Risk Everything for God

I. Introduction

For several Sundays in a row, we’ve been coming to class and studying the prophet Ezekiel. Then one day Chris shows up and says, “Let’s turn to the book of Daniel.” What was Chris thinking? Were we done with Ezekiel? I don’t think so. When we start studying these prophets, there is always so much more to learn. I find the lesson I learn from God’s word can vary – if I read Ezekiel all at once, I hear one message, and if I read only Ezekiel 18, I get another message, and if I read just Ezekiel 18:5, I get still another revelation.

Then Chris shows up and starts teaching Daniel. Ok, fine, we’ll study Daniel. Daniel is actually a contemporary of Ezekiel, they lived approximately at the same time. Ezekiel mentions Daniel twice during his mission. But while Ezekiel is living in Babylonian captivity, Daniel’s captivity is in the palace in service to the king. He’s probably in his early teens, learning the Babylonian ways so he can serve the king, and eating his vegetables.

II. God is in Control (Daniel 2)

Then in Daniel Chapter two, we come to the first of 2 famous stories we’re going to read about today. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians, must be feeling pretty good about himself, having sacked the land of Judah and carried away his captives. But Nebuchadnezzar is not in control, and he could not have been successful unless God had willed it. One of Ezekiel’s prophecies was that, because of the Jewish people’s disobedience, God would cause the land of Judah to be sacked by the Babylonians as punishment. It wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar in control, it was God. 600 years later in Romans 13:1, Paul writes,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Nebuchadnezzar probably didn’t credit God for this, he was a Babylonian pagan king. He probably believed in his own might and power. But then he starts having these troubling dreams, and we will see that God placed these dreams there. Daniel 2:1-6,

In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”

Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”

So the astrologers weren’t merely being asked to interpret a dream, they were being asked to describe the dream. Some say the king couldn’t remember his dream, but I don’t think that’s likely. He remembered enough about the dream that it bothered him the next day and kept him from a good night’s sleep. I think he remembered his dream, but distrusted his fortunetellers. Nebuchadnezzar knew that his fortunetellers would just tell him what he wanted to hear.

How could these magicians succeed? It’s not possible to read people’s minds, except for me. I have this ability to read people’s minds. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Nah, he can’t read minds.”

To make a long story short, the magicians fail terribly at the king’s assignment. They neither know what the dream is, nor what the dream means. The king orders them all put to death.

When Daniel hears this, he believes that Daniel and his 3 friends will be killed also along with the phony magicians. Daniel goes to the king and asks the king for some more time, and he and his friend plead to God for mercy, and that night the mystery was revealed to Daniel. The next morning, Daniel returns to the king and explains the dream as symbolic about the future of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s place in history, how they will reign and then fall. The story rings true to the king, and let’s look at the king’s reaction in verse 46,

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

Wow, Daniel went from death to life in only 3 days. What strikes me about this is that Nebuchadnezzar knows the interpretation is true and that it can only come from an almighty God. He knows God is God, the God of gods and the Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries. Daniel’s answer saves the lives of the magicians and the astrologers, and Daniel and his friends get some nice promotions. Probably bigger helpings of vegetables, too.

III. Some Build Idols Anyway (Daniel 3:1)

But then the very next verse, turn to Chapter 3, the king is building a giant gold idol. Reminds me of Aaron after Moses led then through the parting of the Red Sea. Moses goes up on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, and Aaron goes, “Oh no, what do we do? We need a Golden Calf to pray to.”

Anyway, back to Nebuchadnezzar, everybody in the kingdom is ordered to fall down and worship this big gold idol. And the astrologers – the very same astrologers whose lives were saved by Daniel for interpreting the king’s dreams – turn out to be a bunch of tattletales. Vengeful tattletales (not the same as Veggie Tales), Vengeful tattletales for they know the punishment for refusing to worship the golden idol is death. In verse 8, the astrologers and magicians go to the king and point out that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are in positions of power but refuse to worship the king’s idol. Isn’t that mocking the king and his god? The three friends of Daniel neither serve the king’s gods nor bow down to worship the idol of gold.

And the king is furious. This is the same king that knows the omniscience of Daniel’s God who could do things the pagan gods couldn’t, and is still mad that these Jewish boys won’t worship his little gold god. He tells Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down and worship or he’s going to cook them in the royal furnace. In verse 15, the king taunts them, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

There may come a time in our lives where we must make a choice what god we will serve. Will we serve the god of pride, like Nebuchadnezzar? Will we serve a god of idols we have built? Or will we serve Jehovah God, creator of the heavens and of earth? Will we boldly serve our king, or will we turn away in fear?

