Devoured by False Devotion

1 Hear this, O priests!
    Pay attention, O house of Israel!
Give ear, O house of the king!
    For the judgment is for you;
for you have been a snare at Mizpah
    and a net spread upon Tabor.
And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter,
    but I will discipline all of them.

I know Ephraim,
    and Israel is not hidden from me;
for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore;
    Israel is defiled.
Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
    and they know not the Lord.

The pride of Israel testifies to his face;
    Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt;
    Judah also shall stumble with them.
With their flocks and herds they shall go
    to seek the Lord,
but they will not find him;
    he has withdrawn from them.
They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord;
    for they have borne alien children.
    Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. Hosea 5:1-7 ESV

To the king in his royal palace, the priests in their pagan temples, and the prosperous upper class in their idol-filled homes, God now announces His intention to punish them all. And there was plenty of guilt to go around. These elites of Israelite society had promoted the apostasy for which Israel was now facing the judgment of God. From Mizpah in the north, all the way to Mount Tabor in the south, the nation’s leaders had been setting traps in which to capture the unwary people of Israel. Throughout the land, they had erected sacred sites and shrines to their many false gods. And the ubiquitous presence of these pagan places of worship made it virtually impossible for the average Israelite to avoid the temptation to forsake Yahweh.

God describes the citizens of Israel as “knee-deep in slaughter” (Hosea 5:2 NET). Their state of rebellion against Him had resulted in the countless sacrifice of lambs and bulls on the altars of their false gods. The blood had flowed, but they would find their idols to be no help against the wrath of God Almighty. He was going to severely discipline them for their blatant disregard for His commands and the willful violation of their covenant agreement with Him.

And God indicates that the time for repentance and remorse is over. He has seen every one of their sinful acts and He knows that their hearts have been corrupted by a spirit of unfaithfulness. Not only are they are unwilling to change, but they are also completely incapable of change because “the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord” (Hosea 5:4 ESV). They’ve practiced spiritual adultery for so long that they no longer have the capacity to turn back to God. They are creatures of habit, doomed to continue their moral and spiritual decline.

It’s amazing to consider that God conflates Israel’s iniquity with their vanity and pride. Not only are they guilty of sin, but they’re proud of it. They walk with a spiritual swagger and boast about their growing pantheon of false deities. And the worst part is that their arrogance is highly contagious. It will eventually infect the southern kingdom of Judah, causing them to suffer an untimely death from the same devastating disease of apostasy.

When God’s judgment finally fallas on these two rebellious nations, they will attempt to mollify His anger with sacrifices but Hosea warns that their efforts will be in vain.

When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.  – Hosea 5:6 NLT

When the discipline of God descends upon them, they will try to win His favor by reinstituting their worship of Him, but it will be too little, too late. Thr smoke from their burnt offerings will be like a stench in the nostrils of God, rather than a pleasing aroma. And the prophet Amos describes God’s dissatisfaction with their faux sacrifices.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.” – Amos 5:21-24 NLT

The prophet Isaiah reiterates God’s strong words of condemnation, leveled against His chosen but rebellious people.

But those who choose their own ways—
    delighting in their detestable sins—
    will not have their offerings accepted.
When such people sacrifice a bull,
    it is no more acceptable than a human sacrifice.
When they sacrifice a lamb,
    it’s as though they had sacrificed a dog!
When they bring an offering of grain,
    they might as well offer the blood of a pig.
When they burn frankincense,
    it’s as if they had blessed an idol.
I will send them great trouble—
    all the things they feared.
For when I called, they did not answer.
    When I spoke, they did not listen.
They deliberately sinned before my very eyes
    and chose to do what they know I despise.”  – Isaiah 66:3-4 NLT

Because of His omnipresence, God will always be in their midst but, from their perspective, it will appear as if He has withdrawn from them. They will call on Him but receive no response. They will sacrifice to Him but have their offerings rejected. They will attempt to renew their commitment to Him, only to find their efforts rebuffed.

