Wednesday, 29 February 2012

When my soul fainted




“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. - Jonah 2v7

The Bible talks about fainting a lot – ‘If you faint in the day of adversity your strength is small.’ ‘Seeing we have this ministry we do not faint.’ It is obvious and fainting and faith are not supposed to go together.

But sometimes they do.

Usually though, when we faint it is because we have acted on small faith. We get ourselves in trouble when we think we know best or are so afraid of the world that we forget to live in the fear of the Lord.

Jonah found himself in a real mess. We had run from God, ruined his testimony, and found himself in the cold and dark of the whale’s belly. Now though, for once, he does the right thing. ‘When my soul fainted I remembered the Lord and my prayer went up.’

When we are running from God, when it seems like our testimony is shot, and when we find ourselves down in the pit there is only one thing to do. We can’t just stay there. We then turn our thoughts heavenward and send our prayers up to the God of heaven where God is yet in His holy temple.

Remember the Lord.  

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Talk about a rotten testimony




… So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. - Jonah 1v7-10

I hate it when I do things that hurt my testimony. I hate when the world knows more about how I should live than I do. I hate it when I do things that bring reproach on the name of Christ.

That is just what Jonah did here. His running from God made a mess of everything. When things went bad the custom was to cast lots to find out who to blame. The lot fell on Jonah. He was put in a tough spot when they asked him who his god was. ‘I am a Hebrew, I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land.’

He also told the men that he was running from God. ‘What are you doing?’ they asked him.

It is bad enough to be running from God. It is even worse when it is public and God is shamed by our behaviour. Jonah said here that he feared God, but it is pretty obvious that he was more afraid of Ninevah.

How often do the fears of this world overcome our own fear of the Lord? How often do our lives belie our words to those around us?

We claim that we fear the Lord. Do our lives prove it? 

Monday, 27 February 2012

But Jonah arose to flee




Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. – Jonah 1v1-3

I really like to study Jonah. I think I like him so much because he is so real and so normal. He is far from a spiritual superstar, but he still has a book of the Bible about how God uses him.

We have Jonah apparently going about his own business when God comes to him and tell him to go to Ninevah and preach against their sin. Fair enough, no big deal right? Just go and preach.

But Ninevah was a really, really bad place. They were not nice people. They were scary. Their levels of violence and cruelty stand out in the annals of history. Nobody wanted to go to Ninevah so I can’t imagine being told to go there and preach against their sin.

Let’s just put this in context by talking about where Ninevah is. The area is not even as bad today as it was then, but it still makes us stop and think. Where Ninevah? Today her ruins are in northern Iraq, not too far from the Iranian and Turkish borders.

I am certain that there are some spiritual giants out there who would say ‘Just give me a chance! I would love to go to Iraq and preach!’

I, however, would be scared to death.

I like to think that if God directed me to Baghdad or Kabul or Tehran or wherever that I would just jump on a plane and go and confront them with their sins. But I wonder. Every Sunday our church prays for a country where the church is persecuted. One of the situations that has come up is the now well-known case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who has just been sentenced to death for his faith in Christ. Do I really want to go someplace like that?

It doesn’t excuse Jonah for running from God, but it does make me examine my life to see what I would do.

What would we do? 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The deception of pride




The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down,” says the LORD.
 - Obadiah 1v3-4

I grew up in Alabama. We had a saying there that I don’t hear a whole lot anymore. When someone got too uppity and sure of themselves we would say ‘She’s getting’ too big for her britches.’ It just had the idea that someone thought more highly of themselves than they ought to have thought.

The judgements of the prophets were not just for God people. Sometimes the judgements were aimed at surrounding nations. In this case the target was the neighbouring nation of Edom. The nation was founded by Jacob’s brother Esau. It was located southeast of Israel and now makes up parts of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The name means ‘red’ which may refer to the red cliffs, or it may refer to the bowl of red beans which cost Esau his birth right.

