he decided to knock off early and call it a day. And he looked at what he had done and he said, “It’ll have to do.”… And at the end of the week, God was seriously burned out. So he breathed a big sigh of relief and said, “Thank Me, it’s Friday.”

Thankfully, this is not how the story goes.

On the first day, “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” The first day was a Dee Dah Day [a day of celebration]. And God did a little dance. And the next day God said to the light, “Do it again.” And the light did it again, and God danced once again. And so it has gone every day down to this one—down to the morning of the day you were born; down to the morning of this day in which you read these words (Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted).

God longs to create in us hearts that embark upon mundane activities with child-like joy. In place

of boredom we can experience wonder. In place of self-important hurry, we can stop and smell the roses.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You’ve sent me into the world to be a light and a blessing, and to celebrate Your blessed presence. May my faithfulness in even the most menial tasks be pleasing unto You and a cause for celebration in my life.  May it also bless those around me. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 1


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 150 (NIV): Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. 2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Question to Consider

  1. Where does the psalmist encourage God’s people to praise God? What are some reasons the psalmist encourages the people of God to praise God?  
  2. How does the psalmist encourage God’s people to praise God, and who is called upon to do this?
  3. What are your favorite ways to praise God? To what attributes of God and works of God are you most drawn?

Notes

  1. In the sanctuary – spaces of corporate worship; in God’s mighty heavens (possibly a call to praise in the create world, allowing praises to reach the skies or a call for praise of God by heavenly beings). Essentially, there is no place on earth or in heaven where God should not be praised. God’s acts of power (what God has done); God’s surpassing greatness (who God is)
  2. With musical instruments (accompanied by singing) and with dancing. Everyone! Not just everyone, but everything with breath (so the animals too). And elsewhere in the psalms we see that the earth herself, her rivers and mountains, give praise to God.
  3. Personal reflection.

 


Evening Reflection

Ortberg concludes his chapter by reflecting on the nature of true celebration and joy:

True celebration is the inverse of hedonism. Hedonism is the demand for more and more pleasure for personal gratification. It always follows the law of diminishing returns, so that what produced joy in us yesterday no longer does today. Our capacity for joy diminishes. Celebration is not like that. When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God. We are able to take delight today in something we wouldn’t have even noticed yesterday. Our capacity for joy increases.

True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness. This is most visible in extraordinary lives, in saints and martyrs. But it is no less true for ordinary people like us. One test of authentic joy is its compatibility with pain. Joy in this world is always joy “in spite of” something. Joy is, as Karl Barth put it, a “defiant nevertheless” set at a full stop against bitterness and resentment. If we don’t rejoice today, we will not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day. This is the day that the Lord has made.

End today by reflecting on the words above with God. Are there patterns in your life keep you from celebration and joy? What are some practical ways you can cultivate joy by practicing celebration?

May 1, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Another Look at Sabbath”

Exodus 23:10-13 (NIV)

“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed. 13 “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

When was in college, shortly after I decided to follow Jesus, I was drawn to the scripture “Be still and know that I am God,” in prayer. I naturally concluded that the best response was for me to sit really still (and be very quiet) during my prayer time. ☺ After some days of living with this scripture and thinking through the idea of what it means to rest in God, I read an alterenate translation that translated “be still” as “stop striving,” and realized the Lord was inviting me to trust God with some anxiety-inducing situations I was facing at the time. Rest is about trust.

Every year I was in professional ministry, I taught discipleship courses to church leaders. My favorite segment of the course was one on Sabbath. Sabbath – the seventh day (or year) of rest commanded by God in the Ten Commandments – is so much more than a day to sleep or slack off on one’s regular duties. It’s far more about rest – resting in God’s presence and delighting in God’s provision. Through many books on discipleship and spiritual disciplines, I’ve learned that rest is also about delight. Much like God on the seventh day of creation, we cease our work not just to catch our breath (I imagine God didn’t need a breather from creating), but to delight in the work of our hands, our many gifts from God. Through Sabbath, we trust and delight.

The principle of Sabbath is certainly beneficial for personal wellness and growth. But the observation of this principle by the people of God was also of great benefit to those around them for two reasons: Sabbath creates margin for the needy and refreshment for those in our care. God commanded the Israelites to rest from tending their fields (the primary work in an agrarian society) so that the poor could gather food. God’s people were to organize their lives in such a way that those in need found opportunities to have their needs met. Sabbath was also for the purpose of others finding time for refreshment, particularly for those under one’s care. If we live busy lives, it’s likely our children, natural or spiritual, will too. If we structure our work environments with restless rhythms, those under our charge inherit those rhythms. If we create a society that doesn’t honor rest, the vulnerable among us (e.g. the foreigner) will have the least access to rest and refreshment.  

Honoring the sabbath means leaving margin in our time, talents, treasures so that we (and our resources) are available to be a conduit for God’s blessings to others. It also means choosing life rhythms that allow those in our care and the vulnerable among us to find rest and refreshment in their lives.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 16


Lunch Break Study

Read Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV): Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Question to Consider

  1. What does Paul tell the church at Philippi will enable them to exercise gentleness in their dealings with others? How might this help you do the same? How might this help us to always rejoice in the Lord?
  2. What are the recipients of this letter encouraged to do instead of being anxious? What will be the result? How might this approach be useful to you as well? How have you experienced God’s peace in the face of anxiety in your life?
  3. Why is it helpful to focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise worthy? What can this do for a heart that is facing anxiety-inducing circumstances? Spend some time thinking on such things in your life.

Notes

  1. Paul tells the Christ followers in Philippi to remember that “the Lord is near.” This fact would help them to exercise gentleness in their dealings with “all” people. Remembering who God is, what God has done and will do, and that God is always near in every season will enable us to treat others with kindness.
  2. Paul tells them to pray (talk to God) and petition (specifically, tell God of their needs and desires) while also giving thanks (acknowledging what is good and expressing gratitude). This will give the believer access to a peace, God’s peace, that the mind cannot produce or even fathom.
  3. Difficult circumstances tend to be all-consuming and the mind is not necessarily wired to remember (in any palpable way) our former experiences of good when we are in the depths of pain, fear, or heartache. When a person disciplines herself to remember the true, good, and beautiful, we overcome that limitation and are able to see beyond our present difficult experience. As we do, we begin to remember (as Timothy Wright and the Chicago Interdenominational Mass Choir sang in the 90’s) that “trouble don’t last always!”

Evening Reflection

Exodus 23:13: “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.”

In the same breath that God gives commandments regarding Sabbath rest, God also warns against idolatry (or worship of anything other than God). What is the connection between the temptation to dishonor the principle of Sabbath and idolatry? What are the other “gods” in your life that tempt you to overwork or fail to stop and rest? In what ways have you seen a lack of resting in God (trusting, delighting, and caring for others) affect your life and the lives of those in your care? Spend some time reflecting on these things with God.