A Call to Repentance (Part One)

Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (6:1-3 CSB).

Religious people in our time have lost their hold on the reality of God, the living God, the God who is there. During the last few years in Christian writings, it has become necessary to revisit the basic teachings about God. For example, in some circles there is growing confusion about the Trinity, and in others there is a denial of God’s knowledge and sovereignty in what is called “Open Theism”. Since the tragic events of 9/11, some have become practical dualists in their theology, wrongly assuming that all good events come from God and all bad events from the devil. As we will see, such ideas shipwreck on the solid rock of this text.

We need the teaching of this text for another reason. This passage is like a ray of sunshine and hope before the storm breaks. Sometimes in the trials of life we lose sight of the mercy and love of God. Hopefully, we still confess the mercy and love of God, but the fog of life obscures the sight and pleasure of God’s wonderful grace to broken people. We become legalistic, wrongly assuming that God only likes people that resemble Mary Poppins— “practically perfect in every way!” The Bible knows of no perfect person but the Lord Jesus, and instead asserts the holiness of Christ and our total need of him. So this passage offers hope to people, regardless of their imperfection. Let us listen to God’s encouraging words.

The Lord Israel urged to repent (6:1-3). Hosea taught the people how to turn back to the Lord in these verses. God was behind this training; he wanted repentance. Hosea willingly joined with the people, both as an example, and a leader, and as one who recognized his own sinfulness, for no one is perfect.

Repentance described. A description is different from a definition. Repentance is defined as a “change of mind or heart.” Genuine repentance produces certain actions that describe how it looks. Two of these are the descriptions we read here.

It is described as the need to return to the Lord (6:1). Israel had abandoned the living God for dead idols. She needed to go back to the true and Living One (Jeremiah 2:13). The deepest truths are often the simplest! Where is the Lord in your life? What practical evidences are there of your interaction with him?

In our family we can point to specific events when we were together and can describe the fellowship that occurred during those times. You can do the same in your family. The same thing happens in the family of God, when people are in a vital relationship with the living God.

Have you wandered away from the Lord? What has come between God and you? Forsake it and return to him! You won’t return to the Lord as long as you hang onto what is keeping you away from him. A desire for “other things” can choke the Lord’s message to you (Matthew 13:22).

It is described as the need to know the Lord (6:3). Observe once again the importance of knowing God! See Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 17:3. God wants a diligent desire. He wanted them to pursue this knowledge. In other words, the Lord wants fellowship or communication.

Repentance encouraged

God encouraged it by a presentation of God’s grace. The Lord uses his kindness to lead people to repentance (Rm 2:4). He wins us by his love. The Almighty revealed himself in three ways.

  • God as Healer. The Lord is able to mend what he has torn.
  • God as Lifegiver. Notice the “third day” mentioned. This might be an allusion to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
  • God as Renewer. Rain is essential for a proper harvest. In the same way, the life-giving grace of God is able to make them flourish spiritually.

Observe the idea of overflowing grace (Romans 5:20-21). His grace is greater than our sins. When you take care of young children, you find out that they can be messy, especially when they eat! Loving adults reach out to messy children and tenderly clean them. The living God is willing “to get his hands messy” to clean us up and to share life with us. He knows that to some extent, we will always have “messy faces and hands” in this life, but he still loves us!

God encouraged it by a presentation of their need: “that we may live….” Since God has endowed people with life and the ability to make rational judgments, he appeals to us in this way. Will you be able to live before God forever? If not, how will you be able to endure his wrath forever?

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Restoration (Part Two)

1 Kings 19:11-18

Then the Lord said to him, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you are to anoint Hazael as king over Aram. You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Then Jehu will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Jehu (1 Kings 19:15-17 CSB).

We have seen how Elijah fled from Jezebel to Mt. Horeb, fearful, faltering, and fatigued. He prayed to die. But God still had service for Elijah to do. He reaches out to his servants in their weakness. He renews and restores us. Let us see more about how the Lord brought this about in Elijah.

The Lord immediately reassigned Elijah to other work. Go … anoint…. God has the right to command us, and we are responsible to obey him. The purpose of human life is to live for the honor of God. One way we do this is by serving him. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV). We live among a people that are totally consumed with the desire to make ourselves individually happy. The Bible does not exalt the self; it exalts the living God. For example, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV; cf. also Jude 1:24-25).

