Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Prepare to meet your God!"

Day #245

Scripture Reading:  Amos 1 - 4 …

Being a prophet in Israel and Judah in the centuries before Christ could not have been an easy or enjoyable task.  God sent the prophets with a message of judgment and offered hope ONLY if the people returned to Him in repentance - turning from their sin and coming humbly before their God in faith and obedience.  Those who welcomed God's offer of forgiveness and who returned to Him were few in number.  Most stubbornly persisted in their rejection of the words of the prophets, listening instead to the assurances from false prophets that all was well.  In the shadow of God's impending judgment came the prophet, Amos.

Like many of the other prophets, Amos was given a message that was 95% judgment … yet with an offer of hope for the future based not on what THEY would do, but on what GOD would do.  The true prophets did not speak their own words, but only what God Himself revealed to them.  Who would have the courage to speak such words to a nation that was chosen to belong to God?!  Amos explains, "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets.  The lion (God) has roared - who will not fear?  The Sovereign LORD has spoken - who can but prophesy?" (3:7-8).  

People today do not want to talk about God’s judgment, yet the truth of what lies ahead is revealed in God’s Word from one cover to the other!  The prophets were called and sent by God to issue a warning and a call to the remnant to trust in God’s mercy and grace in the coming Savior.  I sense that same urgency and that same call today … and I am not alone.  People often mock those who pronounce God's coming judgment, but the message God has given those who shepherd His flock today is as clear as it was in the days of Amos:  Judgment is coming on this world and many people will be surprised to find themselves in the path of His wrath.  

As Amos begins his prophecy, he mentions nations by name:  Damascus (capital of Syria), Gaza (land of the Philistines), Tyre (Lebanon), Edom, Ammon and Moab (Jordan).  These are the nations around Israel yet today.  The people of Israel and Judah would have been glad to hear of God's coming judgment upon these other nations.  God's judgment upon these nations was clear and certain:  "I will not turn back my wrath" (1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1).  It will come!

But Amos didn't stop there!!  He goes on to pronounce God's judgment on Judah and Israel!!!  (2:4-15).  These were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom God had made into a great nation and brought up out of Egypt (2:10).  Yet, God disciplines those He loves.  It was for the sake of their forefathers that God would save a remnant.  "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your sins" (3:2).  Unlike the other nations, God would not destroy them completely … then or now or in the future.  "As a shepherd saves from the lion's mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved" (3:12).  A remnant … a small piece that appears insignificant and useless … but God would keep His promises.

Oh, but what Israel and Judah have had to go through because they rejected their God and refused to return to Him … and more lies ahead.  Why is God so stern?  What about Jesus?  Isn't God compassionate and merciful and forgiving?  Yes … BUT, God cannot overlook sin. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and God spoke to Him, He proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation"  (Exodus 34:6-7).

So Amos declares, "The Sovereign LORD has sworn by His holiness:  'The time will surely come when you will be taken away ...'" (4:2).  The remainder of chapter 4 makes it clear why judgment will fall upon them.  God's discipline is meant to lead to repentance, but the people of Israel and Judah had utterly ignored God's warnings.  Five times God brought extreme trials on Israel ... He gave them empty stomachs, He withheld rain, He sent locusts and blight on their gardens and vineyards, He sent plagues, He overthrew their cities ... all to get their attention and to call them back to Him.  But after each one of these, God's refrain is the same:  "YET you have not returned to Me!" (4:6,8,9,10,11).

The result:  "Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (4:12).  God offers His love and forgiveness.  God calls out, "Come to ME!"    "He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals His thoughts to man, He who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth - the LORD God Almighty is His Name" (4:13).  God is GOD!  If you know God, you know that He loves you and sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to pay your debt on the cross.  And because He loves you, He is not going to let you drift away without giving you a wake-up call.

We read in Hebrews 12:  "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. ...  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it"  (Hebrews 12:7,11).  When God says to Israel, "Prepare to meet your God," it would be in judgment that they would meet Him.  But it did not have to be so.  God's call to repentance was met with stubborn rebellion.  Don't make the same mistake.  In the words of Isaiah, "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7).

