A Loving Father.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. – Hosea 11:1-4 ESV

Sometimes, because God is transcendent and invisible to our eyes, we can see Him as distant and difficult to comprehend. After all, He is the creator of the universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is sinless and perfect in all His ways. So we find it hard to relate to Him. While we speak of His love and rely upon His grace and mercy, it’s not always easy to feel those things in daily life. After all, we can’t experience a hug from God. We have never been able to talk a walk with Him and have Him put His arm on our shoulder to encourage us. There is a sense in which His transcendence makes Him unapproachable and somewhat aloof to us. But God would have us see Him as our Father. In fact, He uses the imagery of fatherhood throughout the Scriptures. And Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to approach God in prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).

Here in chapter 11, God addresses the people of Israel as a father would speak to his child. He reminds them of their past and jars their collective memory in order to get them to recall what their relationship with Him used to be like. He had been like a father to them. They had been like a helpless child, trapped in the bonds of slavery in Egypt. They were oppressed. They were crying out in pain and suffering. And God had heard them. When He had called Moses, God had told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 NLT). And that is exactly what He had done. He had rescued them, set them free and led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

God had shown the people of Israel unconditional love. He had rescued them, not because they deserved it, but because of His love for them. And yet, their response to His love had been to refuse it. The failed to recognize and appreciate the incredible miracle that the God of the universe had chosen to shower His love on them. He had adopted them as His own and yet, they had treated His love with contempt. The prophet Isaiah recorded these indicting words from God against the southern kingdom of Judah.

Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. – Isaiah 1:2-4 NLT

They were corrupt children who had rejected the love of God. And God uses the imagery of a father teaching his child to walk to illustrate just how painful their rejection of Him was. He had held their hand and lovingly, patiently guided their every step. He had walked alongside them, steadying their way and ensuring their safety. And then had inevitably fallen, He had lovingly healed them. Just like any earthly father would have done. It was Jesus who said of His heavenly Father, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV). God is a faithful, loving Father. And yet, Israel, His adopted children, had forsaken Him for false gods. He had “led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 ESV), but they had chosen to reject His love and come out from under His protection. Those cords of kindness and bands of love, portrayed through His holy law, had been intended to provide them with loving protection. Like a father’s rules for his children, God’s law was meant to provide appropriate boundaries and protective guidelines for their lives. But they had repeatedly broken God’s laws. They had seen them as oppressive and overly restrictive. But now they were going to understand what the yoke of oppression was really like. The generation to whom Hosea spoke had long ago forgotten the trials and tribulations their ancestors had gone through in Egypt. Slavery was not something to which they could relate. They had been born free and had enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a powerful, successful nation where problems were few and the blessings of God had been many. But the love of the Father had not been enough to hold their attention or keep them faithful.

When we fail to recognize God’s love, His fatherly care and protective presence in our lives, we find it easy to walk away from Him. Like the prodigal son who only saw his father as a source of financial blessing, we can overlook and take for granted our heavenly Father’s unceasing, undeserved love, care and protection. We can end up wanting what we can get from Him more than we want Him. We can treat Him as some kind of genie in a bottle, obligated to grant our wishes and fulfill our every self-centered desire. But God would have us realize just how much He loves us. The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). And God demonstrated just how much He loved us in a powerful and very costly manner. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The Father’s love for His children is real. It is boundless and tireless. It is patient and unceasing. And Paul would have us come to grips with the startling reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself” (Romans 8:31-33 NLT).

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Isaiah 21-22, 1 John 2

Love of the World.

Isaiah 21-22, 1 John 2

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  1 John 2:15-16 NLT

Our love affair with the world comes in all kinds of shapes and forms. Sometimes we simply love what the world has to offer – its pleasures and attractions, promises and appeals to our pride. Other times we reveal our love of the world through our tendencies to turn to it for deliverance from difficulties and salvation from life’s sorrows. The people of Judah were guilty of forsaking God and replacing His role in their lives as their Savior, Lord and King. They had made a habit of turning to the world as the solution to their problems. Not only did they put their hope in foreign nations, they actually worshiped the false gods of those nations. The people of God in Isaiah’s day were addicted to and craved physical pleasure. They were driven by their senses. And they took tremendous pride in their own accomplishments and material attainments. But just as John warned his readers that “the world is passing away along with its desires,” so God warned the people of Judah that their world of false idols, replacements gods, and psuedo-saviors were going to be done away with. Babylon was going to fall. So would Edom and Arabia. Even the city of God, Jerusalem, would eventually fall at the hands of outside forces in 586 B.C.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God never intended for man to love this world. Even when the creation was free from the effects of sin, it was intended to remind mankind of the one who created it. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that man was never intended to worship the creation. “So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:25 NLT). We are to love the Creator God, not the creation of God. But when John refers to our love affair with the world, he is not speaking of physical creation, but he uses the Greek word, kosmos. In this context, he seems to be referring to what Strong’s Concordance refers to as “the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ.” There is nothing inherently wrong with earthly goods, riches, or pleasures, but when we treat them as gods, we allow them to replace the one true God in our life. We expect from them what we should only expect from God Himself. The people of Judah had come to expect salvation from foreign nations. They had learned to seek pleasure from false gods and the immoral religions associated with them. They had made a habit out of seeking pleasure rather than holiness. They were driven more by their sensual desires than by spiritual appetites. And God was neither pleased nor tolerant. John so starkly reminds us, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). 

What does this passage reveal about man?

When we love the world and the things it offers, it manifests itself in desires that come from our sin nature, rather than the Holy Spirit. It shows up as a insatiable lust for things we see and can’t seem to live without. It also reveals itself in an unhealthy pride in our possessions. We tend to become what we own. Our identity becomes wrapped up in the outward accouterments of life. In other words, the phrase, “the clothes make the man” becomes a form of truth for us. We believe we are what we own, what we have accomplished and how we are perceived by the outside world. But God would have us remember, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). God is not impressed with our exterior. He is not swayed by what we wear, drive, or live in. He looks at the condition of our hearts. Even so-called religious acts do nothing to impress God if our hearts are not in them. Later on, in chapter 29 of the book of Isaiah, God will declare of the people of Judah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that the outside is far more important than the inside. We have allowed ourselves to fall in love with the world’s version of the truth. We have listened to the lies of the enemy and bought in to his convincing offers of hope, healing, satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. But God’s people are designed to turn to Him as their only source for all their needs. He alone can deliver what they are looking for.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John goes on to remind us, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28 ESV). We are to abide in Christ. That word, abide, literally means “to remain in” or “to be held, kept.” It carries the idea that we are to stay focused on and at rest in the saving work of Jesus Christ. We are to seek our satisfaction in Him and no one or nothing else. It is He who keeps us and sustains us in this life. The world will constantly offer false hope and a form of pseudo-salvation, but it will always disappoint and fall short. John would encourage us to remember that not only can we abide in Him now, we will be able to abide in Him for all eternity. “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.” (1 John 2:24-25 NLT). Our hope is in Christ, right now and for eternity. We can abide in Him. We can rest in Him. We can find all that we need in Him. There is no need to love the world or the things it offers. Those things will pass away, but our relationship with God the Father through Christ the Son is eternal and everlasting, and worthy of our total trust and commitment.

Father, the world can be a pretty enticing place. The things of this world can be a huge distraction and cause us to lose our focus on You and Your Son. Help us to remain in You. Help us to find all our help, hope, happiness and ultimate satisfaction in Your Son and His saving work on the cross. There is nothing this world can offer that Christ has not already provided through His sacrificial death on my behalf. Amen

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