Jesus, Friend of the Lonely

The Modern Pilgrim’s Journey- Pilgrim Finds Himself Alone

Going deeper with God can be costly and lonely. In my younger ministry years, I didn’t want to pay a price or be alone. Every time God revealed a new understanding of his Word and purposes, I eagerly shared it with everyone under my leadership. I expected them to be as excited about it as me and change accordingly.

I became frustrated with people who golf clapped me. When my tribe didn’t chime in with a passion to follow my new path, I considered them spiritual midgets. Yes, well, that’s who I used to be. I share this so you know how God can change a knucklehead. Maybe gain patience for the knuckleheads in your life? My grace quotient and ability to understand God’s unique methods of teaching his children back then, were grossly underdeveloped at that time. Further, I didn’t comprehend how lonely taking my cross and following Jesus could be.

And that loneliness of the pilgrimage is what I’m speaking into today. Jesus discussed sacrifices and Matthew, Mark and Luke all recounted it.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34 ESV.

How many disciples helped Jesus carry his cross? How many of the guys who lived and breathed with him for three years showed up when he struggled to carry that heavy beam after a night of torture and abuse? Jesus spoke volumes his followers couldn’t understand, when he talked about cross carrying.

There is an implied loneliness that is easy for us to see, this side of Calvary. We know that following Jesus means we will go it alone with him at times, just as he did on the Via Dolorosa. And sometimes, it means leaving others behind while we choose to continue to follow. That’s why Jesus said,

There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother of father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold in this time…….and in the age to come..” Mark 10:28-31

Choosing to pilgrimage with God this year may cost you. Are you willing to follow him, no matter what? As I studied for this post, the old chorus, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” came to mind. When I read its composer’s story, my sacrifices seemed miniscule.

About 150 years ago, a great revival swept through Wales, England and then launched gospel missionaries into the North-East part of India. At that time, the area was populated by tribes of ferocious head-hunters. These tribes equated manliness with the number of human heads hanging on your wall. The brave Welsh missionaries encountered great hostility to the gospel. Finally, one missionary led one man, his wife and their two sons to Jesus Christ.

Their faith became like a virus that others caught. Enraged, the village chief hauled the new believers before the entire town. He insisted that the first family who came to Christ renounce their faith or face immediate execution. The accused man and his family stood before the chief and his warriors. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the man composed a song on the spot, using the tune of an Indian folk song. He sang, “I have decided to follow Jesus (3x), no turning back, no turning back.”

The chief ordered the archers to murder the man’s two young sons. As the boys laid on the ground, bleeding out, the chief shouted, “Will you now renounce this faith, or will I kill your wife, too?”  The man sang a second verse, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow (3x), no turning back, no turning back.” Furious, the chief ordered his archers again. The man’s wife laid dying beside her sons.

“I’ll give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live,” screamed the chief. The man sang his final verse. “The cross before me, the world behind me (3x), no turning back, no turning back.” Arrows found their mark again and the man joined his family in the presence of Christ. At that moment, God performed a miracle in the chief. He thought, “Why would this man and his family die for a man who lived 2,000 years ago on another continent? There must be a supernatural power behind this. I want it.” To the amazement of everyone, the chief abruptly shouted, “I too belong to Jesus Christ.” The entire village accepted Christ that day and gospel fire spread in Northern India.

Your tribe may not understand or follow you on your journey to go deeper and higher with God in 2020. They may even mock, threaten and try to make you feel bad about new choices like:

  • Attending church faithfully instead of watching online service in your jammies
  • Prioritizing morning Bible study and prayer times before other commitments.
  • Talking authentically with unsaved folks, about Jesus. (Sometimes this makes some Christians more uncomfortable than the lost)
  • Not watching certain TV shows and movies together anymore
  • Not overindulging in food and drink anymore
  • Refusing to gossip- my daughter lost an entire circle of friends at one point, because she refused to trash talk anymore.
  • Serving consistently in volunteer ministry
  • Giving tithes and offerings

Will you choose to follow Jesus, with no turning back? Will you obey him when he speaks to you? Where is he calling you up higher today? What or whom might he be asking you to leave behind? Whatever losses you incur, they cannot compare to the intimacy of fellowship with Christ when you take up your cross and follow him.

Encouraging Verses for Loneliness:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31:6.

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me,” Psalm 27:10.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely and afflicted,” Psalm 25:16.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isaiah 41:10.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, New Journey, New Hope-The Pilgrim Sets Out

There is instinctive programming in me that hopes for better things and brighter days in a new year.  Whatever messes and challenges dogged me in the past year, I like to believe those things will improve.  I dream of lush meadows instead of shadowed valleys, lofty mountain tops instead of sheer cliffs. The wonderful news for every believer in Jesus Christ is that he already exists in our year to come, whatever it may hold for us.

He knows every step of our 2020 journey and already made plans for us to be successful travelers. Hope, grace, mercy, strength, healing, provision and every other heavenly blessing is already placed along our roads, strategically. Every step of our pilgrimage on earth is monitored by our Father. Inspired by one of my favorite childhood books, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” I invite you to become a modern pilgrim with me this year.

There are timeless struggles and dangers that the classic Pilgrim faced in Bunyon’s book. I also believe we are living in a unique time in church history that will require believers to step up in ways previous generations could not imagine.  Each week, on this blog, let’s explore together the challenges, trials, dangers and victories of the journey every pilgrim believer might face this year. There are things God will be doing in 2020 that will be unique and fresh, just for this time in history. Will I be prepared and ready? Will you?

Although the specifics of our individual paths will vary, God is amazingly able to customize his Word and promises for the needs of each of our hearts. He is the answer to every question and the hope of every longing. This year, like every year, he invites us to join him at the front of the battle lines between light and dark. He is an ever-moving God and those who refuse to move with him are unintentionally helping the cause of darkness through their disobedience or apathy.  Dear God, I don’t want to be counted in that number and if you’re reading this, you probably don’t either.

So, let’s begin by deciding to take our God-ordained journeys. Some of us started 2020 already facing sorrow and trials. Others are beginning new jobs, moving to new homes and such. Wherever you are today, on the mountain of joy or in the valley of the shadows, your journey has started. The choice remains, how will you make the journey this year? Are you committed to go where God guides, no matter what? Will you choose to be faithful in prayer and Bible study, gaining direction daily, from our perfect Guide?  Will you come alongside others and help them when they are faltering or lost?

