Read: Hosea 11: 1 – 12

Focus Verse: for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy. Hosea 11: 9b

The book of Hosea was written by the prophet Hosea as a reminder to the Israelites that our God is a loving God whose commitment, loyalty, and love to His people is unwavering, no matter what His people choose to do. The way God expresses love for the Israelites in Hosea teaches us that God loves His people unconditionally; in other words, He loves us the same no matter what we do, how we behave or how much or little we love Him in return. Throughout this book, God is pictured as a long-suffering husband who steadfastly stands by his unfaithful wife; this is an accurate portrayal of how God stands by His people who continually choose to worship false gods and objects rather than Him. Even though this book was written over 2700 years ago and to a different audience than us, it still applies to us. The words God uses in this short chapter are direct and convicting. He loved His people, and the more He called to them, the further away from Him they moved. He took care of His people, but they didn’t care; they were too busy pursuing other things. His people deserved to be destroyed for their unfaithfulness, but God recognized that He is a God of love and compassion and chose to withhold the deserved punishment. Reading this immediately called to mind various passages in the New Testament. For instance, it makes me think of Romans 3:23 and 6:23 in which God is speaking directly to us through the Apostle Paul: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It also makes me think of the warnings God gives His churches through the Apostle John in Revelation 2 and 3. You can read the entire chapters for context here: Revelation 2 – 3. Throughout these messages to the churches, God extolls the virtues of each church, but also points out the areas where the members of the church have turned away from Him and chosen to make something less than God their priority.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think we all do this, myself included. I don’t have an alter to Baal setup somewhere (which is what many of the Israelites were guilty of in the time of the Old Testament), but idolatry can be much more common than that. I know I have the propensity to elevate people and things to where they don’t belong. Satan knows that this tendency to put other people and things in front of God is part of our sin nature, and he is very quick to try to exploit that part of us through temptation. Dedicating quiet time to reading my Bible and praying earnestly to God is the only way that I have personally found to resist this very real temptation. No matter how enjoyable or good something or someone else is, that person or thing doesn’t belong ahead of our relationship with the God who created and loves us.  As followers of Christ, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world. This concept is found throughout the Bible. A couple of specific verses that tell us this very clearly are:

1 John 2:15-17: Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God, will live forever.

Romans 12:2: Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

In real life, this can range from the relatively easy to the straight out difficult. For example, I purchased a video game not too long ago (yes, as a grown man, I occasionally play video games to relax). I kept coming across a feeling as I played the game that I just shouldn’t be playing it. After playing it a few times and having this feeling, I finally lifted it up to God (I should have done that to begin with), and I felt a very clear answer that some of the concepts in the game were not honoring to God and were a temptation I should be avoiding. Again, I knew I shouldn’t be playing it from the beginning because of the “off” feeling I had (discernment), but I refused to admit it and kept playing – I can make a myriad of excuses for why: because the game was “fun”, because it was just a game so who was it hurting anyway, I needed to blow off steam and I didn’t really believe what I was seeing/hearing so what did it matter, everyone does it so what does it hurt. Regardless, those are all excuses that Satan used to tempt me (and to which I succumbed) to put something ahead of God and His will for me. I ended up throwing the game away (I didn’t want to sell it and contribute to someone else’s temptation) – that was a pretty easy decision over a meaningless video game, but it still took me over a week to do the right thing. What about something or someone much more important to us? As much as we love our spouses and children and as good and pleasing as those relationships are, it’s still idolatry when we put them ahead of God. Just as it’s idolatry when we find ourselves in relationships doing things that we know go against God’s Word and will. When we do that, we are putting those people and those relationships ahead of God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will”, which is just as idolatrous and unfaithful as the Israelites were in today’s reading.

Fortunately, we follow and serve a God who wants us to be in a right relationship with Him more than anything. He is quick to forgive our sin and make us right with Him, if we just ask Him. As John tells us in 1 John 1:9: “But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” As we start this new year, it seems like the perfect time to ask God to search our hearts and show us where we have placed people and things ahead of Him, and then for us to resolve to put God as our first love and everything else after Him.

Prayer: Lord, thank You that You give us Your Word and clearly tell us how to live. Thank You that You are filled with compassion and love and are quick to forgive when we stray from Your good, pleasing, and perfect will. Please draw me closer to You; if there is anything in my life that is keeping me from a more intimate relationship with You, please show that to me. Please give me strength and courage to resist the temptation of putting something lesser ahead of You in my life. Please help me to make obedience to You my top priority. In Jesus’ Name… Amen.

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