Hard Hearts Don’t Break, But They’ll Never Change the World

Life can be hard. The bumps and bruises we get as a toddler are nothing compared to the emotional distress of rejection in middle school. And the painful episodes in middle school don’t compare to the true heartbreak we often encounter as young adults. In a fallen world, we experience self-doubt, insecurity, rejection and loss. And it ain’t easy.

The brunt of human experience often wounds us, piercing our hearts and causing us to cover them with scar tissue that develops into hardened armor. As Paul Simon once put it, “I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock. I am an island…And a rock feels no pain; And an island never cries.” His plaintive song in the 60’s was a generational cry against pain and rejection.

Hard hearts turn us into the Spiritual Flintstones, blocking not only pain but empathy as well. Not only do we become less sensitive to others, but we become desensitized to God and what He’s about. It even reaches the point where we strut about being proud of our emotional toughness. Apparently this dynamic existed all the way back in Zechariah’s day, and the Lord called him to preach about it.

Shell Games

hard hearts

“And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint…” (Zechariah 7:8-12, NIV)

The Lord tells us through Zechariah to “Show mercy and compassion to one another…” These verses outline some universal values that God seems to think are important. And just from driving around in Dallas traffic, I’d have to say that mercy and compassion are in pretty short supply. (And that’s just in MY car; from the way many others drive, I don’t think there’s much mercy or compassion radiating from THEIR cars, either! Hard hearts are everywhere!)

The Lord encourages us to be just, to drive considerately, to help those who are less fortunate, and to refrain from plotting evil against each other. These seem like pretty simple things to do, but how well do we do them? Encountering justice and consideration in our culture is an exception rather than the rule.

What Happens When Hearts are Hardened?

Besides encouraging us to pay attention to the Lord’s values, Zechariah also says there are results that come from NOT paying attention, from stubbornly turning our backs on God, and for refusing to listen to Him: our hearts can become as hard as flint. What do you suppose he meant by that? Hardened hearts become shielded from intimacy and they block themselves off from being vulnerable or open. Hard hearts have no mercy or compassion, no love, and no life. It makes sense that if God is love, and we shield ourselves from Him, then it follows that our hearts will not reflect His attributes and character.

But stop for a minute and look at that another way: if you want to have a strong, vibrant, living heart, then pay attention to God; get face to face with Him; be teachable; and listen for His truth. Discover what His values are and try to live by them. The fastest and surest way to change the culture around you is to change the one within you. Change your heart, and change the world…

Ain’t no Feeling in Those Hard Hearts

Administer true justice, and show mercy to your brother;
Treat others with respect, and have compassion towards each other.
If you persist with selfish pride to make it on your own,
Don’t be surprised to find your hardened heart has turned to stone.
A hardened heart, the Bible says, is something you can CHOOSE:
Just don’t forget it may be more than feelings that you lose.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Zephaniah says the Almighty God Delights in You! Believe It!

There is a song your Creator is singing, and it is not the dirge of judgment or the chant of condemnation, it is the Lullaby of Delight. Often we are so focused on God’s righteousness and authority that we tend to forget His love. Zephaniah reflects on those attributes and reminds us that God is not limited to who we sometimes think He is…

Zephaniah

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV) Sometimes is it really nice to stop explaining the Bible or analyzing it just to bask for a while in one of its surprising images. Sometimes the emotional resonance outweighs the scholarly reflection.

A Warrior’s Love Song?

Look at this picture of the Lord in Zephaniah. God (the LORD, the Mighty Warrior) is WITH me, he takes great DELIGHT in me, and he REJOICES over me with singing. The Almighty God of the Universe is not just infinitely powerful, He is infinitely loving. In the middle of a book in which Zephaniah predicts death and destruction, he also offers us a depiction of delight.

The Lord is pictured here as singing over us, and the image is maternal and compassionate. While God is described as a mighty warrior, he is also at once loving and kind. Like a nesting bird protecting its fledglings, like a young mother singing a lullaby to her infant, the Lord holds us with tender love. He is not the God of vengeance who merely wants to rebuke us; He is the loving God who takes great delight in us.

