Pleasing God

Yes, Mr President!

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I wrote in my journal this morning that I have noticed a certain word has crept into my vocabulary in the last week or so… It’s the word ‘unprecedented’!

Last night my whole family sat together in our lounge watching the news together – unprecedented!

We then went on to listen to our South African President make some rather unprecedented announcements about our country being in a state of national lockdown from Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will remember this moment. Such a drastic announcement with such wide-reaching implications for personal freedom, for businesses large and small, has a way of eliciting a reaction.

Some citizens are compliant, some complaining while others are combative about the measures announced last night.

So, what does Scripture have to say to us at this time? How ought we to respond?

Scripture in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers says the following;

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the One who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)

What is our biblically inspired response when the President has announced such dramatic limitations on human freedom and movement?

Essentially it ought to be; ‘Yes Mr President, you have my full cooperation!’

We respond in this way because we believe something – God is the One who ultimately appoints those in authority (vs1) and so to resist authority is to resist those which God has appointed (vs2). Therefore, we submit to authority ultimately out of reverence to God.

Government and authority structures can be understood as being part of the common grace of God. Without order, respect of authority and law, sinful human nature would quickly descend into terrible atrocities.

For example, at present, the military is about to be deployed in our country to maintain the rule of law and to ensure we as citizens comply with the restrictions introduced as part of the Governments efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in our nation. Without police and the military presence of authority, sinful humanity will likely descend into sin and lawlessness.

Sadly, ‘authority’ is like a modern swearword! We hate the idea of authority rather loving freedom in its place.

However, authority, according to Romans 13, is good. It is part of the common grace of God (vs3), and those in authority over you are there as God’s; ‘servant for your good’ (vs4).

In this unique moment in our nation, may we as Christ-Followers be those who are fully compliant with the measures that have been introduced;

  • May we support what our Government is trying to do for the benefit of the whole country by staying home and keeping our families at home too!
  • May we be those who show remarkable selfless love at this time to others around us in a myriad of ways
  • May we be grateful for the Government we have got
  • May we be committed to praying for those in power during these difficult and challenging times
  • May we stand in prayer with all those who will be called on in the coming weeks to work tirelessly to care medically for what is potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
  • And may we be those who never let go of the certain hope that we have in Jesus!

Amen.

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[A little more for those asking; But what about ungodly authorities?”]

God being sovereign over all authorities does not mean that all authorities are good or do good things all the time. Rather it means that God is the One who is in control always and that all authority is under God’s ultimate authority.

God’s good intention is that authority is for our common good (it is a form of God’s common grace), and so God can and does use the good that those in authority do.

However, God can use even the evil things sinful leaders do to fulfil His purposes in our lives and on the earth.

An example of this is 2 Chronicles 25:20 where it says; “But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies because they had sought the gods of Edom”. Amaziah would not listen to the advice given him so that God’s purpose would prevail.

Similarly, Scripture says of Pharaoh that God promised to harden his heart so that he would not let God’s people go (Exodus 4:21), but then Scripture makes it clear that Pharoah hardened his heart and would not let God’s people go (Exodus 8:15,32 & 9:34). This evil Pharoah was in authority under God’s control, and even the evil he did accomplished God’s good purposes in the end.

The challenge in Romans 3 is vs3-4. It is a challenge since authorities in their sinfulness do not always act for the good of those they are in authority over!

It’s helpful to remember that Paul is writing as a Jewish Roman citizen, he has experienced hostility from authorities towards Jewish people and towards Christians. Therefore, he is not naive concerning the experience of those who have lived under ungodly leaders. John Stott on this question from this passage writes;

“Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, ‘You would have no power [exousia, authority] over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God” – John Stott

So, in conclusion. The big idea of this passage is that governmental authorities are part of the common grace of God and are for our and societies good – that is God’s plan for humanity.

However, there are many moments in history when authorities in their sin have acted in ways that were not for the benefit of those under their authority.

And so there are times when to obey earthly authority would mean to disobey God. In those moments, I believe it is possibly justifiable to disobey earthly authority to obey God – but such situations are exceptional rather than the norm.

