September 20, 2017

September 20, 2017

HOSEA 8-14

Focus Verse: Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
Whoever is discerning, let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
And the righteous will walk in them,
But transgressors will stumble in them.
Hosea 14:9

 

What an absolutely perfect way to end the book of Hosea. I hit on this in the devotional yesterday, but reading through this book this year for me has been eye opening. I feel like I am understanding the Gospel on a whole new level. I was talking to my wife yesterday about it and I think my problem has been that I’ve always tried to relate myself to Hosea. And I think that this is a common legalist problem. It really shows how little I understood the Gospel. The moral lesson I used to take away was that I need to be like Hosea. I need to forgive those who sin against me, in fact, I need to “marry” those kinds of people. I don’t think that’s a bad lesson, but it’s not the Gospel.

 

The Gospel lesson here in Hosea (and I’m hitting on this again from yesterday, but it’s that important that we grasp this) isn’t that we need to be more like Hosea. The Gospel lesson is that WE ARE Gomer, his wife, the prostitute. This is what we need to understand if we are to be wise (and this is God’s Kingdom wise, not worldly wise), this is what we need to discern. But here’s that snag again, we can’t do this on our own!

 

As I was talking to my wife, telling her how amazing Hosea has been for me this time around and she said, “I think you need to help me get how important it is.” So I told her I would try and I started explaining it to her. And that was my first mistake. What should I have done immediately when she asked me to help her? I should have asked the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of His Word to her. Why? Because she can’t, but Jesus did and will through the Holy Spirit in her.

 

I want to make something crystal clear here, this is not saying anything against my wife. It’s not saying that she doesn’t get the Gospel or that she isn’t smart enough to get it on her own (actually, it is exactly that, but it’s not a focus on her intelligence at all). I’ve probably read the Bible, cover to cover, over ten times. I’ve been a Pastor for three years, been in ministry for six years, and been following the Lord for sixteen years. This is not to display my merit badges, it’s to show that it was only just yesterday that I got all of this! And why? Because I’m so much holier this year than I was last year or the year before that? Absolutely not! Because this just happened to be the time that the Holy Spirit pulled back the veil for me.

 

We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of His Word to us. We cannot get there on our own. So instead of studying harder, we need to draw closer to Him. We need to admit to Him that we cannot understand it on our own, but that we need Him to lead us to understanding. If we don’t do this, the Word of God will cause us to stumble. We will find verses that we don’t like or that we don’t agree with. We will find passages that rub us the wrong way, and without the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we will turn our backs on those parts, or even the whole Word of God, instead of letting it correct and change us.

 

The ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them. But it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can do any of that. Are you surrendered to Him today?

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September 19, 2017

September 19, 2017

HOSEA 1-7

Focus Verse: When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.”
Hosea 1:2

 

I love the book of Hosea. For some reason, this time around, I really loved it. I had goosebumps pretty much the whole time I was reading it this morning. I don’t know if there is any other book of the Bible that portrays the love of God for us so well, in such a unique manner. The whole concept of the book is so absolutely outlandish to us today; I think that’s why I like it so much.

 

So here’s the story of Hosea in a nutshell: Hosea is a prophet of the Lord. Now the Lord can sometimes tell His prophets to do some pretty crazy stuff to get His point across (see Ezekiel 4:12 when God has Ezekiel bake his bread over poop), and we see that happen here with Hosea. To demonstrate His love for His people, God has Hosea marry Gomer, a prostitute who will refuse to be faithful to him.

 

This is where we get all sorts of bristly. Hold on a second! Why would God ask someone to do something like this? Throw away their marriage; throw away their life, just so that He can prove a point.

 

I am so glad you brought that up! So let me ask you a question: what is the purpose of marriage? God answers that question very directly here…and I’m going to warn you, if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to like His answer. Is the meaning of marriage for your personal happiness? To make you a better person? To “complete” you? Well, did marrying a prostitute accomplish any of those things for Hosea? So I think it’s safe to say that isn’t the purpose of marriage. Ok, so let’s throw back to the old school way of thinking…the Bible has a lot of that (according to those who find the Bible outdated and regressive)…the meaning of marriage must be a societal structure. To benefit society by raising healthy, well-balanced, productive children. To make us more productive members of society. Wrong. How in the world could marrying a prostitute and raising “children of harlotry” be a benefit to society?

