Devotional Thoughts for Today

“The God Who Sees”

Genesis 16:1-14 (NET)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” 6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. 7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” 11 The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael [“God hears”], for the Lord has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” 13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” [“El Roi” or “The Seeing God” – “The God Who Sees/Is Seen”] for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

Today we’ll reflect on Jesus’ elevation of women in antiquity. But the best place to start, is to go waaay back. Long before the birth of Jesus, during a time when women were nameless, slaves were objects, and foreigners were irrelevant, God encountered an Egyptian slave girl – Hagar. And this story shows us just how much God values women. A woman whom society would have said didn’t matter, whom even God’s own people abused and objectified, was honored by God in amazing ways: Hagar is named, pursued and blessed by God; she sees God, names God, and her son is named by God; she’s given agency and God preserves her story.

Although those around her only refer to Hagar by the title “slave,” God calls her by name. When Hagar runs from her horrifically violent and inexcusably cruel forced surrogacy, God searches for her like a precious treasure. God finds her and asks, “Where are you coming from?” making room for her story and showing care for her suffering. Then God gives her a blessing that parallels the blessing of Abraham.

Previously forced to bear Abraham’s children as a slave, Hagar was invited by God into a new future. It might not look that different, but God’s promise assured her it was. Every time Hagar looked at her son Ishmael (“God hears”), instead of remembering only the abuse she suffered, she could now remember God. Furthermore, God points to a donkey, an animal free to roam at will, for what Ishmael will be like. “This prophecy was not an insult… Ishmael would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.” (Dr. Thomas Constable)

This story is the first instance in Scripture where we see this phrase “The Angel of the Lord.” It can refer to a messenger (like the Angel Gabriel) or the divine (God’s very self, often understood as pre-incarnate Christ). In this text, it’s the latter. God didn’t send an angel with a message; God appeared to Hagar. In what form, we do not know. But somehow she beheld God. And there are not a lot of instances in Scripture where God is named by someone other than God Himself. But this is one of them. Hagar could name God because she had truly seen God.

In a time where so many went unnamed and so few women were mentioned, Hagar’s story was preserved so that we can see the heart of God who sees and loves and honors women. May we go and do likewise.

Prayer: God, You are the God Who Sees. Thank You for who You are. Help me to see the women around me as You see them. Help me to see me as You see me. Give me the courage and freedom and fortitude of heart and mind to love and honor the women you’ve placed in my life, through the power of Your Spirit within me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: John 14


Lunch Break Study

Read Romans 8:1-13 (NET Bible): Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” 53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

Questions to Consider

  1. What’s going on in this passage? Describe the bleeding woman’s situation. How has she suffered?
  2. Why do you think Jesus stops after she is healed instead of just moving on?
  3. Why might it be significant that this woman told her story before the crowd? How might this have been important, specifically to Jairus?
  4. How do we see Jesus elevating women in this story?

Notes

  1. In narratives like this, I like to imagine myself as different characters to help me understand and picture the story. If it’s helpful for you, try reading the passage again and imagine yourself as each character mentioned in this story. A twelve-year-old girl is sick and dying. Her father is desperate and Jesus is going to help. An unnamed woman has suffered immensely for 12 years. The woman is in pain—with a perpetual menstrual bleeding. She is poor and unclean—she spent all her money on doctors and her bleeding would have prohibited her from entering spaces of worship or fully participating in society.  She is desperate and full of courage and exercises great faith—she pushes through the crowd (who could have been enraged by her touching them) and touches Jesus. Jesus heals her.
  2. I used to always hate this part of the story because it seemed mean. She just wanted to slip in and get her healing, but Jesus calls her out. I used to wonder if the woman was embarrassed. But after reading this passage countless times and walking with God a bit longer, and with the help of a dear friend who helped me to see this passage in a new way, I now love this part the most. I think Jesus stops to make room for this woman to testify. She is given an ear of the crowd in a world that didn’t even bother to know her name. Jesus has the eyes and the ears of the crowd and even an important official (Jairus), because they think he’s important. He turns their gaze to this woman, because He thinks she is important. And they all listen as she tells her story.  
  3. There is power in testimony! The power of God is put on display in our stories, especially the stories of those we tend to ignore, overlook, or refuse to touch. And as for Jairus, this testimony may be just what he needed to hold on a little longer when he received the news that his daughter died, and Jesus asks him to have faith.
  4. Jesus gives His full attention to two women in this story—a sick woman and a dying girl. In both cases, although in unique ways, He loves and cares for them. It’s more than just the healing; it’s the way they are healed. Jesus stops in His tracks to make room for the story of the bleeding woman. And He changes the course of His whole day (with the whole crowd behind Him) to go to the home of a little girl, take her by the hand, and heal her (resurrect her!). Jesus, in the fullness of God Who Sees, saw them both and loved them.  

