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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hosea, Day 18: Hosea 9 - Why is it Good for Sin to Have Heavy Consequences?

Why is it Good for Sin to Have Heavy Consequences? 
Hosea, Day 18

Rejoice not, O Israel!
    Exult not like the peoples;
for you have played the whore, forsaking your God.
    You have loved a prostitute's wages
    on all threshing floors.
Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them,
    and the new wine shall fail them.
They shall not remain in the land of the Lord,
    but Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
    and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.

The days of punishment have come;
    the days of recompense have come;
    Israel shall know it.
The prophet is a fool;
    the man of the spirit is mad,
because of your great iniquity
    and great hatred.

They have deeply corrupted themselves
    as in the days of Gibeah:
he will remember their iniquity;
    he will punish their sins.

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
    in its first season,
    I saw your fathers.
But they came to Baal-peor
    and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved.
Ephraim's glory shall fly away like a bird—
    no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!
Even if they bring up children,
    I will bereave them till none is left.
Woe to them
    when I depart from them!

Ephraim is stricken;
    their root is dried up;
    they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
    I will put their beloved children to death.
My God will reject them
    because they have not listened to him;
    they shall be wanderers among the nations.

 - selected verses from Hosea 9, ESV

Imagine a husband who goes to his wife and tells her, "I no longer feel like being faithful to you. I'm going to go out to bars and clubs to pick up other women. Sometimes I will go home with those women and, at other times, I will bring them home here. But I still want to be married to you and to continue on like a normal married couple."

Such a husband would be horrible and would not be worthy of the title husband. Do you know what would be even worse? A wife who would accept that from her husband and go on living with him as though nothing were wrong. Such a response from a wife would not be love but hatred, an utter indifference to whether her husband is faithful or not.

The Lord said He was Israel's husband, her faithful covenant protector and provider. Yet Israel decided to be a spiritual prostitute. Even more insulting than her unfaithfulness to the Lord was Israel's expectation that the Lord would continue to bless, protect, and provide for her, just as He always had. If He agreed to those terms, what kind of husband would the Lord be?

Have you ever suffered serious consequences from your sin? I know I have. At the time, such consequences were unwelcome and bitter to take. Yet, looking back, I now see that the Lord was loving me through those consequences. He was turning me from my sin to repentance. He was drawing me back to Himself.

Are you in a place where you think you're getting away with your sin, suffering no consequences from repeated willful disobedience to the Lord? If so, you should be very concerned. Your heart is hardening toward your Lord. Sin is becoming easier, and your love for Christ is growing cold. Cry to God for the mercy of repentance, the grace of a broken heart.

If you are suffering some deep consequences for your sin, don't take this as rejection from God but as love. He is breaking you so He can heal you. Turn to Him for the mercy you need. Don't ask for relief from the consequences but for forgiveness for your sin. See your sin as the problem and the Lord will respond with loving mercy. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Hosea, Day 17: Hosea 8 - What's the Difference Between True and False Worship?

What's the Difference Between True and False Worship?

Set the trumpet to your lips!
    One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord,
because they have transgressed my covenant
    and rebelled against my law.
To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.

They made kings, but not through me.
    They set up princes, but I knew it not.
With their silver and gold they made idols
    for their own destruction.
I have spurned your calves, O Samaria.
    My anger burns against them.
How long will they be incapable of innocence?
For it is from Israel;
a craftsman made it;
    it is not God.
The calf of Samaria
    shall be broken to pieces.

For they sow the wind,
    and they shall reap the whirlwind.

Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning,
    they have become to him altars for sinning.
Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands,
    they would be regarded as a strange thing.
As for my sacrificial offerings,
    they sacrifice meat and eat it,
    but the Lord does not accept them.
Now he will remember their iniquity
    and punish their sins;
    they shall return to Egypt.
For Israel has forgotten his Maker
    and built palaces,
and Judah has multiplied fortified cities;
    so I will send a fire upon his cities,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.
 - Hosea 8:1-7, 11-14, ESV

In 1923, J. Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism, a classic work that was based on a very simple premise: Christian churches that deny the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus, that deny the reality of miracles and question the reliability of the Bible, and that preach a moralistic do-goodism instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are not actually Christian churches. Instead of calling themselves Christian, they should drop the name as an inaccurate and dishonest label and call themselves something else.