God first revealed himself to his prophet; then he sent him (cf. Isaiah 6:5, 8-9). We must first know God before we can testify about him to others. Imagine this scene: “Elisha, God has anointed you as his prophet.” What if Elisha had replied, “That’s nice; who is God? Could you please tell me about him?” No, it didn’t happen that way. First you must know God, then you can serve him. When Elijah met Elisha, he knew that he wasn’t the only one left.

God continued to use Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 1:3). Even though we may sin many times, God still can use us. He is the God of overflowing grace to his people. So that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21 NASB).

A helpful example of this is Peter, to whom the Lord said, “feed my sheep … my lambs.” The ongoing experience of God’s grace should spur us on to serve him more fervently. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:13 ESV).

Elijah obeyed. See 19:19. So Elijah went. Persevering faith produced obedience. How did God restore Elijah? By sending Elijah on a new mission. Thank God he does not abandon us after we fail or fall. The promise is extremely sure: He will never, no absolutely never, leave us or forsake us. He gives more grace. Has God been gracious to you? His grace is given in Jesus Christ the Lord. You can only know God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Come to him today.

Grace and peace, David

Humility Before God

dscn0073Psalm 115:1

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! (ESV)

Worship does not come easily to the human heart. There are many reasons, but at the core is sin, the great evil that rejects God as God, refuses to love him foremost, and rebels against him and his ways. Sadly, we reject him as our Creator, Preserver, Ruler, and Holy One. We struggle with the Biblical idea that God alone is the cause, means, and goal of everything. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36 ESV). You see, we want to be the goal of everything. We want our needs and desires to be satisfied. We want the world to go at our pace. We don’t want anyone or anything to disrupt our plans, because we must be happy! A simple way to evaluate yourself on this is to think about your plans for the Christmas season: people you want to be with, places you want to go, parties you want to attend, pleasures you want to experience, and presents you want to receive. Did you notice the recurring phrase? How many of them give preference to God’s glory and will?

Worship does not come easily to the human heart. Worship declares God’s worth and primary significance. How can we worship and bring glory to God?

  • We must know the God that we are to worship. True knowledge of God comes through Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:6). To know God, we must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. We first must be rescued from our sin and selfishness.
  • We must humble ourselves before God. Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8 HCSB). We cannot worship when we try to usurp his place or put other things in his place.
  • We must refuse praise that belongs to God. Not to us, O Lord, not to us… We like to be admired, congratulated and thanked. But we must make certain that God receives the praise, because apart from the Lord we can accomplish nothing of eternal significance (cf. John 15:5). Spiritual gifts are from the Spirit of God, and so we must honor God as we use them. This requires a conscious effort to honor the Lord.
  • We must become spiritually fruitful. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples (John 15:8 HCSB). God desires to see us display the way of life that honors him, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

The aim is that others might see and honor God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Those who follow Christ Jesus are God’s covenant people. We belong to God. We give this testimony to the world. When we praise God for his actions in our lives, we point others toward him. For example, “I trusted God in my affliction, although people thought he had abandoned me. But look, I am here today! He has preserved me, he has met my needs! God is faithful; we can rely on his love!” During this Christmas season, let’s evaluate our aims. Do we strive to honor God? In the activities of a busy holiday season, do we make room in our hearts to worship?

Grace and peace, David

More Thoughts on Continue in the Teaching

img_4323-22 John 1:9

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (NIV).

Why is it important that we continue in the teaching about Christ? Some things are best said directly and simply. It is important because our relationship with God depends on our continuance in the teaching about Christ.

There can be no real relationship apart from truth. We require true knowledge to have a real relationship. As Frame said, we can think of knowledge in three ways: a knowledge of facts (“knowing that…”), a knowledge of skills (“knowing how…”), and a knowledge of persons (“knowing whom…”). Obviously, there is a difference between merely knowing the facts about a person and having a personal knowledge of that person. I have friends in Ohio whom none of you outside of my family have met. I could tell you facts about them, but that wouldn’t be equivalent to knowing them. This is the problem many religious people have about their knowledge of God. They know some facts about him, but they do not know God personally.