Why? Because they have chosen to disobey His commands. God even accuses them of betraying His honor by “bearing children that are not his” (Hosea 5:7 NLT). Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, had been accused of bearing him illegitimate children, so God accuses the people of Israel of blatant unfaithfulness. Their very offspring are the byproduct of their love affair with their false gods. An entire generation of Israelites had been born in an atmosphere of infidelity and raised on a steady diet of spiritual immorality.

The result of their unfaithfulness will be their abandonment by God. He will simply turn them over to their well-deserved fate. And Hosea describes it in fairly crytic terms.

 Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. – Hosea 5:7 ESV

The word for “month” in Hebrew is hadesh, and it can literallly be translated as “new moon.” So, in Judaism, each new month was accompanied by a New Moon Festival at which sacrifices were made to God. The people would continue to go through the motions, practicing the religious rituals and observing all the standard feasts and festivals. But they would be more than willing to give up their lambs and bulls, they were totally unwilling to part with their sins. So, rather than their sacrifices bringing the blessings of God, they would result in their destruction at the hands of God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God = Love.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:16 ESV

1 John 4:7-21

John has already told us that God is light (1 John 1:5). Now he lets us in on another significant reality about God’s divine character. He is love. He doesn’t just love. He is love. It is His very nature. In fact, all that He does is done as an expression of His love. But that raises some interesting and somewhat mind-boggling contradictions for us as human beings. It causes us significant confusion because we have a hard time reconciling the images of God’s wrath, judgment, and punishment as revealed in the Bible. These seeming contradictions raise questions that usually begin with the words, “But how could a loving God …” We wrestle with stories from the Old Testament that picture God as demanding the annihilation of entire groups of people. We struggle with the concept that God would punish people by condemning them to an endless existence in a place of perpetual torment. Trying to comprehend these two extremes has caused many to either reject God altogether or to attempt to rationalize and reconstruct their image of God. Many believers, uncomfortable with the concept of God as a judge who metes out justice and judgment, have simply re-imagined Him, eliminating His less-attractive characteristics and recreating Him as the all-loving, all-accepting, all-inclusive, all-for-us, all the time God. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and popular author and speaker, represents many who have chosen to rethink their view of God. “We must get this clear, together, to see real progress. Is God good? Is He Loving, Peaceful? Does God look like Jesus, who forgave 7×70 times, even to the point of death, and lived a non-violent, non-retributive life? Or… Is God angry? Is He violent and warring? Does God look like the god portrayed in the Old Testament, commanding wars, genocide and destruction? Does He look like a retributive, end-times Jesus who will ‘kill millions upon His return,’ seemingly having a cut-off point’ to His own teaching on forgiveness?” Unable to reconcile the two seeming extremes of God as portrayed in the Scriptures, Richard Rohr and others have simply chosen to construct their own view of God. They prefer to camp and count on the all-loving version. Why? Because they are uncomfortable with what they refer to as the schizophrenic God of the Bible. They say, “He cannot be a warring, genocidal maniac, and then a loving servant Savior who forgives and includes all – especially the most undesirable – and finally a bloodthirsty, horse-riding, sinner-slayer who enacts ‘justice’ in ‘the end.’” So they recreate Him in their own image. But doing so requires that they view the Sciptures no longer as God’s revelation of Himself to man, but as man’s attempt to reveal their marred and somewhat immature understanding of God. The Bible becomes nothing more than a collection of human stories revealing mankind’s growing and progressively enlightening view of God. And Jesus becomes no longer a Savior from sin, but a seer who helps man see the truly loving side of God.

