Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sermon To My Heart

For the last two years, I have been reading through the Bible. I've tried to follow the daily reading plan to read through the Bible in one year, but, obviously it has taken me longer than do most things!

The reason I tell you this, is not for a "pat on the back." I want you to understand that as I have worked to devour the entirety of God's Holy Word, I have realized how often I don't see the overall picture. Many times, I take verses out of context, and skew their complete meaning into one that is - at times - more desirable to hear.

This morning I was reading from Hosea and Joel. (I'm not sure I have ever read these two books in scripture until they were on this daily plan I am following! How sad!)

Right now, I have several friends who are choosing the wayward road away from Christ. They continue to make sinful choices. My heart has been heavy with burden for them. I have been praying for God to turn their eyes and hearts back to Him...good prayer - until I read the passages this morning.

The verses in Hosea that struck me were found in Hosea 6. My Bible states that "Hosea was written b/c Israel continued to play the harlot. God begged her to return to Him, yet, she would not listen. God's heart was grieved. If only Israel could understand; if only she could see what she was doing to the One who had betrothed her to himself. If only she could see what her infidelity was doing to her children! Then the word of the Lord came to Hosea with a surprising message: 'Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and have children.'"

In chapter 6, Israel once again realizes their choices have brought difficulty and hardship. Therefore, they figure a brief return to the Lord's ways will make things better for them...

“Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
2 “He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
3 “So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

Now, here is God's response...

4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early.
6 For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

God then says,
7:14 And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me.

God allows punishment on his wayward people...while restraining his anger to the point of wrath. He continues to beckon His people back into relationship with Him. He continually reminds the Israelites of His faithfulness from the time of their birth. He continues to allure them with all that He offers. However, the people continue to forget and choose the path of destruction...

13:5-6 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.

In the final chapter of Hosea, God issues yet another call into His grace. He reminds his people again that He is the one who answers them...He is the provider...

14 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,

For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.

2 Take words with you and return to the LORD.

Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity

And receive us graciously,

That we may present the fruit of our lips."

God answers,

4 I will heal their apostasy,

I will love them freely,

For My anger has turned away from them.

5 I will be like the dew to Israel;

He will blossom like the lily,

And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.

6 His shoots will sprout,

And his beauty will be like the olive tree

And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.

7 Those who live in his shadow

Will again raise grain,

And they will blossom like the vine.

His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.

8 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.

9 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.

As my reading progressed into the book of Joel, I found the same story. God trying to call his people to repentance. A present day plague of locusts is used as to describe what is happening to their souls as they continue to turn their hearts away from God.

Here is the Introduction in the Book of Joel:

2 Hear this, you elders;
listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
or in the days of your forefathers?
3 Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.
4 What the locust swarm has left
the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
other locusts have eaten.

Even after continued sin, and a complete lack of repentance, God says in Joel 2:

12 "Even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."
13 Rend your heart

and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.

25 Then I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm —
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the LORD your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

As I am reading these passages, and allowing God to speak to my heart several things greatly convict me!

1.) I am guilty of a judgemental heart! I look down my self-righteous nose at my sinful friends... My thoughts are something like...Oh, I would never do what he/she is doing. They are so guilty! While it is true that my friends continue to make sinful choices, and they are wrong in the eyes of God - have I been so focused on the sins of others that I do not see my own?!? Oh, wretched sinner am I!

My sins are not the same as my friends'. And, my sins are the same. Mine are not as blatant to the naked eye. Does that mean they are not as bad? No. Absolutely not. I am still committing sin before a holy and righteous God. My actions are still sinful.

2.) I am guilty of "crying out from my bed" not crying out from my heart. I want the "grain and new wine." And, I want it to come easily to me without having to do anything...

For example, I say "I want to have more time with the Lord." Then, I continue to add more to my already full calendar instead of carving out time to be in communion with Him! What my actions say is - God, give me what I need, but don't inconvenience me or my schedule to do it. If fail to be in relationship with Him continually throughout my day.

