1 Kings 1, Hosea 3-4, Psalms 117-118

Read 1 Kings 1, Hosea 3-4, and Psalms 117-118 today. This devotional is about Hosea 3-4.

Hosea 4:6a is probably the best known saying from the book of Hosea: “…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” That passage is often quoted like a proverb even in our secular world. The way that it is used in the secular world suggests that more education is the answer for every human problem. If people were just more knowledgable, they would not be “destroyed.”

I do think that knowledge is important and, perhaps, you could extend the application of this verse into a principle that ignorance in general is damaging. But that is not the message the Lord was sending through Hosea.

The “lack of knowledge” God decries here is a lack of knowing God. This verse comes in the larger context of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and their covenant with him (3:1, 4:1b-2). Toward the end of 4:1, the phrase “no acknowledgment of God in the land” could (should) be translated, “no knowledge of God in the land” as in the ESV. One of the charges the Lord brings against his people, then, is that they do not know him (v. 1). The consequence of not knowing him in v. 5 is that “my people are destroyed.”

And why did the people lack knowledge? Verse 6b says, “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

The Lord traced the ignorance of his people back to the unfaithful teaching of the priests. One of the role of the priests was to teach God’s law to his people but the priests had “ignored” God’s law. Whatever they were teaching was so much less than the greatness of God for verse 7 says, “they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.”

It seems that spiritual leaders in all ages and eras can be tempted to move away from teaching about God to teaching something else—idolatry, indulgences, psychology, or whatever. The result is that God’s people no longer know him; having been deprived of his word, they have no means by which to know what he is truly like.

Churches today are filled with big entertainment and therapeutic messages but very little content about God. When people do not know God, their worship becomes shallow and self-centered and their desire to learn and obey his commands dries up.

This is why it is important to teach God’s word in our churches and to read God’s word on our own. I hope these daily readings (most importantly) and my devotionals have helped you know God better. I hope today’s message will do that, too. Are you planning to be here to hear it?

Judges 9, Lamentations 3, Romans 15

Read Judges 9, Lamentations 3, and Romans 15 today. This devotional is about Romans 15.

Unlike Paul’s other letters, Romans (and Colossians) were written to churches Paul did not start and had not visited at the time he wrote. Paul knew some of the believers in the church at Rome (see Rom 16:3, 5, 7-10) but not all or even most.

Here in Romans 15, Paul expressed his confidence in the believers at Rome. As he wrote in verse 14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”

Despite his confidence in them spiritually, he conceded in verse 15 that he had “written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again.” This reminds us that strong Christians need to hear direct, even confrontational application of God’s word to our lives. No matter how much we grow in grace, we will still have points of ignorance, personal blindspots, and areas where obedience is a struggle. Our faith in Christ should give us the humility to receive correction in these areas and to use them to help us grow stronger for the glory of God.

Have you received some uncomfortably direct teaching recently, maybe in the form of a message or in a personal conversation from another believer? Our tendency in those moments is self-defense and maybe that was your initial reaction. On further reflection, however, if you see the wisdom and truth of the words that were spoken to you, have the humility to receive them and put them into practice in your life.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13 today. This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved all the time and everyone who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 8-10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14

Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14 today. This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.

There are (roughly) three kinds of sermons:

  • Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
  • Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen has several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
  • Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all,  the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.

Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.

What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:

At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).

As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:

  1. They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
  2. They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.

What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.

This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.

Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.

Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.

You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.

2 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 2

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 17 and Zechariah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 17.

The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were all evil in God’s sight. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag. After the kingdom divided, Judah had twenty kings; eight of them were described as men who were righteous in the sight of God. Today we read about one of the most faithful of the godly kings in Judah; namely, Jehoshaphat. It would be hard to get a better description of your life than:
• “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him” (v. 3a).
• He “sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.” (v. 4).
• “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord” (v. 6a).

So, clearly, Jehoshaphat was an exemplary man.

