Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas week - A blessed Christmas to everyone!

Have you ever gone to bed with your day (or maybe your next few years!) planned out, and then the next morning something happens to mess up those plans? Something so out of the ordinary, and something that just isn't logical?

That is what happened to Joseph . . . here was a respectable man with skills, integrity, and a good many customers and friends. He had a good grasp of reality; he knew just how much things cost, and how much he should charge for his wares, and he knew the value of the things you can't hold in your hands, too.

And he just found out his fiance, soon to be his wife, was pregnant.

And the child was not his. Can we even imagine? How would we feel? Wouldn't we be crushed? Disappointed wouldn't begin to describe it, I don't think. More like the world just turned upside down.

Joseph, being a respectable, fair man, knew that the logical thing would be to divorce her, and he was planning it out so that he could do it without humiliating her.

This doesn't sound like a good start for any baby, much less for a king, and especially the King Who will be the Savior of mankind. But doesn't it sound like what happens in our lives sometimes? We work so hard to plan things out, and we pat ourselves on the back for having a good grasp of reality and super-good planning abilities....and then, all of a sudden, something HUGE happens.

Something we would not have expected at all.

Perhaps we were planning on a big promotion at work -- but we found out we're fired, instead.
Maybe we're struggling to make ends meet -- and we find out we're expecting a baby.
Maybe we are expecting good results from a wellness checkup -- and the doctor says cancer.

Unexpected events and situations can turn our world upside down, and we feel lost. Looking for a way out, just like Joseph.  In spite of Joseph's plans to work things out, God sent an angel to him, and asked Joseph to trust Him. He asked him to believe that Mary's pregnancy was God's plan for them, and to trust Him to take care of all three -- Joseph, Mary, and the babe.

God made the rest of the story truly amazing. A story in which Joseph not only trusts God and stays with Mary, but trusts Him as Jesus is born in a stable, and then trusts Him with the life of his little family as they flee to Egypt.
Just like Joseph, we face one thing after another in our lives, and sometimes it's something truly world-turning. God asks us to just believe that He will take care of us, to trust Him to provide for us. And if we trust Him, just as He led Joseph, He will lead us, too.

I am praying for all those who read and study with us all year, and anyone who happens to land on this blog. I pray God's blessings for you, and that you will experience the light of His love, this Christmas and in the coming new year.

See you next week!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas tidings V

............Whiter than snow.................

Are you a snow bunny?

Not me.

I have to admit that I complain about the cold. To be quite honest, I whine.

Yep, and I'll take some cheese with that. (Grin)

I often don't seem to be able to get warm enough, and with the onset of arthritis, it is downright painful to deal with snow and wind. I'm not crazy about how short the days get, either. I'm a happy camper when we get past the winter solstice, and they start lengthening again, little by little. It seems, too, that all the life and energy of summer is so far away in the winter. Many of the birds fly south, and the bugs are hidden away in logs and soil. The turkeys are brave enough to peck their way through the pasture, but even the deer seem to make their way to the creek quickly, as if they want to hurry back to their cozy nest of leaves in the woods.

But then the snow comes. (Yes, we do get a little here. Occasionally.)
Free of dirt and debris until the children get out to play.
Isn't God awesome?
God makes the winter special. And He gives us a reminder of what He can do in our lives. We may not have grown up in Christian homes. We may not have been in church each Sunday. We may not have a history that we are really proud of, either.

It makes no difference. God makes all things new, clean, and beautiful . . . just like that newly fallen snow. He takes all of our past and makes it sparkling clean in His sight.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sinsand purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:19)

This Christmas, let's remember and praise Him for how He has changed and improved our lives. Let's thank Him for His mercy and His forgiveness. He has the power to cleanse us from sin, and to take any situation and make it good, and make it glorify His holy name. When we see someone who needs to hear this joyous news, let's share His love story with them!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas tidings IV

 .............What does it all mean?................

Are you "in the spirit" yet?

What do I mean?

Why, the Christmas spirit, of course!

The world is doing its best to help you.

The radio stations are playing non-stop Christmas songs, whether it's the crooners of old or the peppy new songs. The Santas are on all the corners, and they're ringing their bells in front of the stores, too. Inside those stores, huge trees loom over frenzied shoppers, and the scents of cinnamon and pine are filling the air. The aisles are packed with decor and presents "just perfect" for your special someone, and even the television is showing Christmas movies and shows.

