False vs. True Worship: Amos 5

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Today’s reading: Amos 1-5.

“What does God really think of the worship in my church?”

Too many times we go to church thinking about what we will get out of the service. What will the music be like? Will the sermon be good? Instead, we should focus on giving praise to God. Worship is about proclaiming the worth of the LORD. Like Isaiah in the temple, true worship occurs when we exalt God and are humbled by our sin. The prophet Amos knew this and pointed it out to his contemporaries in Israel and Judah. The people who showed up at “church” weren’t really worshiping. They were going through the ritual but there was no conviction, and God condemned them for it.

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:21-24

God wasn’t interested in their order of service, or the amount of their offering. He wanted to see an outpouring of obedience. What he saw instead was widespread oppression and immorality.

  • The people rejected the law of the LORD
  • They worshipped idols
  • They took advantage of the righteous and poor for their own personal gain
  • They practiced sexual immorality
  • They prevented justice in the courts by bribes

As you go to church this week, consider what part of God’s word you may have chosen to reject out of your own preference. Think about the idols you honor ahead of God. Do you engage in sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage, including the use of pornography? Do your choices help or hurt the poor? Are you honest in your dealings with others? These are the actions that make it impossible for God to accept our worship. We need to abandon our immorality and obey God’s will. Then our righteousness will flow like a mighty river and our worship will be true.

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:7-8

Image by Jason Wohlford on Flickr, CC by 2.0

After the Day of the LORD: Joel 2

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Today’s reading: Joel 1-3.

“When is the Day of the LORD?”

It’s a tragic flaw that men and women keep trying to set a date for Jesus’ return. Jesus himself said that no man knows that hour but the Father. As in the ancient Jewish custom, in which the groom depended on his father to tell him when to go and get his bride for the wedding, Jesus waits on his Father for the command to go and claim his bride.

But the Bible has a lot to say about the events that occur before Jesus returns. We don’t know the hour of his second coming, but we can know the season. One of the biggest signals is the Day of the LORD. Isaiah described it this way:

  • The day of the LORD is a day of wrath.  God punishes the wicked and evil with anger and destruction.
  • It is a day of cosmic upheaval. The heavens are darkened; sun, moon, and stars all fail to give their light.
  • It is a day of terror. The people flee and become scarce. Their hearts melt and anguish overwhelms them.
  • It is a day when the proud are humbled. All those who exalted themselves  and sought to ignore God will instead find they cannot escape God’s judgment.

Joel has a lot to say about this day. For him it was a present event as well as a future occurrence. In his day a terrible swarm of locusts ate up every green thing in the land, causing complete devastation that was like an outpouring of God’s wrath. He also foresaw a time when an even greater calamity would fall upon the world as God judged the nations for their wickedness. Rather than being the end of all things, this devastating Day of the LORD would introduce a new day with many blessings.

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29

When the Holy Spirit fell down on believers at Pentecost, Peter said it was the work of the Spirit which Joel had foreseen. It may have been the start of that outpouring, but it wasn’t the end of it. The Holy Spirit continues to work in believers today, and many believe that in the last days before Jesus returns there will be an even greater work of the Spirit in the Jews as they all come to faith in the Lord.

Joel sees the Day of the LORD preparing Judah and Jerusalem for full restoration. In contrast to the desolation of the locusts, the land will drip with wine, water will flow out of the temple (just as Ezekiel saw), their guilt will be pardoned, everyone who calls on the LORD will be saved, and “the LORD will dwell there.” The Day of the LORD heralds the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Look at the connection of our text in Joel, and you will find that it is preceded by terrible warnings: “I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.” Nor is this all; this broad gospel statement is followed by words of equal dread. “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.” It was true of the prophets as of the apostles that, knowing the terrors of the Lord, they persuaded men. They were not ashamed to use fear as a powerful motive with mankind. By the prophet Joel the diamond of our text is placed in a black setting, and its brilliance is thereby enhanced. As a lamp is all the more valued when the night is dark, so is the gospel all the more precious when men see their misery without it. To remove from men’s minds the salutary fear of punishment for sin is to draw up the flood-gates of iniquity. He who does this is a traitor to society. If men are not warned of the anger of God against iniquity, they will take license to riot in evil. Charles Spurgeon

Image by NASA Goddard on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Farming for the soul: Hosea 10

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Adam Lerner on Flickr.

Today’s reading: Hosea 8-14.

Like cows eating the grain as they walked over it to thresh it, the people of Israel were used to the easy life. All that was about to change. God was going to judge them, and take away all their abundance, because of their many years of idolatry. Before the hammer of judgment falls, Hosea calls out to them and offers them one more chance to return to God. It will take some work, though – farming work for the soul.

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Phil Parsons on Flickr. 

