Canaan’s Rest represents a quiet place “set apart” for the purpose of hearing God's voice, growing in intimacy with the Lord, and being renewed in soul and spirit.

Category: Brother Al (Page 1 of 46)

The Cross or the Machine

I recently read an essay entitled “The Cross and the Machine” by Paul Kingsnorth, a novelist, essayist, and poet from Ireland.  He tells of his coming to Christ after living as an atheist in modern England.  He found that freedom meant “to give up your will and follow God’s. To deny yourself. To let it come. I am terrible at this, but at least now I understand the path.”

Kingsnorth’s final paragraph expresses well the choice before all who live in modern cultures devoid of the sacred story.  “In the kingdom of Man, the seas are ribboned with plastic, the forests are burning, the cities bulge with billionaires and tented camps, and still, we kneel before the idol of the great god Economy as it grows and grows like a cancer cell.  And what if this ancient faith is not an obstacle after all, but a way through?  As we see the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit, of choosing power over humility, separation over communion, the stakes become clearer each day. Surrender or rebellion; sacrifice or conquest; death of the self or triumph of the will; the cross or the machine We have always been offered the same choice. The gate is strait and the way is narrow and maybe we will always fail to walk it.  But is there any other road that leads home?” 

I am reminded of the words from the prophet Jeremiah, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jer. 6:16).  Our cultural narrative, if not critically discerned, can become like a slow-growing spiritual cancer, affecting our walk with God.   Kingsnorth maintains that the ancient faith (Christianity) should not be seen as an obstacle, “but [rather] a way through.” Yes, you can navigate through a dry and thirsty land with Jesus.  It will not be easy but will save your very soul from the machine of modern life.  

We have a choice. Jesus says to us, “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14 NET).  Kingsnorth wonders, “…Is there any other road that leads home?”  Men, Jesus is the way back.  I love the quote from Meister Eckhart, “God is at home.  It is we who have gone out for a walk.” 

Jesus wants us to know that in choosing him we will regain our soul and find our true self.  “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.  You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am.  Don’t run from suffering, embrace it.  Follow me and I’ll show you how.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.  What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself?  What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matt. 16:24-26 – Message). Men, don’t let yourself be lost in the modern machine. 

We have to ask ourselves, “What will it be?” Surrender or rebellion; sacrifice or conquest… the cross or the machine?  Take 3-5 minutes to be silent before the Lord.  Ask him to reveal an area in your life that is too little Cross and too much Machine… and what to do about that…

 

 

 

 

On The Trail

Judy and I have developed the rewarding habit of walking the Paul Bunyan Trail each day. It is built on an old railroad bed that takes us into the woods, giving us a real sense of being with the Lord in nature. We are blessed as we share these little journeys together.  God has given me a wonderful soulmate to walk with through life together.

Often we meet new people on our walks.  In particular, one man (David) has become a new friend to me. David has been going through some significant trials over the past year. But his experience has “awakened” a fresh, new openness to the work of God in his own heart.  What a joy it is to meet a man whose “spiritual receiver” is pointed upward, not bent inward or toward things below.

The metaphor “On the Trail” came to me while writing a note to David.  In him, I have found – on the trail – a male spiritual companion.  This reminds me of the early church.  As believers increased and became more visible in the culture, they became known as “the way.”  We read in Acts 19:9, “…Some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the way.”  Later we are told, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the way (19:23).”  Paul in his preaching, further acknowledged, “I persecuted the followers of this way to their death” (Acts 22:4).  

Men, I hope you have other brothers on the trail with you, with their spiritual antennas open to the Lord, who are walking in “the way.”  Men tend to be Lone Rangers when it comes to the spiritual life.  But I must warn you: don’t become a casualty in the coming days.   

You could very well become wounded warrior – or worse yet, missing in action, taken out by the enemy of your soul.  You are going to need support to stand firm in the spiritual battle that is coming.  Paul exhorts us, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the evil day comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).

Be vigilant: don’t be taken out by wounds to your soul.  Our enemy works in the hidden life of the soul; in those areas of our inner being buried out of sight because we find them hard to manage.  Our spiritual self-improvement projects will not bring healing to these wounds of the soul.  Men need each other to fight this hidden battle.  The enemy wants to isolate men by enticing them to live life superficially.   

