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Marry a Prostitute

About 750 years before Jesus was born, there was an Israelite prophet named Hosea. In that culture, a prophet was someone who heard from God and then shared God’s message with the people. Hosea had a lot to say about the nature of love, especially God’s love.

One day, God comes to Hosea and tells him that instead of a message, he has an assignment for him. Hosea is going to be an object lesson, and his personal life is about to become very public. The story is found in the first chapter of the book named after Hosea.

God says, “Hosea, I’ve got a job for you. Are you ready?” Hosea is like, “Sure, God! You and me working together—this is going to be fun.” “Marry a prostitute.” “I’m sorry, Lord; what was that? I could have sworn I heard you say . . .” “Marry a prostitute.” “Um, wow. That’s what I thought you said. No offense, but that’s not what I expected. That’s not really a good move for a man of God. The tabloids and stuff, they’re going to be all over that. Now my PR guy says that I should—” “Hosea, you’re going to marry a prostitute. And you’re going to have kids.” So Hosea stops whining and marries a prostitute with the odd-sounding name of Gomer. Hosea and Gomer don’t live happily ever after, unfortunately. Not even close.

I should mention that at the time, Israel’s definition of love was very dysfunctional. If you read the book of Hosea, you’ll see this reflected in Hosea’s messages. The people of the day viewed love as a commodity that could be purchased. They also saw love as the pursuit of self-gratification. And finally, they spoke of loving inanimate objects. This was how they defined love: you can buy it, it’s about being satisfied personally, and it’s about possessions and things. Sounds a lot like our culture today. God recognizes that he must demonstrate to them what love really is. So he tells Hosea, “Go marry a prostitute.”

Hosea marries Gomer, and things go pretty well at first. They have one kid, then another, then another. They’ve been married awhile now. One day Hosea wakes up and she is gone. She’s abandoned the family and returned to prostitution. Hosea is now carrying the weight of being the spiritual leader of Israel as a single dad with three kids. This brings us to Hosea, chapter 3.

God says to Hosea, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery.” He is referring to Gomer. “What?” Hosea asks in disbelief. “Go find Gomer. Go love this woman who is right now committing adultery. Go find your wife and love her.” And then God makes one of the most amazing statements ever. He tells Hosea to love Gomer “just like the love of the Lord” for his people. God is saying that his love is not like ours. Against all common sense, in contrast to our human ideas about justice and commitment, God’s love never quits. How heart wrenching is this process for Hosea? He has to go look for his wife, a former prostitute, who is now back in prostitution. Finding Gomer is not comfortable. It’s not neat or tidy. He walks down streets and goes into buildings that good people avoid. A man of God should never be seen there; everyone knows that. But there goes Hosea, looking for his wife. This is illogical. This is unfair. This is extravagant. He should never have to do this. It gets more unbelievable.

Verse 2 says, “So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver.” Wait! What? She was his wife. Why is he paying for her? Somehow, Gomer has become trapped in the sex slave industry. Evidently she left Hosea voluntarily, but now she finds herself captive. Does Hosea find her on some pedestal somewhere, chained and shackled, beaten, on sale to the highest bidder? Hosea sees his wife, the mother of their three children, and he tells her seller, “Excuse me, sir, that’s my wife.” The man says, “I don’t care who you think she is, this is her price.” “But I . . . But she . . . All right. I understand. What’s the price?” Hosea pays the money and receives his wife. Can you imagine that exchange? When Hosea looks into the eyes of his wife? No doubt she hangs her head in embarrassment. She expects rejection. She expects rebuke. Gomer knows what it is like to be purchased by men who want to use her. That has been the story of her life. It is what she thinks she deserves. But Hosea doesn’t buy her to use her. He buys her to heal her. She has to wonder: He’s found me—and now he’s buying me? I abandoned him. I abandoned our three kids. And yet he insists on buying me back? What kind of a man is this?

Verse 3 tells us what Hosea says to his wife next. This blows my mind, because I can’t imagine myself saying this if I were him. “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you” (NIV). What is he doing? He is renewing their vows. He is restoring their relationship. She probably can’t even look up, but he is making their marriage as if she had never wronged him. Interestingly, the name Hosea means “salvation” in Hebrew, and the name Gomer means “completion.” I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

God is preaching the gospel 750 years before Jesus. He is telling his people that in the middle of their rebellion and stubborn sin, he will complete their salvation. No matter how far they have strayed, he will take the initiative to find them, heal them, and love them.

So Hosea is a picture of God and—no offense—Gomer is a picture of you and me. God created humankind. We are his. But we left him, so to speak, through sin. Humanity turned its back on God and insisted on going its own way. And yet, two thousand years ago, God paid a dear price to redeem us from sin. He paid for what was already his, and his Son, Jesus, spilled his blood to buy us back.

