Devotional on Amos

Just one of the shepherds
Amos 1: The Message of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa.
Aside from the few words of introduction found in the opening of his writings, we know nothing of Amos. He isn’t a member of the royal family or priesthood and he doesn’t have any famous relatives. He describes himself as “one of the shepherds” of an unimportant town. Amos numbers himself with the poor and unprivileged people of his society. That standing flavors his entire ministry. When he speaks of poor people being mistreated he does so as one who has experienced that mistreatment. In about 40 years Israel will fall, rejected by God and defeated by her enemies. One of the reasons for that fall is that God’s people have separated themselves from the compassion of God to their poor. The book of Amos is an important book for people of all periods of history because, as Jesus said, “the poor you will always have among you.” How does God expect a prosperous nation to treat its poor? How does he expect we who live in comfortable, secure homes to treat those in our community who live in want? Finally, what if we fail at this point? Amos gives us a first-hand response to these questions.
Take Away: As a people of the Lord we can never separate ourselves from his compassion on the poor.

Devotional on Hosea

Meeting expectations
Hosea 10: Sow righteousness, reap love.
The prophet says things aren’t going to work out for Israel. Generations earlier, when the Lord delivered them from Egyptian slavery, he had plans for them. They were going to be a force for righteousness on earth. The Lord likens them to a strong farm animal that’s hitched up to the plow and can powerfully prepare the ground for planting. This isn’t a put down. In this culture any farmer who has such an animal is proud of it and cares for it. The Lord says he saw such potential in that nation of slaves. These people could change the earth for good as they spread righteousness everywhere. Again, though, it isn’t going to work out. Instead of planting righteousness and love, they spread wickedness, evil, and lies. Not only do they fail to live up to their promise, they also have the audacity to work against God’s purpose rather than for it. I’m reminded today that the Lord is well aware of my potential. He knows what’s likely beyond me and he knows what I can do if I put my mind to it. Of course, I never want to be guilty of taking God’s gifts and using them to work against him but I don’t even want to disappoint him. I may not have the capability to change the world but surely I can help sow a little righteousness in the lives of those around me.
Take Away: The Lord knows what we can do in the work of his kingdom – and he expects us to do it by his grace.

Devotional on Ezekiel

Accepting fault, doing something about it
Ezekiel 18: The soul that sins is the soul that dies.
A common saying in Ezekiel’s day is that “the parents ate green apples and the children got a stomachache.” That saying describes the current plight of the people of Judah. Their nation has been defeated and many have been exiled far from home. They blame it all on their parents and consider themselves to be victims of the failure of others. Ezekiel says that isn’t so. While it’s true that their ancestors failed God, the current generation has plenty of failure of its own. Ezekiel wants them to understand that when a wicked person turns from his or her wicked ways that God is gracious and rich in forgiveness. God, he tells them, doesn’t hold a grudge. On the other hand, if a righteous person abandons that righteousness he or she stands guilty before God. Past righteousness doesn’t make a person immune from current failure and judgment. The bottom line is that the Lord will “judge each of you according to the way you live.” The spiritual principle here is that it’s our current relationship with God that really matters. Ezekiel’s advice is still good today. He says since it’s “right now” that counts, those who are living apart from God and blaming their parents (or someone else) for it need to “turn around…make a clean break” and “live!”
Take Away: It’s our current relationship with the Lord that really matters.

Devotional on Ezekiel

Faithful to the task
Ezekiel 2: Whether they listen is not your concern.
I don’t know what to do with the strange vision of wheels, faces, and wings Ezekiel has as I start reading his book. I think I’ll retreat to my devotional approach for the time being. Ezekiel’s commission is similar to that of Jeremiah. The Lord warns him that the people he’s going to speak to aren’t likely to listen to his message. Ezekiel is to proclaim just what he’s told to proclaim and not worry about the results. As I find this theme I first found in Jeremiah being repeated here I can’t help but think about free will. Jeremiah pled with his people to listen and return to God and thus divert the disaster that was promised. In spite of his faithful proclamation, the bottom line was that people could respond or not. Now that the catastrophe has come, the Lord raises up a prophet to the exiles, giving him similar instructions. He’s to reach out to these rebellious people while knowing that they’ll probably not respond. The Lord tells Ezekiel it’s his job to do the preaching and that he has to leave the results in the hands of those who can accept or reject his message. A couple of things come to mind. First, I see the absolute value God places on free will. He won’t negate it even for my own good. Second, I see the amazing love and grace of the Almighty. Even when he sees that his invitation to mercy is likely to be rejected he insists on reaching out anyway. Also, the Lord’s quite willing to enlist us to this task. Still my responsibility ends with my obedience to the Lord, for those to whom I’m sent that’s where their responsibility begins.
Take Away: All anyone can do is to obey the Lord – the results are out of our hands.