We are Gomer

The following is an excerpt from James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Minor Prophets.  I’m beginning this year by reading through the minor prophets first, and was immediately reminded of Boice’s love for this chapter as I read through it today. First, read through Hosea 3, then read Boice’s commentary on the chapter. Enjoy!

Hosea 3 (ESV)

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

The Greastest Chapter in the Bible – James Boice

The third chapter of Hosea is, in my judgment, the greatest chapter in the Bible, because it portrays the greatest story in the Bible – the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for his people – in the most concise and poignant form to be found anywhere. Our study of Hosea’s story has already shown that it is a pageant of the love of God for Israel, indeed, for his people in every place and age. But when we ask, “Where in the whole of human history is that love most clearly seen?” the answer is obviously, “At the cross of Christ.” It is that cross and the work accomplished on that cross that is portrayed in this chapter. Hosea 3 shows us God’s work of redemption – the work by which the Lord Jesus Christ delivered us from sin’s bondage at the cost of his own life – portrayed in Hosea’s purchase of his fallen wife from slavery.

Hosea owned his wife. She was his property. He could do anything he wished with her. If he had wanted to kill her out of spite, he could have done it. People might have called him a fool to waste his money on a worthless woman. She might have suffered far more as a slave to some beautiful woman where she wold have been obliged to fetch and serve and carry and watch and never enter into the kind of pleasures that brought her to her state in her first place. Still Hosea could have killed Gomer if he had wanted to. Yet he did not, because at this point Hosea’s love, which is an illustration of God’s love for us, burned brightest. Instead of seeking vengeance, he put Gomer’s clothes on her, led her away into the anonymity of the crowd, and claimed that love from her that was now his right. Moreover, as he did so, he promised no less from himself.

Does God love like that? Yes, God loves like that! God steps into the marketplace of sin and buys us out of sin’s bondage by the death of Christ. We read in our Bibles, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16). We ask, “What does so mean?” The answer is in Hosea’s story. When we see Hosea standing in the marketplace under orders from God to purchase his wife, who had become an adulteress and a slave, we recognize that this is the measure of God’s love.

We are Gomer. We are the slave sold on the auction block of sin. The world bids for us. The world bids fame, wealth, prestige, influence, power – all those things that are the world’s currency. But when all seemed lost, God sent the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, into the marketplace to buy us at the cost of his life.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets: Vol 1 An Expositional Commentary Hosea-Jonah. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books, 1983) pg. 31-36.

No Christmas without the Cross

fullsizeoutput_11a3The Christmas Tree is up at the Sayler house and we are preparing our home and hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth. We’ve always been very careful about how we decorate, avoiding the commercial and worldly images and themes of Christmas, and instead focusing on themes from Scripture – and this is especially noticeable on our tree.  Not quite a Chrismon Tree, all of our ornaments fall into 4 categories, Angels, Stars, Nativity Scenes, and Crosses.  Now the first three of those are readily seen in the story of Christ’s birth, but unless we keep the Cross in the story, the birth loses its meaning and purpose.  Indeed, there can be no Christmas without the Cross.

I’ve shared before from James Boice’s book The Christ of Christmas,* but I thought today I’d share just a bit from the opening chapter, The Christmas Story According to Jesus Christ. Boice finds the Christmas story according to Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-7, which is a direct quote from Psalm 40:6-8:

When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’
Hebrews 10:5–7


What is it that our Lord emphasizes in these verses? First, that He came into the world for a purpose. That is important, for it is uniquely true of Him. It cannot be said of any other person that he or she came into the world to do something. It is often true that there are purposes parents have for their children. They hope that the child lying in a crib will grow up to do something significant in this world. If the parents are Christians, they want their child to be kept from sin and be able to serve Jesus Christ. Parents have those and other aspirations. But the child does not have them. The child has to acquire them. That is why, from a Christian perspective, the child must be taught its destiny from the pages of the Word of God.