In Hosea's day, the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, the ten tribes who followed Jeroboam and broke away from Jerusalem and the House of David, called themselves worshipers of Yahweh, the covenant people of God, heirs of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet, they worshiped golden calves at Bethel and Dan, they called on the gods of the surrounding nations, they did not have Levites teaching the law to the people, and they engaged in rampant immorality. And so Hosea told them they could no longer consider God to be their God and should no longer expect any protection or blessing from Him as His people. In short, though they called themselves the people of God, they were not. They were "Not My People." 

Yet the people of Israel called upon the name of the Lord. The golden calves Jeroboam set up in Dan and Bethel were not representations of foreign gods; they were ways of worshiping Yahweh, the one true God.  Jeroboam set them up because going to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple would have drawn his people's hearts back to the House of David, his rivals for the throne. It was politically expedient to give the people new places to worship, and it was culturally relevant to set up statues. After all, the other nations worshiped their gods with statues, so why not Israel?

When we understand this background, Hosea 8 then becomes for us a good test to evaluate whether our worship of God is truly honoring to Him and accepted by Him or not. Could we be guilty of false worship? How do we know?

1. True worship is based on God's commands, and false worship is based on people's ideas. God's commands regarding worship had become strange and unknown in Israel:

Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands,
    they would be regarded as a strange thing. - v. 12

Most evangelical Christians today probably don't even know that God commands certain elements in worship:

  • The public reading of Scripture
  • Preaching of the Word
  • Prayer
  • Singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
  • Confessing our faith
  • Taking up tithes and offerings 
  • Baptism
  • The Lord's Supper

These elements can all be understood as either prayer or proclamation: We are praying to God, sometimes in song, or He is speaking to us. (You can read more here.) Other clever ideas may be entertaining or fun things to do, but they are not Biblical worship.

2. True worship is faithfully offered to God alone. Israel was condemned because they transgressed their covenant with God and they sought the help of other nations. This usually involved worshiping the gods of these foreign nations, as a sign of loyalty to them. 

Whenever we are tempted to find our security or identity in things other than God, we are being drawn to idolatry. We are giving our worshipful trust to something other than God - politics, education, wealth, acceptance by the culture, etc. Each of these things can at times ask us to violate our covenant with the Lord, to break His commands. We must remain loyal to Him and reject their false promises and our heart's idolatrous ways.  

Conclusion: To be God's holy people is to be called and marked by Him for Him alone. We cannot look to the world for patterns of worship or church life, and we cannot trust in the competing gods of the world. Our worship must be based on God's word and offered to Him alone, for He alone is worthy! 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Hosea, Day 16: Hosea 7 - What's the Difference Between Feeling Sorry and Repenting?

What's the Difference Between Feeling Sorry and Repenting?
Hosea, Day 16

when I would heal Israel,
    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,

But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.

For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.

Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!
    Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!
I would redeem them,
    but they speak lies against me.
They do not cry to me from the heart,
    but they wail upon their beds;
for grain and wine they gash themselves;
    they rebel against me.
Although I trained and strengthened their arms,
    yet they devise evil against me.
They return, but not upward;
    they are like a treacherous bow;
their princes shall fall by the sword
    because of the insolence of their tongue.
This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
- selected verses from Hosea 7

"You're not sorry. You're just sorry you got caught!" 

I don't know how many times my parents had to say this to me when I was growing up. One thing I do know now, which I would have vehemently denied as a child: They were almost always right. 

In Hosea 7, God is saying something very similar to Israel. It's evident that Israel is very upset about the consequences of their sin and the discipline God has sent them. They are described as crying, wailing, and being angry. But despite the intense negative emotions, Israel is clearly not repentant. So, what's the difference? How is repentance different from being sorry or angry?

Well, we need to know the answer to this question because God calls us to repent, and we are tempted to make the same mistake I made so often as a child: Thinking that being upset or angry over the unwelcome consequences of our sin is the same thing as actually repenting of our sin. 

From Hosea 7, we can identify three key differences between being sorry and repenting:

1. Repentance takes seriously the reality that God sees and remembers our sins, that our sins are before His face.  In verse 2, God says of Israel:

But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.