Evening Reflection

Then Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” 11“No one, Lord,” she answered. “I don’t condemn you either,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave sin behind you.” (John 8:10-11)

How have you been taught to view women (from your family of origin, culture, society, teachings in your church, examples or systems around you, etc.)? How do you treat or consider the women around you? Really think about and try to articulate your responses. How do you think your view lines up with how Jesus in the New Testament and God in the Old Testament saw and treated women?

In light of today’s study, are there any ways God might be challenging you to honor the women in your life? If you’re a woman reading this, are there any ways God may be challenging you to honor yourself? In light of the world we live in today, what would it mean for you to truly see the women in your life, and to treat them as Jesus would? (One good place to start might be to ask them.) Spend time reflecting on these things with the Lord.

November 13, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“The World to Come”

Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

One of my favorite pastimes is engaging my imagination in musings about the world to come. I love imagining what eternity might be like! Most of us have learned about what it is Jesus saved us from. We know intimately our own sin and the brokenness and dysfunction of the world around us. Some of us have even learned what we think God intended before things went wrong in the beginning. But how often have we been taught or challenged ourselves to think seriously about the nature of the new world God is now making (Revelation 21:5)?

We are not just saved from something but to something—ultimately to Someone (God) and some place (New Heavens and New Earth)—but also to a new reality of life together that we can begin to taste and sense even now. We get glimpses of it throughout Scripture and sometimes see it in the life of the Church—not just in the four walls but in the places where the people who are God’s are living into love that is God (1 John 4:8). So, what will this new world and new life together be like?  

One thing that exists in the Kingdom of God (in this new way of life) is that difference is no longer a point of contention or distinction a point of exclusion. All are one in Christ. A friend once explained to me how she just assumed in heaven we’d all be the same—same ethnicity, same language, same everything—one big, tan family of carbon copies. I think I may have laughed out load. After which, it was my joy to show her in Scripture that God seems to care more about having every kind of person around the throne than melding everyone into one kind of person (Revelation 7:9).

The kind of world God is making is not one that erases difference. It is one that honors them by giving us the power and freedom to love every kind of person God has made. God knows and loves the good in who you are and where you come from! Yes, we all have equal access to God. We are all one family. But that oneness is not accomplished by erasing or eliding our difference. It’s accomplished through a shared faith and hope in Christ, and shared commitment to the love and truth of God in the midst of our differences.

Prayer: Creator God, thank You for the care with which You made me. All the good that is in me, who I am and where I come from, are part of Your design. I celebrate Your creativity and the goodness of all You’ve made. Thank You for redeeming this broken world and my brokenness through Your Son Jesus. I trust You have a plan to make all things new. Open my eyes to truly see the beauty in my sisters and brothers in Christ from every tongue and tribe. Teach me today how to live into the reality of oneness with them. In Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: John 13


Lunch Break Study

Read Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV):  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is Paul’s main instruction to the believers in this passage?
  2. How are believers to focus on things above and not on earthly things? What do all these instructions have in common?
  3. Of the list Paul gives, what things strike you most as areas in need of attention today— whether it’s things you need to put to death or things you need to put on?

