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.