Category: Hosea

Eyes Off the Hills!

Lots of Christians believe that once they repent and confess Jesus as Lord and begin living in the righteousness of God, nothing bad should ever happen to them again. Christians should not have accidents or arguments with spouses, they should not be misunderstood at work or talked back to by their children. No problems, no pains, no setbacks, no sins, no issues.

Even Christians who don’t believe that sometimes talk like they do. Too blessed to be stressed!

So, when something does go wrong, some Christians don’t handle it very well. Maybe a doubt creeps into your head. Maybe a loneliness moves into your soul. An illness puts you in the hospital or an argument lands you in the doghouse. A misunderstanding leads to anger and pain.  A person walking in the way of faith gets into trouble and starts looking for help.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?” ~Psalm 121:1

What does this person see on the hills? What’s happening on the hills?

The pagan religions were practiced on the hills. That’s where the pagan gods were worshiped. The high places on the hills are where the nations built their altars to Ba’al and erected their shrines to Asherah. People went to the hills to engage in acts of idol worship they believed would ensure their safety or fix whatever is wrong. You worshiped the pagan gods on the hills to enhance the fertility of your livestock and crops. The pagan rituals would keep you safe from invading armies. The religious formulas and good luck charms would make you wealthy and wise. It would protect you from evil.

Where do your eyes go when things get a little shaky? Who do you look to? Where do you put your trust when things go bad? There are all kinds of things we can look to for help besides God. And all those things are idols.

In the Bible, the hills are where the idols are worshiped. Hosea 4:12-13 and Ezekiel 6:13 are two of dozens of biblical references. 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles describe the high places where God’s people set up sacred stones and Asherah poles “on every high hill.” Think about the altars of Ba’al on the hills of Mount Carmel. Think about King Rehoboam who built his altar on the high place at Dan. Think about the hills of Caesarea Philippi where the temples and shrines were built to Pan and Ba’al and Asherah and where they worshiped Roman Emperors and sacred goats.

When you run into trouble or when something goes wrong, you holler help. And if you look to the hills, there it is! All kinds of help! Instant help!

Except for one thing: it doesn’t work. It’s an illusion. Nobody is ever really helped by what’s happening in the hills.

“We will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception.” ~ Jeremiah 3:23

If you think the next election is going to fix things, you’re looking to the hills. If you believe the next scientific breakthrough is going to heal things, you’re eyes are on the hills. If you think your next promotion or pay raise is going to put you over the top and fill the hole in your soul, you’re looking to the hills.

When you look to science, technology, or politics for help, you’re going to be disappointed. When you put your faith in the economy or your family, your education goals or your career plan, you’re going to be let down. When you try to ignore your pain or distract from your troubles with pills or drinks or vacations or sports or some kind of busyness, it just leads to more pain and more trouble.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 121:2

Your help comes from the Lord, not from what’s in the hills. You don’t need any supplemental insurance from what’s going on in the hills. When your loving Father is the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe, you don’t need your safety or security to come from the hills.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil — he will watch over your life.” ~Psalm 121:7

That doesn’t mean you’re never going to stub your toe. No one gets out of this life without the experience of pain. The promise is that no injury or accident, no illness or distress, no tragedy, nothing that can ever happen to you will have evil power over you. Nothing can ever happen to you that can separate you from God’s purpose for you.

That’s the Lord’s Prayer. That’s the expectation. “Deliver us from evil.” That prayer is answered for you every day. Sometimes several times a day.

Take your eyes off the hills and place them directly on the God of Heaven and Earth who says, “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world!”



Desert Time

“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” ~2 Corinthians 1:10

We view any hardships we encounter as unpleasant interruptions. Trials and tribulations are distractions that mess up our lives. It’s unfair when something bad happens to us. But Scripture paints things like this from the divine perspective of the Father. Paul says tough times come into our lives to teach us, to show us, not to rely on ourselves, but on God.

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” ~2 Corinthians 2:9

God’s people have always believed that if you want to hear the voice of God, you go to the desert. You are drawn to God in the desert. You’re brought closer to God in the desert. God is better able to mold you and shape you in the desert. Because in the desert, you can’t survive without God’s direct intervention. If doesn’t provide water, you die. If God doesn’t give you food, you die. If God doesn’t bless you with shade, you don’t survive. If you’re in the desert, you can’t live without God. And you realize it there more than at any other time in your life.

