Return to Him

S (Scripture) – Hosea 1:2 “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.'”

O (Observation) – When the word “harlotry” is used three times in a single sentence, it prompted me to investigate the meaning of the word further.  If someone is committing harlotry, it is infidelity.  Infidelity is the act of being disloyal.  When someone is disloyal, it is as if he or she has abandoned someone.  The people of Israel had abandoned the Lord who had always been faithful to them.  They were being disloyal to the One who rescued them from Egypt and never left their side.  They were committing infidelity against their God by turning away from Him in the selfish pursuit of their own desires and flesh, ignoring His persistent beckoning to return to Him.  God had been so patient with their stubbornness.  He had been sending prophets to warn His people about what would happen to their land if they continued to abandon Him.  His protection would only continue if they decided to return to Him.  God told Hosea to marry a woman of harlotry so that his family life would be a personification of how God felt about His people.  Hosea would experience firsthand the emotion that God was feeling as He watched His people consistently choose a life of dishonor and unrighteousness…the feeling of having someone you love so much consciously choose to abandon you despite your continued faithfulness.

A (Application) – Our God is a God of love, yet let us not forget that He is a holy God of righteousness.  He cannot tolerate sinful behavior that is not dealt with at the cross.  If we continue to live in a state of dishonoring those around us, and in a lifestyle of sin (lying, cheating, stealing, promiscuity, addictions, etc.), yet think that it is all alright because God loves us, we are living a lie.  God wants us to be whole, restored, transformed, redeemed, and usable by Him for His purposes.  We cannot fulfill our God-given destiny without being wholeheartedly surrendered to Him.  His faithfulness to us must be matched by our faithfulness to Him.  Not in our own strength, but by His grace and His Spirit.  Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  If we are in love with the world, or the things of the world, the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15).  Let us take a moment and ask God to examine our hearts – is there any un-forgiveness in our hearts?  What lies have we been telling to ourselves and to others?  What habit have we done so much that we have rationalized that it is fine to continue doing although we know it isn’t the right thing to do?  May we be fully committed to God’s process of making us more like Jesus, and in so doing, may we continue to grow closer to Him instead of further away.  There is no staying still.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, forgive me.  Take away the judgmental attitude and un-forgiveness.  Take away the critical spirit and irritable mind.  Instead, replace it with grace and compassion; with honor and peace.  I want to grow closer to You, Lord, with each passing day – not drift further away.  Thank You for always being faithful to me, and never giving up on my heart.  You are so good to me.

No Matter What

S (Scripture) – Habakkuk 3:17-19 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stallsyet I will triumph in the LORDI will rejoice in the God of my salvation!  Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights.”

O (Observation) – Habakkuk was just given a vision from God about what was about to take place in his nation.  Everything was about to fall apart in a catastrophic way.  There were going to be no crops, no herds, and an army that was about to put the nation under siege for two years, and literally starve them to death.  No matter what we have been through in our lives, having to go through two years of watching an entire nation and our families around us literally starve to death (or, in some cases lead to cannibalism) and the survivors being taken captive by a ferocious foreign nation would be horrific in comparison.  Habakkuk saw that this is what his precious nation of Judah was going to come to, and he was heartbroken.  Yet, he declares this statement that he will triumph in his God; that he will rejoice in Him, and that He is his strength.  He knew that the Lord was in control of the situation, and that no matter what ultimately happened on earth, that God would keep His promises to him and his nation.

A (Application) – Whatever it is that we are going through right now, we must always remember that our victory, hope, joy, and wisdom is found in the Lord.  The world around us, our family, professional advice, etc. does not have the last word over our situation.  We should place our sights on Jesus, and allow Him to change our perspective of whatever it is that we are going through.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of our day-to-day lives without stepping back to see how God may be moving.  God loves us, can be trusted, and will see us through our circumstances one moment at a time.  We must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) instead of searching high and low for answers from the world.  It’s been said by some that “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  That is a lie.  God often gives us more than we could handle in our own strength.  If we could always handle anything on our own, apart from God, why would we need Him?  He intentionally gives us more than we can handle so that we increase our faith and dependence on Him to help us through it.  The way that happens is by us declaring that no matter what is going on around us, we are trusting Him.  He will direct our steps and empower us with the Holy Spirit to get through anything.  The often quoted verse is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13),” rather than “I can do all things because God would never give me anything I couldn’t handle on my own.”

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You are faithful and can be trusted.  Despite whatever our issues are in this moment, You are still God.  You are far greater than anything we are going through, and help us to change our perspective to Yours – one that is eternal and focused on Your kingdom agenda versus us caught up in the fleeting thoughts to which we are tempted to cling.