However, we cannot in truth have a real relationship with a person if our knowledge of that person fails to agree with what he or she actually is. For example, my wife’s name is Sharon. Some of you know her, and if I talk about her with words that agree with who she really is, you would agree that she is my wife. But if I said that my wife Sharon has black hair, brown eyes, grew up in Uzbekistan, and graduated with a law degree from Harvard, you would say, “Whoa, that’s not the Sharon we know!” Since the only way to know God is to know him through the Son, including who he is, what he teaches, and what he has done to save sinners, if anyone goes beyond the teaching about Christ, he or she does not have God. (To “have” someone means to be in a relationship with that person.) The Bible clearly says that you cannot have a personal relationship with God, except through knowing Christ, the Son of God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 2:22-23; 5:12-13).

You may have a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Right now, listen to what God tells you about himself in the Bible; agree in your heart that you need the salvation Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection, and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. You may change your mind and believe the good news right where you read this.

It is this teaching that puts true Christianity in opposition to the attitude of our culture. We live among a people who falsely assume that any individual has the right to determine what truth is, that whatever anybody thinks about religion and/or spirituality is what is right for him or her, and that no one has the right to say that anybody else is wrong. By the way, the people of our culture are incredibly naïve, because they fail to realize that they are far outnumbered in the world by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and true Christians who do not share their life in Tolerate Everything Fantasy Land or whatever imaginary world they live in. But I do not want to digress too far into social commentary.

The Lord through John plainly says that we must remain true to the teaching about Christ, or we do not have a relationship with God! Those who claim to be Christians in our time must decide now whether they will surrender to the foolish ideas of our culture or stand up for the truth that is Jesus. There are only two options; one leads to life and the other to death. You cannot walk in opposite directions at the same time. People are not going to like it when you stand up for Christ as the exclusive way of salvation. You should not expect them to like it; you must be prepared for unpleasant reactions when you stand up for this truth. The teaching about Christ is essential part of a real relationship with him.

What encouragement does this provide? We have a personal, saving relationship with God the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of all. We have life in his Son! If you have God, you have what is best and worth more than all else. Therefore, rejoice and be content!

Grace and peace, David

Meeting God

IMG_0977Genesis 1:1-31

June traditionally has been the great month for weddings, which means it is also the time for anniversaries. This means it is a season when we see family members that we haven’t seen for a while. At these gatherings we also meet people that we’ve never met. I suppose everyone has had the experience of sitting at a table at a party where you didn’t know have the people. This means that we have the opportunity to expand our circle of friends, even if it is only for the afternoon or evening.

Usually, people share some general information about themselves: their names, where they live, their occupation, how they know those being honored, etc. However, when the exchanging of information is done and those who are adept at conversation have others participating, we know that we know little about the other people, except for a list of facts. We have not shared life with them, and so we don’t know who they really are.

In religious circles, people assume that they can know God by learning a list of facts about it. This happens in many ways: in Sunday school or catechism classes, in Vacation Bible School, or if one’s parents were especially devoted to God, by their parents’ kind instruction. When they mature, it is easy to continue the trend by reading books that give more lists of facts about God with philosophical discussion about those facts; namely, theology books.

The true and living God did not write a theology book when he spoke to introduce himself to us. Instead, he told his story. By telling his story, he explains his plans to us and invites us to share life with him. Sharing life with God is the experience of his glory, love, joy, and peace. We glorify him, and he promises a share in his glory forever. As we come to know his story, he uses its message, its good news, to bring us to new birth by the power of his Spirit.

Today, let us listen to the living God introduce himself. In this introduction we do learn facts about him, like in all introductions, but he does this to set the context in which we might really know him, and not merely a list of facts about him. How does he start his story?

