Reading Time: 6 minutes
A couple of months ago, I felt the Lord leading me to turn the pages of my Bible to those of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. Though minor, maybe in pages and prestige, they are anything but minor in their words. I've been blown away at how I see myself within their verses and urge you to see yourself there as well. The first feeling will be that of defensiveness and desire to pull away, but like I pleaded with you in the last post, don't go just yet. There is good news, there is hope, if we seek it. And we have a promise to find it, but first we must do some hard work. We have to first admit, that yes, I see myself here before something new can begin.
Hosea means salvation and was written to show us God's love for His sinful people. We may be familiar with the story of Hosea and Gomer (the prostitute he was told to take as his wife) but keep going beyond that story and we see even more ways that God's people turn away from Him, and what is to come.
The times of Hosea were filled with people being ruled under wicked kings, heavily taxed, and worshipping idols. The poor were also being oppressed and there was a total disregard for God. Hosea begins with teaching of the justice to come and ends with teaching that blessings come with repentance.
Joel (Yahweh is God) is written to warn and tell of God's judgment to come, but also to plea the people to return to God.
The times of Joel? Kings (and a Queen) power hungry and lacking spiritual guidance. At the start, a plague of locusts come and leave, and come again. Joel urges the people to grieve over their sin, to repent and lament, and then do it all over again. It ends with a promise of restoration and vindication, but not without the judgment of God.
Amos may come from the Hebrew word meaning, "to carry." His words were written to announce God's judgment, as the people had become complacent, (still) worshipped idols, and (still) oppressed the poor.
Israel was enjoying peace and prosperity at this time, but the people had grown selfish and materialistic. There were the very rich and the very poor, those in the former ignored the needs of the latter. The people were self-centered and indifferent towards God. Amos listed out the sins and judgements of the surrounding nations, his people thinking they were in the clear. But then, for Israel:
"For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god, they drink wine taken as fines." - Amos 2:6-8
They were not without sin either. And neither are we today.
So what would the prophets say of us today? What would they urge us to do?
Perhaps from Hosea, we hear how God saves and gives to us. But we cannot ignore that we have squandered and become proud. We ask for help and then say it isn't good enough. We put our trust in men and powers and stuff and circumstances that are not God.
"I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of the burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me."
"You are destroyed, Israel,
because you are against me, against your helper.
Where is your king, that he may save you?
Where are your rulers in all your towns,
of whom you said,
'Give me a king and princes?'"
Hosea 13:5-6; 9-10
What does Hosea urge us to do? Return.
"Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
'Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips."
From Joel we hear and see the cycle of sin and we cannot ignore it.
"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 ancestors?
Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation."
What does Joel urge us to do? Return.
"'Even now," declares the Lord,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."
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.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing...
...everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved...
there will be deliverance."
Joel 2:12-14, 32
Don't Miss the Promise After the Return
And from Amos we are reminded over and over and over how the Lord will not relent in His judgment. Yet, we still do not return to Him!
"The Lord roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem...
I will not relent..."
Amos 1:2-3, and 6 and 9 and 11 and 13 and 2:1 and 4 and 6.
God urges us to seek Him and live! To seek good and not evil, to hate evil and love good. He knows our offenses, our pride, our complacency. We cannot ignore that we are to be judged for it and we will be.
But there is an epilogue that we cannot miss. A promise that follows our return. Restoration.
"Seek me and live," the Lord says (5:4, 6). Though He knows "how many are [our] offenses and how great [our] sins." (5:12) How we oppress and judge and deprive..."the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom...I will destroy it...yet I will not totally destroy...I will give the command, and I will shake the people..." (9:8-9)
"I will restore...repair...rebuild..." (9:11)
"...I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
'They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them."
Amos 9: 14-15
Do you see yourself here? If you don't, you may not see any need for a Savior. Oh, but I see myself here. And it makes me rejoice even more in Christ who came to usher in this new era of return and restoration. I see myself and my land all over these pages. My prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus. Restore us and repair us." All of this world will be rebuilt one day, but in order to rebuild, the old foundation must be torn away so the new can be laid.
Reading and listening to the pleas of Hosea and Joel and Amos, will you help make way for the new foundation? Make space for the Savior to come in and start laying new rocks for you to stand on. May your life be one that helps hold up the others during rebuild.
He's tearing down and tilling the ground, will you let Him? Leave behind the old foundation.
Return to God, let Him restore you and begin the rebuild.
