Are You Bearing Fruit?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week as we look to Isaiah’s Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5. God uses the imagery of the nation of Israel and the people of Judah as a vineyard that God himself had planted. He did everything to make sure that it flourished, but no good grapes were found. Then through Isaiah’s prophecy, God tells the listeners what will happen.

“Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Isaiah 5:5-7 NIV

Isaiah’s prophecy did come to pass. The people were carried off into captivity. Their cities, including Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed as well. But God did promise to restore his people and to do so by sending the Messiah (Isa. 11).

Now fast forward about 700 years. Jesus is born and begins his ministry. He goes around teaching people about God’s kingdom, healing people doing the things that only the Messiah could do. When the religious leaders question his authority, Jesus references John the Baptist, but then goes into a parable to explain what his ministry is about (Mk. 12).

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

Mark 12:1-2 NIV

Jesus uses the exact same language of Isaiah 5, but places himself into the story. Jesus says the vineyard owner sends his son (Jesus) to those who rented the vineyard after they had beaten and killed many other representatives. Instead of responding to the son, they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Mark 12:9 NIV

Mark tells us that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they knew he was speaking against them. In these two texts we discover that twice God has planted a vineyard, and twice the vineyard and its caretakers have been destroyed and removed because they failed to manage the vineyard for God. How are we doing?

Now go read John 15. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, but we can only bear fruit if we remain in him. Think about your life for a moment. Think about the ministry that God has called you to. Are you bearing fruit? If not, perhaps you need to consider the words of Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 NIV

You Don’t KNOW God!

This week we continue with Great is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the book of Hosea. If you are unfamiliar with Hosea, it should only take about 10 minutes to read through the whole book. I’d encourage you to do so before our Sunday gathering. The focus of Hosea is to remind Israel (and us) of the painful consequences that come from rebelling against God, but at the same time reminding us that God’s love and mercy are far greater than all our sin.

Hosea does this by using two main images. The first is comparing Israel’s idolatry to prostitution/adultery. The second is more subtle, and involves the Hebrew root word yada which is frequently translated as “knowledge” or “acknowledge.” But yada is more than just knowing about someone. It is deeply and intimately knowing someone. In short, it’s true relationship that God desires from us. Over and over Hosea points the reader back to this truth. Let’s look at a few uses of this word in Hosea. (I’ll italicize the related word to yada in each verse.)

  • Hosea 4:1 – “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.”
  • Hosea 4:6 – …my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests…
  • Hosea 5:4 – “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”
  • Hosea 6:3 – Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him.
  • Hosea 6:6 – For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Did you notice that last verse? Jesus quoted that on several occasions, and Mark’s gospel ties it to the Greatest Commands (Mk. 12:33-34). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus quotes this verse to explain to the Pharisees why he is eating with sinners and tax collectors. In Matthew 12:7, it is in regards to the Pharisees accusation of Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath laws.

It seems to me that Jesus was trying to get the Pharisees to realize that they were acting quite a bit like the northern kingdom of Israel that Hosea was speaking to. They “knew” God, but they didn’t have the kind of relationship that He wanted them to have. They had exchanged relationship for ritual. This caused them to see Jesus’ actions as violations of rules rather than the Kingdom of Heaven on display. They became spiritually blind because they didn’t yada God.

This same sin plagues the church today. Some of us get so wrapped up in the ritual (wanting our worship the way we want it) rather than the relationship our God seeks from us. Hosea’s message is that God’s ultimate purpose is to heal and save. If we aren’t doing the same in our churches, our communities, and our families, then we don’t yada God! I’ll let Hosea have the last word.

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea 14:9 NIV

Sermon Text for 11/10 – Hosea 11; Mark 10:13-15

Make A Choice!

Johnson Medidi, our missionary from India, will be speaking to us Sunday morning. Since I’m not preaching I thought I’d share a summary of the text I had originally planned to preach this Sunday morning. Our text is 1 Kings 18:17-39. We’ve been talking about God’s faithfulness versus our unfaithfulness. When we choose to walk with God he is always faithful. And when we choose to go against God, he is still faithful…and sometimes when we stand in opposition to God’s faithfulness we bring harm upon ourselves.

We talked last week about the division of the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12) and how the northern kingdom never had a good king, while the southern kingdom only had a few decent kings. During this dark time of the kings, God sent prophets to try to bring the people back in line with His will. Elijah was one of those prophets sent to the northern kingdom. King Ahab was leading the nation into sin. God had sent a famine on the land for several years, but promised Elijah if he would go before Ahab, God would send the rain. Meanwhile Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, was killing off the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4).