"O LORD, our God, to know You is to know Your power and Your greatness, and then to come face-to-face with my sin and guilt.  I thank You, O God, for Your discipline and for Your call to return to You, to repent and to find Your forgiveness through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  I trust in Your promises and Your grace, O LORD, and praise You for the gift of knowing that when I meet You I will not have to be afraid.  Because of Your love for me I look forward to that day when I see Your face and enter Your presence.  My life is Yours!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"God's plan for Judah and Jerusalem ... prepare to be amazed!"

Day #244

Scripture Reading:  Joel 1 - 3 …

While many try to "spiritualize" predictions of coming judgment made by the prophets or ignore them completely, God's Word speaks truth and everything that God has spoken through the prophets either HAS taken place or WILL take place.  God's judgment is about to fall on the earth as never before in the history of mankind and millions are "playing church," failing to warn those who make a mockery of God that all is not well in our world and within much of the visible church.

When Joel proclaims to the elders of Judah, "Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?" (1:2), he is not talking about something good, he is talking about judgment from God.  The land was being destroyed … "surely the joy of mankind is withered away" (1:12).  So Joel brings God's message:  "Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.  …  For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty" (1:14-15).  God's judgment does not come unannounced. God sends His messengers to call people to repentance, but the message goes unheard by most because their hearts are hard and their minds are closed.

So God declares, "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.  It is close at hand - a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness" (2:1-2).  The "day of the LORD" WILL come.  The earth will shake, the sky will tremble, the sun and moon will be darkened and the voice of the LORD will thunder at the head of His army (2:10-11).  "The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it?" (2:11).  Still God called to those who were given "ears to hear":  "Even now, return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (2:12-13).

A small number, a remnant, heard God's voice and confessed their sin and received His forgiveness, trusting God's promises, but the nation around them was destroyed.  God speaks through Joel of another time … a time when He will bring blessing to Zion (Jerusalem) and to Judah and Israel.  "In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations … I will enter into judgment against them" (3:1-2).

You and I may promise things and forget what we have promised or have insufficient power to make our promises happen … but not God.  God says that He will "repay you for the years the locusts had eaten" (2:25), the days when Jerusalem and Judah and Israel have been oppressed.  "You will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you … then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other" (2:26-27).  Then Joel speaks about the time when the Spirit of God will be poured out on all people – meaning some from every nation (2:28).

God will bring the nations into Israel (not a stretch of the imagination!) and there He will pour out His wrath.  He even singles out "Tyre and Sidon” (Lebanon) and "regions of Philistia" (the Gaza strip), declaring, "I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done" (3:4).  God does not forget how the nations treated Israel in the past … or in the present. "There I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.  Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.  Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full" (3:12-13).  We know this is yet future because the Apostle John writes of a future "harvest" of the earth in Revelation 14:18-19, as the angel swings his sickle on the earth and throws the armies of the nations "into the great winepress of God's wrath."  It is only in the context of hearing the judgment we deserve that we rejoice in the grace and compassion and mercy of God in sending us a Savior who is Christ the Lord!!

"The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.  The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble … BUT the LORD will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for the people of Israel" (3:16).  In a future day God will stand for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the nations of the world come against them.  All that is predicted in the prophets will take place, as God has spoken.  "Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill.  Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her" (3:17).  This prophecy has not yet been fulfilled … but it will be.  "Egypt will be desolate, Edom (southern Jordan) a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah" (3:19).

But "Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations. Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon … the LORD dwells in Zion!" (3:21).  God promises that "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls" (2:32).

Have you called on the name of the LORD?  Have you placed your faith in the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … the God who makes promises and keeps them?!!  The "day of the LORD" is approaching swiftly, when God will pour out His just judgment upon all mankind, and only those who have found refuge in the mercy of God in Jesus will be spared.  Pray with me for the Word of God to bear fruit until we hear the trumpets sound and the "day of the LORD” begins.  God has promised that we who believe will not face His wrath (I Thessalonians 5:9).  Praise God for His grace and live to worship Him, for He is worthy!! God has a plan for Judah and Jerusalem ... prepare to be amazed!!

"LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, I thank You for revealing Your plan for Israel and for the world in Your Word.  As I witness the rise of evil all around me, I take refuge in Your promises that evil will be overcome in the day of the LORD, as Your judgment falls upon those who do not know You and who do not acknowledge the reign of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Keep me strong as I rest in the truth of Your Word, that I may fight against evil and call others to repent, to turn to You and find that Your grace is sufficient.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Break up your unplowed ground .. it is time to seek the LORD!"

