Hosea: Repentance to Bring Blessing / Paul: God’s Sovereign Choice: July 25th 2021

Hosea 11:12-14:9

God complained through Hosea that Judah was unruly against God and they must return to him. They should maintain love and justice and always wait for God (Hosea 12:6).  

Israel would not be saved by its wealth, particularly when this had been obtained through dishonest means. God would repay his people for their contempt. They would disappear like the morning mist because of their idol worship and human sacrifice.

When God fed the people, they were initially satisfied but then became proud and forgot God (Hosea 13:6). This is easy for us to do. We can cry out to God when we need a job or a house but once we have got them, we think that we earned them. We do not give thanks to God and we can forget him in our prosperity. We have to remain humble and give praise and thanks at all times.

God had given them a king when they had asked for one, even though the request made him angry. The kings proved themselves repeatedly to be disasters and so God took them away in his wrath.

Israel must bear its guilt. It would be plundered and its people would fall by the sword. The Israelites would once again have to live in tents in exile, as they had in the desert during their exodus.

God called on Israel to repent. He would then heal their waywardness and freely love them (Hosea 14:4). God would send the Messiah to break the hold of sickness and death over the human race (Hosea 13:14). Israel was the unwise baby who couldn’t even find its way out of the womb (Hosea 13:13). Its dangerous delay in choosing to be born into God’s arms risked death. We were all destined to be rescued by the wisest child in history delivered by a sinless, virgin mother.   

They would realise that rebellion never triumphs against God. Rebels stumble and fall. God’s ways are right and wise; righteous people walk in them (Hosea 14:9). When Jesus Christ returns to earth, Israel will blossom like a lily as finally its people are converted. Its “splendour will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6). As the Messianic Jews preach to the globe, they will flourish, they will receive worldwide fame and admiration and people will dwell in their shade (Hosea 14:7).  

Romans 9:1-21

Paul had great sorrow in his heart for the Jews. They had been adopted as sons. They were chosen as God’s holy people. He had nurtured and fed them. God had made covenants with their Patriarchs and from them had come Jesus. Despite all these blessings, they had persistently rebelled against God. Paul was prepared to go to hell himself, to be cut off from God, if it would mean that all his people would be saved. We can feel this pain about our own family, friends and acquaintances. Why can’t they understand the gospel? Why don’t they repent and ask Jesus into their lives? Why do they keep worshipping worthless idols and ignoring God’s loving voice, calling them back to him?

However, if the Israelites had not rebelled, God would not have sent Jesus to save us, and his salvation has extended to all the world, not just the Jews. Everything is according to God’s plan and he brings good out of any bad situation. He has mercy on who he wants to have mercy and, in order to push his plan of salvation forward, he hardened the hearts of those people he wanted to harden (Rom.9:18).

God designed us the way we are as part of his plan. He has an individual mission for each of us. He has given us all sufficient grace to respond to his call and will keep putting people and situations in our path to prompt our conversion even if ultimately this has to be suffering, temptation, sin, agonising illness or imminent death. We should not have the disrespect to ask him why he made us so. He is the potter and we are his clay. With the help of his Holy Spirit, we can become his masterpiece.

Psalm 89:9-13

God founded the world and all that is in it (Ps.89:11). He rules over the surging sea (Ps.89:9).

We exalt his strength and power. He can still the crashing waves in all of our lives and scatter our enemies.

We should sing for joy at his name.

Hosea: God’s Love for Israel / Paul: Praying in Tongues: 24th July 2021

Hosea 10:1-11:11

Israel was described as a ‘spreading vine’. As the country prospered, the people bult more altars to their demonic deities and ‘adorned their sacred stones’ (Hosea 10:1). They had deceitful hearts and now must bear their guilt.

They litigated against each other as they took false oaths and broke secular agreements. Lawsuits are described as ‘poisonous weeds in a ploughed field’ (Hosea 10:4). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a land where we didn’t need a legal system, where everyone acted lawfully and honourably.

The golden calf idol would be taken into exile into Assyria. The people and the idolatrous priests would mourn for it. The pagan high places and altars would be destroyed and become overgrown.

The Israelites had been committed sinners since the terrible crime of Gibeah in Judges 19. God had arranged the war against the Benjamites to punish them for their sexual misdeeds and he would punish the whole of Israel when it pleased him (Hosea 10:10). So it is hardly surprising that our countries get involved in so much conflict and strife when our people commit similar crimes against God.

We should sow righteousness and ‘reap the fruit of unfailing love’. We have hard unploughed ground in our hearts that the Holy Spirit can break open to reveal a loving heart of flesh. When Jesus died for us on the cross, he showered righteousness on us (Hosea 10:12).   

The Israelites had planted wickedness and reaped evil having ‘eaten the fruit of deception’. They had made the mistake of relying on their own strength and their own warriors rather than relying on the Lord. (Hosea 10:13). This is why God was so upset with King David taking a census of his fighting men (1 Chronicles 21:1).

God planned to devastate the fortresses of Israel and destroy the king of Israel.

God loved the nation of Israel when it was just a fledgling nation and he called it out of from slavery in Egypt. He lifted the yoke from their necks, led them with kindness and fed them. However, the more God called, the further the Israelites went from him.

God would never give up his people entirely, despite their unfaithfulness. God would have compassion for them and show them his forgiveness. When he roared like a lion, the fugitives from Egypt and the people that had been exiled in Assyria would come trembling back to their land and God would resettle them in their homes (Hosea 11:11).

Romans 8:18-39

The whole of creation ‘has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ due to its bondage to decay (Rom.8:22). Ever since Eden, the state of the world has been on a steady downwards slide. Humans have become weaker. Our immune systems are breaking down. Allergies are becoming more common. Animals and plants have become extinct, ecosystems have been destroyed and the climate has become less stable. Unbelievers are frantic to reverse this as the earth is all they have but the best we can do is to slow down the process. Christians groan inwardly waiting for eternal life. We know this dying planet will not last forever and is destined to be replaced with a new glorified version. However, we are called to be good stewards of God’s wonderful creation in the meantime. We can all do our bit to lessen our impact on the planet: I drive an electric car, recycle, have installed solar panels and am planning to eat tofu for lunch.  