But in this time, with this COVID-19 pandemic let us give our ‘YES’ to our President and let us all play our part at this time of national threat.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Warnings & Encouragement for the Journey (2 John 1-13)

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John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).

The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.

John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.

It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!

Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).

It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).

In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)

This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.

1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’

Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.

2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’

There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?

The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!

In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…

3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’

This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!

If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.

John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.

Family Resemblance: Love (1 John 4:7-12)

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In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.

Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).

The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!

The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.

True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.

I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!

True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.

And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!

Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.

So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.

Reflection

  • Who are you finding hard to love right now?  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle.  What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  And what ought you to do now?
  • Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others?  Be encouraged.  We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress.  Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.

Two Ways (Hosea 14:9)

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This one verse at the end of the whole book sums up the book and our response to it. There are two paths before every one of us; God’s way and the way that Israel took which the prophet has been at pains to describe.

Scripture frequently contrasts the way of the wise and that of the fool or the righteous person’s way, and the ungodly person’s way. Everyone chooses a way; it is unavoidable.

The question is, what will you choose?

Hosea 14:9 brings the book to a conclusion forcing the reader to consider their own personal response. Much of the book has been written to the collective of Israel, but now the focus is undeniably personal.

The wise person will take to heart, will understand the themes and emphases of the book; they will listen and obey God and choose to walk in God’s ways.

On the contrary, the foolish person will continue to stumble in their sinful ways, disregarding God’s commandments, His appeals of love and His repeated invitation to repent.

We all choose continually. What will you choose? Which path are you on right now and will you stay on that path?

These are the questions. Will you learn from Israel’s mistakes? Will you respond to the love of God that graciously woos us back time and time again or will you harden your heart and close your ears as the Israelites did?

I urge you to continuously keep in step with God by obeying the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25) & allowing Scripture to lead and direct you (Psalm 119:105).

Ask God to keep your heart soft and your spiritual ears open. Because the ‘paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them’ (Hosea 14:9 in the NLT).

Bless you
GARETH

It’s always good to read to the end of the Book… (Hosea 14:1-8)

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I remember encountering the short story genre in senior school with Jeffrey Archer’s, “A Twist in the Tale”. You needed to read to the end of each story to work out what the whole story was about.

Hosea is something like that. If you had stopped reading Hosea a few chapters back, you might have reached an inaccurate, premature conclusion about God.

You might have felt that the God portrayed in these pages of this prophetic book seems too far removed from the God on the pages of the New Testament.

But Hosea 14, however, is a clear demonstration of the fact that God has never changed and never will (Malachi 3:6). The God of Scripture has always been the God of grace.

Hosea 14 begins with the frequent OT refrain; “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1). God’s harsh words through the prophet have been justified at every point, and yet the heart of God is that His people would recognise their sin and repent, that they would repent and return to God.

God, through the prophet, invites Israel to ask God to forgive them, ‘to take away all iniquity’ (Hosea 14:2). God appeals to Israel to say to God;

  • Assyria (humankind) will not save us (vs3)
  • Abandon faith in false gods and human-made idols (vs3)
  • Say that you will never bow down to these idols again (vs3)
  • Say that in God alone will we find mercy (vs3)

And then God will respond saying;

  • ‘I will heal you of your faithlessness my love will know no bounds for my anger will be gone forever’ (Hosea 14:4 in the NLT)
  • I will refresh Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven causing flowers and fruitfulness (vs5)
  • I will be like shade to Israel, and so Israel will flourish again like the vine I originally intended it to be (vs7)
  • ‘O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.’ (Hosea 14:8 in NLT)
  • At the end of the book of Hosea, what is clear is that the desire in the heart of God is for His people to choose to repent so that they can return to Him. God wants to forgive; God wants to lavish His love that knows no bounds on them. That is His desire to lavish love on us.
  • The question is, will we repent, will we stop our sinful ways and love and worship God only? Only we can respond to God’s invitation – I urge you to respond and to keep responding to God daily.

    Parenting Pain (Hosea 11:1-11)

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    All through the collection of prophecies in this book, God has likened His anguish and pain felt because of Israel’s unfaithfulness as being like the human experience Hosea was having in his painful marriage to Gomer.