  • God introduces himself as the Creator. We can meet him, because he created us and the world in which we live. God does more than tell us the fact; he tells us the story of how he brought us and everything else into existence. He gradually builds excitement as he talks about the creation of light, earth, and sky, to making a place suitable for human life, and on to the creation of mankind, intimating that we are an important part of the story he is telling.
  • God talks about how he created. I suppose that God might have created everything by simply thinking or by direct acts of power. But as he introduces himself, he tells us that he created by his word. Nine times he uses a phrase like “and God said” in this opening chapter of his story. God reveals that his word is powerful. He can speak and bring worlds into existence. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can speak together about how they will make mankind, both male and female.
  • God makes known his power in his story. Our world comes into being as the act of his will. We are made in his likeness to rule over the world by his sovereign will. God gives us significance by his will. And he gives us the power to procreate and to subdue the earth by that same will. He is the God who can give authority and power to others, while ruling over all by his word.
  • God points out his goodness. He tells us seven times that he makes what is good, including mankind. God gave us a good world and told us to care for it. He wants us to know that he is the source of what is good. We can receive it from him.

God does all this in a form of a story. Listen to his majestic revelation of who he is and how he wants us to know that he desires what is good for mankind. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

The Belt of Truth (Part Two)

IMG_0188Ephesians 6:14

How do we put on the belt of truth? In other words, how do we establish our minds in the knowledge of God that the Lord Jesus Christ has given us? We must aim at sincerity of heart in embracing Christ by faith. The Lord must be sought, believed in, and loved, and not merely the gifts and benefits that we may receive from him. Do you want to know the Lord (Philippians 3:7ff)? To know God through faith in Jesus Christ is the most important matter. (If you’re not sure what I mean, please contact me.) Though some might agree that knowing the Lord is most important, they develop instability in the inner person of the heart by fickleness. One moment they seem to want to be totally for Christ, but then they flirt with the attractions of the world, the flesh and the devil (1 Timothy 1:5-6; 2 Timothy 3:5).

We must pay attention to the ministry of the Word (Ephesians 4:11-16). Though listening to the ministry of the Scriptures is not a sacrament (a means of conveying grace to the heart by participating in some ritual), the Holy Spirit does use the Bible to develop and perfect correct ideas about Christ our Mediator in our hearts. This means that we cannot “channel surf” in our minds when the Spirit by the Scriptures is presenting doctrine to us. Some think that practical preaching is hearing some “how to” program, like “Seven Steps to Successful Family Living”. However, what can be more practical than knowing more about my God and all that he is?

Do not enslave your mind to any person or party (1 Corinthians 3:4-7). Evidence from God’s Word, not a polished or dynamic preaching style should convince your mind. There is a great difference between profiting from a pastor or teacher and idolizing one. Yet paradoxically, only a thin line separates the two. Far too many blindly accept what their favorite television and radio preachers or teachers say. Follow me only as far as I follow the Lord Christ.

Beware of curiosity (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Many are lured into Satan’s trap out of a plausible desire to understand error. “I want to know what it is, so that I can refute it.” To borrow from the style of John Bunyan in the Pilgrim’s Progress, Ms. Seducing Spirit can pretend to be Mrs. Honest Inquiry. Before you begin the study of error, make sure that your mind is humble before the Holy Scriptures and that you don’t have any loose threads of thought that the evil ones can grab hold of. Some matters are best left to very mature teachers, who “by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish truth from error” (Hebrews 5:14). If you do have to study error, make sure that you cleanse your heart with the truth of the Scriptures after examining falsehood. Don’t give the devil a foothold in a tired mind.

Humbly seek a settled, established mind from God (Ephesians 1:17f; Psalm 25:4; 119:18, 34). To paraphrase William Gurnall: Keep this deep in your heart. God who opens our eyes to know the truth must also give strength to hold on to truth (2 Tm 1:14).

Don’t stumble over differences in opinion that you see among people who profess to know the Lord (cf. Romans 14). Many things can cause a difference of opinion: pride, personality conflicts, ignorance, sin not put to death, twisting of the Scriptures, etc. All the clocks in town will strike twelve together before all the Christians in the world, or any local church, will agree together. Please be more concerned about seeing the power of the clear truth that you do know work in your heart than about how Christians disagree about the millennium or other minor matters.

Every day we must put on this basic grace of knowing the truth that is in Jesus. This is where we start our preparation for the day’s conflict. Approach life from the position that the living God has made himself known to you. Don’t play around with other ideas. Make a fresh commitment in your heart to pursuing the knowledge of the Lord. Only as you know the Lord are you ready for battle.

Grace and peace, David