Dealing with Heavenly and Earthly Relationships

relationshipsCheck out the podcast here.

Last week, we began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living for the home, the job, and at church. This morning, we’ll finish up this chapter by looking at some important relationships.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 20:20-30 and I hope you take the time to read it.

We start with a relationship that everyone has. Not everyone may have children, but everyone has parents. “He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness.” Ex. 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Under the Law, cursing your parents was a capital offense; it was punishable by death. That seems pretty harsh by today’s standards. Rebellious kids can be extraordinarily draining on parents. When this occurs, the lamp will go out. We’re not talking literally, we’re talking metaphorically. In Survivor, when you’re voted out, they snuff your torch signifying your death in the game. This is the illusion Solomon is giving us. When it’s dark out, you need a lamp to see. If you’re rebellious to your parents, you are metaphorically put in the dark.

“An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.” If your mind is drawn to the prodigal son, you’re on the right track. This verse is connected to the previous verse about parents. Inheritances typically come from the parents and sometimes the worst thing you can do for your kids is give them money or possessions they don’t have to earn. There’s nothing wrong with providing for your children in the future, but the kids shouldn’t expect it. And most certainly, they shouldn’t demand it early. That’s what the prodigal did in Luke 15. In Lu. 15:12, the son says, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” The son leaves and, “squandered his estate on loose living.” (Lu. 15:13) Easy money does not guarantee financial stability.

Our next relationship involves the Lord. “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” Paul repeated this in Rom. 12:17-19, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Paul quotes Deut. 32:35. The Lord will take care of you and will fight your battles on your behalf, but don’t assume that your enemies will be struck down. We’ve got to keep Paul’s command in the forefront of our mind when dealing with people that provide us with challenges. As much at it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Do what you can to foster peace: do what you can to be kind and loving, patient and compassionate. If people don’t respond the way you think they ought to, so what? It’s not on you. Don’t think you’ve always got to be the one looking out for yourself. Many times, He puts someone in the path that will fight on your behalf, but it’s still God working.

“Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and a false scale is not good.” We saw this exact principle in 20:10 and way back in 11:1.Don’t be dishonest in your business dealings.

“Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?” I’d like to spend a bit of time here to talk about some important principles that many people discount. Keep in mind that Solomon said in 19:21, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” And back in Pro. 16:9 when Solomon said, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” In everything we do, we have a necessary dependence on God. That is not a bad thing. Our understanding of what goes on around us is severely limited. We can only see so far and we rarely understand or consider the impact our actions have on others. When you talk about God’s sovereignty, there is a tendency to become fatalistic. Whatever happens, happens, and that’s the way God wants it. We become like little puppets controlled by God. I think that’s the wrong way to look at life. Of course, we should have a desire to follow God’s will and I believe He has a purpose for us to fulfill. I don’t think it’s necessarily to have a global impact or somehow accomplish incredible things for Christ. I think for most of us, a simple life of passionate, zealous, and complete obedience will accomplish much for the Kingdom of God.

We often cannot comprehend what God is accomplishing behind the scenes of life and we would be foolish to think that it doesn’t matter. Humanity has free will, but God is the One that connects the ties that bind us together to accomplish His will. While I can assuredly say that not everyone follows God, everyone does play a part in fulfilling God’s will. God knows all the variables; He knows everything that can and or will change; He knows how the weather affects us, how people affect us; He knows all that and He is still the One that controls the universe. The fatalist says that nothing I do will change what will happen. Not true. Follow God and watch Him work in you and through you. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had not divorced; I wonder if my dad had not changed companies that led us to SC; I wonder what would have been if I went to Carolina instead of Winthrop. I wonder if I had not joined the Navy or only served for six years; I wonder if Kari and I had not married. I could go on and on, but God knew the decisions I would make that affected not just my life, but the lives of all the people in the last 53 years that I affected and those lives that affected me; good or bad, positive or negative. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have through God.

“It is a trap for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry.” This is a strangely worded verse has been interpreted several different ways. When taken in light of Eccl. 5:4-6 and Pro. 18:7, it seems the best interpretation is don’t make promises you cannot keep. It doesn’t matter if it’s a promise to God, although that one is really bad, or promises to a person that you either cannot keep or do not intend to keep. A common occurrence these days is saying you’re going to do something and in the back of your mind it’s true unless anything else comes up. One of the troubling things to me is how quick people are to let go of commitments they have made. It can be as simple as a child agreeing to clean their room and then doesn’t or being a member of a church committing to participate and support the body and then allowing that commitment to be superseded by other things. There truly are few people that can be relied upon.