Edom and Israel never got on after that. There was a constant running quarrel through the centuries. Now that Israel was in her last days of power Edom was rejoicing in her strength and power. She took pride in the fact that she was strong and powerful. From her elevated geographical position she was viewing the destruction of Jerusalem with a haughty arrogance.

God was dealing with Israel, but He would also deal with Edom’s pride. We all know how God feels about pride. If we don’t know it is our own fault. Pride is always deceptive. It makes us ‘too big for our britches’ and it was Edom’s turn to learn that lesson.

‘Even though you are settled on those high cliffs like eagles in their nests I am going to bring you down from there’ said the Lord.

God has the power to deal with our pride just like He did with Edom. We had better make sure that our britches still fit before God has to do something about it. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A lowly sheepherder




Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: “I was no prophet,Nor was I a son of a prophet, But I was a sheepbreeder And a tender of sycamorefruit. Then the LORD took me as I followed the flock, And the LORD said to me,‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’ – Amos 7v14-15

I am so encouraged to read about the kind of people God uses. Amos is one of the prime examples.

A few times in scripture we come across people who don’t feel qualified. I think of Moses and Jeremiah for just a couple. Both of them tried to argue their ways out of it and needed to be convinced by God.

We don’t see that with Amos. He was out tending his sheep and his crops when God took him while he was moving the sheep. God came alongside and said, ‘go prophesy…’ The next verse says ‘and so here I am to prophesy.’

I like that picture of obedience. I also like the fact that God doesn’t have to use the rich and powerful and famous. Paul tells us that God normally uses the weak and foolish and abased to do His work.

In other words God uses people like us – shepherds and sycamore tenders, cooks and craftsmen, teachers and taxi drivers, bankers and bakers.

Praise God that He chooses to use people like you and me to do His work. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Spiritual couch potatoes




Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, Who cause the seat of violence to come near;  Who lie on beds of ivory, Stretch out on your couches, Eat lambs from the flock And calves from the midst of the stall; Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, And invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; Who drink wine from bowls, And anoint yourselves with the best ointments, But are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. – Amos 6v3-6

I always thought that couch potatoes were a modern phenomenon. The term may be new, but the prophet Amos had to deal with them way back then. Pay attention to a description of them.

‘You don’t worry about the future. You thrive on violence. You lie in your beds, stretch out on your couches, eat your barbecue, listen to your ipods, control the remote, drink the best drinks, and use the best body sprays. But you don’t worry yourselves about the nation’s need of God.’

Well, that’s not exactly what it says, but it certainly could be if Amos wrote today.

Can anybody else say ‘ouch?’

This is an attitude I think we all can recognise. It is symptomatic of Comfort Zone Christianity. We want to serve God and do what He wants – unless it upsets what makes me comfortable. At this moment we have brother in Christ who under and execution order simply because he won’t turn to Islam. He is just the most visible of thousands who are under persecution and threat because of their faith.

It is high time to wake up out of sleep. We had better to get to work now, for the time is coming when the work will be done. When that day comes I hope I am not stretched out on the couch saying ‘pass the remote.’ 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Stop your singing




“I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savour your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.- Amos 5v21-24

What do we do to try and please God? I think we could all come up with some answers if we were truthful. We go to church on Sunday. We meet together with other believers. We give our tithes and offerings. We sing great songs accompanied by pianos and organs and guitars and all kinds of instruments. We do all that and we leave church thinking we have done our bit and made God happy.

Israel thought the same thing. They held their feast days. They came together for worship and offered their sacrifices and offerings. They sang their songs and played their instruments. They too thought they were making God happy.

But what did God say? He said ‘I hate, I despise your feast days. I don’t get any pleasure from your assemblies. Stop the songs. Stop playing your instruments.’

One gets the distinct impression that God doesn’t care too much for false religion. It reminds me of where He tells the lukewarm church in Revelation that their half-hearted religion makes Him sick.

Let’s be sure that our worship truly elevates and glorifies Him. Let’s be sure that it is for Him and not for us. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Seek good and not evil




Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. – Amos 5v14-15

We may need a reminder here that the things God says to Israel and Judah are not always things we can build a theology around. They are not always perfectly applicable. However, there are principles that we can pick up and apply even in these situations.

