Pleasing God

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.

Salesperson? (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

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In this section of the letter (1 Thessalonians 2), Paul is reminding these believers how he and his team acted amongst them. He is building the platform from which he will later give some instruction to these believers.  

What he writes describes brilliantly what Godly leadership ought to be like and is well worth deep consideration.  

However, for today’s devotion, I want to focus on just one aspect of Paul’s life and leadership that has life application for all believers.

“We speak, not to please man, but God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

What motivates your actions & words?  

We live in a self-conscious age. We are constantly attempting to manage the perceived perception of others regarding ourselves.

And so we do things, say things, post things because of what we believe that will portray to others about us. It is all too easy to get sucked into living for affirmation, likes, followers. We are salespeople!

Paul, however, could declare that he was free from such pressure. He lived and spoke with his eyes, not on the opinion of others but rather firmly fixed on pleasing God alone.

Our age loves the notion of freedom, and yet we so readily enslave ourselves to the fickle opinions of others, or even worse, our perception of what the opinion of others might be!

I believe that the apostle Paul was genuinely free. He lived for the audience & the approval of ONE – God the Father in Heaven. He lived to please God in all he did and said. This was the motivation in his heart, the guidance for his life.

Paul knew that it was futile to try to do a sales job on the all-knowing, all-seeing God. After-all it is God alone who can test our hearts and truly know the motivation for all our actions.

So, Paul knew the glorious freedom, confidence and security that flowed from knowing that He was loved and accepted by God because He had believed the good news about Jesus. Therefore, he proclaimed the gospel fearlessly in spite of great danger and also lead courageously.

What a relief! There is no need to be a salesperson anymore. If you KNOW that you are loved and accepted by God because of your faith in Jesus, then you can live truly free from the endless tyranny of the opinions of others.  

Live your whole life for the audience of the ONE who loved you enough to save you for Himself. And when you live for Him and not yourself (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) – you will end up glorifying Him with your life.  

Crises (Numbers 20)

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These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.

It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.

Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)

Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.

So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!

God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.

Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!

When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)

His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).

We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).

Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.

God was angry with Moses and said;

Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)

It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.

Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.

Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.

Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.