Oy vey. That's the meaning of the season, right? Kinda tires me out, just thinking about it.

I'm glad that the very first Christmas did just fine without all of that. We've come so far from the true meaning of Christmas. From Black Friday to candy canes, it's all fun, but Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Who came into this world to die. It was about Real Love.

The very first Christmas involved a poor couple, nobodies really, who would be turned away from the inn and lay the most precious Child of all in the animals' manger. Jesus was God's gift to a sinful world; He didn't come for the deserving, nor only to the Jews, but to everyone.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

So, when we hear of Black Friday sales where people harm each other to save a few bucks, or perhaps fight over the last toy available, let's be examples that love isn't hurting someone else in order to give our child a gift -- it's doing what is right. It's showing those who are undeserving, and those we don't even know, the love of our Father. Just the same as Jesus came to die for those who were undeserving, and for those He didn't yet know in a spiritual relationship.

Let's spread the word about the true meaning of Christmas: peace on earth and good will toward all, because the Savior has come to show us how to love one another.  Let's reach out to help others who are less fortunate -- in showing them the true meaning of Christmas, we will open up our hearts and have the merriest Christmas ever!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas tidings III

..............Skating on thin ice..................

Have you ever been driving in the wintertime and hit a patch of ice?

Scary, huh?

I think it has to be one of the most helpless feelings in the world, to know that your car is moving and you can't really change it's direction or speed. It's just sliding. Sometimes you can use your driving skills and get it under control again, but sometimes things happen very quickly and there's Just. No. Way.

Sometimes it can feel that way in our lives. We start to feel frustrated or angry at someone or something, or we get stressed out about a situation, and things begin to slide right out of control. We sometimes forget that we have an Almighty, loving God Who is just waiting for us to call on Him. So often, we forget that we will never have absolute control over our lives, but that our loving Father is always in control.

Sometimes it takes a patch of ice to make us remember this.
What are we struggling with today?
What things in our lives are frustrating us, angering us, and scaring us? No matter what, we have a God that loves us so much He is willing to take away our burdens, to forgive our sins, and to deliver us from the pain and suffering we are skating on:

Do you not know?    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,    and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary    and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,    and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;    they will run and not grow weary,    they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
Surely he will save you    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers,    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:3-4)

What do we need to do? Simply stop and pray. In His perfect timing, He will deliver us, for nothing can separate us from His great love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas tidings II

..................Greatest bargain ever .................

Buy one, get one free!
Black Friday Sale!
Half off with coupon!

Oy vey.
During this season, the newspaper is almost all advertisements. And coupons. And forget watching television; there are so many commercials for last-minute gifts that they will drive you crazy.

After two thousand years, there is one "deal" that still stands out. It's the greatest bargain ever. You don't have to get up at 4am, and you don't need a coupon.

This deal, of course, is salvation through Christ Jesus. When we take advantage of this bargain, we get freedom from Satan's power, freedom from eternal punishment, and best of all -- a personal relationship with God Himself. It's the only deal I know of that let's you start over and be something even better.
And get this -- it's already paid for! This amazing, astonishing deal is a life-changer paid for by God Himself, who came to earth as a babe to die for our sins, and then live again.

No coupon needed. All you have to do is realize that without God, you have nothing. Realize that you are sinful, and have no hope of freeing yourself from those sins. All you have to do is once you realize what the problem is, sincerely repent (that means turn away from) from your sins, and ask God to forgive you. And ask Him to change your life and your heart, because you know that Jesus already paid for your sins. It's not anything you did yourself!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
If you are a believer, you already know how much joy it's brought into your life. It's amazing to have a personal relationship with a God Who loves us so much that He died to save us!
This Christmas season, let's share this "deal" with others with no embarrassment. Just like we would if we'd found an awesome sale, or a great coupon in the paper. Except that this "deal" can change their lives!

Then they, too, will know the special joy that we share at Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas tidings I

..........Remembering the good times.....

Wowser! It's Christmas!
Fun and games!
Meet me under the mistletoe!
Do I have to wait till Christmas to open it?