This is such a situation. Amos was telling Israel how to avoid the wrath of God and destruction of their nation. He told them simply ‘seek good and not evil…hate evil, love good.’

The setting might be different but the principle is the same. When we are doing wrong we always seem to want the easy way out. We want someone to tell us how we can get over it and move out. We say things like ‘I just can’t deal with this. I can’t beat it!’

That may be true. We all know that we can’t do it without God’s help. That is the spiritual aspect of it.

But we have to want to his help. God tells us in black and white how to do it. It is the same for us as it was for them.

Just seek good and not evil. Just hate evil and love good. Just make the right choices. Just do right.

If we really want to get on with living life we have a choose – good or evil. Which one are we going to choose? 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Seek the Lord and live




For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: “Seek Me and live; But do not seek Bethel, Nor enter Gilgal, Nor pass over to Beersheba; For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, And Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the LORD and live, Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, And devour it, - Amos 5v4-6

The immediate application of this passage of course is for the people of Israel facing sure death and destruction. God had already poured out all that He was going to do. The context was what we saw yesterday. Turn to God and choose life. Or choose the way you are going and die.

But there is another meaning here. God was speaking to His people. They had become convinced that the way to live was to live the way the world did. They were convinced that they should pursue the physical instead of spiritual. They thought maybe they could be restored if they went back to physical Bethel like their forefathers had. But there was no hope there. God told them if they really wanted to live life they needed to seek and return to Him. 

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Perhaps it is time we really start living by seeking the Lord and His ways instead of being so enamoured with the empty stuff that seems so important to us every day. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

Prepare to meet your God




“Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” – Amos 4v12

We have all seen variations of the old cartoon. Some old guy is standing on a corner with a sign. Sometimes the sign days ‘The End is Near’ and sometimes it says ‘Prepare to Meet Your God.’ It has played so much that it is easy to forget the importance of the message.

The message here is to Israel. It is a challenge to turn from sin and return to God. God had laid out the destruction He had planned for the nation. It was going to happen. In order to escape it the people had to make preparation by getting their hearts and actions right. If they did that they would escape God’s wrath.

God hasn’t changed. His holiness still demands payment for sin. He cannot tolerate sin. He still demands that people prepare to meet Him.

However we have a great blessing. The prep work has already been done for us. Jesus went to the cross in payment for our sins. He has cleared the way. He has opened up the access. He has pioneered our salvation. He is the captain of our faith.

Since the preparation has been done all we have to is apply it. Accept the preparation that Christ has done by acknowledging our sinful state and put our faith not in our preparation, but in His.

For those of us who already have done this we can rest in full assurance that Christ’s preparation is enough.

But there are many who are trying to do all they can do to prepare to meet God. We must share with them the joyous news that the work in indeed done, all they have to do is apply it. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

You cows of Bashan!




Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, Who oppress the poor, Who crush the needy, Who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!”  The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you When He will take you away with fishhooks, And your posterity with fishhooks. – Amos 4v1-2

These are mighty harsh words with which God’s prophet addressed God’s people. It sounds even harsher in the KJV with ‘Ye kine of Bashan!’

What is it that deserves such harsh words? God tells them – ‘You oppress the poor and crush the needy and continue to party on.’

God has always cared for the poor and needy and He has always expected His people to care for them. The problem with these ‘fat cows of Bashan’ is that they knew the poor were suffering, they knew they could do something about it, and they simply said ‘pass the wine.’

It is that utter disregard for the poor and the laissez-faire attitude towards them that God condemns. We can do the same thing. We see pain and suffering around the world or in our own town and we walk on by like nothing is wrong. It is the ‘pass the wine’ attitude that we need to examine.

Jesus speaks of the poor often. He tells us that the way we treat the poor indicates how we would treat Him. The rest of the New Testament also instructs us that we are to take every opportunity to help the helpless.