Created and Called

His delight added the final touches to his creation, made perfectly to be our home until sin corrupted it. He delighted in walking with Adam in the garden. His delight brought the Ark to dry land; it was found in the bulrushes of the Nile and in the courts of the Temple in Jerusalem. God’s delight sang to us in the Psalms, and invited us into conjugal bliss in Solomon’s Song. It called to us and warned us in the prophets and spoke lovingly to us across centuries before technology or media existed.

The Lord’s delight in you was demonstrated in relationships that were far more significant than friends with benefits. He made promises to his beloved. He kept them. The Lord showed his delight in you on the cross with a stubborn love that would not let you go. The Rabbi who spoke of love and meekness became a mighty warrior who did not quit until his work was finished. Zephaniah says that the mighty warrior sings a lullaby over you.

Are You Feeling What Zephaniah Felt?

This verse has been put into a praise song that says, “Quiet me with your holy love and rejoice over me with singing.” When is the last time your prayer to God simply asked Him to sing over you? When have you listened? Can you hear it, amidst the bustle of every day, the loving voice of a singing God? He bathes you in the light of a new day; he caresses you with gentle breezes… Bask in that for a moment. Climb up into God’s lap and sit for a spell. Can you feel surrounded and protected by His presence? Do you feel His smile lighting the room because you are there?

At the close of your day, do you sense Him drawing near? Listen to his song as it comforts you and surrounds you with joyful affection. Can you hear it, full of love and affirmation? Can you fall asleep each night secure in the Father’s lullaby? Would your life change if you saw yourself as God sees you? What if you saw yourself as delightful and loveable? According to Zephaniah, you are. God takes DELIGHT in you! Next time you look in the mirror, try to see yourself the way God sees you; then smile back at God’s precious child and rejoice!

Lullaby of Love

I created you to love, to have you love Me back,
Allowing you a will, a heart– a voice!
My righteous love provided you whatever you might lack,
While Good and Evil offered you a choice…

I remember walking in the garden hand in hand,
Enjoying perfect love before the Fall;
Sin distorted everything, and Justice now commands
That Judgment be applied to one and all.

Though the world has fallen, and the garden has grown wild,
And pangs of consequence expand the night,
You will always be my joy, my treasure, and my child,
And in you I will always take Delight.

If you listen closely, you will hear amidst the noise,
A Father’s song of love is breaking through,
Calling you to leave your worldly, temporary toys!
Listen: I am singing over you.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Amazed By the Universe? What if it Had a Creator?

I was standing outside looking at the stars the other night, and it hit me again that the universe is utterly amazing. I hope I am never so jaded that I fail to be amazed by the world around me. Looking up at the infinite expanse of space, I wondered: is God the Creator of all of this, or just a figment of our imagination? Is it all made by God, or is God all made up? Is there a God who really does things?

The Bible contends that God exists, and that He is active in our universe. “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5, NIV) This sentence is something that has confounded skeptics and caused debates. Does God do amazing things?

Is God really even out there? Believers say He is. The academic intellectual doubts it. Atheists scoff at the notion. What do you think? Have you ever seen God work, or felt His presence?

Is There a Method to Decide?

Has God really ever done anything in our midst that we would not believe, even if we were told? It is easy to look the world around us and fail to see God. He doesn’t appear on command, and you can’t detect Him with your senses. On the one hand, there are those who say that the only acceptable evidence is purely empirical, based on what we can observe and analyze.

Just apply the scientific method to all that we see, and to our existence. According to science, we came from random explosions in an expanding universe that somehow interacted to synthesize amino proteins which came together to form DNA. It’s all explainable using quantum physics and scientific analysis. You just have to allow enough time for that random process to work and evolve. (I mean, lots and LOTS of time… eons and eons of it, during none of which could we actually use the scientific method to observe.)

amazed

Amazed or Not?

But on the other hand, believers say God created the universe with a design and a plan. It was also not an observable event, but it makes more logical sense to me that a rational designer created the universe with an observable design…

On the one hand, you can try to talk to God, but you’ll receive no direct answer, and hear no vocal response. But on the other hand, people speak and listen to God with surety every day.

