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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Hosea, Day 12: Hosea 5:1-7 - What's So Bad About Pride?

What's So Bad About Pride?
Hosea, Day 12

Hear this, O priests!
    Pay attention, O house of Israel!
Give ear, O house of the king!
    For the judgment is for you;
for you have been a snare at Mizpah
    and a net spread upon Tabor.
And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter,
    but I will discipline all of them.

I know Ephraim,
    and Israel is not hidden from me;
for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore;
    Israel is defiled.
Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
    and they know not the Lord.

The pride of Israel testifies to his face;
    Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt;
    Judah also shall stumble with them.
With their flocks and herds they shall go
    to seek the Lord,
but they will not find him;
    he has withdrawn from them.
They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord;
    for they have borne alien children.
    Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields.
- Hosea 5:1-7, ESV

When it comes to the subject of pride, America and the Bible have very different perspectives. Americans are proud of our pride. We encourage people to believe in themselves. We even tell people that God believes in them. The Bible takes a decidedly different view. In the Bible, pride is the root sin.

What's the problem with pride? Why does the Bible look down on self-confidence and believing in yourself? Today's passage in Hosea 5 can help us answer that question.

We read two important and connected things condemning Israel in Hosea 5:1-7:

1. "Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God." - v. 4
2. "The pride of Israel testifies to his face." - v. 5

The problem with pride is that it keeps us from repenting and seeking the Lord for His mercy. This makes it the worst and the root sin. If you covet or lust or lie or steal, but you are not proud, you can come to conviction of your sin, seek the Lord, and be forgiven by His mercy. But if you are proud, you will not even see that your sin is sin, and you will not seek the Lord.

Israel was not just idolatrous, but they were proud of their idolatry. They had glorious high places at Mizpah and Tabor. These places were abominations to God, scenes of spiritual adultery by God's beloved people, but the real problem was Israel's pride in these places. Far from being ashamed of their sin, they promoted it and profited from it. They were proud.

If you want to see the biggest and worst sins in your life, maybe your should prayerfully examine not those things that make you ashamed but the things you're most proud of. Perhaps your pride is making you blind to the places where you most need repentance. May the Lord humble us and help us see ourselves as He sees us, that His tender mercies may cover our sin and His unfailing grace may change our hearts and lives.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hosea, Day 11: Hosea 4:12-19 - What Does Idolatry look Like Today?

What Does Idolatry Look Like Today?

Hosea, Day 11

My people inquire of a piece of wood,
    and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
    and they have left their God to play the whore.
They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains
    and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
    because their shade is good.
- Hosea 4:12-13. ESV

My son, Jeremiah, loved Chinese food but hated going to the Chinese buffet. More specifically, he hated walking past the statue of Buddha behind the cash register. I asked him what was wrong. He replied, "That's an idol, Daddy. I don't want to be tempted to worship it."

My guess is that you're not seriously tempted to pause and pay homage to Buddha at your local Chinese restaurant. But does that mean that you're free from the temptation to idolatry? Was Jeremiah only faced with the reality of idolatry at the Chinese buffet, or did he also face it when his sister wanted to play with his Legos?  

In Hosea 4, God condemns His people for inquiring of a piece of wood and for sacrificing on the tops of mountains. I don't think we're seriously contemplating doing either of those things anytime soon, but does that make us innocent of idolatry? No, of course not! So, what does idolatry look like today for us? 

At its heart, idolatry is a question of worship, and worship is a matter of faith. In other words. who do you trust? Whose promises are you believing? In America, we tend to believe in success and to put a lot of faith in the economy and the American Dream. Most parents say they just want their kids to be happy and successful. We think happiness comes from success, and we think happiness is the most important thing to have.

Idolatry isn't just a matter of trusting false promises and putting your hopes in the wrong things. All idols require sacrifices of some kind to attain the things they promise: Work hard, do well in school, get a good job, spend extra hours in the office, neglect your family, compromise your integrity, cut some corners, spread some gossip, hurt someone's feelings, and generally do whatever it takes to satisfy the demands of the idol and get what it's promising. 

Two sad realities accompany this idolatry: As you give yourself to an idol, it demands more and more and gives you back less and less. At first, the idol seems to be keeping its promises, but before long you're trapped and feeling cheated. 

Also, if you're a believer, you end up dragging God into your idolatry in some way. Hosea 4:15 tells us that the people of Israel would swear "As the Lord lives," even as they engaged in idolatry. How often has American Christianity acted like Jesus and the American Dream are two sides of the same coin? It's not just prosperity preachers on TV, but even "good" evangelicals can be led to subtly believe that, if I'm obedient and I trust God, I'll be successful. We can even quote Bible verses to prop up our idolatry.    

Whatever outward form our idolatry takes, the heart of it is an abomination to God. It is a stubborn refusal to trust God, submit to God, and follow God. Instead, we turn aside to the promises and guidance of others. Our hearts are so given to this foolishness, we need to return to the Lord in repentance again and again. Thankfully, He is always ready to forgive, renew, and restore us. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hosea, Day 10: Hosea 4:7-14 - What Does Judgment from God Look Like?