My goal is to be a resource of encouragement, hope, teaching and exhortation for those who want to climb to the high places with the Good Shepherd. For many of us, the journey will become more difficult than we could have dreamed, and we will need each other to make it victoriously to the end. Oh yes, there are the giant situations like death, disease, addiction, financial setbacks and such that will catch us unaware and attempt to sideline us.  More often though, we lose our way due to choosing wrong sideroads, clinging to old roads that used to work, or finding ourselves under pile ups of smaller challenges that come all at once.

God provides everything we need for a victorious 2020. All. The. Time. And my victories won’t look anything like yours, but we can celebrate them together and encourage each other to even higher places of devotion and faithfulness.

Here’s a starting verse and another key verse for the year which turned up in my devotional this morning, “Sparkling Gems 2,” by Rick Renner.

“Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow” Psalm 25:4 (NLT).

David implies there’s choices when it comes to roads and paths. We need God to point out the ones we are supposed to use. Sometimes that means leaving familiar places and plunging into the unknown and uncertain.

 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT).

The Bible is our definitive guidebook. God will use it heavily to communicate directions and specifics. If we are not committed to a daily dive into scripture, we can plan on becoming sidetracked or lost. We will wind up in the wrong places at the wrong times and miss parts of our destiny. I want to share with you Rick Renner’s literal translation of this verse, from the Greek, so you will understand the importance of being faithful in your Bible reading.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is a mandatory, essential and absolute requirement for those things we affirm and believe to be true. It brings reproof, conviction, and censure into our lives. It can take anyone—including those who have been knocked flat on their backs in life—–and it can set them back up on their feet again, regardless of how long they have been down and out. The Word of God will make them once again stand erect and upright. It will put them back on level ground, fully equipping then to successfully live life by a higher standard that leads to upright, godly clean living.”

Wow. Isn’t that powerful? Making your 2020 journey without consistent Bible reading is like trying to get to a new location with no directions, map or navigation technology.

Are you ready? If you haven’t already, take this week and find your new devotionals or Bible study plan so you can make sure you are where you need to be and doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Feel free to dialogue back with me on my Facebook page “Pastors Feisty Wife,” or in the comments section of this blog. Suggestions for good devotional and Bible reading plans would probably be greatly appreciated by other readers.

 

Creating Your Best Life By Honoring Others

Do you want to live longer and better? There’s a secret God hides in plain sight in the Bible, the concept of honoring him and others.

My darling Grandma, Charlotte Skinkle, lingered between heaven and earth for several weeks while cancer slowly shut down her body.  Every evening, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered with my grandfather around her hospital bed to sing her favorite hymns in four-part harmonies. Schedules were altered, sitters found, and other things set aside to honor her in a way meaningful to her.

Grandma didn’t respond much of the time. My family might have stopped their evening gatherings rationalizing, “She can’t hear us anyway.” They didn’t. They kept coming. They kept singing. This is honor.

When I brushed off Malachi, for my series on the book this month, I discovered sermon notes from twenty years ago. They come from my former pastor, Wayne Benson, an extraordinary Word teacher. Reading them again, I know his ideas are even more relevant now as our culture continues to sink to lower and lower levels of dishonor. So, here they are, with my own comments and applications.

Honor is a foundational concept in God’s kingdom. Ancient Israelites knew this yet chose to ignore it. In Malachi 1:6-14 you can read a feisty butt-kicking Malachi delivers to Judah from God. His anger is inflamed because they are careless with holy things. They sacrificed blemished, sickly animals to him, instead of perfect ones. They became flippant about temple worship. He is so fed up, he tells Malachi to send someone to nail the temple doors shut. Ancient Israel forgot how important honor is.

  • Honor elevates everything around it.

When my husband Ken and I observed increasing levels of disrespect shown to police officers and first responders, we wanted to do something pro-active. Through a partnership with our adult and servant evangelism ministries at our church, we began to drop off snacks and thank-you notes at our local public safety stations. The first few times I brought in the snack baskets, the duty officers greeted me suspiciously and insisted I hand baskets through guarded windows.

 

After a few months, smiles and welcomes greeted my monthly drop offs. When we started catering in a quarterly lunch to all the stations, many barriers dropped and Ken and I, along with our volunteers, are now invited back into the secure areas of station houses to engage with officers and fire personnel. Hugs, laughs and conversation flow easily. Honoring these men and women lifted us all into a higher level of relationship and encouragement.

 

Honor changes an environment, whether it’s a house of worship, a classroom or a fire station. What environments are you changing through honor?

 

  • Honor draws attention to greatness.

Israel failed to acknowledge God’s awesomeness. He made them a nation, gifted them with land, protected them, and yet they couldn’t be bothered to worship him correctly. They kept the best produce and livestock for themselves and gave God leftovers. They knew better. I wish Americans knew better.

 

We elevate Hollywood stars with minimal talent and maximum egos to dizzying heights of cultural greatness while our military veterans struggle to find jobs and afford homes. This speaks so poorly of my country’s attitudes about honor. Yes, many of us go out of our way to honor and care for veterans. (See note at end of post for a fresh idea on that) Nevertheless, a country with godly priorities and right concepts of honor would never treat our veterans, or our elderly, the way many are shamefully treated in veteran and nursing homes.

 

People who understand honor will always draw attention to those who live sacrificially, whether they are military, missionaries or the elderly neighbor next door who knits blankets for children entering foster care. Who are you honoring who is worthy of honor? How?

 

  • Honor wars against familiarity.

Where was it Jesus couldn’t do miracles? Oh right, in his hometown, with his family. What lives might have been changed forever if only they had honored Christ in their midst instead of dissing Jesus, James weird older brother.

 

I am cautious in how I treat familiar folk when they are elevated. Maybe I did change that youth pastor’s diaper in nursery or teach that worship leader during their squirrely middle school years. Now, I speak to them and treat them with the respect that position deserves. Too many times I’ve overheard people trash talking their friends and family who achieved status, position or honor. Dishonoring people God chooses to elevate, whether they are believers or not, is not a nice look. Our role in that person’s previous history, does not grant us license to diminish their current position. Even when people are observably not deserving of honor bestowed, I leave that with God. He lifted them up and he will bring them down if they don’t embrace humility. Remember Pharaoh, King Saul and Nebuchadnezzar. I will also point at God’s harvest principle,;sow dishonor and you will reap it.

 

  • God promises long life to those who honor their parents.

In Exodus 20:27 God issues a command with a promise; honor your parents and live long. What that looks like is for you and the Holy Spirit to decide. Your family may be highly dysfunctional.  Don’t trash talk them. Ask God for ways to honor parents who may be very challenging to respect.