 

Hosea leads us to a radically different purpose of marriage; a radically different purpose of all of our relationships. Now we have to be a little careful here. There is no doubt that Hosea is the exception to the rule here. The moral of the story is NOT that we should all go out a marry prostitutes. The moral of the story is not even that we should marry into miserable circumstances or that infidelity is acceptable in marriage as long as your spouse is unsaved. We have to be so careful not to make the things in the Bible that are clearly exceptions the norm.

 

What we can learn here is that marriage (and all other relationships) is supposed to be a representation of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Timothy Keller puts it this way in his book, The Meaning of Marriage, “The reason for marriage is to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever!” Marriage is an act of obedience to God. Marriage is to be reflective of God’s glory. The relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be clearly reflected in all of our relationships.

 

Now here it comes, every single one of us reading this (including myself while I’m writing) KNOWS FULL WELL that we can’t do this. I cannot love my beautiful wife (or anyone else for that matter) anywhere close to how the Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit. The only way we can possibly have this kind of relationship is if we are, not only shown how, but also given the strength to carry it out. Enter Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

 

So what does this mean for us? What does this mean for our marriages and our relationships? It means that you cannot have a successful, biblical (and I stress biblical here because you can have a successful worldly relationship, though it will be significantly more difficult because you aren’t using it for its intended purpose) relationship without a growing understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You cannot have a successful marriage without the Holy Spirit. You cannot have a relationship that is a picture of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, without His power.

 

When we realize this, it raises the bar on all of our relationships. Just like a man who marries a prostitute, we aren’t in it for ourselves, we are in it for the other person. We don’t love that person because they earn our love or have something to give us, we love them because God loves them, because that’s how God loved you.

 

I’ll leave you with another passage from today’s reading. This comes from Hosea 2:14-23. Remember this while you’re reading it: you are the prostitute in this story. You have given yourself to other loves and cheated on God with everything you placed above Him. Yet, here is what He did for you:

 

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.
“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord,
“That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali.
“For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth,
So that they will be mentioned by their names no more.
“In that day I will also make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
The birds of the sky
And the creeping things of the ground.
And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land,
And will make them lie down in safety.
“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the Lord.
“It will come about in that day that I will respond,” declares the Lord.
“I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth,
And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil,
And they will respond to Jezreel.
“I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion on [h]her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, ‘You are my God!’”

September 18, 2017

September 18, 2017

DANIEL 10-12

Focus Verse: When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. And behold, one who resembled a human being was touching my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke and said to him who was standing before me, “O my lord, as a result of the vision anguish has come upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can such a servant of my lord talk with such as my lord? As for me, there remains just now no strength in me, nor has any breath been left in me.”
Then this one with human appearance touched me again and strengthened me.
Daniel 10:15-18

 

We see another example of a theophany here in Daniel, where God manifests Himself for humankind to see. Here, Jesus appears to Daniel in His glorified form to tell Daniel what is to come. When we see that this is Jesus that Daniel is talking to, it opens up some absolutely amazing things.

 

The first principle we see is the same thing that we see every time the glory of the Lord falls. Daniel is left speechless, on his face on the ground. I talked about the same thing in the book of Isaiah when Isaiah has his vision of the Lord, but these men are humbled to their core. And it’s not like they are criminals or notorious sinners. These men are upstanding men of God, yet they are still humbled to their core. What does this teach us? No one is righteous before God. In His presence, and only in His presence, do we see how truly awful we are without Christ. The sooner we see that, the better off we are and the better we will grab hold of the Gospel.

 

Second, and these two things go hand in hand, but check out Daniel’s response to this meeting with Jesus. We’ll break it down into the RJV (the Revised Jeremy Version) of the Bible for you here:

Daniel: “Mmmm hmmmm hmmmm.”

Jesus: Touches Daniel’s lips

Daniel: I can’t believe You are here in front of me! I can’t even talk right now…I don’t even have the strength to keep a straight thought.

Jesus: Touches Daniel and gives him strength.

Daniel: “I can’t even.”

What an amazing interaction. And what definitive proof that we can’t, but Jesus did and will through the Holy Spirit in us. In the presence of Jesus Christ, Daniel doesn’t even have the strength to formulate the words to say to his Savior. He needs to be given strength to even talk to Him.

