Thursday, November 14

Hosea 11:10-11

I first learned the concept of “future story” from Andrew Lester. Just like we have a past story, we are always writing a future story about what tomorrow will bring. Whether short term (what we’re having for dinner) or long term (the hopes we have for our children), we are always writing future stories.

Future stories are a big part of the work of pediatric chaplains, often because those stories have been dramatically interrupted. A life-altering diagnosis. A devastating injury. A required intervention with unknown outcomes. Every day, future stories are being challenged and, sometimes, lost.

The loss of a future story is a uniquely powerful pain. Often, it’s a loss many parents just can’t hear. “She’s walking out of here,” they’ll angrily say as the doctor speaks of her spinal cord injury. “He’s going to survive,” they’ll defiantly shout in the face of a grim prognosis. Their pain is so profound, they cannot make room for anything but the future they had always imagined; anything less is unacceptable.

They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD (v. 11). God is writing a future story for Israel, but it isn’t an unrealistic one. They will come home again, God says, but they will be different. They will tremble for the things they have been through and for the unknown things to come, but they will come home.

Rewriting a future story is terribly painful, but it can also be incredibly hopeful. With tears in our eyes, we tentatively take up the pen again and whisper our affirmation: no matter what the future holds, God will be there.

Consider

What does the future hold for you? Is it what you originally planned? How will you trust that God will be there no matter what?

Pray

Alpha and Omega, may we never forget that you were with us for the beginning and you’ll be with us for the end, no matter what that end looks like. Amen.

Wednesday, November 13

Hosea 11:8-9

“You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”

I first heard these words when a preschool teacher was handing out popsicles. There was a cacophony of demands rising from the little voices surrounding her: “I want an orange one!” “Purple!” “Red!” The teacher laid down the law: a popsicle is a popsicle. You get what you get.

For seven verses, God has told the Israelites you get what you get. “Choose to walk away, and you will experience the consequences of your choices. Follow another god and you will find yourselves enslaved and far from home.” Then, in a seemingly sudden reversal, God is gathering the children into God’s arms, where the popsicle supply never runs out. 

I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath (v. 9b). In the end, the love of God is so much more persistent than the waywardness of God’s children. We will fail, there will be consequences, God will call us back. We will fail, there will be consequences, God will call us back. God will never stop calling us back home.

Our mortality makes this so hard to understand. We can’t imagine there being infinite forgiveness because we don’t have infinite eyes. We can’t imagine God loving us no matter what because we struggle so much to love ourselves that way. We see dimly, so we do not understand being fully known. Hear the good news one more time: the view of God is long, the love of God is eternal, and the patience of God is never-ending.

Consider

What within yourself are you struggling to forgive? What would it be like if you could love yourself the way God loves you?

Pray

When I try to wrap my mind around just how much you love me, I am astonished and amazed all over again. I don’t know what else to say but thank you, God. Thank you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 12

Hosea 11:5-7

“Eventually, I lost everything. My job, my friends, my home, my family. At the time, I didn’t think my choices were hurting anyone but me, but I was wrong. I had no idea how wrong I was until it was too late.”

As a chaplain, I’ve heard this lament far too many times. Sometimes I wish I could record it and play it for people who are at the beginning of a series of bad decisions, as if hearing about someone else’s destroyed life would stop them from destroying their own. But that isn’t the nature of consequences. No, consequences must be experienced to be effective. Rare is the person who learns from someone else’s mistakes.

And yet Hosea tells Israel’s story in the desperate hope that we will hear it and not make the same error. The sword rages in their cities…and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me (vv. 6-7a). At times we have heard these words as prescriptive, as if God is punishing the Israelites for their disobedience. But I find them to be far more powerful when I hear them as a descriptive reality: because of the choices Israel made, they will experience these consequences.

We will lose what we think of as home. We will be captive to a way of life we didn’t really want. We will not see the future as hopeful, but as full of the same despair over and over again. Choosing to follow any other voice but God’s will lead us down a path we don’t want to follow.

It’s not that the future can’t be rewritten. It’s not that life can’t come after death or hope after disappointment. Indeed, that is what the good news is all about. It’s just that, sometimes, we have to live with the wrong choice before we can make the right one.

Consider

Are you in the middle of living with a wrong choice? What will it take for you to make the right one?

Pray

God of second chances…and third, and fourth, and hundredth…I am humbled by your love that keeps calling me back again and again. This time, I want to make the right choice, and I want to stay faithful to it. Amen.

Monday, November 11

Hosea 11:3-4

My home is ruled by a ten-pound dog.