The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we do not know what we should pray for, if we have been given the gift of praying in tongues we can hand over our vocal chords, tongue and lips to God and he prays the perfect prayer for us and those around us (Rom.8:26). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us ‘in accordance with God’s will’ (Rom.8:27) and his prayers will be answered.

We now have the classic verse: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28). When we are Christians and bad events / challenges happen in our lives, we can be secure in the knowledge that God is working behind the scenes to bring good out of them.

God knew from before we were conceived, whether we would love him and believe in his son. God doesn’t see time in the linear way we do, he knows everything we are going to do in the future. That doesn’t mean we didn’t exercise our free will to turn to him but because God knew we would choose to be one of his children, he gave us grace and called us from when we were born. Everyone, even the most devout atheist has been given enough grace to respond to God should they chose to do so.

God foreknew all who would choose to be Christians. We were predestined to make our freewill choice having been given the gift of saving grace. We were called and we responded. Through Jesus’s death we are justified. We are glorified through Christ Jesus (Rom.8:29-30).

The greatest example of predestination (apart from Jesus) was that of the Virgin Mary. God knew that when she was a teenager she would agree to be the mother of Jesus, becoming the mother of God. Jesus couldn’t be conceived by a sinner and so God made Mary ‘full of grace’ from the time of her conception.

God created and rules the entire universe and so ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom.8:31). He does not condemn us and did not spare his own son to rescue and redeem us. He will  ‘graciously give us all things’ (Rom.8:32).

Jesus is at the right hand of God and is interceding for all Christians. We can shrug off unjust accusations and charges against us. We only care what God thinks about us and have no fear of other people’s opinions. We conquer all through him who loves us.

Nothing in the whole of creation can separate us from ‘the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). This phrase gives us everlasting comfort.

Praise be to God.

Psalm 89:1-8

Let us all sing of the Lord’s great love and faithfulness for ever (Ps.89:1).

His love for us stands firm for ever (Ps.89:2).

This psalm also hints at the existence of a heavenly council of minor ‘gods’ that God created and rules over (Ps.89:7). It mentions ‘the assembly of the holy ones’ (Ps.89:5) and ‘who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?’ (Ps.89:6). The heavenly beings could equally be angels with Saint Michael the archangel’s name meaning ‘Who is like God?’

As assembly of lesser heavenly beings is a tempting theology as it explains many ancient religions and the Greek and Roman pantheon but these beings, if they even existed, are irrelevant now as God judged and confined them, after they failed to live up to his standards. Our modern-day theology is confined to the Holy Trinity, angels and demons.

We join in with the heavens in praising your wonders, O Lord (Ps.89:5).

Image: bobosh_t, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hosea proclaims Destruction and Punishment / Paul: Life Through the Spirit: 23rd July 2021

Hosea 8:1-9:17

Israel was to reap the whirlwind of destruction due to their unfaithful idolatrous worship. The golden calf that they worshipped at Bethel had been made by a human craftsman. It was not God.

God would remember the wickedness of the Israelites and punish them. The people of Judah had fortified many towns but this would not save them. God would send fire upon their cities.

Prophets were the ‘watchmen’ over Israel, yet the people set snares for them on all their paths and were hostile to them in the house of his God (Hosea 9:8).

When God had first made covenants with the Patriarchs of Israel it had been like ‘finding grapes in the desert’ and ‘seeing early fruit on the fig-tree’ (Hosea (9:10). It had been beautifully refreshing to find righteousness and faith.

God would reject his people because they had not obeyed him. They would become wanderers among the nations.

Romans 8:1-17

Romans 8 is the climax of the amazing book of Romans – the most intense theological treatise in the Bible.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.8:1). The Holy Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death.

God sent his own son to be a sin offering (Rom.8:3). Those who love in accordance with the Spirit have their mind set on what the Spirit desires. We no longer live according to what our former sinful nature desired. When our mind is controlled by the Spirit, we enjoy life and peace.

The sinful mind is death, hostile to God and does not submit to God’s law. If we are controlled by a sinful nature, then we cannot please God (Rom.8:8).

When we have been baptized and have asked Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour we are controlled by the Spirit. The Spirit of God lives in us. We know that the Spirit of God is living in us when we pray in the Spirit / speak in tongues. This proves the Holy Spirit is living within us and, as he raised Christ from the dead, he will also give life to our mortal bodies (Rom.8:11).

In order to live, we have ‘to put to death the misdeeds of the body’ (Rom.8:13). We do this by the power of the Spirit. I was too weak to eliminate my misdeeds when I tried to rely on my own willpower, by handing over control to the Holy Spirit through praying in tongues, he did it for me.

When we are lead by the Spirit of God we become ‘born again’ as we ask Jesus into our lives, we then become sons (and daughters of God) (Rom.8:14).

We are no longer slaves to fear, we have the Spirit of sonship. God is our Father. The Holy Spirit will testify to that. We are God’s children and heirs of God. When we emotionally or physically suffer, we are supernaturally linked to our Lord Jesus Christ and like all bad things in our life, God has designed good to come out of it. ‘We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory’ (Rom.8:17).

Proverbs 17:25-18:6

We should pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom so we will not bring grief and bitterness to our parents (Prov.17:25). ‘The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook’ (Prov.18:4).

The Holy Spirit gives us self-control so we will use words with restraint and remain even-tempered (Prov.17:27). Keeping silent can make even the foolish appear wise and discerning (Prov.17:27). However, we should never miss an opportunity to proclaim the gospel when we know, through the wisdom imbued in us by the Holy Spirit, that it is an appropriate time.

Christian communities should be noted for their generosity and friendliness. Born-again sons of God should never be hostile (Prov.18:1).

Wicked fools do not want to understand and will show contempt. Foolish words will bring us strife (Prov.18:6).