Notes

  1. They are to set their minds and their hearts on the things above, not on earthly things. Instead of being bogged down by things of this world, believers should focus on the things of God and the new world God is making through us.
  2. In order to do this, believers must put to death the things that belong to our earthly nature. Paul supplies the Christians at Colossae a list that will help them begin to do this in vv. 5-10. This same list is a helpful place for us to start as well. And in lieu of those things believers are to put to death, Paul also instructs them to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, and being ruled in heart by the peace of Christ. In order to do any of this, we have to remember that “Christ is all and is in all” (v. 11) – in other words, we are all one in Christ. What all these things have in common are that they are relational and deal with our interactions with one another.
  3. Spend time in personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

What we see in the early church are believers just beginning to take steps into the new way of life Jesus has ushered in. If the Kingdom of God was an ocean, they were only just beginning to dip their toes in from the shore. But we can gather much from them about the direction in which things are moving and, by extension, the direction in which we are headed as well as the people of God. So I ask again, what kind of world is God making now? Keeping in mind our reflections from today about our unity in Christ even in the mist of our diversity in many other areas, spend some time reflecting on this question with God.

Consider meditating on the verses below as you do:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 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 21:1-7)

November 12, Monday

The AMI QT Devotionals from November 12-18 are provided by Cami King.  Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), was a staff at Symphony Church (Boston) and Journey Community Church (Raleigh) for nearly eight years. Currently, she is on home assignment, waiting on the Lord’s next assignment for her.  

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“The God Who Hears”

Exodus 2:23-25 (NET)

During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor. They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, God remembered God’s covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, 25 God saw the Israelites, and God understood….

[This week, I’ve been asked to write a series of QTs on topics/passages that are very close to my heart. As a result, what I offer for reflection will be much more personal than usual, as a draw from the intimacy of my journey with God. I pray these precious reflections will be a blessing to you this week.]

There’s an old story around the origins of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” The song is credited to John Newton, Anglican clergyman and slave ship captain (yea, let that sink in for a moment). As the story goes, while at sea, Newton awoke to a storm that threatened certain death. He called out to God, the storm ceased, and thus began Newton’s conversion to Christianity (after which, he continued to traffic Africans in slave ships… just to be clear). This experience marked the pinning of the famous hymn.

But there is a parallel story in the Black Church Imagination. “Amazing Grace” is unique because, although the words are likely Newtons, the melody is unlike other hymns—it’s African, written in the pentatonic scale (the same scale in which African-American Spirituals are written (if you don’t know what African-American Spirituals are, look them up!). And so the story goes, in the womb of that same ship, were the Africans, groaning under the weight of captivity. And, it was because of their groaning that God quieted heaven, silenced the storm, to hear them. The words may be Newton’s, but the melody was theirs.

As a Black American woman well acquainted with the marginalizing effects the racist and patriarchal history (and present) of the Church, I remember this quote from a foremother in the faith (the late great Dr. Katie G. Cannon): “I wanted to know about a God who would treat [people like me] so terribly… And the liberation to me was knowing that it was a sin [for] anyone to depreciate the image of God that’s in me.”

There are moments in history and in my life that cause me to scream, “Where are you, God!?” in anger and frustration, in oppression and loneliness, in apparent abandonment, in injustice and hurt all kinds. But it’s stories like the one above and in our passage for today, that remind me that even when I don’t understand God’s ways, I know exactly where God is when I’m hurting and in trouble: God is near. Although I am yet to receive answers to many of my “why” questions, I have received answers to the critical “who” question—I know who God is. God is One who hears, sees, and is with us—even when we find ourselves in the womb of the ship.

Take heart! “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Prayer: Almighty God, I declare in faith today that You are mindful of me. You care for and tend to me no matter what circumstances suggest. Even in the darkest valley You are with me. In the face of any present and future struggles in my life, may I take comfort in knowing You are near. For the people in my life and those around the world who are held captive in various ways, please make Yourself known to them today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: John 12


Lunch Break Study

Read Jonah 1:12-2:10 (NIV): Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. 9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” 10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Question to Consider

  1. From what you already know of the story of Jonah, how did he end up in the situation in the verses above? (See also Jonah 1:1-4, 14-15)
  2. Why does God send a fish to swallow Jonah?
  3. What does Jonah do in the fish? What is the end result?
  4. Spend a few moments reading Jonah’s prayer (vv.2-9). What parts stand out most for you? Why? Spend time reflecting on this with the Lord.