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego have no fear, and in Daniel 3:16,

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel’s friends know that God is able to save them, but don’t know if God will. And it doesn’t matter to them, they will risk everything, their very lives, go to their deaths praising our God of Wonders. It is 2600 years later in Babylonia, and the same choice is still given to Christians living there today. Worship the Muslim god, or die. And tens of thousands of Christians have been martyred, choosing our God of eternal life.

Nebuchadnezzar is furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The bible says that the furnace is heated seven times hotter than normal, and the king’s strongest soldiers throw Daniel’s three friends into it. The furnace is so hot that it killed the soldiers that had bound the three friends.

IV. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us (Daniel 3:24)

And the God of the Heavens intervened in verse 24:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

There are 3 men thrown into the furnace but 4 men walking around. “A son of the gods,” Nebuchadnezzar says. Amazing insight for a pagan king. Biblical scholars agree that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ who stepped into a situation at the very moment He was needed most. Let’s count the number of men again. Three men are thrown in, four men are walking around, and three men are removed.

Sometimes we don’t feel Jesus in our lives. We wonder where He is, why prayers don’t seem to be answered, why His comfort isn’t obvious to us. Where is Jesus? The thing is, He is always with us, and when the threat of being thrown into the fire actually turns into being *in* the fire, Jesus is right there with us. He promises that He will always be there for us.

V. Risk Everything for God

Many times it’s hard to trust in God. We want to rescue ourselves, to trust in our own ability. But God’s ways are above our ways. Sometimes God’s ways are painful as he prunes us. I myself hit a crossroads in the last month, thinking that it was time to make a difficult decision. But God spoke this lesson to me last weekend, and then gave me the lesson again to learn and teach. He works in mysterious way, and I no longer believe in coincidences, so when I see so-called “coincidences” piling up, I look for God’s hand.

First was Gary Thomas’s lesson last week. The part that spoke to me was when he said some people say, “Why does my behavior matter?” I’m already saved, so nothing I say or do will be held against me. Gary quoted Ephesians 4:22-24,

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Then he quoted Matthew 28:19-20,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Then Chris taught from Daniel 1, drawing a line and deciding which side of the line to stand on. And I’m hearing echoes of lessons I’ve both heard and taught, asking me if I’m going to follow Christ only when times are good, or will I follow Christ no matter what?

When times are easy and good, we can drift away from Christ. We may recognize His blessings, but the easy life lets us drift away. It’s when times are challenging that we learn to rely on Christ. I think every Christian will come to a point in their life, maybe more than once, where they have to decide to do the right thing no matter how hard it is.

Then as I sat down to start this lesson, already hearing Gary and Chris, I get a photo from KSBJ with Hebrews 10:36,

Hebrews 10-36

All of these messages stress to me the importance of following the will of God and putting aside fears and desires that pull and push us in any direction except to God.

I will choose to be obedient, and risk everything for God. And my sinful self doesn’t like it one bit. I like comfort and joy, not pruning. But when I choose right, I choose peace. And when I choose right and peace, I choose joy. Instead of choosing joy first which can lead to bad decisions and bad consequences, I choose righteousness first, which then leads back to the joy I was seeking. Amazing. My sinful self says these toys are all mine and I don’t have to share. My sinful self says do this or that because it’ll make you happy. My sinful self offers excuses to me because I know that Jesus will forgive me. But the Holy Spirit working within me is always encouraging me to do the right thing. To love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor as myself. I get a choice whether to obey.

Will I be thrown in a fire? Goodness, I hope not. And if I was thrown in a fire, would I be able to walk around unscathed, unburned? Probably not. But I know Jesus will be there for me, all he asks is that I do the right thing.

We get these choices constantly. We can choose to sleep late on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. We can choose to go to brunch on Sunday mornings or a walk in the park. But we can choose to share the word of God with pagans, to serve at something – anything – like bringing snacks to class or taking the roster or arranging for the class to serve at a star of hope kitchen or to teach. In each case we give up something to do something. We make a choice to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, or what is right in our own eyes.