Just for example, how do men deal with pornography?  This curse on our culture is “taking out” a lot of men.  Their thought lives and imaginations have crippled the vitality and light of their witness.  They live in shame and frustration, while pretending to be clean, pure and upright before the Lord.  These men need other warriors who can help with mending their “broken” and “fractured” hearts.  Beyond that, it could be lustful thoughts, anger, unforgiveness, baggage from the past, whatever…  So find a soulful man, a brother in the Lord who is strong and courageous enough to fight the inner battles with you.  

As David, my friend said, “Imagine no lifeline wandering in spiritual darkness, sinking in a runaway ship, no one to pray for you.  God, thank you for bringing a spiritual counselor, whose faith and knowledge opens closed doors.  A light at night whose finest day is yet unknown.”  Thank you, Lord, for my new soulmate. 

 

Pillow Talk

Like many of you, my bride and I engage in pillow talk as we drift off to sleep.  It typically covers a wide array of subjects.  Never are the conversations very long since we’re both usually tired.  On one particular night, though, my wife simply stated, “You really have been changing.”  I was totally caught off guard. 

So, of course, I asked, “Where do you see that happening?”  Below is a summary of what she said.  And while it is positive, it also reflects where I haven’t been at my best: 1) being more sensitive, 2) willing to help more, 3) putting her down less, 4) offering more words of endearment, 5) telling her she’s needed in my life, and 6) more willing to seek forgiveness. 

That was the list volunteered by my wife. Your wife’s list might be very different from mine.  But hopefully we’re all in the process of becoming more of who we ought to be as husbands and life partners.  Men, this comes after 55 years of marriage. But our recent pillow talk was like “honey” to my soul.  “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Prov. 16:24).   

When someone close offers unsolicited feedback regarding positive relational change, it tastes like honey. Why?  Because it was the Lord working in our lives, bringing the change, without our awareness that we’re really making progress.  That, men, is real change. 

On another note, here’s a short list of what I still need to continue working on with my bride: 1) justifying myself, 2) tending to blame, 3) ignoring her, 4) doing things out of my own strength, and 5) being insensitive to her emotional needs.  What’s on your list?

Here are five challenges in my spiritual life that I now see are helping me become a better husband, even after all these years.

First, becoming more aware that Jesus is at the center of all my life, beyond all the clutter and distortion.  Col. 3:3 tells us, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Thomas Keating observes, “Instead of going away, God simply moves downstairs, so to speak, and waits for us to come and join him.” I am often reluctant to go into the basement because of all my dirty linen.  

Secondly, knowing more that I am accepted and loved even at my worst. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.  If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love (I John 4:18 NLT).   Because I am loved, I can come out of hiding and lovingly engage with my wife. 

Thirdly, allowing my diseased attitudes and distorted images to be brought into the light.  I need to see them for what they are and how they affect my relationship with my wife. 

Fourthly, learning to share what comes into awareness without having to dig up the past, but rather acknowledging what is right before me.  It may not make sense to my male understanding, but I need to say what I am experiencing here and now.  My wife needs to hear it, because she has felt the effects in our relationship. 

Fifthly, and most importantly, confessing my sins to Judy and seeking her forgiveness.  I do this by praying with her, so she can forgive me and I can hear her declare that I am forgiven.  Men, we are not very good at forgiving ourselves. It is a real release to hear it from your wife.   

In The Beginning

Men, when we look for signs of God’s displeasure with our declining culture, a recent tweet from the ALCU gives one pause: “On International Women’s Day, here’s your reminder that trans women are women.”  This proclamation declares that a biological man who thinks himself to be a woman is, in fact, a woman.  In a follow-up tweet, the ALCU then says almost in defiance to any opposition, “No one gets to tell us what it means to be a woman.  Not our bosses.  Not the government.”  “So, take that!” is the inference.  In response, Glenn Stanton notes in The Daily Citizen™, “What we have going on here is a redefinition of the word and its redefiners are being dishonest about this fact.  The trans prefix itself proves the point. It…literally means “Not a female, but feels he is.”  Even though the Oxford English Dictionary defines a woman as an “adult female human being,” the ACLU wants to reserve the right to define transwomen as women.  But as Stanton states, “They do not have the right to change that important and fundamental definition for everyone else.”  He ends by saying, “To resist their efforts is called reason. Calling it transphobic is not a counterargument.  It’s just name-calling.”