 

Again, this is a man that JESUS HIMSELF calls “man of high esteem”. I don’t know about you, but if Jesus calls me that at one moment in my life I would be thrilled. If this “man of high esteem” realizes in the presence of his Savior that he can’t even talk to Him without being given power from on high, what chance do we have to do ANYTHING without God’s power?

 

You can’t, but Jesus did and will through the Holy Spirit in you! Isn’t He amazing!?!

September 17, 2017

September 17, 2017

DANIEL 7-9

Focus Verse: I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.
Daniel 9:4-5

 

Confession is something that we don’t do nearly enough of. In fact, I would say that the good majority of us (myself included) tend to do more excusing our mistakes than confessing them. We may admit that we’ve messed up, but the real reason we’re telling God about it is so that He can see that it really isn’t our fault.

 

That’s not what we see from Daniel in his prayer here in chapter 9 though. He lumps himself right in with the rest of the wicked and rebellious house of Israel. He takes his stand in prayer before God, his eternal judge, and throws himself on the mercy of the court, confessing all of their sins, iniquity, wickedness, rebellions and failures. The set up is the vital part to this formula though, and I think our misunderstanding of this is why we don’t confess often enough.

 

Daniel opens his confession by recognizing who God is. “The great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments…” If we start here, confession becomes much more bearable. Our problem is that we don’t understand what all this covenant entails. We relate to God’s love on a purely emotional level, but that’s not how God’s love is communicated anywhere in the Bible. I know I’ve talked about this before, but this Hebrew word, hesed, is such a foreign concept to us.

 

The word is most commonly translated as lovingkindness in most translations, but it is so much deeper than that. Hesed being translated as lovingkindness is very similar to the Hebrew word shalom being translated as peace. That is one of the meanings, but it goes so much deeper than just that. I heard one person say that hesed is not the kind of love, kindness, mercy, or loyalty that you feel but the kind that we DO.

 

Along with doing, hesed is permanently linked with this concept of covenant. This is vital in our understanding of the word and in our willingness to confess. Since it is not an emotional love that changes with the wind, it is an enduring love. God’s love for us is not tied to whether He likes us or not. God doesn’t deal in those terms because He doesn’t change on a whim like we do. His love is covenantal, it never changes, it has been promised in a covenant and that covenant has been sealed by the costly sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

 

It is this confidence that makes confession possible. If we are constantly looking over our shoulder, wondering if God is going to smite us if we’ve sinned one too many times this week or if we’ve run out of “grace points” for the extent of our life, then we won’t be free to confess everything to Him (not that confession is for God, He already knows where we’ve fallen short…most likely better than we do). When our hope is tied to this covenantal love though, this hesed, we can be as sure as the writer of Hebrews when he said, “We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (6:19).

September 16, 2017

September 16, 2017

DANIEL 4-6

Focus Verse: Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel;
For He is the living God and enduring forever,
And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed,
And His dominion will be forever.
“He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders
In heaven and on earth,
Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”
So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Daniel 6:25-28

 

What was the purpose of God saving Daniel from the Lions’ Den? I’ll give you a hint, it was the same purpose for which He saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It was the same reason He rescued the Israelites from Egypt, helped David conquer nations, and the countless other miracles that God delivered on. The purpose behind it all is to bring glory to God.

 

We tend to get it backwards. In this passage, King Darius praises God that Daniel is saved from the Lions’ Den, then we are told Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius. We get so wrapped up in ourselves sometimes that we think God’s miracles are for us. He saved Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Moses, David, etc, just to save their lives. They were good people who were in danger, so God helped them out.

 

Now I love the fact that my God blesses me. I have an incredible family, an amazing group of friends and so many comforts in this life that others are unable to have. I love that when I am in trouble or when I am facing death or other lesser health issues, I can go to my God who is my Strong Tower, my Defense and my Healer. But we must never forget that these things are added bonuses. These are not the REASON why God exists. If we get this wrong, we create a god who is our hired help. Our little, bellboy god comes and goes as we choose and has no actual power to change us into the person we need to be.

 

God’s purpose, the motive behind everything He does, is to bring glory to Himself. So guess what His purpose was in creating us? To bring glory to Him. So what is our purpose? You guessed it! To bring Him glory. It’s the purpose behind everything that you do.