Let’s shift over to royalty. Back when kings ruled the land, part of their responsibility was to mete out justice. This is handled by judges today and this is the angle I’m coming from. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them.” Winnows means scatter. Wisdom dictates that you separate criminals so they cannot devise evil schemes against people. It’s a great idea, but we put criminals together. One of the best places to learn how to commit crime is in jail or prison. We don’t do a great job of rehabilitating criminals that are incarcerated. Here’s a good question: is that what prisons are for? I submit to you that jail and prison are a place to go to pay the debt owed to society for the crime that has been committed. “Driving the threshing wheel” over someone gives further evidence to support a separation. The threshing wheel was used to separate grain from the chaff. A common form of the threshing wheel consisted of a couple of wooden planks that had several rollers attached underneath that were fitted with iron teeth. The thresher sat on the planks that were pulled by a team of oxen. As the threshing wheel rolled, the iron teeth would separate the grain. If you picture the threshing wheel rolling over a man, you can imagine the damage that might occur – even death. Our constitution protects people from cruel or unusual punishment so this method of punishment would obviously not be used here. Solomon is telling us that it takes a wise judge to mete out the proper punishment. I’ve got to remind you that biblical wisdom comes from God. The wise ruler must distinguish between the godless and the good and also has to use discernment in determining the punishment required.

The next verse is a really beautiful depiction of Christ’s love. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being.” When you look at God’s design for humanity, this makes perfect sense. Each of us has life breathed into our soul by God. Every human conceived, whether that life was actually born or not, was created by the power of God. Rom. 1:20 tells us that God put in us a desire to know Him. Humans are the only segment of God’s creation created in the image of God. We are created in God’s image with the ability to think and understand. In 1 Cor. 2:11, Paul said, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” The spirit of man is an illusion to our conscience which has been designed in us by our Creator.

Solomon mentions two virtues of a good king. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness.” Loyalty and righteousness come from the same Hebrew word which means covenant loyalty. Loyalty means a strong feeling of support or allegiance. In context, Solomon is talking about a mutual loyalty between the king and his kingdom. By application, you can see the far reaching implications of loyalty. I’ll ask the question, what are you loyal to? Certainly, family comes to mind. There are people loyal to their jobs, sometimes at the expense of loyalty to their families. Given that we’ve just finished the college football season, we saw a lot of people very loyal to their teams. When it comes to your loyalty to God, how is that demonstrated? If we keep the meaning of loyalty in mind, can you demonstrate a strong feeling of support or allegiance to God if you don’t pray, read or study your Bible? What about not participating in the things of the church? I often wonder how someone can say they pray and read their Bible faithfully yet don’t participate in church. Coming to church every week is included in that, but I’m talking about a daily loyalty to God because He is worthy of our loyalty.

“The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.” Young men tend to rely on strength while older men tend to rely on wisdom. I’m not as strong as I used to be, but I’m a whole lot wiser than I used to be, and that’s not to say that I have my wisdom tank filled.

Finally, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” This is still talking about kings and punishment. Stripes refer to actual punishment inflicted as a result of a wrongdoing. “Strokes reach the innermost being” refers back to verse 27.

I know we’ve covered a lot of ground today. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes with punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith. Ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback.


Tried and True

tried-and-trueCheck out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon said destruction awaits those that are wicked. Followers of Christ have His righteousness and as a result have a refuge in Him. Wise people know when to demonstrate the wisdom they have obtained through knowledge in God, they don’t have to go around advertising it. A nation exalts God when it does what is right in God’s eyes. Be a good servant in the example of Christ. This morning, Solomon gives us some wisdom regarding the mouth

Here’s our passage for today found in Pro. 15:1-4: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.
A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.

We start off with an incredible principle. All of the principles in the Bible are true and most can be applied to our everyday lives. Some principles though are so incredible they really stand out. Some principles are more important than others in the Bible too. Speaking to the religious crowd of the day, Jesus said in Matt. 23:23, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Some principles are higher than others in Scripture. It doesn’t mean they’re not important. In sports you’ve heard the term most valuable player. All the players on a team are valuable. Some are more valuable. It’s the same principle here.

