The Purpose of Community

 

Introduction

Ecclesiastes is a unique book.  Most think it was written by Solomon near the end of his life, and it’s a book of perspectives and of insights about the purpose of life.  It’s a book of depression as Solomon tries to find pleasure in this world, only to find that eternal pleasure in this temporary, human world is not possible.  Nothing gives him meaning, everything is like chasing after the wind.

Solomon pondered many questions from his own perspective, and Solomon’s thoughts and actions were not always based on God’s principles.  From Solomon’s laments, we learn from his mistakes so we don’t spend our lives chasing after the wind.  Here are some key verses that sum up this book –

      • Ecclesiastes 1:2, “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’”.
      • Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
      • Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
      • Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.'”
      • Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Two phrases, “vanity” and “under the sun,” are repeated often in Ecclesiastes. The word “vanity” (your version may say “meaningless”) is used to emphasize the temporary nature of worldly things.  In the end, all of our achievements and accomplishment will be left behind. And the phrase, “under the sun” occurs 28 times, and refers to our human world.  Everything under the sun is meaningless, the Preacher says.

Maybe the Preacher didn’t try everything, you may be thinking.  Solomon was the wisest and richest man who ever lived, and here is what he tried –

      • Scientific discovery (Ecc 1:10-11)
      • Wisdom and philosophy (Ecc 1:13-18)
      • Amusement / entertainment (Ecc 2:1)
      • Alcohol (Ecc 2:3)
      • Architecture (Ecc 2:4)
      • Property (Ecc 2:7-8)
      • Luxury (Ecc 2:8).
      • Materialism (Ecc 2:19-20)
      • And even different moral codes (Ecc chapters 8-9).

Everything was meaningless, a temporary diversion.  Without God, nothing had purpose or longevity.  The remaining chapters 8-12 of Ecclesiastes discuss the conclusion about how a worthwhile life should be lived.  Without God, there is no truth.  Without God, there is no meaning to life.  There are many evils in this world, and even the best of man’s achievements are worth nothing when compared to eternity.  So what should we do?

      • Acknowledge God from our youth (Ecc 12:1)
      • Follow God’s will (Ecc 12:13-14).

Slide4For all of the vanities described in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the answer is Christ.  Here are some examples –

Before After
Ecc 3:17 God judges the righteous and the wicked, 2 Cor 5:21 Only those who are in Christ are judged righteous.
Ecc 3:11 God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts. John 3:16 God has provided the Way to eternal life through Christ.
Ecc 5:10 Striving after wealth is vanity and does not satisfy. Mark 8:36 if we could gain the whole world, what good is it if we do not have Christ and lose our souls.

Ultimately, every disappointment and vanity described in Ecclesiastes has its solution in Christ, the wisdom of God and the only true meaning to be found in life.

The Greeks gave this book the name ‘Ekklesiastes’ which means “assembly.” In essence, the writings of this book are based on community, an assembly of people.  In the New Testament, this same word is used to mean “church.”  The writings in this book are meant to teach and preach to the church, to teach us how to live in our community, and we’ll spend the rest of today’s lesson in Chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes and what it means to be in a community.

Our worldly culture is weird when it comes to history.  On one hand, we are pulling down statues left and right.  The original excuse may have had racial overtones, but now we are pulling down statues of Abraham Lincoln and the Virgin Mary.  Seems there are many people that want to eliminate the past and pretend it never existed.  At the same time, Ancestory.com and 23AndMe.com have surged in popularity, DNA testing is more available than ever before.  People want to know their heritage, their background, and their cultural makeup.  They want to know who they really are.

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And then we are weird when it comes to being categorized.  Have you taken a personality test like Myer’s Briggs or Strengths Finders?  We want to know our strengths and our uniqueness and how we best connect with others.

Whether it is ancestry or personality, people want to know who they are.  Our worldly culture begins the exploration of self-discovery by starting with ourselves.  That seems natural.  If we want to know ourselves, we should study ourselves, right?

But the Bible begins the exploration of self-discovery by starting not with us, but with God.  And the better we know and understand God, the more we understand who God made us to be.  And much of the purpose that God has for us can be found in the community God has placed us, to bloom where we are planted.

 

God in Community

What is the purpose for community?  It’s obviously related to people, but not all people are, well, people persons.  Some are extroverts or naturally ‘social butterflies’ or those who are exuberant extroverts.  Others are more introverted, preferring quiet time or very small groups.  Is one better than the other?

Whether extrovert or introvert, our personality type does not depend on community.  If community determined who we are, then how we relate to our community would either boost our pride or deepen our despair, based on wherever we fell on the personality spectrum.

The purpose for community is not some sort of competition that God has set before us.  Community is his demonstration to us on how to experience more of Him and how we are to experience the life we were meant to live.  Our ideal community doesn’t have to be large or small or deep or wide or every day or twice a week.  There’s no formula except the book of Hebrews says it ought to be frequently.  Hebrews 10:24-25,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We mentioned earlier that the Greek root word for Ecclesiastes means “assembly or “church.”  What “Ecclesiastes” doesn’t mean is music.  Or tithes.  Or a sermon.  Or even a mid-week bible study.  What makes church “church,” our “ecclesiates,” is the people, the gathering of the body of Christ, to make a covenant with one another, and meet together frequently.

Meeting together as a church and maintaining a level of biblical community is for our soul.  But perhaps the greatest of all reasons is that God models community, and we are made in His image.  Community helps reveal who God is.  God exists in community, and He has done so for eternity.  Even before time, space, and matter were created, God existed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God exists as one in three, and three in one.

In other words, if God exists in community Himself, and if we are designed in His image, this means that God wired the need for community deep within our souls.

When we neglect community, we become less of what God designed us to be.  To be made in the image of a triune God means fundamentally to be in community.  Jesus Himself surrounded Himself with the larger community of His twelve disciples and we would be foolish to think that fullness of life can happen without the Christian community.

 

Purpose in Community

Since creation started with a triune God who exists in community past, present and future, and since God created us in His image and all of life, this means the purpose of community is woven throughout the very purpose of our lives.  To really live, and to really experience the life God designed us to have, we weave our lives into the lives of others, reflecting the perfect, good, and communal nature of God Himself.  Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 for the purpose of this community –

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.   For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Three ideas here –

  • When we fall, community can pull us up

King Solomon also wrote in Proverbs 24:16,

“For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

In the times of the Old Testament, the number seven represented the number of completion.  Solomon is saying that the righteous person falls completely, the righteous person falls frequently.  But righteousness is not determined by whether we fall, but what we do after.  We get up, we rise again.

So how can a righteous person get up and rise again after falling?  Ecclesiastes 4 says it is by living in a community where others can help them back onto their feet.

Living life in community is a safeguard from calamity, from being broken by our circumstances or by our own sin. The Bible does not promise that living in community means that we will not stumble or fall; in fact, we know that everyone stumbles and falls at some time, and Christians are not spared.  But living in a community will provide help from others around us.  If we cannot help ourselves, others can.

  • When you are spiritually cold, community can warm you up.

Ecclesiastes 4:11 says, “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?”

Did you know over 600 people in the US die from hypothermia each year.  Stuck in the cold, the body begins to shut down.  Decades ago, might have been in the early 1800’s when I was in the Boy Scouts – when they were still the Boy Scouts – I remember taking my First Air merit badge courses.  In mild hypothermia, one can warm themselves back up.  But as hypothermia progresses, the body loses it’s ability to warm itself.  One of the solutions was to crawl into a sleeping bag with another person and use the heat of somebody else.

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When we face the coldness of life through pain or grief or hardship, it is a temptation to isolate.  We think that we do not want to be a burden to other people.  Somebody offers to help, and we say no.

But when we reverse the roles, and somebody else is in pain, we offer to help.  And then we’re disappointed when they don’t take us up on our offer.  As a community, we want to help.  It’s receiving help we often struggle with.  And if we’re not helping one another, we become indifferent.  Callous.  Even cold.

It is easy to slip into a pattern of callousness towards the person of God, the Word of God, and the mission of God when we are not a community of helping hands.  Hebrews 3:13 says –

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I’ve always loved that line, because it is always called “Today.”  The key is that the people of God and the Word of God move and act together in encouragement.  We stay warm when we are together; we grow cold when we keep each other distant.

  • When you are weak, community can strengthen you.

Next, our scripture says, “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.”  A third truth about the purpose of community is that in our weakness, community will make us strong.  We may try to go it alone, but going it alone isn’t a sign of strength.  It’s a sign of weakness.

Our pride hides our own weakness from us and deludes us with overconfidence in our own abilities.  This is the nature of sin in our lives: underestimating our weaknesses, overestimating our strengths.  And the solution isn’t, “Memorize more Scripture!” Even though that is important.  The solution isn’t, “Pray more!” or “Get more sleep!” or “Listen to more sermons!”  Although all those things are beneficial, but alone, we are still weak.  We have strength in community.