Notes

  1. Jonah was disobedient to God (albeit with good reason). God called Jonah to go and prophesy (a negative prophesy of damnation and destruction) to violent and racists enemies of the people of God, the Ninevites. Jonah, understandably, did not want to go. So he was disobedient and went the other way. God had a plan to bring Nineveh to repentance, but Jonah didn’t want any part of it.
  2. It’s easy to think the fish was punishment, when in fact it was protection. God protected Jonah from death by sending a fish. Otherwise, Jonah would have drowned. Oftentimes the very things that feel like punishment from the Lord, are God’s protection of us.
  3. Jonah prays. Jonah’s prayer requires repentance because he’s running away from God, but the points is that he turns to God, leans into God, and prays. The end result is that Jonah is released from the fish onto dry ground. Jonah is free. But not just from the fish, but from a path of disobedience. Jonah’s heart begins (and I say begins because the following chapters reveal that he still has a long way to go) to be changed.
  4. Spend time in personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

If you didn’t do the lunch break study today… go back and read the passage.

My favorite part of Jonah’s story is one that can only be seen in the Hebrew version of the text. The fish is described differently in 1:17 and 2:1. In the first instance, it’s male. And in the second instance it’s female. Why the difference? Did the writer make a mistake? Furthermore, the word for “belly” or “inside” of the fish can mean two things – stomach (where things are devoured) or womb (where things are nurtured). Context determines the meaning. I think (and others agree) that God is teaching us something about suffering. Whether it’s the inside of a fish (where Jonah found himself because of his sin) or the inside of a slave ship (where the Africans found themselves because of the sins of others), the very situations that should mean our devouring, God can turn into something altogether different and birth in us something amazing when we lean into God. I do not say this lightly, suffering is real and far from easy. But in all things, God is at work for good and for glory (Romans 8:23).

Spend time reflecting on the ideas above with the Lord. Are there situations in which you’ve found yourself that threatened to destroy you? Have you experienced God using those very situations to birth good in you? Spend time thanking God. Are you in a situation like that right now? Pray for God’s presence and deliverance.

November 11, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Grace from a Guy Named ‘Evil’”

Jeremiah 52:31-34

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived.

I love movies from the 90’s. Not necessarily because they are higher quality films (although many are), but mostly because after you watch a 90’s movie, you feel a fantastic sense of closure. But these days, nearly every major film that comes out ends with a cliffhanger. I concede that some of them are fairly well done, and they leave the viewers with a sense excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, many others are poorly executed, leaving the viewers angry at the fact that they have to shell out another $15 to find out what happens next.

Journeying through the book of Jeremiah, the primary theme has been about exile, judgment, and God’s impending wrath upon the nations. But this final chapter in the book is a cliffhanger of the best kind. Amidst all the language of destruction and hopelessness, the final paragraph tells us a story of grace and hope. After 37 years of imprisonment, Jehoiachin (the king of Judah) is shown incredible grace and favor, and that from a guy whose name happens to be “Evil-merodach” (his name doesn’t actually mean “evil” it just sounds like that in English). I love how the last words of this book hint at the coming redemption of God by telling us about a man who is freed from prison, and then given a seat at the king’s table, for no apparent reason at all. If that’s not a foreshadow of God’s redemptive plan, I don’t know what is! This morning, let us remember God’s final plan is always to redeem us.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the book of Jeremiah, which reminds us of the seriousness of sin, but also the hope of a redeeming God. We worship You today for who You are.

Bible Reading for Today: John 11

November 10, Saturday

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Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Sin Leads to Exile”

Jeremiah 52:28-30

This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive: in the seventh year, 3,023 Judeans; in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar he carried away captive from Jerusalem 832 persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Judeans 745 persons; all the persons were 4,600.

I love wedding vows because they ultimately point to the covenant that God has with us. In a nutshell, the vows are a promise to love the other person, regardless of what kind of mess comes up. But as powerful as wedding vows and covenants are, it doesn’t negate the fact that sin leads to exile. Each time my wife and I get into an argument, there’s a tension between us that’s so thick you could cut it with a knife. Until reconciliation is made, we don’t make eye contact; we hardly speak to each other; we don’t dare to touch each other; and there’s a disconnect in our intimacy. Until one of us decides to lay down our pride, we remain in a relational “exile” from each other. Of course, it doesn’t mean our marriage covenant was over (Praise God!). No, the covenant is always there, but the covenant doesn’t change the fact that sin still affects our relational intimacy. The good news is, as long as at least one party decides to act upon the covenant… exile is always temporary.