I think the first principle we look at today could be considered an MVP – most valuable principle. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Since gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, every believer has the ability to put this principle into practice. Gentle means mild in temperament or behavior, not harsh or severe. This MVP can be applied in any situation where there is interaction between at least two people. When tensions rise for whatever reason, soft words can quell the strife. You’ve seen this first hand I am sure. It can be in interactions with your boss, your teacher, your coworker, your spouse, or the clerk at the store. You can diffuse the situation or you can exacerbate it. You can be a help to the situation or you can be a hindrance. Not only do you have that heavenly gift of gentleness, you also have self-control. That means you don’t have to respond the way you’re being talked to. It can be very difficult to respond gently when you’re being yelled at. Yell back and it will only get worse. I encourage you to put this into practice and watch how things change. Easy? No, but it’s definitely the best way to handle things. We have a natural way to handle things and that’s to fight back, to yell back, to respond the same, but we have something supernatural in us that gives us the ability to be different. Not only is this an MVP, it’s an excellent way to minimize the possibility of feeling horrible regret later. I know there have been times I have not responded with this principle. As I recall, it always led to conviction and deep regret. This led to doing something even harder – apologize for my ungodly behavior. It’s not always that I yelled. It’s that I used words that were not respectful or edifying. I would offer that if you can gain godly control over your tongue, your life would be incredibly transformed.

The second principle goes hand in hand with the first. “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.” The person who uses wisdom when speaking makes the truth more palatable. Do not misunderstand; I am in no way, shape, or form saying compromise the truth or water down the truth or give partial truth. Just because something is true does not mean you need to go out of your way to provide someone that truth. I often refer to social media because it has become such a big part of our lives. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it just is. If you want to test what Solomon is saying, post something that is absolutely true in accordance with Scripture and watch the attacks start. Keep in mind that you put this on your own Facebook page and depending on your privacy settings, the hateful comments will start rolling in. Many of these comments come from your friends. So you have to ask yourself, who are you allowing in your life and why? Use wisdom when speaking the truth. There are appropriate times and places to share the truth. As a pastor and Chaplain, I’m often called into action in some of the most tragic situations. Suicides. Marital strife or domestic violence. Fatal accidents. Unruly children and cheating spouses. I have learned and continue to learn discretion when dealing with these events. I have learned that speaking the truth even while preaching can be hurtful to hear. I’m not going to not tell the truth, but I want to exercise wisdom in doing so. I want to be careful so that people will hear the truth that can set them free in order to change their lives. It is that serious. Fools just say whatever comes to mind. No filter, no discretion, no thought. That’s because what’s inside will come out.

Solomon shifts from the tongue to God’s eyes and in the next verse says you can run, but you can’t hide. There are some people that are convinced God doesn’t know what’s going on in the world or else He would do something about it. There is nowhere that God is not. There is nothing that God does not see. Solomon says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” There’s a song I remember from 1984 where the bridge lyrics are, “I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me and I have no privacy. Oh, I always feel like somebody’s watching me. Tell me is it just a dream?” God is always watching, but not in a creepy, voyeuristic way. I encourage you to read Ps. 139 which is a wonderful testimony of David regarding God’s omniscience and omnipresence. There is no where you can go where God is not there. He watches the good and the evil. The righteous will be rewarded while the wicked will be punished. In my study of Scriptures, I am filled with an overwhelming sense that the biblical writers expected people who have an authentic relationship with Christ will do good; they’ll behave in manners that are pleasing to God, that will seek to do His will, that will seek to further His Kingdom; they will seek to passionately walk the straight and narrow path – that’s what I see modeled over and over in Scripture.

It’s only been in recent times that we have taken on a lackadaisical attitude in our commitment to Christ. It’s only recently that we’re satisfied with mediocrity, where Christ has taken a back seat to the things of this world. It’s only recently that people have become satisfied in meeting with Jesus on occasion so we have to ask ourselves, what has changed? Heb. 13:8 reminds us that, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” God calls Himself, “I am” present tense.          Since God has not changed, we can only conclude that we have changed. The same Holy Spirit exists with the same power so how can we get to a place where His power is restored? I think a primary thing we can do is say no to ourselves and say yes to Jesus. I have grown weary of professing believers that ignore biblical wisdom, that have beliefs based on popular opinion and cultural feelings, that say one thing and do another. I would never suggest doing this, but I wonder how our marriages would be destroyed if we approached our spouse with the same casualness we approach God. God sees the evil and good in the world and He understands why people do what they do, He sees into the secret areas of your life, the places you don’t want anyone else to go. What totally amazes me when I think like this is that God still has an infinite, unconditional love for you and for me. He loves the righteous and the unrighteous.

