Wisdom

Futile & Faithful (Hosea 12:1-13)

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Futile. Empty. Unfulfilling. Mad.

To live as if God is not God – is futile, empty & unfulfilling. It is like trying to be filled up in your stomach on the wind. Eating the wind, taking great gulps of air, will never fulfil the need for nutrition that your body has (vs1).

Rejecting God, putting your trust in self or anything other than God is like chasing after the wind as if it could be caught (vs1).

It makes no sense to reject God. It’s not rational; instead, it’s entirely irrational – like trying to feed on or catch the wind.

By reaching out to Assyria and Egypt, making covenants with them for protection, faithless Israel has been like a person futilely feeding on the wind or chasing it.

And so God has an indictment against both Israel and Judah (vs2). Neither of them has been faithful to God and His covenant with them but have rather rejected God and made covenants with Assyria & Egypt, which will prove futile.

They, Israel, are acting just like their ancestor Jacob (Hosea 12:2-5) who was habitually deceitful as he tricked his father and robbed his brother of his birthright (see Genesis 25-27).

Yet God was gracious to Jacob, and so God promised to bless Jacob with the same covenant promise that was given to Abraham (Genesis 28:10-22). More than this, when Jacob wrestled with God and asked God to bless him, God did, and at that moment renamed him ‘Israel’ (Genesis 32:22-32).

And so God will be gracious to Israel as He was to Jacob if only they would return to God and hold fast to love and justice (Hosea 12:6) rather than ‘multiply falsehood and violence’ (Hosea 12:1).

Israel became wealthy but did so through corrupt means and so has walked away from God’s ways. Therefore, God will humble them, reduce them back to a state of living in tents and humble accommodation (Hosea 12:7-8).

God laments that He sent prophets to Israel, God gave visions and parables to the prophets appealing to Israel to stop, to see their sin and to repent (Hosea 12:10). God is so gracious, so forbearing to keep speaking when we are wayward.

God was gracious to Jacob, blessed him with a wife and children as He had promised He would (Hosea 12:12). God was then faithful again to His promise to Jacob by bringing the twelve tribes bearing the names of his twelve sons out of Egypt hundreds of years later through Moses the prophet (Hosea 12:13).

Israel’s actions have been futile, faithless, and yet in recounting the checkered story of Jacob’s, God shows Israel that He is faithful to His promises, He is gracious in spite of us.

What does this mean for you and I today?

  • It is utterly futile to put your trust in anything or anyone other than God Himself.
  • Learn from Israel’s history, determine not to repeat their errors in trusting in Assyria & Egypt.
  • Know that God is faithful to His promises, and know that He has promised never to leave and never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b), and because of that, determine to trust God!
  • And so, with God’s help, hold fast to love and justice and continually wait for your God regardless of what you are facing (Hosea 12:6).
  • In so doing you’ll avoid futility & you’ll be faithful.

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.

Foolish (Psalm 14)

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Foolishness is primarily a moral condition rather than a state of intellectual ability. There are some very bright fools out there!

Scripture declares in no uncertain terms that foolishness starts with denial. The fool is the person who says to themselves, the person who lives their life as if there is no God.

Wisdom starts with fearing God, and to know God results in insight (Proverbs 9:10). Therefore to declare that there is no God sentences the declarant to a state of folly since they cannot even start to have wisdom or understanding.

More than this, such a person’s denial of God and refusal to assign to God His rightful place in their lives and the world has devastating results. It leads to a corruption of their personhood and a downward spiral of their deeds.

This downward spiral is on display in Romans 1:18-32 where the truth about God is exchanged for a lie and so such people ‘claiming to be wise, they became fools…’ (vs22)

Wrong believing leads to wrong living, and right believing leads to right living.

May you and I always fear God and keep God in His rightful place in our lives. That’s the way to wisdom, may we never depart from it and may we continually pray that God would in His grace reveal Himself those who are currently denying the truth about God.

Dealing with Delay (Psalm 13)

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Delay is one of the hardest things to deal with as a believer in Jesus.

We don’t like delay. We tend to expect to a certain timing, and we don’t take kindly to that timing being extended.

So, maybe you can relate to the lyrics of the famous Queen song; 

“I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now”.

What is it for you? How would you complete these sorts of sentences?

  • “I thought I/we would have….. by now”
  • “I can’t believe I still don’t have …….!”
  • “How long does ……… take?”

In this Psalm, David is lamenting a delay of some sort. He is at the end of his emotional and even physical reserves. The wait has nearly emptied him entirely (vs2-4).

His four-pronged question (“How long?”) is less a request for more information than it is an expression of his deeply-felt feelings.

Feelings are fickle! Does he really believe that God has forgotten him, does He now believe that the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God has somehow lost sight of him, forgotten him? But it is how he feels. Does he really believe that God has hidden his face or that God wants him to be grovelling in the dust crying his days away – not caring?

Does he believe these things? Or is this how he feels when assaulted by the gap between his self-fashioned expectations and what has transpired?

I want a robust faith, not fickle feelings. In moments like these, when we are assaulted by the gap between our expectations and reality. Or when our emotions attack our faith – we need robust faith that is already in place.

It’s far too late when delay or trials come. We need an anchor for our emotions to hold us fast when they threaten.

Here in Psalm 13, despite David’s lament in vs1-2 what he believes to be true anchors him in the moment and pulls him through.  

He doesn’t really believe God has forgotten him or turned his back on him because then it would make no sense to pray out to God and to ask God to consider his plight and answer him (vs3).  

By vs5-6, the tone of the Psalm has changed already;

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Oh that you and I may invest deeply in our relationship with God, that we might grow in the depth of our knowledge of who He is and what He is like. May we grow in robust faith so that when the storms of delay or disappointment come, we will find ourselves anchored by that faith and so the storm in our heart and mind will subside replaced by trust in His unfailing love.

