Thursday, February 28, 2013

Give God Your Heart

12 That is why the Lord says, "Turn to Me now, while there is time. Give Me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. 14 Who knows? Perhaps He will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse. …"  Joel 2:12-14 (NLT), see also 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Book of Joel warned the people of God’s approaching judgment and crisis if they did not turn from their sins and turn their whole hearts to God. God told the people through the prophet Joel to turn to Him and away from sin and evil while there was still time. Destruction would soon come upon them. When they turned against God, God’s judgment would soon follow (see also Amos 5:18–27). God’s judgments are real. The Holy Bible is straightforward about God’s wrath against evil and sin. God hates evil (Psalm 45:7) and ultimately He will do away with sin (Revelation 21:4–5). Sin breaks God’s heart.

Yet, warnings of God’s judgment and wrath always leave room for repentance. God wants no one to see His judgment and wrath (2 Peter 3:9) because He is full mercy, slow to anger, and filled with great kindness (Joel 2:13). Even in the midst of extreme circumstances, God wants everyone to turn their whole hearts to Him and find His help and salvation. The Holy Bible is clear that we must never be afraid to come to God in sincere honesty and humility of heart. “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved…” (Joel 2:32).

The Lord God wants everyone to genuinely repent (2 Corinthians 7:10). He does not want an outward display of repentance, sorrow, and religious acts without a genuine heart repentance from within (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 23:1-36; Hebrews 4:12). In ancient Israel, public expression of grief or sorrow for sin meant tearing or rending one’s clothes. Often these outward actions meant nothing more than a religious ritual without any genuine heart repentance, confession, and sorry for sin. God wants our hearts that are torn with grief and genuine confession of sins. He does not look at just our outside actions and words. Instead, God looks at our whole hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) and judges us by our inward faith, humility, and character (Psalm 51:17).

God longs to fill us with His love, grace, and heavenly blessings. Genuine heart love for God brings hope, joy, and restoration (Joel 2:18-27). God's blessings come to those who faithfully and lovingly follow Him “for He is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Joel 2:13). Echoes of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness are also found at Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15, Psalm103:8, Psalm 145:8; and Jonah 4:2.

Sadly, some people spend hours each week keeping up their outward appearance without building up their inward heart and love for God. Even worse, some people look around at their problems and situation and never look up to God for their true help and blessings. We must all let God come into our hearts by turning to Him in total faith and love. God promises us to meet our deepest needs as we turn our whole hearts to Him. As we turn our whole hearts to God, He sends us His Holy Spirit to help us live a victorious and pleasing life (John 14 – 16; Galatians 5:22-23). So, let everyone turn to the Lord God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ now (Matthew 15:8-9)!

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Word in Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

God Wants Our Love

Lord God:  4 “O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the Lord. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight . . . . 6 I want you to show love (mercy, loyalty, devotion), not offer sacrifices. I want you to know Me (God) more than I want burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:4, 6 (NLT), see also Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.

Do you know what God wants from us? Hosea 6 tells us that God wants our faithful and loyal love and knowledge of Him. God wants a loving, faithful and lasting relationship with us built upon complete trust and dependence in Him as the true and living God. He does not want us to trust the lie of self-sufficient strength and wisdom.

In fact, God does not want our empty and shallow religious rituals that fades away like the morning mist (Hosea 6:4). Instead, God wants us to know Him and give our lasting love to Him as God (Hosea 6:6). Worship and other religious rituals are important to God but only if done from a sincere heart of love and obedience for Him. God has never wanted our shallow religious words and deeds that are passionate one day and unloving the next. God has always wanted our genuine heart love for Him through a personal and close relationship. He does not want us to know just facts and information about Him as God. God wants to have an intimate relationship with us. One way of showing our loyal love and closeness for God is by obeying His covenant commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:5-21). Jesus summarized God’s commandments by telling His followers to love God and love people (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; John 13:34-35). Empty religious rituals can never take the place of our sincere love and faithful obedience to God (1 Samuel 15:22-23; Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). Religious rituals apart from faithfulness to God and His commandments are wholly unacceptable (Jeremiah 7:21-23). Besides, our genuine love and wholehearted obedience to God brings God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 28; Proverbs 3:1-8).

