The Fruit of Repentance

S (Scripture) – Matthew 3:1-2, 7-10

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

…But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.  The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

O (Observation) – Lord, I remember the first time I read this verse many years ago – it stopped me in my tracks.  I had grown up in the Roman Catholic church, going through all of the rituals and ceremonies prescribed to me at various ages, served as an altar girl, read as a lectern, and even gave the eucharist and wine as a eucharistic minister.  Despite all of the external facade of holiness, I was broken inside.  I had so many areas of my life that needed to be healed, restored, and dealt with in regards to sin.  I didn’t know You personally then, and as I read these words, I felt for the very first time that Jesus really wanted more than just my service on Sunday.  I realized that it is possible to appear righteous and in step with You, yet be a broken and hypocritical liar to the rest of the world.  To repent means “to turn around,” or “to change one’s mind.”  In other words, we surrender ourselves to You and what You say is true, stop walking in our current direction that leads to even more destruction, and start following after You for the rest of our lives.  1 John 1:6 says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;…”  I knew then what it was like to be that person.  To feel so conflicted about what I say with my lips I believe and what I continue to do in the flesh.  The religious leaders that were coming to John the Baptist were wanting to be baptized (an external expression) without the inward change of heart.  Simply going through a religious ritual and experience is not going to please You.

A (Application) – The concept of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance means that our lives and actions should accurately reflect the work that God is doing in our hearts after committing ourselves to Him.  Are we the same people we were years ago before we were saved by grace?  We shouldn’t be.  Maybe we tell ourselves we have trusted Christ, but we continue to lie, cheat, abuse alcohol or drugs, live sexually immoral lives, harbor bitterness and un-forgiveness, and flat out refuse to surrender to God and His word on other matters we face.  If we have been born again into the family of God, the Holy Spirit’s process of combing through our hearts and minds and removing all that is not from God begins.  Our Christian walk, if it is healthy, should mature – this ultimately leads to bearing fruit in keeping with repentance…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control…generosity, forgiveness, a heart without bitterness, lips without lying, and intimacy that honors God.

P (Prayer) – Precious Jesus, thank You for saving me from the wretch I used to be.  Your grace is amazing, and without You I have no idea where I would be right now.  Holy Spirit, continue to guide me each and every moment – reveal to me anything that I am doing, saying, watching, thinking about, or believing that is not pleasing to You.  1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Father God, I want everything I do to be pleasing to You and give You glory.

And So It Shall Be

S (Scripture) – Matthew 2:4-6, 13-15, 17,22-23

Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he [Herod] inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'”

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the  Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up!  Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”  So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.  He remained there until the death of Herod.  This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

[Herod orders all of the boys age 2 and under to be killed in the region Jesus was born]  “Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled…”

But when he [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there.  Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

O (Observation) – Father God, You have given man free will to choose whom we will serve, and what we shall do.  Some may ask: How is it, then, that You know the end from the beginning…?  How can the prophets be so accurate in proclaiming the future events in Your agenda if those decisions by men and women have yet to be made?  The answer is both simple and complicated.  Lord, You exist outside of time and space.  You see the beginning and the end because You are the beginning and the end.  Our finite minds can only comprehend our one dimension of time, space, matter, what can be seen and touched.  As the song says, “You’re standing at the end of my life waiting on the other side…You’re already there.”  Just because You know exactly what we are going to do before we do it doesn’t make it any less of a choice in the moment in which we are making the decision of our own free will.  You are able to take our series of decisions and work together Your kingdom plan for Your purposes.

A (Application) – According to Reasons.org, there are approximately 2,500 prophecies written in the Bible, of which 2,000 have been fulfilled without error.  The 500 that are left speak of future events that have yet to occur, but are getting easier to see unfold as each day goes by.  The probability for any one prophecy to be fulfilled averages less than one in ten, so the probability of all of the 2,000 prophecies that have been fulfilled without error is less than one in 102000 (that is 1 with 2,000 zeros written after it)!  In my opinion, the fact that we still have 500 prophecies left to go with a track record of perfection for those that have already occurred stands to reason that we are very much wrapped up in God’s story.  It drives me to want to learn more about what God has to say, since everything happens precisely as He says it will.  God and His word can be trusted.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You are truth.  Your word is truth.  In a world of constantly changing and progressive values, ideals, and preferences, You never change.  You are the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  I’m so thankful that You can be trusted.  You have given us the gift of prophecy so that we can have a glimpse of what is to come – this gives us hope to know what we can count on from You as each day goes on.  I pray for all those who live life apart from the hope that can only be found in You – may they step aboard the flight of faith in order to see the world from Your perspective…things look very different from 30,000 feet above, rather than walking down the street.  Change our perspective, Lord.