Elijah arranges to meet Ahab on Mount Carmel, which was the site of much pagan worship throughout the centuries, but especially during this time. Elijah sets up a demonstration to show that Yahweh is more powerful than the idols these Israelites had been worshipping, Baal and Asherah – both of whom were worshiped with child sacrifice. 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah were present for the showdown.

The question Elijah presents is this:

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

1 Kings 18:21 NIV

To prove who is God, Elijah has the prophets of Baal sacrifice a bull and put it on the altar. They danced, they cut themselves, they prayed as loud as they could all day, but Baal did not answer them. Fire never came from Baal. Next, Elijah rebuilds the destroyed altar to Yahweh with 12 stones to represent the tribes of Israel, then has 12 large jars of water dumped on the altar to soak the wood.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV

God answered Elijah’s prayer immediately. Fire fell from heaven, burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and the water! The people fell down and acknowledged Yahweh as God! After the people were convinced of the power of Yahweh, Elijah prays 7 more times and a heavy rain fell on the land.

God’s faithfulness to Elijah and the people is evident through the whole story. Unfortunately, the kings still didn’t turn their hearts back to Yahweh. So next week, we’ll look at the words of Yahweh through Hosea telling us He will not give up on His children, even in their unfaithfulness.

Give Us A King!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week by looking at the story of King David’s grandson, Rehoboam, and the division of the Kingdom of Israel. But before we talk about the actual split, we need to look at how Israel got to this point. They said they wanted a king like the nations around them, but God warned them what would happen if they chose an earthly king over him (1 Sam. 8). God knew all along the Israelites would choose this path, and even gave them guidelines on what a king should do before they ever entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 17). God’s way was better, but God gave Israel what they asked for.

Saul was the first king, and that went ok for a time. Eventually Saul had to be replaced because of his wickedness by King David (that was last week’s sermon). After David’s death, his son Solomon was chosen as king. Most of us know that Solomon was the wisest because he asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3). Solomon ruled in this wisdom for a while, and did well as king. But pretty soon that all changed!

Deuteronomy 17 gives us 8 qualifications for an earthly king. Some of them are as follows:

  • He must not acquire great numbers of horses, especially from Egypt (v.16)
  • He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray (v.17)
  • He must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (v. 17)
  • He is to be a Bible nerd and study it constantly to learn how to follow God (vv. 18-19)

David certainly failed at several of these points (and others not mentioned here), but Solomon is portrayed as the antithesis of Deuteronomy 17!

  • He acquired great numbers of horses, especially from Egypt (1 Kg. 10:28-29)
  • He took many wives and his heart was led astray (1 Kg. 11:1-6)
  • He must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (1 Kg. 10:2, 14-22, 27)
  • He ignored God even though God appeared to him twice! (1 Kg. 11:9)

The story of Solomon shows us that even the wisest, richest, most powerful and well respected king won’t follow God! And when Solomon’s son Rehoboam goes to be crowned as king, he decides to double down on Solomon’s evil practices (1 Kg. 12:14), the kingdom was divided. The earthly kingdom had failed. If only the people had trusted God, and not trusted in an earthly kingdom.

The northern kingdom has 20 kings that follow the split. According to the record of the Kings, none of them were faithful to God. In the southern kingdom, only 8 out of 20 were good kings, but even they ultimately failed the faithfulness test.

Israel needed a better king. They needed God as their King once again. And God promised just that through his prophets (Isa. 9:6-7). Unfortunately when King Jesus came to them, they once again chose an earthly king over him (John 19:15).

We too have a choice to make. Will we choose our earthly kingdom, or King Jesus?

(Sermon text for 10/27/19 – 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29; Mark 10:42-45)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 84

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 81-85

How happy are those who reside in your house,
who praise you continually. Selah

Psalm 84:4 CSB

Psalm 84, perhaps my favorite of the songs of Zion, focuses on this point. Being in the presence of God, where he resides, is our ultimate goal and longing.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming a desire to be where the presence of Yahweh is, and then moves into an almost play-by-play of a pilgrim traveling to the temple (vs. 5-10). Each verse brings us closer and closer to God’s presence until the arrival in the temple courts.

Better a day in your courts than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than live in the tents of wicked people.

Psalm 84:10 CSB

The presence of Yahweh dwelt in the temple. In the Israelite context, do draw near to God meant a pilgrimage to the temple. But to the Christian, you and I are now the temple of the Holy Spirit of God because of the atoning blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4ff).