His Timing is Perfect

S (Scripture) – Habakkuk 2:2-3 “Then the LORD answered me and said, ‘Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.  For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.  Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.'” NASB

“Write my answer plainly on tablets,
    so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
  This vision is for a future time.
    It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
    for it will surely take place.
    It will not be delayed. NLT

O (Observation) – Habakkuk was desperately crying out to God for His intervention.  He was looking all around him and wondering why God wasn’t moving in the situation…at least it looked as though He wasn’t.  God’s response to Habakkuk starts with this simple and often overlooked reassuring verse – God is saying, “Don’t worry about My timing.  My timing is perfect.  Just because you don’t see anything moving on the surface doesn’t mean there aren’t pieces falling into place as you are praying to Me.  I always keep My promises.”

A (Application) – God has promised us many things in His word, and we can trust Him.  As we look around our own lives and wonder why something we have been praying for hasn’t yet come to fruition, or as we look around our world and wonder when Jesus is going to come back and make everything right, we can rest assured that God is faithful.  He may seem slow in coming, but we must wait patiently.  Psalm 46:10 in the NLT says, “Be still, and know that I am God!  I will be honored by every nation.  I will be honored throughout the world.”  The NASB translates “Be still” as “Cease striving,” and the HCSB as “Stop your fighting…”  Instead of continuing to strive and fight in our own strength to fix the outside of what is going on around us, we must be still and know that our God is able to transform the inside of what is going on around us…something that we could never do on our own.  May we fall to our knees in prayer, and know that prayer is the only way to change everything.  Our God is never asleep – He is constantly working to move His kingdom forward as His children pray and continue to trust Him.

P (Prayer) – Lord, You are almighty, powerful, and able to do all that You say You can do.  I confess that there are things I have been praying for for a long time that have seemed to have gone left unanswered.  The answer may very well be “No,” but the answer may also be “Not yet.”  I will continue to intercede, and trust that You are moving heaven and earth under the surface to change the situation, and though I don’t see anything happening from my perspective, I am reminded that You do most of Your work in changing hearts.

Limited Perspective

S (Scripture) – Habakkuk 1:1-5 “The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.  How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear?  I cry out to You,’Violence!’ yet You do not save.  Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?  Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.  Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld.  For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.  ‘Look among the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished!  Wonder!  Because I am doing something in your days – You would not believe if you were told.'”

O (Observation) – Our perspective is so limited.  We look around us and see all of the evil in the world, the brokenness, pain, suffering, and injustice…then we cry out to God and wonder why He isn’t doing what we think He should be doing.  Habakkuk was crying out to God, wondering this exact thought.  He was beating down the doors of heaven with prayer, and didn’t see God moving in response.  The Lord answers the prophet by telling him that indeed He was up to something, and that Habakkuk wouldn’t believe it even if He told him.

A (Application) – One of the biggest lies we may be tempted to believe is that God is not real, because if He were, then there would be no suffering in the world.  God gave mankind freewill and the ability to choose our behavior.  Some people choose to act in horrific ways that are contrary to what is right.  We must continue to pray even if we don’t see the results (judgement and restoration) that we desire; we never know what God is up to.  When it may seem that everything is falling apart, it may just be that He is orchestrating the pieces to fall into place.  We must continue to trust the heart of God when we don’t experience His hand moving in our lives.  Our faith must not be shattered by what we endure in this world when we don’t see and comprehend everything that He is up to – He knows the end from the beginning, and His perspective is very different than ours.  May He lead us by the hand each step of the journey, no matter how difficult.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You know everything.  You are on Your throne.  Nothing has ever come as a surprise to You.  As we are jostled around by our emotions as we go throughout our day, may we lean into You more closely and claim the promise made by Isaiah that You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You; all whose thoughts are fixed on You (Isaiah 26:3)!

Dead Hearts Can’t Understand

S (Scripture) – Acts 28:23-29 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.  Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.  And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand, and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive, for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.”‘  Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”  When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.

O (Observation) – Paul finally had the opportunity to share the Good News with the leading men of the Jews (v.17), and solemnly testified about Jesus “from morning until evening.”  He logically and methodically explained exactly why Jesus was the promised Messiah based on the very Scriptures that these men had most likely memorized as young boys.  Yet, some believed Paul, and others did not.  How can so many people all have access to the same information, but some choose to believe the truth, and others reject it?  The same situation is still happening today all around us.  It is possible to hear without understanding, and see without perceiving.  This happens because of a heart that has become dull; the NIV uses the word “calloused.”  Jesus used the same words to explain why He taught in parables (Matthew 13:14,15), John referenced this passage from Isaiah to indicate why so few Jewish followers had responded to Jesus’ message (John 12:40), and then Paul referenced them here to explain why he was about to change the emphasis of his ministry from the Jews to the Gentiles.

A (Application) – The Greek word used for “hardening” is similar to the word for “calloused,” and means “to petrify, render insensitive.”  “Petrify” means “to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden.”  This particular word is used by Paul when writing to the church at Ephesus when he said,

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (4:17-19).”

What makes someone’s heart hardened, calloused, and as a result leaves the person unable to see, hear, and perceive the spiritual things of God all around them?  It is simply living in rebellion against the Lord – our own selfishness, pride, arrogance, and refusal to believe that we need anything or anyone to tell us who we are, or what we should, or shouldn’t be doing.  The moment we change our minds, get off the selfish train of thought going in the wrong direction, step into the right train of thought that agrees with God about who He is, who we are, what sin is, and acknowledge our need for a Savior…everything changes.  The blood of Jesus is applied to us by grace, God removes our hearts of stone, and puts a new spirit within us.