But Jesus was different. Our Lord says that He came (and was conscious of coming) for a specific purpose. Moreover, He spells that purpose out: “I have come to do your will, O God.”

What was that will? God willed Christ to be our Savior.

I do not know why it is, be we often lose a sense of that purpose in telling the Christmas story. We focus so much on the birth of the baby and on the sentiment that goes with that story – and there is a certain amount of legitimate sentimentality that goes with it – that we miss the most important things. Actually, the story is treated quite simply in Scripture, and the emphasis is always on the fact that Jesus came to die. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took a human body in oder that He might die for our salvation.  When our Lord speaks of His coming it is therefore highly understandable that He is thinking along those lines.

In the tenth chapter of Hebrews the author contrasts the sacrifices that took place in Israel before the coming of Christ – the sin offerings and burnt offerings, by which believers testified of their faith that God would accept them on the basis of the death of an innocent substitute – with Christ’s great and perfect sacrifice. It is in the context of that contrast, between the former things and that which has now come, between the shadow and the reality, that he brings in the quotations from Psalm 40. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world with a purpose, and that purpose was to do God’s will: to be our Savior. We miss the most important thing about Christmas if we fail to see that.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Christ of Christmas (Moody Press; Chicago, Ill. 1983)pg 14.

 

Think Richly Upon Jesus

This morning I came across the video of a question and answer session from the conclusion of a Ligonier Ministries Conference.  Sounds riveting, I know. In fact, it was quite informative, covering a wide variety of questions from the audience with thoughtful and pastoral answers.  One of the final questions to the panel was a powerful one, “What is the greatest threat to the Church today?”  Before reading further, how would you answer the question yourself?

We might be given to answer that it is the cultural conflicts the church is facing today that pose the biggest challenge to the Church.  Or we might answer it is the tendency toward compromise in the basic teachings of the church to become more “relevant” to the world around us. Some might even argue that it is still the “Worship Wars” which threaten the church today, the long argument over the style and content of our worship, particularly the music of worship.

While these are all important challenges that the church faces today, interestingly, that is not where the panelist focused in their answers.

The first response to what the biggest challenge facing the church today was “Not preaching the gospel.”  By this he meant losing a love for and trust in the life changing message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Becoming tired of the word, looking for worldly means to supplement the preaching of the gospel, this the challenge the church faces.

The second response was “That I lose my love or passion for Jesus.”  The panelist clarified by saying it is not that he would deny his faith, but that he would grow cold and indifferent in his affections toward Christ. This, he said, is the greatest challenge the church faces.

The third panelist said the biggest challenge the church faces is that we would have a “shallow perception of who God is; that we would take God casually.”

Notice the common thread in all of these responses?  They are all internal, not external threats to the church.  The greatest threat to the life of the church today is not the existential, philosophical, or political climate in which the church finds itself today.  It is the threat of losing our love for Jesus.

This is the charge that the Lord brought against the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Losing this love for Christ is disastrous for the church, and threatens her witness and very life. Jesus even said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we maintain a love for Christ?

I think it begins by thinking richly upon Christ and all that He is.

Think of His glory

Consider the glory of Christ the Lord:

(John 1:1–3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

(Colossians 1:15–20) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Hebrews 1:3–4)He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

That’s just a few of the passages of Scripture that make much of the glory and splendor of Christ.  If there is any deficiency in our love and adoration of Christ, it is not because he lacks any worth, but because we think too little of his worth.  Consider the wonder of who Christ is, and let His glory fuel your affection.

Think of His love

Another way to maintain our love for Christ is to consider Christ’s love

He loved the Father.  In John 14:31 Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  He lived in perfect obedience to the Father, accomplishing the work of salvation for which the Father had sent him.

Not only did Jesus love the Father perfectly, he also loved his people perfectly.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

Considering Christ’s life for us brings us into richer fellowship with hm. Ephesians 3:17–19 prays for us, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Think of His sacrifice/suffering

If we consider his love, we must also consider the depth to which he came to demonstrate or prove that love for us.

