1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, Proverbs 23:19-35

Read 1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, and Proverbs 23:19-35 today. This devotional is about Hosea 11.

Some people look at family life as restrictive. They describe it as being “tied down” or call their spouse a “ball and chain.” Children are, to them, a burden rather than a blessing. Or, if they are children, they think of their parents as taskmasters instead of loving leaders and protectors.  

This is how Israel looked at God. It is true that God gave them a number of laws to regulate their worship and their lives. But it is also true that God released them from true bondage, the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this chapter, God explains his side of his relationship with Israel. In verse 1, he proclaimed his love for Israel like a loving father for his child. God called them out of bondage in Egypt, and nurtured them like a loving parent would to his infant or toddler. Look at the terms of tender love in this passage. God:

  • loved Israel “when Israel was a child” (v. 1a).
  • He called his son “out of Egypt” (v. 1b).
  • He “taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (v. 3a-b).
  • He “healed them” (v. 3d).
  • He “led them with cords of human kindness” and “ties of love” (vv. 4a-b).
  • He lifted them to his cheek (v. 4c-d)
  • He “bend down to feed them” (v. 4e)

How did Israel respond to God’s many acts of tender love? They “went away from me” (v. 2b) sacrificing “to the Baals” (v. 2c).

Israel’s idolatry, then, was a refusal of his love. It was like a child who receives his parents’ love and then, when he turns 18, spits on his mom and dad and leaves the house for good. 

God explained that he would allow Assyria to rule over Israel because “they refuse to repent” (v. 5). But he also promised not to give up on his people (vv. 8-9). Though they totally rejected him and would suffer the consequences, God would not reject them forever. Instead, he would change them spiritually for good. Verse 10 says, “They will follow the Lord….” This phrase looks forward to the day when Israel will be genuinely converted. They will stop pretending to obey God and instead will love and obey him from the heart. 

This did not happen when Jesus came the first time. When God became a man in the person of Christ, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This happened so that the few Jews who did receive Jesus would fan out into the world with the message of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Some day, soon, Christ will return and will fulfill this promise. He will give new life to the people of Israel, saving them and causing them to worship him–finally–from the heart. 

For us, it is important to see in this passage how tenderly God thinks of us. John 1 says that those who received Jesus were given the right to be called God’s sons (Jn 1:12). Think about how lovingly God describes himself in relationship to his sons in this passage–teaching them to walk, lifting them to his cheek, bending down to feed them (vv. 1-4). Realize, then, that God’s commands to us are not burdensome regulations designed to weigh us down but they are protections against the pain and ugliness of sin just as your household rules protect your children from injury and exposure to wickedness. 

Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah was set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment had been passed and the sentence was settled. Pain was on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there would be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it was too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was having on him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling Jeremiah to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult message, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you but if you don’t, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but it does provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Matthew 19

Today read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Matthew 19. This devotional is about Matthew 19.

Compared to doing whatever you want to do and whatever the culture around you allows you to do, following Jesus is hard!

If you want to follow Jesus you:

  • shouldn’t get divorced unless your spouse is unfaithful (vv. 1-10).
  • would be better off staying single, but that requires something unusual that isn’t for most people (vv. 11-12).
  • need to be childish in your faith, something that is really difficult to do (vv. 13-15).
  • must follow Jesus absolutely, even if he commands you to give everything you have away (vv. 16-24).
  • have to rely on God because what Jesus requires is impossible apart from his grace (vv. 25-26).

Quite a discouraging list, yes?

But notice the rewards Christ promised to those who trust him and follow him in obedience (vv. 27-30). He promised the Twelve a share of his rule (v. 28e) and that everyone who lost something or someone following him would receive “a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (v. 29).

The kind of submission to Christ described in this chapter may cause you to fall far behind in the rat race of human life.

But human life in this age is over quickly while eternity lasts forever.

Jesus promised more than fair compensation to those who follow him in this life. According to verse 29 you will get eternal life and far more, far better stuff in eternity when you actually have the spiritual capacity to enjoy created things without worshipping them.

Following Jesus in this way might make you feel like a loser in this life but expectations for this life are upside down. As verse 30 put it, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

So, so what Jesus says; it will be more than worth it!

John 21

Today’s reading is John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected (see Acts 1:6).

This must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “…that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

While it is true that Peter had seen Christ before this, it is also true that the memory of his denial of Jesus was still fresh in his memory. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love–his commitment–to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus–doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

Proverbs 25:15-28

Today, read Proverbs 25:15-28.

I have been the leader here at Calvary for almost 8 full years now. Before that I was the assistant pastor here, a staff teaching pastor (not the lead pastor) at a church in Illinois, a senior pastor for 2 years before that, and a seminary staff member. So, I’ve been the main leader and I’ve been a leader who was subordinate to the leadership of others. I think I’ve learned some things about leadership but I have also learned some things about being a good follower. Being a good follower is the subject of this devotional.

It is helpful to understand that the main leader sees things differently than everyone else. The main leader is accountable for the whole situation–the things he knows and doesn’t know that are happening, the decisions he makes and that he doesn’t make, and the results of all of it. This means that the main leader is accountable for more than anyone and everyone else. Consequently, the main leader can often be slower to make decisions. A wise leader needs to consider what the outcome might be of any decision. He also needs to think about the cost of the decision. Every decision has a cost–people question or complain, people leave the church or become less active, customers take their business elsewhere, money and resources are denied to other things, etc. Until you are the main leader, you rarely think about the costs of a decision. Until you are the main leader, you will tend to underestimate how much a decision might cost. This can make it frustrating to be a follower of the main leader.

Different kinds of people can be described as “influential followers.” An assistant pastor can be an influential follower; so can an elder, a deacon, or a respected church member. In other contexts, a staff member or vice-president or highly skilled worker can be an influential follower. So can a customer. When you are an influential follower, you see things that the main leader might not see or might not want to see. You see things that need improving and have ideas about how to improve them. You see opportunities that the main leader might not see or appreciate. I know from being in this situation what it is like to see an opportunity that the main leader doesn’t see or doesn’t think is important. I know how frustrating it is to know that you’re right about something but get very little interest from your main leader. It is easy to get so frustrated that you become obnoxious to the main leader or to leave in order to become the main leader or find another main leader to follow.

So what do you do if you are an influential follower but you haven’t been able to persuade the main leader to take your advice or suggestion? You patiently keep proposing the idea to the main leader. As we read today in Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Leaders often make mistakes by not listening to others with good ideas but followers often make the mistake of impatience when proposing new ideas. This proverb counsels us not to give up or leave or get mad when the main leader doesn’t listen. It counsels us to be patient and learn how to gently but persistently persuade those who lead you.

Do you have a leader that is frustrating you? A parent, a husband, a boss, or some other kind of leader? Please understand that the burden of leadership in these roles is heavy. You can’t appreciate how hard it is until you’ve done it. So be patient but don’t give up trying to influence the leaders above you. Be gentle but persistent, like a stream that slowly shapes and smooths the rock it flows over. You can persuade those who lead you, but you need to approach that persuasion the right way. This proverb gives excellent advice for how to do that.