We need to pursue and fight for justice. We should never be swayed by the wicked or deprive the innocent of justice. We should never unjustly punish those with integrity. God watches all and will judge us for our deeds.

Hosea: On Israel being Unrepentant / Paul: Struggling with Sin: 22nd July 2021

Hosea 6:1-7:16

Even though God may sometimes tear us to pieces spiritually, he always has plans to heal and rebuild us better and stronger on the third day, so we may live in his presence. We can miraculously recover when God shows his power as the dry bones did in Ezekiel 37.

We must acknowledge the Lord because he will surely appear as reliably as the arrival of the different seasons.

The Israelites love for God was always temporary and would evaporate ‘like the early dew’ (Hosea 6:4). Therefore, God unleased his spokespeople on them – the prophets – who cut them into pieces and killed them ‘with the words of my mouth’. God’s judgement ‘flashed like lightning upon you’ (Hosea 6:5).

God always wants mercy, not sacrifice. He wants to be acknowledged.

The Israelites had broken their covenant with God. Their cities were filled with wicked men. Even bands of priests committed murders. Israel had defiled and prostituted itself. Judah was not much better and would be dealt with in time (Hosea 6:11).

God remembered all their evil deeds. Whenever he wanted to restore the Israelite’s fortunes and heal them, the sins of Ephraim were exposed – ‘as the largest and most influential of all the northern 10 tribes, Ephraim’s name was often used as representative of the northern kingdom (Israel)’ (MacArthur, 2021, 1127) – and the crimes of Samaria (the capital city of Israel) were revealed (Hoses 7:1). This shows the major problem the human race has with sin. It is such a massive barrier to our relationship with God that it would take the monumental death of the son of God to fix this issue for ever.

The kings of Israel kept being assassinated by their treacherous subjects but even when faced with death, the idol-worshipping kings did not call on God. Jesus would also be plotted against and killed but he always called on his Father.

The Israelites in their arrogance did not return to the Lord or search for him (Hosea 7:10). They were easily deceived, senseless and fickle calling to Egypt for help one day and Assyria the next.

It is strange that doves are described in Hosea 7:11 as ‘easily deceived and senseless’, yet the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism (Matt.3:16). Jesus described doves as having an ‘innocent’ character (Matt. 10:16).

Hosea prophesied that God would rain destruction on his people because of their rebellion, lies, insolent words and evil plots against him. They had strayed away from God when all he wanted to do was redeem them. Their leaders would fall and other countries would ridicule them.

Romans 7:7-25

Paul stated that he would not have known what sin was except through the law (Romans 7:7).  However, in modern times, a country’s written laws often have to play catch-up with people’s sins. Many people defend themselves in court with ‘legal loopholes’, that have to be blocked off by additional legislation. The conscience of a person who has been made righteous with God, tells them which acts are sins because we have God’s law written on our hearts. God’s law is ‘holy, righteous and good’ (Rom.7:12).

We can take some solace from the fact that even Saint Paul struggled with temptation but he was probably under severe demonic attack, ‘for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Rom.7:15). Even after we are baptized and all our sins are wiped out, human beings still have a wounded nature and a residual tendency to sin that theologians term ‘concupiscence’. People want to sin to assert their self-will.

God give us sufficient grace to resist all sin but we still have to engage our willpower to overcome our tendency to commit sin. I find that after praying in tongues as much as possible, the Holy Spirit removes my desire to sin, which makes life a lot less stressful. I couldn’t free myself from ingrained habitual sin, I had to hand my problems over to the Holy Spirit and he sorted me out.

If we do give into sin, we have a remedy in that we can confess to God, receive a hug of forgiveness and carry on joyfully with life restored in his love. As Christians, our sins start to niggle and bother us until we repent and make amends. We love God’s law and can only be at peace when our lives are in obeyance to it. Who can rescue us from our sinful bodies of death? (Rom.7:24).

Thanks be to God for sending us a redeemer to rescue us – Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.7:25).

Psalm 88:9b-18

The psalmist was extremely depressed when he wrote this and despaired that ‘darkness is my closest friend’ (Ps.88:18). Even when we lose companions and loved ones we are never alone. We now know that Jesus Christ is our closest friend and in him, there is no darkness. He is the light of the world.

The people living in darkness has seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matt.4:16).

‘The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Ps.27:1).

Every day, let us spread out our hands to God and call on him (Ps.88:9).

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

Hosea Reconciled with his Adulterous Wife / Paul: Slaves to Righteousness: July 21st 2021

Hosea 3:1-5:15

God told Hosea to become reconciled with his wife. She was an adulterous prostitute loved by another man. Hosea was instructed to ‘love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes’ (Hosea 3:1). The Israelites had acted as prostitutes chasing after demonic deities. God would eventually pay the price to redeem both them and us, by Jesus dying on the cross. By the way, the sacred raisin cakes do sound delicious. We have Eccles cakes in this country, which may be a similar recipe but hopefully haven’t been dedicated to demonic deities.

Homer bought his wife, which implies that she was a slave and might not have had any say in her career choice. He told her to be faithful to him alone, now he had redeemed her.

Hosea prophesied that after the Israelites returned from exile, they would return and come trembling to seek the Lord their God and David their king (Hosea 3:5). Jesus became incarnate and fulfilled the latter half of this prophecy.

Hosea laid out the charges against Israel, many of which can be levelled at the UK today. In our country there is little faithfulness and love and most people don’t acknowledge God. We have cursing, lying, murdering, stealing and adultery. Many of our leaders are divorced and remarried and so are living in adulterous relationships. If a woman is raped, they can get an abortion and so ‘bloodshed follows bloodshed’ (Hosea 4:2) rather than counter-acting evil with love.

We live in a world of ecological collapse with species becoming extinct and fish in the sea dying from pollution. People are continuing to harm the world with their thoughtless behaviour – ‘my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6).