(John 3:16)“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(2 Corinthians 5:21)For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(Romans 3:23–25)for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

(1 Peter 3:18)For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

In the powerful hymn of Isaac Watts we sing

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Think of His coming in power

Thinking richly on the glory of Christ, his love and his sacrifice, are sufficient enough to fan the flames of our love for Christ.  But consider also his coming for the church in power.  He has not left us or abandoned us, but has poured our his Spirit upon the Church.  He has not ceased from his work for the Church, but continues to intercede for the Church at the right hand of God.  One day, he will return for his bride, and bring all the faithful unto himself, that where he is, we shall be also.

(John 14:3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

(Revelation 22:12–13) “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Think richly upon Christ. Look to him who is the author and finisher of your faith.  Think of Christ in his glory, in his love, in his suffering, and in his soon-coming for the church. May your consideration of Christ renew and keep your love for him!

SDG

Do This

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Luke 22:19

I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase lately.  Whenever we gather at the Table in worship, the bread is broken, the cup is poured out, and we hear the words of our Savior saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  We hear these words, we see the signs, and we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for our Salvation.  His body was broken, his blood poured out, in order to bear the wrath of God against our sins which He bore on the cross, that we should be reconciled to God and born again unto new and eternal life.

At the Table we are reminded that Christ is the only source of life, and that there is no life without Him.  In John 6 we read, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my mood abides in me, and I in Him.”  Of course, this isn’t a call to cannibalism.  Rather, Jesus is telling us that we make take Him in by trusting and believing in Him and in His atoning death.  Neither is Jesus teaching that merely pulling up to the table and eating the bread and drinking the cup will give you life.  Instead, it is through abiding in Christ, and trusting and resting in Him alone that we find life, forgiveness, strength, and peace.

So we gather at the Table. Christ commands us to “Do this in remembrance,” and so we break bread together and remember Christ’s sacrifice for our Salvation. We see the grace of God evidenced in our communion with Him and with one another. We “do this in remembrance” of Him.

But is that all that is meant by that phrase? Is that instruction tied only to the Table? Is it possible that “do this” could also mean “be broken, yourselves”?

I don’t mean to suggest in any way that Christ is calling us to try to repeat His atoning work. If that were possible, why would he have had to die in the first place.  His death accomplished our salvation, His resurrection secured our justification.  Nothing more could be added to this perfect and complete work.

But are we not also called to a certain brokenness?  The apostle Paul describes his own life as being “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith” (Phil 2:17), and even “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).  Now Paul couldn’t be saying that Christ’s suffering was deficient in any way for our salvation, for he had just written of Christ saying, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20).  What was “lacking” in Christ’s afflictions was the ongoing manifestation, the sharing in the sufferings of Christ, “carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10).  We share in Christ’s sufferings, we lay down our lives daily and take up the cross, we “do this in remembrance” so that His goodness, His love, His grace may be made known in us.

How then are we broken for others?  It is certainly seen in the persecution of the faithful; but it is not limited to such extremes.  Could not our brokenness in remembrance also be seen as we give sacrificially to support missions and the ongoing ministry of the church?  I’m not talking about giving up that extra latte each week – the luxury items you could live without – but genuinely giving sacrificially for the benefit of others. This is the type of giving that Paul honors when writing about the Macedonian churches who gave “beyond their means, of their own accord, begging … earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor 8:3-4).

But let’s get beyond money. Are not our lives to be broken, poured out, for the sake of others around us?  Are you investing in, pouring yourself out to, another person?  Are you sharing your faith with those who do not know God, and encouraging the faith of other believers?  The old hymn goes

Did Christ over sinners weep,
and shall our cheeks be dry?

If Christ was broken for the salvation of his people, and we are called to follow Him, shall we not be broken also in remembrance of Him?