At yet, the church carries on with all of her activities. We focus on our properties and facilities and how nice we can make things. We have coffee shops and cafes in our church buildings while simple illnesses strike down the weak all around the world. We have fellowships where massive amounts of food are brought and consumed while the poor are starving right outside our doors and around the world.

If Amos were right today would he write, ‘You fat cows in the church. You ignore the poor. You crush the needy. And all the while you pass the cappuccino’? 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Walking together




Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? - Amos 3v3

This is one of those verses that sadly, most the time you hear it mentioned; you hear it out of context. I once had a church drop my support because I did not agree with them on some finer point of a personal standard. This was the scripture they used to back up their decision. I thought ‘If that is what this verse means my wife and I can’t even walk together because we disagree on A LOT of things!

The context here has nothing to do with two people, though it is a decent principle I suppose. 

The question asked of the people here is if they can walk with God unless they are in agreement with Him. The context is clear; God is addressing the nation in their sin and how their sin keeps them from really walking as His people. They acted like they were doing right, but were doing so without really agreeing with God. Their walk was only a show.

As usual, the lessons of Israel also have a lesson for us.

We all know that it is possible to put on a show and act like we are walking with the Lord. We say and do the right things. We dress just right, say the right ‘amens’ and ‘hallelujahs,’ we sing the right songs and do the spiritual show, but all the time it is just that – a show.

A show is not enough. If our walk with God is genuine it must be based on agreement with Him. Until we get our hearts in tune with his our supposed walk with Him is an illusion.

Many years ago I got tickets to the European Open golf tournament at the nearby K-Club. One guy gave his friend his camera and followed Ian Woosnam as he walked toward the green. From all appearances it looked like this guy was part of Woosnam's party, but Woosnam didn't know he was there. It was just a show so he would look good. 

Do we really, truly walk with God?  Or do we just tag along so we can look good? 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Whosoever




And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call. – Joel 2v32

I don’t even come close to understanding all that is involved the millennia old discussion of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. I don’t, in fact, think that anyone really gets it, but a lot of guys like to argue about it.

However, there is something about the word ‘whosoever’ really hits home. The merchant in Isaiah 55 used it when he called out ‘whoever is thirsty come and drink.’ Paul wrote to the Roman church ‘whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,’ and here Joel does the same.

While I may not get it, I am grateful that ‘whosoever’ included Roger Parrow. I certainly don’t deserve it. I the Lord delivered me I was on a quick downward spiral. There was certainly nothing about me that made me special or made me worth His gift of salvation.

I am going to stop. Nothing I can say can express my feelings any more than what J. Edwin McConnell put into song over 100 years ago.

I am happy today, and the sun shines bright,
The clouds have been rolled away;
For the Saviour said, whosoever will
May come with Him to stay (to stay).

All my hopes have been raised, O His Name be praised,
His glory has filled my soul;
I’ve been lifted up, and from sin set free,
His blood has made me whole (me whole).

O what wonderful love, O what grace divine,
That Jesus should die for me;
I was lost in sin, for the world I pined,
But now I am set free (set free).

“Whosoever” surely meaneth me,
Surely meaneth me, O surely meaneth me;
“Whosoever” surely meaneth me,
“Whosoever” meaneth me.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Rend your heart, not your garments




“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. - Joel 2v12-13

One of the great problems with religious practices and habits is that they can become just habits and practices. Every religion does this. Even evangelicals are not exempt. Whatever church we go to we can get caught in the trap of thinking that our spirituality can be judged by how we worship, what we wear, what we do, or where we do and don’t go. The worse thing is when we criticise other believers for their own standards of exterior spirituality while we ignore our own. ‘Mote, meet beam.’

The Jews had one of these practices. It times of deep regret and sorrow over sins they would often rip their clothes apart, daub themselves with ashes, and then dress in garments not much different from burlap bags. It was supposed to show true repentance and at the start it may have been a real reflection of what was going on in their hearts.

But eventually it just became a show. Instead of really dealing with their sin the people would just do the ritual without any kind of change. Then they could feel good that they had done the right thing and everyone else would think they had things sorted.

