Devoted to Devotionals?

I’m reading two devotion books currently, Savor by Shauna Niequist is one of them; at first glance I thought it was a little simple, but what I’ve discovered as I’ve read through it the last few years is that Shauna is relational, open and authentic. (And she includes some fantastic recipes in this book!) Day by day she covers great topics, and asks good, self-reflective questions. I appreciate her voice as a part of my morning, and the truth is that simple can lead us to deeper and more complex places. (I remember my pastor, Stan Buck, once saying, “People sometimes want deeper teaching, but if I only ever preached “Love your neighbor as yourself”, we’d have all the depth we need.” — Powerful.)

My other (and all time favorite) devotion book is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. This guy doesn’t mess around, he shoots straight, and isn’t inclined to be concerned about our feelings. He teaches and explains scripture, as well as challenges and elevates me to desire to bring my own utmost to each day. I have been reading this devotional every year for over 15 years, and it’s still fresh and challenging on the daily. He’s on a first name basis with me after all our years together!

Devotionals can be so good, they can be enriching, inspiring, challenging, and helpful; they have a place in my quiet time, BUT, they cannot take the place of the Word itself. In September of 2020 Jen Wilkin wrote an article in Christianity Today titled Your Devotional is not a Bible. Just the title of the article alone was such a word of truth and so convicting and I left that article out in the open for almost a year.

How many times have I a grabbed a devotion book instead of the bible because I was short on time, or energy or, um, devotion to God? Devotion is defined as love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause. Am I as devoted to God as I am to MYself, MY time, MY energy, MY to do list?

Here’s what I know, I cannot hear the voice of God if I don’t know the Word of God. I will only know his voice if I read His Word. While it’s good to receive words of comfort from a friend or book, it’s like salve when it comes from God. It’s easier for me to yield to correction from God than from any other source. It’s in the reading of the Word, praying and listening that my spirit is closest to God – he corrects, comforts, teaches, empowers, leads, strengthens, and encourages me.

Admittedly, it’s easy to get distracted and cut it short or not even enter into that time. A recent insight I’ve discovered about myself is that the days I haven’t met with God first because I’m “so busy”, it’s like I feel I have to accomplish even more to justify pushing God aside that day. But it’s like a chasing of the wind because at the end of those days there’s still something that’s not satisfied. But when I’ve sat quietly with God my days flow more as if everything that takes place and gets done is bonus – the most important minutes have been invested wisely and my soul is much more content throughout the day.

Here’s a bonus of devoted time to God on the regular, when I hit difficult places, I’m already disciplined to be near God, so in those times I find I naturally move a little closer to him and his word. In those times what I read and have planted in my heart is drawn up and out. So you’d think devotion to God’s writing would be a no brainer, and yet I submit that it can be a struggle to keep this a priority and discipline.

The reality is that there are many voices that want to speak into us, some are so good and needed, and I’m so thankful for that. Some are simply not true, or have a perspective that might be off, so the voice I want to have the most influence on me is the Lord’s. And that will be so when I have not neglected His word for someone else’s.

The Kingdom Divided – Jeroboam & Rehoboam

Jeroboam’s background in a nutshell:
He was “a man of standing” and an official in King Solomon’s construction / building phase. Solomon put him in charge “of the whole labor force of the tribes of Joseph”. One day he was told by a prophet, who had heard from God, that the Lord was going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give him ten tribes…this would be done because the people had forsaken him and worshipped other Gods and not walked in obedience or done what was right in the of the eyes of the Lord. (King Solomon had allowed sin to remain, eventually corrupting him and his leadership.) Jeroboam was told he would be king over Israel and rule over everything his heart desires if he followed the commands of the Lord, walked in obedience, did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, then the Lord would be with him.

(To me, that sounds overwhelming, humbling, a great responsibility and a great promise.)

This word about Jeroboam being made king made its way back to Solomon who then tried to kill Jeroboam, so Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon’s death.

Enter Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. After his dad’s death, at age 41 he was made king. Jeroboam, feeling safe now that Solomon was dead, returned from Egypt. 2 Chronicles 10 tells that he and all of Israel  (remember, he was a respected leader) went before king Rehoboam and asked him to lighten the load that Solomon had put on them, saying they would serve him if would do this.

(This makes me want to go back and focus more on this – the wisest man put a heavy burden on his people. But also the wisest king failed in many ways, especially at the end, assuring us that none of us are beyond making terrible decisions.)  