And whatever it is we treasure, because God loves us, God will find a way to remove it from us if it doesn’t bring him glory or if it gets in the way of our spiritual growth. He may ask us to give up a job, give up our home, our security. Giving up a home you grew up in, giving up a parent that you depended on, giving up a friend who is a bad influence on us, giving up a job. Giving up our very life. Matthew 10:9, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Daniel’s friends were willing to give up their lives, to risk everything to do the right thing. I’m scared to do that that. I like to think I’m brave, but God finds something I was leaning on and asks me, are you willing to give this up for me? Has God ever asked you to sacrifice something for His sake?

If you’re reading your bible, listening to KSBJ, spending time in prayer, or in any way talking to God, he’s talking back. And He wants to be #1 in your life. Ahead of your job and money, ahead of rooting for the Texans, ahead of cooking or biking or a nice car. Ahead of your friends. Ahead of your spouse. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they were turning their backs on a comfy life in the palace with friends. They were turning their backs on serving a king who already knew God was almighty, but was still building idols.

And in that regard, we’re not too unlike Nebuchadnezzar. We know who God is. Many of us have seen miracles that could only have come from an almighty God. We know God is almighty, yet we’re still building pagan alters of our own, are we not? We worship the things created instead of the Creator. Ahead of everybody and everything else we love, God wants us to recognize Him and worship him first. He’s burning up the chaff to prepare us for an eternity with him, and sometimes we have to go through fire for Him. And sometimes we find we were holding on to something so tight and didn’t even realize it. We have to give those up, be willing to risk everything for God. After all, what could possibly be more important than a loving relationship with the God who created us?

VI. Conclusion

There’s good news after all this pruning, this burning up of our idols. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In order to gain everything, we must be willing to lose everything. Abednego survived the fire, and we will too. Jesus will be there with us, now and forever. A life eternal with our creator in love and joy and life where there are no more tears.

In the meantime, risk everything for God. To God be the glory.

How Can God Still Love Me?

             I.      Introduction

 

It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans.  The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning.  For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.

 

A new beginning means a new you.  But what if the old you is still here?  How do we begin again?  And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind?  And what about those who have done wrong to us?  Why should they be allowed to start again?

 

We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom.  The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives.  Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites.  The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand.  Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery.   Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord.  God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness.  Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.

 

Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment.  Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment.  Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners?  And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am?  And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin?  Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul?  Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?

 

          II.      Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4

 

Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel –

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

    and out of Egypt I called my son.

But the more they were called,

    the more they went away from me.

They sacrificed to the Baals

    and they burned incense to images.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

    taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize

    it was I who healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,

    with ties of love.

To them I was like one who lifts

    a little child to the cheek,

    and I bent down to feed them.

 

God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action.  Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.

 

God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt.  Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.”  God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land.  But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes.   God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.

 

But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod.  Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.

 

But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again.  And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly.  God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.

 

This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel.  When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again.  We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord.  And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy.  Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.

 

I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband.  She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life.  But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with.  One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy.  There was a small problem, she said; he was married .  But she knew God would want her to be happy.  She said God had told her so.

 

I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin.  For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again.  Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin.  God may love us, but He hates the sin.  If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him.  As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.

 

In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell.  We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted.  Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath.  God is in all of it.  We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.

 

       III.      Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7

 

The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment.  In Hosea 11:5-7,

 

Will they not return to Egypt

    and will not Assyria rule over them

    because they refuse to repent?

A sword will flash in their cities;

    it will devour their false prophets

    and put an end to their plans.

My people are determined to turn from me.

    Even though they call me God Most High,

    I will by no means exalt them.

 

So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent.  His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord.  And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.

 

I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel.  It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do.  We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok.  They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends.  Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord.  Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.

 

But God doesn’t see it the same way.  He loves His people and He wants them to be pure.  So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict.  Does He do the same with us?

 

Sometimes I think He does.  We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way.  Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians.  Why is the enemy winning?

 

I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good.  Church attendance is decreasing across the USA.  Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship?  No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.

 

And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart.  The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way.  It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.

 

I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian.  I named him Israel.  No wait, I named him Samson.  I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian.  Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs.  He was big and he was stubborn.  I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned.  I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions.  On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel.  The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.

 

After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands.  Sit.  Stay.  Come.  Down.  Heel.  And we’d walk around the block.  Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later.  He was well trained.

 

Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash.  We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me.  “Heel!”  Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again.  “Heel!”  He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner.  I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me.  “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off.  There was no way to catch him, he was so fast.  Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again.  We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.

 

It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed.  It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted.  It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion.  Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.