God lets the people know here that just rending your clothes is not enough. Today He might say that wearing a coat and tie, or going to church, or raising or not raising your hands in praise, or speaking or not speaking on tongues, or any number of practices is not enough.

God wants a rending and a brokenness of heart. I have mentioned a phrase from a modern Christian song that says ‘you have to change her heart before you change her shirt.’ We have to make it sure we have it the right way around. We can’t get the outside right and hope the inside follows.

‘Rend your heart, not your clothes,’ was not advice just for these folks. We need the same lesson of fixing the inside first today. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The day of the Lord




Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, For it is at hand… “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. – Joel 2v1, 11-13

Joel prophesied of a current day of the Lord, but he also some of a day of the Lord that was to come. Leading up to this verse we read all about total misery and absolute destruction. Verse after verse portrays the wrath of God being poured out. The Day of the Lord was coming and the question is how the people would handle it.

The Day of the Lord talked about here is a day of judgement, and the people certainly deserved it. We often think about the prophets as being full of doom and destruction, and they are. But they are also full of hope based in the character of God.

I am going to look at one particular phrase tomorrow, but want to look at the character of God that gives us that hope in the midst of destruction.

We are able to ‘return to the Lord’ because He is our God. He is a God who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.’

These statements are made on a national basis to Israel, but the truths are just as true for His children today. He is still gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness and He still wants His children to return to Him. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The ways of the Lord are right




Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, But transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14v9

The way of the Lord is not always easy, but the ways of the Lord are always right. We don’t always understand how it is true and sometimes we don’t get it, but God’s ways are right – full stop.

Hosea had been through a great trial of his faith. God had called him to an impossible task. We might ask ourselves how this could possibly be God’s way, and if it is how is it right?

Who could have thought that God’s plan for Hosea was right? Surely Hosea must have questioned the direction God had for him. But he did it. He did what God wanted him to do and at the end he said ‘The ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous walk in them.’

It is not always easy for us to see God’s way as right. Sometimes God way leads through suffering and sacrifice. Sometimes it leads through difficulties and even death. Sometimes it is confusing and full of conflict.

Our problem is pretty simple – we don’t know everything. We can’t see how these situations are going to affect eternity. All we see is right here and right now. We don’t have the mind of God. We have finite intelligence and wisdom. God has it all.

The question is whether or not we have the faith to walk with the righteous in the right ways of the Lord. Only we can answer that. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Free love




“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him. - Hosea 14v4

I must not have lived through the 60s because I remember being there (sorry, old joke). One of the phrases that came out of the 60’s was ‘free love.’ Of course we know now that the kind of the ‘love’ there were talking about was not free, it has had a heavy price. That kind of love was neither love, nor was it free.

Of course, that is not the kind of free love Hosea writes about. Hosea writes above a love that really is free and it really is love.

I realise we have been in Hosea for a few days now, but the more I read of it the more I ma overwhelmed by God’s free love for His people. Remember the situation – God’s man, Hosea, was called to marry a prostitute. She carried on in her sin and then he loved her so much that he bought her back.

Hosea tells us here that even in all this mess He will heal their backslidings, love them freely, and turn away His anger.

God will judge sin, but we know He takes no pleasure in it. But for those who turn to Him He stands ready to heal them, love them, and turn away His anger.

As a believer I am both shamed and encouraged. I am shamed because like Gomer I can continue on in my unfaithfulness as I go after my own sin. I am encouraged by the fact that as His child I know that He loves me freely. It is a good thing, because I certainly do nothing to earn His love. His free love sent His Son to do the healing.

Thank God for His perfect free love. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Ransomed from death




“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes.” - Hosea 13v14

Obviously when I read this I think of those powerful words when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, ‘…Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’

Nothing seems stronger than death. It is the ultimate enemy. It is the one that no one has ever defeated. When we think of death with naturally think of a losing situation. After all, what is worse than death?

Death has that feeling because it is so real and so final. In a moment a life can be snuffed out and we all know that it can happen to us or our loved ones at any time.

As much as we fear death however God had a plan from the very beginning, before the first death, to defeat it.