So how do we encounter the presence of God? It starts with Jesus. We can only enter through Christ. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah to Israel. This fulfillment of God’s promise changed the way God interacted with his people! When we commit ourselves to Christ, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and we can and should ask God for his Spirit to be ever present and powerful in our lives. He also promises his presence when we gather together with other believers. (see Rom. 8:9ff, John 14:6-7, 1 Cor. 6:19ff, Acts 2, Luke 11:13, Matthew 18:20)

We should all long for the presence of God daily in this life, to gather in his presence with fellow believers as often as possible, and to dwell eternally in his presence in the next life.

Happy is the person who trusts in you,
LORD of Armies!

Psalm 84:12 CSB

Daily Psalms – Psalm 75

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 71-75

Is the judgement of God a good thing? According to Scripture, yes it is!

The judgement of God is what separates the righteous from the wicked. The judgement of God is the bringing about of God’s justice, to right the wrongs of this world, to remove the wicked from power and to exalt those who are faithful to God.

The judgement of God is a very good thing…unless you are unrighteous.

Psalm 75 begins like a praise song, and then moves into the forthcoming judgement of God. It also includes a divine speech, the words spoken by God himself.

“When I choose a time,
I will judge fairly.
When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,
I am the one who steadies its pillars.
Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.
Do not lift up your horn against heaven
or speak arrogantly.’ ”

Psalm 75:2-5 CSB

The imagery of God as judge pouring out his judgement is seen in verses 6-8. It’s not something that the wicked can escape. They will judged. But for the righteous God’s judgement brings forth praise! (v. 9)

The final promise of the Psalm is another quote from God himself about justice.

“I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

Psalm 75:10 CSB

As you can see from this short Psalm, the righteous have nothing to fear when it comes to God’s judgement. It should cause thanksgiving and proclamation (v. 1), and continuous praise (v. 9) from God’s people. God has promised to judge fairly. (v. 2) God’s judgement is indeed good news!

If the judgement of God does not sound like good news, that’s a good indication that there are some changes that need to be made in your life and relationship with God. Here’s what Jesus had to say about the coming judgment.

“The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

John 5:22-24 CSB (emphasis added)

The judgement of God is good news! And Jesus has told us how not to fall under that judgement! That is very good news!

Now what are you going to do about it?

Daily Psalms – Psalm 67

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 67, a short psalm with a powerful reminder. But first a bit about poetic form.

Psalm 67, as well as a number of other Biblical passages (both poetic and not) form a chiasm or chiasmus. I use the analogy of going up and back down stairs to try to explain this. If I ascend and descend three stairs, then the pattern is thus: 1, 2, 3, 2, 1. So in a chiasm both verses on “step 1” are bookends of the poem, and are related. Same for “step 2”, and “step 3” would be the pinnacle, or main point of the poem. Psalm 67 forms a chiasm with three steps.

To show the pattern I’ll use our example of steps from above.

  • Step 1 – vs. 1-2
    • Step 2 – v. 3
      • Step 3 – v. 4
    • Step 2 – v. 5
  • Step 1 – v. 6-7

Let’s look at the relationship between each step, the main point, and what it means for us today.

May God be gracious to us and bless us;
may he make his face shine upon us
Selah
so that your way may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

Psalm 67: 1-2 CSB

Notice that the purpose of the blessing to “us” is in order that God’s salvation be made to “all nations.” This is a key theme in the Hebrew Scriptures that Israel often missed. Their purpose (and ours) is to proclaim God’s good news and salvation to those who do not know him, “all” of them!

The central claim of the psalm is God’s goodness and fairness toward the nations which should result in praise of everyone!

Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy,
for you judge the peoples with fairness
and lead the nations on earth.
Selah

Psalm 67:4 CSB

This central statement about God is bracketed by step 2 in verses 3 and 5 with the same call to praise by “all the peoples.” And the psalm closes with another blessing for “all” peoples.

The earth has produced its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67:6-7 CSB

Over and over the psalmist reminds us that the purpose of God’s people, the purpose of God’s blessing, the knowledge of God’s salvation, and the role of God and his people in the world is to make Him known to all peoples! Every one of them!

So what are you doing to reach all peoples for God? What are you doing to teach all nations about him? How much time do you spend with those who look different than you, act different than you, believe different than you, etc?

The great fault of Israel is they chose to isolate and insulate against the world rather than reach out to them for God’s glory. Is the church today guilty of the same?

I leave you with a quote from the late British missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin.

“Christians have no effect in the world as long as they refuse to engage the world.”

Lesslie Newbigin