I think it’s because when we live in community and get to know one another, others will truly see us, know us, and can help us where we need it most.  Darkness of sin loses its hold over us.  When we live in community, things that are hidden are brought into the light, and it cleans us up.

Community can pull us up when we fall; it can warm us up when we grow spiritually cold, and it strengthens us against the power of sin.

 

Three in Community

Then the last phrase in our scripture always seems peculiar to me.  It begins with “Two are better than one” and then describes what you do better when there is a second person.  But then, the end of verse 12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Maybe it’s a typo.  Maybe the author meant to say, “A twofold cord is not quickly broken?”  Or maybe it is because in a biblical community, there are never only two parties involved, but three.  God is also present.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, 18:20 –

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

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There are always three parties involved in the body of Christ: you, your community, and God.  If it is your spouse and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.  If it is an accountability partner and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.  If it is your church community, Bible study class, small group and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.

In a biblical community, there are always three parties at work. The Apostle Paul gives us a picture of how this works in 1 Corinthians 12 –

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul writes that God has given each of us unique passions and abilities so that we work with one another, minister to one another, and be nourished by one another.

If we cut ourselves off from the community of the church, we are fundamentally cutting ourselves off from the primary method God uses to minister to us through others.  And it also means the reverse.  If we cut ourselves off from the community of the church, we are also cutting ourselves off from the main means through which God is trying to minister through us to others.

In other words, whenever we think we are reducing our threefold cord down to two strands, we actually reduce our threefold cord down to one strand. Because when we remove one strand from the equation (such as God or community), we actually lose both strands in the process. God ministers to us through community.

Biblical community, therefore, always happens in three.  Even in the Gospel, you see all three persons of the Godhead working together, ministering together, and accomplishing together. The Father planned our salvation, the Son accomplished our salvation, and the Spirit applies our salvation.  And now, we have access to the Father because of the Son and through the Spirit.

Truly, a threefold cord is not easily broken. It is modeled in our salvation and also in our community.

 

Conclusion

This year, 2020, is certainly one for the history books.  The impact on our lives has been staggering.  And the effects are almost entirely negative.  And quarantined, we feel isolated, depressed, angry.  We aren’t meant to live like this.  From the time of Adam and Eve until now, God has wanted us to be part of community.

Community is not our idea, it is God’s idea.  Christian community is simply sharing a common life in Christ.  It moves us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for “Christian fellowship.”  The biblical ideal of community challenges us instead to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God.

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We need each other.  We need to be connected to the body of Christ – not just for our own sake, but for the sake of others as well.  So that we can be a blessing to them, and so that they can be a blessing to us.  It is God’s plan for us, to live in community with one another.

Ecclesiastes offers Christians an opportunity to understand the emptiness and despair that those who do not know God grapple with. Those who do not know Christ are faced with a life that will ultimately end and become irrelevant.  If there is no salvation, and no God, then not only is there no point to life, but no purpose or direction to it, either. The world “under the sun,” apart from God, is frustrating, cruel, unfair, brief, and “utterly meaningless.”

But with Christ, life is but a shadow of the glories to come in a heaven that is only accessible through Him.  We need each other, so let us meet one another, talk to one another, encourage one another in our community, as long as it is called today.

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To God be the glory.

Awestruck

A study of Habakkuk 3.

Habakkuk 3 Theme

  I.      Introduction

Last week, in Habakkuk 1 & 2, we heard a difficult message of how God can use evil people to accomplish His will.  When Habakkuk asked God to correct and admonish the Jewish people, God responded that it was all under control.  God would rise up the evil Chaldeans to crush the Jewish people.

I imagine Habakkuk suddenly sitting down, stunned at the message.  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

We’ve been studying the Minor Prophets for a while, and the message each week has been the same.  Is the lesson Zephaniah?  Answer: Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Nahum?  Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Obadiah?  Wrath of God.

If last week’s study of Habakkuk 1&2 was classroom instruction, then Habakkuk 3 today is a study of how to apply hard lessons.  When we know the wrath of God is coming, like Habakkuk knew the Chaldeans were coming to conquer the Jews, how do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

Or closer to home, I couldn’t help but imagine a parallel in today’s times.  Like we are praying to God that America seems to be losing its way, and please bring America back into God’s will.  And God responds that he’s raising a mighty evil Islamic army called ISIS.  How do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

In one sense, I guess we should expect that God uses evil people for His purposes.  Romans 8:28 says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  If evil exists, and God is in control, then it is only logical that the only evil that exists is that which God allows to exist for His purpose.  Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess at the name of Jesus, and that includes evil knees and tongues.