 

We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God.  We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit.  It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences.  We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.

 

Mark Twain once put it this way:  “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

 

We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin.  In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  And we’re all repeat offenders, too.  In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark.  He didn’t really mean it that way, did He?  We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.

 

         IV.      Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9

 

Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.

 

How can I give you up, Ephraim?

    How can I hand you over, Israel?

How can I treat you like Admah?

    How can I make you like Zeboyim?

My heart is changed within me;

    all my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger,

    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.

For I am God, and not a man—


the Holy One among you.

    I will not come against their cities.

 

This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin.  As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf.  Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful.  Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.

 

And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve.  God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves.  And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.

 

He is the Holy One in our midst.  He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead.  The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us.  We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us.  His compassion trumps His righteous anger.

 

            I.       

            II.       

            III.       

            IV.       

            V.      Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11

 

Why would the Lord act with such compassion?  He has a purpose for this compassion.

 

They will follow the Lord;

    he will roar like a lion.

When he roars,

    his children will come trembling from the west.

They will come from Egypt,

    trembling like sparrows,

    from Assyria, fluttering like doves.

I will settle them in their homes,”

    declares the Lord.

 

So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel.  Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord.  And the Lord would be quick to respond.

 

When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord.  Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention.  My sin is detestable to Him.  He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin.  I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me.  He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.

 

In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.

 

         VI.      Conclusion

 

Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose.  God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good.  And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient.  At what point would a father not want his children to return?

 

Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –

 

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

 

Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery.  In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her.  Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.

 

Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children.  Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.

 

And today?  Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience.  We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience.  But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force.  We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Deciding on Discipline

             I.      Introduction

 

Today’s lesson is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.  Who enjoys discipline, raise your hands.  Hold on; give me a second to count all the hands of the people that love discipline.  Looks like… None.  Just what I expected.

 

There are two types of discipline.  There’s the positive type of discipline.  Discipline that improves a skill or behavior.  Practicing the piano, staying within a budget, exercising, these are positive types of disciplines.  And primarily, these are disciplines that we impose upon ourselves.

 

Then there’s the negative kind of discipline.    Correction.  Rebuking.  Admonishment.  Punishment.

 

We’re studying the minor prophet Hosea, the Prophet of Doom, today.  Hosea’s had a tough life so far; God told him to marry a prostitute, and Hosea was faithful to the Lord, even if Hosea’s wife Gomer wasn’t faithful to him.  Homer’s wife was very intimate with other men, but it eventually led to her downfall.  As she hit bottom in her life, she was eventually sold as a slave.  Despite Hosea’s love for her, Hosea’s wife had strayed, she sowed the seeds of her own destruction, and then she reaped the consequences of those choices.

 

Hosea never gave up on his love for her.  It was necessary for Hosea’s wife to hit bottom, to be sold as a slave, before she could realize the depth and discipline of Hosea’s love.

 

Hosea draws upon this understanding when he preaches to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that Israel would soon hit rock bottom before they could fully realize God’s love for them.  And sometimes it takes us to hit rock bottom before we fully realize God’s love for us.  He’s there when there is nothing else.

 

I have no doubt that the Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people.  God promised it to them.  In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God’s made a covenant with David.  Through the prophet Nathan, God told David –

 

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

 

I guess they liked that part that said, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” and just overlooked the part that said, “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men.”  But that’s exactly the situation in Hosea’s time.

           II.      Check Your Relationship, Hosea 8:1-4

 

So let’s open to Hosea 8 and read 1-4…

 

Put the trumpet to your lips!

    An eagle is over the house of the Lord

because the people have broken my covenant

    and rebelled against my law.

Israel cries out to me,

    ‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’

But Israel has rejected what is good;

    an enemy will pursue him.

They set up kings without my consent;

    they choose princes without my approval.

With their silver and gold

    they make idols for themselves

    to their own destruction.

 

This announcement by Hosea begins, “Put a horn against your lips.”  This signals the beginning of war against an enemy.  It has a twofold meaning here.  One, there would soon be an attack against the Northern Kingdom and the main worship center at Bethel.  This would come from the blistering invasion from the Assyrian army.  The Assyrians were located in what is now modern day Iraq, and in 8 BC were the world’s most powerful army.  Death and destruction were imminent.  But that wasn’t the worse part.  The Israelites, through their duplicitous lives, were at war against the Lord.  .  Sound the horn, Israel, you’re not only facing the Assyrians, you are also facing the Lord in battle.  The Israelites, by their disobedience, had declared war.