Ezekiel 11:19-21 says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God.  But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

P (Prayer) – Search my heart, O Lord.  Find anything that is displeasing to You, and empower me by Your Spirit to turn away.  I want to know You more, Lord.  It’s impossible to go deeper with You when I am still harboring sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  May my heart never become calloused from daily habits of bad choices.  Draw me closer to You.

As I Have Been Told

S (Scripture) – Acts 27:20-26, 44 “Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.  When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, ‘Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss.  Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’  Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.  But we must run aground on a certain island…'”  (Verse 44) “…And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.”

O (Observation) – Paul was on this ship in the middle of a horrific storm.  Everyone else on the ship was scrambling around trying everything they knew to keep the ship from sinking.  After exhausting all possible options, the 240+ passengers had given up all hope of making it off the ship alive.  Paul, a prisoner-in-transport, stands up boldly with this message of hope – that the God he belongs to and serves has declared a promise to him, and that he believed it.  Ultimately, everything transpired exactly as Paul had declared that it would, and every passenger made it off the ship alive.

A (Application) – God has so many promises for His children.  He declares them in His word, and will also speak truth into each of our lives if we are listening.  As we grow in our relationship with Him, we must begin to verbally declare these promises over our lives.  The God to whom WE belong and whom WE serve has promises for each of us, if we would only believe Him.  He knows the plans He has for us, plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  The Lord shall fight for us, and we shall hold our peace (Exodus 14:14).  The Lord shall go before us, be with us, will not fail us, and will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8).  If we ask, it shall be given to us; if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, it shall be opened unto us (Luke 11:9-13).  We shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us (Acts 1:8).  In the last days, God says He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17-18).  My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).  If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

These are just a handful of the thousands of promises that God makes to us in His word.  Like Paul, let us hear from Him and believe what He says.  God always keeps His promises, and He can be trusted.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, there are so many promises that You have made to us.  It breaks my heart to think of the millions of people who have never heard them before.  It is even more sad to me to think of those who have indeed heard them, but are not experiencing the freedom that comes from trusting You.  Help us to speak Your truth into our circumstances, believe what You say is true, and watch Your glory shine into our lives.

Open Our Eyes, Lord

S (Scripture) – Acts 26:14-18 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'”

O (Observation) – The picture is clear: without Jesus, people are going through this life with eyes wide shut, walking in darkness, belonging to the dominion of Satan (earth), condemned by their sins, without an inheritance with Jesus.  Faith in Jesus – through grace – results in the believer being sanctified (made holy), guarantees an inheritance with Jesus for all eternity, all sins forgiven, transferring to God’s kingdom, walking in light as opposed to darkness, with eyes opened to see what God sees.  That’s a pretty stark contrast, but very true.  Our perspective of how this plays out can be very marred by two particular sets of people – those who proclaim to be “Christians” but really don’t live any differently than the rest of the world, and some of which are even criminals committing despicable crimes, as well as unbelievers who seem to live lives that are overall pretty good, but don’t claim to follow Jesus.  How do we wrestle with that?  We are not ones to judge whether or not someone has truly met the Lord and has been transformed by Him.  That is between each and every human being and their Creator.  Matthew 7:16 says that we “shall know them by the fruit they bear.”  In other words, someone’s actions will prove whether or not he or she is a Christ-follower.  That doesn’t mean that Christian’s are perfect people, but the desire of their hearts is to be more like Jesus, and actions taken are in alignment with the Word of God.

A (Application) – Have you ever had the electricity in your house go out in the middle of the night, and then had to try and accomplish anything (e.g. going to the bathroom, finding your kids, etc.)?  When you can’t see anything, it makes accomplishing even the most simple of tasks extremely difficult.  Without Jesus, that is what it feels like to go through life.  Everything may seem like it’s going along just fine.  In reality, whenever the Word of God is sought after, everything else makes so much sense.  The chaotic world around us all of a sudden seems to be falling in line with exactly what God says is true.  Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”  The world is a very dark place, but Jesus is our guide.  His desire is to know us well, and for us to know Him.  He has so much to offer those who trust Him.  It’s just a matter of us dying to self [desires, worldliness, selfishness] (Galatians 2:20) and allowing Him to live in and through us.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, thank You for offering a better way – one that is lined with not only an eternal state of bliss with You in heaven, but one that is for the here and now.  You have not only justified us by sending Jesus to die in our place, having forgiven all of our past sins, but You also call us into a transformation process each and every day (sanctification; being made holy).  You want to continually draw us closer to Your heart, so that we become more and more like Jesus.  Open our eyes, Lord, so that we might see what You see.  Open our hearts, and come into our darkest places – heal us, restore us, purify us, and allow us to experience your times of refreshing.  Then, empower us, by Your Spirit, to share this wonderful news with others.