 

Ken and I enjoyed loving relationships with our parents and worked hard to honor them and do things that mattered to them. We still do with the one parent we’ve got left, my Dad. I love hosting Thanksgiving, but it’s become increasingly harder for him to travel so we will celebrate at he and my stepmother’s home instead.

Ken and I also did our best to meet many needs of his parents in their last years on earth. Sometimes that involved cleaning up horrific messes and giving up vacation time to care for them. We are left with no regrets and no thoughts of “I wish we had….”  Many I know are doing far more than that to care for aging parents.

 

However weird you might think your parents are, remember, God chose them for you. The command didn’t come with clauses or conditions but it does come with a promise.

Honoring God starts with foundation stones like faithful, frequent church attendance, volunteer ministry, tithing and consistency in quality Bible study and prayer. After that, we build our houses of honor brick by brick with each act of love and respect we show to others. Inside those walls, life is better.

Veteran’s Note:  If you are a Twitter of Facebook user, I recommend following and supporting Gretchen Smith founder of Code of Vets. Her Twitter handle is @Codeofvets.   Every single day this godly woman  processes needs requests from veterans then uses social media to mobilize folks to meet those needs whether it’s prayer for a despondent, suicidal vet or one with a hole in the roof.  Check her out if you’d like to be more pro-active in honoring those who sacrificed the best years of their lives for our safety and security.

 

 

 

 

 

Qualities of Good Shepherds

What kind of leaders should I follow?

What kind of leader do I aspire to be?

These two questions plunked themselves in front of me when I read the second and third chapters of the book of Micah. The prophet’s word pictures about self-serving leaders initially left me without any personal conviction. That’s why it’s important to study the Bible, not just read it.

“…. you skin my people alive and tear the flesh from their bones” (Micah 3:2b NLT).

“You false prophets are leading my people astray! You promise peace for those who give you food, but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you” (Micah 3:5 NLT).

Once I started to dig a little, that familiar sense of “Uh, oh. I think God’s speaking to me too,” started rising. For me, digging means reading the passages in a couple of different translations and checking out a couple of my favorite commentaries. (I’ll share a list under the “Lamp and Sword” section.) That’s when the Holy Spirit started exposing some of my past mistakes.

I observed Micah’s contrast between the qualities of God as a shepherd in chapter two, with the features of leaders whose motives are self-motivated, in chapter three. Upon quiet reflection, the Spirit reminded me of past behaviors where achieving my goals became more important than feeding, nurturing and protecting those under me. The memories didn’t limit themselves to my various professional roles as a teacher and pastor but also included my life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and so on.  Here’s two examples:

  • I insisted my young daughter leave the house each day with neat hair and well-coordinated outfits so she would reflect well on me. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until she hit junior high. I realized I’d never taken the time to teach her those skills for herself. I should have been “feeding” her that information all along and allowing her to experiment a bit. I think that’s what a good shepherd mom does. I learned that from watching how she shepherds her daughters now.  She’s willing to let them create some interesting outfits, with her guidance, rather than squeeze them into her personal style box for the sake of “what will people think?”
  • At one school in which I taught, I felt pressure from my administrator to achieve unreasonable goals with my choral groups. Instead of sitting down with him to negotiate and modify the objectives, my pride led me to become a bit of tyrant. I felt that if I said that the goals seemed beyond the current crop of students, it reflected more on my teaching abilities than anything else, so I took that challenge for a few months. Choirs stopped being fun for the students and me. Finally, in discouragement, I sat down with my principal. To my amazement, he said, “Oh, those were just some ideas I had. When you didn’t offer any others, I figured you were good with them.” A good shepherd director would have sorted this out sooner than later.

I could tell many more tales of times I put my needs, wants and fears ahead of those of the people under me. Any time any shepherd puts their own concerns above the flock’s, that flock is in danger. The shepherd’s attention is focused inward and not on that little lamb who wandered off into thorn bushes, or the sheep who’s eating the poisonous plant.  Apparently, the shepherds Micah is speaking to, developed self-preservation to an art form. God inspired the prophet with graphic, bloody language to help wayward leaders see the damage they were inflicting emotionally and spiritually on the people of Israel and Judah.

The Bible has much to say about good shepherding.  Reading some of those passages, a list of character traits emerged to me. These are qualities I look for in leaders and want to be deliberate about growing in myself. My goal is that anyone following me on any level might feel nurtured, encouraged, fed, trained and equipped to do the same for other sheep.  I know it’s a lofty goal, but I think God wants us to dream large about these things.  Here’s some of the qualities of good shepherds that I found.

  • They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the needs of the flock.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” John 10:11. There is a balance in the life of Christ that I want to model. The gospels frequently speak about him spending time alone with God to care for his own emotional and spiritual needs yet he ultimately sacrificed his own body so his flock could live.
  • They lead people to times and places of refreshment. “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” Psalm 23:2 NLT. Caring leaders take time to create environments for their flocks which encourage laughter, refreshment, celebration and rest. They don’t continuously drive the flock towards a goal, only feeding and resting enough for simple survival. They take time to meet needs along the way.
  • They care about people as people, whether they can help the leader towards their goals or not. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” Matthew 9:36 NIV. I want my compassion and care to extend consistently towards those who are in desperate need of help and possess no ability to further my personal goals, except to make me more like Jesus.
  • They are aware of what’s going on in the lives of those who serve alongside them and under them. Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23 NIV. I’ve served under Christian leaders who are oblivious or worse yet, uninterested in my personal struggles. By their behavior they’ve indicated to me that my value is in what I produce, not in who I am. Sadly, several non-believing employers I’ve worked under expressed more concern about my life than a couple of my brothers and sisters in Christ in authority over me.  God help me if I’ve ever made someone feel that way and strengthen me Lord, to never do it again.

My list is not the definitive one concerning good shepherds, but it’s the one God brought to my attention. Maybe Micah can speak to you too.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

 

 

Here’s a list of my favorite go-to commentaries.  They are all available online.

  1. Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (Concise) This version uses more precise, updated language than the original.   https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc
  2. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Faussett and Brown. These guys focus on the original languages and what words meant at the time they were written. This adds a lot of understanding to texts particularly where we might be interpreting meaning based on our own cultural biases. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/
  3. Bible Hub is an online collection of over fifty different commentaries.  I’ve used Guzik’s Bible Commentary, Barnes Notes, Scofield Reference Notes and Gills Bible Exposition. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/

 

 

 

Obeying God When You Want to Run Away

Ever feel like you want to run away from life? I loathe the physical act of moving my legs fast, but I’m a fantastic metaphorical sprinter.  When life becomes painful and messy, I’ve attempted to check out and go elsewhere. Maybe you can relate?