Day #243

Scripture Reading:  Hosea 8 - 14 ...

God's call to repent sometimes comes gently, but at other times comes in the midst of discipline or judgment.  Through the prophet Hosea, God was calling Israel to return to Him, but the consequences of their sin were great.  Assyria was God's instrument of judgment and few would be spared.  Israel would be scattered throughout the nations and though God would eventually show compassion on a remnant of their descendants, most of them would perish far away from their land, their homes ... and their God.  Such is the fate of those who reject the Lord, their God, and who do not repent.

Like many in the visible church today, most of the Israelites took their relationship with God for granted.  After all, had not God chosen them as His people?  Had He not delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Yes, BUT they were called to be HIS people, to display His glory, to exalt His name, to make Him known to the nations ... not to become LIKE them!!  "Israel cries out to me, 'O our God, we acknowledge You!' But Israel has rejected what is good ..." (8:2-3).  Hypocrisy is a sin that God does not overlook.  Claiming to be the people of God, then worshiping idols, brings judgment.  "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind" (8:7).

Still, God says, "Although they have sold themselves among the nations, I will now gather them together" (8:10).  The patience, mercy and grace of God is far beyond our understanding.  Yet we need to understand that it is for His own glory that God does not totally abandon Israel ... or the Church ... HIS Church.  God sends Hosea to offer hope to the few who still cared, but judgment to the rest.  "The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand.  Let Israel know this" (9:7).  "God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins" (9:9).  God says, "I will no longer love them ... they will be wanderers among the nations" (9:15,17).  History reveals the accuracy of Hosea's prophecy.  As God declared it, so it happened.

Still today God's judgment rests on those who reject Him, whether they claim to believe in Him or not.  Mere words do not bring forgiveness or life.  There lies a time in the future when "They will say to the mountains, 'Cover us!' and to the hills, 'Fall on us!'" (10:8).  John writes in Revelation 6 of a future time when "the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Revelation 6:15-17).

It is with the knowledge of God's coming judgment that God's call to repentance comes.  Those who attempt to come to God without repentance, without a heartfelt sorrow for sin and confession, have been led astray and deceived.  These come to God for favors, for "blessings" to meet their own selfish desires, believing God's highest goal is to make them happy.  This is not the path to salvation.  The road that is narrow leads through repentance and leads to faith in a Savior whose name is Jesus!  Hosea's description of repentance is found in Chapter 10, verse 12:  "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes."  Only those whose hard hearts are tilled and softened by the Holy Spirit will seek the Lord and sow righteousness.  God tells Israel that they will be judged "because you have depended on your own strength" (10:13).

God continues to proclaim His love for those who are His and for the remnant of Israel.  In words that were later quoted as referring to Jesus in Matthew 2:15, God says, "When Israel was a child, I loved Him, and out of Egypt I called my Son" (11:1).  God makes it clear to us who live after Jesus was on the earth that those who are truly God's children are only made God's children through their union with Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14).  It is only because of the compassion and mercy of our Father in heaven that we are spared His judgment ... only by His grace.  As He speaks of judgment God says, "My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused …” (11:8).

But the "unplowed ground" must be broken up.  "You must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always" (12:6).  "You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me" (13:4).  To those who will come to Him, God says, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.  Where, O death, are your plagues?  Where, O grave, is your destruction?" (13:14).  The Apostle Paul would pick up these words of Hosea as he speaks of the resurrection of those who believe in Jesus Christ in I Corinthians 15:  "'Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:55-57).

So God points out the way to repent:  "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.  Your sins have been your downfall!  Take words with you and return to the LORD.  Say to Him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips'" (Hosea 14:1-2).  And God's response is priceless:  "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them" (14:4).  Oh, how great is God's grace, for repentance itself is the gift of God that He works in the hearts of those whom He has chosen.  If that describes you, continue to seek the Lord, your God, asking Him to break up whatever remains of the hard ground of sin and to sow seeds of righteousness, that you may be set free to praise and worship Him and that He may be glorified in your life!!

"My gracious and loving Father in heaven, You alone are God and You alone are my Savior.  In Your love and compassion you sent Your own Son to take my place, to bear my sin, to endure Your wrath and to be a ransom for ME!  I praise You at this moment for Your holiness and Your justice, and thank You for Your amazing grace.  Continue Your work in me as I repent of my sin and seek to follow the paths of righteousness for Your Name's sake.  I love You, LORD!  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen"

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"The consequences of spiritual adultery!"