Men, this is an attempt to change our view of reality by simply stating a woman can also be a man.  The ACLU’s statements attempt to create an “objective” view of reality – but they fall short. The written Word of God offers a different view of reality: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16-17).  

“The word Paul uses indicates not that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God, but that the Scripture was brought into existence by the breathing out by God” (Bible Speaks Today).  Simply put, these are the words God has given us to live by.  Jesus himself declared, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 3:4).  I well remember memorizing these passages in the early 1960’s while attending a Bible school in southern California.  Little did I realize how important my commitment to making the Scriptures the final authority in all matters of faith and life would be.

My wife and I survived the turbulent 60’s, began our family, and ministered as a clergy couple for 40 years. Through it all the Bible has been a reliable guide, giving us a clear view of reality in a growing spiritual wasteland.  For 55 years, Judy and I have committed to learning and teaching Scripture.  As Isaiah says, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). 

I humbly encourage you to make the Bible your “go to” on all matters of faith and practice.  After following the Lord for over 60 years through some significant cultural upheaval, I challenge you to: 

  • First, submit your thinking to the authority of Scripture.
  • Second, integrate and apply Scripture to your life.
  • Third, check all other views of reality against what the Scriptures teach.

The more I dig, the more I explore the claims of other religions, and the more I seek the God of truth in the midst of it all, the more I find that the scriptures reveal truth, and it is the truth that sets us free.

 

 

 

 

Scars in Heaven

Recently I was very touched by Casting Crowns’ new single, “Scars in Heaven.”  When I first heard it online, I cried like a baby.  It was the chorus that broke me:

The only scars in Heaven, they won’t belong to me and you

 There’ll be no such thing as broken and all the old will be made new 

And the thought that makes me smile now even as the tears fall down

Is that the only scars in Heaven, yeah, are on the Hands that hold you now.

I had Judy come and listen together with me while I cried some more and held her.  Why?  It was the words: “If I had only known the last time would be the last time/I would have put off all the things I had to do/I would have stayed a little longer, held on a little tighter/Now what I’d give for one more day with you.”  Then in verse 4: “Until I’m standing with you in the sun, I’ll fight this fight and this race I’ll run.”  

I read in The Christian Post of Mark Hall, the front man for Casting Crowns, sharing the story behind the song:  “I began to write the song [while] watching my mom care for her mom and dad as they were passing away.  They passed away within a year of each other.”  Hall notes, “There’s this moment when we are suddenly very aware of their absence… The world seems quieter.  You realize you’re not going to hear their voice again.”

Men, my testimony to you is that I love my wife more and more as we grow older.  I don’t know why.  I suppose it’s partly because we become more dependent on each other, knowing we are both in the “4th quarter” of our earthly lives. But I believe the biggest reason for my emotional shift is what Jesus has done for me in creating space in my heart to love my wife more deeply.

Men, my word to you is this: Don’t waste your best emotional energy, or let it keep you away from sharing your emotions with your wife.  I can only thank God and give Him the glory for the love he has given me for my wife and for the desire to share more and more of my heart with her.  Remember the words of the chorus: “Now what I’d give for one more day with you.” 

Your wife is a gift from the Lord, “The one who has found a good wife has found what goodness is and obtained a delightful gift from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22 NET).  “Good” can also mean “virtuous,” “kind,” “cheerful,” or “content.”  The word “goodness,” “describes that which is pleasing to God, beneficial for life, and abundantly enjoyable.”  A virtuous, cheerful wife is “a delightful gift from the Lord.”

Men, I confess that for years the desire in my heart was to share with my wife how much I cherish her.  But out of pride and stubbornness, words seemed to get stuck inside, left unspoken.  I didn’t allow myself to share words of affection.

Please, don’t do that to your wife.  Tell her how wonderful she is and mean it.  Don’t wait till tomorrow or for a bright, sunny, relational day.  Ask God to give you a new love for your bride – and cherish her.  You do not know what tomorrow will bring.  Remember the words, “Now what I’d give for one more day with you.” 

Possible application: leave 5-7 Post-It Notes around the house telling your wife why (and how much) you appreciate her.

 

Stiff-necked Presumption

Jeremiah the prophet preached a message of repentance for 40 years without seeing any real change.  He predicted that Judah would be punished because of its sin and disobedience. Finally, in 586 B.C., Jerusalem was destroyed and its leading citizens were deported to Babylon.  Their exile would last for 70 years. 