Anyway, Rehoboam asked for a few days to consider this. He consulted the elders, who told him if he would be kind to the people, and give them a favorable answer they people would always be his servants. But the king rejected that, and for advice turned to the younger friends he had grown up with (who were currently serving him). Those guys said something along the lines of, Tell the people if they thought the yoke was currently heavy, that he (Rehoboam) would make the yoke even heavier and more painful, that he was even stronger than his father. And so the new king rejected the advice of the elders, answered harshly, and the kingdom divided. U f f f f f…

The ten tribes went home to the northern part of the kingdom, but Judah and Benjamin remained under king Rehoboam. Rehobom then ordered the two tribes to go fight Israel to regain the kingdom, but the word of the Lord came to them to go home, to not fight against their brothers, the Israelites. (Still a good word for us today.) In my notes I wrote that there was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, so that was a significant consequence as well.

My nugget from this ~ I believe pride, fear and more can keep us from seeking wise counsel. I also believe pride is likely the main ingredient that can keep me from listening and acting on wise counsel. Rehoboam wasn’t a baby king, he was 41, but clearly not mature or wise. When I read this story I see how foolish and arrogant Rehoboam was, and I don’t really relate to him. But then I wonder if that might be foolish and arrogant of me to think. So I commit again to seeking wise counsel with a soft and humble heart, not just listen to contemporaries who might tell me how great and strong I am.

More on Jeroboam to come . . .

(for reference: 1 Kings 11:26 – 14 & 2 Chronicles 10-12)

Once Upon a Time there was a King . . .

well several, and their stories were captivating ~

Recently I’ve been spending mornings with the kings of the Old Testament, specifically the kings of Israel and Judah when after Solomon’s death Israel was split into a northern and southern kingdom. They are some interesting guys to be sure; they intrigue me with their level of love for, and obedience to, the Lord. But also astound me as they exhibit dramatic ways of turning away, violence, fear, pride and more. Then of course there’s the Lord, who reveals Himself in displays of encouragement, reward, protection, anger, also turning away, justice and even much compassion.

I’ve been taking notes on these guys for a long time. Each time I read through Kings and Chronicles I make a list of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. I record how old each was when they began their reign, how long they reigned, if overall they were good or evil and then notes that stood out to me about them. There are lists and charts available to me, but each time I read through I create my own lists, making the same, and sometimes new, notes about them. As I do this over and over I’m understanding more and about their stories, timelines and how they fit together. (And now I’m getting more interested in the prophets and priests; how and when their lives intersected with the kings – I love how a v e r y old book can continue to be so new!)

Sometimes the kings remind me of me. They are the kings of old but they sometimes do things that I think, “I do that.” It’s a wakeup call to take a look around my own “kingdom” and see what notes I might put next to myself in a notebook.

I thought I’d write a few lines about each king here over the next few days and weeks. I’m not a bible scholar, historian or expert on the kings, so please feel free and invited to add, edit, correct, or comment on any or all of these guys. These are really just my simple observations gathered in notebooks.

stay tuned . . .

Soaking in the Old

There is something about the Old Testament that I’m deeply drawn to. Maybe it’s my own humanity laid bare in those pages. I can relate to the Israelites as they complain, disobey, lie, make idols who don’t speak to them, and go their own way even after they have seen God provide in ways that are undeniably God.

There was a time I equated the Old Testament with an angry, vengeful God, but when I read the Old Testament the first time I experienced a forgiving Father who time and time again left room and made a way for the return of wayward people. A steadfast, unchanging, loving, faithful Father. I’m back in those pages once again ~ here are a few things that are making their way into my prayer journal…

» Day 1 ~ There was light and dark, but the sun and moon weren’t created until Day 4
I find this interesting each time I read it. 

» God asks  ›  Adam blames Eve  ›  Eve blames serpent
When called out my instinct searches for a quick escape, one offering the least amount of accountability and blame. I’m not saying I do that, but my instinct has had to be tamed and ruled over as I have grown and continue to grow. (Genesis 4:6 reminds me “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”)

I also love what my Life Application says about this incident…
“The serpent tempted Eve by getting her to doubt God’s goodness. He implied that God was strict, stingy, and selfish for not wanting Eve to share his knowledge of good and evil. Satan made Eve forget all that God had given her and instead, focus on what God had forbidden.”  How often do we forget to focus on on what God has given us? Satan, with a sleight of hand trick, draws our eyes to what he wishes us to see, forgetting what is truly in front of us.