“Break up your unplowed ground.”

A hard heart won’t grow any spiritual fruit. Jesus compared it to the roadway hardened by heavy traffic. It’s got to be broken up, plowed, turned over, softened. Then it can receive the seed and the rain in order to grow and bear a harvest. The way to break up the hard ground is by seeking God, and the time to do it is now.

 

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IRRI photos on Flickr.

“Sow for yourselves righteousness.”

We put all kinds of seed in the ground of our souls. But like the computer mantra, “garbage in garbage out”, we’ve got to plant good seed to reap a good harvest. Hosea called on Israel to live according to God’s will and stop planting the weeds of disobedience.

 

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International Wheat and Maize on Flickr.

“Reap the fruit of unfailing love.”

We don’t control the rain, but if we plow our hard hearts and sow seeds of obedience God promises to send the rain. Then we will gather a bountiful harvest. Mercy, unfailing love, and righteousness will fill our souls to overflowing. But it starts by seeking the LORD. Seek ye the LORD while he may be found. Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Seek ye the LORD.

Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground. Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10:11-12

He changed my name: Hosea 2

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Today’s reading: Hosea 1-7.

Abram, Sarai, Jacob, and Saul. They all have something in common – God gave them new names to reflect the new condition of their lives. Maybe you’ve changed your name because of marriage or adoption. Maybe you’ve wished you could change your name because of the baggage that goes with your old name. Maybe you’ve forgotten that God is in the name-changing business.

Hosea the prophet lived in the days of Isaiah, the final days of the northern kingdom of Israel and the days of southern kings like Uzziah and Hezekiah. God told him to marry a prostitute named Gomer, and she bore him three children. God named them Jezreel (God scatters), Lo-Ruhamah (not loved), and Lo-Ammi (not my people). Hosea’s marriage and children were symbolic of the adulterous actions and spirit of prostitution that characterized Israel’s relationship with God. Because of their unfaithfulness God was determined to scatter them. Because their children were children of idolatry and prostitution he declared he did not love them and they were not his people.

Sometimes the only way to understand a thing is to experience it yourself. Hosea’s troubled marriage was God’s object lesson to make the Israelites face up to their infidelity. Gomer ended up in slavery, which Israel would soon experience firsthand, but Hosea bought her back and betrothed himself to her again. In the same way God declared to Israel, “return to me and I will respond to you.”

“In that day I will respond,” declares the LORD– “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘ ‘You are my people'; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ” Hosea 2:21-23

If your name is Sinner, God wants to change it to Forgiven. If you are Without Hope, he can rename you Full of Hope. Maybe you call yourself Sad, but God can make you Joy. Whatever undesirable name you carry now, God can rewrite it. In the days of ancient Israel, when God and men made covenants with one another, they would sometimes take part of the other’s name. So Jacob became Isra-El, and God became the God of Jacob. So Christ-ian, your full name is Forgiven by God, Hope in God, Joy of the LORD, Faith in God, Strong in the LORD, and Full of God’s Grace. And Jesus, who by grace gives us our new names, is the Son of Man.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives {it.} Revelation 2:17

Image by Agence Tophos on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

Pulling back the curtain – on spiritual warfare: Daniel 10

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Today’s reading: Daniel 10-12.

“Is there really spiritual warfare that I can’t see? Should I be concerned about it?”

Daniel’s visions troubled him greatly, and he prayed for understanding. God sent an angelic messenger to explain the meaning of his visions, and the angel’s words give us a glimpse into the unseen world of spiritual warfare.

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” Daniel 10:12-14 

Spiritual warfare responds to prayer. When Daniel saw the fearsome vision that he did not understand, he prayed and fasted for three weeks. The angel said that his words were heard and that he came in response to them.

Spiritual warfare takes time. How surprising that the actions of eternal beings work out in the framework of earthly time! The important point is that we should always be patient while God works and continue to pray.

Spiritual warfare pits God’s angels against Satan’s demons. God and Satan aren’t equals, but they both have immortal servants who are the actors in the ongoing struggle to accomplish God’s will. The battleground is earth, whose temporary master is the devil.

Spiritual warfare deals with God’s efforts to help, and Satan’s effort to hinder, God’s people. This battle isn’t about matters that don’t concern us. It deals with our own welfare and God’s kingdom. It’s vital that we stay involved in the conflict.

Daniel wasn’t the only Biblical figure to write about spiritual warfare. Here are some other pearls about this supernatural struggle.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12

The focus of our struggle. Paul wanted us to open our eyes and see that the conflict is rooted in a hierarchy of spiritual powers opposed to God’s will. I can’t overcome my own lust, or another person’s mistreatment of me, without putting on my spiritual armor to win the fight.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:7-9

The origin of the struggle. The war began in heaven when Satan rebelled against God, but the conflict has moved to earth.