And now it’s back to the tongue. Many of us are familiar with the tree of life in Gen. 2:9. Solomon has also spoken of a tree of life. He called wisdom a tree of life in 3:18. He said the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life in 11:30. He spoke of fulfilled desire as a tree of life in 13:12. And now, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life.” Like the heart, when Scripture speaks of the tongue, it’s rarely talking about what’s in your mouth. It’s about the words you say. Those words can bring comfort to a grieving soul. Those words can bring the Gospel that will revive a dead soul, can bring encouragement to a weary soul, can bring correction to a wayward soul; those words can bring reconciliation to a troubled soul. The contrast is that, “Perversion in it crushes the spirit.” Perverse here is used in the sense of perverting the truth. It means to twist or distort. These perversions have been used since the garden when Satan told Eve, “You surely will not die.” (Gen. 3:4) Satan is a twistilator. He has been and continues to be the greatest perverter of all time. He has perverted sexuality. In fact, he perverted it so bad that God had to include specific details as to what was forbidden when He gave the Law to Moses. Our speech is to be used to praise the Lord and build people up, but he perverted that so much that we have numerous passages directly referencing how we talk.  Paul said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29) Satan also perverted justice. From the deceptive business practices we saw in Pro. 11:1 to the killing of innocent people mentioned in Ex. 23. Our attitude should be like that found in Is. 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

There are tried and true principles in Scripture. MVPs. Use them not as magical incantations, but as principles that God gave us to live by and glorify Him. There is nowhere out of God’s eye or beyond His reach. Use your speech to edify people and draw them to live passionately for Christ. Don’t be shocked that Satan wants to twist everything you say or do. Keep moving forward for Christ.

The Perfect Gift

GiftHere’s the podcast for this message.

Last week we looked at God’s outrageous love for us through the eyes of Hosea. God designed us for relationships. Hosea was told to take a wife that was almost guaranteed to bring heartache and pain. We saw that when forgiveness is offered, wandering people tend to come back. This week, we’re going to look at something Jesus really wants.

Grab your Bible and read Matt. 25:31-36.

This Christmas, we need a paradigm shift. Every year we’re challenged to come up with the perfect Christmas gift. We get catalogues in the mail and emails from stores telling us what the perfect gift is for the year. Some people are so hard to buy for. It’s really comical when you think about it. What do we get for someone to celebrate someone else’s birthday? How can we change the modern focus of Christmas from our materialistic, self-indulgent, consumeristic self to one that gives the birthday Boy what He desires?

When you consider what Jesus said to His disciples in the passage from Matthew, I’m sure they were confused. Jesus and His disciples had been virtually inseparable for two years. They didn’t see Jesus hungry or thirsty, He wasn’t a stranger and wasn’t naked; He was never in prison. They say as much in vs. 37-39. Jesus provides clarification in v. 40 when He says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” So here it is: the paradigm shift. When we help people in need, we’re helping Jesus Himself. You cannot compartmentalize your relationship with Christ with your relationship with others. The two are inseparable. Meeting the needs of others is one way we know we are God’s children. 1 Jo. 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” At Christmas, love seems to abound. One product even declared, “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love.” The conclusion is that Coke is the real thing. Our beloved John writes in 1 Jo. 3:16-18, We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” It’s not good enough just to talk about how we love; we must demonstrate it with action. We serve Christ by serving others.

We have many reasons or excuses for not serving. When Jesus fed the 5000 in Matt. 14, He had every reason not to serve. He had just heard that His friend, John the Baptizer, was murdered at the request of Salome who asked for John’s head on a platter. John was in prison because he told Herod it was wrong to take his sister-in-law as his wife. That was the truth. So Jesus hears of John’s death and all He wants to do is get away so He jumps in a boat. But He can’t get away from the people. He meets a crowd of 5000 men which some equate to about 20,000 people. His disciples tell Him, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” (Matt. 14:15) This was sort of a spur of the moment gathering. The people likely did not prepare to be gone; at least not all day. Jesus tells His disciples, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” They respond with why they can’t do it, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” Often when God tells us to do something, we tell Him why we can’t do it. God’s resources don’t fall from the sky. He was able to make a miracle happen because of what the disciples had in their hands. The same is true throughout scripture. God used Moses’ staff and David’s stones. He used the water at the wedding. He used the widow’s oil and the widow’s mite. He used a borrowed tomb. He wants to use what you have, not what you don’t have.

