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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hosea, Day 4: Hose 1:8-11 - Why Such Dramatic and Unexpected Good News?

Why Such Dramatic and Unexpected Good News?
Hosea, Day 4


When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
- Hosea 1:8-11, ESV

A sudden and dramatic turn of events for the good can catch you by surprise and turn a tragedy into victory in a flash. Great movies make the most of these sudden plot twists: The hero seems defeated, only to emerge from the smoke of the collapsed building, victorious over evil at last. We all love such moments, and if they’re done well, they can cause us to shout for joy.

It’s hard to find a more sudden, dramatic and unexpected turn of events than what happens between verses 9 and 10 in Hosea 1. We have just heard the very strange and depressing names of Hosea’s second and third children – No Mercy and Not My People – when suddenly, the word “yet” changes everything.

The late R.C. Sproul famously said the most important word in the Bible was “but,” because it’s the word God uses to change the bad news of our sin and misery into the good news of His love and redemption. That’s what the word “yet” is doing at the beginning of verse 10.

God had made precious promises to Abraham that the number of his offspring would be as countless than the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. But here was God in Hosea 1 indicating His utter rejection of His people in a very dramatic and troubling way. He was not going to have mercy on His people. In fact, God went to far as to stunningly reverse the great covenant promise. Instead of “You shall be my people, and I will be your God,” He had said, “for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

But just when the scene seems to be as black as it could be, the light begins to shine with that wonderful word “yet.” God’s judgment against His people for their sin would not cause Him to forget His covenant promises. While He would judge His people for their sin, He would not utterly forsake them. In judgment, the LORD would indeed remember mercy.

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our sin. We may find ourselves in a dark time, under the heavy hand of God’s discipline. We may lose sight of our hope in these dark times, but God never loses sight of His promises. We may fail, but God never fails. That’s our hope, no matter how dark the night and no matter how deep our sin. The LORD is merciful, and He will indeed have mercy!

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Hosea, Day 3: Hosea 1:3-9 - Why Such Strange Names for These Children?

Why Such Strange Names for These Children?
Hosea, Day 3

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” – Hosea 1:3-9, ESV

Naming your children is one of the most important things new parents do. It’s exciting, and sometimes a bit overwhelming. When we named our first-born son, it was easy: Andrew is my middle name and is also the name of the first evangelist named in the Gospel of John, my favorite Gospel. Andrew brings his brother, Simon Peter, to the Lord. This expressed our hope for our son, that he would be an early and enthusiastic disciple of the Lord Jesus. Our second son is named Jeremiah, and we struggled more over his name, going back and forth between Jeremiah and Luke before settling on Jeremiah, a name that fits him well.

Hosea didn’t get to choose what to name his children. God told him what to name them, and God gave Hosea’s kids some very strange names. Yet what’s even more poignant is the fact that two of Hosea’s three children likely weren’t even his, as their names and the account of their births seem to make clear.

The account of the birth of Jezreel is pretty straightforward. Hosea took Gomer as his wife. She conceived and bore him a son. God told Hosea to name him Jezreel, as a word of warning and judgment against northern Israel. Jezreel is perhaps not the name Hosea would have chosen, but it all seems clear and sensible enough, for a prophet. Then things get strange.

Gomer next conceives and bears a daughter, but the text leaves out a key word - “him.” She did not bear him a daughter, as was said regarding Jezreel, “she conceived and bore him a son.” The idea that this girl is not Hosea’s biological daughter is also captured by her name, No Mercy. This name means no compassion, no sympathy, no tender affection or love. What dad names his daughter that? One who was commanded to do so by God, yes, but also one who knows the girl is not really his daughter.

This trend continues and is intensified with the third child born in chapter one, a son named Not My People. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. These two, No Mercy and Not My People, are the “children of whoredom” God told Hosea he would have by “a wife of whoredom.” An unfaithful wife has illegitimate children. Ouch!

If you feel badly for these children, just wait. The story gets better. Hosea is a redemption story after all. But for now, we’re meant to see something clear: Our unfaithfulness to God has real and lasting consequences. Our sin brings disastrous consequences into our lives. Also, we’re to not only identify ourselves with Gomer but also with No Mercy and Not My People. We have no natural, legitimate claim to be called children of God. Our sins separate us from God, cutting us off from His mercy and from being His people. This stunning, sobering truth should cause us to repent and seek the Lord for redemption.     

