Love and Prostitutes

I was able to share a message about God’s love based on the Book of Hosea to a group of teachers at my school . These are my notes:

When Miranda and I got married, our pre-marital counselor said we need to learn to “Expect nothing, and appreciate everything.” He was right. I can’t tell you how many arguments we could have avoided if I had been better at this. I’m too selfish to notice everything Miranda does and so I’m not very appreciative sometimes. I’m also so self absorbed that I start expecting things out of her that are not her responsibility. My expectations can become unreasonable really quickly. I try to do better, but Love is hard. It just is.

I saw this quote on social media yesterday:

Ann Voskamp – “I mean, it’s everywhere, the songs and the reels and Kool aid that Love is all the pinnacle, posed moments, the glam and roses and framed moments, the high moments when we are about walking on air. But truth is: Real love isn’t made on the heights but made in the depths, real love isn’t a peak experience, but experienced in the pits, and real love is found strong right at rock bottom.

The love you’re looking for is found in the last place you’d look: in the valleys, and in the pits, and when everything else gives way — and one person reaches out and gives you their hand. Love Himself saves you not because you earned it at the mountain top, but because He holds you at Rock bottom.”

Rock bottom. I’ve witnessed rock bottom. As you may already know, my wife has taken on a new role as the Executive Director of the Refuge for Women Gulf Coast. They offer trafficked women a 2-year program to empower and equip them with the Gospel. They offer aftercare and support with the goal of giving them a fresh start by helping them develop a true relationship with Jesus as well as working through issues caused by their trauma. Miranda and I developed good relationships with several of the women in the house through a Bible Study that we led. They won our hearts very quickly and had such a deep hunger for God that our time together was truly something we treasured. With their past trauma, they had been starved for healthy relationships, and so once they recognized that we could be trusted, we had their hearts too. Anyway, through our experiences with these women, Miranda and I have come to see the Book of Hosea in a new light. The story centers around a man of God (Hosea) and a prostitute named Gomer. God chose Hosea and Gomer, the prostitute, as the central figures to bring His message of love to His people. Miranda and I feel the same way about the women we have met. Anyway, in case you don’t know it, here’s the story.

Hosea 1:2-9 – “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, (which mean “Judgement is Coming”) for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”
8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

In chapter 1, God asks Hosea to marry a prostitute. Yeah – you heard that right. This probably isn’t one of the Bible stories you were taught as a kid in Sunday School. God tells him to marry a prostitute, but it’s more than that. He is also supposed to love her. To truly love her.

Hosea was a Godly man, so in spite of how he probably felt about this, he obeyed. Think about what this would do to his reputation as a prophet of God. Anyway, he chose to take Gomer as his wife, and he chose to love her. They have 3 kids. Their first son is, Jezreel (means “Judgement is coming.”) Then they have a daughter named “No Mercy,” and finally another son named, “Not my people.” Most scholars believe that Hosea was probably not even the father of this one. Gomer had been coming and going back and forth between Hosea and her previous lifestyle. Like the girls I know from the Refuge for Women, she had probably been trafficked from an early age and hadn’t known any other way of life. Can you imagine? Hosea is supposed to love her like God loves His people. No matter what she did. In spite of her behavior, he had to choose to love her. In spite of his own feelings, he was committed to love her and to act on her behalf always seeking what was best for her. Hosea worked really hard to provide a great life for her. She had everything she could ever really need, but she continued to go back each night to her old habits – her old lifestyle – her old sin. Chapter 2 tells us that each morning when she returned, Hosea had gifts waiting for her. He loved her and cared for her even while she was hurting him. She happily received his gifts, but then gave them as sacrifices to another God. As parents we put up barriers and fences to get out kids to stay within certain boundaries. Hosea did the same thing and tried putting out thorns and obstacles so the path back to her sinful life would be more difficult, but she still trekked through. She was willing to hurt herself in order to get back to her sin. It represented who she believed that she was. Her identity was wrapped up in this old lifestyle. She didn’t really know how to be anyone else. So no matter what Hosea did, nothing he did seemed to work. She still continued to go back to her sin.

