Worship

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 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.

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.

Walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

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shutterstock_774641692_1078_375_s_c1“For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

Spend time contemplating this phrase; ‘walk in a manner worthy of God’. The Christian life is a journey; it’s a road we walk. And according to this passage, how we walk really matters.

So spend some time now and ask God whether there is anything in the way you’re walking, in how you’re living that is not honouring to God. David used to do this by praying these words; 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalms 139:23-24 in NLT)

Why not spend some time reflecting and praying that prayer and if God shows you anything in your walk that is not worthy of God, then just repent of it, turn away from it, stop it and ask God to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and then walk free, and keep walking to honour God with your whole life.

Authentic Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)

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Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:

  1. The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
  2. The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
  3. These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
  4. So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).

True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).

The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…

What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.

When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.  

Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?

This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.  

May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!

God the Centre (Numbers 9-10)

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In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.

Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;

And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)

Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.

The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.

Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.

Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.

We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…

Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.

For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…

But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.

The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.

God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?

Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.