Our passage today is a record of the Israelites going into exile. Long before this passage, God had entered into a covenant with Abraham, promising to be faithful to Abraham’s descendants—the Israelites. But unfortunately, Israel continued to sin against God. Although they had been warned again and again by prophet after prophet, the Israelites didn’t realize the true effects that sin has on their relationship with God. As long as sin remains in our hearts, there’s a disconnect in our intimacy with Him. And this is essentially what the exile was, a physical manifestation of the spiritual disconnect between Israel and God. Of course, it didn’t mean that the covenant was over (Praise God!). No, the covenant is always there, but the covenant didn’t change the fact that sin still affects our relational intimacy with God. The good news is, as long as at least one party decides to act upon the covenant… exile is always temporary.

We often take sin too lightly. We are tempted to think that because we are in such a great covenant with God—and since He is so gracious—that sin doesn’t really matter so much anymore. But, as in any relationship, sin still affects the relational intimacy. It’s only when we understand the effects of sin and learn to hate it, that we can truly enjoy living in the covenant. Is there any hidden sin in your life? Perhaps it has been the reason for some tension between you and the Lord. He’s always ready to receive you and reconcile with you, so come to Him today with a heart of repentance and humility.

Prayer: Thank You, God, for Your covenantal love. Thank You that even when we are unfaithful, You are always faithful. Nevertheless, help us to love You more. Teach us godly wisdom, and how to hate sin. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  John 9-10

November 9, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Pillars and Pomegranates”

Jeremiah 52:17-23

And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the basins and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service; also the small bowls and the fire pans and the basins and the pots and the lampstands and the dishes for incense and the bowls for drink offerings. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which Solomon the king had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these things was beyond weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits, and its thickness was four fingers, and it was hollow. On it was a capital of bronze. The height of the one capital was five cubits. A network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were a hundred upon the network all around.

One of the most frustrating things is to do a lot of work, and never be recognized for it. I remember one time when I came early to a Friday night worship at my church. And out of the “kindness” of my heart, I decided to vacuum all the floors and set up all the chairs before anyone else got there. I did it joyfully, whistling praise songs the whole time. And when it was all done, I looked upon my work and let out a sigh of contentment as I thought of all the wonderful things people would say, such as, “Wow, who set up all these chairs? That person is so servant-like! And wow, the floor is so clean! Certainly, a Jesus-centered person did all of this!” But no such comments were made. And as the night progressed, my joy began to turn into frustration. The worst part was the aftermath. When the night was over, the chairs were scattered in disarray. Trash and empty boba cups littered the floor. All my work was not only unremembered but trashed upon. Or so I thought.

When I first read this passage in Jeremiah, I thought to myself, “Why on earth is the Bible talking about pots, small bowls, and lampstands right now?!” I mean, this is an account of the devastating destruction of Jerusalem, and here the author is writing about the ninety-six pomegranates that were on the side of some pillar? None of it matters! It’s all being trashed upon anyway! Or so I thought.

What I now understand is that the Lord sees and remembers every work that is done unto Him. Whether it is setting up chairs or making decorative pomegranates, when we do it as unto the Lord, it doesn’t even matter if it ends up being taken for granted or taken for loot . . . because God sees, remembers, and ultimately redeems (and rewards).

Today, perhaps you are involved in tasks that seem meaningless to you. Or maybe you’re struggling to get appreciated for the work that you do. Either way, let’s do our tasks, our ministry, and our careers as unto the Lord. When we hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” may that be more than enough for us.

Prayer: Lord, may we not seek the applause of man, or find our worth in the approval of others. Instead, would You speak truth over us, that we are Your children, and that before we did anything for anyone, You are already pleased with us. May we carry this truth with us wherever we go, and may it free us to truly excel in our work. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Bible Reading for Today: John 8


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Corinthians 3:5-9: What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Questions to Consider

  1. In this passage, what title does Paul give to himself and Apollos?
  2. According to the passage, what was Paul’s role in building the church in Corinth?
  3. What can we learn from Paul’s attitude towards his own ministry in Corinth?