The next time you gather at the Table, eat and drink in remembrance of Him. But don’t leave it there.  When you walk from that table into the world around you, be broken with Him, that all may see and wonder at the amazing grace of His redeeming love.

Surrendered Lives

In sermon preparation, there is so much material that never makes it into the message – there’s just not enough time. Often, I simply get the edification that comes from studying the scriptures so deeply, but that’s as far as it goes. Other times, it’s just too good not to share and it winds up here, on my blog.

As I’ve was studying Philippians 1:19-20 I came across the following from James M. Boice that I had to share:

If the Lord Jesus Christ is to be magnified in our bodies, our bodies must be surrendered to him… This means that the kind of life the Bible advocates is impossible for the non-Christian; it is impossible for the one who has failed to come to God solely on the merits of Christ and His atoning death on Calvary. Nothing in the unsaved man can satisfy God in the slightest degree. All acts of human sacrifice apart from Christ, all acts of self denial apart from Christ, all acts of penance apart from Christ – all these are acts of human righteousness. And God call such acts filthy rags when measured by the standards of His holiness. It is only after a man has come to Christ, accepted Him as Savior, and committed himself to Christ irrevocably, that God moves him to make that sacrifice of his body through which Jesus Christ is magnified. Have you done this? Have you made this first and great commitment? If not, you need to. For all other steps in the Christian life flow from it.

Then, too, we must surrender our bodies to the Lord to use as He determines. Merely to see this truth is not sufficient; it must also be practiced. You must practice yielding your body to Christ. You must practice living to His glory as He gives you grace to do so. You must wake with the name of Jesus on your lips and commit the day to Him. You must surrender your thoughts to Him at breakfast. You must yield yourself to Him for guiding what you say when you enter the office or the factory, or when you begin to go about your household chores. You must ask Him to take control of your eyes, that they might be given to His service. You must give Him your tongue. Moreover, you must do so each moment as each is yielded to His direction.

In such a way Jesus Christ will be truly magnified in you, and you will be more and more able to say: It is “my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing shall I be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body.”

Boice, J.M., Philippians: An Expositional Commentary. (Grand Rapids; Zondervan Pub, 1971) pg 84.

Haiti Mission 2014 – Day 1 – Love One Another

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and anyone who loves is born of God, and knows God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

We’ve made it to Bamboula Beach, in Torbec, Haiti – our center of operations for the next week on our Mission trip. It’s hot and humid here. We expected that, but I don’t think any of us were really prepared for just what kind of toll this heat and humidity can take on you. We’ll be drinking lots of fluids, and praying for a break in the heat.

Our study on the Fruit of the Spirit began tonight with a study on Love. Love is a word that gets thrown around pretty casually today. In one breath someone will say, “I love my wife,” and with the very next breath say, “I’d love a cup of coffee.” I’m hoping that our definition of love adapts to our usage.

We tend to love that which benefits us. If a bit of technology (like your phone or tablet – ahem!) makes life, work, play, a little easier – then we tend to treat those things with special attention, spend a little more time with them than we ought, and give them a central place in my life. Being here in Haiti, with no cell coverage, and iffy WIFI access, I’ve noticed how often I turn to my iWhatever whenever I don’t know what else to do. (Maybe this week away will help me enact a tech-fast – unintended blessing). Is this love – not really, but it looks and acts a lot like it.

What we learn of love in Scripture is not a love that exists for selfish gain, but rather a love that gives sacrificially. Jesus said in John 15, “Great love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Paul wrote in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 John 4:9 teaches, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, that we might live though Him.” This is love, sacrificial, merciful, giving love.

When trust in Christ for our life and our salvation, when we walk in the power of His Spirit, when we come to know the Amazing Love of God, then we will live in and grow in that love. We will love more like He has loved us.