He accused the people of being “stiff-necked.”  God told them, “From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets.  But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their forefathers” (Jer. 7:25-26).  Later Jeremiah stood in the temple, declaring, “Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words” (Jer. 19:15)

The phrase “stiff-necked” may well apply to not only our culture’s response to the gospel, but also to many in the Church today.  When I think of stiff-necked, I can still picture myself resisting the discipline of my mother, who would often accuse me of being stiff-necked. Is it possible that some of us may also be considered stiff-necked by the Lord?   Hebrews 12:10 reminds us, “Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever.”  We need to beware of resisting God’s discipline by being stiff-necked

In Jeremiah 14:7-9, the people plead for God’s help during a drought.  “Although our sins testify against us, do something, Lord, for the sake of your name.  For we have often rebelled; we have sinned against you” (Jer. 14:7).  God is addressed directly and asked to act for the sake of his own reputation.  There is a presumption that God would show favor. It seems they were almost demanding that God act.  The Message says, “…But do something, God.  Do it for your sake.”  Beware of becoming too familiar (or cozy) with the Lord.  

The Israelites were aware of their wayward spiritual condition, confessing, “For our backsliding is great” (v. 7).  To backslide is “to revert to sin or wrongdoing; to lapse morally or in the practice of religion.  It refers to the lapse of …Israel into paganism and idolatry” (Nelson Bible Dictionary).  Evidently the people expected God to show them favor even though they continually rebelled against him.  Beware of excusing  your sinfulness. 

In the next verses the people accuse God of being like a tourist not available to help, or like a helpless warrior who is unable to intervene. “O Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night?  Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save?” (14:8-9).  Beware of making presumptions about how God expresses his will.      

The people end up declaring to God, “You are among us, Lord, and we bear you name; do not forsake us!” (14:9).   This is presumption, pure and simple.  They are trying to manipulate God, expecting his favor even while they continue to backslide.  They had not payed heed to God’s warnings. Now they expect God’s favor because they were his people.  Beware of subtle attempts to manipulate God. 

God waits until 15:6 to respond to their insult.  “‘You have rejected me’, declares the Lord.  You keep on backsliding.  So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I can no longer show compassion.”  Could this be happening again today?  

Happy Father’s Day from Judy

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.  Psalm 89:15-16 NIV

This blog is written by my bride, Judy. She is the finest Christian I know and walks closely with the Lord.  I call her spirituality a “stream of consciousness” spirituality.  She is aware of God’s presence in all of life, much like the psalmist describes above.  And she writes about it on her blog at whispers@yahoo.com.  Judy’s blogs are practical, full of everyday experiences, and they have encouraged and inspired many people. We often hear reports of how her words were just what someone needed for that day.   

It is amazing to me how the Lord gives Judy something to write each morning.  I listen daily as she shares what she has received from the Lord.  It is simply a “God thing.”  I hope all the men and fathers who read this enjoy what my bride had to say for Father’s Day:

Soon Father’s Day will be upon us, and the stores will be full of shoppers trying to find just the right gift for dad – or at least something he doesn’t already have.  We all had a father, and our hearts remember him on this special day, even if he may no longer be with us.  Today, however, there is a crisis of fatherhood in America as many fathers have opted out of their role and have not been there for their children.  It could have been through divorce, or business pursuits, or occupational challenges, or irresponsibility, etc. 

One of our friends has a 20-year-old son who he has not seen since he was 2, as his ex-wife made sure he can’t locate his son.  Sadly, that son needs to know he has a dad who cares.  We all need the assurance that our dad loves us – and it is especially important in middle school when bullying takes place and we are trying to find out how we fit in.  But it matters at any age that our dad is proud of us, and for so many this is lacking.  That doesn’t mean that dad’s shouldn’t discipline us, for it is also important that dads also set boundaries and have consequences if we go beyond them; it is a way of loving and protecting. 

One man sadly told Al that he remembers the very day his dad gave up on him and no longer disciplined him; he felt lost and that his dad didn’t care.  I was blessed to have a loving father.  I never doubted his love for me; his arms were always open wide to hugs and love.  Al’s dad was absent emotionally and spiritually, although he provided for the physical needs of the family. 