 

What had the Israelites done that was so bad?   The Israelites were a messy bunch.  On one hand, they were bound to the Lord by covenant promises since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon.  On the other hand, the Israelites were also very much involved at the time in the pagan deities of the Caananites.   So they’d offer gifts to the Lord, then they’d offer gifts to Baal.  They installed new kings without God’s direction, worshipped calf-idols all while standing at Bethel, a place to worship God.

 

One can’t do both.  Our God is a jealous God, who does not settle for part time adoration.  Trying to do both is the same as worshipping only pagans deities and turning their backs on God.

 

Once, talking to a missionary, he told me of a story of a man he met in India.  This man was familiar with worshipping the many gods of India, it is said that there are 330 million gods in the Hindu religion.  This man, after several visits, eventually gave his life to Christ and acknowledged Jesus as Lord.  Several months go by, and the missionary checks on his Indian brother and visits him at his house.  One wall is completely lined with little statues of Indian gods.  The missionary said, “But didn’t you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?”  And the Indian man said excitedly, “I did!  Look, here He is at the end of the second shelf!”

 

Our God is a jealous God.  God and God alone.  God promised Israel in Deuteronomy 6:18 that they would prosper and enjoy the holy land if they did what is good and righteous.  But between the selection of kings and the unholy alliances and the worshipping of pagan gods, Israel didn’t do that.  They sought their own desires, and accordingly the promise made to them in Leviticus 26:17 would be fulfilled, an enemy would pursue them.

 

A couple of things struck me about the rest of these verses.  When times got tough, who did Israel cry out to?  They cried out to the Lord.  Not to Baal or pagan deities.  That suggests that the Israelites knew who was Lord, but when times were good they felt it was ok to do things their own way and to dabble in other religions.  Sort of like the days after 9/11.  People knew the Lord was God and they came to churches by the hundreds and the thousands.  And in the good times they’re off doing their own thing and dabbling in other religions.

 

And another thing – the Israelites knew scripture.  They knew the Word of the Lord because they knew they were God’s chosen.  So here’s a question: if we, as believers, have memorized lots of scripture but we do not do what it teaches, do we really know the Lord?  Is knowing God a matter of mastering information we have read, or doing God’s will?  O both?

 

        III.      You Reap What You Sow, Hosea 8:7-10

 

Our actions have consequences, and Israel is taught this by the Lord in the next few verses –

 

They sow the wind

    and reap the whirlwind.

The stalk has no head;

    it will produce no flour.

Were it to yield grain,

    foreigners would swallow it up.

Israel is swallowed up;

    now she is among the nations

    like something no one wants.

For they have gone up to Assyria

    like a wild donkey wandering alone.

    Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.

Although they have sold themselves among the nations,

    I will now gather them together.

They will begin to waste away

    under the oppression of the mighty king.

 

 

In Charles Stanley’s, “Life Principles to Live By”, one of the principles is: You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.

 

Actions have consequences.  Physical actions have physical consequences.  If you jump off a bridge, there is a physical consequence.  Mental actions have mental consequences.  And emotions have emotional consequences.  People forget that spiritual actions have consequences.  We reap what we sow – if we sow watermelon seeds, we reap watermelons.  If we sow anger, we reap anger.  Sometimes I think we sow our wild oats all week long – and then when Sunday comes around, we pray for crop failure.

 

The Israelites had crop failure.  The work they did was not aligned with God’s will, and so there was no field of standing grain to show for all their hard labor.  Nonexistent crop yields point to a reality that if they do not follow God’s will, then they do not reap His blessings.  When we throw foolishness into the wind, we reap a whirlwind of folly and destruction.  Empty words and idol worship will yield an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction.  They finally reached the end of God’s loving patience and were about to receive His discipline. 

 

Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – paid their enemy to love them.  They gave money to the Assyrians to persuade them not to attack.  They were hiring lovers among nations.  At the same time the Northern Kingdom was paying the Assyrians not to attack them, the Israelites
were also paying surrounding kingdoms to be their allies against the Assyrians.  They were paying friends and enemies.    The crushing financial burden of this must have been great.

 

Did you know that most large corporations pay both Democrats and Republicans large sums of money during an election?  They want to be on the side of whoever wins.  No parallels.  Just an observation.