Christmas is one of our most joyous holidays in the Christian calendar, is it not? We remember the birth of our Savior, the angels singing, the shepherds''s a time that we love to share our blessings and be with the people we love. Giving and forgiving. Thinking of just how much God loves us.

As Christians, we love to remember the good times in Jesus' life, don't we? We get chills telling about the Nativity, but we tend to forget that shortly after His birth, Christ and His family were fleeing from Herod's army. We love to tell others about His wisdom, love, and healing, but we pass over His suffering. We tend to forget about or gloss over the price He paid for our sins.

He was born in a manger and was destined to be mocked, beaten, tortured, and then sentenced to die a slow, excruciating death by crucifixion -- all at the hands of those He came to save.

To be honest, maybe it's because as humans, we just can't quite get our heads around it. God knew what would happen to His Son. He even told Isaiah and many other prophets about the suffering He would endure. God already knew that the very creatures He had created would crucify Him. And yet, Jesus lowered Himself to feel physical pain and suffering and humiliation. He allowed mere humans to beat Him and mock Him. The One Who has ALL the power in the universe humbled Himself to die at our sinful, hateful hands.

Yes, God knew all of this ahead of time. But He loved us so immensely that He sent His Son, one third of the Trinity, to suffer, so that we could one day spend eternity with our heavenly Father.

Even if we can't fully understand it, for His ways are higher than our ways, we can realize this: Christmas is the story of love.
Today, let's remember the price that God paid for us, because of how much He loves us. And then let's share that love with everyone we can!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday slowdown

I hope this week's study has given all of us a fresh look at the love of God, and His mercy in redeeming us.
Blessings to all!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Awe-inspiring redemption,conclusion

What a story! As we finish up our study of Gomer, and her husband Hosea, let's look for a moment at the "why" of Hosea's purchase.

Why did he do it? Why did he endure the humiliation, the sacrifice of all his worldly wealth? Well, one reason was that Hosea was God's man. He wanted to obey His clear command. When God spoke, Hosea not only listened, he obeyed!

Another reason was that Hosea loved Gomer. He wanted to make a difference in her life -- when he redeemed her from slavery, that was the biggest difference he could have made!

When we come to Jesus for salvation, it is much the same. When God saves our soul, He does it because He loves us. His desire is to deliver us from the slavery of sin; then we are free to live a new life in Christ Jesus.
Let's look at what Hosea said to Gomer, as he helped her down from the auction block:
And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee. (Hosea 3:3, KJV)
Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” (Hosea 3:3, NIV)
He is telling Gomer that he has expectations for her. His vision of their relationship going forward is that she is not to live like her life was before; she's not to follow the path that led to the auction block. Her life will be different.
Jesus does that for every one of us that He saves. He transforms us into "new creatures."
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (II Corinthians 5:17)
We can't meet Jesus and stay just like we were before....He is truly a life-changer!
I put the two translations there, so that we can study it completely. The commentaries say that Hosea was telling Gomer that he expected her to live a new life, a life of chastity. For a long time, she had been the object of lust, and men (perhaps many men) had used her to satisfy their desires. Now that she has been redeemed, Hosea is bringing her home to heal. He will create a safe environment for her, and keep her in his love.

He also is telling her that the days of loose living are over. She is not to be for any other man; and her redemption and the love Hosea offers are not to be taken lightly. He has paid an extremely high price to redeem her, and he offers her a home in which she will be loved and cherished.

Jesus does that, too, when He saves us. Yes, we have said that He wants to deliver us from sin, and to give us a new life. But He expects us to be His alone, until He calls us home to heaven.
This verse from last week applies here, too:
 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:19-20) 
 Let's not fall into the trap of taking His sacrifice for granted. Let's not take it lightly. Let's covenant to honor Him with the lives we live. Every time a sinner becomes a child of God, there is a desire to live for the Lord Who saved them.  After all, when it dawns on us (either the first time, or when it's realized anew) what we were before, and where we were headed, we are awe-struck. Am I right? When we think again of what God has done for us, in saving us, we are pulled in His direction. We love Him because He first loved us.