 

  • During my second, full day of childbirth labor, my crazy dial went red zone. I gripped my husband’s hand, and stated calmly, “I can’t do this anymore. Take me home.” Ken refused that request kindly but firmly.

 

  • My first week teaching in an inner-city high school, a few students unused to boundaries, cussed me out, threw music in my face, threatened me with gang violence, overturned chairs and my piano then instructed me that they’d chase me off like the previous three vocal teachers. Eager to accommodate them, I composed a resignation letter during my second week.

 

  • When we adopted Bella, a beagle/lab mix, the rescue organization embellished her resume by including the word, “housebroken.” In truth, Bella did her puppy business only on our carpets, or during endless walks around our neighborhood. She refused to consider our backyard as an option. This occurred during a bitter Michigan winter when I developed intense bronchitis.  After months of cleaning up accidents and stumbling around on ice-covered sidewalks, sick, she showed no improvement. I wanted to return her.

 

Everyone wants to run away from life, at some point. Jonah fled from his assignment from God to preach in Nineveh.  After some research, I understood why. First, the city was huge, sixty miles wide and populated by close to a million people. Where modern Bibles say in chapter four, “a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” God isn’t talking about stupid humans. The word “people” in original Hebrew, is the word for children. Scholars estimate the greater population number based on the number of children so young, they didn’t know right from left yet. So, one prophet, called to preach repentance to a million people.

Secondly, Jonah expected great resistance. Nimrod, the architect of the tower of Babel, built in rebellion to God, also founded Nineveh. The worship of Ishtar or Astarte, the goddess of fertility, death and destruction, dominated the cultural and religious life of the city.  Immorality and violence existed to such an extreme in this place, God said to Jonah, in the first verse of the book, “Go to Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  Apparently, many angels lodged complaints about Nineveh.

Imagine walking through the most dangerous neighborhoods of any large city shouting, “Repent of your sins or God is going to destroy this city!”  I don’t know many people eager to take on the kind of assignment God brought to Jonah. Nevertheless, God expected obedience from Jonah and he still expects it from us.  Instead, Jonah ran in the opposite direction and set a chain of tumultuous events in motion that still ended with him preaching in Nineveh.

How can we stay put in our assignments and circumstances into which God directs or allows us, when our minds and emotions scream for us to run? How do we show up for our life authentically, with all its pains and trials? How do we stay fully engaged instead of phoning it in?

  • First, discern whether your situation is a result of your own poor choices, someone else’s sin or if you are right smack where God’s planted you. Sometimes he places us deliberately in difficult situations for many reasons like, our growth, to encourage and lead others and to change environments around us. Knowing how you landed where you are, is important to move forward.

 

  • If you are in a tough place due to your wrong decisions and actions, God is still there. “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there” (Psalm 139:8 NLT). Jonah landed in a fish’s stomach, due to disobedience, but God never turned away from him.  Like Jonah, cry out to God and repent. After that, God is eager to forgive and re-appoint you into the plans he’s designed for you, just like King David and the apostle Peter.  Your ability to squirrel up your life is never greater than God’s power to forgive and restore. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” I Peter 5:10

 

  • You may be jammed up due to another’s sin or other circumstances beyond your control. An unfaithful spouse, addicted child, ruthless employer, devastating weather events or economic downturns, can turn your life upside down.  Consider Sarah’s predicament, in Genesis 20, when Abraham’s cowardice and lying turned her into a king’s concubine. God protected her from rape and blessed her life immeasurably while calling out Abraham’s sin through a pagan king. Imagine the pain and betrayal she felt from her husband, yet God turned the situation around for her good.  He is marvelous at doing that for his children.  There are always new beginnings waiting, with God.

 

  • Lastly, when you find yourself in God-ordained circumstances that confound, depress and hurt, remember, God did not place you there to destroy you, but to refine you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). God’s plans to develop our character and deepen our faith usually involve some pain. Invite a couple trusted friends to partner with you in prayer so you can go through the mountain instead of being crushed by it. Find scripture pertinent to your challenge, memorize and speak it out loud. The Word of God changes hearts and environments. “You have tested us O God; you have purified us like silver” (Psalm 66:10 NLT). “I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.  Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering” (Isaiah 48:10 NLT).

 

 If you run from God’s assignments, he will plunk you in a different furnace to accomplish his purposes in you.  Jumping from church to church, job to job, relationship to relationship, does not create character depth. I stayed in that inner-city school until God led me out, and Bella still lives with us five years later. Strength is gained through God-directed perseverance.

 

Jumping around only makes us good jumpers. What if Joseph escaped from prison and ran back home?  How does that work out then for him to rule over Egypt and save his family from starvation?  What if the apostle Paul escaped one of his prisons? We’d be missing key New Testament books.

 

Remember Jonah the next time you’re tempted to let Satan chase you off. Instead, trust God to do amazing things in the most unlikely circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Keep a Grace Posture in a Wicked World

Gloating is a sly character who nudges us from righteous victory, into celebrating the destruction of someone under the power of sin.  Well-written stories lead us to root for the hero and applaud the demise of the villain, especially if the punishment fits the crime. Who doesn’t want Robin Hood to bring down the Sheriff of Nottingham or Luke Skywalker to cut Darth Vader in half with that light sabre?  There is a God-given quality in all of us that seeks for balance in the world, for Davids to defeat Goliaths.

I remember an elementary bully who tormented my brother relentlessly.  Bruce found creative ways to ruin our neighborhood playground by pushing kids off swings, smearing dog poop on the slide and other nasty stuff. One of his favorite tricks involved sneaking up on kids hanging upside on the monkey bars and pushing their legs off.  I’m positive angelic host guarded that playground because there should have been some serious head injuries.

One day, Bruce and a couple of his buddies hung upside down on a parallel bar right over a generous mud puddle, the kind created by busy children in grassy playgrounds and a good thunderstorm.  While my friends and I watched from the swing sets, a group of kids Bruce’s age, sick of him bothering their younger siblings, dumped he and his friends on their heads, in the puddle.