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hosea, Day 2: Hosea 1:1-3 - Are We Really That Bad?

Are We Really That Bad?
Hosea, Day 2

The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. – Hosea 1:1-3, ESV

Sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at our actions from a more objective perspective, so we can see what we’re really doing. God did this for King David when He sent Nathan the prophet to confront him over his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah the Hittite. When Nathan came to confront David in 2 Samuel 12, he first presented David’s sin to him in the form of a story about another man who had wronged his neighbor. Only when David’s righteous sense of justice was aroused by the story of a man who stole a precious only lamb from his neighbor did Nathan turn and make his confrontation more direct and bold: “You are the man!” he told David. And David saw his sin and repented.

I don’t know what excuses David was making for his sin, but I do know how easy it is to minimize and excuse gross sin. Sadly, that is one area of life where I have too much personal experience. The rationalizing usually involves the words, “it was only” and “I had to” and maybe “if they had only.” So, for David: “It was only an impulsive act of passion. If only she wasn’t bathing on her rooftop. I tried to give Uriah a chance. If only he had been more like normal men and gone in to sleep with his wife. Once he refused, I had to save face. I had to cover up our act of passion. He left me with no choice.” Nathan’s words cut through the rationalizing denials like a sharp sword: “You are the man!”

The Book of Hosea does that for us. We are shocked and horrified by the story of Hosea marrying a woman who was habitually unfaithful to him and who even bore children with other men. We’re outraged, and our sense of righteous justice is aroused. This isn’t right! But then God says: “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” In other words: We are the adulterous woman!

Do we believe it? Or do we recoil from such an association and say, “No, Lord, we can’t be that bad.” Really? What does James say? “You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, ESV) Have we set our affections on the things of the world? Of course, we have! Do we have worldly idols in our hearts, deep and desperate longings for wealth, status, reputation, comfort, illicit pleasures? Of course, we do! Then we need to look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s word and realize that we are, indeed, the adulterous people.

We will not come to repentance until we realize the depth and horror of our sin. Until we see our sin for the ugly unfaithfulness it is, our hearts will not be broken. May the Lord be pleased to break us, that He may be pleased to heal us in Christ.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hosea, Day 1: Hosea 1:1-3 - What Do You Do When God Calls You to Do Something Really Hard?

What Do You Do When God Calls You to Do Something Really Hard?
Hosea, Day 1



The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. – Hosea 1:1-3, ESV

Have you ever been called by the Lord to do something really hard? Forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve it is one of the hard tasks the Lord calls us to do. Have you ever been convicted by the Word and the Spirit that you really needed to forgive someone, but you just didn’t want to do it? Maybe the person had sinned against you too many times or in a seriously damaging way. Whatever the reason, you knew you needed to forgive them, but you just weren’t sure how.

Hosea was called by the Lord to do something most of us would consider nearly impossible. Hosea was a prophet of the Lord who lived and prophesied at the same time as Isaiah and Micah, around 750 years before Jesus was born. While the calling of any prophet is never easy, since they are called to speak God’s word to a people in rebellion against Him, Hosea had a particularly difficult call: God told Hosea to take “a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom.”

Don’t miss the clear truth here: Hosea was not just to marry a woman who had a shady past but who would nonetheless be faithful to him. No, he was called to marry a woman who had been sexually promiscuous and who would be unfaithful to him. He knew before he said his marriage vows to Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, that she was going to be an adulteress. Even more difficult, she would have children through her sexual immorality, children born to Hosea that were not Hosea’s.

Can you imagine being called to such an impossible calling? I don’t think I would be able to do it. Yet Hosea obeyed the Lord.

Why would the Lord ask Hosea to do such an unthinkable thing? Because he wanted a prophet to speak to the people who truly understood God’s perspective on His people. God had taken His people to be His bride. He had entered into a sacred covenant with them and had showered them with goodness, but His people had repaid His kindness and faithfulness with idolatry, which God calls spiritual adultery.