"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'" - Revelation 21:5
Reading time: 9 minutes
I Have Hated
I have hated.
I've hated situations, circumstances, and yes, people. Like the word love, hate can get thrown around flippantly. Yet, if there is anything I've talked about as much as singleness, it's that words matter. The ones we read, the ones we write, those we speak to ourselves, and especially those we speak out loud to others.
Our world was created by God speaking words. We were given life from breath! That alone is enough for us to know they are powerful and that they matter. But this isn't as much about the words we speak, but those we first think and believe. Which in turn, will influence how we speak out loud or how we keep quiet. And even our actions.
This morning, I listened to The Daily podcast. Put out by the New York Times, it's a podcast usually around 30 or so minutes that focuses on an issue relevant at hand. This morning, it was on the killing of Rayshard Brooks, the man recently killed at an Atlanta Wendy's. (Warning: very strong language.) Protests and riots ensued afterwards in response to the killing, eventually leading to that Wendy's being burned to the ground. When I learned of the incident with Mr. Brooks, my first thought was disbelief. That again this was happening, in the midst of one of the biggest movements of my lifetime - Black Lives Matter.
Okay listen, I know there are lots of feelings surrounding the phrase and organization of Black Lives Matter (BLM). I'm still fleshing out what it all means to me. Reading and listening and praying, doing the "quiet holy work" as one of my friends wrote me one day. Since the death of George Floyd, I've been wrestling with what to say and when to say it. Feeling caught in a damned if I do, damned if I don't moment. So, I stopped worrying about wanting to say the right or wrong thing and started listening instead. My room is full right now of books (not unusual), but almost every space is spilling over with stories and resources about the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and racism/antiracism. Recent nights I've fallen asleep with a book or my Bible next to me, maybe even hoping osmosis will work in my favor like I hoped in college during finals weeks. Hoping that all knowledge and information would seep into my skin and through my bloodstream to my heart. It's a lot. I'm still overwhelmed every day. And I don't have it all figured out, I probably never will. But I'm listening and I'm reflecting on where I've hated in the past.
Which leads me back to this morning, after listening to the podcast on Mr. Brooks, I thought to myself two things: what is the actual definition of a hate crime and have I hated? Refer back to the first sentence of this post for my answer. Is it yours? Don't pull away just yet.
A hate crime, also known as a bias-motivated crime, is a prejudice motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership (or perceived membership) of a certain social group or race. What is crime? One definition is "an action or activity that, although not illegal, is considered to be evil, shameful, or wrong.
So, have I ever directed an uncalled for action towards another person because of what they look like?
Humbly and sadly again I say, yes.
I have hated.
Where do I go from here? Where do I go after admitting this? In the direction that God, my Father, calls me to go. My response should be one that mirrors His attitude towards anything that is evil. And that is towards hating hate.
Psalm 97:10 says, "Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked."
God hates anything evil and violent. It's all throughout Scripture and cannot be ignored. It's what draws out His righteous justice against people and lands - when violence is directed towards His people, but also when those who follow Him are the evil ones. What is violence? Behavior intending to hurt, damage, or kill. While physical behavior is the most thought of and the most evident after it happens, I go back to what I said at the beginning. Our words, spoken or thought, are powerful. What we hear, what we believe, will drive our actions.
We have found ourselves to be on both sides of this, we cannot confidently say there is no evil, or sin, in us. Friend, if you think you can say that, I ask you to sit and ask the Lord to show you the evil inside of yourself. Sit, ask, and listen. Again, don't pull away from it. Don't pull away from Him who wants to do a great work in and through you.
Biblestudytools.com says that, "hatred proves to be a tangible measurement of evil...it's ugliness may extend in any direction." Tangible. It can be engaged through all our senses and cannot be ignored It's felt in the welps of someone beaten. Seen by the countless videos, in our always online, always watching world. Some taste it in the blood that falls from their face or smell it as tear gas surrounds them. We hear it from the shouts of protestors or a man saying, "I can't breathe."