The plan? ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’

Death is not the victor. That was proven at the resurrection of Jesus Christ when ‘death was crushed to death.’ Because death was beaten those who put their faith in the One who defeated it have nothing to fear!

We have been redeemed from death and its plagues. Death has no sting. The grave has no victory!

Praise God that He redeemed us from death through the death and resurrection of His Son.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

My heart churns…




My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, None at all exalt Him. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. – Hosea 11v7-8

I know that God is a God of justice. I know that God is a holy and righteousness God. I know that justice sometimes has to manifest itself in wrath against sin. But I am amazed to see the heart of God for His people in their erring ways. Holy righteousness and sin are not compatible. There is a penalty for sin, and it must be paid. But is doesn't make God happy. 

I think here of the times when I have properly disciplined my children. Tragically I have not always done that, but when I have I think of how it grieved me to deal with their sin. There is no joy in meting out penalties for sin. I think of special events or things our children looked forward to that they had to miss because of their sinful actions and it still hurts.

Our heavenly Father knows what that feels like. I read this passage that deals with backsliding Israel and see how God’s heart churns when He has to punish sin. I read how His sympathy was stirred. It makes me think of the time when Jesus stood over Jerusalem and wept because of their sin and lack of direction. It reminds of where God tells the nation through the prophet Ezekiel that He takes no pleasure in the death of those who die. I think of the verse that says that God wants all men to repent and turn to Him because it is not His desire that any should perish.

He hates the destruction on man so much that despite a world turning from Him He sent His Son to die on a cross.

God is, indeed, love. 

Friday, 10 February 2012

I desire mercy




For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. - Hosea 6v6

It is easy to get confused about what God wants from us. Most of that confusion comes when we put religious practices ahead of our relationship with Him. There is a huge temptation to try and conform our practices and behaviour to what we think He wants and then me content because everything looks right and we all doing all the right things.

The people Hosea wrote to did the same thing. When confronted with their sin they decided to try and get things sorted. The made a commitment to get to know God better. But, their decision to do right faded as quickly as the morning dew. There was nothing to it in their hearts.

God points out the difference between religious practice and a changed heart from Genesis to Revelation. What God desires from us is ‘mercy instead of sacrifice.’ It is ‘the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’  

The Colossians had this problem. They thought it they could get the ‘touch not, taste not, handle nots’ right than God would be happy. The whole letter tells them that those things will never make us right with God.

Micah 6v8 puts it pretty clearly. ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’

I wonder what our lives would be like if we focused on knowing God better, looking for ways to show mercy, walking humbly, and being just in our dealings. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord




Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth. - Hosea 6v3

When I first noticed this verse it seemed like a really good thing. The people were confronted with their sin. The responded with ‘let us know more, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His way is established. He will return and bless us.’

Sounds good, doesn’t it? It sounds like they had learned.

But when we read the context just a few verses later we find that all their great plans came to nought. God said that there goodness was like morning clouds that disappeared and like dew that quickly goes away.

What keeps us from carrying out our good intentions? I think there is a hint here and in tomorrow’s thoughts. The motivation for doing good was to get a response from the God.

God was us to know Him better to love Him better. He doesn’t really want these empty promises and good intentions. We get to know Him better not because He will do what we want, but because we love Him.

Let us be sure that our service for God is out of love for Him, not out of what is best for us. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Till they acknowledge their offence




I will return again to My place Till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” – Hosea 5v15

Sin is a terrible thing. One of the most terrible aspects of it is its appeal. It can give great gratification for the moment. It can give great temporary pleasure. Everybody else is doing it. Everybody else wants us to be like them. It seems like we can get away with it while we are sinning.

Despite all of God’s efforts to show His love and faithfulness to the people they continued on their way. They would not come back to Him. God’s love never stops. His compassion doesn’t fail. He shows His mercy every day.

But there comes a point where God allows people to go on in their sin in order to see the consequences. He did that with the man in sexual sin in the church in Corinth. We also see a picture of it in the story of the prodigal son.