Notes

  1. In this passage, Paul calls both himself and Apollos, “servants”. Later he also says they are God’s fellow workers. Earlier in the chapter, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle, called by the will of God”. But here, he reminds the Corinthians that even though he is an apostle, he is still just a servant.
  2. Acts 18 tells us that Paul is the one who planted this church in Corinth. But here, he seems to take almost no credit for that. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
  3. It is true that Paul was instrumental in setting up the foundations of the early Gentile church. (He even says so himself, later in 1 Corinthians.) However, his attitude is that he is merely a servant, a fellow worker of God. In regard to the work he does, it’s God who gives the growth. And in regard to ownership of the ministry, it’s God’s field and God’s building. In other words, everything belongs to God. We must learn how to serve and work as excellently as Paul did, while reminding ourselves that it’s God who gives the growth, and that it all belongs to God.

Evening Reflection

In Luke chapter 3, when Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove and a voice calls out from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Take note that this was before Jesus began His ministry, before He gave a teaching, before He performed a miracle, and before He died on the cross. God was already pleased. In the same way, He is already pleased with you, His child. Let’s meditate on this as we finish out our day tonight.

November 8, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Early Success”

Jeremiah 52:1-2

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.

Evan Spiegel, co-founder and CEO of Snapchat, is worth over four billion dollars—and he’s only 28! Facebook co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, became a billionaire at age 23! There’s a growing church in my city that was planted in 2014 by the lead pastor, and he was only 18 years old at the time! There’s something about young success that inspires us, and maybe even makes us a little bit jealous (just maybe).

Our passage today describes an achievement that perhaps overshadows all of the above in regards to early success: “Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king….” Imagine becoming the king of a nation at the age of 21! In terms of worldly success, status, and influence, Zedekiah had it all, and he reached it quick. But our passage concludes like this: “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord….”

In the Kingdom of God, early success—such as the above—means almost nothing. As a matter of fact, late success doesn’t mean that much either. There’s only one thing that really matters in the Kingdom of God: Did you, or did you not, live a life of obedience to the Lord?

I don’t know about you, but many years from now, I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that out of all the things I’ve invested my time and energy into, I haven’t done the most important thing: to obey God. But on the other hand, if I spend each day trying to walk in obedience to Him, I am confident that no matter what else happens, in the end I will be content with the way I’ve lived.

While we can certainly appreciate and applaud certain kinds of success, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the world’s version of success equals true, eternal success. Instead, let us strive to live each day in obedience to God.

Prayer: Lord, protect our hearts from comparison and jealousy. Instead, may we find joy and fulfillment in the one thing that really matters: obeying You. Fill our minds with Your Word this morning, fill our hearts with Your love, and guide our hands and feet to do that which is pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: John 7


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Samuel 15:19-23: Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Questions to Consider

  1. In this passage, what did Saul do that was considered so displeasing to the Lord? Is this surprising to you?
  2. Why does God ultimately reject Saul?
  3. What does this passage tell us about the kind of God that we serve?

Notes

  1. After a victorious battle against the Amalekites, Samuel rebukes Saul because although God had given Saul clear instructions to destroy everything, Saul had saved some of the best sheep and oxen to make sacrifices to God. What may have surprised you is that Saul’s intentions seem to be good. After all, he saved the sheep and oxen in order to worship God! Sometimes, we disobey God in doing what we think are good things; but the lesson here is that “doing what seems good to us” and “obeying God” aren’t always one and the same.
  2. God ultimately rejects Saul because Saul refuses to walk in obedience to God. In many aspects, Saul was king material: he was tall, handsome, well-liked, and a brilliant military strategist/warrior. But for all the good qualities Saul had, he was missing the most crucial one: a heart of obedience to God. For this reason Saul was rejected.
  3. This passage tells us something very interesting and important about our God. In Exodus and Leviticus, God was the one who gave His people a detailed set of instructions about how to offer sacrifices to Him. And so when we read only that portion, it’s possible to think that God’s primary interest was to be on the receiving end of these types of ceremonial rituals. But here, and in many other places, Scripture tells us that God is more delighted in the obedience of His people.

Evening Reflection

There’s a worship song that goes like this:

May the words of my mouth

And the thoughts of my heart

Bless Your Name, bless Your Name, Jesus.

And the deeds of my day

And the truth in my way

Speak of You, speak of You, Jesus.

Let’s make that our prayer this evening as we remind ourselves of the value of living a life of obedience to Him.