3.) As I condemn my friends for consistently choosing to participate in sinful behavior...I realize that I continue, over and over, to struggle with the same sin! Over and over. Even if my sins my not manifest themselves through my actions, they are sinful thoughts!

For me, recently, I have struggled with the sin of discontentment. Here is a snapshot of my thoughts...

"Oh, if only we had a larger house...If only I could keep this house clean, it's just too big... If only I had more time for myself...If only I had more time with Reid...If only I had more time with my children...If only I had more time with God...If only I had more time... If only Reid made more money...If only we could afford to do such-and-such...If only we were better stewards of what God has given us... If only I could cook better meals for my family... If only we could afford to go out to eat more often... If only Reid would... If only my children would... If only my friends would... If only my family would... and, so petty as, If only our shutters were painted black, and If only we had nicer silverware... If only..."

Do you see the point? I live in abundance with a warm home, and every comfort I need - yet, I continually choose to be dissatisfied. God has graciously chosen to pour out his blessings in my life. His goodness overflows! And, here I go down the same sinful path...

I have more materially than most of the world - billions of people, and yet I allow myself to think that it is not good enough. What an ungrateful heart! I have forgotten God's gracious provision in my time of drought. Has my heart become so proud that even in God's provision, I say His manna is not good enough? Oh, wretched sinner am I! It seems I would fit right with the Israelites!

4.) These passages also made me realize that I tend to "rend my garments" and not "my whole heart." I go through the motions of having a consistent quiet time, going to church on Sunday, serving the body, trying to "be a good wife and mother," etc... But, there are times that my heart is not "in it." I find myself just "going through the motions."

Much like my friend who can sit in church on Sunday while continuing in sinful behavior, I continue to "perform" without taking time to truly examine my heart... my motives... my thoughts...

As I was reminded Friday night, God must be primary in my life - not a priority. I must have Him before me in everything I do. For He is in all things, and all things are His. My every thought must be for Him - only! My pursuit in life should be to Glorify God and ENJOY HIM FOREVER! I can not look at others "unholiness" with a critical spirit, but with a compassionate, and grieving spirit. I must continue moving toward my own sanctification! Oh, to be more like Christ! (Whew! It is a refining process!)

5.) I must truly REPENT of my sinful behaviors, choices, and thoughts! REPENT! I must completely turn away from these debilitating habitual choices. I must make the choice to say -

"Never ever again! Lord, I am sorry I have grieved you with my sinful ways, and I seek your gracious forgiveness. Lord, I yield every thought, word, and action to your Glory. Oh, I pray you will turn more and more of me into more and more of you! You are the Holy One - the Gracious One - the Perfect One. It is you that I long to reflect to others. Help my thoughts, opinions, and decisions in every moment reflect Your presence. Thank you for your goodness and your gracious mercy that You continue to pour over me. I love you, Lord. I desire to live for You ALONE."

So, that is my prayer today. To yield, to seek, to honor the One True God. May I choose to delight in Him and may my loyalty be always at His feet.

I pray I never stop climbing the mountain. I pray God will continue to burn away the dross in my life as He reveals himself to me through His Word. May I never reach a place where I think I have "made it" spiritually, but continue to grow and mature in God's Holy Grace.


kelsey said...

Hmmmm - do I KNOW what you are working on in your heart - the same place that I am! My GOD - thank you for turning my heart to Him - that my DESIRE is only Him - to destroy me and rebuild me. I so TRULY know that I am just as suseptible to turning away from God. The difference for me is an open heart to hear from God (pointing out sin), and an on-my knees desire for repentence. My list of sins and trespasses against God and others is so long, and I ask God daily for help in recognizing these and for the strength to sincerely and completely repent. It is total surrender. It is a very painful, convicting and life altering time for me. By the way, I have been sorting through the differences between opinion, judgements and standing on His word. My heart should grieve for ourselves, others and this world - if not, we are not recognizing sin.

kelsey said...

Oh - Highly recommend the study - Lord, Only You Can Change Me (good ole Kay) and also Brokeness (yes, again). Working through them again - OUCH! Remember we are onions - peeling those layers one at a time - getting to the core. Love you.