 

But I digress, let’s go back to Israel.  Soon every able bodied man was conscripted into military service, every household was heavily taxed to pay tribute to the enemy, gifts for the friendly nation, and payment for the military buildup. 

 

The punishment was upon them. 

 

The interesting thing about punishment is that, while we hate it, we would rather receive it from someone we know and love than a stranger.  Children probably never appreciate discipline when they’re young, but I can guarantee that they would much rather receive punishment from their father than from a next door neighbor.  What’s the difference?  The difference is clear – accepting punishment from someone we love is easier because, while we may hate the punishment, we know that the person dealing the punishment has our best interests at heart.

 

So the best way for the Israelites to accept and understand discipline– and it’s true for Christians as well – is to get to know God.  The more we know Him and understand Him, the more we can understand His purposes.

 

I think the Israelites had grown lazy in their faith.  Did they really know God?  They knew who God is… but that is not the same thing as knowing God.  We often quote the verse that even the demons know who God is and they shudder.  Think of this – if the Israelites really knew God with all of His perfect love and protection and patience and kindness, then why were they seeking prosperity and security in something else?  Why were they paying friends and enemies instead of relying on the Lord for protection?

 

Bad Israelites.  But you know we Christians still do the same thing today.  We treat church as a social club instead of a place to worship and grow and serve.  We cut back on tithing because we need a new car.  We secretly check our iPhones during the worship services to see what’s happening on Facebook instead of giving ourselves to our Creator for an hour.  We pursue these worldly things, and then these worldly things seem to pursue us.  We cannot seem to get away.  It’s what we so, so it’s no surprise it’s also what we reap.

 

But that’s ok.  Someday, God will discipline us to make sure we are paying attention to Him.  We can either discipline ourselves, or God will do it for us.  One way or another, every knee will bow.

 

God disciplines us on an individual level, but He also disciplines us as a nation.  God used violent international conflicts and heavy taxes to discipline Israel.  Right now, our culture is sowing persistent cultural sinfulness.  We once were a moral nation, but we’ve moved away from that.  First we were morally tolerant, then morally permissive.  And now it’s demanded of us that we accept immoral behavior as the basis of American life.  Do you believe God is please with us for our decision?  Do you think it’s possible God will decide He needs to discipline us for our own good before we destroy ourselves?  I shudder to think how and when God will one day do this.

 

          IV.      Heed a Warning When You Hear It, Hosea 9:7-9

 

God’s judgment didn’t just suddenly arrive with no warning.  Hosea preached for years about God’s patience with Israel was wearing thin.

 

The days of punishment are coming,

    the days of reckoning are at hand.

    Let Israel know this.

Because your sins are so many

    and your hostility so great,

the prophet is considered a fool,

    the inspired person a maniac.

The prophet, along with my God,

    is the watchman over Ephraim,

yet snares await him on all his paths,

    and hostility in the house of his God.

They have sunk deep into corruption,

    as in the days of Gibeah.

God will remember their wickedness

    and punish them for their sins.

 

Did you hear how I pronounced Gibeah?  How are you supposed to pronounce it?  I learned a secret that if I don’t know how to pronounce one of the Old Testament names or places, I just say it with confidence.  I say it with so much confidence, if Dr. Young was hear and heard me, even he’d start wondering if he’s the one pronouncing it wrong.

 

But we’re talking about Hosea and his message to Israel.  How do people sometimes respond when they don’t want to hear an unwelcome message about God’s judgment?  Sometimes they close their ears, change the subject, even get mad.  When I study for lessons like this, God’s word speaks to me.  The message sticks in my head messages like “do what is right, leave the consequences to God,” “your body is a temple, not a megachurch, maybe it’s time to lose weight”.  And you know, I can’t tell you that I ever receive these messages with joy.  They bother me because they’re true, and if I know they’re true, then I must act on the truth.  I don’t want to live with my own hypocrisy.

 

When has God used the preaching of His Word to warn you about your behavior?

 

Hosea then delivered this message to Israel, that the end was near, the tone was urgent, the threats were severe.  The prophet kept preaching that the days of God’s judgment on the house of Israel had arrived.  The people of the Northern Kingdom knew this by now, there was no mistake.  By this time, the Assyrians had probably conquered all of the Northern Kingdom with the exception of the capital city of Sumaria.

 

Why was God so harsh?  Do you believe the people would have listened to a quiet, gentle message?  I don’t think so – we have a loving God that we often ignore, and sometimes His discipline is harsh to get our attention that something must change.  Who do you think this harsh discipline hurt more, God or the people?