What Does Judgment from God Look Like?
Hosea, Day 10

The more they increased,
    the more they sinned against me;
    I will change their glory into shame.
They feed on the sin of my people;
    they are greedy for their iniquity.
And it shall be like people, like priest;
    I will punish them for their ways
    and repay them for their deeds.
They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
    they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
    to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine,
    which take away the understanding.
My people inquire of a piece of wood,
    and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
    and they have left their God to play the whore.
They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains
    and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
    because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters play the whore,
    and your brides commit adultery.
I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
    nor your brides when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes
    and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,
and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.
 - Hosea 4:7-14, ESV

When most people think of judgment from God, they likely picture tremendous natural disasters or plagues. Or perhaps they might envision spectacular economic collapse. Ether way, most people's conception of divine judgment is dramatic and devastating. Yet more often God chooses very simple and yet even more deeply devastating ways to judge His people.

Here in Hosea 4, we have an unfolding of God's case against His people, Israel, and their spiritual leaders, the priests. Last time, we saw that the priests, far from being exempt from blame, actually share the largest part of the responsibility for Israel's sin because they failed to teach the people God's truth. In today's passage, the case continues to build and the early stages of judgment are also given.

In verse 7, God says that the more His people prospered, the more they used their prosperity as an occasion for sin. In verse 8, He says that the leadership of the people actually feed and thrive on the sin and iniquity of the people. If that sounds absurd, think of education funded by lottery dollars. or of "spiritual leaders" gathering to bless the work of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.  Now the charges of verses 7-8 hit pretty close home, don't they?

What does judgment against this pattern of sin look like? God says "I will punish them" in verse 9, but what form will the punishment take? a plague of locusts? hailstones of fire? No, nothing so dramatic, but two things just as devastating, even more so:

1. "They shall eat but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore but not multiply." (v. 10)
2. "I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery" (v. 14)      

The first thing God tells Israel is that they will continue to commit sin and even prosper from it, but they will find no satisfaction in their prosperity, and they will not benefit the way they thought they would. To "play the whore" here means to commit idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. So, God will make Israel's idolatry unsatisfying.

In America, the economy is our god. Our idol is the success of the American Dream. Yet in the last generation or two, we have found this dream to be deeply unsatisfying. As economic prosperity has continued to hit new heights, so have divorce rates and suicide attempts.

The second judgment is a picture of being given over to sin in devastating ways. Men don't mind being unfaithful themselves, but the thought of their daughters and their wives being sexually immoral is more disturbing. Isn't that exactly what we're seeing happen in our culture? Sexual immorality used to be a male-dominant sin, but no more. It has spread to be an equal-opportunity snare. God is continuing to give us over to our sin. 

So, if we understand Hosea 4:7-14, we should see our own culture clearly displayed in these verses. Let's remember that God gave this word as a mercy to His people, to warn them of the disaster so they would repent and seek Him. We need to hear His word today, and we need to seek the grace of the Holy Spirit to grant us true and heart-felt repentance. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hosea, Day 9: Hosea 4:1-6 - Who's to Blame for This Mess?

Who's to Blame for This Mess?

Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel,
    for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
    and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
    and the birds of the heavens,
    and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

Yet let no one contend,
    and let none accuse,
    for with you is my contention, O priest.
You shall stumble by day;
    the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
    and I will destroy your mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
    because you have rejected knowledge,
    I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.
- Hosea 4:1-6, ESV

2018 was the fourth year in a row with over 300 murders in Baltimore City, something which had never happened before in history. With violence spiraling out of control, people want answers and some people are looking for someone to blame: the mayor, the city council, the police, the gangs, anyone.

For generations, life in America has seemingly been spiraling out of control. Most people in America think we're not heading in the right direction, and that's been true for the past 45 years or more. Drugs are killing tens of thousands of people. Divorce is shaking millions. Immorality is rampant on our screens, in our homes, and even in our schools. Mass shootings and suicides are both skyrocketing. Church attendance is slipping lower, and true godliness is getting harder and harder to find.

Who is to blame for this mess?

Hosea lived in troubled times, and people wanted to know who to blame for the mess back then, too. In Hosea 4, Hosea's book transitions from telling the story of his marriage to Gomer to bringing charges even more clearly and directly against the nation of Israel.

The charges are serious and heavy: "There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed."

So, who was to blame for the mess back in Hosea's day? Surprisingly, the indictment for blame is laid at the feet of the priests and the prophets.

God's case through Hosea is as strikingly convicting as it is simple: The people are out of control because they don't know the Lord and His ways. They don't know the Lord and His ways because they've never been taught. They've never been taught because the priests have failed to teach the Law and the prophets have failed to proclaim what God was speaking.

As a pastor, I find these verses very convicting. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." How easy it is for a pastor to focus on other things rather than teaching the word of God to the people of God! But that is the calling. We are called to build the people up in their knowledge of God and His word and ways. And I cannot teach others what I do not believe and am not living myself. 

