Make It A Spring

Sometimes we walk through a season of life that feels like a wilderness. Barren, lonely, forsaken. We might even feel like this is the end. That things are hopeless.

That’s where Elijah was when he fled Jezebel. He went out in the wilderness, sat by a tree, and asked God to let him die. Instead, God gave him food and water and sent him to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:1-8). There, Elijah made his complaint. “Then he said, ‘I have been very zealous for Yahweh the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have demolished your altars, and they have killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left over, and they seek to take my life'” (1 Kings 19:10, LEB).

Yahweh responds by showing His power, reassuring Elijah that he was not the only believer left, and giving him a job to do (1 Kings 19:11-18). Elijah thought things were hopeless but God had other ideas. He had a plan for Elijah and an even larger plan Elijah didn’t know about.

click to read article, "Make It A Spring" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: “Spring Runoff” by Ian Sane, CC BY via Flickr

Transforming Your Wilderness

For all of us, it’s easy to feel like we’re insignificant to God’s plan. But no one is too small for God to do marvelous things with. In fact, God often chooses the poor, weak, and little because those are the ones easiest for Him to work powerfully in (1 Cor. 1:26-31; 2 Cor. 12:9-10)

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. (Is 41:17, KJV)

Continue reading

God’s Message Through the Aaronic Blessing

At a conference this past December, I attended an excellent seminar by a gentleman named Hal exploring the depth of the Hebrew words used in the Aaronic blessing (I want to credit him, but not sure if he’d want his full name used here, so we’ll just stick with first names). You know the passage we’re talking about: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

God's Message Through the Aaronic Blessing | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It’s lovely in English, but I was awed by how much more incredible these words are when you start digging deep into what they mean. At the end of Hal’s seminar, he paraphrased the blessing into more accessible language for modern English readers, and I’ll share both his and my take on that at the end. First, though, let’s dive into some word-study. Continue reading

Lessons From Joel

I recently heard that pastors tend to use the same set of scriptures over and over when speaking. It’s probably not even on purpose — you just naturally go to the verses you know well and are comfortable with when writing about a given topic. I wondered if I do that in this blog, and started trying to think of scriptures that I don’t regularly quote. The minor prophets came to mind. I spend time in Hosea, but not really any of the others. Maybe this will turn into a series of posts on the minor prophets. For now, let’s start with Joel.

Repent From the Heart …

Joel begins with prophecies of destruction. First, he warns Israel that locusts will sweep through and destroy the food crops. There wouldn’t even be enough harvest to supply the offerings in the temple (Joel 1:9).

Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. (Joel 1:14-15)

Mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), but that doesn’t mean God won’t punish sin. Sometimes, that’s the only way to get our attention and save us by turning us back to Him.

In chapter 2, the prophecy shifts to what is still for us future events (at least, that’s what it looks like to me. Zodhiates’ study Bible says there is some disagreement among scholars). It sounds a lot more like Revelation, though, than a famine caused by locusts. Regardless of the timing, the conclusion of both prophesies is the same — an immediate call to repentance.

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him — a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

We should stay close to God through both good times and bad, but if we have drifted away He is still ready to hear us as individuals and as a nation. Genuine repentance from the heart will always get God’s attention.

… And There Will Be Blessings

Joel tells us that when all the people — including the elders, youth and ministry (Joel 2:16-17) —  come to God with tears and a request for mercy, He will hear.

Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.” … Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things! (Joel 2:18-19, 21)

Lessons From Joel  | marissabaker.wordpress.comGod promises to send so many blessings that they will make up for everything that was lost in the plagues described earlier (Joel 2:25). This makes me think of  a passage in Romans, where Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). There’s certainly no reason Christians can’t be happy and joyful in their lives today, but often our walks are marked by trials and touched by sorrow. Either way, we have a magnificent future to look forward to, and focusing on that can help us endure as we follow in Christ’s footsteps (Heb. 12:1-3).

Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:27-29)

Fulfillment of this prophecy began on the Pentecost where the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, which Peter points out as he quotes Joel 2:28-32 when he explains what’s going on (Acts 2:14-21). The remainder of the prophecy, and Joel chapter 3, relate to future judgement.

In Joel, we’ve already seen cycles of judgement, repentance, and blessing. Now, the subject turns back to the tribulation and wars before the coming of Jesus Christ. Though things look extremely bleak, once again it will ultimately result in blessing for the people who stay faithful to God (Joel 3:16-21)

The Lord also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the Lord will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:16)

There is hope and help for us now, and in the future if we whole-heartedly draw near to God. That’s a main message of the book of Joel — bad things are going to happen because of sin, and therefore we need to draw near to God and repent so good things can happen to us in the end.

Choose God (Hosea 4-8)

Last week, we began a study of Hosea, and covered the first three chapters. We looked at how Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute pictured God’s covenant with unfaithful Israel in the Old Testament, and how that serves as a warning to us. We need to learn from Israel’s example and not follow their pattern of repeatedly rejecting God, but rather hold fast to Him as He fulfills His promises to reestablish a marriage covenant with His people.

As we continue in Hosea, we see God addressing the reasons for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Everything that separated Israel from God was Israel’s fault.  God never let down His side of the bargain — Israel got into trouble because they walked away from Him. This holds true for the New Testament as well.