 

I ask myself this, and you should ask yourself, too.  Has God been speaking to me?  And am I listening?  Am I postponing action on God’s call in my life?   If I continue to delay, what will God will do to get my attention?

 

 

             I.       

             II.       

             III.       

             IV.       

             V.      Realize What Time It Is, Hosea 10:10-12

 

The last time I was here, I taught from Second Peter.  I was like, whoa, there are two Peters!  There’s one Peter, and then there’s a Re-Peter.  In that lesson, we talked about the confidence we can have about the Second Coming of Jesus and what we should do while waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  For the Northern Kingdom, the Day of the Lord has arrived.  And God will use Israel’s time of punishment to renew His people and give them a new heart that yearns only for the Lord.

 

When I please, I will punish them;

    nations will be gathered against them

    to put them in bonds for their double sin.

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 righteousness for yourselves,

    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 his righteousness on you.

 

 Is God’s discipline and expression of His justice?  Or is it an expression of His love?  Or is it both?

 

How can you begin seeking the Lord more seriously?  Hint: it’s verse 12.

 

God said, “When I please, I will punish them.”  In some translations, “discipline them.”  His judgement would come, at the time of God’s choosing.  The two crimes of Israel were mostly likely worshiping other gods and placing their trust in human kings and alliances instead of the only faithful source, the Lord.

 

Hosea says the people of Israel wanted the cushy job in the threshing floor, but God’s discipline would put a yoke around her neck like a young cow and send her to the field with a yoke around her neck.  The easy days of happiness would be behind them and days of labor in front.  But even now, though, the people had a chance to repent.  Hosea lists three things they must do:

 

1 – Sow righteousness for themselves.  We cannot make ourselves righteous, but we can live a life of faithful love and righteousness. 

 

2 – When one sows grain, one reaps wheat.  When one sows righteousness and love, one reaps a character of godly righteousness.  The righteousness they reap would have everlasting effects on the nation of Israel.

 

3 – They were to break up the untilled ground.  In other words, in every part of their life where they had excluded God, they were to break it up and till it with God’s word.  In all areas of personal life, in all areas of their life as a nation.

 

And to do these three things with persistence and God would rain down righteousness like rain.

 

I hear people say all the time, “God wants me to be happy.”  That’s not God’s number one desire for us.  God doesn’t want us to be unhappy, of course.  What father would want His children to be unhappy!  But happiness is not the goal.  Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  If you want to be happy, be righteous first.  That’s what pleases the Lord.  If we seek happiness and we’re willing to give up righteousness to get it, God will correct us.  And in the process of seeking happiness, we will lose it.

 

Today, some believers seek an easier church with an easier message.  One that teaches freedom and tolerance and happiness.  There’s nothing wrong with such a message, but it’s incomplete and it’s in the wrong order.  A church that teaches righteousness and then freedom and happiness has their priorities in order.

 

I don’t know about you about you, but I’d rather decide my own discipline.  In seeking His righteousness, I want to exercise discipline in my life that brings me closer to Him.  The positive kind of discipline.  That kind of discipline is rewarding, but if I wait and let God discipline me, it’s harder.  God will give me a heavy load and hard work until I understand that God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, but when I go my own way, I’m sowing the wind and will reap a whirlwind.

 

Discipline, as a rule, is not something we enjoy.  But sometimes discipline is exactly what we need. 

 

          VI.      Conclusion

 

As a child, you probably didn’t appreciate the discipline from your parents.  As we grow older and more mature, then we see that the discipline when we were younger leads to life that reaps good things.  And just like when we were young, sometimes now it’s difficult to accept God’s discipline.  It’s hard.  But as we grow and mature spiritually, then we will see that God is preparing us for an eternity of trusting in Him.  There are tremendous benefits to come if we only start sowing now so that we may reap later.

 

Hosea was one of the earliest writing prophets, and he used his own experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel: God the husband, Israel the wife. Hosea’s wife left him to go with other men; Israel left the Lord to go with other gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her and brought her back; God would not abandon Israel and brought them back even though they had forsaken him.  God does the same for us.  His love is perfect and He will never leave us.

 

The book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance. Christians can extend the analogy of Hosea to Christ and the church: Christ the husband, his church the bride.   Hosea teaches us that God calls the church not to forsake the Lord Jesus Christ.  Eventually, Homer bought is wife Gomer back, just as Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brings us back to Him.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.