For all of their emotional distress, Israel denied the root cause of their problems and ignored the reality of their sin before the Lord. Repentance does not deny or minimize the reality of our sin and its ugliness before the face of God.

2. Smoldering anger and tearful sorrow are not repentance. We should be angry at our sin, but very often, if we're honest, we're just angry that we're suffering, and we feel our suffering is unjust. So, in such cases, all the tears and intense emotions in the world don't mean anything because they're misdirected. They may even be directed at God: "Where is God? How could He let this happen to us?"

3. Repentance speaks the truth about God and resolves to obey God. It does not lie about God and plan evil against God.  This may seem obvious, but our hearts are very deceitful, and we can often fool ourselves into believing wrong things about God, things directly contrary to His word. If our thoughts about God are wrong, then our actions toward God are bound to be wrong, too. We need to make sure that our thinking about God is coming from the Bible and not from our own emotions or our culture.

The good news in Hosea 7 is that God is ready and willing to forgive and heal His people. That's what makes their stubborn lack of repentance so frustrating. God would heal and God would forgive all their sins, if only they would turn to Him. So, let's not follow their poor example, but let's heed the voice of the Lord. Let's hate our sin itself and not its unwelcome consequences. Let's accept the discipline of the Lord and confess our sin to Him, that He may heal and He may forgive.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hosea, Day 15: Hosea 6:4-10 - Why is Religion So Awful Sometimes?

Why is Religion So Awful Sometimes?

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim's whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.
- Hosea 6:4-10, ESV

Blaise Pascal famously said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Yet Pascal was a deeply devout Christian man. I'm a pastor and a student of history, and I have to agree with Pascal. Religion has been and often still is a toxic force for much evil in the world. Edgar Allen Poe was not a devout Christian, and he said, "All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.” I would simply insert the term man-made before religion and agree with what Poe says.

James 1:2 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." So, not all religion is bad. Certainly we can look at the world and see much good being done in the name of the Lord: hospitals, schools, adoption agencies, foster care programs, homeless shelters, food pantries, shelters for abused women, and more are all being run by people in the name of the Lord.

So, what makes the difference? Well, here in Hosea 6, we get some insight from the Lord's perspective on toxic religion and what God desires instead. Here in these verses, we see that corrupt and vile religion is fickle, formalist, and financially driven.

1. Religion is awful when it is fickle:

Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away. (v. 4)

God's people would return to Him at times and pledge their loyalty to Him, only to turn away at the slightest provocation and temptation. How often do we turn aside from our loyal love to the Lord for some small, petty temptation?

2. Religion is awful when it is formalist:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (v. 6)

God's people thought that, as long as they were going through the formal motions of their religion, they would be accepted by God. But God desires steadfast love and the knowledge of God much more than sacrifices and burnt offerings. God isn't impressed with ritual. He wants our hearts. He isn't impressed when we check all the religion boxes; He wants us to know and love Him.

3. Religion is awful when it's financially motivated:  

 As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy. (v. 9) 

The priests are here compared with a band of robbers. They valued profit more than human lives. Can church leaders today be driven by what increases attendance or boosts giving instead of what is actually faithful to God's covenant, what is loving to God and His people?

When we think deeply about these three realities, we will see that they rear their ugly heads again and again among God's people. The outward forms of our sin may change, but the heart of the matter remains the same. The Lord is calling us to know Him, love Him, and be loyal to His covenant and His kingdom. How are we responding to His call? 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Hosea, Day 14: Hosea 6:1-3 - How Do We Break the Downward Sin Spiral?

How Do We Break the Downward Sin Spiral?
Hosea, Day 14

Come, let us return to the LORD;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”
- Hosea 6:1-3, ESV

What good would a dentist be who could tell you that you have a nasty cavity but not do anything to fix it? This hypothetical situation was the basis an ad last year. The scene was a man in the dentist chair and his dentist telling him about his cavity but then telling him he could not actually fix it, he could just find it and tell him about it. Not much help, huh?

Last time, we looked at Hosea 5 and we described the downward sin spiral many of us have experienced to one degree or another. Sin leads to discipline from God in the form of hardship, failure, or frustration. Instead of driving us to God, we too often respond to such miseries by seeking help from the world, seeking man-made solutions to what is, at its heart, a spiritual problem. And so, God further disciplines us for not seeking Him in our distress, and the downward spiral continues.