Possibly, that part of the plan could be deemed kid justice but then, the perpetrators started wailing on Bruce. They kept beating him until he stopped fighting.  Most of the playground cheered and sneered while Bruce and his friends slunk home.  I know that kind of scene comes across great in movies, but even to my child eyes, it reeked of revenge. Bruce came from a family of alcoholics, who beat their children frequently, and everyone on the street knew it.  Yes, Bruce needed some standing up to and consequences, but he also needed someone to recognize that he was trapped in sin, just like his parents.

The people of Edom hated their brother Israelites due to the theft of Esau’s birthright by Jacob.  They  felt that Israel didn’t deserve to live in the fertile promised land, while they carved out their existence in the rough mountains.  Then, when Israel turned to worshipping other Gods, in the promised land, that truly frosted the Edomite’s cookies.  You need to be filled with a good deal of unexpressed anger, hatred and resentment to act the way they did.

First, they blocked the Israelites escape routes from the God-sent judgement of the Assyrian army.  Then, they took their revenge a step further and slaughtered all the fleeing Israelites they came found.  Finally, the Edomites threw themselves a gloating party, celebrating the demise of Israel, and God heard them.

“You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” Obad. 12

We can transition from righteous rejoicing to gloating over an enemy’s fall, when we forget two things.  First, every perpetrator of evil is themselves a victim of Satan. He’s lied and deceived them to such a point that sin is normalized.  Second, we lose sight of God’s desire that no one should perish. This does not mean that we oppose justice and punishment.  God’s laws and precepts are perfect and designed to benefit humans, not harm them. His design for justice decrees that lawbreakers must face consequences, sometimes severe ones but never with gloating or boasting.

Justice is rolling out in unprecedented ways across the world right now. Human and drug trafficking kingpins, like El Chapo, and their organizations, are being exposed. Millions of people are awakening to the true nature of the abortion industry. Those are just two of many examples.

What about the injustices we experience personally?  Violent crime, sexual abuse,  unjust firings or demotions, theft, fraud, even just plain old bullying can tempt us to sin in so many ways.  When we are in pain, it becomes easy to want revenge and to rejoice in an unhealthy way when our perpetrator is brought to justice or is brought low by their own life choices.  This is a tough, tough place to be and only God can keep our hearts and minds in such a place. He still commands us, in Phillipipians 4:8, to focus our minds on what is true, noble, of good report, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

How should mature believers respond righteously when we see wickedness exposed and justice administered?  How can we avoid falling into sin ourselves if we or someone we love is the victim of violence or wickedness?

  •  Forgive those who sin against you and yours whether they seek forgiveness or not. This is non-negotiable for your own spiritual health  Mark 11:25
  • Trust God to execute justice rightly, even when it doesn’t seem to be happening. Isaiah 35:4
  • Pray that the wicked are exposed completely, and that they are unable to hide their deeds any longer. Mark 4:22
  • Pray for yourself and other victims they they are redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. Don’t make a place for thoughts about revenge or retaliation, as these things are pure poison to the soul. Isaiah 61:7,  I Peter 5:10, Psalm 71:20-21
  • Pray for evil doers to come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Like Bruce, many wicked people are raised in sin and know no other way of life.  2 Peter 3:8-10 Although this will not excuse them from judgement by God, recognize that their path to The Light has been thwarted by darkness at every turn.
  • Ask God to keep your heart and mouth pure that you do not gloat about lives crushed by their own sinful choices.  It’s just too easy to slip into a “Good! They got what’s comin’ to them,” posture when we see lawbreakers brought to account.  Psalm 51:10

God seeks righteous, pure hearted people in these last days, people who will pray and stand faithfully for truth. Don’t be placed to the back of the ranks because God catches you dancing on graves.

 

Amos- Of Fat Cows and Repentance

Great wealth can mess you over if you’re not wise and careful.  Here in the States we are watching the drama of an enormous college entrance scam unfold.  Wealthy movie stars, CEOs, coaches, university staff and other power brokers found themselves in full-on perp walks recently, with phones and  media cameras catching every humiliating second.  Parents conspired with university personnel and other individuals to bribe, cheat and lie with the goal of obtaining slots for their children in prestigious universities; spots the students couldn’t acquire on their own merits.

The consequences of these choices, to use wealth and influence illegally for personal ambition, is sobering.  I suspect some of these families might be entirely ruined by this scandal. Only true repentance before God and the people they wronged, can redeem their situations. How will this be made right to students turned away from those universities, the ones who earned those spots but didn’t get them? Lawsuits are already filed by turned away students.  I hope many of the accused repent and turn to Christ in the coming days and that God will send believers to minister to truth and grace to them.

For Israel’s Northern kingdom, a similar pattern of self-serving, immoral behavior ended in far more dire circumstances than prison time.  True to Amos’ prophecies, Israel is eventually conquered by Assyria and thousands of Jews are taken into captivity.  Prisoners of the Assyrian empire fared worse than a perp walk and incarceration.  Ankles and wrists bound in shackles, marched away from their home and spent the rest of their lives as Assyrian slaves, if they even survived the long trip.

When God singles out a specific group inside the greater population of North Israel and instructs his prophet to address them as “Fat Cows,” what follows cannot be good.  In Amos 4, God’s anger lasers in on the women of the Northern Tribes of Israel. “The cows of Baashan” is a reference to actual cattle in the Middle East who grazed on the lush pastures of what we now know as the Gaza strip. These cows fetched prime prices at the markets due to their sheer size and the rich quality of their meat.

Amos vividly describes the women of Israel as self-indulgent and callous. He says they “oppress the poor and crush the needy,” to fulfill their own desires. They are well-fed, bejeweled, pampered women who apparently bark orders at their husbands to keep them supplied with quality wine.  All their wealth and privilege is used to maintain their wealth and privilege.

As we keep reading on in the chapter, we are reminded that these are not heathen folks behaving this way.  These are the chosen people of God who still preserve the ridiculous optics of making sacrifices in the temple.  I wonder how many people are mimicking this behavior in the church today?  If most of the professing, church-attending Christians presented God a tithe this Sunday instead of a tip, we’d see deacons everywhere scrambling and scheduling special meetings to determine what to do with all the surplus!

When we live amidst prosperity and ease, our old natures can lull us into complacency and forgetfulness about The Source of everything we possess.  Further, the longer we are believers, the farther removed we become from the people we used to be, as citizens of Hell.  In short, we exhibit serious memory lapses of who we are and who God is.  That’s a dangerous place to be, a place in which God won’t allow his children to live on a long-term basis.