I bet that Gomer began to see Hosea through different eyes now. She may have grown tired of their relationship before, and then abandoned their home. Now, Hosea has proven his love for her, and I think she must have had a new love for him, too. Their marriage has been restored, and their family has been re-united. I like to think that there was now absolute commitment on both sides of that relationship.

This is the absolutely awe-inspiring truth of Jesus: We love Him because He first loved us. We have a desire to live for Him. And we know that He is faithful, dependable, and can be trusted to keep His promises to us. He will never leave us or forsake us, and our relationship will never end. We know that is why He saves us to begin with -- He desires a relationship with us! Isn't that awe-inspiring?
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I don't guess that anything in this world amazes me as much as the love of God. That He, holy and almighty, would love people like us, like me, and save us is amazing and awe-inspiring! Have you experienced the wonder of His redemption? If so, you know what we're talking about, and we can praise Him together for His mercy and grace. If you've not experienced His redeeming love, I hope you will reach out to Him in prayer today. He will hear, and He will save you -- and you will have new life! If you need help, please click on the "What is Salvation"tab on the right-hand sidebar, or send us a message and we will help. You'll enjoy a Christmas season like you've never had before!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Absolutely awe-inspiring redemption, continued

Have you ever wanted something so badly, that you've been willing to give anything to get it? Have you told yourself, "It's worth all I have!" Have you been so eager to purchase it, that you didn't care about the cost?

Stay tuned, because that is what we are studying today!

When we left Gomer, she was standing in the marketplace, about to be sold as a slave. She'd left Hosea and the children, and pursued her own pleasures and desires. Then she'd been tossed aside. Pretty sordid story, right? Sad . . .

But it didn't stay that way!
Remember, we said that God told Hosea to go and show her she was loved. To find her, and to love her. And Hosea went -- no hesitation, no questions -- he went and found her. She was probably a far cry from the youth and loveliness that he'd married. But when he saw her, he didn't hate her. He didn't look away, and pretend he didn't know her. He didn't turn away from her. It must have broken his heart to see her in such a condition, and so Hosea did what he had to do.
...................for fifteen pieces of silver, and for a homer and half a homer of barley... (Hosea 3:2)

The "standard" price for a slave was, as we mentioned last week, thirty shekels of silver. We know that because of this verse:
If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death. (Exodus 21:32)
Evidently, Hosea didn't have the full price of thirty shekels, so he added to his silver about 430 pounds of grain. So, we can see that he truly gave all that he had. This purchase was so important to him that he didn't care if he had nothing left.

But wait.
This purchase also cost Hosea something else. It cost him his pride. Think about it. He is in a public place, and there is a large crowd there. Everyone would have known who he was -- remember we said that the lives and the words of the prophets were very interesting to the people, even though they rejected the God that he spoke for....
Standing in that public place, he had to purchase for himself a woman who had betrayed him, over and over. But that is exactly what he does. Hosea willingly paid a steep price to redeem Gomer from slavery. And it gives us a clue to Hosea's huge heart, when he tells her to stay true to him, and he'll be true to her. No resentful glances. No bitterness. Just the love that makes him purchase her out of slavery.

I guess you know what I'm going to say next. But it truly is awe-inspiring. Hosea's actions here are just a small picture of the huge work that God has done for us. Like Gomer, we are slaves to sin. But God came into this world in the person of His Son. He gave all that He had. He gave Himself, as a sacrifice for our sins. He gave so much more than thirty pieces of silver; He gave His life and shed His sinless blood on the cross.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (I Peter 1:18-19)
Jesus willingly suffered the shame and public humiliation necessary to redeem us. Picture this again in your mind . . . the Creator of the universe is hanging on a cross, surrounded by the puny, sinful beings of the world, and ridiculed by the Jewish leaders. He's mistreated by the Roman soldiers. He is even ridiculed and despised by one of the criminals hanging near him. He endured it all so that He could purchase us, redeem us from the slavery of sin.
...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

There's an interesting difference in the King James Version of verse 2 in chapter three of Hosea. It says, "I bought her to me." In the culture of that time, Gomer already "belonged" to Hosea because of their marriage. Now, after his purchase in the slave auction, Gomer is his completely. He has bought her. She is his, because he has sacrificed all that he had, in order to make her his, exclusively. The name "Gomer" means "completely." First, she was completely lost in her sins. Now she is completely loved. Completely forgiven.