Align & Abide
1 John 4:19-21 says, "We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."
Treat others the way you want to be treated. It's a lesson we are taught from a young age. The Bible goes further and says we are to love our neighbors as our ourselves and we are to not hate our brothers in our hearts (Leviticus 19:17-18). 1 John 3:15, equates hate to murder in God's sight, "Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him." We, I, cannot continue to live being hateful to brothers and sisters, if I truly desire to be in an abiding relationship with God. All of me must align with all of God.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", according to Proverbs 9:10, and, "to fear the Lord is to hate evil," Proverbs 8:13 says. What stands between us and God? Our sin, our own evilness. We must hate evil and kill it within us, and killing it means we admit that that tangible hate is indeed within us. How do we kill hate? Love. But if we are evil, where is love? It comes to us a person, Jesus Christ, who died a tangible death for us. His death was seen by both those who followed Him and those who mocked Him. It was felt by the hands of Joseph who prepared His body for burial and by the hearts of those who loved Him. Tasted in the tears of His family who watched in the shadow of the Cross and smelled as the vinegar wine soaked a sponge. Death was and is felt deeply. It hurts. Evil hurts.
And love heals.
What keeps us from hating evil and jumping into love? Fear of what others might say? Our families? Those who follow us on social media?
John 7:7 says the world cannot hate us! "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil," Jesus said Himself. If we are standing against evil, fighting to kill it within ourselves, hating what is hated by God, our response is mirroring God's response because He hates hate! He alone kills it because He is love. And if we are mirroring Him, the response of others to us and our response against hate is not against us, but God Himself!
Evil is not ours to repay, that is God's job alone, because He is the ultimate judge. Proverbs 20:22, "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the Lord, and He will avenge you." God hates evil, He will not just let it go. And His judgment will not look like ours, but we can be sure that is right because He is righteous. We cannot repay evil for evil, but we can fight it. We must fight it and we will want to fight it if we wish for no separation between us and Him.
So, how do we fight hate and hate hate? By love.
Remember the command of Leviticus, reiterated by Jesus, "love your neighbor." Love is shown in many ways, but what is it? "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs." 1 Corinthians 13 tells us. Don't miss this part, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Always. And verse 8 of chapter 13, one of the greatest declarations of all time, "Love never fails."
It is a promise worth holding tight to, but one we will not fully see here. It's what makes the promise and hope of Heaven also great. Think of your greatest love here on earth right now. Got it? That is but a mere taste of the love we will fully know in Heaven.
Love always protects. Trusts. Hopes. Perseveres.
Perseveres. Keeps going. Stays the course. Fights. Against what the world is saying and against what we may have been taught all our lives and especially against what the enemy may be speaking into our lives. We are saved by God in order to do His good work. I'm reminded by believers who've been doing this reconciliation work a lot longer than I have, that as believers aiming to fight the good fight, we are to no longer live as we once did. Titus 3 says, before saving, we were foolish and disobedient, "we lived in malice and envy" and were "hated and hating one another." There is no place for that when we have truly been saved through the kindness and love of God, and Paul urges us as believers to remember this, so we are careful to devote ourselves "to doing what is good...things that are excellent and profitable for everyone." (Titus 3:8)
In the way that death is tangible, my love for others needs to be tangible. Felt with gentle hands that hold others up, heard by words or shouts against evil, tasted and smelled over meals together with people once seen as strangers. Ultimately all seen by a repentant life.
I have hated. Am I now hating hate? Killing it within me? If not, may I fall before the throne of God, and ask Him to search my heart. Are you hating hate? If not, ask why not. What is keeping you from killing the evil within you? Commit a hate crime against your own hate.
Speak against evil. To yourself, to your family, your friends, your co-workers, your local governments. May we find ourselves only on the side of love. Speaking it. Living it.
And hating hate as we do.
Reading time: 7 minutes
Never Uttered Before
A well-known verse (that's actually about church discipline) brought me to a new realization about singleness this morning.
Matthew 18:20 says, "for where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them."
I mentioned this verse is actually about church discipline - and it is within the context of Scripture that it is found. Jesus is speaking with believers to tell them how to treat a fellow believer who sins and that as they are dealing with the issue of sin in another believer's life, He is there with them. It's another example of how Jesus provides strength and peace in a situation that may not be peaceful at all when we invite Him into it. He is affirming believers holding other believers accountable.
I've heard this verse quoted many times, particularly when talking about believers being together in community as the church, or when believers are collectively praying together about one thing. But it stuck in my head this morning, because the enemy tried to twist it - to try and get me to hear something else entirely. The scheme he used on Jesus, quoting Scripture to try and tempt Him, he tried on me this morning.
He wanted me to hear that if I wasn't with another, me being one and not two (with a spouse) or three (in a building with other believers), then I wasn't being seen or heard by God.
So I read the verse in it's context and then sent the enemy on his way with a simple statement that I don't think I've ever uttered before: Jesus has redeemed my singleness.
Mountains and Valleys
My singleness was never going to be redeemed by marriage. I was never going to be redeemed by marriage.