Eat the Fish and Spit Out the Bones (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)

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Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 in the NLT Translation)

Paul’s instruction here to the believers is rooted in his desire that they and we too, do not inadvertently stifle the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in church when it is gathered.

The fact that he has to warn them and us means that it is possible to do, so we should take heed of this warning.

Paul goes on to explain HOW we might stifle the work of the Spirit – by ‘scoffing at prophecies’ (vs20), treating them as nothing important.

Prophecy in the NT era is most simply hearing from God for someone else. Someone who brings a prophecy is allowing God to use them to bless, build-up, correct, direct or encourage people as they hear God’s voice through their actions and words.

Prophecy can be corporate or personal in nature and prophecy can take different forms such as a word for someone, a picture or an impression or a Scripture.

For Paul, prophecy was an essential part of biblical church life and community and so was not to be scoffed at, stifled or quenched.

The balance here is that every prophetic utterance is to be ‘tested’ or examined. We need to ask whether what has been shared lines up with Scripture? (vs21) We also need to remember that this side of heaven, all prophesy is ‘in-part’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), meaning that all prophetic contributions will be fallible to some degree.

So, don’t stifle prophecy & don’t blindly accept everything that is spoken in the name of God. Rather, eagerly desire prophecy in your life and in the life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1) but test all prophetic utterances against the plumbline of Scripture. So, eat the fish and spit out the bones!

 

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.

Death & Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

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“We don’t like to think about death; yet, worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11 000 every hour…As human beings, we have a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate is 100%” – (R.Alcorn)

Many cultures in the world shun speaking about death for superstitious reasons. However, it is ludicrous to think that we can avoid thinking our mortality since it is both personally inevitable and also impossible to avoid since people die every day and in time, people close to us will die.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, death has been the normal experience of all of humankind; however, that doesn’t make it natural! Death is unnatural since God created Adam and Eve for eternal life in the Garden. And because it is unnatural, we wrestle with this horrible intrusion into our human experience which tears beloved people apart and brings great sadness and loneliness.

 We need to talk more about death, not less. Not talking about death is non-sensical. No one would approach a monumental moment or an epic life-changing trip to an unknown place without some thoughts of preparation. It is normal for travellers to do some fact-finding and engage in discussions with others to find out more about the experiences they are about to have when planning a trip. We all have a date with death. It’s a date we can’t change, can’t be late or early for and one that we cannot change or reschedule! Therefore, surely it is normal to talk about death with others, to ask our questions and to find the answers in Scripture.

Because Paul’s time in Thessalonica was rushed & was brought to a premature end as he had to leave for his safety. It seems as though he hadn’t managed to get to teach the new believers at Thessalonica about death and what will happen when we die. So when some of their congregation died, they naturally had questions about what happens to those who die. And so now as we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we get to listen in as Paul assures them by teaching them what will happen when we die as believers.

1. Don’t be uninformed about those who have died are ‘asleep’ (vs13)

Being naive about life and death and eternal life is very unwise. It will leave you either unprepared or unnecessarily worried about things you don’t need to be concerned about. Those who have died are in a state of waiting what theologians sometimes call the ‘intermediate state’ a transition between this life & eternal life. Here, Paul describes them as being ‘asleep’ waiting for a new dawn, the day when Jesus will return in glory.

2. We don’t grieve as others do, who have no hope (vs13)

Because of what we know (which will be expanded on in the verses that follow), we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope because they have not believed in Jesus. What we know gives us peace and hope both for ourselves and for those we love. Note, however, how Paul does not say; ‘don’t grieve’! We do grieve as believers. We grieve because death is a terrible, unnatural, intrusion in our lives and relationships. Death is our enemy that Jesus came to destroy and overcome, but that victory will be only fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. So in this life, we do grieve, we suffer the pain of separation, but we do so with that pain limited by hope!

3. Our hope is rooted in our belief that Jesus died and rose again (vs14)

Jesus rose again victorious from the dead, and so we know that we too will rise with Him (Romans 6:4). As Rick Warren said; “Death is therefore not your termination, but your transition into eternity.” Famously DL Moody supposedly said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And as PJ Smyth says; “Do you best death – all you do is promote us!” This is why we do not grieve as those with no hope do.

4. The Great Reunion! (vs14-17a)

We know that at his glorious second coming Jesus is going to bring with Him all those believers who had fallen asleep before that moment. They will rise from their state of sleep and will meet with us in the air with Christ! What a day, what a reunion! I am sitting writing this in an airport. I love airports and watching some people both crying and as they hug good-bye, aching for the moment they will be reunited and then also others crying with the joy of home-comings, reunions of loved one. Imagine for a moment all the married couples being reunited, parents and children, best friends. Can you hear the excited chatter? Can you feel the relief and the intensity of the hugs, can you see the Father’s joy?

5. Together Forever (vs17b-18)

Paul goes on to complete this thought with the words; “and so we will always be with the Lord”. This reunion of believers never ends; the joy will never subside or be replaced by a new sadness. This is the era of unhindered & unending proximity to Jesus and one another. The best you’ve ever experienced of the joy of relationships in this life is the worst you could imagine in the new heaven and the new earth because even best things are tainted by sin in some way or end through our mortality. The best is yet to come! So, encourage one another with these words (vs18), speak about our glorious future and allow that certain future to shape today.  

Lastly, maybe contemplating these things will also cause you to have the courage to reach out to someone who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus Christ so that they could be with you in eternity – share your life with them, share the good news of Christ with them, bring them to church.

“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day” (Matthew Henry)