That’s what brings us here to Haiti: Love. God loved us with a love that would bring us life and transform us with hope. Because that love has been borne in us, we serve one another in that love. We sacrifice our time at work and with our families. We do without so that we can afford to be here. We sweat through the night and long for our comfortable beds, cars, etc… But in God’s amazing love, none of it really seems like a sacrifice at all. When we consider all that He has given, whatever we give up here seems so small.

I am so honored to be able to serve a congregation, and this particular mission team, who have known the love of God, and as they grow in that love, are dedicated to loving others. I pray that over this next week, we will not only see the love of God in our own lives, but we will be able to pass that love on to those whom we serve.

SDG

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Strength in the Lord

The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
(Psalm 28:7)

Here in Cherokee we continue the ongoing work of Flood Relief, now in the middle of our third week.  We are making progress, moving houses off the clean-up list, but there is still a lot to do.  The community has really come together to provide financial relief to the flood victims, and we are doing our best to meet the needs that we know about.  The need is great, but our God is greater still, and by His grace we will continue to help those in need.

Still, in the middle of helping others, I thought it might be good to take a moment to write about helping the helpers.  After three weeks of blood, sweat, and tears, our volunteers are exhausted, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  How do you nurture your own spirit when day in and day out you are nurturing others?  How do you keep your love of neighbor from drying up like the caked mud we’ve been mucking out of basements?

Here are a few thoughts to encourage the encouragers:

You are not the Savior

When you show up to help someone in need, the gratitude and kindness you receive can often be payment enough.  But it can also go to your head.  You are providing something that they cannot do for themselves, you are a much needed kindness, you are a light in a time of darkness, but you are not the Light, you are not their Savior.

The desire to help those in need is good, the longing to give in love as Christ has given to you is beautiful, but you must always remember, you cannot meet their greatest need.  You can give everything you have, but they will still need more.  You can even lay down your life, but there is only one life that was sufficient to meet the needs of a hungry and broken world.

Remind yourself of this: “The people don’t need me, they need Christ.”  Your work should ultimately show others his goodness, his strength, the sufficiency of his care and provision

You are not strong enough

Okay, so that may not sound very encouraging, but bear with me for a moment.

In whatever you do, it is good to know your limitations.  Trying to do more than you are able can lead to disaster, both for you and for those you are trying to help.  The fact of the matter is, on your own you are not strong enough to carry the load of those around you.  If you try you will be crushed under their burden.  On your own you are not wise enough to sort out all the problems of those you are trying to help.  On your own you are inadequate for the situation at hand.

But you are not on your own.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent, to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:4-5).  He is the one who makes you adequate.  He is the one who makes you strong.

When God called Moses to deliver Israel from slavery, Moses was quick to point out his inadequacies for the job, saying, “Who am I that I should go?”  But God reminded him, “I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:11-12).

When you walk with the Lord and serve one another, the very presence of God is your strength and your shield.  His shoulders are strong enough for the burdens you carry, His wisdom is great enough for the problems you face, His arms reach to the farthest corners of the world, His hands have never failed.

Psalm 118:14  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Find your joy in the Lord

I think it is safe to say that if you don’t have joy in what you are doing, you won’t do it for very long.  No one willing stays at a job that makes him miserable.  When you are wading through the rubble of people’s lives, crying with them as you realize the magnitude of their loss, all joy can quickly fade.  Love in action hurts, and it can often rob you of your joy.

Don’t let it.  Keep your eyes on Christ, and remember all that He has done for you.  He sought you out when you were lost.  He love you when you were unlovable.  He was faithful to you when you rebelled against Him.  He bore the weight of God’s wrath for your sins though He was sinless.  He died the death that was meant for you, and rose from the dead to give you eternal life.  You couldn’t ask for a greater friend, a greater love, a stronger Savior.

When you consider the “breadth and length and height and depth… the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” such a love will fill you with joy; joy overflowing into the lives of those around you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, keep your mind on his love, his grace, his mercy; and let that be the foundation of yours.

SDG