When the prodigal son went off into his life of sin the father did not chase him down. He let him make his choices.

But one thing is clear; the father did not give up on his son. When the son returned and confessed his sin the father was waiting with open arms.

Here God is talking about pulling back and letting the people go their way. But they can be assured of one thing – God is there and waiting for them to return to Him.

Living in sin is never right – but praise God that He is a loving father who waits for our confession, repentance, and return.  

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

So I bought her




So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. And I said to her, “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you.” - Hosea 3v2-3

To me this is an absolutely amazing situation and a powerful picture of love and sacrifice. Gomer continued on in her trade as a prostitute. There was nothing Hosea could do about it. She bore him three children whose names marked Israel’s apostasy. But Hosea would not give up on her. We had to take extraordinary action to show His faithfulness.

Gomer sold herself to other men. So Hosea bought her. He paid €100 in silver plus 10 bushels of barley (about €35) for his own wife.

What a wonderful picture of love and sacrifice. It reminds me of an even greater story about love, forgiveness and redemption.

We are all God’s people by virtue of creation. He made us and He owns us. But through sin the world has prostituted itself to other gods. God has stayed faithful, but man has not.

So what did God do? He bought man back through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The whole world walks in unrighteousness and is at enmity to God.

But God bought us back at the cross.

How can we return to our lives of sin with that kind of cost? 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Mercy is shown




Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ And to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’ – Hosea 2v1

Hosea chapter one is a listing of the children born to Hosea and Gomer. They have names like ‘God will scatter,’ ‘Not-my-people’ and ‘No-mercy.’ What sad names those are! Every time Hosea saw his children he was reminded that God has scattered the people. He heard the words ‘not my people’ and ‘no mercy.’

That had to be tough. Added to the already difficult task of being married to a prostitute in order to be a lesson of God’s faithfulness he know had to deal with children with these horrible names.

I can’t imagine calling my children or grandchildren name like that. ‘Come see Grampy No-mercy!’

But God wasn’t done. These children were named to show what the people deserved. When chapter two opens we read ‘Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters ‘Mercy is shown.’’

The Old Testament is full of these kinds of things that Paul calls a mystery. Despite sin and unworthiness God was not done with His people. Though they did not deserve Him they were still His people and He would show mercy.

This is an amazing blessing. It shows God’s character even to those of us alive today. None of us deserve God’s mercy, but He still shows it. Our sins, even those sins we commit after salvation, deserve the full wrath of God. As He showed mercy in saving us He shows mercy dealing with His children in their sin. I think of the prodigal son who sought his independence from his family. Eventually he came home and received his father’s mercy.

Praise God for ‘mercy is shown.’ 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A really tough object lesson




When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry And children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from the LORD.” – Hosea 1v2

I really feel for Hosea. I also admire Him. I also am challenged by his willingness to serve God. We don’t hear much about him, but he was quite a guy called to quite a task. The nation had to learn just how bad their turning from God was. Israel, like the church, was often referred to as God’s bride.

Object lessons can be effective teaching tools. Visualising a lesson can make it more real and help it to sink in.

Israel had been unfaithful to God over and over again. They just did not seem to get it. God called His prophet Hosea to a very difficult task in order to show the nation a picture of their sin. He told Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute who was going to keep practicing her profession after they were married.

This very unusual situation is going to teach a great lesson on love and mercy and forgiveness. It is a wonderful picture of those things.

But imagine being the man called to this ministry. Talk about feelings of rejection and hurt! That is exactly the reason though – to show how loving and compassionate and patient and merciful God is.

We need to think about Hosea the next time we complain because our ministry seems tough or unfair,

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The importance of ‘persisterence’




Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. – Daniel 10v12-13

Please pardon my rather unusual word in the title today. We have been watching a BBS period drama called ‘From Lark Rise to Candleford.’ One to the characters, a sort of na├»ve young girl has a hard time with big words and she constantly malaprops persistence with ‘persisterence.’ We were watching an episode recently and I thought ‘I’d like to use Minnie’s word’ so here was the perfect opportunity.

Anyway, back to the thought for today.