God With Us

S (Scripture) – Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

O (Observation) – It’s so easy to read past this first chapter of Matthew with the long list of genealogies and miss this most incredible statement…God with us.  Many people incorrectly assume that Jesus only began to exist when He was born as a man to Mary on earth.  Many also incorrectly assume that the beginning of all things happens in Genesis 1:1 when God created the earth.  This epic God-story is so much bigger than just the earth. John 1:1-3 lays it out for us:

“In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – three distinct persons, equal in essence – have always existed.  God the Father sent God the Son crashing into time in order to dwell among us, that He might live a sinless life and ultimately do what we were unable to do so that He might die in our place.  How great is the love of our God for us!

A (Application) – Tony Evans says that there are really only two types of “religion” in our world today: those that prescribe a method of approaching “god” with things to do, things to say, actions to perform, etc. in order to work our way toward something vs. the one true God reaching out to us.  Nothing that we do can earn our way into God’s kingdom.  When Jesus came to be with us and sacrificed Himself in our place, He won the victory.  The cross of Christ is enough – everything else that we “do” to develop our spiritual disciplines (e.g. prayer, fasting, meditation, serving, journaling, etc.) are wonderful and necessary for maturity in our faith, but it is not the catalyst for earning our way into God’s presence.  Our behavior is different based on our receiving Christ’s free gift, not based on how much we strive to be different/better.  It is the Holy Spirit that drives change in our lives from the inside out – not the “sin management” that much of the world tries to perpetuate.  May we relish in the fact that our God loves us so much that He reaches down from heaven and pulls us “out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,” and “set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm (Psalm 40:2).”

P (Prayer) – God in Heaven, thank You for drawing us close to Your heart through Your kindness, Your love, and Your relentless pursuit of our hearts.  You don’t force Yourself on anyone, but it’s impossible to deny the longing You’ve placed in our hearts for truth.  You became a man and dwelt among us – showing us how to live, what is right, and the nature of Your heart.  Change me, Lord, from the inside out to be more like You.  Change my thoughts, my intentions, and my desires to be in line with Your truth.

The Ways of the Lord are Right

S (Scripture) – Hosea 14:8-9 “O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?  It is I who answer and look after you.  I am like a luxuriant cypress; from Me comes your fruit.  Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them.  For the ways of the LORD are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them.” NASB

“Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods.  From now on I’m the one who answers and satisfies him.  I am like a luxuriant fruit tree.  Everything you need is to be found in me.  If you want to live well, make sure you understand all of this.  If you know what’s good for you, you’ll learn this inside and out.  God’s paths get you where you want to go.  Right-living people walk them easily; wrong-living people are always tripping and stumbling.” Message

O (Observation) – Lord, when will we learn that You know what You are talking about?  So many times in our lives we proclaim with our lips that we are trusting You with everything, yet we still lead a life devoid of Your power and peace; we continue to strive in our own strength, worry and anxiety dominate our thinking, and we can become consumed with ridiculously unimportant minutia that floods through our day…and we miss it.  We miss the kingdom work that You have for us to do.  You are the One who answers and looks after us.  From You comes our fruit.  It’s all from You, all about You, and the enemy wants so desperately for us to believe the lie that it isn’t.