On the one hand, we live in a world where there is cause and effect, and the things that happen can all be explained; on the other hand, people see the hand of God at work. And on that one hand, technology is altering the way we get information, and people are living in tweets and sound bites, gravitating away from reflection and contemplation. Culture resides in the here and now, not the dusty past… But on the other hand, God revealed himself through the Word, and put his wisdom and his story into a book that has to be explored and meditated upon.

Seems kinda backward of God, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t he have waited to come when He could have made the news? Wouldn’t technology have provided a better communications base than the Bible? The intellectuals of this world shoot holes in faith, and many people could say they have not really seen God. Yet Habakkuk claims that God will do something utterly amazing, which “you would not believe, even if you were told.”

“I Wouldn’t Believe it if You Told Me”

You know what? Habakkuk’s prophecy came true. God did just that. He sent his Son to earth as a fragile infant. Jesus of Nazareth said things no one had ever said, and lived as no one else had ever lived. His love and humility astounded his followers and confounded the wise. He went to the cross, in the utterly amazing story of redemption. Habakkuk was right. God did something “in your days” that no one saw coming, even though they had been told about it… It changed the nations, reshaped history, and fulfilled prophecy from thousands of years before.

God not only made everything, but God showed up. He gave us his Word, and He gave us his Son. You’ve now been told; whether you believe it or not, and whether you choose to be amazed by it is totally up to you. (By the way, if you believe it, make sure you tell somebody else about it today! They might be amazed, too!)

The Amazing God

Habakkuk said that God would do some things among the nations
Which would be quite historical, and cause some big sensations.
He said that folks would look upon God’s work and be amazed,
Yet there some who still observe and really are not fazed.
They say that God is not at work, and they can’t really see
That God has ever been at work to alter history…

They might just note that calendars are dated from the birth
Of a baby from Judea who changed everything on earth.
Read his teaching, analyze his life, and then observe
That he came not to rule the world, but to ransom it, and serve.
Habakkuk said we’d be amazed at all that God could do:
Who knew that in a baby, his prediction would come true?
I’ve been amazed by Jesus; tell me, scientist, have you?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Micah Had a Hopeless Case; But He Learned to Rise and Shine!

Most folks would say that we are living in dark times, and if you just listen to the nightly news you will be moved to feel both uncertainty and anxiety. The stress of dealing with a pandemic affects not only how we live but how we react to how we have to live. Depression casts its shadow over normally happy lives, and shadows prevail over sunshine… If you are living in darkness, Micah says you have an advocate, and that you will again be able to rise and shine.

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.” (Micah 7:7-9, NIV).

Micah

Micah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, at a time when Jerusalem seemed to have recovered some of their spiritual equilibrium under Hezekiah. After years of darkness under evil rulers, it seemed that God’s glory over Israel was about to shine again in perpetuity. Yet Micah preached that the opposite was going to happen. I’m sure he was criticized and ridiculed, and there were times when it must have seemed as if he was swimming against the current, standing alone in a culture that felt somewhat holy and successful.

How Should We Deal With Difficulty and Stress?

He says two things that are instructive. 1) He says “I wait for God my Savior”. How many times do I get impatient with God? We are the instant gratification generation, and often try to move far ahead of God’s timing or our own preparedness. Abram waited 25 YEARS for God to fulfill his promise of a son. Moses spent 40 years in Pharaoh’s court, and then 40 YEARS as a fugitive before God called him to lead Israel out of slavery. After his conversion, Paul spent at least three YEARS in the desert being prepared for his mission. Over and over the Bible illustrates that God’s timing often requires patience.

2) Micah sees God’s judgment as one hundred per cent just; he acknowledges God not only as his righteous judge, but also as his advocate. He places his fate entirely in God’s hands. Micah allows the light of God to shine into the darkest parts of his heart. It stands to reason that Micah has to tell his defense attorney everything, and he has to confess to all of his crimes. That might be especially awkward when your advocate is also your judge. In God’s courtroom, however, it is the best move to make.

Good for You

Confession is not only good for the soul, it is the key to staying right with God. David committed terrible sins, but stayed intimate with God because of his contrite confession. Micah has confidence that he has an advocate in God because he confessed.