God’s holiness and great love for us will bring forth his judgement when we are blind to our own sin or, worse yet, see it but refuse to repent.  He simply adores us too much to continue to allow us to behave like Satan’s children.  That’s how Israel became conquered, enslaved people. We shouldn’t kid ourselves to think that living on this side of the cross, exempts us from God’s discipline. The hyper-grace nonsense I’ve seen over the last few decades did a great disservice towards helping Christians “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) I call this stuff “ear-tickling” (2 Tim. 4:3) theology; all the goodness of God with a light touch on his holiness.

Israel’s stopped-up ears couldn’t hear God’s voice directly anymore and they rejected his human prophets who got up right in their grills. As a righteous, holy judge, God could not ignore their sinful ways.  Hard-hearted Christians will eventually provoke a strong response from God. I’m guessing the Israelites finally cried out to Jehovah with some sincerity as they stumbled away from Jerusalem in chains, watching their homes burn behind them.  Isn’t that exactly what we do when we find ourselves at the end of a bad road we’ve chosen?  “Where are you God, I’ve made a mess of things!”  The wonder is, his love for us is so complete, he will help us even when our awful circumstances are of our own making.

God will discipline us when we are dabbling or swimming in sin.  Sometimes it’s a very public thing, you know, like that parent in the grocery store who quietly lets the fit-pitching kid know they better knock it off, then hauls them out of the store when they don’t?  Our good Father is no different than this.  Don’t wait until he’s metaphorically hauling you off somewhere to repent.

The Hebrew word for repent does not mean to feel sorrowful or remorseful. Those feelings are merely the pre-cursors.  Genuine repentance means to turn completely away from a sin and resolve to allow God to rework us from top to bottom.  Resolve to listen to the Holy Spirit’s private warnings and promptings and for heaven’s sake, and yours, do not blow off conversations, teachings and preaching that prompt conviction and godly sorrow about how you are handling your resources and conducting your life.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

  • Companion verses to Amos 4- concerning oppression of the poor, selfishness and God’s opinion on that:
  • Psalm 10
  • Proverbs 17:5
  • Isaiah 3:14-26 (These people sound like Amos’ folk)
  • Ezekiel 12:12-13

 

  • Beautiful piece written by Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, on the true nature of repentance.

https://www.charismamag.com/life/women/9949-the-nature-of-true-repentance?start=1

 

  • A short devotional by Oswald Chambers, author of “My Utmost for His Highest,” on repentance.

https://utmost.org/repentance/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joel- The Day of The Lord

 

 

In America, the phrase “9/11,” does not refer to an ordinary, September date, but a cataclysmic event.  On that day, running errands for my husband, I dashed into an auto parts store to find staff and customers clustered by a television, silently watching an unimaginable scene.  We stared in silent horror at footage of airplanes flying into the Twin Tower buildings of New York City. The people who perished inside received no warning that September 11, 2001 would be the last day of their lives. American history permanently changed that day along with people’s attitudes about the future safety and stability of our country.

The prophet, Joel, describes another civilization-altering day which he and other Biblical authors call, “The Day of the Lord.”  This term refers to a day of God’s judgement, terrifying and calamitous.

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Joel 2:31

Until I did a serious study of Joel, I presumed that “The Day of the Lord,” occurred one time and referred to the end of days when sinners are judged. That is an incorrect understanding of the phrase. Joel describes a literal locust plague, which is one day that decimated the promised land during his day. He also previews another day which involves the coming Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem.

Worse yet, I discovered that the warnings in this chapter are aimed squarely at the people of God, not unbelievers. People who said they knew God stood in danger of losing everything. I think that’s why Joel spent so many words describing this destruction and why God wants us to pay attention to the prophet’s dire predictions today.

The phrase “Day of the Lord,” is used many times in scripture and refers to several different events. According to Baker’s Bible Dictionary of Theology, this term is used to refer to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 587 B.C. by Jeremiah, (Lam. 2:21) while Isaiah uses the same term to refer to the fall of Babylon herself. (Isaiah 13:13) Other references point to a future event that will be a decisive moment of judgement and salvation none will escape.  For today’s believer, the former days with this ominous title, serve as a warning that another is most surely coming, and we must be prepared.

I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. Five stayed in a state of preparation, keeping their lamps filled with oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) and enjoyed welcome into the feast of the bridegroom. Five fell asleep, and the bridegroom’s arrival surprised them.  After rushing around to find oil for their lamps, they pounded on the door of the banquet hall asking to be let in.  The answer?  “I don’t know you,” and the doors remained closed.

There are many millions of people on the earth today who are devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They recognize his soon and coming return and live accordingly, in right standing with God.  Many other folks identify as “Christian,” but their spiritual life is not an intimate one with the Father, merely an outward show of rituals and good works.  Chances are, if you are reading this post, you fall in the first category, but I’d be willing to bet you know people who fall in the second.

My experience sharing Christ with those who think they are Christians, but do not know Christ personally, is tricky. Clearly, the people of Joel’s day blew his prophecies off and continued life contrary to God’s laws.  Your conversations and interactions with these sorts of folks must be handled with the grace and tact of the Holy Spirit.

I cringe when I hear well-meaning believers get into stupid “my church beats yours,” conversations. In America, there are thousands of churches filled with sheep who desire true spirituality in their lives and are tricked into settling for a counterfeit by wicked pastors. Our job is not to rant to them about the darkness but to live and walk in The Light. Jesus said the lost will recognize we belong to him, by the quality of our love. (John 13:35) Helping pseudo-Christians become true seekers and followers of Christ is a love process.

People want to know you care about them as people, not projects.  The Day of the Lord is coming soon, where God will quickly separate the wheat from the tares. The Bible warns repeatedly that the day will come suddenly, and that judgement will be decisive.  Our challenge as believers is asking God to grant us opportunity and wisdom to let people within our sphere discover that they might be on the wrong side of that equation.

We must choose to invest our lives not just with people who are bold and outspoken about their lost-ness but with those who don’t realize they are. At the same time, our lives should reflect the five virgins ready to meet the bridegroom. Believers walking rightly with God need not fear the coming Day of the Lord.  We do need to be certain, though, that we take the great commission personally.  God places us in specific neighborhoods, jobs, schools, and such because he knows we will encounter the lost there. He expects us to remember that for them, the Day of the Lord will be worse than 9/11, the attack on Pearl Harbor and D-Day combined.