If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. (2 Tim 2:12-13)

God is always faithful to His promises, including His promise that sin will be punished. Like with Israel, it is still up to us to choose between life and death, blessings and cursing (Deut. 30:9).

Lack of Knowledge

Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.” (Hos 4:1)

God gives three reasons for His “controversy” with Israel. They lacked truth, did not show mercy, and had no knowledge of Him. This resulted in “swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery” (Hos. 4:2). The farther they strayed from God, the more corrupt and destructive they became.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6)

This verse specifically refers to knowledge about God and His ways. The New Testament tells us that “the wisdom of this age” — knowledge that the world esteems — is coming to nothing (1 Cor. 2:6), but that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden for us to find in the Father and Christ (Co. 2:2-3).

Chapters 4 and 5 cover punishments for Israel, and deal with prophecies of an Assyrian invasion and Judah’s alliances with Egypt and Syria. In chapter 6, the people say, “Come, and let us return to the Lord,” but they are not sincere (Hos. 6:1, 4).  Their sham repentance is not what God was looking for.

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But like men they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt treacherously with Me. (Hos. 6:6-7)

God is all about relationship. He wants to know the people we’ll become when we learn to know Him. All the religious services and laws given to Israel weren’t the “point” of the Old Covenant. They were supposed to be an outward sign of an inward condition — a heart full of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God.

Because of Unbelief

Israel’s lack of relationship with God was a result of choices they make to walk away from Him.

When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria. For they have committed fraud; a thief comes in; a band of robbers takes spoil outside. They do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness; now their own deeds have surrounded them; they are before My face. (Hos. 7:1-2)

Wickedness, lies, adulteries (Hos. 7:3-4) — their sins kept piling up until God could say of the people that “none among them calls upon Me” (Hos 7:7). The entire nation rejected the One who they had entered into a covenant with.

Woe to them, for they have fled from Me! Destruction to them, because they have transgressed against Me! Though I redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against Me. They did not cry out to Me with their heart when they wailed upon their beds.
They assemble together for grain and new wine, they rebel against Me; though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me; they return, but not to the Most High; they are like a treacherous bow. Their princes shall fall by the sword for the cursings of their tongue.  (Hos. 7:13-16)

quotescover-JPG-96Israel did this continually in the Old Testament. Psalm 78 records that even though “their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant” that God was “full of compassion” and held back His anger many times (Ps. 78:37-38). He was grieved by their sins, because they would not let Him be their God. Though He acted as their Redeemer, Deliverer, and Rock, “again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:35, 41-42). By not believing in Him, they rejected His good works in their lives.

This rejection of God continued into the New Testament as well. Matthew 13:58 records that Jesus “did not do many mighty works” in His hometown “because of their unbelief.” Mark’s account of this incident phrases it, “He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:4-6). Where there was belief, simply touching the edge of Christ’s garments brought healing (Mark 5:27-29, 34). Where there was no faith, He was actually limited in how many miracles He could perform.

Make A Choice

Israel was given a choice whether or not to follow God and welcome His involvement in their lives. Many of them made the wrong choice, as Paul describes in Romans 11 when comparing God’s people to an olive tree where some of the natural branches were removed. In this analogy, Gentile New Testament Christians are wild olive branches grafted into the Rootstock. Once there, we also have a choice to make.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.  And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom. 11:19-23)

Like so many serious warnings in the Bible, this contains hope as well as caution. The Bible provides us with records of Israel rejecting God, being punished, and returning to Him again and again. God leaves as many doors open as possible for people to come back to Him, and He’s eager to “graft them in again” if they repent. These doors are open to us as well. But God still wants us to learn from Israel’s mistakes and choose not to leave Him at all, because even though He is a God of enormous mercy there is a point where we can go too far away to get back to Him.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

Like He did in Deuteronomy 30 with Israel, today God sets before His people a choice between life or death, blessings or cursing, and good or evil. He wants us — pleads with us — to choose life, blessings, and good, but the choice is still ours to make.

Sherlock, Roses, and God

prink rose 'Bill Warner'

‘Bill Warner’

I was reading Sherlock Holmes “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty” the other day when I came across a quote about religion. I’ve read maybe a third of the Doyle’s Sherlock stories, but never thought of the character as religious before. In this story, Sherlock has just heard the particulars of a case and walks to the open window, where he plucks a rose.

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a conditions of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

yellow rose 'Aperitif'

‘Aperitif’

I’ve marveled at the roses growing in my garden as examples of God’s creative work, but not precisely in this light before. Sherlock’s belief that, “It is only goodness which gives extras” fits perfectly with this scripture:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.(James 1:17)

How many “extras” has God put in your life? How many gifts has He given that are not necessary for your existence, but make life so much more enjoyable?

Aside from flowers, one of the first things I thought of was books. If all my 1,000+ books disappeared right now I would 1) have the most outrageous panic attack, but 2) life would go on in that I don’t need books to stay alive. Music, fluffy cats, chocolate covered almonds, and the computer I’m typing this with are all “extras.”

red rose 'Mr. Lincoln'

‘Mr. Lincoln’

Considering this, the only thing I can think of to say is:

Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever. Who can utter the mighty acts of the LORD? who can shew forth all His praise? (Ps. 106:1-2)