Moreover, God wants everyone to genuinely turn away from sins and turn to Him with a wholehearted repentance (Psalm 51:16-17). God sees through any superficial repentance. Instead, God desires our heart cry for sincere repentance as a sinner of need of His mercy, grace, and forgiveness (Hosea 7:14; Luke 18:13). We all need God’s love and mercy every day that is found through heart faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and turning from sin. As we turn our hearts to God through faith in Jesus Christ, God sends us His Holy Spirit to live within our heart. God’s Holy Spirit help us live a life of holiness, purity, and victory (John 14:15-21, 23-29; 1 Corinthians 3:16). The Holy Spirit works within our lives to keep us away from sin and walking in God’s obedience (John 16:8, 13; Romans 8:26-27). Even more, as we truly confess and turn from our sins and turn to God with our whole hearts, God is faithful and just to forgive us (Romans 10:9-10; 1 John 1:8-9).

Finally, God does not only want us to show love to Him, but also show love to others. He wants us to live out love and mercy to others more than our sacrifices and religious rituals (see also Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). God is always faithful and loving (Deuteronomy 33:3; Psalm 136) and He wants the same of His people. In essence, God wants us to reveal His love and His very character in the way we speak and live every day. These actions are called practices of God’s righteousness and justice (see also Amos 5:21-24).

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Spirit Filled Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Love Story

Hosea:  1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for your sins have brought you down. 2 Bring your confessions (true repentance), and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer You our praises. . . . 9 Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those with discernment listen carefully. The paths of the Lord are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But in those (right) paths sinners stumble and fall. Hosea 14:1-2, 9 (NLT).

The Book of Hosea gives God’s special message of His love. Some biblical scholars have called the Book of Hosea “the second greatest love story in the Bible.” Of course, the first greatest love story in the Bible is the incarnation, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet, the message of Hosea tells of God’s timeless love and gives humans a look into the very heart of God. Revelations of God's love, faithfulness, judgment, mercy, grace, jealous, and holiness are revealed in this story. Hosea’s name means “the Lord saves.” God repeatedly sought to save His people, Israel, from their sins. Today, God’s people are those who accept by faith and obedience Jesus Christ. These people are now called the church or the Israel of God and are composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22).

The Book of Hosea centers around the prophet Hosea’s love and betrayal of an unfaithful wife called Gomer. Gomer was a prostitute and sought the love of other men and not her faithful husband, Hosea. However, the Book of Hosea has more to do with humankind’s unfaithfulness and adultery to the faithful and loving God. Just as Gomer was unfaithful, Israel was unfaithful like a prostitute by seeking and loving other gods. Hosea continued to seek and love Gomer, despite her unfaithfulness. But Hosea was also very anger with Gomer. Like Hosea, God persistently sought His people with love. Yet, God was also anger with the people because of their spiritual adultery against Him. Instead of the people responding to God with love and gratitude, the people pursued others gods and other nations. God’s holiness demanded divorce and judgment for unfaithfulness. In His love and mercy, God sought and promised to forgive His unfaithful people if they would only wholeheartedly turn to Him as their God.

Moreover, the Book of Hosea addresses a time of Israel’s prosperity in the northern kingdom, also called Ephraim. Israel was experiencing boundary expansion and some Israelites amassed great wealth. Yet, Israel had decayed spiritually. Israel supported heavy taxes and oppression of the poor. Even worse, Israel turned to pagan gods and away from the true and living God of Israel. Israel was only interested in God for His material blessings and benefits and not a close and genuine heart relationship with Him as their God. The hearts of the people were empty, religion was shallow, and corruption ran rampant throughout the nation. In particular, the law was manipulated to favor the rich and religion was really just a mere show. God had blessed Israel, but they lived only for pleasure. The people had abandoned hard work, integrity and morality and lived only to please themselves. All these behaviors reflected a negligence of love for God as well as for their fellow citizens.

The prophet Hosea sent a message to the northern kingdom of Israel to return to God for their help and security and away from other gods, foreign nations, and their wealth. Only the true and living God could heal, restore, and protect Israel. Hosea warned the people that unless they truly repented of their sin and turn their whole hearts back to God, they were headed for judgment and destruction (Deuteronomy 27-28). Sadly, Israel disregarded the prophet’s warnings of God’s judgment and continued to live in total disregard for God and His commands. Israel’s northern kingdom fell to Assyria invasion and destruction in 722 B.C. and Assyria carried the northern Israelites into captivity.

God has always wanted a close and personal relationship with His people.  Since the beginning of time, God had made a covenant with humankind to be their God (see e.g., Genesis 9:8-17; Genesis 15:9-21; Genesis 17; Exodus 19-24; 2 Samuel 7:5-16). As God of the universe, He promised His faithful love, blessings, and protection for His people only if they would walk humbly, mercifully and obediently with Him as their God (see e.g., Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13). God is our loving Husband and Provider. He wants to give His intimate love to His people. God does not want to be one of many gods, but the only true and living God of our lives. We as humans are God’s bride (Isaiah 54:4-8; Ephesians 5:25-27Revelation 21:1-2). God does not want to share His bride with another god. He wants to provide everything we need as a loving Husband: food, clothing, land, peace, and security.