Many people don’t spend time reading the word of God and so reject knowledge of their creator. We have seen the scandal of priests sinning against God and exchanging their Glory for something disgraceful. Even pastors and vicars get divorced and remarried feeding ‘on the sins of my people’, ‘like people, like priests’ (Hosea 4:8-9).

God would ‘punish both (people and priests) for their ways and repay them for their deeds’ (Hosea 4:9). The people had given themselves to prostitution just as many modern people consume endless pornography, beamed directly into their houses through the internet. Many young women, even housewives, are using their bodies as an income stream.

Many of us have worked in secular jobs, doing pointless tasks just for the money. We may very well need it when we have young families to support and massive mortgages. We hire out our bodies to sit in an office where we begrudgingly churn out work while keeping our mind on the money and counting the minutes on the clock. Many of us have given ourselves to both old wine and new to get through the depression of having to prostitute ourselves in the office the following week. The Israelites tried to consult man-made idols for advice rather than praying to God. We might follow a celebrity idol on social media and follow their decrees.

God would not punish the women for their prostitution and adultery because the men were equally at fault. Not only did men use prostitutes – particularly the ones at the shrines to the demonic fertility gods, but they also forced women into prostitution, like Hosea’s wife before he bought her freedom.

God did not want Israel’s stubborn sins to affect the southern kingdom of Judah (Hosea 4:15). God wanted to pasture his people like innocent lambs in a meadow but their rulers loved shameful ways and so they would be swept away in shame.

Hosea pronounced God’s judgement on the people. They were so embedded in their sins that ‘their deeds do not permit them to return to their God’ (Hosea 5:4). These days, there is no sin that can prevent us from experiencing the love of Christ. We just have to repent and renounce of our sins, believe in Christ and ask him into our lives and become baptized.

God was going to pour out his wrath like a flood of water. The Israelites would be carried off, with no-one to rescue them. God would retire from them until they admitted their guilt and, in their misery, sought his face (Hosea 5:15).

Romans 6:15-7:6

If we believe in Jesus, we are set free from sin and become ‘slaves to righteousness’ (Rom.6:18). We are no longer slaves to sin and our sinful addictions. When we are baptized and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, he can help us break free from any sinful habit. He builds us up and makes us holier day by day.

I have been a baptized Christian since I was one but for decades I let my body become enslaved to impurity. I reaped no benefit from my sins, I was on the road to death coaxed gently step-by-step down the path to destruction by oppressing evil spirits. The Holy Spirit lived within me as a little flickering pilot light of faith.

God gives us enough grace to resist any temptation but it was only when I started praying in tongues for extended periods of time, that the Holy Spirit fired up his power within me and burnt off my sinful habits and addictions. I lost the rebellious desire to sin. I was no longer a slave to sin once I handed over control to the righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

The wages of sin are death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.6:23).

We now belong to Christ, serving in the new way of the Spirit (Rom.7:6), so that we might bear fruit for God (Rom.7:4).

Psalm 88:1-9a

I have cried out to God when it felt like my soul was full of trouble and my life was drawing near the grave (Psalm 88:3). He sent an entire new Church to save me and pluck me from lacklustre praise and worship. He is the God who saves me (Ps.88:1).

God sometimes allows the devil to interfere in our lives, which can bring us down into the lowest pit of despair (Ps.88:6). However, when bad things happen it is because God wants good to come out of them. We are refined like gold to make us stronger. We gain character and hope through our trials and tribulations.  

When we are suffering we must turn to God not away from him. Through persisting in prayer, he will turn his ears to our cries (Ps.88:2).

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/freedom-sky-hands-handcuffs-clouds-1886402/

Hosea’s Wife and Children / Paul: Dead to sin, Alive in Christ: July 20th 2021

Hosea 1:1-2:23

Hosea (meaning ‘Salvation’) prophesised shortly after Amos (around 755-710 BC). He prophesied that God would still loyally show love for Israel, in spite of its unfaithful idolatry.

Hosea was told by God to marry an adulterous woman – a prostitute – and have ‘children of unfaithfulness’ because Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord (Hosea 1:2). Their domestic life was ‘a dramatization of the sin and unfaithfulness of Israel’ (MacArthur, 2021, 1122).

Hosea married Gomer and she bore him a son. Hosea was instructed to name the boy Jezreel (meaning ‘God will scatter’ or ‘God sows’). God was going to sow judgment and punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel  (where Jehu slaughtered the relations of Ahab) and put an end to the kingdom of Israel.

Gomer then had two more children. They named one, a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah meaning ‘not loved’ / ‘no compassion’ / ‘no mercy’. God had vowed not to show love to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) any longer but he would still show love to the South (Judah).

They had another son and named him Lo-Ammi, meaning ‘not my people’. Via Hosea, God delivered his heart-breaking sentence on Israel ‘you are not my people, and I am not your God!’ (Hos.1:9). God was temporarily breaking the covenant he had given (Ex.3:14) by saying “I am no longer ‘I am’ to you” (MacArthur, 2021, 1124).

However, God would eventually reverse this and reunite the people of Israel and Judah after periods of exile when he would give them new hearts to know him (Jer.24:7).

Israel would be punished harshly but would be eventually restored. God had given them good things: grain, new wine, oil, silver and gold which they had unfaithfully used to worship demonic entities (Hos.2:8). They had chosen demons as their ‘lovers’ and credited them for giving them vines and fig trees, when in fact all good things had come from God. They had forgotten their creator and prostituted themselves.

God withheld rain and made the ground unproductive to demonstrate that the Canaanite deities were not the source of rain and fertility.

We shouldn’t rush around trying to secure food, drink and clothing through our own efforts or by relying on demons. Jesus said to ‘seek first his (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt.6:33). God knows we need his provision for our lives.

When God restored Israel after their upcoming exile, he would sign an everlasting formal contract with the people (a betrothal). He would promise them safety, righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness.

When God responded to the people (who God called Jezreel), all creation would also respond and produce new wine and oil. God would show love to the people he had called ‘not loved’ (Lo-Ruhamah) and declare them as his people (reversing Lo-Ammi, ‘not my people’).