    Now in the eleventh chapter, God uses another human experience to communicate the pain He feels over His people’s rejection of Him – parenting.

    Israel is a beloved child who has walked away from the parent who raised it (vs3), turned its back on them despite the incredible love and parental care (vs4) that has been shown.

    God’s anguish is evident; ‘My people are bent on turning away from me’ (vs7). The God of Scripture, our God is not aloof, untouched or cold. The language of the whole book of Hosea is of profound human experiences that help us to understand how God feels when we are in a state of sinful rebellion or rejection of Him, living and acting as though He were not our God who has loved us.

    Because of Israel’s refusal to turn back to God (vs5), ‘the sword will rage against their cities’ (vs6) and God will not answer them anymore when they do call out to Him (vs6).  

    God’s heart is in pain and conflicted like a parent who has had to discipline their child; ‘My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender’ (vs8) and so God will not totally destroy Israel when He sends them into exile because of their sin.

    God promises a future day when a remnant of Israel will be gathered back to God from the nations they are about to be scattered to in exile;

    They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. (vs10-11)

    God will remain faithful to His covenant promises; God is faithful even when we are unfaithful.

    What does this mean for us today?

    • All the language of human experiences throughout this book of prophecies reveals the profoundly personal nature of God and our relationship with Him.
    • How we live really matters to God, God feels pain when we live as though He doesn’t exist, when we spurn His words to us, when we live in sin and compromise, when we give our hearts trust to other things or people.
    • Ephesians 5:10 in the NIV translation instructs us to ‘find out what pleases the LORD’ and Ephesians 4:30 urges us; ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit’. May we live to please God, live in such a way that we do not grieve God. May we bring joy to our Father, not tears!

    Compromise & Judgement (Hosea 8-9)

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    Israel’s sin of idolatry is described in detail in Hosea 8-9, while enemies are waiting like a vulture readying itself to descend upon Israel in judgement (Hosea 8:1). Why?

    Because these people cry; ‘My God…we know you’ (Hosea 8:2) However, the truth is that they had continually spurned the one true God (Hosea 8:3) and so they will be pursued by the enemy and taken off into exile in the nations.

    Israel had appointed kings without asking for God’s guidance, appointed princes without God’s approval (Hosea 8:4 in NLT). They were worldly, no different from the nations around them, they lived and led as though God was not on His throne and as though God had no authority in their lives.

    To make matters worse, Israel had made idols for themselves from their silver and gold. And because of this, they had brought about their own destruction (Hosea 8:4).

    When the kingdom of Israel was divided (see 1 Kings 12) Jeroboam sinfully built altars for sacrifices in Bethel & Dan and had two golden calves built for these places of false worship. “And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'” (1 Kings 12:28)

    In Hosea 8, God expresses His righteous anger at this sinful offensive act and how it had been perpetuated in Samaria for nearly 200yrs – ‘I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them…the calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.’ (Hosea 8:5-6)

    The beginning of the Ten Commandments reads;

    “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:1-5)

    This idolatry with the golden calves was outright rebellion against God, and it was going to be punished by Him.  

    The ‘worship’ and sacrifices in Samaria mimicked the worship God had ordained for the temple in Jerusalem. There were similarities, therefore. But God refused to accept the syncretistic compromised worship of the northern Tribes at their self-made temples with their golden calves – ‘but the LORD does not accept them.’ (Hosea 8:13).

    So their external ‘religious’ actions had no effect; their sins were not going to be forgiven; rather, their sins would be remembered by God and punished by God (Hosea 8:13).

    ‘Israel has forgotten his Maker’ – (Hosea 8:14). A chilling echo of this passage is found in Romans 1:18-32 where also there is judgement coming because of the willful decision to exchange; ‘the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Romans 1:25).

    Because of Israel’s idolatry, they will be exiled to Assyria and Egypt for; ‘the days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come.’ (Hosea 9:7) ‘Woe to them when I depart from them!’ (Hosea 9:12) ‘My God will reject them because they have not listened to Him; they shall be wanders among the nations.’ (Hosea 9:17)

    These are sad chapters. There is no good news in them, no ray of hope as in earlier chapters.

