Spring Rains

Do you believe God causes injury to those who love him? This is an excruciatingly hard question for believers. If you shouted “no,” please indulge me by continuing to read.

What if I said, “Do you believe God will do anything to stop us when we are going the wrong direction?” I bet you would say “yes” to that. Or how about, “Do you believe hurt can result when God redirects our path for our own good?” Phrased in this manner, perhaps the subject might seem a little more palatable.

I’m sure we all understand that God will do extreme things to stop us from sinning and spending eternity away from his presence. In fact, he sent his only Son for that very reason. The cross is evidence of God’s desire to put us on a righteous path no matter the cost, pain, harm, or suffering.

In our passage today, the nation of Israel had strayed far away from God. They had separated into two nations and had fallen into great apostasy, idolatry, and rejection of the Law. Hosea came along as a prophet in this fractured time, and God described what is happening in Israel as “adultery.” And so, God acts to discipline and correct the nations that he loves. His correction is painful, as it sometimes is with us. But see what Hosea says to the people:

Hosea 6:1-6

“Come, let’s return to the Lord;
        for it is he who has injured us and will heal us;
        he has struck us down, but he will bind us up.

The One who has hurt you will heal you. Every parent who has had to correct or discipline a child understands this dichotomy. What happens for our own good can sometimes hurt a great deal.

I experienced this many years ago when a new pastor arrived at the large church I was serving and proposed a new staffing structure that eliminated all of the Associate Pastor positions. In a few months I was gone from the church and the people I had loved for 16 years. As I lay wounded, a lovely friend came and gave me the most startling news: God was the agent of my pain. It wasn’t the new pastor, or the restaffing plan, or the committee, or the church. God had done this for reasons beyond my understanding, but I was to trust in him.

Gotta be honest here; it took a while … about two years.

But I landed on this beautiful island and a year later, a position suddenly opened up for me in a wonderful church. Twelve years later I can say with assurance that God absolutely allowed me to have great pain in order to get me to a place where I needed to be. God indeed caused this to happen for my own good. I am thankful for his intervention in my life every day.

As you read this next part, notice the beautiful foreshadowing of the resurrection:

After two days he will revive us;
        on the third day he will raise us up,
            so that we may live before him.

And that’s the good news. If God has you in a hurt locker right now, he also has plans to bring you out of it.

Let’s know, let’s press on to know the Lord;
        whose appearing is as certain as the dawn;
        who will come to us like the showers,
        like the spring rains that give drink to the earth.”

Like the spring rains that give drink to the earth, God will quench your thirst and restore you to joy if you return to him.

Hosea leaves us with the same warning he delivered to Israel. God desires faithful love. He is not interested in your faux acts of piety, your token offerings, or your shallow appearances at church for the sake of being seen there. No, indeed. We are called to give him our all with a love that is as steadfast as his love is for us.

    Ephraim, what will I do with you?
            Judah, what will I do with you?
    Your love is like a morning cloud,
            like the dew that vanishes quickly.
    Therefore, I have attacked them by the prophets,
            I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
                and my judgment goes forth like a light.
    I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
            the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings.

Can God cause you pain? Only when you really need it. So come back to him with the offering of yourself and he will heal you.

Summer Beauty by Becca Ziegler

A Messenger Arrives

It is hard to imagine that the season of Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Even as we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations next week, pastors all over the place are starting to write their first of four advent sermons. Advent is the season of preparation for the “advent” of Christ on earth, and we mark it off by lighting candles in our churches that remind us of the hope, peace, joy, and love that he came to bring. And we always begin by listening to the messengers. The prophets of the Old Testament wrote about a much-needed messiah who would come to save their people. Their prophesies set the stage for Jesus. Listen to Malachi’s words about a messenger who would come to announce the arrival of the savior:

Malachi 3:1-4 (Common English Bible)

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me; suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming, says the Lord of heavenly forces. 2 Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can withstand his appearance. He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. They will belong to the Lord, presenting a righteous offering. 4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in ancient days and in former years.

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and was written to address the religious, spiritual, and moral laxity that had overtaken the Israelites. The people had returned from their Babylonian exile seventy years prior, and the temple had been rebuilt. But they had fallen into laziness and cynicism about their relationship with God. Their disaffection led them to bring “polluted offerings” to the temple, breaking the covenant law about first fruits, which required that only the finest and unblemished offerings be presented. (Malachi 1:7). Malachi speaks directly to their powerless worship and warns that judgment is coming.