Jesus tells the disciples to bring Him what they had. He blessed the loaves and the fishes and gave it back to the disciples to distribute to the people. God multiplied the resources the disciples had. The Bible tells us, “They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.” (Matt. 14:20-21) The word for satisfied here means all that they wanted. All the people ate and there were leftovers. Jesus gave the disciples a directive and He in turn gives us a directive. In order for us to grasp this, we must shift our paradigm. It’s not about receiving, it’s about giving.

It’s time for cool change. At Christmas, we celebrate the Messiah. A Savior that was born to die. A Savior that would live His life in contradiction to the world’s values. A Savior that would live His life sacrificially, not only to pay the debt we could not pay, but to live His life as an example for us to follow. We’re called to live sacrificially as well. Can you imagine the power of God that could be unleashed if God’s people followed the example of Jesus Christ? More of Him, less of us. The lines to check out in the stores are long, yet our churches don’t have lines of people waiting to get in. Parking lots are packed to indulge those we love with materialistic bounty, yet the opportunities we provide to serve others to provide spiritual bounty are left unfilled. The lines will be long the day after Christmas to return those unwanted gifts for something better, and we have the gift that is the most extravagant, longest lasting gift ever created to give to others and we selfishly keep it to ourselves. We are materially wealthy and spiritually poor and maybe the most disturbing thing is too many Christians can’t or won’t see it. Sometimes we worship the traditions of Christmas rather than the Jesus of Christmas. Honoring God and His one and only Son Jesus may require a cool change. It may require knocking down the traditions we were raised with and create new traditions that place the focus where the focus belongs.

On Nov. 15, 2012, the American Research Group reported that average adult in America will spend $854 on Christmas gifts this year. What if you took 25% of what you would spend on Christmas and donated it to the mission work in Romania? That’s $213.50 per adult. Let’s say there are 40 adults here today, that’s $8540.00. That figure would support our missionary Matthew’s work for just over 17 months. The American way is to indulge one another with gifts we don’t want or need. The American way is not God’s way.

Are there people on your list that are hard to buy for? This year, why not make the change? Why not give the perfect gift of Jesus? This year, it’s time to rethink Christmas.

Outrageous Love

outrageous-loveYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we looked at the myth surrounding Christmas perfection. We saw the nativity not as a neat and tidy occasion, but an occasion filled with anxiety and uncertainty. It was anything but perfect. This morning we’re going to look at an aspect of Christmas few people have likely considered.

Hosea 3:1 says, “Then the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”

Christmas often is a time when family members from near and far come together to celebrate. We rejoice with one another and talk and have fun. We look forward to spending time with family we haven’t seen in a year or more. When I was a kid, we would travel to my Aunt and Uncle’s house. It was just over a two hour ride and it seemed like forever. We would see my five cousins and talk and ice skate on the lake behind their house and have a great time. We celebrate relationships. We long for those relationships. God created us with a desire for close, intimate relationships. That’s His design. Did you ever send a note to someone else with the question “Do you like me?” Check yes or no. Some people will do anything for a close intimate relationship – even compromising their most fundamental beliefs. When those relationships aren’t present in our lives we wonder, why not? It can lead to conclusions of self doubt. We wonder are we worth it? Will anyone ever love me? Those feelings easily transfer to God. Oh sure, we believe in Him, but does He really love me? We’re good at hiding our flaws and our failings from one another so people will like us and at the same time knowing that we cannot hide them from God. We hear His approaching footsteps, we see Him pursuing us, yet instead of turning to Him, we slink away.

The book of Hosea might seem to be a strange place to be in Scripture for Christmas, but it contains an incredible description of a relationship. Throughout history God has had a love relationship with His people – Israel. Time and time again, Israel ignored that relationship and was unfaithful, committed adultery, harlotry, and idolatry. Of all the people on earth, God had a special covenant relationship with Israel. Why Israel? On a global scale, Israel was small and insignificant. Israel and her people were continuously bullied by her neighbors. God did not choose Israel based on anything they did, on their morality, or their goodness. God relentlessly and passionately pursued Israel.