It’s hard in the desert. It’s tough. Hot. Dry. Barren. Very little sign of life anywhere. Surrounded by desolation. And most of the time you don’t know if you’re going to be able to take one more step.

Maybe you’re in the middle of a desert right now. Maybe. Are you? You feel isolated. Alone. Helpless. Something’s happened to get you in this place. A serious illness. A divorce. Somebody died. A job situation. Whatever it is, maybe you don’t know if you can even make it one more day.

I want you to know that this desert time is where our God shapes you. God trains you in the desert. He’s drawing you closer and causing you to depend more on him.

“I’m going to allure you. I will lead you into the desert and speak tenderly to you.” ~Hosea 2:14

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they spent 40 years in the desert. God gave them manna and quail from heaven and water from a rock. And it changed them into the people he wanted them to be. David spent time in the desert, running for his life, hiding in caves. God protected him and provided for him in the oasis at En Gedi. And it changed him into the greatest king Israel’s ever known. Elijah was driven to the desert where God caused an angel from heaven to give him food and then spoke to him personally in that small, still voice. And it shaped him into the Lord’s greatest prophet. When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit pushed him into the desert where he was tempted and tortured by Satan and protected and provided for by God.

It took Jesus 40 days. It took Moses 40 years.

God’s promise in Christ is that everything is going to be made right. All will be well. He proved his promise in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus and in Jesus’ ascension to the place of ultimate power and authority at the right hand of God. Every single thing that’s wrong is being changed. And it’s all being made perfect to dwell forever in the presence of God.

So if things are not well with you today, it means it’s not over yet. It’s not done. And that’s good news! God is at work in you and through you. The Spirit says God will bring to completion that thing he’s started in you. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Amen. Maybe while you’re in the desert.



Our Living God

(Posting a comment on this article automatically enters you into the drawing for the books to be given away in conjunction with this blog’s upcoming 1,000th post. See the details in a couple of posts back.)

“It is a violation of our rationalistic orientation to imagine the living God.” ~Walter Brueggemann, at the ACU Summit

God is forever changing. He is always surprising, always shocking. Always doing what we least expect at the very moment we think we’ve got him figured out. And we don’t like that. I think if we’re honest, we have to admit that, at the very least, we’re not comfortable with it. We like to think we know what God thinks and what he’s going to do in every circumstance. We like to think that if we study the Bible enough and talk about God enough and pray to him enough, we’ll know him. And knowing him, we mean having him figured out.

Good luck with that.

Our God changes his mind. Our God changes himself. Our holy Father repents and recants. He wrestles with his own feelings and emotions and goes back and forth all the time.


Walter Brueggemann reminded us last week in Abilene that our God cut off his covenant people in Hosea (“You are not my people, and I am not your God” Hosea 1:9) and then after declaring all the ways they had sinned and all the ways he was going to abandon them, he changes his mind (“I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God'” Hosea 2:23).

Following the Golden Calf incident, God promises to destroy his people. He tells Moses he’s going to start all over. He promises. Then, Moses talks him out of it. Moses presents a logical argument — what will the nations say? they’ll call you a weak and/or evil God! — and the Lord says, “Yeah, you’re right.” And he changes his mind. He forgives their sins and renews the covenant.

Over and over again in the prophets, God is said to “repent,” the Hebrew word shuv. He changes his mind. Jeremiah couldn’t be more clear that our God acts and reacts, he promises and then goes back on his promises, in response to current circumstances. He responds to the cries of his people. He’s moved by the plight of his children.

“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent (repent) and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider (repent) the good I had intended to do for it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

Our God is a free agent. He is a living, moving, active God with a free will to do as he pleases. And we can’t always figure him out. He doesn’t have to answer to us or our finite ideas about him. There’s no way for us to get a firm handle on him. He says as much to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). Forget about trying to understand it. You can’t.

Thankfully, God has revealed his eternal glory to us, his everlasting nature. He is a kind and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving sin… (Exodus 34:6-7) Moses and the prophets all appeal to this creedal statement when they’re attempting to change God’s mind or when they’re seeking comfort and confidence in the middle of horrible circumstances. But the other part of that statement, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7) gives us the problem. God’s going to do his thing in his own time. And it’s nearly always a surprise.