So. . . . what do you do? If you’re the parent here? What do you do when your kids keep making the same sinful choice over and over again? How do you respond when they keep going back to their same old sin. If you’re the teacher here, what do you do? What do you do when that same student continues to do the same wrong things over and over again? When they’re purposefully trying to push your button, what do you do?

Well. . . . here’s what God asked Hosea to do:
In chapter 3, she has hit rock bottom again. She has left Hosea and her children and has been living in her sin long enough that she has become a slave. When Hosea shows up in town he finds her on the auction block. He pushes his way through the crowd and looks up at his bride. She’s a mess, broken, battered, beaten, disgusting . . . and she chose this life for herself – over the life he had offered her. She probably can’t look him in the eye. She has broken his heart and abandoned their children. She had been with countless other men. His anger pushes to the forefront of his mind as he thinks about all that she has done – the pain both he and his children have been through. Is there a part of him that feels justice has been served as he draws closer to the auction block? Does he think she’s getting what she deserves? Does He push through the crowd and demand the divorce that everyone would have respectfully granted him? No!! Instead, he humbled himself. He pushes back on his anger and his pain and chooses to love her. He puts her first and he knows what would best serve her. He bore the cost and paid the price to buy her back. She was already his, but he bought his wife back. He chose to love her in spite of what he was feeling. In spite of what everyone expected him to do. He had every right to a divorce, but His understanding of God’s redeeming love, compelled him to a different decision. He chose to act on behalf of her eternal good in spite of how he probably felt. He chose sacrifice and humility. He chose love.

The impossible never ending compassion of God to his people. After they forsake him again and again and again, He restores. He loves “in spite of.”

Not only does Hosea take her back. He also offers her hope and a future. Check out these other verses:

Hosea 2:14-15 – “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
2:19-20
I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.
2:23
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My Peoplei ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.

This whole story is really just a picture of what God has already done for his people. Think about it. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and then on Mt Sinai with the 10 Commandments, he made a covenant with them. (They were enslaved, He rescued them. They got married.) Now, when God brought them into the promised land, they rebelled. They took the things He gave them in their new land, and then they offered them to other gods. God could have divorced Israel, but instead He continued to rescue them and restore them and renew their covenant. No matter what we do, He still chooses us. He still loves us.

It’s the same today. The Hosea/Gomer story is our story too. He loves us. We rebel with our sin. And He still chooses to love us. His is a “redeeming love.” Hosea bought his bride, but Jesus bought us too. The price of our sin was death, and He chose to pay that price on the cross. We have been bought.

By the way, no one buys something and then walks away leaving it in the store. When you order from amazon, you expect to receive the package. When you by something, especially something that you paid a high price for, you get to have it. Does Jesus have you? Has He received you? You’re like the amazon package here. Have you placed yourself on Jesus’ doorstep so He can use you? Like Gomer, are there gifts He’s given you that you are using in ways that would not make Him happy? In what ways are you living your old sinful life? What habits are killing you softly bit by bit? How long before these things accumulate in such a way that you find yourself up on the auction block? How can you find your way back to Jesus now? How can you settle into His arms and recognize His great affection for you today? How can you begin the new life He desires for you? What habits do you need to develop so you can live with Him?

 

Joppa, Jonah, and Peter

I was sitting in Sunday School the other day as we studied Jonah and learned some cool stuff. (Thanks Kurt) Check out the similarities between the story of Jonah and Acts 10 with Peter:

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I’m always fascinated by the way God uses certain places to speak particular things. There are certain places I can go that remind me of particular things God has done in my life. For example: If I go to Meridian State Park, I’m reminded of my conversion experience and the body of believers that God used to reveal Himself to me. When I go there, I remember my foundation. I remember where I came from and I can more clearly see who I’ve become.

It seems obvious that Peter would have known the story of Jonah. He had probably studied it as a child and quite possibly even memorized it (For more info, check this post). I wonder if he recognized the similarities of his situation with Jonah’s call? When he realized that God wanted him to share the Gospel with these Gentiles, did he realize that he was in the very same Joppa where Jonah had tried to run from God for a similar call? I wonder if he remembered that Jonah had to learn the hard way, and therefore made his choice to share the Gospel more readily because of it? These are the kinds of conversations that might be fun to have with Peter and Jonah someday in heaven.