The restored Israelites would faithfully declare, ‘You are my God’ (Hos.2:23).

Romans 6:1-14

Baptized believers should be dead to sin. If we find ourselves repeating the same sins, we should give up trying to conquer them by our own strength. We can just hand over the struggle to the Holy Spirit. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will edify us – building us up and making us spiritually strong. Habitual sin will drop off us because we are no longer the slaves of sin through God’s redeeming power.

When we are baptized, we are baptized into Jesus’ death. In old churches, a section of the floor would be pushed back to reveal a baptism pool like an open water-filled coffin beneath the floor. By being fully immersed in water and emerging back into the light, being given a candle and clothed in a white robe, this signifies how we become new creations through baptism, children of God. We have been raised through the glory of the Father, to live a new life (Rom.6:4).

Some denominations decree that all baptisms should involve full immersion but this is incorrect. It is great to have a full immersion baptism but it is not always practical. Many ‘full immersion’ baptisms are carried out in a domestic bathtub and no-one over five feet tall can be fully immersed in one of those. There always has to be knees sticking out of the water. The typical Anglican / Catholic baptism that just involves sprinkling water on a child’s head is fully valid. As long as some water is used and the person is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – then the baptism is valid. Any baptized Christian can baptize someone else in an emergency such as imminent death.

Paul states that if we have been united with Jesus in his death by baptism, ‘we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection’ (Rom.6:5). Our old self is crucified. We are no longer slaves to sin. Through our baptismal death with Jesus we have been set free and live with Christ. The penalty for all our sins has been paid by Jesus. God will now forgive all our sins if we repent and renounce them.

Death no longer had mastery over Jesus after his resurrection. We have to count ourselves dead to sin and offer ourselves to God, as instruments of righteousness not of wickedness. We do not live under the Jewish law; we live under the grace of God.

Psalm 87:1-7

The Lord loves Jerusalem, the ancient capital city of Judah. It is a major site of pilgrimage for the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a tragedy that there is so much conflict in the region.

It must be glorious to visit the actual locations in the city where biblical events took place (Ps.87:3).

When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is given to us. He sets up home on our hearts and our bodies become his temple. He will make streams of living water flow from our hearts so that God can say to Christians ‘all my fountains are in you’ (Ps.87:7).

To turn a trickle of blessings into a flood, we need to repent and ask Jesus to come fully into our lives as our personal saviour and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle within us, all of his powerful gifts. He will turn our flickering pilot light of faith into a roaring flame. Praise the Lord.  

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosea#/media/File:Hosea.jpg

Amos: The Nation to be Destroyed and then Restored / Paul: Death through Adam, Life Through Christ

Amos 8:1-9:15

God showed Amos a basket of ripe fruit that indicated that ‘the time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer’ (Amos 8:2). The Israelites would suffer for trampling the needy, doing away with the poor and cheating people with dishonest scales. God doesn’t like greed and injustice.

God would send a new kind of famine – not of lack of food or a thirst for water – but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). Many people in this country choose to live in a faith famine during their spiritually empty, hedonistic lifestyle. Until something terrible happens to them and they experience illness, addiction or the death of someone close to them they won’t search for the word of the Lord.

God is very angry at the Israelites and is going to ruthlessly hunt down all the sinners throughout the kingdom, no matter where they try to hide. God definitely has a hard edge and we don’t want to annoy him. When we are friends with God we find comfort that he is omnipresent and with us to the ends of the earth. Unrepentant sinners are terrified to find out they cannot escape the clutches of God. ‘I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good’ (Amos 9:4). The relationship between God and evil is a difficult topic. Some pastors gloss over this with a childish ‘God is good’ and ‘devil is bad’ simplicity. However, the devil is not allowed to do anything unless God has permitted him to do so. God is in charge of everything that takes place. The devil is constrained in his actions (or we would all be dead already) and so if something bad is happening in your life, it is because God has loosened the restraints on the devil to allow it to take place. Allowing something to take place or neglecting to stop it when you have the power (and God has all the power) is the same as doing it yourself. So we can safely conclude that God allows both good and evil events, even though he wants us all to live in love and peace. When God allows evil to happen it is because he wants a greater good to come out of it.

We can see the horrors of the holocaust in Amos 9:2-4 with the Jews driven into exile and slayed by the sword. Wherever they hid, the Jewish people were hunted down and slayed. It is a terrifying prophecy.

God was going to shake Israel as grain is shaken in a sieve to remove the rubbish. All the complacent sinners would be sifted out to die by the sword.  

Eventually, God would restore Israel and bring his exiled people back – as he demonstrated in 1948. The Israelis rebuilt cities, planted vineyards and ate their own fruit (Amos 9:14).

Shepherds play a key role in the history of Israel. Amos, a shepherd turned prophet, predicted exile followed by restoration. Jeremiah prophesied that the bad shepherds of the Israelites would be punished and that God himself would gather the remnant of his flock from exile. God would place good shepherds over them to tend them until the ultimate good shepherd, Jesus, would be born (Jer.23:5). As soon as baby Jesus had been born, the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were called by the angels to pay homage to the king of all shepherds.  

No matter how hostile their neighbours are, aggression against Israel will always be pointless as God has replanted his holy people in their own land, that he had given them ‘never again to be uprooted’ (Amos 9:15).

Romans 5:12-21

Sin entered the world through one man, Adam and we all retain part of his damaged nature, a tendency to choose sin. Death came through sin and reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, when the law was given. We were all condemned by the single sin of Adam but we have been redeemed by Jesus, the new Adam.

God’s gift of grace came after millions of sins and brought justification (Romans 5:16). Death was able to spread through the whole human race by Adam’s sin, but Jesus’ death gives us abundant life through God’s endless provision of grace and gift of righteousness. We are no longer guilty and condemned in God’s sight once we are baptized and believe in Jesus. Through God’s priceless gift of grace, he has made us his adopted children, co-heirs with his son and he remains pleased with us.

The people of the world are no longer condemned to death as we were due to Adam’s sin. Our justification by the blood of Jesus has brought eternal life to all people through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Proverbs 17:15-24

God detests injustice (Prov.17:15). We should never accept bribes to pervert the course of justice (Prov.17:23).

We won’t prosper if we have perverse hearts and deceitful tongues (Prov.17:20). After becoming baptized, we need to ask the Holy Spirit living within us to sanctify us, to day-by-day gradually drive the perversity out of our hearts.

True friends are exceedingly precious and may be more help in adversity than many members of our family. True friends can be rare and often we can only count our married partner as a true friend.  Men often have acquaintances rather than ‘friends’. They share a hobby or pastime together and this might just be football or drinking. It is very rare to have a friendship like David had with Saul’s son, Jonathan. They were friends that loved at all times (Prov.17:17). David was a man after God’s own heart and so would have avoided picking quarrels with his friend (Prov.17:19).    

Foolish people do not bring joy to their parents and they waste money. They have no desire to get wisdom. We should pray the Holy Spirit each day to receive wisdom and to esteem it more than gold. ‘A discerning man keeps wisdom in view’ (Prov.17:24).

Being cheerful makes us healthy. If our spirit is crushed, an evil spirit of trauma can latch onto us and prolong our grief. Evil spirits want us to destroy ourselves and those around us. We need to attend a Spirit-filled church to praise and worship God and to receive prayer for inner healing.

Amos: Woe to the complacent / Paul: Peace and Joy: July 18th 2021

Amos 6:1-7:17

Woe to those who are complacent! (Amos 6:1). Many people feel complacent and secure these days and see no point in worshipping the One True God, creator of heaven and earth. They lounge on couches, enjoy their barbeques, hum along to secular music, use the finest lotions and drink like fish but do not grieve over the state of our country or God’s people; how we kill over 200,000 of our unborn children each year and churches close due to selfish disinterest. They will be among ‘the first to go into exile’ (Amos 6:7). Their feasting and lounging will end at the day of judgement.

God hates false pride. People think they have achieved success in their lives without any help from God. They brag and network with other narcissists about their careers on social media. People live in big houses and think they are secure yet we live behind panes of glass through which anyone armed with the smallest rock could enter. Pride comes before a dramatic fall. We need to praise and thank God every day for our blessings.

We are like wonky walls badly constructed by cowboy builders. I was built on a strong sold foundation having been baptised at the age of one. However, my family were not strong believers and, as I grew, I went askew. When I assessed the constructed wall of my life, it contained twisted and warped bricks that had thrown my life off-plumb. I see teenagers now at church who have thrived under strong Christian parents who are beautifully constructed beacons of light.

The Lord showed Amos that Israel had not been built to his plumbline. The country was warped, twisted and shoddy in its faith and morals. God would destroy its pagan worship sites and send armed raiders to plunder its cities and exile its people.

Amaziah, the priest of the idol-worship shrine at Bethel, complained to King Jeroboam II about Amos. Amaziah told Amos to go back to Judah. Amos explained that it hadn’t been his idea to be a prophet. God had taken him from herding sheep and looking after sycamores and told him to prophesy to Israel (Amos 7:15) that it would go into exile.

Amos had an even worse personal prophecy for the corrupt priest (Amos 17:17).

Amaziah recognised Amos as a ‘seer’ (Amos 17:12) but did not want to listen to his truthful bad news. Many people today try to blot out hearing the gospel and avoid priests as they know they would convict their self-centred lifestyle. However, God’s soldiers will not go away as we have been commanded to share the word of God. We need to all stop hiding from the truth and listen. Then God can work within us and heal us. God can change his mind about destroying our country and our people if we repent and turn to him. He is always calling us home to him.

Romans 4:16-5:11

In the sight of God, Abraham is the father of us all. Abraham has been made the father of many nations. Abraham believed through faith that he could still be a father even though ‘his body was as good as dead’ (Rom.4:19).

God credits us with righteousness – as he did for Abraham – when ‘we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead’ (Rom.4:24). Jesus was ‘delivered over to death’ as a ransom payment for our sins and was ‘raised to life for our justification’ so we become innocent in God’s eyes as if we were a freshly baptized child (Rom.4:25). We become clothed in a spotless white robe as if we had never sinned.

Having been justified by God’s grace through faith, we are now at peace with God (Rom.5:1). We were previously at war, but peace has come through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Christians we should rejoice in our sufferings because out of them we gain perseverance, character and hope. God has given us the Holy Spirit, who has poured God’s love into our hearts.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8). He saw the potential in us if love were to be poured into our hearts and we were made right with God.

We were reconciled to God through Jesus’ death. But Jesus came back to life. He walks with us, encourages us, intercedes for us and along with the Father sends us the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us. As we are now God’s adopted children, we can rejoice in God. Jesus bore all of God’s wrath on the cross for us and there is now no wrath left for believers (MacArthur, 2021, 1551).

Psalm 86:11-17

If we have a divided heart, we should pray to God to make it whole, so that we will be in awe of the Lord. Then we can praise God with all our heart (Ps.86:12).

The Holy Spirit teaches us the way of God, so that we can walk in the truth (Ps.86:11).  

Jesus died on the cross in order to deliver us from the depths of the grave (Ps.86:13). After he died, he descended into hell and rescued Adam and Eve out of his great love for them. He was their creator and their redeemer, yet was also one of their descendants.

God sent his son to die for us because He is slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Ps.86:15). He turned to us and had mercy on us.

When I have been laid low and attacked by oppressive thoughts or insolent people, God has always shown me the way out. He has placed people in the right place to help me and curated magazine and newspaper articles to guide me. He continues to be my helper and my comforter (Ps.86:17).

Image: Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Amos Calls Israel to Repentance / Paul suggests Abraham was Justified by Faith: July 17th 2021

Amos 5:1-27

Amos lamented over Israel and called the people to repentance. They would no longer win their battles. If the Israelites in a city marched out to war, only ten per cent would survive. The people should seek the Lord and live rather than travel to their idol-worshipping shrines (Amos 5:4). Their main shrine, Bethel, would be reduced to nothing.