I think we need to embrace the hard-to-pin-down characteristics of our Father. I believe we should be shaped by the knowledge that our God is always changing his mind. The idea of a God who never changes will set us up for bitter disappointment when that God allows something to happen or causes something to happen that doesn’t fit with our hard and fast theological suppositions about him. What do we do then? And if God never changes, doesn’t that lead us to believe that we, too, should never change? If God never changes throughout all eternity, that might validate the life of a Christian who never changes. Some Christians never grow. They never change their minds. You know Christians like this; you may be a Christian like this. I’ve heard some Christians actually brag that they’ve never changed their minds about anything in Scripture. It’s all so clear to them — their understanding of God, their knowledge of his will and his ways, their church practices and Christian convictions — that changing their minds about anything has become a sign of weakness or of little faith.

Our God is changing his mind all the time. He’s open to it. He doesn’t apologize for it. We can deny it, we can be afraid of it, or we can embrace it as part of a real and dynamic relationship with a real and dynamic Father in Heaven.



Brueggemann’s First Blush

Walter Brueggemann looks and acts like a cartoon character. A tiny little man with white hair and eyeglasses that hang way too close to the end of his nose, this most respected of Old Testament scholars and expert on the ancient prophets, was in Abilene as a guest speaker at this week’s annual ACU Summit. The headliner, so to speak, wowed us with his deep insights and wisdom. He moved effortlessly from difficult text to even more difficult application. He seemed to whisper and shout at the same time, raising his eyebrows, cocking his head to one side, dragging the last words of key sentences for almost half a minute in a whiny, yet authoritative, rasp, and all the while wringing his oversized hands in an exaggerated fashion in front of his face. It would be very easy to imitate Brueggemann’s style. It’s hilarious. And fascinating.

But it would be impossible to duplicate his substance.

The old professor reminded us that our God has a high regard for his people but our God also has a high self-regard for God. Both. Brueggemann pointed out that our therapeutic culture mostly thinks God is only in it for us. He loves us, he forgives us, he restores us, he’s patient with us, he saves us because, afterall, that’s what God does. It’s his job. We would do good, however, to wake up. It would benefit us greatly to become like the child who wakes up one day to discover that her mom has a life of her own. Our God is a free agent. He chooses. He wills. He decides. And he changes his mind. His eternal holiness trumps everything else about him. Therefore, he is both a passionate and punishing God. Both.

I hope to write a little more about Summit, particularly Brueggeman’s brilliant insights, in the following couple of days. (Anybody who can drop cuss words from the pulpit in both ACU’s chapel on the hill and Moody Coliseum merits more than just a couple of paragraphs in this space. We were all shocked when Mark Hamilton prayed before Brueggemann’s afternoon keynote that God would “loosen his tongue.” Had Brother Hamilton not attended any of the earlier sessions?)

But, here’s what I really want to write about today. That was all just an introduction.

I have a tendency, personally, to think and talk about the Churches of Christ in apologetic terms. In my defense, most of the negative things I think and say about my faith heritage are in the past tense: we used to be this, we’re trying to get away from that, we’ve always thought this way, we’re changing the way we do that, etc., But, still, the truth is, when somebody brings up the Church of Christ in a conversation, my gut instinct is to apologize. We used to think we were the only ones going to heaven, but we’re moving away from that. We used to abstain from working with other Christian denominations, but we’re getting better. We’ve traditionally taught and practiced a works-based salvation, but our understanding is much better now. We used to ignore the Holy Spirit, but not anymore.

You know what I mean? Do you do that, too? There’s so much good going on in our particular branch of God’s Kingdom, we have so much to offer the Christian community and the world. And I know that. I talk about it all the time with our own people. I see so much good, I experience so much joy, I hear so many wonderful things. But, still, my default is to apologize first.

After his morning keynote at ACU, Brueggemann was asked by moderator Brady Bryce to share his first impressions of the Church of Christ. And it wasn’t a fair question. Up until the moment he arrived on campus Sunday, I’m not sure Brueggemann had ever seen a Church of Christ member in person. I wouldn’t bet he’d ever heard of the Church of Christ before Brady called him last year. It wasn’t right to ask this Episcopalian and UCC scholar to share his thoughts on our movement in front of all of us. He begged out, but Brady pushed.