Our Hosea has come. Salvation has come. He found you and he found me. He had to walk in the most despicable places and he had to roam the darkest alleys to find the people he so passionately loves. As Hosea searched for his wife, so Jesus came searching for the salvation of humanity. And by the way, when God found us, we were not so neat and nice and put together as maybe we are now. We were in chains. We were naked, sinful, and helpless. And our gracious God said, “How much? Very well. I’ll send my Son, Jesus.”

You’re Gomer. I’m Gomer. We were bent on following our own plans, our own will, and it only got us stuck in sin. But God didn’t let that stop him. He wouldn’t rest until he found us.

Maybe you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, and you’re tired, and you’re dirty, and you’re ashamed, and you’re hanging your head. God is still madly in love with you. His love is not altered by who you are or where you’ve been or who you were with last night. He wants you to drop your defenses and accept his embrace. His love is real. He doesn’t want you for what you can do—he wants you for you. God loves the world—and God loves you—with an uncontainable, indescribable, tireless love. His love makes life work right. It finds you and it heals you. It chases you and embraces you.

When you discover God’s love, everything changes.

(Excerpted from “Life is ______: God Illogical Love Will Change Your Existence” by Judah Smith)

No hoopla.

I don’t follow the NBA. To me, pro basketball is a game of 3-pointers and dunks. However, a news story caught my ear this morning. Tim Duncan retired.image

After 19 years (all with the San Antonio Spurs) producing 5 NBA Championships, he retired in the most quiet way possible. But that is just who he is. I was struck by his humility. No farewell tour. No hoopla. Just a press release from his team. And this from a certain hall of famer.

The Spurs made the playoffs every year Duncan played for them. He is one of the greatest power forwards ever to play. No flash. No in-your-face arrogance so prevalent in sports nowadays. Just points, great defense, and victories. And did I mention championships?

Here’s the story I heard on NPR.

He was content to be out of the limelight. He was content to be in the background. He was content to be a player, even a role-player late in his career, in a small-market city. He was content to defer praise, and point to his teammates and coach.

As I consider this, I had to ask myself some questions. Am I content to be in the background in my endeavors, whatever they may be? Am I content to accept blame when necessary and when praised, point to those around me as tremendous examples and influences?

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.

(Romans 12:3)

God’s Providential Care

Rarely do you get the chance to experience God’s caring, loving, gracious hand more than when you are helpless, when things are out of your control, or when you are on your own.

Personally, being in any of those situations, or all three at the same time, is uncomfortable. That’s an understatement. I’m a planner. I like being prepared. I like over-preparing. Some (most) would call me a control-freak. I admit it.

Currently, I’m on a 16-day motorcycle trip to Colorado and the Grand Canyon. I have everything all planned out. In fact, to stay IN the Grand Canyon’s lodging, you have to make reservations one year in advance. That forces you to plan everything, which is fine with me. That’s part of the fun of the trip.

On Day 8, we were headed from Independence Pass (elevation 12,095 ft.) to Durango, Colorado. Everything on the trip had been flawless, including the weather. We were journeying through the Carbondale area, when someone (astonishingly) holds up a piece of cardboard out his car window stating to my buddy, Gregg, “CHECK YOUR REAR TIRE.”

Uh oh. We pull into a gas station right around the corner and check the pressure. But just before that, we put the bike on its center-stand and spin the rear wheel. There it it is. A nail. Imbedded. Crap!

I head into the convenience store and ask if they have a phone book. Uh… no…. (and a look like, “What’s a phone book?”)

However, a customer says, “I have one in the car.” As we head to his car, I explain what has happened and he says, “I think the closest is in Glenwood Spring, a few miles away.” Fifteen minutes later, we’re at the motorcycle dealer getting the tire plugged. Fifteen more minutes, and we’re on our way.

To put this in perspective:

We had been in desolate areas. We had been at 12,000+ feet. We had been over a hundred miles from any motorcycle shop. It was Saturday, late morning, not Sunday, with everything closed. There was someone who took the time to make a sign to alert my buddy. There was another guy who supplied a phone book. Cell phone service was sketchy, so a phone book was a must. The shop was open and could do the work in about 30 minutes from when we discovered the problem. I could proabably go on.

I (thankfully) wasn’t in control. But everything was under control.

God’s providential care. (Smile)

An outward sign of an inward condition

Meet Brad. He stands on the banks of the Mississippi River in Gateway Park under the shadow of the iconic Gateway Arch. He stands here EVERY Sunday, between 10am to 2pm. He’s been doing that every Sunday since 2010.image

He doesn’t speak unless spoken to. Once prompted, he tells onlookers that he is “standing for Yeshua or Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is not obnoxious or over-the-top with fanaticism. He holds the Christian flag. He plainly answers, with a focus and a smile, those who ask. He will not argue or debate, he says, because “the truth stands on its own.” Amen. That it does, Brad.