Among all of God’s beautiful attributes, like love, compassion, peace, and joy, our fear of the Lord should recognize God’s ways are above our ways, and in our temporary lives on earth we may not fully appreciate all of God’s ways.  God is in control of everything, not just the good, and he will use *everything* in order to purify His people.  God’s plan for you and me is not our happiness, but our righteousness.  And he tells us that if we are righteous, then we will also be happy.  Win-win.

So if you or I feel that God’s plans seem to be working against us, we feel hurt or pain or disappointment, how do we come to terms with God?  We want to always think of Him as our kindly heavenly father who gives us great gifts, but we don’t like the discipline and God’s justice.  How do we maintain our joy when we know God is raising up evil Chaldeans against us?

II.      Reassured by What We Hear, Habakkuk 3:1-2

Let’s look first at Habakkuk 3:1-2 –

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

There’s an unfamiliar word there in verse 1, “On shigionoth.”  I thought it was some sort of Klingon word, good thing I studied.  Most scholars believe it’s a literary or maybe musical term, but one source I read believes it is a highly emotional poetic form.  On shigionoth, Habakkuk is pouring out His heart in prayer to the Lord.

In verse 2, who has a translation that says “I fear” or “I was afraid?”  This is not fear of the outcome, for our lesson today is how to have comfort that the Lord is in control.  He says “I fear” which is standing in awe, not fear of the outcome.  Habakkuk says he has heard of God’s most incredible power and might, and acknowledges that God’s power will destroy all that displeases the Lord.  And Habakkuk says, Lord, in your wrath, remember mercy.
parting of the red sea
Habakkuk is likely referring to earlier books that tell of God’s great power.  The book of Genesis, the book of Exodus.  Habakkuk knows about the parting of the sea.  The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t low tide or other some nonsense presented on one of those secular history shows.  Let’s hear of God’s power in Exodus 14:21 following, and I’m going to shorten the story some in the interest of time –

Then the Lord said to Moses, “[…]Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.  As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.  As for Me, behold, […] I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.  Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord […].”

 

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.  The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit […]. the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and […] overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.  The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained.”

 

It’s interesting to me that the Egyptians were the evil ones in the book of Exodus, and God used them to display his awesome power.  Habakkuk says, “I have heard of your fame.”  What Habakkuk is saying to us modern day Christians is… read the bible.  God’s awesome might and power and wrath and love is in the Good Book for each of us to discover.  We will be comforted.  Yes, we stand in awe of God’s mighty power.  Yes, we fear the wrath of God that is coming.  But God will remember His mercy for those who have placed their faith in Him.

III.      Reassured by What We See, Habakkuk 3:3-19

If reading our bible about God’s mighty power isn’t enough, we can see his power with our own eyes.  Habakkuk 3:3-4 –

God comes from Teman,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah.
His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise.
His radiance is like the sunlight;
He has rays flashing from His hand,
And there is the hiding of His power.

 

We view the majesty of the Almighty moving across the earth.  Teman was a city east of Israel, and Mount Paran was a mountain opposite of Teman, so Habakkuk is saying God’s majesty awakens from the east each day and covers the heaven.

God displays the beauty of His creation to us so that we may know he is a God of love and beauty.  Romans 1:20 says

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

sunrise
So that we do not wake up each morning and says, “wow, what a spectacular sunrise.  I guess that just happened accidentally again this morning.”  No, it’s so that we clearly see that God’s glory is like the sunrise, with rays of brilliant light flashing from his hands.

As I was preparing this lesson, and Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” came on the radio and I was struck by how perfect the lyrics fit this lesson.  Can I ask the choir members in this class to sing this for us?

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming
 
Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky
And You know them by name
You are amazing, God
 
All powerful, untameable
Awestruck we fall to our knees
As we humbly proclaim
You are amazing, God

And if God’s splendor and majesty is evident each morning, then so is his strength.  Habakkuk 3:5-12 –

Before Him goes pestilence,
And plague comes after Him.
He stood and surveyed the earth;
He looked and startled the nations.
Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered,
The ancient hills collapsed.
His ways are everlasting.
I saw the tents of Cushan under distress,
The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
Did the Lord rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers,
Or was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?
Your bow was made bare,
The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah.
You cleaved the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw You and quaked;
The downpour of waters swept by.
The deep uttered forth its voice,
It lifted high its hands.
Sun and moon stood in their places;
They went away at the light of Your arrows,
At the radiance of Your gleaming spear.
In indignation You marched through the earth;
In anger You trampled the nations.