That happens in our lives, too. When God saves us, we become His. Completely His. We are completely loved, forgiven, and redeemed by His grace. And in addition, our relationship with him is far more intimate than that of a slave. God becomes our Father!
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. ( I John 3:1-2)

I heard a wonderful illustration and wanted to share it with you:

                This is the story of a little boy who built a sailboat. He built it and fixed it up,
                and painted it. He took it to the lake and pushed it in, hoping it would sail.
                Sure enough, a breeze filled the little said and the boat wen gliding along the
                Suddenly, before the little boy realized it, the sailboat was out of his reach,
                even though he waded in quickly and tried to grab it. As he watched it float
                away, he hoped perhaps the wind would shift and bring it sailing back to
                him. Instead, he watched it go farther and farther until it was gone.
                He went home crying, and his mother asked, "Didn't it work?"
                He said, "It worked too well."
                Some time later, the little boy was downtown and walked past a second-
                hand store. There in the window was his boat!
                He went in and looked, and there was no mistake. He told the shopkeeper,
                "That's my boat." He picked it up and started to leave.
                The shopkeeper told him, "Wait a minute, son, That's my boat. I bought
                 it from someone." The boy said, "No, sir, I made it. See?" And he showed
                 him the marks where he hammered and sanded.
                 The shopkeeper said, "I'm sorry, son. If you want it, you'll have to buy it."
                 The little boy didn't have any money, so he worked hard and saved his
                  pennies. Finally, one day he had enough money, and he bought the little
                  As he left the store, holding the boat close to him, he was heard to say,
                  "You're my boat. You're twice my boat. First you're my boat because I
                   made you, and second you're my boat because I bought you!"

If ever we get depressed, and we start thinking that we aren't worth much, we need to stop and think. Remember what God thinks of us. 
We are His. Not just once, but twice His! He made us; we are His because He created us. And then, we are His because He bought us, on the cross. He paid the price to redeem us. 

Awe-inspiring redemption. We'll conclude our study tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Prayer requests

Today, if you have a prayer request that is on your heart, please leave a comment and let us have the honor of joining with you in prayer.

This is a season of merriment; a season of rejoicing in God's gift to us, of an awe-inspiring gift of mercy and love. But for many people this is a season of sadness.

They may be grieving the loss of a loved one, and wishing they were alive to share Christmas joy with them. They may be estranged from family or friends, and need companionship. It may be that the pressures of family gatherings, church functions, and financial stresses are weighing the person down. If people notice at all, it may be with a perky "Cheer up! It's Christmas!" kind of  feedback, and that often pushes a person further into gloom.

I hope that all of us will reach out to those around us, and include them in the circle of our love and our gatherings. A quiet and reverent time may be easier for some people -- try to tailor your invitations to what you see in that person's face, and what you know of their situation.

I'd like to mention an answered prayer -- I'm rejoicing because the wildfires in our area have been contained. God sent rain and our fire-fighters were able to successfully tamp out the flames. It was smoky here for days, and we saw the helicopters overhead, carrying the buckets of water (as the crow flies, it was about five miles from us). I'm so blessed, and so grateful!

Please let us know if there is something that we can pray about with you.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Absolutely awe-inspiring redemption

Last week, our focus was mostly on Gomer, her long-suffering husband, Hosea, and the parable that they lived out -- a living picture, if you will, of the love of God for His wayward children, the people of Israel.
We're lingering in the book of Hosea this week, because I thought it would be appropriate at this Christmas season to zero in on Christ Jesus' love for us, and His redeeming power and grace.

To fully understand our study of this wonderful and little-studied book, we need to refresh our memory of the background. We need to look at the timing, when it was written. And I saved this nugget that I found: the name "Hosea" actually means salvation! The book of Hosea is literally a message of salvation to a spiritually bankrupt nation.

