Wednesday, August 16, 2017

you can't tell a book by its cover

The Word for today:
Psalm 19
mark this: Psalms 19:1-2
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
and this: Psalms 19:7
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
Creation--the limitless cosmos--is just the cover of God's book, and under-girding it all is his Word. Take out the Word and the "cover" collapses:
He upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
The cover's exquisite artistry is designed to draw us inside. But that's all. No one would presume to know the book by its cover.
Creation is an enticement to wonder, an invitation to seek the heart inside. The invitation has gone out to everyone:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. (from Psalms 19:1-4)
Creation is what the theologians refer to as general revelation. It is perceptible to all--to the faithful and the faithless:
There is no speech or language
where the voice is not heard. (Psalms 19:3)
That is why the first six verses of Psalm 19 refer to the Creator with a general name that anyone might use--just like our English word 'God.'
The reader will notice that the focus of the poem shifts, at verse 7, from creation (which reveals God's hand) to scripture (which reveals his heart.)
Thus from verse seven on, God is referred to as LORD (a translation of the Hebrew Jehovah or Yahweh)--the personal name God revealed to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:15).
God, as Creator of all, can be heard by observing nature. But the LORD, the Savior of all who believe, is known only through the Word heard with faith:
For we have heard the Good News, just as they did. They heard the message, but it did them no good, because when they heard it, they did not accept it with faith. (Hebrews 4:2)
The heavens declare the glory of God--his greatness. But only his Word reveals his goodness. And his goodness is greater, by far.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

self made man

Pottery+classes+-+student+work
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Psalm 18:31-50
Wow,  some pretty impressive feats are noted in the second half of this Psalm.
I know that we are talking about King David, but even he cannot "stand on the heights" with his "deer feet (1)." He could not actually "bend a bow of bronze (2) ." Even this mighty warrior did not have untwistable ankles (3), nor was capable of transforming his enemies into "dust" or "mud (4)." No, all these things are impossible for any man to accomplish.
Then again, it was also "impossible" for any man to do some of the other things that David really did. It was impossible for the unknown youngest son of a shepherd to be anointed as king of Israel. It was impossible for that same youngster to fell the mighty Goliath. I was impossible for him to survive so many years as a fugitive while maintaining his integrity.
But notice that even while David is describing in detail some of his accomplishments, he is directing us to the only reason any of these victories were ever won: Almighty God. It is God who arms and keeps and causes and trains and sustains and provides and delivers and subdues and saves. David, like all great men, knew that he was like a turtle on a fence post: however he got there, he didn't do it by himself.
Horace Greeley was a prominent figure in America around the time of the Civil War. He was a prominent journalist (editor of the NY Tribune) and a prominent political figure (losing the 1872 Presidential election to Ulysses S. Grant). Given all his time in the world of media and politics, he certainly knew his share of self-important blowhards. A story is told of his encounter with one such individual. This man made the mistake of telling Greeley "I am a self made man." To which Greeley replied "Well sir, that relieves God of a grave responsibility."
The truth is, there is no such thing as a self-made man. While each of us certainly has a large part to play in our own lives, not one of us can say that anything good we have or have done was ultimately due to our own goodness or genius or whatever. The Apostle Paul asked the Corinthians "What do you have that you did not receive (5) ?" Great question, with an even better answer: nothing. All of our talents and skills, our birth and our background, the people who have taught and influenced us, the ability to work and laugh and play, and even life itself are all on loan from God.
And right here, David echoes these same sentiments, all to point us not to himself, but to the only One who can do the impossible. After all- that is the message of the Gospel: (6).  God has done the impossible through His Son, Jesus Christ. So in the end, there are only two categories, clay that acknowledges its Potter, and clay that smugly pats itself on the back, forgetting that both the hand and the back belong to the actual Potter.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Psalm 18:33
(2) Psalm 18:34
(3) Psalm 18:36
(4) Psalm 18:42
(5) 1 Corinthians 4:7
(6) Luke 1:37

Monday, August 14, 2017

in or out?