How do we break this downward cycle? Hosea 6 opens with the invitation that is the key: “Come, let us return to the LORD.” We must remember the goodness of the LORD. The LORD only ever tears and strikes down His people with the longer-term purpose of healing us and binding us up. We need to remember that, if we are suffering under His discipline, even painful discipline, it is only because His purpose is to save us and heal us.

So, we remember and return, and then we trust in His resurrection power. This raises an interesting question: Is Hosea 6:2 about the resurrection of Jesus, or is it about our resurrection? The answer, of course, is yes, it is.

All salvation from the LORD to His people comes through our Savior, the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. All of our forgiveness flows from His cross, and all of our resurrections and restorations flow from His resurrection power. It is because the LORD raised Jesus to life again on the third day that we receive restoration in this life and resurrection life for eternity. One key to understanding the Gospel and appropriating its power for your life is to realize how deeply your identity and your story are tightly wrapped up in Christ.

We know God the Father raised Jesus from the dead three days after He poured out His wrath on Him on the cross. More importantly, God the Father had resurrection glory for Jesus in mind even as He poured out His wrath. This is why Jesus said of the cross, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” The cross was the pathway to glory for Jesus, and it remains the pathway to glory for all who follow Him.

So, how do we break the downward cycle of sin and judgment in our lives? Simply put, we don’t. God does. He does so through the death and resurrection power of Jesus applied to us and worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit. What do we do? We return to the Lord, confessing our need and our utter helplessness, and pleading for His mercy in Jesus’ name. That’s a prayer God always answers. The power to answer it belongs to Him alone.

So, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hosea, Day 13: Hosea 5:8-15 - What Does the Sin Spiral Look Like?

What Does the Sin Spiral Look Like?
Hosea, Day 13

Blow the horn in Gibeah,
    the trumpet in Ramah.
Sound the alarm at Beth-aven;
    we follow you, O Benjamin!
Ephraim shall become a desolation
    in the day of punishment;
among the tribes of Israel
    I make known what is sure.
The princes of Judah have become
    like those who move the landmark;
upon them I will pour out
    my wrath like water.
Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment,
    because he was determined to go after filth.
But I am like a moth to Ephraim,
    and like dry rot to the house of Judah.

When Ephraim saw his sickness,
    and Judah his wound,
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.
But he is not able to cure you
    or heal your wound.
For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me.
- Hosea 5:8-15, ESV

Have you ever seen someone you love trapped in a downward spiral of self-destruction? If you have, you know it's one of most frustrating and difficult things to watch. This is the situation the Lord is in here in Hosea. He is watching His beloved Israel spiral out of control. We need to pay close attention to the pattern of Israel's sin spiral, because the same pattern can begin to manifest itself in our lives, if we're not diligent.

So, what does a sin spiral like Israel's look like? Israel is "determined to go after filth." That is, Israel is determined to believe the lying promises of their idols and do what they know is wrong and unfaithful because they think it will pay off in the end. We are "determined to go after filth" whenever we willfully choose sin, which is always unfaithfulness to God.

In His love, when God sees His people "determined to go after filth," He responds with discipline. For Israel, God allowed them to be "crushed in judgment," breaking them so that they might turn to Him. Very often in our lives, God allows us to suffer the consequences of our sin, so we will see the emptiness of the promises of our idols. In a similar way, this is what God does to Israel. Their idols promised them prosperity and fertility, so God makes sure they suffer sickness and loss instead. They need to see how wrong they are to trust in idols.

Sadly, they don't see it. And so the sin spiral deepens. Instead of seeking the Lord in humility, Israel seeks a worldly solution to their problems:

Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.
But he is not able to cure you
    or heal your wound.

How often do we suffer consequences for our sin and turn to worldly solutions instead of to the Lord? It's exactly the wrong thing to do, and yet we do it again and again, don't we?

What does God say to Israel for seeking help from Assyria instead of from Him? 

I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

Why is God so harsh? Is it because He is sick of Israel and doesn't love them anymore? No. He is doing what must be done to bring His people to repentance:

I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me.

When we are trapped in a sin spiral, we need to do the only thing that will break the downward cycle: Acknowledge our guilt and seek His face. God is always ready and waiting to forgive and restore. 

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.