Yet this is not just a word for pastors. In the New Testament age we live in today, all of God's people are priests, and the whole church is called to have a prophetic voice to our culture. How are we doing? Not so well, it would seem. God calls us to tell those around us about Him, to teach His character and His will. Yet we don't know ourselves as well as we should because we aren't following Him.

So, the next time we turn on the news and shake our heads at the troubled times we live in, we need to look in the mirror. We need to realize that we are the prophets and priests to our generation. We are the salt and light the world needs. Will we do what we can to make sure people don't perish for lack of knowledge?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Hosea, Day 8: Hosea 3 - What's Harder Than Marrying an Adulterous Woman?

What's Harder Than Marrying an Adulterous Woman?
Hosea, Day 8

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”
 - Hosea 3:1-3, ESV

When new recruits join the Navy and go to Navy Boot Camp, I'm sure it's probably the hardest thing they've done in their lives. They learn disciple, hard work, physical and mental focus, teamwork, leadership and more. What could be harder? Well, how about Navy S.E.A.L. School?

At the beginning of Hosea, Hosea is told to marry "a woman of whoredom" who will be unfaithful to him. She even bears him children fathered by other men. What could be harder than that? We get our answer here in Hosea 3. Here, Gomer has apparently left Hosea and ran off to be with another man who has then abandoned her. She has ended up for sale in a slave market. So the Lord tells Hosea to go and buy his wife back with coins and grain.

Too often, we don't think of the people in the Bible as real people. Hosea was a real man who loved his wife. Imagine how painful it was for him when she left him to go and be with another man. Then, imagine how hard it would have been for him to go to the slave market and buy his unfaithful wife back from her sad consequences of her unfaithfulness.

And yet think about our lives in relationship to the Lord. How many times have we been unfaithful to Him? If our sinful attraction to the world is spiritual adultery, how must our heavenly husband feel about being constantly betrayed by His bride? And when we were in slavery to sin, it took our bridegroom much more than coins and grain to buy us back. He had to shed His blood and give up His life to redeem us from slavery and secure us to Himself again.

This is what is ultimately promised in Hosea 3. In the end, God's word through the Law and Prophets would never be enough to secure His people to Himself. He would call them back again and again, and they would temporarily repent and return only to go back to their idolatry and gross immorality.

So, God says He is going to let His people live without a king and a proper kingdom for a long time. "Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days." David here refers to the coming Son of David, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We know now how much it cost our Greater David to secure our hearts. But we can also know that because He has purchased us with His blood and given His Holy Spirit to indwell us and secure us, we are His and He is ours forever. Yes, we still struggle with sin and doubt and fear, but our security is complete and unshakable in Him. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Hosea, Day 7: Hosea 2:19-23 - How Much Does the Lord Love His People?

How Much Does the Lord Love His People?
Hosea, Day 7

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

“And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
    I will answer the heavens,
    and they shall answer the earth,
and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and they shall answer Jezreel,
    and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
    and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
    and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
 - Hosea 2:19-23, ESV

What does it mean to truly love someone? We use the word "love" in many different ways, and our understanding of love can be so twisted by our selfishness. Sometimes when we say we love someone, all we mean is that they make us feel good, and as long as they make us feel good, we like having them around. Such love doesn't usually prove to be too durable when the one we "love" begins to irritate us, disappoint us, or otherwise no longer effectively scratch our feel-good itch. 

Then again, on the other hand, some parents seem to define love as giving their children everything they ask for, without limit. At the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka asks Charlie, "Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything he ever wished for?" And the answer: "He lived happily ever after." If only life were that easy. 

The reason why other people we think we love usually end up disappointing us or irritating us, and the reason why children who are given everything they want don't end up living happily ever after is the same: We are broken by sin and profoundly in need of deep mending.

The strength of love is found in the unyielding commitment to the deep and true good of the beloved, no matter what. True love doesn't flinch in the face of cost or trouble, and it doesn't seek so much to get as to give, but not to give what is wanted as much as what is really needed.

So, how much does the Lord love His people? He is committed to giving us what we really need most: Himself. And He is committed to doing so in such a way that transforms the broken sinful mess we are inside: "I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness." 

This is everything we lack: We are alienated from God. We are sinful and wicked, unstable and self-serving, unfaithful and unmerciful. God says He will take us to Himself. He will make us His own. He will change us from the inside out. 

What will the result be? We who do not deserve His mercy will receive it in abundance. We who were not the people of God will be made the people of God forever. He will feed us and clothe us and give us a home with Himself forever.

The depth of God's love is measured not just in how much good He is committed to doing for us, but also in how much we utterly don't deserve such goodness and in how much it cost Him to be so good to us. We deserve to be named No Mercy and Not My People. We deserve to be cut off and thrown away for what we have done. Yet God gave His Son in our place, the highest and best price, the most unbelievably costly sacrifice, to clear the way for His goodness and His love to win the day in the end.

So, how much does the Lord love His people? More than we can ever know in this life, and more than we can ever tell, even in all of eternity.