I admire Brad for his courage, dedication, and zeal. I can’t imagine what it’s like in frigid cold with snow on the ground and no one milling about. Yesterday, while we were visiting the Gateway Arch on our motorcycle trip, there were thousands of passers-by, some curious, some oblivious.

He stands because he feels called to do so. It is, as a mentor and pastor once said, “an outward sign of an inward condition.” That’s what Pastor Jeff Griffith calls baptism. It is a proclamation of what’s happened inside. When Christ changes you, you are compelled to show it.

I think we’re all called to show it. Brad chooses to stand. Not all are called to do what Brad does.

What is it that you’re called to do? If you’ve been changed, how do you show it.

Divine Appointments

My buddy, Gregg, and I are taking a 16-day motorcycle trip covering 16 states and over 4700 miles and we will see some beautiful scenery and visit National Parks such as Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Canyon.

That is wonderful and the lure of the open road is something that draws me year after year, but the scenery and the  highway solitude is never the highlight of the trip.

The high points of these long trips are always the people we encounter along the way. Yesterday confirmed that.

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During our first stop at the West Virginia Welcome Center we were just about to get back on the road when this couple happened by.

Thomas and Bermice were from Virginia Beach and were on their way to Logan, WV where a revival has been going on since early March. They commented on my trailer which has stickers from all over the country from previous trips. Thomas had a huge smile on his face from the time we saw him, and after finding out that they were going to the revival, I asked if we could pray with them. He was excited at the prospect of that and we circled up in our parking spot and prayed for them to encounter God in a powerful way at the revival and for us to have safe travels and for more “divine appointments.” After our prayer, he said that he wanted to pray with us even before I asked.

In the days before leaving, I’ve been praying for divine appointments. God showed up yesterday, answering that prayer.

I can’t wait to see what (or who) He has in store the rest of the trip!

 

 

 

A New Journey on an Old Road

This morning I leave for a 16-day journey which I’ve traveled before. In fact, I took this trip four years ago. I’m heading to Colorado and the Grand Canyon with a buddy of mine on our motorcycles. Many of the sights will be familiar, but te journey will be as fresh as the morning dew.image

This is my ninth year in a row of taking a long motorcycle trip. What started as a sabbatical from ministry has blossoms (my wife would probably say ‘ballooned’) into a yearly adventure to meet people who need hope in their lives. The first five years of these trips were just motorcycle trips, designed to see the country on the most scenic roads available. Now, in addition to that, the emphasis is on those we run into at our various stops along the way. And for the past five years, I come prepared to pass out God’s Word of hope and the Good News.image

To follow us on the trip, click HERE. I’ll be posting regularly so you can hear about those we meet. Pray that God would bring people across our path that need hope.

That’s what my prayer is this morning.

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Crossing the border…

There is much discussion of how to deal with Syrian refugees. Do we accept them or not? Why are we having this discussion? Because we have discovered that a Syrian refugee was one of the ISIS terrorists in Paris. Basically, we are afraid that allowing a Syrian refugee to cross our borders may allow another tragedy. We are afraid, plain and simple. Fear is driving our decision-making.

What’s another word for extreme fear? Terror.

We have allowed the terrorists to succeed. What’s worse than allowing them to cross our borders? Allowing them to enter our minds and control our decisions. And they have. Additionally, politicians are clamoring for votes and trying to get on the most popular side of this issue to garner support. Beware of anyone who tries to prey on your fear.

Instead, look at the big picture. Discover, as a follower of Jesus, how you can love the unloveable, touch the untouchable, and be a beacon of hope to a world so desperately looking for it.

After all, as a Christian, you and I are children of God, with Christ dwelling in us, and we live in the UNSHAKEABLE kingdom of God.

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How to respond…

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

Brennan Manning says…

“This is a passage to be read and reread because every generation has tried to dim the blinding brightness of its implications. Those of us scarred by sin are called to closeness with Him around the banquet table. The kingdom of God is not a subdivision for the self-righteous or for those who lay claim to private visions of doubtful authenticity and boast they possess the state secret of their salvation. No, as Eugene Kennedy notes, ‘It is for a larger, homelier, and less self-conscious people who know they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.’ The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.”

As we look out into a culture which seems to be slipping into the abyss, we should keep in mind…

1) That we should not be surprised. This has been predicted for over 2000 years (2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3) and will continue to get worse, not better. Each day, we are one day closer to Jesus’ return.

2) Nor should we think that God has lost control or been taken by surprise. God is on His throne. His Word will endure forever. The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.