Daisy joined our household when my daughter, now a junior in college, was in kindergarten. Daisy was already an adult dog when we rescued her from the pound, so she’s at least 15 years old, probably more. Daisy’s a cranky old woman who just wants things the way she wants them, and wonders why people don’t know exactly what that is. In her mind, we all exist to serve her and we should be grateful for the opportunity. If that means breakfast at 4 am, then so be it.

I like to think that rescue animals always retain some memory of life in the big house, and are thus eternally grateful for their second chance, but Daisy tinkles regularly on my theory. Perhaps she’s more like the Israelites than not. God’s voice through Hosea says, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them (v. 3b). Like a privileged household pet who has claimed her spot on the couch, we have forgotten how life used to be.

It seems to be human nature that when life is going well, we easily forget when it was not. We forget the times we struggled, when we were knocked down and out by the blows of the world and (more often) our own poor decisions. We forget how many times God has picked us up and dusted us off, offering us life and hope again.

It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request: our Parent simply wants us to remember that it is he who rescues us, she who feeds us. Why? Because when we forget, we walk through life feeling smugly
entitled. But when we remember, we rest in profound gratitude.

Consider

What are you grateful for today? What are you taking for granted?

Pray

Too often, God, I forget how blessed I am to be called your child. May this be a day when I walk in gratitude, alive to all the ways you love me. Amen.

Sunday, November 10

Hosea 11:1-2

The last little bird left my nest this fall, and I don’t know what to do.

I clearly remember when my friends were going through this stage of life. I thought, “What’s the big deal? Why aren’t they relishing their freedom and congratulating themselves on a job well done?” I had no idea. The silence is unavoidable, the empty house is cavernous, and my freed-up schedule is like a mountainous beanbag chair I must maneuver around every day.

The prophet Hosea is known for using spousal and parental imagery to describe God’s relationship with Israel, making his writing feel so personal to us. Whether we are the parent or the child, we hear God’s deep longing for what once was: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me (vv. 1-2a). Hosea wants us to feel God’s pain, that heavy, empty, silent pain of the parent whose child has no idea how loved she is.

I stand in the hospital room of the teenager who, in a desperate act, has ingested a handful of pills from a medicine cabinet. In the corner sits her mother, her eyes wide open with horror and confusion, eyes that may never truly close in rest again. 

I turn to the patient whose defiance fills the room like a thick fog. As her chaplain I say, “I pray today is a better day than yesterday. I pray you understand how very empty our world would be without you. I pray you know deep in your bones that you are loved.”

Consider

Who in your world needs to know they are deeply loved? Is that person you?

Pray

Our Loving Parent, give us courage to speak hope into despair and wholeness into brokenness. May we all feel deeply in our bones how much you love us. Amen.

Saturday, November 9

Mark 9:2-4

What has been the greatest spiritual experience of your life? Where did it occur? Who was there? How did God speak to you through it? 

Several experiences immediately stand out in my memory. When I was 10 years old, my church group was sitting around a campfire at summer camp hearing the salvation story when I felt an irresistible urge to follow Christ. A similar experience occurred years later. In an incredibly moving worship service, my husband and I were appointed to be missionaries to the African country of Zambia. Those indelible memories, God willing, will endure throughout my lifetime.

Surely the transfiguration was an experience that Peter, James, and John would carry in their hearts and minds forever. In these verses the disciples literally see Jesus in a new light, transfigured and appearing with the legendary figures of their faith, Elijah and Moses. 

Surely the disciples’ relationship with Jesus breaks new ground. After an exhausting road trip when one of the crowds had been especially challenging, did the disciples sit around a campfire and retell the story of what they saw and felt that day on the mountain?

God knows that we need moments that offer light on the long road of discipleship. Glimpses of what is holy, those encouraging revelations that leave us with awe and insight, are God’s gifts for our journey.

Consider

What holy moments in your life have been God’s gifts for your journey?

Pray

Holy God, thank you for giving us glimpses of your grace and goodness. May such experiences light our way and draw us nearer to you. May we live the holy life you offer us. Amen.

Friday, November 8

1 Kings 18:38-39

In Elijah’s day, fire indicated judgment. In this story, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel not only arrives on the scene, but shows up in such a spectacular fashion as to remove any doubt about God’s omnipotence. The onlookers who are hoping for a supernatural intervention receive much more than they bargained for. 

God’s fire differs from the normal flame that humans supplied to light a sacrifice; it is the opposite in every way. Rather than rising up from the wood, it falls upon the altar. These intense flames consume everything, including the stones. Even the dust is destroyed, as well as every drop of water filling the trench. 

The contest is over, but the Israelites are not dancing in the end zone. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God” (v. 39).

They respond with an instinctive humility, always the authentic reaction of those who recognize they are standing in God’s presence. 