And Brueggemann said he was very impressed with the immediacy and the urgency with which we approach Scripture. He said our interpretation of the Bible was simple and fresh. He said our teachings and approach to faith and life in Christ were not complicated. And, again, “fresh.”

Fresh? Did you ever think you would live to hear a world renowned scholar refer to anything related to the Churches of Christ as “fresh?”

Now, to be fair, Brueggemann had spent a couple of days by this time listening to our best speakers and worshiping with our best singers. I know he was paying attention because he referred to and quoted from several of the sermons we had heard since Sunday night. And he specifically cited the immediacy and urgency with which we approach Scripture as fresh.

This outsider who has a keen eye for what’s faithful and good, this alien scholar who thinks so well and only says what he really thinks — this esteemed man of God had a first impression of us. And it was good. It was very good.

When am I, a lifelong CofC insider, going to fully get over the past so I can wholeheartedly embrace the present and the future of our denomination? Our present is exciting and our future is promising. Brueggemann’s first blush reminded me that we are brimming with holy potential for the great cause of our Christ. We are important in the Kingdom of God. We do have a lot to offer. I knew this already, I’ve known it for a long time. But it’s good to hear it from an outsider, to be reminded by someone who’s not nearly as concerned about our past as I am.

As of today, thanks to Walter, I’m done apologizing. I’m through with qualifying the wonderful attributes of our movement with backward glances at our struggles. I’m not ever going to shrink back from my CofC heritage again. And I may even take up hand-wringing during my sermons.


I started writing this blog when I began my first full-time congregational preaching with the Legacy Church of Christ in June 2007. Today’s post is #985. I’m thinking that post #1,000 will happen before the end of October. And on that day, I’d like to celebrate by giving away brand new copies of some of the books that have radically shaped my thinking, my preaching, and my writing. Now, this is not going to be like Oprah — I’m not giving away any cars or houses — but I do want to distribute some excellent books.

Everyone who posts a comment on my blog between now and that 1,000th writing will automatically be entered in a drawing for the books. You can only be entered once per post during that time. You can only be entered a maximum of 14 times. You’ll only get credit for one entry per post regardless of how many comments you write per post. But it does start today. I’ll reveal the titles of the books tomorrow. The judge’s decisions (mine) are final. Good luck.



God's Outrageous Grace

Outrageous GraceWe say all the right things in church and we sing all the right songs about God’s amazing grace and mercy. We preach and teach God’s compassion and great commitment to salvation. But I think we still have a hard time coming to grips with the reality of it all. The truth is that God’s grace really is amazing! It’s outrageous! It’s absurd! God’s grace is ridiculous! It’s unfounded! It’s unfair! It’s downright scandalous!

“How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger… For I am God, and not man — the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.” ~Hosea 11:8-9

“Who is a God like you who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” ~Micah 7:18-19

Holy Scripture tells us that because of God’s determined persistence to save the lost, his merciful deliverance is available to all who will repent and call on the name of the Lord. He pours his outrageous grace on everybody! Not just Texans. Not just Americans. Not just people in the Church of Christ. God’s grace is not just for people who don’t have a criminal history. It’s not just for people with a high school education. It’s not only for people who’ve been relatively good for most of their lives. God’s outrageous, sin-forgiving, peace-bringing, grace-overflowing, eternal-life-pouring salvation is offered to every man and woman on this planet!

“He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” ~2 Peter 3:9

“Christ died for sins once for all.” ~1 Peter 3:18

“One died for all… He died for all… God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” ~2 Corinthians 5:14-19

His grace is outrageous because it’s poured out freely on murderous Ninevites and rebellious prophets alike. It’s out-of-control grace because God gives just as much to my sainted grandmother in Kilgore as he does to a sex offender in Dallas. It’s impossible-to-comprehend-grace because he extends the same amount to the person who baptized you as he does to a terrorist in Afghanistan.

Crazy, huh?

Our merciful Father calls us to join him in his concern for all people. He calls us to be mediators of that ridiculous love and forgiveness.

Crazy, huh?