    So what does this mean for us?

    • Warnings are important to take heed of! In life, we ignore warnings at our peril.
    • I thank God for passages like this. Although you don’t find them on Christian bumper stickers or the like, they are essential.
    • Passages like this contain solemn warnings. May we not be like these people who willfully disobeyed God’s clear commands, who compromised and mixed true worship of God with idolatry.
    • Is there any way in which you are ignoring a clear command of Scripture?
    • Is there any way in which you are dabbling in trusting in anything or anyone other than Almighty God?
    • If you are, repent now, don’t delay even a minute.
    • “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)

    The Danger of Closed Ears (Hosea 5:1-15)

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    Hosea Chapter 5 reads like a charge sheet or the pronouncement of the judge of the misdemeanours committed in a court proceeding against Israel/Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom).

    The priests, the royal family & the leaders of Israel have led Israel into a snare/trap with their idol worship and their ‘deep slaughter’ (vs2 in ESV might refer to child sacrifice see 2 Kings 17:17).

    Israel was so thoroughly gone, so far from God that reconciliation at that point seemed impossible; “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God. You are a prostitute through and through, and you do not know the Lord” (vs4 in NLT).

    They might go and seek God to make sacrifices with their livestock, but they will not find God for ‘he has withdrawn from them’ (vs6). Nothing is more terrifying than this! That God removes Himself from us, that He won’t reply any more to our calls. That is the very definition of hell – existence without God, without the possibility of God, listening, without God willing to respond to our cries for mercy, grace or help. Hell, CS Lewis said was a monument to human freedom – people want nothing to do with God and so that is what God eventually gives them.

    The leaders of Israel are full of dishonesty, corruption & injustice like those who move their neighbour’s landmarks (stealing land from people) (vs10 in ESV).

    And because of all of this the day of judgment is coming, war is coming, and Israel will be reduced to a pile of rubble (vs 9 in NLT), ‘The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment because they are determined to worship idols.’ (vs11 in NLT). 

    When Israel realised the terrible moth-eaten state of her clothes, when they saw that destructive rot had set in to eat away their wooden things (vs12) – they called out for help.

    But they did not call out in repentance to God the only One who could truly help them. Rather they sought political & military alliances with surrounding nations to secure protection. They paid money to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19) to buy protection – but these nations, these men can’t help Israel (vs13)! 

    We are like this sometimes aren’t we? We have made some mess of our lives, wandered from God, and when we realise our predicament we don’t repent and turn back to God the only One who can truly help us, we make a plan, seek wisdom, solace or solutions from those around us. And yet we know, God is the One we need. Christ Follower, don’t be like Israel was.

    Foreign nations will not be able to stop what God has determined. Israel and even later Judah too are going to be punished by God (vs14). God is going to ‘tear them to pieces’ and ‘carry them off’ like a lion does it’s prey (vs15). Israel will be judged, punished and taken off into exile for God has finally declared; ‘enough!’ (see 2 Kings 17). 

    And yet even this terrible day that awaits Israel is not the end of the story;

    Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for me.” (vs15 in NLT)

    God is anticipating that judgement will produce repentance in the future and a change of heart and a longing for God again. There is a flicker of hope still as God vs15 hints at God’s desire for this to be restorative justice that will re-unite His people to Him in the future.

    What does this mean for you and I today?

    • Remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. This judgement of God on Israel was a long time in coming (approximately 200yrs and the reign of 13 kings).
    • God had spoken over and over and over again to Israel through the prophets (2 Kings 17:13-14); however, they would not listen but rather were stubborn in their idolatry and unbelief.
    • Decide today not to be like Israel was! Decide today to listen to the soft inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, the whispers of God through your own Bible reading and listening to Bible-based preaching, listen and repent, turn back to God when He whispers to you. Because if you don’t listen to the private whispers, God will eventually raise the volume and what was private will become more and more public.
    • What’s God been trying to whisper to you about that you’ve maybe been shutting your ears too? Speak to God now, repent now, return to Him the only One who can truly help.