 

So let’s look at your motives today. What’s the purpose of your marriage? What’s the purpose of your job? What the purpose of your family? What is the purpose of your kids? What’s the purpose of your life? Now, have you been living in a way that shows everyone the purpose of all of these things is to bring glory to God? It’s never too late to start. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to bring God glory in every part of your life. You can’t do it, but Jesus did and will through the Holy Spirit in you!

September 15, 2017

September 15, 2017

DANIEL 1-3

Focus Verse: If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Daniel 3:17-18

 

What miracle are you waiting for? Want to see it answered even faster? Take this attitude that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had. This is the fastest track to all answered prayer.

 

Here’s the funny thing…kind of a catch-22…in order to have this attitude, you have to give up on the miracle. It doesn’t mean that you stop hoping for it, it doesn’t mean that you stop praying for it. It just means that the miracle or the answer to prayer takes its proper priority. And where is its proper priority? Beneath the miracle Giver.

 

So even to say that this is what you have to do to get your prayers answered faster is kind of a catch. Since it’s an attitude that has to change, it’s not something that you can fake. You can’t give God the lip service of telling Him, “You know God, it’s ok, I didn’t really want healed anyway.” God knows your heart…He sees right through stuff like that.

 

So how do you do it? How do you muster up the faith, the hope, the relationship that makes God more important than the miracle you’re looking for? The answer? You guessed it! You can’t. But Jesus did! And He will do it through the Holy Spirit in you. This is something you have to ask for.

 

Take a playbook from the dad in Mark 9 who is asking for Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. Jesus tells the man that anything is possible if he believes. And the man plays it cool right. “Of course I believe in you Jesus. Would I really be asking for this if I didn’t?” Except that’s not what he does, and we need to learn from this man and his response. He is 100% raw and honest with Jesus as he cries out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

 

I don’t know why we think God will answer our prayers more often or better if we fake faith. God sees right through all that. So we have to get to the real deal, and that is something that you and I can’t do on our own. Our self-centeredness and sinful nature keeps us from being able to get there.

 

It is possible though. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got there. Job got there. Abraham, Moses, David, the disciples, even this faithless dad in Mark 9, but they all started in the exact same place: “Lord, help me with my unbelief!” And He did…and He does…every single time.

September 14, 2017

September 14, 2017

EZEKIEL 46-48

Focus Verse: ‘Thus says the Lord God, “If the prince gives a gift out of his inheritance to any of his sons, it shall belong to his sons; it is their possession by inheritance. But if he gives a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty; then it shall return to the prince. His inheritance shall be only his sons’; it shall belong to them.
Ezekiel 46:16-17

 

What an incredible promise to us who are now sons and daughters of God! Jesus Christ, our Prince, has given us the ultimate gift of love out of His inheritance as the one and only Son of God. What Christ has earned now belongs to us. This really makes the words of Jesus to His disciples in John 15:15 pack an even more powerful punch. Jesus doesn’t call us servants, even though He absolutely should…even the title of His servant is more than we deserve, but He calls us friend. This isn’t a gift that will come back to Him. This isn’t a gift we will have to repay. It was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ, and He is the only one who could complete that transaction.

 

One other point of clarification here: it is a gift…more so, an inheritance. For any of you who have collected on any sort of inheritance from your parents or other family, you understand why the details of this are so important. There is nothing you do to earn an inheritance. That’s why Christ’s gift to us isn’t just a free gift, it’s an inheritance. Even within the realm of a free gift, there is favor that can be earned, brown-nosing that can be done (come on…we’ve all been there), but with an inheritance there is no earning.

 

You cannot possibly look at an inheritance and say, “Yes…this is mine! I earned this.” That’s what makes the claim of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son so ridiculous. What his father chooses to do with his inheritance is completely up to him…IT’S HIS STUFF! It doesn’t belong to the brother no matter what traditions or customs said. But God, in His covenantal love for us, FREELY CHOSE to give us the inheritance that belongs to Jesus. And as with everything between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus was completely on board with that decision.

 

Jesus was what the older brother in the story of the prodigal son should have been…in fact, He went so much further in telling His Father, “Give them ALL of My possessions. Give them all of My inheritance. I have You, and that’s enough.”

 

And the crazy thing is, when we lay hold of this promise and embrace our inheritance as co-heirs with Christ, we realize that the Father really is all we need. His blessings are great, His protection is great, His guidance is great, but HE is the real prize…the only prize.