At the time of Hosea's ministry to his people, Israel was a very prosperous nation in material ways. They had plenty of everything, maybe too much! Life was easy, and that can be dangerous for some folks! They also enjoyed political and military peace . . . hey, why do we need to do all that temple stuff? We're rocking along just fine.
They may have been peaceful and prosperous, but they were Morally. Bankrupt.  Big time. One of the first verses in the book says that they "look to other gods, and love flagons of wine." Well, the main god that they looked to was the Canaanite god, Baal. "Looking" to Baal meant sexual acts as worship, cutting the body (specifically banned by Yahweh), and even sacrificing family members to a fiery death, all to appease Baal and curry his favor. To say that Israel was guilty of spiritual sin was to put it mildly.

Even though the people had no real love for the true God, or for His worship, they were very interested in His prophets. These holy men were entertaining, at the very least, so they would pay attention to them. Knowing this about His people, God used Hosea, his wife Gomer, and their children, as a picture of His relationship with Israel. And we can find a beautiful picture of the redemption of Christ in these passages.

Let's dive in!
To truly understand the depth of Hosea's love, we need to go back to the Word. Gomer is first mentioned in chapter one.
When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)
The first months (or maybe years) of their marriage, may have been very happy ones. I'd like to think that Gomer tried to change her ways, her outlook, and her whole self, to bring happiness to this husband that chose her. The Bible does say that their first child was definitely Hosea's:
 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (Hosea 1:3)
But things seemed to go downhill after that.
When Gomer is mentioned in chapter two, she is called an adulteress.
Their mother has been unfaithful    and has conceived them in disgrace.She said, ‘I will go after my lovers,    who give me my food and my water,    my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’ (Hosea 2:5)
She committed adultery while she was with Hosea, living in their house together. There is a contrast between verse 3, and verses 6 and 9. In the case of the first child, the father was Hosea. In the other two, it simply says "she conceived," and the implication is that he was not the father of those children.

Then she left him for another man (or men). Gomer's actions are a picture of the spiritual condition of the children of Israel, these people to whom Hosea was presenting the love and salvation of God. The people lusted after the gods and the worship practices of the Canaanites, and ultimately they abandoned the God of their fathers.
Gomer's actions are also a picture of lost sinners today. Of all of us. Just like Gomer, when we are lost in our sins, we pursue our own pleasures and lusts, and we care nothing about the Father God who loves us.
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:14)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Yep. We are (or were) all Gomers. And just like Gomer, our lover or master, Satan, will put us up on the auction block, too. He'll wreck our lives and toss us away.
That's what her lover did. In chapter three we see her on the auction block.
It's a pretty graphic picture of what sin does, in every life that it touches. A sinful life may be pleasurable for a time, but it leads to misery and ruin, and then to death.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
But God isn't willing to leave this situation like this! And so He tells Hosea that no matter how she has treated him, and in spite of how she has hurt the children, and in spite of how she has lived and brought shame to herself and others, he is to go and show her again, how much she is loved.

That is absolutely awe-inspiring.
And here is something else inspiring -- does Hosea hesitate? Does he look at the ground and mumble about how he shouldn't have to do this? No! He goes after her because he loves her -- he goes immediately. He loved her before she fell into sin, and he loves her in spite of her sin. He has such great love for her, that he is willing to do whatever it takes to bring her back.

Does this sound familiar? This is such a fabulous picture of the awe-inspiring love God has for us sinners! No one had to tell Him to love us....He loved us before we were born, and when we were innocent kids. He kept on loving us when we chose sin instead of righteousness. And He still loves us today. Absolutely nothing can make Him stop pursuing us, and loving us, until He brings us into fellowship with Him! His love for us is unconditional, and it knows no boundaries -- nothing can stop it.

We can spurn his love, as Gomer did with Hosea. But God will continue to love us.
We may not make time for Him, but He continues to love us.
We may even ignore Him, but His heart still calls to us.
We may think we are too sinful and worthless, but He looks at us with love and keeps calling.

This is an awe-inspiring love. Why does He love us so? Why does He pursue us?
Because He wants us to accept His awe-inspiring redemption.
Thank Him today for His love. And join us next time, as we study that wonderful redemption.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Gomer - redeeming love, conclusion

When we left off yesterday, we were at Hosea 2:14-23; it's a beautiful song of love for the people of Israel, and for us.
We saw from the verses in Romans and I Peter, that the opportunity is there for us to be children of God. We are all like Gomer -- we've sinned and strayed. But God is ready to forgive, and to separate us from our sins, as far as the east is from the west.