    Costly Love (Hosea 3:1-5)

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    How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!

    All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)

    This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.

    And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.

    Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.

    Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.

    Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).

    God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)

    But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!

    What does this mean for us today?

    • God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
    • God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
    • God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
    • What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.

    The Pain of Unfaithfulness (Hosea 2:1-13)

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    [All Scripture references today are from the NLT translation]

    Hosea’s painful ordeal as a spouse who’s marriage partner is openly unfaithful represents another pain – God’s sorrow over Israel’s idolatry & unfaithfulness toward God.

    Hosea, the husband, stumbles through conflicting thoughts and emotions towards his unfaithful wife.

    One moment he wants nothing more to do with her or her children; ‘for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband’ (vs2); ‘for their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way.’ (vs5)

    The next moment he wants her shame to be exposed and wants his anger vindicated (vs3) for she has longed after her lovers and the perceived material benefits she has gained from loving them (vs5).

    Then he wants to build a hedge around her, to keep her from them, to stop her path to these lovers, so that she won’t be able to catch them anymore and will lose her way to them (vs6-7).

    He does this because he thinks, maybe then she will come to her senses and think; ‘I might as well return to my husband, for I was better off with him than I am now.’ (vs7)

    Hosea is still hoping, still willing to forgive her and take her back and begin to rebuild their marriage – if only she would come back to him!

    But his hurt is deep, she thinks these lovers of hers provided for her, but it was he, Hosea her husband all along but she took all the gifts he provided her, and she sacrificed them to Baal! (vs8)

    God had provided for Israel his people had provided for them even when they were chasing after other gods, and yet Israel took the very provision God lovingly gave them and sacrificed these things to Baal. What a tragedy! What pain. What an offence.

    Hosea cycles back into thinking – enough! I will remove that which I provided for her; I will strip her naked, I will put an end to her celebrations and parties. I will remove from her the material things she thinks came from her lovers (vs9-12).

    I will punish her for all those times she loved others. God is speaking through Hosea’s experience about Israel who he has eventually decided He will punish for all her Baal worship and the fact that she; “‘forgot all about me,’ says the LORD.” (vs13)

    Can you feel the terrible confusing pain of Hosea, the whole range of emotions and thoughts experienced? The anger, the desire to still be reconciled and to protect and yet the tiredness that’s come from repeated rejection.

    What does this mean for us today?

    • Not all jealousy is wrong. God is rightfully jealous for our exclusive love and worship, just as married people are rightfully jealous over the exclusive love of their spouse.
    • God’s command to His people was; “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This Jesus said was the first and the greatest commandment.
    • So, is your love and devotion exclusively for your God? Anything less than everything is a painful sinful rejection of God. Don’t be like Gomer or the Israelites towards your God. Love Him, adore Him, live for Him only.

    A True God-Follower (Hosea 1:1-3)

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    Are you a Christ Follower? Not in name but in reality! I am drawn to ‘Christ Follower’ as a way of identifying believers in Jesus because it speaks of movement – it’s not simply an idea but a lifestyle that can be observed. 

    And so if Jesus said ‘go left’ and you’re going right at the moment then you can justifiably be challenged to alter your current trajectory.

    Being a Christ Follower also necessitates looking for Jesus, His will, His ways (laid out for us in Scripture) and listening for His voice in Scripture and also in all of life.

    Now Hosea was a prophet in the Old Testament times. And he was a remarkable God Follower (since Jesus had not come as our incarnate Messiah yet) as we shall see from the shocking first three verses of the book bearing his name.

    In the days of the evil king, Jeroboam 2 of Israel’s Northern Tribes God spoke to Hosea (1:1). And it’s a rather shocking thing God said to him;

    Hosea 1:2 (NLT): “Go and marry a prostitute…”

    Gulp! I can imagine some of Hosea’s dialogue with God.

    Hosea: Who’s this speaking to me LORD? 

    Hosea: It sounds like the enemy again unsettling me.

    Hosea: Or maybe I’m having a bad dream, indigestion not inspiration!

    God: Nope, it’s me speaking Hosea. Go and marry a prostitute.

    Hosea: But Lord! That wasn’t my plan for life and marriage.