Sadly, sin and disobedience damage our close and personal relationship with God and breaks God’s heart. The message of Hosea teaches that as we neglect God we get into trouble (see also Proverbs 14:34). God is merciful and filled with loving kindness (e.g., Psalm 100:5; Psalm 103:13; Psalm 136). But even God and His presence will not endure if we insist on continual sin and disobedience. God may temporarily withdraw His Spirit to our sins and foolishness (Luke 15) and punish us to get our attention. But, God will always welcome us as we turn from sin and turn our whole hearts to Him. Even with His judgment of sin, God is merciful and will restore us as we truly repent and turn to Him as our God.

So, let us all reaffirm your complete devotion, commitment and love to God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God wants our genuine, wholehearted love and allegiance to Him as the true and living God of the universe (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). Only God can truly satisfy the deep desires of our hearts and not money, possessions nor activities. All the more, only God can provide us true protection and safety, and not our wealth, military power nor foreign alliances. Like Israel, God promises to forgive our sins as we turn our whole hearts to Him in faith and belief. The Book of Hosea shows that God longs not to punish but to love us. Let everyone turn their hearts to God!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Total Commitment

Joshua:  14 "So now: Fear (reverence, respect) GOD. Worship (serve) Him in total commitment. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship GOD. 15 "If you decide that it's a bad thing to worship GOD, then choose a god you'd rather serve—and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you're now living. As for me and my family, we'll worship GOD." 16 The people answered, "We'd never forsake GOD! Never! We'd never leave GOD to worship other gods. 17 "GOD is our God! He brought up our ancestors from Egypt and from slave conditions. He did all those great signs while we watched. He has kept His eye on us all along the roads we've traveled and among the nations we've passed through. 18 Just for us He drove out all the nations, Amorites and all, who lived in the land. Count us in: We too are going to worship GOD. He's our God." 19 Then Joshua told the people: "You can't do it; you're not able to worship GOD. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won't put up with your fooling around (rebellion) and sinning. 20 When you leave GOD and take up the worship of foreign gods, He'll turn right around and come down on you hard. He'll put an end to you—and after all the good He has done for you!" 21 But the people told Joshua: "No! No! We worship GOD!" 22 And so Joshua addressed the people: "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen GOD for yourselves—to worship Him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23 Joshua said, "Now get rid of all the foreign gods you have with you. Say an unqualified Yes (yield your hearts) to GOD, the God of Israel." 24 The people answered Joshua, "We will worship GOD. What He says, we'll do." Joshua 24:14-24 (The Message Bible).

Joshua 24 records Joshua’s final words to the Israelites at Shechem. He challenged the people to make a sensible choice. The people had to choose whether they would love and worship the true and living God with total commitment or other gods of the land. In taking a strong stand for God, Joshua made a total and wholehearted commitment to love and worship the true and living God of Israel. Likewise, Joshua called on the people to put away their idols and gods (Joshua 24:14) and to love and worship the true and living God above all other gods (Joshua 24:23).

God desires and demands our total allegiance and commitment to Him (Exodus 20:3-11; Hosea 2:13). There is only one God and only one true faith taught in the Holy Scriptures. The true God is the God revealed in Jesus Christ (John 17). Yet, our world wants to accept many religions or combine aspects of one religion to another (Romans 1:18-25). These actions are called syncretism and are not new. Ancient Israel was constantly tempted to absorb or combine Canaanite worship of fertility gods and goddesses into the worship of God. Moreover, the first century Roman world worshipped many gods and all sorts of cults flourished. Gnosticism found in the first century Roman world is similar to the modern day New Age movement.

God is “a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; Joshua 24:19) and He will not tolerate rivals. He does not want to be one of several gods in our lives. The true and living God wants to be Lord of all with our total heart commitment to Him (Exodus 20:3). Even more, God will not tolerate unfaithfulness and idolatry. Other gods or idols can also be money, jealousies, prejudices, status, or fame. Yet, seeking these idols and other gods can cause one to lose sight of the meaning of life and of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The true meaning of life is to love and obey God (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Matthew 22:34-40). God wants our total commitment, which means our wholehearted love, faithfulness, and allegiance to Him as God (Joshua 24:14, 23). He wants everyone to make a sincere and honest commitment to Him first from the heart (Matthew 6:33). God wants a personal and close relationship as their God. The true and living God of the Holy Scriptures desires to be love, respected, and worshiped first and foremost (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 6:33).