strong-tower
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Psalm 18:1-30
mark this: Proverbs 18:10
"The Name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe."
I still remember the feelings clearly. Anticipation. Nervousness. Excitement. Fear.
I remember all the questions that would race through my mind. Can anyone see me? Is there a better spot? Can I make it there? Did they really count all the way to 100?
And then the moment of truth arrived. You've been spotted. You were almost there, but your cover was blown. There was no chance of hiding again. Here was your one chance run like heck or just stand there paralyzed. The only question that mattered at that point was did you have it in you to outrun the seeker? Your heart was beating like crazy. You were tired and out of breathe. Your nerves were shot from adrenaline. Let's play again!
There is a reason that hide & seek is a perennial favorite since the dawn of time. It never gets old, we just do. As a child I think the kids in our neighborhood played hide & seek every night we could over the summer. And central to Hide & Go seek is the concept of a “home base”, the place where you try with all your might to get there, and once you’re there- you are safe. Our home base was always the lamppost right in front of my house. That poor thing had to be replaced because of all us kids dashing into it and clinging for dear life.
As we look to today's passage, the first half of Psalm 18, I want you to keep that idea of home base in mind. We have here a song written by a man who knew what it meant to be hunted and chased. At the time when David was a fugitive, always running from the relentless Saul. Though he was innocent in the matter, he spent the better part of a decade hiding as public enemy number one. Notice the language he uses in here.
David looks to God as his:
- strength v. 1
- rock v. 2
- fortress v. 2
- deliverer v. 2
- refuge v. 2
- shield v. 2
- salvation v. 2
- stronghold v. 2
- support v. 18
In verses 4-19, David vividly describes how Mighty God rescued him.
The key in this Psalm is found in verse three, David "calls to the LORD.... and he is saved..."
That truth has huge implications in the rest of the Bible as well.
In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed that which the prophet Joel had written: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (1)."
The apostle Paul later echoed that same sentiment in his letter to the Romans (2).
So, what does it mean to call upon the name of the LORD?
We humans like to make things complicated, but the Bible keeps it simple. Calling upon the name of the LORD means we trust in God as our fortress and we enter into His protection.
That is salvation- when we stop trusting in ourselves or our good deeds or our religion or our pedigree or our church or whatever, and instead accept and received and remain and cling to the shelter that Jesus Christ provides. He is the fortress, the rock, the strong tower. We run to Him and are saved.
But remember, any place of protection only works if you bring yourself into it. It did people no good to camp outside Noah’s Ark. They were either in or out. In the Old Testament, if you were fleeing to a City of refuge- you had to go inside. Putting down roots in a nearby suburb would not cut it. You were either in or out. The same is true of this passage- you are only safe if you get in that strong tower, into that fortress, behind that shield, inside that fortress. Anything less is disaster.
Jesus Christ is the only "home base." That's why today's psalm is much more than mere poetry or even David's own story, it is the very Gospel message. The question then becomes- is this your story as well? Are you in or out?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32
(2) Romans 10:13

Sunday, August 13, 2017

meet "the apple of God's eye"

The Word for today:
Psalm 17
mark this: Psalm 17:8
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.
There's a good Hebrew/Yiddish word--chutzpah--which means a display of brazen audacity. In Psalm 17, it seems that chutzpah is on parade.
How can David, a known sinner (see Psalm 51, just for starters…) call himself righteous and sinless:
You have tested me and you will find nothing (v. 3).
How can David call himself "the apple of God's eye"? (v. 8) Why, the impertinence, the nerve, the chutzpah…
David can say all of that--because he's looking through the eyes of God, not man. David knows that he, of himself, is a sinner:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. (Psalms 51:3)
But he also knows that, like Abraham before him, he has been declared righteous in God's eyes through faith:
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
David is righteous because God says he is. God credited the righteousness of Jesus Christ to David when he believed the LORD.
And he will credit Jesus' righteousness to you and to me, too, if we will only take him at his word.
A remarkably comprehensive, all-purpose scripture verse confirms the simplicity of God's faith-based salvation:
So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. (Acts 27:25)
It will be exactly as we have been told. Thus a sinner like David can claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This concept is so crucial that we should practice and reinforce it habitually. A good way to start each day is by looking straight into the mirror and seeing the apple of God's eye looking straight back at you!
That may sound radical and/or crazy. But it's also the Word of God. That's how God sees things--and there's nothing that will alter his outlook.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, August 12, 2017