This is an interesting situation that I don’t really understand. It is a glimpse into the spiritual warfare that is constantly going on. When Daniel started praying God sent an angel to bring him the answer to his prayers. Twenty-one days passed and apparently nothing happened. Finally the man showed up and told him that he had been making his way, but had been detained by ‘the prince of the kingdom of Persia.’ That went on until Michael the archangel came to help him.

I don’t really get how that works. I do know that there is a spiritual warfare going on all the time. I do know that angels and demons are real and active. Beyond that we don’t read a whole lot.

But I do know what the messenger told Daniel. ‘When you humbled yourself before God your words were heard and I have come because of words.’

In this spiritual battle prayer is a weapon that we too often fail to use. Persistence, or persisterence if you will, in prayer in something Jesus talked about when he told the story of the poor woman begging scraps at the master’s table. This spiritual battle raged for three weeks. We have no idea what is going on around us when we pray, but we do know that somehow prayer works and God acts.

Instead of trying to figure all that out, maybe I will just exercise so persisterence when it comes to prayer. 

Friday, 3 February 2012

Because of Your great mercies




O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. - Daniel 9v18

There are certain themes that seem to run through the word of God. I suspect that the reason they are there is that if they were not said over and over again we would not ever get it.

Daniel was praying on behalf of the nation. He knew that they were where they were because of their sin. He knew that they deserved nothing. When he came to God in prayer he knew that he had no real ground to do so.

‘We do not present our supplications before you because of our righteous deeds, but because of your great mercies.’

This reminds me of two things off the top of my head. The first is Ephesians 2 where we are reminded of our hopeless state apart from Christ. God makes it clear that we don’t have any basis to approach God on our own. ‘But God,’ the next verse starts, ‘who is rich in mercy...’ Our righteous deeds are not enough because even the most righteousness deeds are like filthy rags. If it were not for God’s mercy we could never approach Him.

The second thought is from Hebrews 4v14-16. ‘Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’

We could never approach the throne of grace apart from our merciful High Priest. When I see how great a gift prayer is I am ashamed at my failure to avail myself of it. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

All people, nations, and languages…




“I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed. - Daniel 7v13-14

Every time I read an account like this in the Bible I get just that little nudge of encouragement. Day after day we read all of the bad news. We see sin running rampant and it seems like evil is in control. Horrible, almost unimaginable things are going on all around us. It is difficult even to picture all the people of the earth serving Him.

But it is going to happen one day.  Jesus will take His rightful place as Supreme Sovereign as evil is vanquished and His holiness is in control. All of this will be done and gone. The drug problem will be solved. Violence against women and children will be over. There will be no more betrayal and hatred. No more boys and girls will die in useless conflict. What a day that will be! The whole world will serve Him instead of self.

That ought to be enough to keep me going. We will have the victory in the end.

The whole world will one day serve our Lord. We have the chance to get a head start on serving Him.

Let’s get busy! 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The king’s decree




I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end. He delivers and rescues, And He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. - Daniel 6v26-27

We never know what might happen when we choose to do the right thing and trust God. When Daniel decided to continue praying like he always had he knew that he might very well die. He knew that, and probably suspected it, when they open the gates to the lion’s den. Despite that he still decided to trust God and do the right thing.

We know the story now. God did deliver him and as a result the king made a new decree for all the land. The unchangeable law of the Medes and Persians was changed. He made a new law that established Daniel’s God as God. I know of course that you can’t legislate true faith. I know that having an official state religion does not work.

However, laying that aside, Daniel’s faith had an impact on the king of pagan Babylon. The king recognised that Daniel’s God was the living God. He recognised that Daniel’s God was steadfast forever and that His kingdom would never be destroyed. He recognised that God delivers and works signs and wonders.

The God of a conquered nation was not recognised as the God of the conquering land. What a change Daniel’s faith made.

God does always change a king’s heart because we trust Him and do right. But He can change the hearts of our friends and neighbours and co-workers because of our testimony of faith. God will be honoured when we faithfully trust and serve Him.