But the problem with all this is that John and the other apostles tell us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). John is not afraid to talk about sin. And he is most certainly not afraid to testify that mankind needs a Savior from sin. In fact, as far as John was concerned, the greatest expression of God’s love for mankind was the selfless, sacrificial, undeserved death of His own Son. The brutal execution of Jesus was God’s love on display. Hard to understand? Difficult to comprehend? You bet. Sounds harsh and barbaric doesn’t it? It assaults our sensibilities. But just because we can’t reasonably rationalize how a loving God could require the brutal death of His own Son in order to pay for sins He didn’t even commit, doesn’t mean we should totally reconstruct the scenario to better suit our sensibilities. Jesus Himself told us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). Death as an expression of love. It is God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice that make His love all that more incredible. Paul reminds us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Our sin separated us from God. Our sin required a just and holy God to do the right thing and mete out judgment and the deserved punishment. But God loved. When man couldn’t live up to the holy standards of a righteous God, He stepped in and did something about it. He loved us when we were at our worst. But His love didn’t overlook our sin. He didn’t just dismiss our guilt and ignore our debt. To do so would have required Him to be less than God. No, God remained just, holy, and righteous while loving us at the same time. But to do so, someone had to die. Someone had to pay the penalty. His own Son. The sinless Son of God. And it is that remarkable act of LOVE that should motivate and inspire our love for others. We don’t make God more loving by attempting to make Him less judgmental. For God to ignore our sin would not have been loving, anymore than a father to ignore the rebellion of a child. God’s love shines greatest when we see man’s sin at its darkest. Man is sinful. Sin is rebellion against God. The penalty for sin is death – eternal separation from God. But God loved. He paid the penalty by sending His Son to die – out of love. As an expression of His love. Because He loves. Love is at its most beautiful when juxtaposed against a backdrop of unloveliness and undeservedness. Loving the unlovely isn’t just hard. It’s impossible. Without the love of God.

Romans 3

Good News. Bad News.

Romans 3

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. – Romans 3:22 NLT

We’ve all heard plenty of “good news – bad news” jokes. They usually start out with the statement, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” In a way, that is exactly what Paul is saying in his letter to the Roman believers. Except that his message was anything but funny. He had good news for them, which they had already heard and believed. But he also wanted to make sure they grasped the bad news that “all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9b NLT). Paul was addressing a common misconception that still exists today. In his day, the Jews believed that because they were the chosen people of God, they were exempt from God’s wrath. They saw themselves as a privileged people and because of their position as God’s chosen race, He was somehow obligated to protect and preserve them, regardless of what they did. They put so much stock on the faithfulness of God, that they twisted it into some kind of blind allegiance to them, that would overlook their failures and bless them, in spite of them. In other words, their sins would somehow be ignored by God, just because they were His chosen people.

But Paul doesn’t mince words when he exposes the fallacy in their argument, and he uses the writings of King David to make his point. “No one is righteous – not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away, all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one” (Romans 3:10-12 NLT). That is the bad news. And just to make sure that there is no confusion as to just how bad the bad news is, Paul reinforces it with these familiar and powerful words: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT). You can’t make it any clearer than that. Everyone has sinned. There are not exemptions and exceptions. All men have failed to live up to God’s glorious standard. The Jews, because they had been given the law by God, somehow thought that was enough. Earlier in this letter, Paul had addressed the Jews directly. “You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law” (Romans 2:17-18 NLT). But here’s the problem: “You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it” (Romans 2:23 NLT). They knew the law, but didn’t keep it. They knew what God expected, but failed to meet those expectations. And they stood condemned, just like the Gentiles.

But here’s the Good News. In spite of all men, whether Jew or Gentile, having sinned and fallen short of God’s righteous standard, “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (Romans 3:24-25 NLT). All men can be made right with God, not by keeping the law, but by believing in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Their sinfulness was rebellion against a holy God, and Romans 6:23 tells us that the penalty for that rebellion was death. Yet Jesus paid our penalty in full with His own life. He took our place. He bore our burden. He died the death we deserved and then made available to us a righteousness we could never have achieved on our own. He made us right with God. “He declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:26b NLT). That is incredibly Good News. And it all that much greater when we realize just how bad the bad news really is. None of us deserve God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness. None of us can boast, because we have done nothing to be accepted by God. The restoration of our right standing with God is all the result of His grace and Christ’s sacrifice. “We are made right with God through faith” (Romans 3:28 NLT). Now, that truly is Good News!

Father, never let me take for granted the Good News about Jesus Christ. Don’t let me ever assume that I somehow deserved Your grace and mercy. Keep my former sinful state seared into my brain. Yes, I am forgiven, redeemed and restored to a right relationship with You. But don’t ever let me forget that it was my sins that sent Jesus to the cross. It was for my sins that He died. My sins required that You give up Your own Son and that He willingly sacrifice His own life. I deserved death, but He took my place. My condemnation was real. My guilt was deserved. But I am right with You, because of what Jesus did for me. Thank You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Romans 1:18-32

God Substitutes.