God never calls anyone to do anything which He Himself is not willing to do. God was not calling Hosea to do anything harder than what God Himself was enduring with His people generation after generation, century after century. As we explore Hosea in the coming weeks, we will see the heart of God for His people and we will also see ourselves on open and ugly display in the actions of Gomer, the wife of whoredom. May the Lord convict us and change us through our time together in His word. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Hebrews, Day 57: Hebrews 13:20-21 - How Can We Please God?

How Can We Please God?
Hebrews, Day 57

Audio Version




Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:20-21, ESV

Have you ever known someone who was really hard to please? If you've ever been the parent of a teenager, you probably have. People who are really hard to please are typically a combination of picky and unpredictable. They have a very narrow idea of what they like, and their preferences can shift with their moods and the day of the week.

As Christians, our highest goal should be to please God with our lives. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9, "we make it our aim to please him." The longing of every believer's heart is to reach heaven and hear Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  (see Matthew 25:21-23)

So, is God really hard to please? Well, as the holy, holy, holy God and Lord of heaven and earth, His standards are very high. In fact, His standards are perfection, and they really could not be anything less.

But here's the wonderful thing with God: He does all the work to make us His, and then He works in us that which is pleasing to Him. This wonderful benediction which closes out the Book of Hebrews shows us both of these truths. It reflects back on the work of redemption God has done to make us His - "He bought back from the dead the Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep" - and it looks at what God does in and through us now.

The faithfulness of God kept His covenant promises by raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him to the highest place of authority. And now, the faithful love of God applies the merits of Christ to our hearts and souls. "By the blood of the eternal covenant" - that is, by the perfect satisfaction Christ made for our sins - God equips us to do everything good. As Peter says in 2 Peter 1:3, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence."

So God not only provides salvation for us through Jesus Christ, but He also applies that salvation to us in a powerful way. He applies the merits of Christ to us so that we are now equipped with everything good to do His will. But God doesn't just redeem us and equip us. No, He also works in us that which is pleasing in His sight. And He does all of this through Jesus Christ - through His merits applied to us and His intercession for us.

So, is God difficult to please? No! As we trust in Him, He redeems us, equips us, and works in us that which pleases Him. In other words, He makes us pleasing by His grace, and then He takes pleasure in us to the eternal glory of Jesus Christ!

These wonderful truths should give us great encouragement and confidence of our worst days and great humility and gratitude on our best days. God is pleased with us, and that should raise our heads with confidence when we're drooping. But God is pleased with us because He has done all the work to make us pleasing in His sight, from beginning to end. That should keep us humble and grateful when we're tempted to be puffed up. In the end, we can rejoice with confidence, and Jesus can get all the glory! Amen.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Hebrews, Day 56: Hebrews 13:18-19 - Do Our Prayers Really Make a Difference?

Do Our Prayers Really Make a Difference?
Hebrews, Day 56

Audio Version




Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. 
- Hebrews 13:18-19. ESV

Do you ever wonder why we need to pray? After all, if God is truly sovereign and He knows all and has everything planned out from before the foundation of the earth. what difference could our prayers make?

One way to think about and respond to these kinds of questions is to realize how much prayer changes us when we pray. We need to pray, because we need our hearts to be changed, and as we pray, our hearts are shaped profoundly. When we pray for someone, we come to love them more. When we pray about an issue or problem, we learn to trust God more for the outcome of the situation.

In one my favorite scenes of one of my favorite movies, Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) explains why he prays in these terms. Lewis' wife, Joy Davidman, is suffering from cancer, and Jack (as C.S. Lewis was known to his friends) has been praying earnestly for her. She begins to get better, as the cancer heads into remission, and his friend affirm that God is answering his prayers. Lewis responds, "That's not why I pray. I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.”

C.S. Lewis never said or wrote those words, as far as we know. But it does seem to capture well what he might have said. It's a great thought, really. Of course our prayers don't change God. What a horrible thought that would be. Imagine if I, by my thoughts or words, could change God? How would God change? Would I be telling Him something He doesn't already know? Could I convince Him to change His mind and give in to my superior wisdom? Not!