3) That we should pray for all people. Our friends and our opponents. The leaders and the followers… everybody and everyone because “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

4) Find another way of reaching those we need to reach beside Bible-thumping and doctrine-thumping. Although, unfortunately, there will be plenty of “hellfire and brimstone” preaching this Sunday, those that need to be reached won’t be in attendance. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is God’s kindness, love, grace, and mercy expressed through the Cross of Jesus Christ that will change hearts. Shaking heads and pointing fingers will not soften hearts. But the love of God can and will. As Christians, we need to love better, plain and simple.

Also, in good conscience, I cannot shake my head, point my finger, and stand aghast without looking in the mirror. When I look in the mirror, I do the same: shake my head and stand aghast at my own heart… and then – in desperation – cry out to the One who supplies the love, grace, and mercy to us all.

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The Ripple-Effect

Yesterday I discovered that another nationally-known, prominent Christian pastor has fallen to “moral failure.” In other words, he committed adultery. I was heartbroken for him, his wife (revealed to also have an affair), and his kids. After meeting with his church’s leadership, he resigned. His mega-church will be shaken to the core, as will the national ministry he founded. The ripple-effects will be widespread.

This is Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. Not only will his immediate family, his megachurch, and the national ministry, Liberate, be shaken, so will his extended family. Although there they don’t always agree theologically or politically, I’m sure the entire family is broken.

The effect doesn’t end there, of course. I find myself grieving as well.

This is a man who has always said how desperate he is for the grace of God. No more so than now, I suspect. He is a man who knows (hopefully, now more than ever) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) But he has tweeted an apology to all who would hear it that he knows sin has its consequences.

His wife.
His children.
His extended family.
His church family.
His ministry.

His witness.
His credibility.

I think about all who listened to his eloquent preaching and beautiful writing and I cringe and shake my head. It’s tragic.

If you’re reading this and are contemplating an affair or are hoping that your flirtations might lead somewhere, just think of the consequences. They are lifelong. Believe me, I know. Rightly or wrongly, they will affect your credibility and influence for the rest of your life. Is there grace? Praise God, yes! But the ripple-effect of the consequences are far-reaching, too.

You may think I’ve put Tullian Tchividjian on a pedestal. I don’t think I have. Was I influenced by him. Oh yes! Thankfully, yes! I don’t set aside my love for the Gospel and know we all need it everyday. I will continue to be impacted by his ministry. Partly because of his preaching and writing, I have truly discovered the love of God and the true nature of the Gospel. Although another Christian leader has fallen, Jesus Christ and His love remain steadfast.

His love endures forever.

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The Worst

Do you remember Jim Bakker? Of course you do. To be honest, I had to look up how he had “fallen from grace.” It was a sex scandal and accounting fraud that led to his imprisonment and divorce, according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge – ha!). He is now out of prison, remarried, and pursuing ministry. He is being used by God again.

I recently heard of a pastor preaching a sermon entitled, “I am Jim Bakker.” In his sermon, he detailed, to the horror of his wife, kids, and congregation, how sinful he truly was. He was not guilty of the infamous sins that Jim Bakker was imprisoned and “defrocked” for, but, in no uncertain terms, let it be known how sinful he was — in word, thought, and deed.

The apostle Paul did the same thing in an even more open forum, the Bible. He is, from the grave, constantly reminding us of who he was and what he had done. He persecuted Christians, leading to their imprisonment and death. He was a not-so-innocent bystander at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). He was a murderer or at least an accomplice.

He reminds us of this in his first letter to his mentee, Timothy:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

The writer of almost half of the New Testament tells us how bad he is. “The worst,” he says.

Somehow, I think we ALL can say that. I know I can. When faced with the holiness of God, I know I can call myself a sinful man. If you only knew. Like Paul and like that pastor who preached the sermon, I can declare that I am a sinner. Everyday. Plain and simple. Cut and dried.

But Paul continues and thankfully offers hope and shows us our purpose at the same time. He continues:

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (v.16)

God wants to use me and you to show His love, patience, and glory. He uses our brokenness to minister to others. What the enemy means to destroy us, God can and does redeem for His glory! I’ve seen this in my own life and in lives around me more times than I can count.

In a recent interview, Jim Bakker said:

“I’m glad it all happened. Now I can go anywhere and be with anybody in the whole world, and there are no raised eyebrows. I can go into any bar — any social circle of outcasts — and nobody tells me that I ought to be careful because ’people will talk’ and that I will ’hurt my reputation.’ People have already talked, and I don’t have any reputation to hurt. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m free!”

That’s what walking in the light does. When we bring our secrets out in the open for God to see, we can walk in freedom. When we admit that we’re no better than the next person, we don’t need to point out what the next person did. There are no more masks. No more pretending to be good. We can praise God and His Good News. We can thank Him that He was the only Good One. We can praise Him for what He’s done for us.

And we can join the apostle Paul when he continues in the next verse, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v.17)

Yes. Amen!