It was always the mission of the prophets to bring God’s message of God’s covenant relationship to the people and the expectations that came with it. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continued through the major and minor prophets and always carried both warnings and hope. Their work involved warning against social injustice and the worldly powers that oppressed God’s people, but it also included words of hope about their future deliverance and a peace that would last. The prophetical writings breathed hope into humanity’s present condition, regardless of the century they were written. Malachi warned that in order for a righteous offering to be presented, a cleansing fire will occur first, beginning with the slack priests (the Levites) who should have been leading the people in true worship.

We see Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, who came and will come again to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will become a righteous and pleasing offering to God through the unblemished First Fruit of the Son. (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming.  Sound scary? Hang on … hope is also coming. John the Baptizer, the messenger chosen to clear the way for Jesus, shows us the way: repent, for the kingdom is at hand.

When we begin looking toward Advent with a call to repent, it sounds as thought we have confused the season and are jumping to Lent. But the call to repentance is season-less. Malachi reminds us that a refiner’s fire is coming and we need to be ready.

As we make ourselves ready next week for great Thanksgiving feasts, football games, and the start of Christmas preparations, let us not neglect to make our hearts ready as well. “Suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple”, says Malachi. Let us make the temples of our souls ready and waiting.

Ready, and Waiting by Kathy Schumacher

Remnant Theology

Someone long ago planted a group of jonquils in front of my mailbox. It predates my arrival here, which happened eleven years ago. Every spring they pop up with their cheerful faces and strong pronouncement that winter is over and we can turn our faces toward summer. This gift of foresight on someone else’s part is always welcome. For most of the year, that patch of ground is empty and desolate. My neighbor once told me that the entire mailbox was once ringed with jonquils. Now only this one patch remains, and I am grateful.

In reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, we encounter something known as “remnant theology.” This describes God’s practice of taking a land, a society, or a whole nation down to almost nothing and then restoring a small percentage back after a period of desolation. Think of Noah’s family after the flood…it was up to them to replenish and repopulate the world when they finally came upon dry land. They were God’s remnant.

In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, we see God preparing Isaiah to speak a word of doom into a hopeless situation. The nation had fallen hard into apostasy, and their impending disaster was upon them. Isaiah was called to preach to a group of people who were too calloused and hard-headed to hear him, and the length of his service would be determined by how long it would take for them to turn with their hearts and seek God’s healing:

Isaiah 6 (Common English Bible)

God said, “Go and say to this people:

Listen intently, but don’t understand;
    look carefully, but don’t comprehend.
10 Make the minds of this people dull.
    Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind,
    so they can’t see with their eyes
    or hear with their ears,
    or understand with their minds,
    and turn, and be healed.”

But even in the midst of this proclamation, God offers the hope of a remnant that would provide a holy seed for the rebuilding of Israel.

11 I said, “How long, Lord?”

And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” 12 The Lord will send the people far away, and the land will be completely abandoned. 13 Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed.

The dichotomy of a God who destroys and a God who restores is striking. His mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and remnant theology teaches us that mercy always prevails, thanks be to God! God always leaves behind a holy seed.

If you are in a season of desolation and judgment, remember Isaiah. In the beginning of this passage, he declares that seeing God seated on the throne surrounded by flying seraphs had rendered him “undone.” Sometimes it takes a holy undoing before we can be restored to what we were are meant to be…holy, cleansed, called, and redeemed.

Gold Daffodils by Jan Wilson


When we think of what a prophet does, most of us have an understanding that a prophet speaks accurately about what will happen in the future. We read the Old Testament prophets who talked about a coming Messiah that would bring “healing in his wings,” and we see that prophecy fulfilled in Jesus.

But prophets don’t just speak of future things, they speak for God in the present reality. They are both “foretelling” and “forth-telling.” Neither job is easy. Everyone has an opinion. When a forth-telling prophet speaks an unpopular opinion, the arrows fly and the doors of understanding shut tight. “If I want your opinion I would have asked for it” is often what prophets hear.

Way back in Deuteronomy, a prophet was promised. This is interesting, as we usually associate Deuteronomy with the giving of the Law. This little nugget stands out as a shining promise to people who had lost the ability to hear God. Moses is reassuring them that God still listens. God still cares. God still speaks.