God makes mountains.  God destroys mountains.  He judges with pestilence and plague.   He shakes the nations and crushes His enemies.  There is nothing that can withstand the power of God.

Let’s go big.  Let’s see if we can imagine the power of God.  How big is the earth that God created?    Let’s stipulate that the earth is big, really big.  It is so big that for thousands of years, man believed the earth was flat.  Man couldn’t see the horizon curve, there was no reason to believe they were living on a giant round rock.  Here’s a picture from a low orbit where you can see at the edges that the earth is indeed round.  Even though it’s low orbit, it’s still pretty high.  I can’t seem to find a camera shot that is close enough to see people and yet also see the curvature of the earth.  The earth is so big, over 7 billion people live on it now.
Habakkuk 3 1 Clouds-nature-planets-earth-low-resolution
But as big as the earth is, it’s not the biggest planet in our solar system.  We’re a small blue marble.
Habakkuk 3 2 planets
But even the largest planet, Jupiter, is small next to the size of the sun.  The sun is huge.  Imagine the sun the size of a basketball, then the earth is about the size of one of the dimples.
Habakkuk 3 3 SunSize
Our sun is considered to be a medium size star.  There are stars in our galaxy that make our sun look tiny.
Habakkuk 3 4 sun-stars
But even the largest stars get lost next to the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Habakkuk 3 5 milkyWaySide1_300
The Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy.  Scientists estimate between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies, but that’s only because we can’t see any further than that.
Habakkuk 3 6 large_detailed_map_of_the_Universe
Genesis 1:1.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  God spoke the universe into existence by saying, “Let there be light.”  From the morning rays of sunshine to the countless stars by night, God has demonstrated His glory to all so that we may be without excuse.

But maybe facing outward doesn’t give us a good perspective of God.  Is God too big and distant?  If this is God’s view, can He see me?

Let’s go small.  Who am I, and what did God create?  I’m one of those 7 billion people are the earth, so I thought I’d show you the complexity of the human body.
Habakkuk 3 7 Body-systems-and-organs
I admit I underestimated trying to describe human anatomy in the time available for our class.   Our bodies are complex.  We have a circulatory system that moves oxygen and antibodies, powered by a heart that will beat over 3 billion times in our lifetime.  We have a nervous system that communicates heat and cold and pain and causes muscles to move and is powered by a brain that holds memories and process thought and makes sense of the world around us.  A respiratory system that brings in oxygen, expels carbon dioxide that the blood cells from the circulatory system brought in.  A digestive system that extracts nutrients from outside our bodies and turns them into fuel.  A skeletal system to support our weight, and a muscular system to provide movement.

It was too complex.  I thought, I’ll simplify this, I’ll just focus on one piece.  How about the heart.  Just one organ, part of the circulatory system.
Habakkuk 3 8 1024px-Blausen_0457_Heart_SectionalAnatomy
I’m an engineer, and I don’t know how all this contraption works.  There are valves and muscles and aortas and stuff.  And it beats 3 billion times in a lifetime?  This is a miracle gadget.  Let’s simplify it even further,   How about just the teensiest part.  How about… a single human cell.  If I can’t understand the machinery, maybe I can understand a nut and washer, right?
Habakkup 3 9 cell
Goodness.  There are 5 million human cells in a cubic millimeter, about a drop of water.  They’re specialized, too.  Liver cells, brain cells, blood cells, each one knows exactly what to do.

God is in the small stuff.  God is in the big stuff.  God is everywhere and in everything.  There is no place we can go that God isn’t there.  And we haven’t even talked about plants and photosynthesis or insects or rocks or how he created oxygen.  Psalm 139:13 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

We are created by God for a purpose.  We have meaning.  God knows us, has a plan for us, and he knows the name of every single hair on our head.  From our DNA to the hairs on our head to the creation of the universe itself, God loves us.  Like Habakkuk, I can see with my own eyes God’s hand in every single part of my being, my life, my walk, and my purpose.

And I can see God’s love for me.

IV.      Reassured by His Deliverance, Habakkuk 3:13

Habakkuk 3:13 –

You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For the salvation of Your anointed.
You struck the head of the house of the evil
To lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah.