if you think it's about you, it never will be

The Word for today:
Psalms 15, 16
The last time I ran the Boston Marathon was in 2003. The schedule is a little different now, but in those days, we'd get on a bus at the Boston Commons in downtown Boston at about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Then we'd be transported to Hopkinton, where the race begins. I don't really know why we were there so early, because the race didn't start until noon.
That gave us about 5 hours to do…nothing.
So while I was doing nothing one April morning in Hopkinton, Massachusetts in 2003, I happened upon a man who was reading from a little Gideons' New Testament. It is not unusual to see Bibles being read before marathons.
What initially caught my eye was the yarmulke the reader/runner was wearing. (A yarmulke is a cap worn by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish males.) Being, at that time, just as direct as I am now, I intended to ask him if he wore the yarmulke during the race! But then I saw the little Bible in his hands.
"Whatchya reading?"
"The book of Psalms." (Gideons' Testaments always include Psalms and Proverbs.)
"Which psalm?"
"The 16th. I always read Psalm 16 before a marathon."
"Well, best of luck out there today."
"You too."
***
In 2003, I was on my way to basic Bible literacy, but I certainly wasn't conversant enough with Psalm 16 to engage him any further.
But I've often thought of him since then. I've prayed for him. I've wondered about him; whether he read only from the Psalms, or did he read from the rest of his Gideons' Testament too?
And did he know who it was he was reading about? Psalm 16 is a startling unveiling of the mind of Christ as he stood in the very shadow of a cross which loomed directly ahead.
That's about all I want to say, because I want you to enter the mind of Christ on your own. Here's the briefest outline:
16:8--life of Christ
16:9--death of Christ
16:10--resurrection of Christ
16:11--ascension of Christ
The day you know that Psalm 16 is about Jesus, then it's about you, too:
For I have been crucified with Christ... (Galatians 2:20).
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)
But if you think Psalm 16 is about you, it never will be.
I hope by some miracle that this article will find its way to the man in the marathon in 2003. I hope this finds you with your cap still on your head, and with Jesus in your Psalm 16.
Long may you run.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, August 11, 2017

That's the Spirit! (part 2)

The Word for today:
Psalms 13, 14
Yesterday we saw what walking in the Spirit is not. Today we'll take a look at what it is:
1. Walking in the Spirit is a commitment to walk like Jesus did.
As an example for us, Jesus set aside his omniscience, forcing him to depend--as we must--on the guidance of the Holy Spirit:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. (1)
To become one like us, He also set aside his omnipotence, forcing him to depend--as we must--on the power of the Holy Spirit:
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (2)
2. Walking by the Spirit means we must abandon ourselves to the supernatural.
Jesus said it is like allowing the wind to have its way in our lives:
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (3)
3. Walking by the Spirit is accomplished from start to finish by faith.
For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. (4)
4. Walking by the Spirit sees right through time and circumstance.
It sees beyond what our eyes are telling us, in order to see with the eyes of God:
We walk by faith, not by sight. (5)
Jesus Christ walked by the Spirit, by faith, all the way to the cross. It certainly did not appear to natural eyes that he was "winning." But the eyes of the Spirit saw it otherwise…
***
Q. How do I get going?
A. First determine what you are not going to do:
I am not going to make this about self-reformation or about self-anything.
I am not going to wait until I'm more experienced or until I've taken a course.
Q. Alright. Then what?
A. Make a commitment:
I commit my life to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. I'm going to do things God's way and depend on him to figure out where all this is taking us.
I don't know all of what this entails, but I'm going to commit now and learn more later.
I don't know where this is taking me, but I know whom I trust:
I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him. (2 Timothy 1:12)
***
If the desire of your heart sounds like what you just read, then you are walking by the Spirit.  God's cheering you on, so go ahead and take another step...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Luke 4:1; (2) Luke 4:14; (3) see John 3:8; (4) Romans 1:17; (5) 2 Corinthians 5:7