In the New Testament words of John, it is the same with us: “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And, “if any man sin, he has an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the righteous.” (1 John 1:9, 2:1). You want to hope in the Lord? Confess. Rise after you have fallen? Confess. Live in the light? Confess. Receive defense from the best advocate ever? You got it. Take a minute this morning to confess humbly before your God. Then watch. Hope. Rise. Shine!

Micah’s Advocate

Micah lived in misery, without a hope in sight,
And yet he said with confidence, “The Lord will be my light!”
Micah stood before the court whose judgment he must face,
And yet he said “Lord I confess. Please, Father, plead my case.”
So when you stand before the bench, like me and all the rest,
Make sure you have a lawyer who will plead your cause the best;
In this case you will have the greatest chance if you’ve confessed.
Even though there may be darkness covering your eyes,
Confess, and let God plead your case, and see His light, and Rise.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Day of Judgment: It’s Coming. Don’t Feel Too Smug About It

(For those of you following along since Easter on Linked In or WordPress, you have now covered the first thirty Books of the Bible. We started after Easter in Genesis and have been reading day by day straight through into the Minor Prophets. In another month or so we will have enjoyed devotional thoughts from all 66 books…)

A Pretty Straightforward Message

Here’s day Thirty-one: If you are pretty secure about what you believe, you may feel a little smug sometimes. (Thank goodness I know the Lord, but it’s too bad about all those other folks!) As Christians, we often gravitate to an “insider-outsider” paradigm, happy to be safe within the “circle of trust”.

Amos warned against feeling too smug or taking anything for granted: “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.” (Amos 5:18-19, NIV).

I worry sometimes about us Christians… Wrapped in the cloak of grace, we feel immune from God’s judgment. We get puffed up sometimes, feeling secure enough in our salvation to condemn those with more obvious sins. We live in nice houses and dress up and go to church while there are needy and hungry people in our cities. Some Christians can easily see how much others need to repent while we feel inwardly proud of our own spirituality. We may not blatantly mistreat sinners, but we sure don’t tolerate them and we feel secretly glad that it isn’t us.

Don’t Assume

day


We pick and choose Scripture, ignoring Christ’s admonition that we should not judge others, lest we ourselves be held to the same standard of hypocritical self-righteousness. We think we are ready for the day of the Lord, but Amos says that may be presumptuous at best. Revelation 20:12 tells us that the dead will all stand before the throne to be judged according to their works. As a Christian, I believe that I am saved from the eternal penalty of sin; but nowhere in the Bible do I read that I am exempt from standing before God and giving account. Neither are you.

There will be signs given on earth that the Day of the Lord is coming. When it happens, it should not surprise anyone who knows the Scriptures, but how many people really understand that? Jesus speaks of the birth pains preceding his return, saying there will be wars, earthquakes and famines— “because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Mark 13:19). Recent events have people wondering a bit, but I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic is merely a warm-up, a reminder that the day is coming.

Judgment Day

The Day of the Lord will be preceded by conflict and anguish, by upheaval and disaster, and it will usher in the judgment of all men, great and small. Joel called it “great and dreadful”.
Amos says that some who outwardly express the desire for Christ to return may be blind to how unprepared they really are for such an event. Their assumptions about security may be mistaken, and they may find that the earthly identity and possessions that made them feel immune from judgment are really an illusion.

Amos challenges our smug assumptions and false security by asking, “Why do you long for the day of the Lord?” He makes me think that I better have my heart ready for that Day, because my place in it may be way different than I assume. I am often ready to judge others, as if I myself were somehow above that possibility… When we feel self-righteous, we piously call for God to judge the wicked. What Amos is really saying is, “Be careful what you wish for…”

That Day

The whole idea of Judgment Day should make us think again;
We’ll stand before the Lord, and He will judge the souls of men.
Every man will face His judgment, whether great or small,
And as we stand before His throne, the Lord will judge us all.

Many of us think that we don’t have to be committed,
That if we just acknowledge Him, then we will be acquitted;
And yet we live with petty sins, we judge the other guys,
We live in Satan’s kingdom, and we listen to his lies,
Assuming we are safe, while feeling pretty smug and wise,
Praying Jesus would come soon. Well, try this on for size:
For many folks the Judgment Day will be a big surprise!

