Are you in the good-news, bad-news-good-news story?

When bad news is good news.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;
say to him,
    “Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
    and we will pay with bulls
    the vows of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
    It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
    from me comes your fruit.

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 upright walk in them,
    but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:1-9

The bulk of the book of Hosea is just sad. Israel, sometimes referred to as Ephraim the largest tribe in Israel, is called a whore, one who has run after idols, instead of God, her husband. One of the famous passages from Hosea is in Hosea 8:7, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” The prophet had the unenviable calling to speak for God a message that was hard and extended over about 30 years and four kings. I surmise that Hosea was not too popular in the king’s court or anywhere else in Israel.

However, the message wasn’t all “bad.” Right after being told, “You are Not My People,” he says, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” So, even in the midst of pronouncements of judgment, there is the promise of mercy. We still see the loving heart of God. (more…)

What did the suffering servant suffer for?

The benefits of a life of faith

Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.
14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.
15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. – Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:4-6,11-12

A root out of dry ground

I usually include the entire text I am going to comment on, but today’s text is just too long. So, if you are of a mind, you can read Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. It is the most precise and graphic prophetic depiction of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Many people, when they just hear this text read, assume it to be from the New Testament, it so precisely describes the work of Christ.

Today, I want to focus us on the benefits of the work of Christ that are depicted in this text. (more…)

Will all nations really worship God? You’re kidding, right?

God's vision for the future

Incline Your ear, O Lordand answer me;
For I am afflicted and needy.
Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man;
O You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
For to You I cry all day long.
Make glad the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
And give heed to the voice of my supplications!
In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You,
For You will answer me.
There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord,
Nor are there any works like Yours.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And they shall glorify Your name.
10 For You are great and do wondrous deeds;
You alone are God.

11 Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
12 I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.
13 For Your lovingkindness toward me is great,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, arrogant men have risen up against me,
And a band of violent men have sought my life,
And they have not set You before them.
15 But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.
16 Turn to me, and be gracious to me;
Oh grant Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your handmaid.
17 Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

North Korea threatens world peace. Russia is attempting to reestablish herself as a super-power. Iran and its client-states are bent on destroying Israel. Islamists are terrorizing parts of Africa enslaving many. The Syrian conflict is still out of control. The United States is in internal turmoil while she attempts to use her might to stabilize the chaos around the earth. This picture makes it appear the world is in worse shape than it was during the last century with it’s two world wars and the cold war along with the cultural revolution that exploded on the scene in the West during the 1960’s.

Men’s hearts are failing them.

In this mess, what is the good news? Is there any? Yes, there is. (more…)

How to have a theological debate

Getting along when we disagree

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

.11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3:1-5; 11-18

Debating the meaning of Scripture among believers is a good thing. When we engage honestly, we learn, We grow.

I had a delightful lunch yesterday with a young man who is a student at our local seminary. He shared with me that he no longer engages with some of his friends because the engagement with them was just too painful. Rather than fellowship in Jesus, they engaged in doctrinal fights. (more…)

Jesus wants you to know joy

His purpose for our abiding in him

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11

Jesus intends that we live in his joy and that we experience it to the full.

Jesus taught that he is the true vine and we the branches so that we be able to live in his joy and that our joy be full.

So, what’s the “secret sauce” that gets us to this place of joy?

It is very simple, but maybe not so easy. Jesus’ analogy is a vine and branches and fruit bearing. It’s not hard to understand. Branches get their nourishment from the vine that in turn produces fruit.

Since Jesus says he is the true vine and we are the branches, it is clear that we are to draw our lives from him. He is the source. Here is where the hard part comes in. We are used to earning our way in this life. And we should work hard. But, we can’t earn life from God. It is given by grace.

It is love that motivates us to draw our life from God. We love God because he first loved us. Note the priority. Jesus ties love and obedience to his commands together. Our natural bent is to assume that if we obey his commands then we prove our love and he will love us. Wrong.

Obedience to God’s commands flows out of God’s love; his love for us and responsively our love for him. Jesus said that the flow goes like this: The Father loved the Son, the Son loves us, so live in his love. By living in his love, we will keep his commandments just as Jesus, living in the Father’s love, keeps his commandments.

We get it backward, naturally. We have a default setting that says we are to obey to be loved. We need to hit the reset button to, “because God loves me I want to keep his commandments and live in his love.” His gracious love doesn’t take obedience to God’s commandments out of our lives; it just puts it in the proper light. Obedience is fruit, not cause.

What is the fruit that we are to bear? The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. These come from walking in the Spirit which is essentially the same as abiding in Christ; drawing our life from God. We certainly don’t do a good job of producing these characteristics on our own, at least I don’t, and I’ve learned that I am not that different from other people.

Conclusion: God loves us, as a response to his love, we obey his commands and draw our life from God. This is a grace based relationship of the fullness of life with God. The reason Jesus taught us about this is so his joy can be in us, and our joy can be full. This is a big deal. His purpose in teaching us about abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of that relationship is so we can know joy, real joy, his joy and that it will be full in us. This joy is one of the amazing products of the gospel. God loves us and provides us with joy in abundance that is not determined by, nor dependant on, our life circumstances.

Revel in his love. Revel in his joy.

How should you “suffer for Jesus?”

Savoring the riches of the glory of the mystery

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:24-29

Paul is the suffering-missionary suffering, not in a substitutionary way, but as a demonstration of the gospel trajectory; God reaching to us, God sent Paul to the Gentiles. Paul’s going to the Gentiles caused him much suffering. That suffering testified to the genuineness of the gospel. The Gentiles did not physically see the suffering of Christ on the cross for them, but they did see the suffering of Paul in his efforts to get the good news to them. This is the suffering that Paul was filling up. What was lacking was the ability of the Gentiles to see Christ’s suffering on their behalf. Suffering missionaries demonstrate the love-motivated-sufferings of Christ for those whom they serve. (more…)

How do we deal with the impossible commands Jesus gives?

Empowered by the Spirit-filled life

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:31-35

 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. – John 15:12-17

Jesus calls us, his followers, to a standard that is impossible to meet: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Yeah, right! Anyone who thinks, “OK, I will do that,” simply doesn’t understand what Jesus just said. This is a call to a totally sinless love; an impossibility for we humans who daily fight against our sinful flesh. For some of us, it seems to be a bigger struggle than others, but we all have to deal with our sin. This includes all those sinful thoughts that we control and never turn into actions. They are still sin. Hard, I know, but that is what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. (more…)

How to defeat the fear of evangelism

Let's talk about Jesus

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” – John 12:36-50

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 10:26-33

Evangelism. For some, this is an ugly word. It is painful. We feel coerced into taking actions with which we are uncomfortable. We don’t want to confront other people with a message that could end up a bit confrontational. Be honest, most of us are in this camp. We feel ill-equipped to get into an apologetic conversation where our intellectual preparation will be challenged. The other guy will probably have a better grasp of the issues than I have and I don’t want to fail the Lord and, probably, even more, I don’t want to be embarrassed. Do you feel me? (more…)

Can time management produce wisdom, joy and gladness?

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
    by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!  – Psalm 90:1-17

 

 

Time management is the touted tool for efficiency. The expected outcome is a greater production with no more effort. The motive for time management efforts is most often money. Get more profit out of your time. But money doesn’t satisfy. (more…)