Thursday, August 10, 2017

That's the Spirit! (part 1)

The Word for today:
Hosea 13, 14
mark this: Hosea 11:3-4
Yet it was I who taught Israel to walk;
I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them.  (Hosea 11:3-4)
and this: Galatians 5:25
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
The Bible tells us that we are going to conform to the image of Jesus (1). But that doesn't mean we're going to look like Jesus looks in his yearbook photo or in his mug shot. It means we're going to act like him, think like him, live like him, and "walk" like him.
Which begs the question: How did Jesus walk?
The answer: he walked under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.  (Luke 4:1, 14)
Walking by the Spirit is also called walking by faith (2).  God teaches us how:
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:3-4)
***
Today, we will find out what walking by the Spirit is not:
1. Walking by the Spirit is not for experienced Christians only.
In fact, we were walking in the Spirit before we knew it! The classic altar-call anthem “Just As I Am” depicts walking by the Spirit in the very first moment of a born-again life. As the infant believer goes forward to follow the Lamb of God, (s)he is already walking by the Spirit, without a thought for anything but Jesus. Do not let anyone tell you that walking in the Spirit is for advanced believers. In fact, it is sad but true that for many of us, our best walking was done on our first day, before somebody started to explain to us “the right way” to walk! Then we got so confused we couldn’t put the left shoe down after the right shoe…
2. You don't have to follow a program or take a certain course.
You just have to take a certain path, which looks like this:
"I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back."
3. Walking by the Spirit is not self-reformation!
That's why Jesus railed against the self-righteous Pharisees. That's why Paul spoke with such alarm to the Galatians:
You foolish Galatians! Tell me this one thing: did you receive God's Spirit by doing what the Law requires or by hearing the gospel and believing it? How can you be so foolish! You began by God's Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power? (from Galatians 3:1-3)
It is not about making a list and checking it twice. It is not about gritting your teeth and plodding ahead. It's Spirit-revolution, not self-reformation.
***
Today, we've seen what walking in the Spirit is not. Tomorrow, we'll see what it is.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Romans 8:29; (2) see Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:25, and 2 Corinthians 5:7

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

God is not a Vulcan!


(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Hosea 11 & 12

mark this: Hosea 11:8
"How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused..."
I never thought that Mr. Spock would help me to understand the Bible. You see, Spock, for all you non-Trekkies out there, is part of the Vulcan race. And whether you watched the original Star Trek with William Shatner, or the more recent movie adaption, you would know that Vulcans value, above all else, logic. It's their highest ideal and ruling principle, and therefore they despise any show of feelings or emotions as weakness. So a Vulcan would be an excellent computer programmer, or Wikipedia editor, or DMV employee. However, you would not want to have one over coffee for a heart to heart talk or to babysit the kids. An empathetic Vulcan is an oxymoron.
So while it's okay for fictional alien races to be tempered that way, the trouble comes in when we start thinking of God in the same sense. Herman Melville put it this way: “The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike him is because they rather distrust his heart, and fancy him all brain, like a watch.” Who wants to worship a watch? A super-computer? How can one have a personal relationship with a non-personal machine?
Detachment from all feelings and desires may be at the heart of Buddhism, but it is not at the heart of Christianity. We know that God certainly has supreme intelligence, the question is "Does God have a heart?" For much of history, including church history, people have argued that God is incapable of feeling pain, suffering, or emotions. The Westminster Confession of Faith asserts that God is free from all passions. While we know that God does not change (1), this statement fails to address the totality of what Scripture shows.
Until we know God’s heart and motives- we can feel very scared if not hostile toward Him. Hosea provides the antidote to that. Today's passage is one of the best passages in Scripture to understanding the heart of God- his passion, desire, and what motivates Him. In just the first nine verses of Chapter 11, God lays His cards right on the table: He is near us. He is cares for us passionately. Take a look at the language used here.
God portrays Himself not as a distant ruler, but as an unappreciated parent. He has called Israel, taught her to walk, taken her by His arms, and bent down to feed her. What does He get for all His efforts? Rejection and idolatry from ungrateful children. Ouch.
And yet, despite the fact that Israel deserves to be destroyed [just like Admah and Zeboiim- neighboring towns to Sodom and Gomorrah (2)] , God relents because of His great love and compassion. God has been jilted much worse than Hosea ever was, and yet He continues to love and pursue His adulterous bride.
This is the central message in the book of Hosea. Undoubtedly, people of his time would look at Hosea and Gomer and say “How can a holy prophet of God be joined to such an adulterous woman?”But the main point of this book is to answer the more important question: “How can a Holy God be joined together to such an adulterous people?”
God actually has a heart and genuine feelings. God is certainly not wishy-washy or moody. But He is also not a Vulcan either. That is why Israel's choices back then, and our choices today matter. When we sin, we are not merely violating some obscure code or law, we are personally rejecting a very personal God. God takes it personally.
Remember, emotions are not a bad thing- God created them in us, and Scripture shows again and again that God has emotions and desires.
God grieved Saul’s failure as King of Israel (3).
Jesus grieved his Jerusalem not recognizing their Messiah (4).
We can grieve the Holy Spirit (5).
So let this message in Hosea rid us of any false notions of a distant, machine-like god. Let's leave the Vulcans to Star Trek, and let our hearts instead be captured again by our passionate Father.
************************
(1) Malachi 3:6, James 1:17
(2) Deuteronomy 29:23
(3) 1 Samuel 15:35
(4) Luke 19:41
(5) Ephesians 4:30