Hosea 1:2 says, “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.” God tells Hosea to marry a woman that no man in his right mind would want to be with. She was a harlot, a prostitute. God often tells us to do things that make no sense. What would you have done? Would you take a spouse guaranteed to be unfaithful? God created us in His own image and uniquely designed us for an exclusive relationship with Him and no other, yet we play the harlot with our consumerism, materialism, and self indulgence. Think about Christmas morning when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus – God with us. Children can’t sleep in the days leading up to Christmas and then on Christmas morning wake up in the pre-dawn hours and drag their weary parents out of bed. The kids rip into the presents one after another as quickly as they can without any thankfulness, without reflection, without any thoughts except give me the next one. We celebrate the birthday of the King by ignoring Him. What God wants is devotion to Him, not just on His Son’s birthday, but each and every day. He wants the outrageous love He has for us to be reciprocated. God’s message to Hosea is clear: “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel.” This is really beyond comprehension, but it’s what God desires. This is the Christmas miracle. Even though we have turned out backs on Him in favor of greed, materialism, idolatry, and selfishness . . . He still actively pursues us!

When we think back to Mary and the silence of that moment, I wonder what she must have been thinking. I’m sure the words of the angel echoes in her ears, “Favored one of God.” Even in the uncertainty and anxiousness of her situation, Mary trusted. Lu. 1:46-49 is known as Mary’s song. Listen to how she responds to this uncertainty. “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.” It didn’t matter what the community thought about her; it didn’t matter what they said. Mary knew the truth and she decided to trust in the promises of God. God promised to love you and never leave you regardless of the garbage in your life. Do you trust Him?

These are difficult times. Our country continues to decline in morality. Our leaders continue to depart from clear biblical teaching. Our churches are morphing into godless masses where anything goes in order that we don’t come across intolerant or judgmental. The money we earn doesn’t go as far as it used to and we are left wondering how we will make the ends meet. Maybe you’re facing illness and don’t have the opportunity for healthcare. Maybe your children are wandering from God. Maybe it’s just the grind of everyday life that pushes you off the path of earnestly pursuing God. Perhaps it’s difficult for you to comprehend the angel’s message to you, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Lu. 1:28) Will you choose to believe the truth of this greeting or will you believe the lie of our enemy that says, “You’re not worth it.” You’re too far gone for God to love you. We must turn to the standard of truth and recognize that the Bible is filled with people like you and me that mess up. Even in our mess ups, God relentlessly pursues us. In spite of ourselves, God runs after us.

How can you be outrageous in your love? I’ve often said the most dangerous type of person is one that professes to know Christ, but lives their lives in contradiction to the Scriptures. They say they love God, but they worship at the altar of personal desire and personal will. It is only after we realize where we are in relation to perfection that we can begin to see where God wants to take us. When Mary found herself in an incredibly difficult position, she went to talk with someone she trusted. I’m sure she was nervous. Have you ever had to tell someone something extraordinarily difficult? I’m sure there were butterflies in her stomach as she approached Elizabeth. “And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lu. 1:42) I wonder if this was the response she was expecting. This was a miracle of God and I wonder how many miracles are squashed because of the negativity of our family and friends. What if Mary had bowed to the peer pressure and failed to carry the miracle of God full term? We need people around us that will help us carry the miracles of God, to encourage us to keep going in the face of adversity; people that will hold us accountable. That’s why I believe our Community Groups are so important. When we are connected to others, it’s easier to understand and trust in the power of God when we see Him transforming other’s lives.

For Hosea, we don’t know if his wife Gomer ever gave up her adulterous lifestyle. All we know is that Hosea bought her back for 15 shekels of some silver and a homer and a half of barley. The hope that Hosea had was reflected in 3:5: “Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days.” When forgiveness is offered, wandering people come back. God offers us mercy and grace even though we don’t deserve it. That’s the outrageous love of God through the Christmas miracle of Jesus Christ. That’s the kind of love we’re supposed to have for others.

Think about the most important relationship you have with someone. With your spouse or your parents, children, or friends. If these are just an inkling of God’s love for you, how outrageous must God’s love be for you?