What goes through the people’s minds in that moment? As they recognize God’s powerful presence, do they experience the pain of recalling all the ways they have failed their Maker? Surrounded by the heat of the flames, is their hope rekindled that God loves them enough to purify them, painful as that process is? Do they finally believe the words they say in worship, that The LORD indeed is God

Consider

When have you been humbled by the reality of God’s presence? How did that experience change you?

Pray

God, thank you for pursuing us with your unfathomable love. Thank you for loving us enough to help us change. Teach us to be more like you. Amen.

Thursday, November 7

1 Kings 18:36-37

As a hospice chaplain I’m often called upon to officiate a funeral. When I first became a chaplain, the prospect of speaking and praying before an audience of my patient’s loved ones terrified me. Then I learned what an awesome privilege it is. Now I find great satisfaction and blessing in speaking at such a sacred gathering.

Do you get nervous when you’re asked to pray in public? What if you were asked to pray and you knew it would be one of the most important prayers of your life? Or perhaps, the most important prayer of your life? Elijah’s prayer was just that.

Baal’s prophets had prayed for hours to their nonexistent god. They begged the fake deity to hear their prayers and answer. Now it’s the other team’s turn. 

Elijah’s prayer is brief and to the point. He asks three things of the Lord. First, he asks that the people would see that God alone is the one true God. Second, he asks God to affirm that Elijah is the Lord’s servant and had only done what God’s asked of him. Finally, Elijah asks God to demonstrate that God has repaired the relationship between the Lord and God’s people.

Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back (v. 37). This was Elijah’s prayer. Is it our prayer as well? 

Consider

How often does a concern for the spiritual well-being of others become the purpose of your prayers? 

Pray

God, may we love you so completely that we do not hesitate to ask you for help either privately or publicly, fully confident that you will respond and be present in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, November 6

1 Kings 18:30-35

Wouldn’t it be great to hear, Come closer to me, whenever we stray from God (v. 30)? Elijah calls the Israelites, who have been far away from God, to come closer. The prophet is asking them to physically draw near as he speaks, but his words have deeper meaning also. He’s inviting those who’ve wandered from the Lord to return and see firsthand what God is about to do. 

Come closer, he says, and as they do, Elijah repairs the broken altar that symbolizes Israel’s broken relationship with God. This was where their ancestors worshiped the one true God. Over the years God’s people forgot their identity.

Elijah repairs the altar with twelve stones representing Jacob’s sons, the tribes of Israel that had become a divided kingdom. Now the altar is being mended, rebuilt so that it’s usable for worship again. 

In case the Israelites are slow to understand the imagery of twelve stones, Elijah digs a trench and places wood around the altar, puts the bull upon it, and pours twelve jars of water over everything. The water covering the meat and wood is so excessive it fills the trench. 

Sometimes we forget who we are and whose we are. Come closer to me is a message we need to remember. May it become a regular rhythm in our lives.

Consider

When have you wandered away from God? How did God call you back? Identify a broken altar in your life, a place of spiritual neglect that needs restoration. What steps can you take to begin the rebuilding process? 

Pray

God, grant me wisdom to see where I’ve neglected the sacred places of my life. Please forgive me as we rebuild what I’ve torn down. Thank you for hearing when I call on you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 5

1 Kings 18:25-29

On the day of the big event, the epic showdown, the Super Bowl of all competitions, Baal wins the coin toss. All 450 of Baal’s prophets are lined up and pitted again Elijah in the battle to see whose god will show up. Emotions in the crowd mount into a strange mixture of fear and anticipation.

Elijah gives Baal’s prophets an advantage, allowing them to choose their bull, prepare their sacrificial meat, and place it on the altar first. In a sort of spiritual pep rally, the prophets of Baal surround the altar and begin to call upon their god to light the flame for the not-yet burnt offering. 

“Light the fire! Light the fire!” 

Nothing. (Perhaps Baal prefers steak tartare, some may have wondered.) The false prophets keep calling out from morning to noon, but without any reply.

Time to up the ante, they think. If Baal won’t listen to their loud cries and pleas, perhaps blood will motivate him. In a state of frenzy, they cut themselves to demonstrate their utter devotion. Surely, their god of thunder would see their dedication, hear their cries, and make an appearance, plus provide a little spark for the firewood.

Following hours of this, Elijah begins taunting the opposing team: “Where is your god? Perhaps he stepped out or is taking a nap?” Elijah perfects the art of trash talking. He’s convinced that his God will show up and be victorious. The prophet has already been assured of the One he worships. Elijah’s trust in God comes from his experiences rather than a long-shot hope. 

Consider

When have you felt the kind of confidence in God that Elijah expresses?

Pray

God, thank you for showing up in our lives and assuring us of your promise to never leave or forsake your children. Amen.