None of us got to choose our dads.  But if you are a dad reading this, you can choose what kind of dad you want your children to remember.  In Eph. 6:4 (ESV), we read, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  More than ever today we need fathers who train their children according to God’s ways.  But even when we had (or have) an absent father, we all have a Heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally, disciplines us when needed, and believes in us.

Challenge for today: Thank your loving Heavenly Father that He is always present, and provides all that you need, even if it was lacking in your earthly father.

 

Happy 80th, Bob Dylan

Both Bob Dylan and I celebrate our 80th birthdays this year.  He was born in northern Minnesota, where I now live, and I was born in northern Michigan.  We both come from iron mining towns (Hibbing, MN and Negaunee, MI).  We both have lived through some turbulent times… I remember so well singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the late 60’s.  But that’s about where the similarities end…  Still, I wonder what Bob Dylan’s relationship is to Jesus Christ, particularly because I consider Dylan to be an American prophet speaking to the conscience of our culture. 

Francis Beckwith, who teaches Church-State Studies at Baylor University, has long studied Dylan’s music. “When you listen to Dylan,” notes Beckwith, “you can hear that he has been reading classic literature his whole life.  References to Dante and St. Augustine are as likely to show up as commentary about politics… he was quoting the New Testament [at various stages of his career]…Dylan has also soaked up generations of American music – especially folk, Gospel and blues.” 

Dylan’s title song from the 2012 album “Tempest” is about the Titanic.  “The captain, barely breathing, kneeling at the wheel.  Above him and beneath him, fifty thousand tons of steel…In the dark illumination, he remembered bygone years.  He read the book of Revelation and he filled his cup with tears…There is no understanding…the judgment of God’s hand.”   

Beckwith suggests that Dylan has created a religious narrative about “the arrogance of man” and the “brokenness of our world.”  Unlike our present “cancel culture” he isn’t into destroying or erasing history.  Dylan “keeps returning to ancient truths, traditions and books that many ignore.” He wants to learn from the past.  Instead of a lot of evangelical preaching today, Dylan’s music is filled with “medieval Christian images and literary references”.  I wonder how much of a voice Dylan has in our present “cancel culture” with it focus on “critical race theory.”   He seems to be skeptical regarding human motives and actions. 

You can feel the prophetic lament in Dylan’s words, like those of the prophet Habakkuk.  “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’  but you do not save?  Why do you have me look at injustice?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds” (Hab. 1:2-3). 

Bob Dylan has agonized over cultural conditions for over 60 years and expressed that agony in many ways.  Throughout his lyrics you can sense the voice of a biblical prophet.  He has not caved to “cancel culture.”  Rather, Dylan gives us a strong dose of lament.  He speaks to the “brokenness of our world.”  He challenges us to consider how we have lost our way.  Jeremiah laments, “But my people are not so reliable, for they have deserted me…They have stumbled off the ancient highways and walk in muddy paths” (Jer. 16:15).

Dylan is not afraid to speak to pride and arrogance in our culture.  Isaiah warns of pride.  “…The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Is. 2:10).  Dylan gives fair warning of what is ahead if we don’t see our own pride and broken condition.

Prayer for today: Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear the pride and arrogance around me and in me. Help me speak in similar ways to “the arrogance of man” and the “brokenness of our world,” while holding fast to and offering words of hope that are rooted in Christ.    

He Will Do Nothing

The prophets of the Old Testament continually warned against false prophets.  In our day these are the voices that assure us that all will be fine with the direction of our nation, even as we disregard our Creator.  Listen to Jeremiah: “They have lied about the Lord; they said, ‘He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine.  The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them” (Jer. 5:12-13). 

“The prophets are all windbags.  They speak nothing but nonsense” (Jer. 5:13 – Message).  These false prophets with their deceptive words were simply full of hot air.  It reminds me of the “talking heads” predicting good outcomes for following their counsels. They give the people a sense of false security.  “They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: you will have peace.’  And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you’” (Jer. 23:17).  This is what people want to hear.  

Jeremiah complained about these false prophets.  They were to blame for the apathy of the people.  “Oh, Sovereign Lord, look.  The prophets are telling them that you said, ‘You will not experience war or suffer famine.’ I will give you lasting peace and prosperity.”  (Jer. 14:13 NET).  The word for peace (shalom) “refers both to peace from war and security from famine and plague” (NET). 