Fear the Lord! extend His Grace and Love to every man,
And take as many folks to heaven with you as you can.
It is not your job to judge the people, or to smite them;
Tell them all about God’s kingdom: Love them, and invite them.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Locusts of Sin Bring Destruction to Everything they Touch

I remember seeing an old movie about some settlers on the prairie who were attacked by a swarm of locusts. The insects literally darkened the sky like a cloud and brought darkness and fear everywhere they went. These clouds of millions of bugs literally consumed all of the crops in their path. These kinds of swarms of Locusts came sweeping through Biblical lands from time to time, eating crops, consuming future food supplies and leaving devastation in their wake…

locusts

Why Judgment?

Here in the 30th book of the Bible, Joel compares the judgment day of the Lord to such an event, a time of fear and devastation. “The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity…Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things! “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…“ (Joel 2:11-13; 21; 25, NIV)

Since you and I have probably never been swarmed over by millions of locusts, it’s instructive for us to consider what does indeed bring destruction into our lives, and what causes pain, loss, and devastation. It’s also what connects us irrevocably to God’s judgment. which the Minor Prophets are so good at pointing out. We live in a fallen, broken world, and we are subject to the Lord’s judgment because of sin. Our self-will and disobedience bring the locusts destruction into our lives even though (as Joel points out) our Father’s desire is to be gracious and compassionate.

Not so Minor

The “Minor” prophets delivered messages that warned about the impending Day of the Lord, a day of judgment and calamity brought about by the unfaithfulness of Israel. God’s intent to allow judgment to fall on Israel is a major theme in the Minor Prophets. Israel is warned that if they keep following little gods, they will indeed encounter justice at the hands of the Living God.

There is, however another theme that stands out like a beautiful flower growing alone on a rough mountain ledge: restoration. God sends the warnings repeatedly to call Israel back to Himself. We have the benefit of hindsight, and yes, Israel left God; they experienced the total devastation akin to locusts eating all of their crops. At the risk of trivializing calamity,  the warnings God gave are actually more significant than the real tragedies that befell Israel.

Truth and Consequences

God’s consistent message was: Sin has consequences, and if you choose to live in sin, you will experience devastation and death. Stay with me, and you’ll be safe and protected. Return to me in genuine, heart-felt repentance, and you will know nothing but grace and compassion. If you don’t choose the locusts of sin, you’ll have my blessing instead!
Two thoughts occur to me here: we all have a tendency to “rend our garments but not our hearts.” First, acting like a Christian for others to see is not the same thing as being yielded and sold out to God. (I know this from years of experience). Remember that He looks upon our hearts, not just our outward behavior.

Second, when we turn to our Father with genuine humility, God will restore us. In Old Testament times, people who felt compelled to repent made a public display of it, tearing their clothes and laying prostrate on the street. Joel tells us to turn to the Lord, to rend our hearts and not just our garments. He says that God intends to make us whole, and to rebuild what our sinful choices have torn down, what the locusts of sin have destroyed. (I also claim this is true, based on years of experience.)

After all that Job went through, after all of the devastation and loss, when he turned back to God, his life was restored. Job 42:10 says “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” His repentance resulted in restoration and revival. It didn’t undo all of the damage that had been done, but it did give Job restoration and a fresh start. So, rend your heart instead of your garments! If you are acting like a Christian but harboring locusts, clean house!

After Locusts, Restoration

Farmers labored every day to earn a living from their fields,
Applying muscle, toil and sweat to try to get the greatest yields.
And then the cloud appeared– you couldn’t even do the math–
As locusts by the millions brought destruction in their path.
They ate the crops, the flowers, and they even ate the grass;
They only thought of selfish appetite when they would pass.

Well, sin is just like that. It only thinks of selfish things,
And doesn’t even care about the destruction that it brings;
It comes into your life and can destroy your peace of mind,
Without regard to all the pain and death it leaves behind…
God said, “Turn to me with all your heart, and not for show–
And I will give you grace, and let compassion overflow.”