Amos convicted the Israelites of their lack of justice and righteousness. They despised those who told the truth and reproved them in court. They oppressed the poor and took their grain and so would not be allowed to enjoy their mansions and lush vineyards.

The prudent man was being forced to keep silent during these evil times as there was no justice in the courts. The righteous were oppressed and bribery was common.

The Israelites should ‘seek good, not evil’ (Amos 5:14) and ‘hate evil, love good’ (Amos 5:15). They should maintain justice in the courts. People are blessed when they live in a society with a relatively just legal system. In our country, justice often prevails and there are also ways to appeal. Justice at lower levels such as magistrates court can easily become warped by secret fraternal societies, letting their members off lightly. However, these people will face justice in the end as members of such societies are automatically excommunicated from the Christian church and so will bitterly repent of their actions for eternity as they remain separated from God.

There would be wailing throughout the land as the Lord passed through their midst. People longing for the day of the Lord would not enjoy it when it arrived. They would be judged in pitch-black darkness not light.

God despised their religious feasts and refused to accept their offerings. He would not listen to their music, God demanded justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24). Because of their idol worship, which included child sacrifice, God would send them into exile ‘beyond Damascus’ (Amos 5:27). The Israelites would soon be conquered by the Assyrians (722 BC) and deported in accordance with this prophecy.

We need to be careful not to feel satisfied with our worship – particularly the lukewarm washed-out worship offered by many churches. God wants us to worship him from our hearts, not as a reluctant religious gathering devoid of love and power.     

Romans 4:1-15

We have a conflict in our theology today. Paul quotes Genesis that ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (Rom.4:1-15). Some pastors explain this using a credit and debit card analogy. They say that believers were all made righteous with God through the death of Jesus on the cross. Abraham lived before Jesus but he was made righteous through his faith by borrowing against the death of Jesus, gaining eternal life on credit. Jesus would eventually pay off Abraham’s credit-card bill by his blood. As we live after the death of Jesus, we can draw on Jesus’ death using a holy debit card. The righteousness is in the bank and we can draw on it,

This is the big debate about whether we can get to heaven based solely on faith or whether we need to both have faith and also live a good life demonstrating love and charity. James wrote clearly that faith alone is not enough to save us, it has to be backed up by deeds (James 2:14). Faith without deeds is useless. Many people don’t understand that time is perceived differently by God. He sees the past, present and future all at the same time. Abraham was considered righteous by offering his son Isaac on the altar. His faith and deeds worked together and his faith was made complete by what he did (James 2:21-22). We have to make our faith complete by what we do. So when Abraham first spoke to God, he was indeed credited with righteousness but only up to the point where he almost sacrificed his son (James 2:23-24). James clearly states that ‘a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24). Faith is a channel through which justification comes. Faith is also an unearned gift from God.

The necessity for both faith and deeds has always been the belief of the Mother Church for 1,500 years until the Reformation at which time the Protestant Reformers cut seven books out of the Bible (the Apocrypha). This conveniently removed some of the key texts about doctrines they did not agree with such as praying for the dead and purgatory (2 Maccabees 12:41-46).

By eliminating the Apocrypha, a further reference to the necessity for both faith and deeds was removed: “Was not Abraham tested and found faithful, was that not considered as justifying him?” (1 Maccabees 2:52) (NJB 1985).   

If anyone tells us it is not in the Bible to pray for the dead, that there is no purgatory and that we can gain salvation without good deeds, we can simply point out that their Bible is not big enough. They are missing seven books.

It is the sin of presumption to assume we are saved and will go to heaven. The church does not know who will go to heaven, that is down to the judgement of Jesus and his righteous justice. When we die we have to trust in his mercy. The faith and deeds debate shouldn’t really be an issue as ‘born again’ Christians brimming full of faith tend to do good deeds anyway. However, if we are lukewarm Christians plodding along in a self-centred life, with minimum thought or love for God, we need to fire ourselves up and do some of the acts of charity that Jesus instructed us to do. The ones that will stop us being sent off into the eternal fire (Matt.25:41). We have to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, show hospitality, clothe the naked, visit the sick and visit those in prison (Matt.25:34-36).

To be perfect, we have to sell everything we own, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus (Matt.19:21).

Jesus clearly said we need deeds to inherit eternal life, such as following the commandments (Matt.19:17) and so we should aim for both faith and deeds (Matt.25:46).

We can never be sure we have done enough charitable deeds in this life to warrant eternal life and so we have hope in the merciful judgement of Jesus, whom we love. Through our faith in him, we hope he will forgive the shortcomings of our deeds. ‘In his name the nations will put their hope’ (Matt.12:21).

‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (Rom.5:5).

Psalm 86:1-10

I often call out to God, guard my life and those of my relatives because ‘I am devoted to you’ (Ps.86:2). He will save his servants who trust in him and lift up their souls to him. He will bring us peace and joy.

When we die, we can call out to Jesus: ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord’ (Ps.86:3).

Jesus is forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to him (Ps.86:5).

Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord’ (Ps.86:8). An interesting phrase as it implies there are other gods with a small ‘g’. Michael Heiser (2015) lists many of the Bible references that imply there may have been a ‘heavenly council’ of created beings that helped God rule the world. This is a tempting theory as it explains much of the mythology from around the world. However, these ‘gods’ don’t seem to be around anymore – having theoretically been judged and confined – and so we shouldn’t let this concern us too much. They may all have been just imaginary. Whatever powers small ‘g’ gods may have had ‘no deeds can compare’ to those of the one true God.

Our Father is great and does marvellous things. He alone is the big ‘G’ God (Ps.86:10).

Image: Lorenzo Monaco, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amos: The Cows of Bashan / Paul: Righteousness through Faith: 16th July 2021

Amos 3:1-4:13

God chose the Israelites, out of all the people on the earth, to be his holy people Their favoured status did not exempt them from punishment. They had betrayed him so must face righteous justice and answer for their sins (Amos 3:2). I have heard some pastors say that God does not bring hardship, that is the work of the devil. However, the devil can do nothing without the permission of God: ‘When disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it?’ (Amos 3:6).