    Hosea: You want me to be happy, right?

    Hosea 1:2 (NLT): “Go and marry a prostitute…”, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshipping other gods.” 

    Remarkable. God as God, is entitled to ask us to do anything for Him. How we react to this command of God to Hosea says something about our perspective and how we are relating to God. Is God in His rightful place in your life or is God not much more than a ‘genie in a bottle’ for you, someone who must come and do what you command when you summons Him in prayer?

    It’s easy to say Jesus is your LORD, easy to label yourself as a God/Christ Follower until Jesus tells you to do something that will require serious sacrifice, discomfort or challenge.

    • What’s Jesus calling you to do about your commitment to His church?
    • What’s Jesus calling you to do about using your time/talents for His plan & purposes?
    • What’s Jesus calling you to do about that relationship that’s not honouring Him or that relationship that needs restoration?
    • What’s Jesus calling you to do about the money He entrusted to you?
    • ….

    What makes us Christ Followers is not what we say, but what we do when God has spoken to us through His Word or some other means.

    Hosea 1:3 (NLT): “So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son.”

    Hosea was a true God Follower because he did what God had said; he obeyed God. Even though he must have had questions about how this was all going to work out to accomplish God’s purposes which clearly transcended his comfort and convenience.

    Now, it is a relief that Hosea is the only guy in the Bible that God told to marry a prostitute. So we imitate not his action as our pattern, but his heart and his obedience and trust displayed. 

    May you and I be like Hosea who trusted God enough to obey even though he could not have understood fully.  

    May we be like Jesus who likewise trusted and obeyed the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and so destroyed our enemies of sin, Satan and death and won for us our freedom.

    Christ Follower, trust and obey. For then, we shall see God’s plan and purposes unfold in and through our lives, and God will be glorified in us.

    The Secret of Contentment (Philippians 4:10-20)

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    Contentment is a rare thing. We are bombarded by a myriad of multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns that reach into every nook and cranny of our conscious lives. These campaigns have saturated our senses with images and taglines all carefully designed to breed discontentment to fuel sales.

    And so, whatever device or vehicle or shoe or item of clothing we have or holiday we had is quickly superseded by a new one we now desire.

    Against this background, from prison, Paul’s statement strikes a stark contrast;

    “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

    Wow! As we have seen before in Philippians, it is the “whatever” that makes this sentence remarkable. It is easy to be content in good situations or in blessed situations – therefore ‘whatever’ is code for being content in bad situations.

    Before you rock back and think this is impossible for me, note that Paul wrote that this had been a process for him. He had ‘learned’ how to be content in whatever situation he found himself in. This was something he had grown in as he followed Jesus.

    How content are you at the moment? What is causing you to experience discontentment? Not just materially, but in the stage of life, you are in?

    How might God want you to grow, to learn to be content in that situation? How might God want to mature you, or grow your character in the situation you are in right now?

    Paul could testify that he had learnt to be content in plenty and in lack – but how? What was his secret?

     13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

    The secret Paul had learnt, was to tap into the empowering presence of God in all circumstances in his life. God, in him, was enough. The awareness of God’s presence with him was the single biggest X-factor that enabled him to endure all things with contentment.

    It’s not written here outright, but the sub-text of this section is Paul’s underlying resolute trust in the sovereignty of God. He believed that God had either brought about the circumstances he was presently facing or God had allowed them to happen – God was not having any crisis meetings to work out what to do next; instead the plan and purpose of God was relentlessly moving forward even when he could not understand it or see how it was doing so.

    We see this belief and trust in his statement in vs19 and his worship in vs20.

    19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen

    God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

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    ‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)

    What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)

    Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).

    Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).

    Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.

    Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!

    And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

    “He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)

    What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.

    I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;

    Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

    Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.

    Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).

    LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.

    And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).

    ‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)

    A Prayer for a life that’s worthy (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

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    Paul prayed for the Thessalonian believers; he prayed that God would enable them to live a life that would be worthy of the call of God on their lives, worthy of the Gospel.