PS – here’s another post I wrote about Jonah: Whoa Jonah!

Carry Your Cross Cartoon

This is a fun little cartoon that I received as an e-mail. It’s taken a few years to figure it out, but I finally know who the author is:

Dong Haeng – http://www.donghaeng.net/english/main.htmV

Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24; and Mark 8:34 all tell of Jesus’ call for us to deny ourselves, carry our crosses, and follow Him. It’s too bad we want our crosses to be “light.” Matt Redman wrote a song (Way of the Cross on the album The Friendship and the Fear) with a lyric that says, “I’ve crafted myself a more comfortable cross.” Anyway, this cartoon reminded me of all of this stuff.

Lessons from a Juggler

I have a friend, Jonathan Root, who is a professional juggler/comedian. His team has 5 International Championship Titles and 3 World Records. You can check him out at www.rootberry.net. Recently, we’ve been having a conversation on facebook about leadership and juggling. I just thought I’d share some of our conversations with you guys here. Although most of the ideas expressed here are his, I’ve marked specific things he said in blue. The rest is just my ramblings about it all.

I started out asking him the basic question, “How is juggling like leadership?”  Here’s his answer:

9:16am Feb 26th
Juggling is not like leadership. Juggling is a means to entertain people. I use juggling to draw and keep peoples attention. Then I use the juggling and comedy to relate to them. A pastor, a speaker and entertainer (in this case a juggler) are all trying to effectively communicate with their audience. If you cannot communicate with your audience then your message will be ineffective. And the message we bring is the message of salvation so we cannot (afford to) be ineffective in communicating our message. This has probably led you to more questions so feel free to ask.
Root

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As our discussion got deeper, it became clear that he is passionate about communicating the gospel effectively – much like a pastor or Christian leader.

Here are some of the main lessons I learned in our conversations.
1. Juggling and leadership are all about practice. “Focused practice
make an excellent juggler. Trying the same tricks over and over till
you hit them every time is an art.”
In leadership, I’d have to say that the same is true. The more you lead, the better you become. The difficult thing is that a true leader is seeking to do something like it’s never been done before, while a juggler is trying to be consistent about doing the same thing over and over.  Still, even in a new situation, all of our past experiences or practice helps to guide our decisions as we lead. Practice is all about developing skills.

2. Like leadership, in juggling it is critical to not watch the ball hit your hands, but to watch a ball until it
starts to fall then you know where to put your hand.
In leadership, this is similar to the way that a true leader watches culture and the movement of God so that he can lead others to place themselves in the right place to serve Him. Watching the ball until it starts to drop is all about vision.

3. Professional juggling requires attention to details like directions to venues, time management for making flights, and constant improvement/development of your show. Otherwise, you’ll eventually burn enough bridges that you won’t be able to book anything. I wonder how many churches have found themselves in this place? It seems that our culture feels pretty “burned” by the church and I’m not sure it’s completely fair to them, but it’s still true none-the-less. It’s important for the Christian leader to seek constant improvement/development of the people (the church) too. Leaders must be managers too.

4. There is something called a “squeeze” in juggling where two balls end up landing in the same hand at the same time. These are not done very often because they are so difficult, but according to Jonathan, “you have to want to do them.” There are a lot of things in the church that we like to avoid. When a true leader’s vision requires a “squeeze,” he goes for it. No matter what the difficulty, like Moses, he finds the courage to follow God through the Red Sea’s parted walls of water. God saves us through the “squeezes” not from them.

5. Juggling is an art. The best leaders in juggling are the guys who are good at putting it all together – Routining the juggling, mixing in comedy and having it all relate to the audience so they laugh and clap. In those moments the audience experiences more than just juggling. There is a sort of “art” to leadership too – when everything comes together under the right leader there is something that can’t really be defined – something that transcends the task at hand – something that goes beyond the vision. True leadership “feels” God’s timing and transcends our humanity.

By the way, here’s a clip of Jonathan and his friend Bill from their shows.