» God provided for Cain even when He banished him
When Cain said to God “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me away from the land and I will be hidden from your presence. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”(4:13-14) God didn’t say, “Whelp, you killed your brother, sooooo….” Instead He said “Not so, anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (4:15) Banished, but provided for.

» Abraham
“Abraham believes the LORD, and he credited to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6
Abraham – the Father of Faith, a man of God held in high, high regard, not sure of how God would build his family, agreed to his wife’s suggestion to sleep with her Egyptian slave. (??!!) We also read that Abraham lied not once, but on two occasions about Sarah being his wife. When he lies the first time, a part of me can’t believe he didn’t seek and trust God. When he lies the second time, I think, “C’mon man….are you serious? Are you going to do this again?!” And then I immediately wonder how many times God has looked at me and thought, ” Are you really not going to seek me or trust me?” and also “C’mon Sheri, are you serious? Are you really going to do that again?!”

But Abraham also stood in the gap and boldly pleaded with God to spare Sodom for 50, then 45, then, 40, then 30, then 20, then 10 righteous people. He was a good, good man, a righteous man whom God chose and loved deeply, who also made some wrong choices and walked in some broken ways.

Humanity spilling across the many pages and stories of the Old Testament. But not just humanity, also God. Forgiving, providing, calling, waiting, loving, and then forgiving some more. I relate to the people of the Old Testament, and I need the God who is described from the Old to the New Testament.

Entering Leviticus…oh my.

I am engaged in a reading plan through YouVersion in which I will read the Bible, in chronological order, in one year. Confession ~ today is day 121 of the plan, I am on day 44. So, I’m behind and I entered the book of Leviticus….ugh. The book of rules, laws, sacrifices, more rules, offerings, clean, unclean, cleansing, purification, redeeming and rewards.

Have you ever heard anyone mention Leviticus as their favorite book in the Bible? My plan was to zip through the reading assigned for today, which was Leviticus 1, 2, 3 & 4. I had this mindset when I entered Leviticus – ‘Let me just get through this book’. (Likely not the way God intended me to read his word.)

As I read chapter one, I was curious about the 3 different burnt offerings that could be made ~ from the flock, from the herd, or a bird. What was the significance of the different animals? Instead of moving on to chapter 2, I researched  Googled this matter. What I learned was that God made a way for the rich man who had a bull, and the middle class man, who had a sheep or a goat, and the poor man, who could only offer a bird, a way to make an offering. So like God to provide a way for each of us, no matter what.

I also learned this, it had to be personal, the animal couldn’t be a wild animal, it had to be domesticated. Taken from you; it had to cost you something. It also had to be of the highest quality, not blemished…not like “I don’t really need this, so I’ll just give it away.” This is good practice for giving to Goodwill, but not to the Lord.

The one bringing the offering didn’t get to leave it at the gate. He had to put his hands on the head of the animal – identifying with the animal to be sacrificed. Also, they (the offerer), not the priests, dealt the blow, or cut, to the animal being sacrificed. Likely leaving an impression. Believe me, if I had to look Jesus in the eye as he was hit with my sin, it would leave an impression. I got a lot more out of chapter one than I expected.

I went on to read chapter 2 about the grain offering. This one kind of amused me a little; it could be baked in an oven, prepared on a griddle, or cooked in a pan. (I was suddenly hearing In a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse…). This was still a personal and costly offering – the flour had to be of the highest quality.

The grain offering was not an atonement offering (no blood shed), so it’s likely an act of worship, thanking God for providing daily bread. I was also curious about the specific ingredients mentioned – it must be made without yeast or honey (vs. 11), but make sure you put salt in it (vs. 13). I learned that leaving out the yeast is likely a reminder of the deliverance from Egypt. Also, yeast can spoil food, but salt can preserve and purify it. I read here that it’s likely the leaving out of yeast symbolizes leaving out our corruption, and putting in salt speaks to preserving and purifying. So very interesting to me.