Worshipping other gods or idols is spiritual adultery (Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2). Idolatry means any object of love, affection, and worship that comes before God. The apostle Paul seemingly enlarged the meaning of idolatry to include covetousness and greed (Colossian 3:5). In fact, the Holy Scriptures are clear about the evil and dangers of practicing idolatry (see e.g., Psalms 115:4-7; Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 2; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 1 Corinthians 10:14, 19-21; 1 John 5:19-21). None is more graphic and devastating than that in Isaiah 44:9-20. The idol is made by a man but is powerless to help the man. The idol begins as a piece of a tree and made into a god. Thus, the man worships no more than a block of wood. God is Spirit (John 4:24). One of the prominent and distinguishing features of the true and living God is the reflection of His divine image found in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-23). God desires our true spiritual worship from our hearts, minds, and souls and not to any “… graven image…” or idol (Exodus 20:4-5; Exodus 32).

Joshua was not the only person to encourage the people to wholeheartedly follow God. Moses challenged the people to wholeheartedly worship God (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Moses encouraged the people to choose

“. . . between life and death, between blessings and curses. . . . Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying Him, and committing yourself firmly to Him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 – New Living Translation).

Moreover, Elijah challenged the Israelites on Mount Carmel, “. . . How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow Him …” (I King 18:21 – The Message). Hosea also challenged the people and prophesied “Israel, have nothing to do with idols. I, the Lord, am the One who answers your prayers and watches over you. I am like a green pine tree; your blessings come from Me. . . . The Lord’s ways are right. Good people live by following them . . .” (Hosea 14:8-9 – New Century Version). Moreover, the apostle Paul challenged the people “So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides…” (Colossians 3:1 Message Bible).  

Yet, humans are unable to totally worship God without God’s help (Joshua 24:19). By choosing God, He gives us His Holy Spirit to help us obey and serve Him while on earth (John 14 – 16). God had chosen Joshua to lead Israel because Joshua had the Holy Spirit within His heart to obey, serve God and lead Israel (Numbers 11:16-30; Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9). Joshua was concerned for God’s glory, obedience to God, and the benefit of the people. We too can obtain God’s Holy Spirit just like Joshua by turning our hearts to God with love, openness, and a desire to follow Him as our God. God says, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zechariah 4:6; see also Hosea 1:7). Humans can only through God's Holy Spirit obey and faithfully serve God. With God and His Holy Spirit on our sides, we can do anything (Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21; Mark 10:27)!

God's Love

3 The Lord surely loves His people and takes care of all those who belong to Him. Deuteronomy 33:3 (NCV).

God loves you! He loves you so much and He wants a relationship with you (John 3:16). God is love (1 John 4:8-12). Even more, the Holy Bible speaks of God’s desire for humankind’s love, worship, and commitment to Him as the living God, humankind's Creator and Redeemer. To receive God’s love, we only need to believe in God and accept Him as the true and living God of our lives.

Often, the Holy Bible speaks of God’s love and commitment to humankind (e.g., Deuteronomy 33:3; Psalm 136:1). The complete expression of God’s love is found the amazing grace and overwhelming love that He showed to all the world by saving humans who deserve only conviction at the tremendous cost of Jesus Christ's death on the Cross at Calvary (Romans 3:22-24; Romans 5:5-8; Romans 8:32-39; Ephesians 2:1-10; Ephesians 3:14-18; Ephesians 5:25-27). Even more, God’s compassion and love never fails and “Great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). Though God's ways of expressing His love are sometimes astonishing and confusing, the final testament of those who faithfully walk with God through life's ups and downs is that "every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed" (Joshua 23:14-15).

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. 23 Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!” 25 The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. Lamentations 3:22-25 (NLT).
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since He did not spare even His own Son (the Lord Jesus Christ) but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?. . . 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-32, 38-39 (NLT).

To learn more of God’s faithful love, one must read the Holy Bible. The Holy Bible is God’s love letter to the world and discusses God’s dealing with humankind throughout the years. In the Bible, we learn of God’s truth. The Holy Bible contains sixty-six books, thirty-nine written before Jesus Christ’s birth and twenty-seven after Jesus Christ’s death. The Holy Bible was written by human authors and all that Holy Bible writers teach should be respected. These sixty-six books are "God-breathed" meaning that these books are a product of God's Holy Spirit ("breath") and written to help all people live a divine life (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). All of the Holy Bible’s contents—histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else—should be received as from God. Many faithful leaders and ordinary people of God have found the Holy Bible as their guidebook for hope, encouragement, and guidance (Joshua 1:7-8; 2 Kings 17:13; 2 Kings 22:8-13; 1 Chronicles 22:12-13; Nehemiah 8; Psalm 119).
4 Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Romans 15:4 (NLT).

Packer, J. I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. 2001.