So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16-17

The invisibility of the struggle. Elisha’s servant only saw the earthly forces of a human enemy, but the prophet opened his eyes and he was amazed to see God’s supernatural army standing ready to fight. We should remember that God’s invisible army stands ready, when needed, to support us.

We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one. I John 5:18-19

The limitations of our struggle. God protects believers from the touch of the evil one, but the evil one holds the lost world in his power. Rather than claiming whole cities or nations for God when the Bible says they are under Satan’s power, we should be humble in our approach and carefully seek God’s will when waging war. I think we are on much stronger footing when we battle for individual souls.

To be a Christian is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battle-field. Neither must he reckon upon the friendship of the world; for that would be enmity against God. His occupation is war. As he puts on piece by piece of the panoply provided for him, he may wisely say to himself, “This warns me of danger; this prepares me for warfare; this prophesies opposition.” Charles Spurgeon

An outline of the end: Daniel 7-9

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Today’s reading: Daniel 7-9. 

“Will believers have to go through tribulation in the end times?”

Expert at interpreting the king’s dreams, Daniel begins having dreams or visions of his own that defy his understanding. An angel tells him that he has seen events that will take place at the end of time.

The rise of the ten-horned beast. The beast is a kingdom, the last in a long succession. In the end-times a boastful man arises and overthrows three kings to take control of this kingdom and the world. He wages war against the saints of God and seeks to crush the world. The saints are handed over to him for “a time, times, and half a time,” usually interpreted as three and a half years.

The seating of the Ancient of Days. God takes his seat on the throne and ends the rule of the beast. He opens the books of judgment and throws the beast into the fire.

The coming of the Son of Man. He comes on the clouds of heaven and is given eternal authority and dominion. People of every ethnic group worship him and his kingdom never ends.

Daniel understands that the seventy years of Israel’s captivity are completed, and he prays a mighty prayer that leads God to release them from bondage. Then God gives Daniel a timeline for the coming years – not seventy years but seventy sevens of years. The timeline begins when the decree goes out to rebuild Jerusalem. After 69 sevens, or 483 years, the Anointed One or Messiah will come, but he will be cut off. Decrees to re-establish the nation of Israel went out in 457 and 445 BC, and depending on whether you use the 360-day year of the ancient world, or the modern 365-day year, the time of the Messiah’s service comes out to 27-30 AD when Jesus was actively ministering.

One final seven-year period remains unaccounted for. It is postponed until some indefinite future, but Daniel’s prophecy implies it will be after the destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 70 AD). At that time a ruler will come, most likely the boastful man of the beast, and he will set the final years in motion.

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. Daniel 9:27

Three and a half years into the covenant the ruler will end sacrifices and offerings and set up an abominable image in a future temple. Most interpreters believe this is a desecration of a future Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Three and a half years of the final seven remain, and this is likely to be the time that the boastful man wages war against the people of God.

These future trials frighten us, but we should remain faithful and courageous knowing that God knows the end and controls the outcome. He will end the brief reign of terror of the boastful man and usher in the eternal kingdom of the Son of Man. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Matthew 24:15-22

The insanity of pride: Daniel 4

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Today’s reading: Daniel 4-6.

Nebuchadnezzar should have known better. He had witnessed the power of God in the lives of Daniel and his friends repeatedly. He even praised the God of Daniel for his works. Finally, the LORD gave him a dream about the danger of failing to acknowledge God. Daniel interpreted the dream for him and warned him to act before it was too late. Still the king hesitated.

…as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you.  You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Daniel 4:29-32

The king lost his sanity and acted like an animal. His illness was God’s response to his boasting and pride. Let me be clear that mental illness is not usually due to pride. More often it is a result of genetics, abuse, trauma, or great loss. But in the king’s life it sprang directly from his pride.

Belshazzar was the final Babylonian king, and pride also caused his fall. On the night that the Medes conquered Babylon, Belshazzar held a party and called for the gold goblets from the temple in Jerusalem. Soon God was tracing his judgment of doom on the palace wall. Daniel interpreted the words for the king, declaring that God had weighed him and found him wanting. He reminded the king that his predecessor had failed to acknowledge God and paid for it with his sanity.

“But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.  Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” Daniel 5:22-23

One of the kings received mercy; the other didn’t. Nebuchadnezzar finally repented of his pride after seven seasons of insanity, and God restored  his kingdom. He acknowledged that dominion belonged to God and that he reigned supreme over every man. Belshazzar made no such profession, and his life ended the very night God passed judgment on him.

God gives grace to the humble. Therefore, let us humble ourselves by acknowledging God’s power and dominion. Let’s submit to his word and his will. If we practice the prideful ways of men like Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, we would be insane to expect a different outcome.