What does this mean to me today? I am reminded that offering to God on an ongoing basis is important. The Israelites made offerings each morning and each evening, as well as on the Sabbath, and the beginning of the month, on Passover, and so much more! My first thought is to be more intentional with my offerings to the Lord. I believe Jesus is my burnt offering (there is nothing else that can atone for, (or wipe out) my sins), and my tithe is like my grain offering – and although these are as important today as they were in the Old Testament, in 2013 it can seem that neither of these are as personal and costly as they were back then. I mean, I’m not bringing my dog to the altar, putting my hands upon her head, looking her in the eyes and then slaughtering her. Which I think would be an accurate picture for 2013 – but feel free to correct me, you Bible scholars and seminary students. Seriously, if I have something askew – please comment and teach me.

So today I only got through chapters 1 & 2, and now I am even more behind. But I also know I was more engaged in the reading (much more than I expected in the book of Leviticus!), which I believe is more in line with how God intends for me to read his Word. God cares much more about my heart than my pace.

A King. A Threat. A Prayer.

In my Bible reading plan for today I was to read Acts 3, 2 Corinthians 7, Jeremiah 28, and Isaiah 36. So, I love when this happens….I read Isaiah 36 and thought hmmmmm….I wonder what happens next. (Seriously, I LOVE when this happens when I am reading the Bible!)

One King (Sennacherib of Assyria) had sent some guys (a field commander and a large army) to another King’s (Hezekiah of Judah) guys and basically said, Let’s make a deal – we’re going to wipe you out anyway, so quit basing your confidence on your King’s message that The Lord will deliver the city, He won’t. So come and make peace with us and then we will take you to a place where you will have plenty and not have to experience the hardship of what will come from battle. Oh yeah, and they throw this in, Furthermore…The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it. (note to myself…both claiming God gave them a message – in direct opposition of each other. Ever been in that position?)

I wrote this in my margin in summary of chapter 36, The people heard a threatening message. They also heard a promise…IF the gave in – or surrendered. I had to read the next chapter.

The cliff notes are that King Hezekiah heard this, tore his clothing, put on sackcloth (as a sign of great distress) and went into the temple of the Lord. This intrigued me because there are so many Kings in the Old Testament that don’t inquire of the Lord. I discovered there had not been a King go to the Temple and pray to the Lord in about 250 years! Now I was really paying attention, this King was someone I wanted to know more about.

He then sent his guys to Isaiah the prophet and asked him to pray. Margin notes added at this point are: 1) Go to the Lord, 2) Seek Godly counsel, 3) Ask for prayer.

There are more threats that come to the King through messengers and a letter. With the threats, they also give evidence of what is to come; they name the countries that have already been destroyed, the kings who are no more and ask about the gods of the destroyed nations.

Here is what I love about Hezekiah…he read the letter and then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And then he prayed to the Lord.

Really. Let this sink in…the King didn’t go to his army, he didn’t rally the people, he went to his God, who is unseen, and spread it all out before Him and prayed.

Pause. Margin note: Lay it all out before the LORD and pray.

He asks God to give His ear and His eyes to what is going on. He acknowledges the truth and severity of the threats but also the truth that the other gods were fabricated of wood and stone made by human hands. Then he asks God to deliver them from the hand of King Sennacherib – so that all the kingdoms would know the Lord, the only God.

God sends a message to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah and it begins with this, “Because you have prayed to me concerning…..”
Margin note: Prayer matters!

I continued reading on through chapter 38. Hezekiah is ill and is at the point of death. He “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord…” In verse 5 God sends a message again through Isaiah and in part says, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears…”
Margin note: Prayer matters.

I just had to write about this reading today, and these are my overall takeaways:

  • I have felt threatened – if even in my heart – and there have been whispers of promises that began with, just surrender…it’ll be easier of you do. This hardship will pass if you just give in.
  • This is when it would be time to go and turn to God – even if I haven’t in a long time. However long its been, it hasn’t been 250 years. (!)
  • Seek Godly counsel.
  • Ask for prayer.
  • Lay it ALL out before the Lord. Ask for His eye and His ears. Ask not for selfish reasons but for a result that will make God known and bring Him glory.
  • Prayer matters.
  • Prayer matters.
  • Prayer matters.
    When I am praying for my daughter away at college, it matters. When I lift up friends who come to my mind, parents who are estranged, people suffering with illness with no relief, the prayers offered up matter. I don’t have a prophet coming and telling me the result of my prayers, but I have faith in what is unseen. When there is nothing I can do – there is. Prayer matters. I loved the richness of this word today. Thanks for taking time to read my thoughts on it. You can read Isaiah 36-39 here.