Remembering those tragic days can help us imagine what awaits those who are not right with God.  The same feelings of horror and compassion we feel for the victims of past tragedies should be even stronger towards those who are approaching the end of days, unprepared to meet their Creator. Let those righteous emotions challenge our apathy and give us that push of courage we might need to speak to someone about their eternal soul.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Articles and Resources

  • A former atheist explains how the lives of believers led him to Christ.

https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/57122-ex-atheist-shares-3-ways-to-win-unbelievers-to-christ

 

  • Interesting information about “The Day of the Lord” from Baker’s Theological Dictionary

https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/the-day-of-the-lord-god-christ.html

 

Verses for Self-Examination

The Bible is the believer’s gold standard for assessing where we stand in our spiritual growth.  Use these verses to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to about areas where God might like to do some work in you.

  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22
  • The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:8
  • Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:24
  • Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:25
  • Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

The Ruins of Spiritual Adultery

Did you ever attend a wedding that turned out memorable for all the wrong reasons? Like any pastor, there are a few that live in infamy in our minds, like the one where the ushers showed up so intoxicated, they slammed people into the side walls of the sanctuary while attempting to seat them in the pews.  (And that was AFTER the pastor, my husband, Ken, privately poured coffee into them before the ceremony.)  He’s accumulated a few funny/sad anecdotes like that one over the years but there are others that are simply heartbreaking.

One involved a wedding party in which both the bride and groom’s parents experienced contentious divorces due to adultery.  The four parents, all with new significant others, nearly came to blows during the wedding rehearsal arguing over what order who should come down the aisle and where they should be seated.  In some minds, adulterous behavior cancelled out normal wedding protocol and procedures.

That’s my nice way of summarizing the ugly words that darkened the atmosphere in our sanctuary that night.  Instead of the usual joy and sweet nervousness we usually see at a wedding rehearsal, bitterness threatened to destroy not just the rehearsal but the wedding itself. Ken is fearless about wading into muck. He verbally took command of the scene and brought everyone into line with a solid “come to Jesus talk,” received surprisingly well.  Nevertheless, I’m sure that the horrific opening of that rehearsal is not forgotten by those who experienced it, certainly not by Ken and me. The ugliness cast a pall over the rest of the evening and made jittery wrecks of the bride and groom as they wondered if it would all erupt again somewhere during the wedding and reception. In many ways, it ruined the day for the young couple.

In the book of Hosea, God lists things that will come to ruin due to the spiritual adultery of Israel, his chosen people. The destruction described is far beyond a wedding gone sideways.  In the last post, I discussed the reversals that can occur in your life due to unfaithfulness, but there is much worse to come for those who don’t heed the warnings of god-appointed setbacks.  Here’s a few samples from the book.  Notice the dramatic, dire language, God inspires Hosea to use.

  • 5:14 “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim (one of the tribes of Israel), like a great lion to Judah (another tribe). I will tear them to pieces and go away with no one to rescue them.”

 

  • 7:12- “When they go (to seek help from others, instead of God) I will throw my net over them. I will pull them down like the birds of the air”

 

 

  • 9:2- “Threshing floors and winepresses will not feed the people; the new wine will fail them. They will not remain in the Lord’s land.

 

  • 10:6-8 “Ephraim will be disgraced; Israel will be ashamed of its wooden idols. Samaria and its king will float away like a twig on the surface of the waters. The high places of wickedness will be destroyed, it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars.  Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’  and to the hills, ‘Fall on us.’”

Think of every movie scene you’ve watched or any book you’ve ever read about ferocious, ancient empires attacking neighboring nations and know that is what happened to Israel at the hands of the Assyrians.  The ruination of the beautiful promised land and the Israelites carted off into captivity is described here by Hosea as a preview of coming events which did come to pass. The horrors of being conquered and carried away as slaves, will be so horrific, that many will long to die, as described in chapter 10.

God will allow ruin to come to his children when they remain persistent in idolatry and unfaithfulness. His first priority is our inner growth more than our outer circumstances. Justice and love are always balanced with our heavenly father. When he permits calamity as a result of sin, it comes from his unconditional love.  He will never sit idly by while we accelerate our slide down the slopes of sin.

We are currently in a season where God is exposing sin in his bride, dragging it into the light.  Those who continue to try and live the dual life, created by secret sin and idolatry, will not do well without repentance. Ministries and positions will be forfeited, while thousands of followers will be left, bewildered and broken. We are already aware of prominent figures in the body being exposed for long-standing sinful behavior, covered up for years.  Sadly, my sense is that there are more to come. God will purify his bride.

Part of the reason we are not seeing our churches flooded with new converts, as we should (there’s certainly no lack of lost folk) is because many worldly people don’t see the “otherness,” in us that should be obvious in every true believer’s life.  Too many Christians are so friendly with the ways of the world that they are not recognizable as people of the way, the truth and the light.  In our quest to be relevant, relatable and such, we can lose our status of being in the world but not of the world. Spiritual adultery is at the root of much of this.

God’s grace and forgiveness are always available for the repentant heart, just as they were for ancient Israel.  “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” (Hos. 14:4) When we acknowledge sin and turn from it, God’s hand of discipline gives way to his arms of love.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

  • Samson is a classic Old Testament account of glory gone to ruin. You can read his story in Judges 13-16.  We wonder what might have been if not for Samson’s alliances with the sinful world of his day.

 

  • There are other dire descriptions of the ruin that is coming to Israel in Hosea. Can you find them?  Are they difficult for you to read and imagine?  I hope so.

 

 

  • I recommend a book about a modern-day Samson’s rise and fall. It’s entitled “I Was Wrong,” by Pastor Jim Bakker.  This restored pastor once presided over an enormous Christian ministry and operated under a powerful anointing, Due to sin, he lost everything, including his marriage, and wound up in prison, just like Samson.  A remarkable story of the ruins of pride and spiritual adultery and God’s redemptive power and grace.

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Adultery

Years ago, Ken and I witnessed the break-up of ten marriages in our church family due to adultery.  Elders, deacons and Sunday school teachers plunked themselves down in Ken’s office and shared the same sorry tale.  They sought approval and blessing for their decision to split from their spouse and start a new life with the “other.”

While Ken attempted to discuss reconciliation, counseling and such, every one of them said the same sentence. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” We wondered if they’d formed some secret club and chanted this motto during meetings.

Everyone entered Ken’s office with made-up minds, seeking absolution, without repentance.  All of them ended their marriages and created numerous seas of wreckage that rippled through our entire church.  After the eighth conversation and all their eerie similarities, Mount Ken erupted.  The following Sunday morning, from the pulpit, he made this announcement.  “If you are sitting here today and are already determined to end your marriage, I want to help you and your spouse, if you truly want help. However, if you make an appointment with me simply to persuade me that “God wants you to be happy,” and has directed you to destroy your home and make a new one with a person with whom you’ve been engaging in adultery, I will throw you out of my office!   