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I wouldn't stand too close to that wall

The Word for today:
Hosea 9, 10
mark this: Hosea 10:1/MSG
Israel was once a lush vine, bountiful in grapes. The more lavish the harvest, the more promiscuous the worship. The more money they got, the more they squandered on gods-in-their-own-image. 
I have a confession to make: I sometimes cheer against the stock market.
Not always, and not without regrets, but it sometimes seems to me that the greater our material blessings have been, the further and further we've gotten from God. Our laws have wandered shockingly far from his laws. We now flaunt our evil.
I, like you, have vested interests in those markets. My "retirement" funds are, so they tell me, in a computer somewhere on Wall Street. I've got kids who will live their lives amidst the economy I'm cheering against. I've got friends who are living paycheck to paycheck, and many others who are out of work.
But for all of that, there's still something deep inside that wants to see the two great, iconic American idols--the '$'' and the 'I'-- fall down.
The '$' and the 'I' are deeply entwined. The almighty dollar and the almighty self work hand in hand to keep each other propped up:
The more money they got, the more they squandered on gods-in-their-own-image. (Hosea 10:1/MSG)
***
Despite what the TV preachers might tell you, the Bible does not teach a prosperity gospel: Job was blessed with deprivation, while the rich young ruler's wealth kept him from following Jesus. (1)
Psalm 106:15 bluntly states that God can judge a nation by inflicting prosperity upon it:
He gave them exactly what they asked for-- but along with it they got an empty heart.
The twin pillars--$ and I--that hold up the American Temple once seemed impossible to topple. But certainly they don't seem that way anymore. So I wouldn't stand too close to that wall--the one with the handwriting on it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Mark 10:17-22