A (Application) – Satan knows that “those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).”  Satan knows that the Lord “will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him; all whose thoughts are fixed on Him (Isaiah 26:3).”  Lord, Your ways are right, and You offer a life of peace, joy, victory, and eternal security.  Yet so many choose to disregard You, and exchange the truth of You for a lie, and worship created things rather than their Creator (Romans 1:25).  As a result, these people are broken, making their way through life trying to make sense of the world around them, and attempting to find answers to life’s deepest questions within themselves.  Truth, by definition, cannot be relative.  Today’s post-modern world would have us believe that my truth is true for me, and someone else’s different truth is true for them, and somehow, it all can be true, without error, simultaneously.  This is absurd.  John 18:37 records the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, “Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king.  For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  We can have confidence in Jesus that His words are true – Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  May we stop searching for answers in all the wrong places.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, as we look around at our world today and see all of the brokenness, emptiness, and tragedy that is occurring, it is tempting to wonder what is “wrong” with You – I read something recently where a person I have great respect for asked this question, “What is wrong with our world?  And with our God?”  It stopped me in my tracks – there is nothing wrong with You…our world has intentionally chosen in incremental steps to reject You and Your truth, walk away from Your ways, silence those who would say otherwise, sue those who fail to fall in line with the majority, and make it illegal to say Your name or pray in schools.  We are then interestingly shocked at what happens – it is impossible to maintain a land of peace and righteousness when the people of the land shut You out.  What we are seeing today is only the beginning of the fruit of our harvest.  I pray that all would come to a knowledge of the truth, and instead of questioning what is wrong with You, that we would rather look within – what are we doing for You, and for Your kingdom?  Show us, Lord, what it is that You have for us to do, and empower us to follow through in Your strength.  Rebuild our nation, one family at a time…one person at a time.

They Forgot Me

S (Scripture) – Hosea 13:2-6, 9-10  “And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves molten images, idols skillfully made from their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen.  They say of them, ‘Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!’  Therefore they will be like the morning cloud, and like dew which soon disappears, like chaff which is blown away from the threshing floor and like smoke from a chimney.  Yet I have been the LORD your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me.  I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought.  As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot Me…It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against Me, against your help.  Where now is your king that he may save you in all your cities, and your judges of whom you requested ‘Give me a king and princes?'”

O (Observation) – Lord, the words You use to describe Israel’s future are chilling – morning cloud, dew which soon disappears, chaff which is blown away, and smoke from a chimney – all of these things vanish in the blink of an eye.  They are no more stable and secure than a mist.  Why would anyone want to place his or her trust in something so fleeting?  Yet we all have done it.  Instead, You are the Almighty God, the same yesterday, today, and forever, the One capable of caring for us, restoring us, rescuing us, protecting us, sustaining us, and have promised us eternity with You for those who know You through Jesus.  You are eternal, know the end from the beginning, and this is Your story that we are living in…why on earth would anyone trust in anything other than the Creator of all things?

A (Application) – Something bizarre happens when mankind experiences “their pasture” and “become satisfied.”  Our hearts become proud, and people forget about You – instead, trust is placed elsewhere – political leaders and ideologies, military strength, peace treaties, international alliances, our own wisdom, our GDP, our own careers, retirement accounts, and a laundry list of other sources that we worship and focus on more than on You.  It is easy for me to see how this happened to Israel – the decay of the nation was progressive in nature, just as it is in our own day now.  Each year, and each subsequent generation is further away from the truth of God, resulting in prayer and God being removed from schools, further intentional “separation of church and state,” and the church’s failure to intentionally disciple the next generation of Christ followers with truth and love.  The enemy’s agenda is progressing, by breaking down the fundamental component of society – the family.  Men are not rising to the occasion of being the spiritual leaders of the home, women are not honoring and respecting their husbands as the leaders of the home, children are in rebellion against the authority of their parents and dishonor them without shame, bitterness and un-forgiveness plague generations of loved ones, adults – both young and old – are believing lies about the purpose and place of sex within a covenant marriage between a husband and wife, and money is tearing apart families at the seams because it oftentimes is not being handled in a God-honoring way.  Even though these consequences of our decisions over the last 50 or so years have clearly resulted in the decay of the family within our culture, progressive ideals claim that we are indeed, making progress.  In our satisfaction apart from You, we are like pigs that sit within our own filth and enjoy it.  Every day we hear of the hatred and violence that is brewing within the hearts of those around us, and tragedy after tragedy keep occurring…yet we wonder why all of this is “suddenly” happening and act surprised.  If only we could understand as a nation what it means to know You fully, to depend on You only, and submit to You completely, we would experience a time of restoration like no other.  Only Your love and healing can fix the brokenness of our day.  Oh, how I long for the future with You that You have promised us.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, thank You for truth.  Thank You for restoration.  Thank You for Your promises.  I pray that all who do not currently know You intimately would be drawn to Your kindness.  Instead of believing the lies about Your nature, Your character, Your word, and Your intentions, I pray that they would seek Your face, and that You would show Yourself to them in a mighty way; that they would understand how much You love them.