If sin has hurt and knocked you down, don’t think that you are beaten
For God says he’ll repay you for the lost years that were eaten!
If you can turn away from sin, and simply trust the Lord,
You may just be surprised to see the things that He restored.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Restoration for the Smitten Suitor and the Unfaithful Wife

Sin threatened to destroy the relationship between the Smitten Suitor and the wayward bride. Only one thing could bring them Restoration. The Book of Hosea is one of the most unusual and interesting in the Bible, and it tells a story about love and restoration that will expand whatever boundaries you have about both of those words.

A Surprising Vow

After both his heart and their wedding vows have been broken by an unfaithful bride, the groom pulls himself together and makes another vow: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master’”. (Hosea 2:14-16, NIV).

Hosea’s prophecy compares Israel to an unfaithful wife who committed all manner of adulterous acts. (It’s interesting that Hosea chooses a wayward bride, since our stereotypes might suggest that husbands are far more likely to be unfaithful than wives…His prophetic allusion is probably driven by our role as the Bride of Christ, and the fact that the Lord referred to himself as a husband several times in the OT.) In this prophecy, the Lord is her wounded husband whose passion cannot stem the righteous indignation and judgment his wife deserves. And yet in the middle of his anger and grief, these verses remind us that God has something else in mind for his wayward wife: restoration.

restoration

He not only promises to restore their relationship, he intends to woo her and speak tenderly to her. Just as I am often startled by the Old Testament promises of swift and certain judgment by a righteous God, I find myself equally surprised by this picture. God is the passionate and loving husband who has been cheated on and lied to, embarrassed and hurt to the core by his wife’s infidelities. This jealous and passionate God dispenses not swift and terrible judgment or even vengeance, but instead tender unfailing love.

Loving Groom or Vengeful God?

God’s people (His wife, if you will) have stopped worshipping the Lord and started giving their affection to other things, like money, status, control, or power. Hosea points out that Israel has forgotten her first love and traded it for shallow pagan rituals and illicit unions. They are estranged, and their relationship cries out for restoration with their creator and deliverer.

Let me make two observations: First, God is an emotional God. I think we sometimes feel like He is enthroned remotely, dispassionately over the universe, but remember: we are made in his image. We tend to think of God as a Judge; He thinks of us as a beloved spouse. The emotional winds that blow through us are shadows of the powerful emotions the Lord feels. He loves us wildly, completely, and powerfully, which leads logically to the second point: God’s love for you may be far deeper than you realize.

More Than a Feeling

God’s love is not a theological construct, and it’s not a Bible verse. It’s not even a religious love story told on a grand cosmic scale. It’s a passionate romance that includes betrayal and restoration. God is a lover smitten with His beloved; even when she betrays him (and, oh, she betrays him all the time!) He is reaching out to call her back. He plans to allure her, to shower her with affirmation and gentleness, to speak tenderly to her.

The Lord will woo her with grace when He has every right to destroy her with judgment… He says that he loves her SO much that he will forgive her unfaithfulness and restore her as his one true bride, even though she hurt him so deeply. Stop now, for just a moment, and think about who the bride is in this story.

Israel was so callous as to turn her back on the Lord, to ignore His loving pleas, and to go off chasing other (little) gods… Think about Hosea’s message and reflect on Israel’s unfaithfulness. They traded love for something less; they pursued selfish temporary satisfaction in place of abiding affection. How foolish could they be? How could they fail to see the error of their ways? Certainly they should have realized what they were missing. Say… when’s the last time you cheated on God?

Closer Than You Think

We think of God as in command,
Enthroned out in some distant land,
The Righteous Judge who now condemns
The actions and the hearts of men.
And yet He sends us tender notes,
And fills His word with loving quotes,
Reminding us that His great love
Could never be expressed enough.

No matter what you think you’ve heard
Look deeper through His written word,
And then perhaps you’ll make a start
To see what’s written in His heart.
Look deep and see how much He feels!
You’ll find that He’s head over heels,
And even when you run away,
He’ll woo you every single day.
Discover, when you’ve gone off track,
Your Lover always wants you back.
Listen, now: His love is strong.
His love erases every wrong,
So listen: you can hear His song
Wooing you back where you belong…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread