Pastor Keith's devotional goes through the books of the Bible a chapter at a time. Each day he shares thoughts and insights from a pastor’s perspective that are intended to be encouraging, challenging, and life changing. Here’s how Pastor Keith's daily devotional works best:
Really, it’s as simple as that. Okay, here we go…
For the next week, I'll not be posting any devotions; instead, like the wisemen, I'll be following a star and seeking to draw closer to Jesus - which means I need to take an early Christmas vacation from writing. In case you're wondering, I'm planning on posting my next devotion on Sunday, December 17.
Hope you're enjoying this Christmas season,
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Mt 2:1-2)
When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled the house of Judah and Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam. (v.1)
The last time we saw King Rehoboam, he was in riding in a chariot racing for his life trying to get behind the fortified city walls of Jerusalem. If you remember, he had allowed some really bad counselors sway him into making a total bone-headed decision that resulted in the split of his kingdom. Once he had made it safely back to palace, he figured the best thing to do to restore his kingdom was to quell the revolt as quickly and decisively as possible. To that end, he called together a huge army of his best soldiers to go into battle and put down the rebellion. And really, that’s something most people still do today; get upset, come up with a retaliatory response…and totally forget to consult God.
“Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me.” (v.4a)
To prevent Rehoboam from slaughtering his brother Israelites or (depending on how the battle went) to perhaps be slaughtered by them, in his great love, wisdom, and mercy God spoke into the situation by sending the little-known prophet Shemaiah with a very clear message to stop the battle before it began. Considering that the Judean army of 180,000 soldiers was just about to walk onto the battlefield to engage the enemy, the message must have stunned Rehoboam. Really, didn’t God know that everything was set to go? Well, as it turned out, he somehow recognized the authoritative voice of God and knew that he had no choice but to obey the message and call back his army. Wow, I wonder how many of us would change or abandon our plans, plans that we’ve sunk time, energy, and a lot of our hard-earned dollars into, just because at the very last minute God told us to?
So they listened to the word of the Lord and returned and did not go against Jeroboam. (v.4b)
If Rehoboam hadn’t listened to Shemaiah the prophet, he most certainly would have brashly gone into battle and most likely, thousands of Israelites would have lost their lives in a nasty civil war (Prv 20:18). To his credit, Rehoboam listened to the word of the Lord and no lives were lost. So how about you? When you make plans, do you seek out the approval of the Lord before you set them in motion, knowing that if you don’t, really bad things might happen? The next time you make plans for something – anything really – I encourage you to pray to God and be patient to listen to his voice so that you don’t end up making a mess of things…like causing a totally unnecessary civil war.
The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Prv 16:1-3)
Well, to his credit, King Rehoboam had at least sought out counsel rather than just going with his own gut feeling before making the first major decision he was faced with as the newly crowned king of Israel. And it wasn’t like he just asked his closest friends for advice; before he did that, he was smart enough to seek out the counsel of some older guys who had been around the block a few times. His problem was exactly what the hundreds of years old Grail Knight said in the third Indiana Jones movie, when Donavan (the American traitor bad guy), followed the really bad advice of Elsa (the German bad woman) when he drank to his death from the incorrect Holy Grail; yes, that’s right, “he chose…poorly.”
King Rehoboam spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” (v.14)
I’m pretty sure that no politician would ever be crazy arrogant enough to run on a campaign slogan of, “Choose me, and I’ll be worse than the last guy!” Who would do something like that? Oh, that’s right, King Rehoboam. Instead of following the sound advice of his older counselors, he went with the pride-filled advice of his same-aged buddies. What. A. Mistake. Did he really think the over-worked and occasionally whipped Israelites wanted to hear that their lives were now going to be even more miserable than they already were? Seriously, who would want to burdened with more work and to live under the threat that if they got out of line, they’d be disciplined with scorpions?
And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. Each of you to your tents, O Israel!" (v.16)
Clearly, King Rehoboam hadn’t thought through the potential devastating consequences of his decision, because in a flash, the majority of the tribes of Israel rebelled against him; as a result, the kingdom of Israel was divided for hundreds of years. Oh, if only he had of listened to the old guys! Well, how about you? When you have a big decision to make, do you wing it by yourself or do you seek out many advisors so that your plans will succeed (Prv 15:22)? The next time you’re faced with a difficult decision, I encourage you to seek out not just your same-aged friends (a good, but limited idea), but to also ask for the advice from those older mature Christians in your church who can share their wisdom with you. Once you everyone's counsel, then you need to do something that King Rehoboam seemed to have forgotten to do, commit your plans to the Lord and find his blessing of approval before you act.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,but the Lord weighs the spirit.Commit your work to the Lord,and your plans will be established. (Prv 16:2-3)
From my experience, one thing that strikes fear into way too many Christians is when someone asks them a hard question about something to do with Christianity. To avoid that awkward situation (that will put them in a very uncomfortable state of mind), a lot of Christians do all they can to avoid bringing up in conversation anything to do with Christianity; basically, it’s their safeguard strategy to keep them from feeling embarrassed for not knowing how to defend their faith. Now, an even bigger problem arises for a great number of Christians is that due to their lack of confidence in coming up with the right answer to a seemingly hard question, they simply stop sharing their faith with anyone – which of course, slams the breaks on the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the topic of the day is apologetics, which is basically a logical and well-reasoned response and defense (or justification) of a certain belief or doctrine. It’s also something of which King Solomon apparently excelled.
Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. (v.1)
When one of King Solomon’s confidants told him that the Queen of Sheba was knocking at his palace door carrying a big bag full of the hardest questions known to man to test his wisdom and knowledge, he didn’t run for the hills (or duck under his desk); it’s much more likely he sat down on his really cool throne and said, “Let her in...and let the games begin!” Now of course, she would have had questions about all sorts of things, but you have to think that at least a few of her questions were about Judaism. As it turned out, he totally aced her test. Hmm, if the Queen of Sheba showed up at your door today and started asking questions about Christianity, would you be able to pass the test?
And Solomon answered all her questions. There was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her. (v.2)
Okay, we all don’t have Solomon’s wisdom to tap into when someone asks us questions about our faith – so what do we have to fall back on? Well, the key to all of this apologetics business is to understand that there are in fact real and credible answers to the questions that people either want to test us with (as in give us a hard time) as well as those questions that are from [seeking] people who from sincere hearts are legitimately looking for answers in their quest to know God. The real question for us today is whether or not we’re willing to open our Bibles (and seek out other available resources) to find the answers for them. I encourage you today to do the homework necessary so that you can always be ready to make a defense of the faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).”
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Pt 3:15)
Have you ever heard of something called “the Protestant work ethic?” Max Weber, a renowned German sociologist, was the first to coin the term in his book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905). Basically, it’s a term that refers to the hard work and business acumen that came about as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Now of course, those who embrace the spirit of a Protestant work ethic believe that those who do not exhibit a hard working attitude each day of their lives are just outright lazy…and maybe even unsaved; okay, that devotion topic will have to wait for another day. For now though, let’s just take a moment to reflect on how hard working each of us really are.
Thus was accomplished all the work of Solomon from the day the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid until it was finished. (v.16)
King Solomon was one busy guy, don’t you think? Let’s see, in a period of about twenty years, not only did he supervise the gigantic construction project of building a temple for the LORD in Jerusalem, somehow, I guess in his spare time, he also managed to accomplish other major projects like: Building himself a royal residence, 2. Rebuilding, fortifying, and settling all the cities that Hiram had given him, 3. “Drafting” into forced labor and putting to work all the peoples of the former tribes that had occupied the Promised Land before the Israelites had captured the land, 4. Conscripting an army of Israelites, and 5. Building a house for Pharaoh’s daughter, one of his wives. Wow, looking back at the last twenty years of my life, I can’t say that I’ve accomplished anywhere near what Solomon did, how about you?
Then Solomon offered up burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of the Lord that he had built before the vestibule, as the duty of each day required, offering according to the commandment of Moses. (vs.12-13)
One thing that King Solomon had going for him was that he was very aware of the duty each day required according the Law of Moses. He knew what to do for the Sabbaths, new moons, as well as the three annual feasts (v.13). So, how about us? Do we know what our New Testament inspired duties are for each day, and better yet, are we diligently making sure that we’re fulfilling those duties? Be careful here; this isn’t a legalistic thing, it’s actually a matter of a willing and obedient heart that wants to follow the commandments of Jesus, after all, he did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” didn’t he (Jn 14:15, 21)? I encourage you to be mindful, not only today, but every day, to show your love to Jesus by working hard on observing any and all duties he desires of you.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5:15-16)
When I in college, I had to read the New York Times every day as part of an assignment for my political science class. One of the first major breaking international news stories I remember reading about was the Iran hostage crisis. The gist of that story was that during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking about 90 people hostage, of whom 66 were Americans. The interesting thing that I can distinctly remember about those difficult days was that there were a number of very large roadside billboards around the country that said, “Let my people go!” At the time, I found that a bit weird, because that plea was originally directed to an Egyptian Pharaoh, not a bunch of Iranian students (and in time, the Ayatollah Khomeini). For me, that now begs the question, “Is it okay to selectively pull a Bible verse completely out of context to make a point?
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (v.14)
It was actually pretty easy; to get out from under a disaster God had sent their way due to their sin, the Israelites needed to humble themselves, seek God’s face, and turn from their wickedness. If they did that, then God promised to forgive their sins and heal their land. On the other hand, if they didn’t do that, but instead forsook the commandments of God and wandered off to do what was right in their own eyes – like worship false gods and idols – then it would be a different story; as a result of foolish disobedience like that, God would abandon them, cause disaster to overtake them, and pluck them out from their land and cast them somewhere else (vs.19-20). Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the Israelites, a people who clearly knew the consequence of their actions, deliberately and recklessly choose to go off the deep end.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pt 2:9)
While it’s true that Christians are a people for God’s own possession, it’s not true that we are the Israelites…which means that we shouldn’t claim verses that we wish were given to us but in fact were really given to the nation of Israel. Does it concern anyone that American Christians believe we can claim a verse [never given to us], call for everyone (Christians) to humble themselves before God, and then expect God to forgive America (sorry, not his chosen people) for its sin (that it’s committing every single day with no intention of ever stopping) and heal our land? While the general principles of some promises to the Israelites do overlap into the New Covenant, let’s keep in mind that not all of them do – some not even close. Now of course, it’s good to pray for the welfare of our country, so to that end I encourage you today to pray for our our elected officials, knowing that the problems our country is facing isn’t due to circumstances, but men’s hearts (1 Tim 2:1-2).
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)
Are you looking for a Christmas (or Hanukkah) present for a Jewish friend of yours? Well, here’s something to buy him or her that you probably didn’t even know existed; it’s called a “Kosher Compass” (the competition markets it as a “Jerusalem Compass.”) No, I’m not making this up; it really exists! For somewhere between $39.99 to $49.99, you can buy a compass (developed in Jerusalem, patented in the U.S.A) whose needle always points towards Jerusalem, so your Jewish friend can always know which direction he’s supposed to pray towards each day. Oh, you didn’t know? Yes, it’s true; when a Jewish person prays, he or she is supposed to turn towards Jerusalem; no kidding.
"And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive." (v.21)
When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he knelt down (on a super cool golden platform he had specially made for that occasion), stretched his hands towards heaven, and prayed that God would keep his eyes and ears open towards the temple. He then asked God to take special note of everyone – it didn’t matter if the person was an Israelite or a foreigner – who prayed in the direction of the temple; it didn’t matter if they were standing right in front of it, hanging out somewhere in the country, or were far away in exile in a foreign land. Once a prayer was directed to the temple, he asked God to then hear the prayer, maintain the person’s cause, and if necessary, forgive their sins. Oh, by the way, if you noticed, that last one - the forgiveness of sins - came with a condition attached; you did catch that, right?
"Yet if they turn their heart…and repent and plead with you…saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul …and pray toward their land… then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you." (vs.36-39)
King Solomon knew that everyone sinned (v.36) and therefore everyone would sooner or later need to pray to God for forgiveness. However, even though a person might include in a prayer an acknowledgment of sin(s) and/or a plea for forgiveness, there was one thing more that would have to be done before God would actually grant forgiveness; there would need to be a turning of heart, not towards Jerusalem, but towards God; that’s right a person would need to repent of his or her sins in order to find God’s forgiveness. Oh my, how often do we forget this ourselves? Often times Christians pray for forgiveness, but inwardly have no intention of repenting and giving up their sins. Do we really expect God to forgive us when he knows we’re not really serious about turning from our sinful ways? I encourage you today to pray to God when you sin, but before you confess your sin and ask for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, that you check your heart and make sure you’re truly repentant, that way, you can be assured that God will hear your plea and grant the forgiveness and freedom for which you’re asking. Oh, and don’t worry about which direction you pray; God isn’t in a temple in Jerusalem, he’s in heaven (Mt 6:9).
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus. (Acts 3:19-20)
It took King Solomon twenty years to complete building his house (palace) and the house (temple) of the Lord (1 Kgs 9:10). Considering that I’ve never worked on any one project for even close to twenty years, I think that’s a really long time. Hmm, maybe the reasons I’ve never worked on a project that long is that I don’t have the patience of Solomon, plus the fact that like most people, I find satisfaction and excitement in starting projects, not necessarily in finishing them. Sound familiar? Well, as we know, after twenty years, Solomon finished building the temple, most likely in part because he had more wisdom than any man, for he understood and wrote: Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit (Eccl 7:8).
Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. (v.7)
You have to guess that when Solomon was just a little boy, his father King David would have the opportunity to tell him the bedtime story of how the Ark of the Covenant came to be in Jerusalem. He would have shared that the first time he had tried to move it, he had forgotten to consult the Scriptures (as to who was allowed to move it), and after an ox pulling a new cart stumbled, a man named Uzzah had lost his life trying to steady the Ark. He then would have told him that after searching out the Scriptures for the instructions as to how to move the Ark, he had successfully brought it into to Jerusalem. Now, you have to think that if David’s wife Bathsheba had been listening in from the hallway to this father and son talk, she would have thanked God that his father was willing share not only his victories with her son, but also his struggles. Now of course, we have no idea if David ever shared this story with his son, but it should make us wonder how many fathers today are willing to share not only their successes, but also their struggles, defeats, and [the necessity of consulting the Scriptures] with their sons.
The house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (v.13-14)
As we know, the Ark of the Covenant was symbolic of the very presence of God to the Israelites. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that when Solomon had it moved into the brand new temple he had built, and then a crazy big Levitical choir came together with all their musical instruments and voices to break into praise and worship, that God was so pleased, he filled the temple with his glory in the form of a cloud. Wow, that must have come as a complete surprise, don’t you think? Hmm, so when we gather in church for a Sunday worship service, how many us would be surprised if God showed up and filled our sanctuaries with his glory? I’m guessing that if that happened this Sunday morning, most of us would freak out and fall on our knees. I encourage you today to consider that when we gather together to worship God in our local churches, his presence - whether we can see it in the form of a cloud or not - is in some sense, actually among us.
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” (v.13)
If you have an eidetic memory, you’ll easily recall not only that there was a bronze altar before the Tabernacle, but also the exact measurements of that altar (Exo 27:1-3). For those of us who have a hard time remembering what day it is, no worries; the bronze altar that stood before the Tabernacle was seven-and-a-half feet square and four-and-a-half feet high – large enough for the burnt offerings of the wandering Israelites, yet small enough to be carried around the desert wilderness for forty years. And of course, no one can forget its purpose; it was to be used for the sacrificial burning of animals in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins.
He made an altar of bronze, twenty cubits long and twenty cubits wide and ten cubits high. (v.1)
According to the plans that God had given King David (1 Chr 28:19), the measurements of the new altar of bronze were to be much larger than the measurements of the one that had been used before the Tabernacle (1 Chr 28:19). Actually, compared to the original bronze altar, it was H-U-G-E; it measured thirty feet square and was fifteen feet high. Wow, that was one big altar! Or was it? Considering that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22)” how big an altar would be necessary to burn all the animal sacrifices to cover all the sins of everyone, not just in Israel, but on the face of the earth?
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26)
When you think about it, if each person on the planet had to offer an animal as a sacrifice for his or her sins – every time he or she sinned – it wouldn’t take long before there’d be no more animals left on the entire planet. Oh my, and then what would we do to atone for our sins before a Most Holy God? Ah, but we don’t have to worry about that weird Old Testament scenario, do we? Aren’t you glad Jesus Christ sacrificed himself and shed his blood on the cross as the perfect and once-for-all atoning sacrifice to cover all of mankind’s [past, present, and future] sins? I encourage you today to truly appreciate the fact that Jesus has made the necessity of a bronze altar obsolete; let’s rejoice that we're now under the New Covenant, a covenant that doesn’t depend on a shiny bronze altar, but rather, a rough-hewn wooden cross.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb 10:14)
Quick, without giving it too much thought, answer this question: “What am I building?” Aha, what’s the first thing that came to mind? Did know that we’re all consciously (and some of us unconsciously) busy building something? The reality is that we all spend our days, resources, and energy on building all sorts of things, you know like: a hobby, a career, a relationship, a nice family, or even a retirement account. Now, all of those things are great to build, no doubt about it, but hold on, have you ever considered that you’re supposed to be building something for God? And if that’s the case (and of course, it is), then here's the next question for you: “How’s that project coming along?”
Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. (v.1)
The preparation work that went on before the temple could be built was quite astonishing. Between King Solomon and his father King David, they had managed to secure ginormous amounts of gold, silver, bronze and iron (1 Chr 29:7), barter for an entire forest of cedar, cypress, and algum timber from Lebanon (2 Chr 2:8-9), secure the most highly qualified construction project manager of his time (2 Chr 3:13-14), and gather together 153,600 laborers to do the actual work. The only thing left was to say, Begin the work!” Well, how about you? Has God gifted you with time, resources, and/or energy to do a great work for him? lf so, have you already begun the work, or have you been a bit too preoccupied building your own stuff so the project never actually got off the ground?
He began to build in the second month of the fourth year of his reign. (v.2)
It seems that Solomon considered all things pertaining to the building of the temple, including the overall cost of the project to make sure he could complete it (Luke 14:28-30), and in the second month of the fourth year of his reign, hit the “Go!” button. Basically, it was the time to build. And he knew it. Did you know that a lot of Christians have been thinking about volunteering at their local churches for the longest of time, but due to various excuses, have never pressed the “Go!” button? I encourage you today to make this day the day you decide to start (or join a team already working on) a worthy “building” project for God, a project (or ministry) that’s of his design and plan (Psa 127:1), one that will result in giving honor, praise, and glory to the great Almighty God.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." (Mt 7:24-25)