Monday, August 7, 2017

half of nothing

The Word for today:
Hosea 5:15-8:14
God seeks those who worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus told us that:
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
The people in Hosea's time were getting half of it right, which means they got it all wrong!
Worshiping in spirit means putting your heart into it: If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!
That's the part the people in Hosea's day were getting right. They were enthusiastically religious. They worshiped the LORD, they worshiped the golden calf, they worshiped Baal. They tended to mix religions freely--to think that everybody's religion had a little truth in it, and the more religion you got, the better off you would be. Their worship was spirited, to be sure. But it was disconnected from the truth…
Bethel and "Beth-aven"
Bethel, located in Samaria, is mentioned more times in the Bible than any other city except Jerusalem. When Israel split into north and south, Jeroboam I made Bethel the religious sanctuary in the northern kingdom to replace Jerusalem, erecting a golden calf. There the worship of the one true God was mixed with the worship of Baal (Hosea 8:4-5; Hosea 10:5; cf. 1 Kings 12:26-30). Hosea sarcastically referred to Bethel ("house of God") as Beth-aven ("house of wickedness").
The Samaritan "woman at the well" brought this splintered religious background to her conversation with Jesus:
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship. (John 4:20)
It was that remark that prompted Jesus to insist on both spirit and truth:
"Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know…
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. (John 4:21-23)
Then he led her to the truth:
The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things."
Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
 (John 4:25-26)
***
The Samaritan woman had been worshiping in spirit, but not in truth. But within the hour (just as Jesus had subtly foretold) she was spirit-edly telling the truth throughout the town:
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did." (John 4:39)
She'd become the complete worshiper whom Jesus had just told her about!
She'd been deficient in truth, while some of us who know the truth lack for spirit. Whatever's missing, let's find it and bring it to God. Let's show him what he's been looking for.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, August 6, 2017

waitin' by the door

The Word for today:
Hosea 4:1-5:14
mark this: Hosea 4:1/CEV
Israel, listen as the LORD accuses everyone in the land! No one is faithful or loyal or truly cares about God.
Yesterday we looked at the concept of a personal relationship with God. In order to help us understand what that means, we observed what a personal relationship means from God's point of view.
Today, we're going to look at what faith means--from my dog's point of view…
He waits for me all day. When I come home from work, he's at the door, so I guess he's been there all day. "Waiting" is biblical shorthand for faith:
They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
He fears me. Let me put it this way: he fears my displeasure. Whenever he knows that I am unhappy with him, he puts his head down, disappointed with himself. That's how he confesses his sins. So I go over and hold his head up and tell him I've put it behind me, and that he should too:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
He puts us first, ahead of himself. When a stranger appears at the door and my dog senses something amiss, he would hurl himself through the door, if he could, to chase any perceived threat away. He is irrationally protective of me and mine (reminiscent of a certain Lion I know) and will place himself in harm's way for our sake (reminiscent of a certain Lamb I know.)--
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:35-36)
He loves us. When we go away and cannot take him with us, he goes on a hunger strike until we return. When we pick him up at the kennel, he looks shrunken by sadness.
You shall love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)
It would not occur to him to run away. We're his world; where would he run to?--
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, "Are you going to leave, too?" Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life." (John 6:66-68)
He's faithful. Every summer night when the sun begins to go down, I retreat to my little garage. It's like a grown-up's version of a tree fort. My dog knows, by the slant of the sun, when I'm going to make my way out, and stands right by the back door so I'll remember to take him with me. I poke around at the workbench as he pokes his nose in every nook. Nothing ever gets done as we look for the stars and the fireflies. When they come out, we go in.
He's faithful. The faithfulness of a dog is a far better illustration of biblical faith than what we call "faith" today. For us--for me--faith is often a kind of thought process. But it would grieve me if ever I were to find out that my dog was inside, on the couch, "believing" in me as I watched for the stars, alone.
I think the misunderstanding might stem from the syntax. Idiomatically, we say we "have faith" or "we believe." But we never say that a dog "has faith." Our dogs, we say, "are faithful."
That's the difference! Biblical faith is far better described by the way we use the word "faithful" than by the way we use the word "faith." Biblical faith is not some sort of nodding intellectual assent, but it's breath and life itself. It's the frame upon which we build each day. It's not just "food for thought."   It's real food:
"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." (John 4:34)
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During the time of Hosea, Israel saw themselves as a people of faith. But it was all form and ceremony. They went through the ceremony, they had the ritual, and they knew the vocabulary. But that's all it really amounted to:
Israel, listen as the LORD accuses everyone in the land! No one is faithful or loyal or truly cares about God. (Hosea 4:1)
They knew the lingo. They went through the motions. But they weren't faithful, like a Lion, like a Lamb, or even like a certain dog I know.
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