Saturday, March 11, 2017

God - The Jilted Lover

Throughout the Bible, God likens his relationship to his people much like a lover – as if he were married to them.  God’s covenant relationship with his people is at the heart of understanding the whole of Scripture.  Whenever they stray from his promises, God is offended and hurt. 

            Yes, God feels pain.  God is an emotional Being, which is why we have emotions as people created in his image.  One way to look at the Bible is that it is a book primarily about a jilted lover – and that lover is God.  He has set his affection and his love upon people, but, for the most part, people have spurned their lover’s advance.  And it pains God.  When the original man and woman decided to find satisfaction outside of God, he was jilted and hurt.  When people went on to have children and raise them, they did so largely apart from the God who loved them.  People strayed so far from God that it hurt. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).

            But God was still gracious, sparing Noah and his family.  He took a group of Noah’s descendants, Abraham’s family, and set his covenant affection on them.  Through the Israelites God hoped to lead the entire world to himself.  Yet, they, too, came to fail God and set their affections on others.  So, we have a large chunk of the Old Testament devoted to communicating God’s hurt and disappointment.  Like a jilted lover, God longed for Israel to remain faithful, and, at the same time, was hurt and angry.  So, then, we have prophecies like Hosea.  Hosea had an unfaithful wife, and throughout the book of Hosea the relationship between him and Gomer mirrored the relationship between God and Israel.  Just as Hosea did not give up on his wife, even though she was brazenly unfaithful, so God looked at Israel as his wife and could not bear to give her up.

            But Israel still did not seek God’s love and grace.  And it aroused within God pain and anger because not only did they spurn God’s affectionate advances, they actively sought other lovers, as the prophet Ezekiel communicated in language not suitable for children:
25 At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. 26 You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity. 27 So I stretched out my hand against you and reduced your territory; I gave you over to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were shocked by your lewd conduct. 28 You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied. 29 Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia, a land of merchants, but even with this you were not satisfied.
30 “‘I am filled with fury against you, declares the Sovereign Lord, when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute! 31 When you built your mounds at every street corner and made your lofty shrines in every public square, you were unlike a prostitute, because you scorned payment.
32 “‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! 33 All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. 34 So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you (Ezekiel 16:25-34).

            Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God could not help but be gracious to his beloved wife (Isaiah 54:5-10):
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

            As the Old Testament comes to a close, God was still longing for his beloved to return.  “This is what the LORD Almighty says:  ‘I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.’” (Zechariah 8:2).  All of this was in the heart of the Apostle James when he wrote to the church about their spiritual adultery (James 4:4-6).  He knew that she was flirting with the world, and he wanted them to stop and return to the God who loved them and longed to show them grace, if they only would but humble themselves.  The Apostle John put it this way: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17).

            Here is the bottom line, my friends:  God does not want us to go somewhere else to have our needs met.  God yearns, passionately, for us to find our pleasure and enjoyment in him.  If and when we adulterate ourselves with the world, it hurts God deeply, like it would any jilted lover.  God waits with loving patience to show his grace and compassion.  But we have to be in an attitude of humility in order to receive grace.  Pride prevents us from receiving God’s good gift. 

            Seek the Lord while he may be found.  It is through the Lord Jesus Christ that all of God’s good promises and love find their ultimate fulfillment.  Come to Christ.  Receive the forgiveness he offers.  Walk his path of discipleship.  Follow Jesus.  Forsake all to obtain Christ.  He longs to show his affection and love to you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Remember That You Are Dust

            Today is Ash Wednesday.  This is the first of forty days in the season of Lent.  It is a time of reflection, contemplation, spiritual discipline, and especially repentance as Christians anticipate and prepare themselves for the redemptive events of Christ’s passion. 

            Last night I took the dried palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday celebration, broke them all up, and put them over a hot fire.  Over the course of the next forty-five minutes, I watched the dried branches slowly wither and turn to dust and ash.  By the time it was all done, no one could ever recognize that the dust was ever palm branches.  It could have been just about anything.  And there we have the sign and the meaning behind Ash Wednesday:  In the end, we are all dust.  All of our mortal striving, worrying, and pride to get ahead, posture ourselves for good positions, and preening to look better than we really are will eventually result in absolute diddly-squat.  The richest person on earth, as well as the poorest, will both look exactly the same in the end.  We all will be dust and ashes.

            Today I will take that unrecognizable palm branch dust and apply it to the foreheads of my parishioners in the sign of the cross – a tangible reminder that this is to be a season of repentance.  To be mortal means that we will all die someday.  But, for the follower of God, death will not be the end.  Something will arise out of the dust and ashes.  New life, a life unrecognizable from the first, shall come out of it all.

            The words I will utter when putting the ash to the forehead will be:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  Yes, it is both an ancient and a very solemn saying.  But there is much more than solemnity and tradition here – there is the hope of something different, of observing something sacred in the ashes, of knowing Christ.  If you think about it, there cannot be ashes unless there is fire.  When something comes close and exposed to fire, it is changed and becomes dust and ash.  It is no longer distinguishable as to its original form.  It will not and cannot ever be the same again.

            When Moses came into contact with the burning fiery bush, he was never the same again.  All that Moses was before became broken down and unrecognizable.  When Isaiah came into contact with God’s burning coal in the temple as he worshiped, he would never be the same again.  Isaiah was a new person, filled with a mission as God’s emissary.  He became completely unrecognizable from his former existence.  When the early church encountered the Day of Pentecost and the Spirit came upon them like fire, they were completely changed.  The believers became dust and from the ashes there arose a church that went on to impact the entire world.  They were never and could never ever be the same again.

            We all share the same fate in the end.  We will all eventually die.  And we will all eventually face fire; it is just a matter of which fire we will encounter.  Either it will be the fire of God’s purifying grace which humbly reduces us to ashes so that we can be renewed and fitted for a life with Jesus Christ forever.  Or we will face the consuming fire at the end of the age that will burn in eternal torment, separated forever from the life giving grace of God.

            So, today remember that you are dust.  Lay aside all that now seems so important, and humbly allow Jesus to remake you and fashion you after his image.  Go to that Ash Wednesday service and receive a sign of mortality, even death.  For only through dying can we live.