 

This God of beauty, this God of power, this God of creation, is also this God of love.  He knew, given free choice, that not everyone would choose good.   It’s not choice if we’re forced to choose good.  So, through the choice of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world.  Rebellion.  Disobedience.  His holiness will not tolerate our evil, our sins.  God will destroy sin.  God will raise Chaldeans and plagues and locusts to destroy the evil we do and the evil we think and the evil we are.  His justice demands His wrath.  The minor prophets we’ve been studying, like Habakkuk, have warned us of God’s hatred of sin.

But God loves the sinner who seeks Him.  But more than God hates sin, God loves us.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:16).

 

Out of His abundance of love, has given us His son.  I don’t know how much it hurt God to sacrifice His own son for us.  To watch Christ scourged and crucified under Pontius Pilot while the crowds of people called for the death of His son.  And I don’t know any bigger gift that God could give than to offer forgiveness to us through the sacrifice of His son, so that we may be reconciled to God and be called Children of God.  And through the death of Jesus, He then sent a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to live in us.  To pray and groan on our behalf, to move us to obedience.  Even as his perfect justice and discipline may cause pain and suffering as He teaches us spiritual truths, and even as He raises us Chaldeans against us to purify us as a people, we know that He has prepared a place for us, a place without tears.

We may not understand the Chaldeans in our own lives, but God has a purpose for everything.  C.S. Lewis, in the book “Mere Christianity,” put it this way:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

 

When God allows Chaldeans to run roughshod over us with destruction and pain, the Chaldeans are fulfilling God’s purpose.  Even if, and perhaps especially if, the Chaldeans are evil, for the evil cannot exist without God allowing it.  Three verses can give us peace during these times –

  • 2 Corinthians 4:17

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and
  • Romans 8:28 all things work together for good.

Praise and worship our mighty God.  It is right to praise Him.  Does God need our praise?  No, it pleases Him to think that those who created acknowledge the Creator.  How awesome it is to please Him.

  V.      Reassured by His Security, Habakkuk 3:16-19

Abundant life.  Purpose.  A God who loves us.  An eternity without tears.

Because of all we have heard, because of all we have seen, because of all we have experienced, we can trust God in time of fear.

Habakkuk 3:16

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Habakkuk knows God’s wrath is coming.  The Jewish people have turned their backs on the Lord, and Habakkuk has prayed for the Lord’s will be done.  The Lord responded that He will purify his people by allowing evil Chaldeans to conquer and rule over Israel.  And Habakkuk, though so fearful that decay is in his bones and his legs are trembling, will wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill His word.

Did Habakkuk’s circumstances change?   Calamity is on the horizon.  Soon there will be destruction.  Sometimes we believe that if we change our attitude, trust in the Lord, pray fervent prayers, then our circumstances will change.  Not so – it is not the circumstances that change.  Nor is it God who changes.  No, it is us who change.  We trust that God is in control.  The same God that created an amazingly huge universe and the tiniest DNA stands in our cells and dwells within us, has provided the redemptive power through His son, is in control.  We can wait patiently.  It is us who changes.

So don’t worry.  God’s got this.

VI.      Conclusion

What have you heard about God that reassures you?  What have you seen from God that assures you of his awesome power?  Our God is wrath, true.  Wrath that destroys the wicked.  But our God is love.  He has created a splendor for us to see Him in our broken world.  A little taste of heaven, here and now.

You may not know the name of Carl Gustav Boberg, a Swedish poet who was born in 1859.  One day when Boberg was walking home from church and listening to church bells.  Suddenly, a tremendous storm, with violent winds and pounding rains.  The church rang madly.  Lightning pealed across the sky in massive thunderclaps.  Broberg and his friends had to take shelter.

Then, almost as suddenly as it arrived, the storm passed.  Winds blew over the nearby meadows, the pounding rains gave way to cool fresh showers, and then clear skies with a rainbow.

Broberg was in awe of the storm, the lightning, that demonstrated God’s power, and the peace and beauty after the wrath had passed.  That night, Carl Broberg wrote a poem called, ‘O Store Gud,’ or as we know it today, ‘How Great Thou Art.’

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

 

Invading Chaldeans are coming.  Habakkuk has to wait – terror at what is to come, but trust in the outcome.  Habakkuk 3 is a prayer to Yahweh to let the world again see the redemptive work of the Lord.  Regardless of our circumstances, we stand in awe of our God!

 

To God be the glory.

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.