Romans 1:18-32

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 1:25 NLT

While Paul relished the the Good News that man could be made right with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, he was also painfully aware of the bad news surrounding the state of mankind. The next section of his letter paints a very bleak picture of just how bad things had become in the world. God was angry with men, and justifiably so. They had long ago abandoned any idea of acknowledging His presence or obeying His commands. Ever since Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, rejecting God’s authority over their lives, man’s moral descent had been a rapid one. While the very nature and attributes of God could be seen all around them, most explicitly through His creation, they refused to acknowledge Him as God. Instead, relying on their limited intellects and sin-infected reasoning capacities, they began to develop their own concept of God. Rather than worship the One who created all that they could see, they began to worship those things He had created. They missed the point. They lost their focus. They became distracted by the temporal, rather than see the eternal. Over time, their minds became darkened and confused. Their sinful pride and arrogance led them to believe they were wise, while in reality, they were nothing but misguided fools.

“So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). He handed them over. He took His hand off the wheel, so to speak, and allowed them to do what they wanted to do. This is one of the saddest statements in Scripture. It is also one of the scariest. Man, left to his own, evil devices, is a disaster waiting to happen. Without God’s restraining hand in place, man will self-destruct, which is exactly what happened. Devoid of God’s moral boundaries in place, mankind quickly steered off course. Their behavior degraded quickly, as they exchanged the truth about God for a lie. They worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. They saw more value in themselves than in the One who had made them. With no moral compass to guide them, their sins became increasingly more bold and base, while their behavior became increasingly more man-centered rather than God-centered. “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Romans 1:28 NLT).

Things had gotten bad. “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip” (Romans 1:29 NLT). The state of affairs could not have been any worse. But this bleak and foreboding picture is exactly what Paul wants his readers to wrestle with. He wants them to understand just how bad things had become and just how dire the circumstances were when God determined to step back in and fix the problem. When God had turned mankind over to seek their own selfish, sinful desires, He had not done so permanently. He had not abandoned them forever. He had a plan in place and was only waiting for just the right moment to introduce His solution to man’s problem. While God had every right to mete out punishment on mankind for their sin and open rebellion against Him, He chose to show mercy and grace. Mankind stood as guilty and without excuse for their rejection of God, and He would have been just and right to punish them for their actions. The world had become God-less and unrighteous. Yet God would solve their unrighteousness by introducing a righteousness of His own. He would reinsert Himself into the scenario once again – this time in the form of the Son of God in human flesh. Righteousness would invade unrighteousness. The true God would reveal Himself in the midst of rampant godlessness. That is the Good News that Paul will talk about throughout the rest of this letter. “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life'” (Romans 1:17 NLT). In the midst of man’s hopelessness, helplessness, sinfulness, and godlessness, God intervened and provided a gracious, merciful solution that should leave everyone of us blown away and eternally grateful.

Father, even as bad as things had become, You never truly abandoned us. You allowed us to follow our own sinful inclination and proved to us just how desperately we need You. Without You, we are doomed to destruction. We will self-destruct. We will destroy ourselves and all that You have made. And yet, You had a solution and You introduced that solution at the peak of our sinfulness – in spite of our sinfulness. While we were yet sinners, You sent Your Son to die for us. That is amazing. It is mind-boggling. And it is truly Good News! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 5

Too Tolerant For Our Own Good.

1 Corinthians 5

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?. – 1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV

Tolerance is the official pastime of today’s culture. We are expected to tolerate any and all behavior. We are demanded to tolerate alternative lifestyles and sexual behaviors. We are feed a steady diet of tolerance on TV with programs portraying every imaginable situation and circumstance, selling as perfectly normal what would have been abnormal and unacceptable just a few short years ago. Sin craves tolerance. It demands to be accepted. And while no seems to want to live in a nation that legislates morality, just about everyone wants to live in a society that protects and legitimizes sin through the passing of laws.