Amos predicted that an enemy would overrun the land (Amos 3:11). The Assyrian exiled the Israelites in 722 BC. Just a small remnant was saved – like a piece of a sheep’s ear prised from the mouth of a lion. Amos was called to testify that God would destroy the altar at Bethel where the Israelites had worshipped their golden calf idol. Their fancy houses and mansions would be destroyed.

I rather like the expression ‘you cows of Bashan’ (Amos 4:1) referring to the women of Samaria living it up, oppressing the poor and needy and ordering their husbands to serve them in their luxurious mansions. Bashan was a prosperous fertile region with lush pastures. It reminds me of how people are desperate to go on foreign holidays at the moment to lounge by the pool and sip cocktails while coronavirus cases are surging and hospital services are starting to become strained again.

Amos criticised the Israelites’ religious practices with withering sarcasm. Amos 4:4 is like us saying: ‘Go to church and sin, go to the cathedral and sin yet more’. Their religion had become meaningless rituals about which they bragged to their neighbours. They had turned two of their most important holy sites, Bethel and Gilgal, into centres for idol worship. Bethel was where God had promised Jacob he would bless all the peoples on earth through him and his offspring (Gen.28:14). The Israelites had made a fresh start with God at Gilgal – after forty years in the wilderness – by circumcising themselves prior to the assault on Jericho (Josh.5:1-9).   

The Lord had tried many strategies to get the Israelites to return to him: from starvation to drought, pestilence, plague, war and violent insurrections, yet they still would not turn to him. They made a show of going to their heathen places of worship and bragging about their offerings but their hearts were far from God.    

I know God has snatched me from the fire on more than one occasion. I was the burning stick that was miraculously saved from a near certain fate (Amos 4:11).

The Lord God Almighty was preparing to unleash his wrath on his people and so they should prepare to meet their maker (Amos 4:12).

Romans 3:9-31

We are all the same under the skin no matter what race or religion we are (Rom.3:9).

None of us can be righteous in the sight of God by our own efforts. We are made righteous by repenting of our sins and believing in God’s son, Jesus Christ. Laws and regulations just make us aware of our shortcomings in complying with them – and our sin.

Most humans look after their own interests rather than seek God. It is only when the Holy Spirit acts on our hearts that we start to search for God.

Rom.3:12-18 is still applicable to us today. We live in a world of cursing and bitterness. Our feet are swift to shed blood. Many people live in ruin and misery. Many of us have no fear of God and have tongues that practise deceit as we speak foul, poisonous words revealing the decay of our hearts. We do not live in a peaceful world. There is endless conflict between nations over power, territory and resources.   

Some companies maintain expensive quality systems with procedures on how work should be carried out. Periodically, auditors are sent around the company to check how employees are complying with these rules and regulations. No-one ever achieves 100% in these audits. The auditors always find some nit-picking error even if they have to fabricate one to justify their jobs. Cunning employees leave a minor task undone to distract an auditor from digging deeper into more major failings. Rather than ensure the quality of the product, an over-complicated quality system just makes everyone a failure.

Many people today have mouths full of cursing and bitterness (Rom.3:14) and have no fear of God (Rom.3:18). Everyone has God’s law written on their hearts and so we have no excuse for not knowing him. We have to keep churches thriving as welcoming places of light, so that when the Holy Spirit convicts an individual of their sins, they have somewhere to go to teach them the gospel.

Christians are made righteous outside of the Jewish law. The law and the prophets testified that this would eventually happen. ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. As I am using the NIV Bible translation, we miss out on the classic word ‘propitiation’, which the NIV translates as ‘a sacrifice of atonement’. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘propitiation’ is crucial to the significance of Christ’s sacrifice with the word carrying the idea of appeasement or satisfaction ‘in this case Christ’s violent death satisfied the offended holiness and wrath of God against those for whom Christ died (Rom.3:25).

The wrath of God was satisfied’ as in the song ‘In Christ alone’.

Paul wrote that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:23). However, Jesus didn’t sin until he became sin as he died on the cross. His mother, Mary, was sinless from the time of her conception but, as this revelation wouldn’t be officially recognised for another 1,800 years, we can let Paul off.  Jesus could not have come from a sinful egg or undergo his gestation in a sinner’s womb.

God justifies us freely and his justification is an unearned, pure gift from him (grace) through faith in the blood of Jesus that was sacrificed for our redemption (Rom. 3:24-25).

God had to sacrifice his son because of heavenly justice. When we lived in sin, we were at war with God. Someone had to pay the price for our unpunished sin and so God decided to do it himself because he loves us. Jesus paid the ‘ransom price’, the debt, that the courts of heaven had set out for our sin to be redeemed (Mark 10:45). By Jesus’ sacrificial death we were set free to be friends with God, restored back to a living relationship with our loving Father.  

Jesus was the only perfect man, the perfect sacrifice who could reverse the curse of original sin that Adam’s rebellion had blighted us with. ‘We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the holy body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10).

We are justified by our faith in Jesus and how does faith come? Faith comes by hearing the gospel message, listening to and understanding about Jesus in the Word of God! (Rom.10:17).

Psalm 85:8-13

God’s salvation is near to us when we respect his awesome power, righteousness and might (Ps.85:9).

When we are made righteous with God through our faith in Jesus we experience God’s love and faithfulness and eternal peace (Ps.85:18).

As faithfulness springs forth from the Christians on earth, righteousness comes down to us from heaven (Ps.85:11).

When we stop rebelling and invite Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, the Lord will indeed give us what is good (Ps.85:12).

We may still face painful trials but they will be good for us, to train us and refine us like gold so that we can yield a precious harvest.

Once we are made righteous with God through faith, our heart is prepared for the Holy Spirit to take up residence within us (Ps.85:13).

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