As a believer and follower of Christ, there is no way I would want to believe that marriage was the thing to save me. For what if it doesn't happen? I'm lost forever...literally. Yet, for certain seasons of my life, I've been buying into that lie.
Here's the thing with me and my singleness (and perhaps for other single folks if you ask them): it's been a series of mountains and valleys. For years, maybe more than half my life, marriage was something I never thought of, even through college. I was always surrounded by great friends who I had fun with and kept me laughing. Even when watching friends date, it was never something I felt like I needed. Wanted? Sure, but not needed. I loved my spot at the tables we pushed together in the dining halls, where we would sit and laugh for hours. Sometimes relationships circled around the tables, other times not, but it was never the core of who we truly were. Of who I was. Those times around the tables filled with friends, that was a mountaintop in my single life.
The valley of loneliness didn't catch up with me until after college. Graduation happened, I moved across the country, and for close to a year, I was still doing well. Looking back, I was slowly sliding down the side of the mountain (in one way literally, as I attempted to learn how to ski during this time and it did not go well) into a valley I hadn't quite found myself in before, as I was going to this time. My time in California came to an end and I remember as I was flying back to Alabama, thinking about driving to my apartment. Only, that wasn't where I was going because my apartment in Tuscaloosa, the city that had been my home for five years, wasn't mine anymore. If I had pulled up into that parking space in front of the patio on the left, I wouldn't have seen my things, but someone else's.
After California, I moved back home, rested a little and then started searching for a full-time job (which is a full-time job in and of itself but with no benefits and almost only rejection - another metaphor for singleness, but that would be a whole other post). I eventually found myself in my current home, Mobile, and started settling into a new life here. In a city that I knew I could enjoy, but only had a few people that I knew. My people, my college family, now at this time was spread throughout the state and around the country. Long dinners at long tables were no longer. And loneliness started etching its way into those now empty spots of my life.
Seeking the Summit
As time kept moving for me, a single, it did for my friends as well. Some single, some actively dating. My texts were full of conversations where friends and I talked about trying to find contentment in Christ alone and navigating adult life as a twenty-something. Then slowly, our conversations began to change. Friends were dating, they had a guy and it was serious, what are you doing on this date? The fridge become a collage of announcements and invitations. Weddings allowed reunions that got us all back around big tables again. After one wedding, I remember walking the streets of Tuscaloosa with friends and we talked about how we missed this life. Us together, laughter, let's all move back and be in one place together again. We jokingly, not so jokingly, agreed. Saying we were down for it, but knowing that even if we did, it wouldn't be the same as it had been before. Those small reunions were tiny mountains for me, or at least me walking up the incline from valley, trying to leave it below.
I never quite reached the top, and I never was going to, unless I changed what was at the summit waiting for me.
As birthdays passed and I found myself late into my twenties, I tried to find more ways to get out of the valley. Still thinking the only way out was a relationship and eventual marriage, like a good Christian millennial, I looked to church...and dating apps. Remember the looking for a full-time job analogy? No benefits and only rejection? Here again it applies all too well. Between friends "who only love you and want to see you happy" and apps where conversation lags and drags, the story became the same over and over. Interest, maybe-perhaps, no? Okay, never mind.
I still hadn't changed what was at the top of the mountain, so why did I think this cycle would be any different? There was only one way to finally get out of the valley and beyond the halfway point of the incline that I felt completely stuck on. To change what was waiting for me at the summit.
Single, Saved, Redeemed
So I did. I told friends who loved me (and I do know they love me) that I just wasn't feeling it, that I wasn't in a place ready to or wanting to date. And I deleted the apps.
I looked up the incline still ahead of me, but now eager to take it on and dig my heels in. Because at the top of the mountain now waiting for me? Jesus.
Have I reached it? No, but perhaps today I did reach the next basecamp closer to the summit. Because when I felt the enemy try to twist Jesus' words and use them against me, to make me feel alone, I rejected it and heard Jesus speak instead, "I have redeemed her singleness."
Jesus saved my life many years ago and ever since then He's been redeeming bits and pieces of my story. The empty spots of my life are being filled and not with loneliness or grief or fear or anger. But filled with the life-giving blood of Christ. Slowly, each empty, desolate place is being turned into an oasis of life. One that cannot be ignored or unseen.
My singleness was never going to be redeemed by marriage. I was never going to be redeemed by marriage.
But, praise God, I have been redeemed. May my single self say so.
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story -
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things."
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