Ken’s exasperation ranks junior league compared to the intense anger God felts towards Israel in the days of the prophet, Hosea.  The loving Father decided that heinous sins needed dramatic responses to affect repentance. So, he directed Hosea to marry a woman named Gomer, who God knew to be unfaithful.  He wanted a living illustration of Israel’s spiritual adultery.  There are four key points I’d like to hinge the next blogs around as we take the time to consider whether we’ve been unfaithful. God includes stories of failure and sin in His Word as cautionary tales for us.  Those that choose not to heed them put themselves in peril of the same kind of anger expressed in this book.  Our four points will be:

  1. The recognition of adultery.
  2. The reversals of adultery.
  3. The ruins of adultery
  4. The repentance from adultery.

Today we will consider what God did to bring Israel to a place of recognition of their sin of idol worship and all its disgusting practices.  First, let me share a little background on Hosea and his story.

Hosea’s prophecy occurs in the eighth century while Assyria is bearing down on Israel, with threats of invasion (picture Russia and the Ukraine.)  God’s anger burned towards Israel because he gave them their way, with a demand for an earthly king, and still they turned away from him to false gods.  God is threatening to allow Assyria to conquer them as their judgement.

God first uses the theater of Hosea and Gomer’s marriage to represent himself as the wronged husband and Israel as the unfaithful wife. Instead of sending judgement on the nation immediately, God uses this tumultuous marriage to try and turn the hearts of Israel back to himself.  He instructs the prophet to bring his wandering wife home and forgive her, after she leaves him for numerous lovers. Following God’s orders, their children are given strange names that represent different forms of judgement which will fall on Israel if they do not repent.   Strong language and word pictures are used liberally.  Here are some examples:

  • In 2:5 Israel has “played the harlot” (NASB) This word is repeated numerous times.
  • In 5:7 “They have dealt treacherously against the Lord,” (NASB)
  • In 7:14-16 “They do not cry out to me with sincere hearts. Instead, they sit on their couches and wail…. they look everywhere except to the “Most High” (NLT)
  • 1:4- “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu…”
  • 1:6 “Call her Lo Ruhamah, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel…”
  • 3:1 “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites…”

Oh, the pain and heartbreak this family endured due to Gomer’s sin, yet I marvel at God’s ability to redeem this mess and use it to try and romance his wayward people back to himself.  Never underestimate God’s desire and ability to create redemption during the most devastating circumstances.  

Once we give way to sin, and repeat it, as Gomer and Israel did, we are prey to dark forces.  Every individual that tried to plead their case for marital happiness, to Ken, showed a complete lack of self-awareness and true compassion for the damage they were prepared to inflict when they revealed their adulterous relationships to their families along with their plans for a wonderful new life, apart from all of them.  Sometimes, we behave no differently with the feckless way we treat God.

The plumb line for faithfulness is whether there is anyone or anything competing with God for first place in your heart, mind, actions and resources.  Here in the States, for example, we can quickly make idols of our “stuff,” spending too much time working to get it, playing with it and taking care of it all. I’ve also noticed that people will place being together as a family in higher priority than say, church attendance or faithfulness in serving in a ministry. These things are examples of the first level of spiritual adultery, kind of like flirty texting with a co-worker without physical intimacy.

In the next level of spiritual adultery, we embrace false teachings which try to twist the Bible to accommodate a sinful culture.  We engage in the ways of the world while still showing up in church semi-regularly.   In the final stages of spiritual adultery, we become like Gomer, unrecognizable as wife to Hosea.  We are distorted as the picture of the holy, chaste bride of Christ, to the rest of the world, because sin is now a way of life. We are in a full-blown, adulterous affair with the world.  Many people don’t recognize us as a child of God at all.  This is where Israel landed, but the process is gradual.  Ken calls it “the slippery slope of sin.”

God is waiting for us in 2019, with open doors, opportunities, new mercies and provisions.  How much of that are you willing to risk for the sake of pet sins?  This week ask God to reveal to you any areas where you’ve been unfaithful to him, where you’ve unintentionally allowed an idol into your life.  He will pour his grace on you at the same time he puts you under his thumb.

 

Lamp and Sword

If you are interested in a powerful teaching series on the topic of modern idolatry in the body of Christ, I strongly recommend “Killing Kryptonite,” by John Bevere.  It’s available in book form and as a video series.  Our small group traveled through it recently, and we found ourselves amazed at how subtly idolatry can establish a stronghold in a believer’s life.

For a closer look at the book of Hosea, here’s some resources and questions for you to use and ponder:

  • Read chapter 1-3 to learn the tragic story of Hosea and Gomer. Try reading it a few times in different translations, which all bring a little different color to a text.

 

  • Questions for reflection and personal application:
  1. Try to imagine living in Hosea and Gomer’s hometown. What do you think their neighbors thought about their strange situation?
  2. Do you think Hosea struggled to obey God and marry an unfaithful woman, knowing the pain to which he’d be subjected?
  3. What names did God instruct Hosea to give his children and why?
  4. Is there any mention in the text of Gomer asking for forgiveness or repenting?
  5. Consider the specific actions Hosea took to show love to Gomer. How did his actions illustrate God’s love for Israel then and us now?
  6. Can you recall a time when you wandered from God? Reflect on how you found your way back to him.  What or whom did he use to accomplish this?

 

  • If you want to dive into Hosea on your own, here’s an excellent Bible study method anyone can use for any passage.

 

  1. Read the passage at least three times, preferably in different translations.
  2. Make a list or write a paragraph that answers the question, “What does this passage say?” This is restating, in your own words, what the author says, what people did, events that happened, etc.  It’s like a newspaper article on the passage using “Who, what, when, where and why,” just like a journalist.
  3. Now in your own words, answer the question, “What does this passage mean?” Why did God put this in the Bible?  What is he saying to believers about this topic?  Try to decipher as much as you can, by yourself, before consulting other resources.
  4. Finally, answer the question, “What does it mean for me?” What impact does God want this passage to affect on your behavior and thinking?  How will the knowledge and understanding you’ve gained from this passage change ­you?

 

  • Background information on Hosea from Pastor Chuck Swindoll

https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-minor-prophets/hosea

  • One of my favorite commentaries, written by Matthew Henry, if you’d like to take a deeper look at Hosea through his eyes. He’s one of the guys I turn to when I’m truly stuck on understanding a passage.

https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=28&c=1