Let's dig in . . .
Here are the verses again, so that you won't have to scroll down to read them again:
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the Lord.
21 “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the Lord
“I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and the olive oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

Let's look at the first thing that God says He will do. He will call to us tenderly. See verse fourteen?
We are guilty of the sin of harlotry -- by that, I mean that we've loved other things, people, whatever, more than we have loved God. We've paid more attention. We've devoted more time. We've invested more of our money, and more of ourselves. After all, being fully invested in Him can get annoying, right? That football game that we can't watch, because there's a church service or event scheduled. That dinner party we can't attend, because they're counting on us to complete our duties at church. Those people we shouldn't be close friends and boon companions with, because it would mess up our testimony, and might drag us down instead of lifting them up. The boat/new car/awesome clothes (insert what you wish there) that we can't afford, because we have to give financially to the church.

Ummm, there's a flip side here. Turn it over. Look. Instead of being enslaved to the world, to wealth, to ambition, or to sin, we can be close to God (and free from slavery), Who only wants what is truly beneficial for us. In spite of our sins, and in spite of our inattention, He hasn't cast us aside. In fact, He wants to be close to us. We are never too ugly, or too sinful, or too rotten for God. He knows we are harlots. He knows we're sinners.
That is what mercy means . . .

Next, God promises in His song that there is hope and safety with Him. Check out verse 15 -- oh, wait, let's refresh our memory of the significance of the valley of Achor.
Remember back in the book of Joshua, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua? He gave him full instructions on how to carry out the battle for Jericho, and what to do with the people, the animals, the gold and silver vessels, etc.  He also told Joshua just why he should follow these instructions to the letter, and Joshua relayed the importance of these things to the people. The battle went well, and the people followed God's directions, destroying everything (except Rahab and her family, and the vessels for the tabernacle).
(Cue the ominous music here.) One person did not do as he was told. He thought no one knew. But God did, and He stepped aside as they went up against the next city, Ai. Then it became obvious to everyone that someone had sinned, for the people were beaten, and many were killed.
To make a long story short, Achan confessed his greed (once the lot was cast and they figured out it was him) and both the loot and he were destroyed. The people confessed their sin and renewed their covenant with God. The children of Israel referred to things that were troublesome after that as a "valley of Achor," or a "valley of trouble."
For Achan and his family, the valley of Achor meant death, but for the rest of the people, there was a renewal of hope and trust in God. So in this song, God says He will give sinners hope and safety. If only we will "come home" to Him, He will make things good for us -- the analogy in verse 18 says that He will remove all violence and conflict, even causing the animals to do no harm.

The last thing we see in this passage is that He will renew the relationship we share with Him. A new foundation will be laid; we'll start with righteousness, love, mercy, and faithfulness. Things will be "right" between us and our Lord.
Think about the temptation it must have been for Hosea, or for any wronged spouse. Can I trust him/her again? He hurt me so badly before. She ran off and left me and the kids. He was unfaithful, how can I be close to him? The reality is that the person who's been hurt will tend to keep the hurtful person at arm's length, not allow too much trust. But God is oh, so different. He won't keep us at arms' length because of our past sins. He will fellowship and commune with us.

The story of Gomer is a gospel story in the Old Testament; it's the meaning of Christmas laid out for us to read, and it happened seven centuries before Jesus came. God speaks to us tenderly and calls us to Him; He promises us hope and safety, and He offers full fellowship and communion with sinners who will come.

OK. But how do we "qualify" for this? The good news is that when we think about our failures in 2016, we can also think about the fact that God already knows about them, too. He's not naive. How little time we've spent in His Word, how burdensome it has felt sometimes to spend time in prayer, how the world has occupied more of our time than He has . . . yep, He knows all that. And the fact remains, we don't have to qualify for His love and mercy. If we did, none of us would make it! He just wants us to listen and respond.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule,    which have no understandingbut must be controlled by bit and bridle    or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked,    but the Lord’s unfailing love    surrounds the one who trusts in him. (Psalm 32:8-10)
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

We are Gomers. And God is calling. He wants our hearts, and He has given His all. Let's renew our commitment to Him as we begin this Christmas season.