Deuteronomy 18 (The Message)

15-16 God, your God, is going to raise up a prophet for you. God will raise him up from among your kinsmen, a prophet like me. Listen obediently to him. This is what you asked God, your God, for at Horeb on the day you were all gathered at the mountain and said, “We can’t hear any more from God, our God; we can’t stand seeing any more fire. We’ll die!”

It is fascinating to see this early hint at the incarnation. God will raise up the prophet from “among your kinsmen, a prophet like me [Moses.]” This prophet will come from one of the tribes of Israel, and will act as an intercessor-reconciler between the people and the fiery presence of God.

17-19 And God said to me, “They’re right; they’ve spoken the truth. I’ll raise up for them a prophet like you from their kinsmen. I’ll tell him what to say and he will pass on to them everything I command him. And anyone who won’t listen to my words spoken by him, I will personally hold responsible.

Here we clearly see a foretelling of Jesus. This prophet will be an Israelite, a kinsman-redeemer, and a vessel for the word of God….because he is the Word of God.

20 “But any prophet who fakes it, who claims to speak in my name something I haven’t commanded him to say, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die.

God isn’t messing around. Fake prophets, anyone who says things that are NOT from God, and those who speak in the name of other gods (such as the modern trend of attributing power to “The Universe”) will be dealt with severely.

When prophets rise up who both foretell and tell forth the message of God, we would do well to listen obediently. God still speaks to us today.

Follow God’s Voice by Connie Outten

The Miraculous, Glorious Absurdity

Isaiah 9

2 The people walking in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

    a light has dawned.

3 You have enlarged the nation

    and increased their joy;

they rejoice before you

    as people rejoice at the harvest.

Of all the Old Testament prophets who pointed to the coming of the Messiah, I love the words of Isaiah the best. Did you know that Jesus quoted from Isaiah more that any other prophet? Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the prophecies, and Isaiah apparently says it best.

One of the Advent traditions that many churches observe is called the Festival of Lessons and Carols. It tells the entire story from start to finish of how the Messiah came, and why he was necessary. While it relies on several Isaiah passages, it doesn’t start there. Surprised?

It starts with Genesis. From the beginning of time, we needed a Savior. With the first sin in the garden, humanity necessitated a saving from ifself, as it were. We see throughout the entire Old Testament that the sacrificial system offered by God in order to redeem us failed again and again.

Then came Jesus, the fulfillment of every promise and the hope of every heart. Jesus is the end-all-be-all of sacrificial lambs. He took the sins of the world upon himself and we are forever reconciled with God through Jesus’ saving death that brings eternal life.

And thus the need for the incarnation. The incarnation is understood as “God becoming flesh.” God, in his omniscience, realized that we would need a Savior that we could relate to. He chose to come to earth in the form of an infant, so that he would walk, talk, suffer, feel anger, experience temptation, know hunger and fatigue, and be relatable.

John 1

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think the whole notion is a glorious and miraculous absurdity, and one that demonstrates God’s love beyond a doubt. That the God who created the universe would lower himself to such a humble place blows my mind. Born in dirt, cradled in straw, homeless and cold, God came, and dwelt among us. Isn’t that absurd? 

This morning I recalled a wonderful young female pastor named Alice who preached at my Annual Conference many years ago. I sat in my seat, spellbound. I had not done much preaching up to that point, and I had modeled my style after my colleagues, who were all male. When I heard Alice preach, I was stunned. She preached like a girl. She was relatable, humorous, genuine, and authentic. I never preached like a man after that. Her example helped me preach from my own voice, and it changed me forever.

The reason God came as a baby was so that he could experience the world he created, and thus be an authentic guide, a relatable savior, and a credible witness. Jesus is the real deal. The stories of his life on earth are stories we can put ourselves directly into. We can feel what he felt, see what he saw, and walk where he walked. As absurd as it was, it was the only way to save us.

God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the greatest gift you will receive on any Christmas. How will you respond? Where will you be a credible witness, and tell this story to someone who needs to hear it? How will you relate to Jesus today?

Go, and preach this in your own voice. Tell someone about the Messiah. Better yet, act it out in everything you say, think, and do. Be the light in the darkness of somebody’s Christmas, and rejoice.

Lights in the Darkness by Suzanne Wrenn