Day #242

Scripture Reading:  Hosea 1 - 7 …

Hosea was called by God to make his life an illustration of God's relationship with Israel.  God told him, "Take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD" (1:2).  Israel had turned away from God to the worship of idols and God was about to bring the Assyrians to pour out His judgment upon them.  Hosea's daughter was named "Lo-Ruhamah" = "not loved" … and his son was named, "Lo-Ammi" = "not my people."  Still, even here God offered hope for the future:  "In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'  The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel" (1:10-11).  Some of the other prophets also speak of the reunion of all the tribes of Israel at some future time.

Jezreel was a place where the kings of Israel and Judah were judged by God in the days of Ahab.  The tribes of Israel had been divided into two nations under the reign of Solomon's son, Rehoboam.  Israel and Judah existed side-by-side until Assyria destroyed Israel, and then about 150 years later, Judah was taken into captivity by Babylon.  Through all of this, however, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  In Chapter 2 God says that HE will bring Israel back to Him:  "In that day you will call me 'my husband' …" (2:16).  "I will betroth you to me FOREVER" (2:19).  "I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD" (2:20).  "I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people', and they will say, 'You are my God'" (2:23).

When Hosea's wife returned to her adulterous ways, God told him to go get her and to love her again, for that is what GOD would do with Israel.  Once again, God points to a future restoration of Israel as His people:  "Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their King (Jesus Christ - a descendant of David).  They will come trembling to the LORD and to His blessings in the last days" (3:5).  Israel was judged because of their unfaithfulness to God.  God had called them to "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).  But "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6).

God sent the prophets to speak to the people, but in their fallen, sinful, rebellious state, they refused to listen.  "A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God" (4:12).  "Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God.  A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD" (5:4).  What a horrible truth!  Those who were called by God to be His people, to love, worship and obey Him and to be a light to the nations around them, instead worshiped idols and sought the help of the nations around them rather than their God.

The situation is much the same today in the church as some who claim to believe in the God who reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible, dabble in all sorts of false teaching that comes from the ideas of men.  They dialogue with those of other religions and compromise the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are two things going on here:  God's words spoken specifically to Israel, to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God's words spoken to those who are "grafted into the root" of Israel (Romans 11:11-24), those who believe in Jesus Christ.  

We who believe are part of the fulfillment of God's promises through God's anointed King, Jesus, the Christ.  So Peter would write to "God's elect" (I Peter 1:1), "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God … Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10).  Peter takes the names of Hosea's children and applies God's promise not only to physical Israel, but also to spiritual Israel, to those who have become "children of Abraham” through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:29).

This dual purpose in God's plans will be fulfilled when Jesus returns and God deals again specifically with physical Israel.  Through the Gospel God calls people from among the Jews AND the Gentiles into one body, the Church. Yet, there WILL come a time when He will gather the remnant of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and reunite the tribes of Israel.  God’s restoration of the Jewish nation of Israel in our day is part of the fulfillment of God's promises made through the prophet Hosea more than 2,000 years ago?!  But there's more to come!!

Finally, God speaks in "code" to point to THE event that would ultimately restore all who believe, in Israel AND the nations:  "Come, let us return to the LORD.  He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us; He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will restore us, that we may live in His presence" (6:1-2).  These words point to the death and resurrection of Jesus, through whom God will restore His people into a relationship with Him ... "In that day you will call me 'my husband'" (2:16).

The consequences of spiritual adultery for individuals (and nations) are great.  God sees and remembers the sins of those who refuse to repent. "They do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds" (7:2).  God sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for sin and in the new covenant (made through the blood of Jesus and the pouring out of His Spirit), God says, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12).  The Bible is all one message from God, first to Israel and then to those who would believe from the nations, whom God chose to be His own, even as He chose Israel.

Avoid the consequences of spiritual adultery.  Humble yourself before God, repent and place your faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ, and you will find mercy and forgiveness ... and you will be one of HIS people!!

"O Lord, my God, Your Word is amazing as it ties all of human history together!  As You have revealed Your plan of salvation, I rejoice in Your faithfulness to Your promises and thank You for Your mercy and forgiveness through the Son of David, Jesus Christ!  Give me strength to be faithful to You, my God, as I declare Your name to the world around me.  In Jesus' name, Amen"