    He prayed that God would give them the power that they would need to accomplish all the good works God had planned for them to do (Ephesians 2:10), good deeds that would be prompted by their faith in God (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

    Paul knew that these believers needed; 

    1. God’s enabling power to live holy lives worthy of God
    2. God’s enabling power to live purposefully fulfilling the call of God on their lives

    And so he prayed continually for them so that the name of Jesus would be glorified in the way that they lived their lives.

    Amazingly, God has connected our lives and His glory! What this means is that how we live our lives whether we waste our lives on self-centred trivialities or focus on weighty eternal things matters.  

    And because our lived-out response to the Gospel matters, Paul continually prays for these believers that they would live out a response that would glorify God.

    Because Paul prays continually for them, he prays that they would live out a response to the Gospel that is worthy of the Gospel. Because he prays this way, we know therefore that it is quite possible for our lives not to be worthy of the call we have received.

    So, what would such a life look like in a believer?

    • God and God’s glory not being at the centre but rather self-centredness & worldly thinking dominating their thoughts.
    • A lack of a pattern of daily worship and devotion to God (prayer, God’s word, listening to the Holy Spirit)
    • God’s church and God’s purposes not being at the centre of their lives, their rhythms and decisions
    • Compromise and sin

    Paul kept on praying for these new believers in Thessalonica because he didn’t want their lives to look like this list above. He was diligent, even urgent in praying for them no doubt because it was a real threat that they could potentially drift away into lukewarmness and compromise and so he contended for them in prayer.

    Having accepted Jesus as our Saviour, we know that we will enter into eternal life with Jesus because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

    However, what is not guaranteed is how we will live out our response to the Gospel! Hence Paul’s continual prayers for these believers.

    Brothers and sisters, it is not guaranteed whether or not we will live a life worthy of the call we have received. What is needed is intentionality, devotion, continually choosing to make Jesus the centre of our lives, our thinking, our priorities & decisions. What is required is a continual reliance on and obedience to the Holy Spirit so that our lives will glorify God and fulfil His plans for us.

    And then, when our lives do glorify God, somehow this passage says that we will be honoured together with Jesus in some way (see vs12).

    “All of this is made possible because of the grace of our God and LORD, Jesus Christ.” (Vs12 in NLT)

    May we, may I live lives worthy of You Jesus! Fill me, fill us with your enabling power, help me, help us Holy Spirit to listen and obey You always so that You would be glorified and we would be honoured to along with You. Amen.

    Dynamite Comes in Small Packages (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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    Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

    A two-word verse followed by a three-word verse followed by a slightly longer one. Such short verses with such challenge!

    In vs16, it’s the ‘always’ that ramps up the challenge factor! Who would have a problem with rejoicing in good things? Our problem is rejoicing in all things, in those hard situations and or rejoicing still when things have not gone the way we would like them to go.

    And yet this is God’s will for us, so it is possible to do. But how can it be possible to rejoice always or in all circumstances?

    I believe that this is possible for the Christ Follower when we consider Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for us. We can always thank God for Jesus, for loving us when we were unlovely when we were His enemies.

    No matter what is happening in our lives, if we have put our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sin, set free from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement and have been granted eternal life with God. We have been given the privilege of being called the children of God! As believers we know that whatever we might be facing is going to be swallowed up by the glory to come for us; “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

    So, we can always rejoice. I am not saying this is easy to do, but it is God’s will for us, according to vs18. And so it is possible, and it is for our very best.

    Pray without ceasing (vs17). One more word than the previous verse and yet no less challenging. Praying without ceasing is the opposite of living a worldly life, living life as though God doesn’t exist.

    To pray in this way is to practice God’s presence amid your everyday life. To pray in this way is to master the art of always being in two places at once. Being wherever you find yourself at any given moment and being with God, aware of His presence in that place or situation.

    How amazing it would be to be in continual conversation with God, accessing His Help and wisdom, knowing His love, affirmation & His guidance! This is not some onerous command; this is an invitation to live a life on a whole new level.

    Lastly, ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (vs18) is not an instruction to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, it is to be aware of God in everything and to be mindful of what you can thank your Father for. Growing in gratitude cultivates a heart of worship and breathes life-giving perspective into all of life.