None of this should surprise or shock us. It is the nature of sin. It is the natural outcome of man’s sin nature and the devastating impact of life in a fallen world. But the Body of Christ should be another story. The Church is not a place where tolerance should be tolerated. Don’t get me wrong. The Church is where love, acceptance and forgiveness should reign. But acceptance and tolerance are not synonymous. They are not one and the same thing. Paul seemed to know and understand that. He knew that the Church of Jesus Christ was going to be made up of sinners who had been saved. They had been redeemed out of their slavery to sin by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But they were not to remain in their sin. They were not to stay as they were, but were expected to grow, mature, and increasingly take on the nature of Jesus Christ Himself. So when Paul received news that there was sexual immorality taking place among the believers in Corinth, he struck fast and hard. He classified what was going on in their midst as “something that even the pagans don’t do” (1 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). There was a man who was having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. Not only was he committing adultery, he was doing so with his own stepmother. And the members of the local congregation were doing nothing about it.

It’s interesting to note that Paul says little about the sin of this man and his stepmother. He doesn’t need to. It is wrong. It is immoral. Even the pagans would say so. No, Paul addresses his indignation against the rest of the congregation for its tolerance of the sin. They had done nothing to deal with it. He even says, “You are so proud of yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). He doesn’t clarify why he calls them proud. Perhaps they were proud because they were so accepting AND tolerant of any and all. Maybe they felt like theirs was a fellowship where everyone was welcome, because after all, all men are sinners. Later on Paul indicates that they were even boasting about what was going on. But whatever it was that motivated their pride, Paul lets them know that their reaction should have been one of mourning. They should have been sorry and ashamed. Not for the couple, but for their entire fellowship. This was a corporate issue. Paul uses the well-understood imagery of leaven to explain what was happening to their fellowship due to their tolerance. “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6 NLT). The sin of this man and woman was more than an individual act, it had corporate implications. Their presence was contaminating the entire fellowship. It was impacting and influencing the entire congregation. Now, what seems to be evident in the text is that there was no repentance or remorse on the part of the couple. It seems that they were living in sin and expecting everyone around them to accept them accordingly. And no one was confronting them about their sin. Their sinfulness was met with silence and tolerance. That is where the danger lies. Yes, we are to accept sinners. We are to lovingly include the lost and welcome them into our midst, but we are never to tolerate their sin. We are to lovingly confront them with the truth of God’s Word and call them to repentance. Paul makes it clear that it would be impossible to disassociate ourselves with unbelieving sinners. “You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that” (1 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). But when someone comes into our fellowship, claims Jesus Christ as their Savior, and yet indulges in unrepentant, willful sin, that is where our acceptance and tolerance must end. We must stand up for the truth of God’s Word. We must understand the danger of allowing sin to influence and infect the Body of Christ. Yet the common response most of us utter is, “Who am I to judge someone else?” What a dangerous conclusion to reach. We have been programmed to believe that judging others is unacceptable behavior for a Christian. but Paul clearly states, “it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT). The key phrase is “who are sinning.” We are not to judge another believer’s faithfulness. We are not to make judgments based on income, status, clothes or the color of someone’s skin. But we are to “judge” the sin in our midst. The word Paul uses for “judge” is one that can mean “to separate or pick out, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong.” We have an obligation to protect the integrity, unity and purity of the Body of Christ. When sin becomes apparent, we are to deal with it. We are to lovingly confront it. We are to call one another to repentance and restoration. But if an individual refuses to repent and continues to willingly remain in their sin, we have a responsibility to act. Paul makes it painfully simple: “…you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worship idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). Not only that, “You must remove the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13 NLT). Unrepentance trumps acceptance every time. But the truth is, we are far too tolerant far too often. We don’t want to judge. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to cause a scene. So we tolerate the presence of unrepentant, arrogant sin in our midst, and then wonder why the church is weak, powerless and a mere shadow of what Christ intended for it to be.

Father, wake us up. Give us the moral fortitude to stand up for what is right – in our own churches. Help us understand that love is not tolerance. It is not putting up with one another’s sins, but lovingly calling each other to live lives of holiness. It is understanding that the corporate well being takes precedence over a single individual’s self-indulgence. Give us the boldness to stand up for what is right and righteous. But show us how to do it in love, not anger. Help us do it for the good of the Body of Christ, not out of some sense of self-righteous indignation. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org