Forever Unchanging, Forever Faithful

S (Scripture) – Hosea 12:6 “Therefore, return to your God, observe kindness and justice, and wait for your God continually.” NASB

So now, come back to your God.  Act with love and justiceand always depend on Him.” NLT

O (Observation) – Lord, I see You giving the children of Israel and Judah three simple steps to follow in order to turn away from their lifestyle of self-sufficiency, trusting in anything else other than You, and celebrating brokenness and iniquity rather than healing and restoration.  Step 1 is to “return” to You; to “come back” to You.  This implies that You are a covenant God that has already made Your promise to them.  You haven’t gone anywhere – they were the ones to slowly drift away from You.  All they needed to do was acknowledge this, and recommit their hearts and minds to following You and Your ways.  Step 2 was to “observe kindness and justice,” and other translations use the words “love and justice” or “mercy and justice.”  The premise is for them to treat others with kindness, mercy, and love in a heart of service to them, while also being fair and consistent in all matters.  This same command is given in Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Step 3 is a state of being – to actually depend on nothing else other than You for everything, always.  This means to release anything in our lives that we have allowed to take Your place…anything that we’ve come to depend on other than You alone.  Our careers, our connections, our own skills and talents; having self-confidence is healthy and necessary, but having confidence solely in ourselves apart from You is self-sufficiency and a very dangerous state in which to live.  Everything changes, and nothing is forever…except for You.  When everything is falling apart and everything we trusted fails us, You will still be there – forever unchanging, and forever faithful.

A (Application) – If we have found ourselves straying away from the truth of God, all we must do to come back into alignment with Him is follow the same three steps – acknowledge the need to return, act on our change of heart by treating others well, and depend on God alone each and every day.  He is faithful, and will be right there waiting for us with open arms.

P (Prayer) – Lord of Heaven and Earth, You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  It’s us that changes.  Sometimes that means we drift away from Your covering and think we know best how to live our lives apart from You.  Thank You for Your mercy and patience as we find our way back to Your heart.  Thank You for always being ready to receive us as sons and daughters.  You can be trusted.  You can be depended upon.  Our hope in You is secure.

Compassions are Kindled

S (Scripture) – Hosea 11:8-11 “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I surrender you, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled.  I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again.  For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.  They will come trembling like birds from Egypt and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will settle them in their houses, declares the LORD.”

O (Observation) – Just as a mother or father doesn’t long to execute consequences with his or her children, so our Heavenly Father doesn’t look forward to carrying out judgement.  Our God is One of compassion and love, and if we would only heed His word and listen to Him then He would never have to follow through on judgement for such unrighteousness.  He sent prophet after prophet to warn the people of what was going to happen if they chose to continue turning from Him, yet they “refused to return” to Him (v.5).

The Moody Bible Commentary adds “Even though God does not actually question His own decision-making, here Hosea used human terms to describe God’s emotions in continuing to love Israel.  The cities of Admah and Zeoboiim were neighbors of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 14:2, 8) and represent human depravity.  Although Israel’s sin made the nation deserving of complete destruction in the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah, God chose not to repeat (again) the corporate death sentence exacted at Sodom.  God’s righteousness demands that sin be punished, but in His compassions God can choose to limit the extent of his anger and wrath.”

When His children returned from exile, humble and seeking His face, God promised to show His compassion on them and settle them in their houses.  This promise was most likely not just for the Israelites of the age, but also a promise for future generations when the Messiah returns.

A (Application) – May we remember that our God is a God of love.  He does not want to see His children exiled and taken captive by anyone or anything.  At the same time, our God is holy, and cannot allow sin to continue without being dealt with; may we not confuse God’s patience with us as acceptance of our behavior.  His compassion allows for time for us to repent (change our minds) and turn from our wicked ways in order to follow Him again.  If we decide to continue in disobedience, then we cannot be surprised when the day finally comes for Him to enact judgement.  Ask God to search our hearts and minds for anything that is displeasing to Him, and agree with Him to call it what it is – sin – and walk away from it.  Through the blood of Jesus, we are able to do it.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

P (Prayer) – Thank You, Lord, that You love us enough to not let us get away with whatever we want.  You know better than we do what is good for us, and what is not.  I trust You as my God and my Father; search my heart and bring to mind anything that is displeasing to You.  Whenever I am tempted, I trust that You will provide a way of escape for me.  Thank You for Your compassionate heart – may I have the same compassion on others that sin against me.