But this chapter goes beyond these general descriptions of his godliness and gives us some specifics. One specific demonstration of Jehoshaphat’s godliness was his separation from idolatry
• Verse 3 said, “He did not consult the Baals….” This shows that he was personally free from idolatry.
• Verse 6 said, “…he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” He not only abstained from idolatry personally but he did not tolerate the practice of idolatry in his kingdom.

When we read that a king of Judah did right in the eyes of the Lord, it means that king, at the bare minimum, had some kind of separation from idolatry.

Jehoshaphat, though, went so much further than that. Verses 7-9 say that Jehoshaphat sent government leaders “to teach the towns of Judah” (v. 7). With those government officials he sent Levites who “taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people” (v. 9). So he both removed idols from Judah and replaced those idols with the teaching of truth.

Systematic instruction from God’s word is essential to the growth of godliness in a person or group of people’s lives. It is, of course, possible to teach God’s word in a way that is dry and lacking spiritual life. It is also possible to learn God’s word academically without receiving it spiritually.

But people who are growing spiritually are people who want to know God’s word. There is a hunger for truth in a godly person’s heart that can only be filled by the teaching of God’s word. Godly leaders and godly people do what is right but they also desire to know more of God’s truth. The better we know God’s truth, the more clearly and powerfully we encounter God himself.

Jesus created the church, in part, to provide the kind of instruction to us Christians that Jehoshaphat starting giving the people of Judah in this chapter. Are you showing up to receive the teaching our church offers? Do you come hungry, ready to learn what God has spoken?

1 Samuel 25 Ezekiel 4

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Samuel 25 and Ezekiel 4.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 4.

God seems to have tailored his revelation to the personality of the one who received it. Ezekiel was an unusual man so the revelation he received and recorded in this book was, likewise, unusual. The opening vision of Ezekiel 1 and the “eat this scroll” revelation of chapter 3 are two examples that we’ve already read about.

Here in chapter 4, Ezekiel was commanded to act out his prophecy. God commanded him to make a little model of the city of Jerusalem (v. 1), then pretend that he was putting the city under siege (vv. 2-3). Then he was to lie on his left side for 390 days to symbolize the sin of Israel and 40 days for the sin of Judah [1]. There are other elements to his act as well; the most offensive was a command to cook food over his own poop (v. 12). God relented on that last detail and let him cook it over animal poo but the point was to show God’s people that the siege would hit them hard, so hard that they would be desperate and would even break their kosher laws.

Why would God command Ezekiel to prophesy in this unusual way? One reason, as I mentioned, was that it fit Ezekiel’s personality. A more important reason, however, was to communicate his word even more powerfully than the spoken oracles of other prophets like his contemporary Jeremiah. Visual aids and object lessons can make a deep impression on our minds and hearts that is more powerful than declarative preaching and teaching.

Note that this kind of visual aid was the exception, not the norm. Declarative preaching and teaching is more efficient at conveying a lot of information. Much of God’s word, then, was given to us that way. But because David was musical, God inspired him to write Psalms. Because Jesus was God, he used a wide variety of teaching styles. Likewise, because Ezekiel was a visual person, God inspired him to prophecy in striking, highly visual ways.

So, if you are a creative person, have you tapped your creative gifts to speak for God? If you are musical, do you write songs? If you like making videos, could you make some that convey truth in an emotionally impactful way?

We should never replace the careful explanation of the Word with drama or video or other creative expressions of truth. But, if we have the gifts and desire, we can and should supplement the careful explanation of the Word using media that can make an impact on people in a more emotional way. This is why I try to find images to use when I am teaching on Sunday morning to supplement my exposition of the word. It is an attempt to tap into the visual part of our human nature so that the truth of God’s word makes a deeper impact.

What gifts has God given you that you could use to serve him?


[1] Note: it is unlikely that he laid there without getting up for all those days. Instead, he did it every day for a period of time each day, probably somewhere public at a time when the most people possible would be likely to see him.