So, if prayer doesn't change God, does that mean that all prayer does is change us? Is prayer entirely a matter of growing us in love, humility and trust? No. At least, not if we're going to take verses 18-19 of Hebrews 13 seriously. Here the author of Hebrews is asking for prayer, and is even earnestly urging the readers of his letter to pray for him. Why? "in order that I may be restored to you the sooner."

He doesn't say, "Pray for me, so that you'll come to love me more." He doesn't say, "Pray for me, so that you'll learn to trust God more during our separation." No, he believes, and it's in God's inerrant word, that their prayers can speed his return to them. So, do our prayers make a difference? Yes. How? We can't say exactly and fully, can we?

We know our prayers don't change God, but it does seem our prayers can affect the timing of God's work and can shape other things in important ways. We pray for people's salvation because we believe God alone can save, and we believe God will answer prayer and save them. How is this possible? Because God ordained it that way. God's plans for the world include us. Our prayers, our preaching, our sharing the Gospel, our service and love, and our obedience to God all are part of the plan of God and are genuinely used by Him for His glory and the fulfillment of His plan for the world and His people.

So, yes, our prayers really matter. We are called to pray, and even eagerly urged to pray, because "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." (James 5:16) So keep praying. Pray for me, and pray for one another.

More on this topic from Dr. Guy Richard of Reformed Theological Seminary -

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Hebrews, Day 55: Hebrews 13:15-16 - What Sacrifices Please God?

What Sacrifices Please God?
Hebrews 13:15-16
Hebrews, Day 55

Audio Version




Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
- Hebrews 13:15-16, ESV

My wife's birthday is December 12th, less than two weeks before Christmas. We've been married for 20 years, and for most of those 20 years, I have struggled to figure out a good birthday present for her and then to also come up with a good Christmas present idea within just a few days. My wife is not a picky person, not hard to please. But sometimes I'm just lacking in the creativity to come up with something original and interesting twice in such a short period of time. 

The worst birthday present I've gotten her was probably David Brainerd's journal, edited by Jonathan Edwards, accompanied by John Piper's lecture on the life of Brainerd. She was gracious, but I have to admit I was being purely selfish with that one. I had heard Piper's lecture, and I really wanted to read Brainerd. I still haven't. I think I feel too guilty every time I pick up the book. 

Many Christians over the centuries have thought they needed to do something creative for God, to show Him how much they love Him or to somehow get Him to smile on them and bless them. One extreme example from the Middle Ages were the flagellants, men who would whip themselves, leaving their backs bleeding and scarred, in a mixture of repentance and devotion to God. Another, perhaps equally extreme example, were the crusades, in which people went to kill and be killed in the name of Jesus. And what about the grand cathedrals of the late Middle Ages, which kings and bishops built at extreme cost to themselves and their people, seeking to leave a lasting legacy to honor the Lord? Martin Luther went to Rome as a young man and climbed the stone steps on his knees, saying the Lord's Prayer with each stair climbed. Was God pleased with all these sacrifices? No! 

Lest we look down our noses at the Middle Ages, our modern evangelical world is full of people who make offerings to the Lord that the Lord never commanded or encouraged. It's an old problem. More than 3,000 years ago, God commanded King Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and to leave nothing alive, but Saul let the people keep the best livestock alive, as an offering to the Lord. God told Saul through the prophet Samuel:

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.  - 1 Samuel 15:22, ESV

So, God is obviously not pleased with just any sacrifice, especially with sacrifices that involve disobedience to His word. But what sacrifices do please God? Hebrews 13:15-16 tells us very clearly.

Hebrews has already established the foundation truth that no sacrifice we offer atones for our sins. Christ has already paid the price and made the once-for-all sacrifice for all our sin. We cannot add to His offering for sin. What we can do is offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in two ways: by praising His name and by doing good to others.

In response to Christ's perfect salvation, we are to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." We don't just praise God on Sunday mornings but all throughout the week. We are also to do good and to share what we have with people in need. We're told God is pleased with these sacrifices.

These may not feel sacrificial enough for some people. They may want to do more for Jesus. They may not seem grand or life-changing or earth-shattering, but they actually are. If God's people were to consciously praise Him and acknowledge His name at all times, and if we were to really give and share with others, these sacrifices would change us deeply and would speak loudly and clearly to a world that desperately needs to see more of Jesus in His people.