The people were being conditioned to believe God will do nothing and not interfere in the affairs of the nation.  We read in Zeph. 1:12 of God finding those who seem to be “entrenched” in their indifference to God.  “At that time, I will search through Jerusalem with lamps.  I will punish the people who are entrenched in their sin, those who think to themselves, ‘The Lord neither rewards nor punishes’” (NET).

“Entrenched” can be translated as those “who thicken on their sediment.”  If wine is allowed to remain on the sediment too long, it will thicken into syrup. “The image suggests that the people described here were complacent in their sinful behavior and interpreted the delay in judgment as divine apathy” (NET).  The cultural narrative in our day conditions even some of the faithful to believe that God is not active in history, expressed in the sentiment of the Psalmist, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees” (Ps 10: 11). 

Men, don’t allow yourself to become complacent by allowing the current cultural narrative lull you to sleep spiritually.   There is no doubt that the spirit of Antichrist is becoming stronger in our day.  Listen to Paul’s warning.  “You’ll also remember that I told you the Antichrist is being held back until just the right time.  That doesn’t mean that the spirit of anarchy is not now at work.  It is, secretly and underground.  But the time will come when the Antichrist will no longer be held back but will be let loose” (II Thess. 2:6-7 – Message). 

Men, I want to be vigilant, with my ear open to what is going on in the culture, while being alert to the sound of the trumpet.  Be prepared for that day. “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” (Joel 2:1). 

As God is mocked, as his purpose for humanity is dismissed, and as ultimate reality – as expressed in his Word – is neglected, our heavenly Father will not allow such conditions to exist for the sake of his glory. Get ready. 

 

Our Cheating Heart

The prophet Hosea was told to demonstrate God‘s love by marrying a prostitute and having children with her. This lived parable portrays Israel as a cheating wife. It reveals the depth of God’s pain and his love for his people.  He wants intimacy with his people but they continue to reject and betray him.  This message should prompt us to consider the ways we have cheated and been unfaithful to God, while he loves us at our worst, pursues us, and desires to see our relationship flourish.  “Once we absorb this story and the words that flow from it, we will know God far more accurately” (Eugene Peterson). 

In Chapter 11, Hosea boldly expresses his fatherly heart. Verse 1 portrays God’s love as that of a Father for his son. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”  “He is our hurting Father who did everything he could for his children, only to be taken for granted, let down, and abandoned…” (Goldingay).  Verses 3-4 portray a father’s love in helping his child take its first steps. “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms.”  But the Father’s love is rejected, as “…they did not realize it was I who healed them.”

The heart of the Father is exposed when He laments his tender love being dismissed.  It is as though our heavenly Father’s heart has been broken.  “I led them with gentle encouragement, their harness was a harness of love.  I treated them like the man who eases the yoke to free the jaws – Yes, I bent down to them and gave them food” (v. 4 – Phillips).  Whether the rope (or harness) is taut or slack, it is always meant as loving discipline.

Still, the people dishonored God. “For my people are determined to desert me.  They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me” (v. 7 NLT).  They used the acceptable religious jargon, but continued to trust the positive-sounding words of false prophets and slipped into idolatry and polytheism.

In verses 8-9 we have a picture of our Father God, agonizing over the lost state of his people. “How, oh how, can I give you up, Ephraim!  How, oh how, can I hand you over, Israel!  How can I turn you into a Sodom!  How can I treat you like a Gomorrah!  My heart recoils within me, all my compassion is kindled” (Phillips).  The Message says, “I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest.”

God expresses his steadfast love to his people, promising them that he will not “carry out [his] fierce anger, nor will [He] devastate Ephraim again” (v. 9).  What a wonderful and reassuring picture of the grace of God.  We don’t get what we deserve.  Rather, we can experience the grace of God anew.

God then reminds his people that he’s able to exhibit such amazing lovingkindness because he is God.  “For I am God, and not a man – the Holy One among you” (v. 9). As the holy, transcendent God, he expresses unconditional love rather than anger and hurt.  The depth of God’s love is demonstrated when love wins out over the attitudes of hostility, anger, and aggression.

Father, help me to:

  • desire an ever-deepening relationship with you (Eph. 1:17 NIV)
  • see my unfaithfulness in not taking time to listen for your voice, nor doing in faith what your Spirit prompts me to do (Luke 6:46)
  • be freed from the baggage preventing me from experiencing the healing you offer (Ex. 15:26)

 

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