What does it mean to have a genuine relationship with Christ?
Philippians 3: I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally.
A friend of mine commented that he was preparing to do a certain thing. His intention wasn’t to do something bad but it seemed to me that there was a superior course of action. In an off handed remark I asked, “Have you asked the Lord about it?” His response was, “Oh, the Lord understands.” Later, I found myself thinking about the exchange in view of my own life. How often do I do whatever I want to do with the attitude: “It’s okay, the Lord understands.” Tell you what; I don’t treat my wife that way. When I’m thinking about taking some out of the ordinary action I talk it over with her. Most of the time I could probably go ahead and she would “understand” but the thing is that we have a relationship with one another that includes our respecting each other and valuing one another’s opinions on things. Surely, I should have a similar respectful, intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s a place for prayers along the lines of, “Lord, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?” The Apostle says he gave up a lot of stuff that he might have a personal relationship with Jesus. If I want to have a vital, real, living relationship with Jesus one of the things I must give up is having a self-willed, presumptive attitude toward him.
Take Away: Do we treat the Lord as a real person or as some abstract idea?
Bloom where you’re planted
1Corinthians 7: Where you are right now is God’s place for you.
The believers at Corinth have some questions about marriage and divorce. They know that when they became Christians that they left much of their old life behind, becoming new people. They have some practical concerns about how their faith impacts their new life. For instance, if a person was single when they came to Christ, are they to remain single? How about believers who are married to unbelievers? Is it better to abandon their marriage rather than be married to a person who doesn’t share their faith? Paul’s answer is “where you are right now is God’s place for you.” He leans toward singles staying single, but doesn’t command it. He leans toward people who are married to unbelievers remaining married, but doesn’t command it. An individual can be a Christian in a wide variety of circumstances. Common sense tells us that this isn’t always the case. For instance, a bigamist needs to come clean and find the best route out of an impossible situation. However, in general, we can live our lives in Christ right where we are. Beyond the marriage and divorce questions there’s a solid principle here that I can take to the bank. It’s wrong for me to think, “Right now the circumstances of my life make it unreasonable for me to be a Christian. When things change, then I’ll be ready.” If living for the Lord doesn’t work where I am right now it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Right here and right now the Lord stands ready to live in me and through me.
Take Away: God loves to work in ordinary lives in ordinary circumstances.
Living with our decisions
Matthew 19: Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God’s original plan.
The religious leaders want to know Jesus’ views on marriage and divorce and the answer he gives is stricter than they think it should be. He declares that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and that their union is to be both physical and spiritual. No one has the authority to rip apart that union. Jesus, speaking in the manner of a rabbi and with the authority of the Son of God, adds that in the case of adultery he allows (but, note, he doesn’t “require”) an exception to this permanent man/woman union. The leaders, then, want to know why Moses includes a broader divorce procedure in the Law. Is Jesus claiming authority beyond that of Moses? His answer is eye-opening. Moses, Jesus says, finds it necessary to provide for the destruction of a marriage because of people’s hard hearts. God didn’t plan for this to be necessary, but Moses sees the need and God allows it. This interpretation is fascinating. On one level, I’m interested in this situation in which God doesn’t get his way and in which he allows Moses to adjust things. If God has his own way there will never be a divorce. However, since people have hard hearts the Lord allows the Law to accommodate it. This is an interesting application of the Lord’s commitment to our free-will. The other thing that gets my attention is the strong possibility that I can, because of my hardheartedness insist on something that the Lord reluctantly allows, leaving me in a permanent sub-par situation. I’m glad we serve a God of Second Chances and I know that in him, life is good. Still, I see that the Lord won’t stop me from doing that which will bring a lifetime of pain, or at the very best, a lifetime of knowing that if not for my stubbornness things could be better for me than what they are. I’m thankful for the grace of God, but I’m also aware that I have a real responsibility to live carefully and to remain in harmony with the Lord each step of the way.
Take Away: Even though the Lord will allow it, I must be careful to not overrule God’s will in my life.
The second time around
Hosea 3: God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again.”
It isn’t hard to read between the lines here. Hosea married a prostitute, they had children, but she left him to return to her previous life. That sounds pretty cut and dried but I don’t think it was that way at all. What started off as Hosea’s obedience to a surprising command of God became a series of intense emotional experiences for the prophet. Without choosing to, Hosea fell in love and for a time it seemed things were going to work out. His wife, however, had a hard time settling down into a family routine. The day came when she turned her back on her husband and children to return to her previous life. Hosea’s heart was broken. Sadly, I know too many people who can identify with the story of broken promises and marriages. No one walks away unscarred by such a tragedy. Hosea, trying to cope, throws himself into his work. That helps him cover the pain. One day at a time, he begins to get over it. If the Lord’s first communication was surprising, his second must have left Hosea in shock. God tells him to love her again. That must have seemed like an impossible command. In the time since their divorce Hosea has carefully crafted a shell about himself, insulating him from the pain she’s caused even as he hears what she’s returned to. Now, God says Hosea is to emerge from that shell and open himself up to her again; not because she’s reformed, she hasn’t, but to reflect what God has done in his relationship with humanity. Hosea’s wife will get another chance, not because she deserves it, but because Hosea loves her too much to give up on her.
Take Away: The Lord loves us and reaches out to us even though we don’t deserve it.
Picking a wife
Hosea 1: He picked Gomer daughter of Diblaim.
Somewhere in my sermon files I have a sermon on the “beautiful, vivacious, Gomer.” Aside from this being the name of Hosea’s bride the only other Gomer I know of is the TV character and he’s about as plain a guy and you’ll ever find. I can’t help but wonder how Hosea went about obeying God’s command. Did he head down to the red light district and pick a wife? Did he already know Gomer from their childhoods and, maybe remembered a childhood crush he had on her? This situation almost begs for more information. Frankly, I doubt that Gomer is a lovely lady at all. Instead, I think she’s hard and brittle and jaded and rebellious. The reason I think that is not because I think all women who sell their bodies are like that. I think many are victims for whom one bad choice has led to another. Rather, see Gomer thus because in this “living parable” she represents the rebellious people of Israel. I don’t think that Hosea goes out and picks the prettiest of the lot. Instead, I think he picks the person whose most like Israel: hard, brittle, jaded, and in rebellion against their loving God. Obviously, such a marriage is doomed from the start. However, in spite of this oil and water marriage, Hosea finds himself bound to his wife by an irresistible, undeniable love. The reason for this is that, in this living parable Gomer represents Israel; Hosea represents God.
Take Away: The Lord is bound to us in love, but not because we’re irresistibly loveable.
Love and marriage
Proverbs 18: Find a good spouse, you find a good life — and even more: the favor of God!
Solomon was either the world’s greatest expert on women or else he was the world’s greatest dunce! He married hundreds of women and then tells us that having a good wife promises a man a good life and the blessings of God. Seriously, I know that his marriages were nothing like the marriages of my culture. For him, as Head of State, marriage was part of sealing a treaty between one nation and another. Since Solomon’s influence spread throughout the known world there were lots of treaties to be sealed! With that in mind I’ll cut him some slack on this one. Another thing that brings a smile is that he tells the other side of the story in the next chapter. If finding a good spouse equals having a good life, finding a nagging one, he says, is like having a leaky faucet in the house: drip, drip, drip. Apparently, some of his “treaty wives” weren’t all that much of a blessing! When I put these two proverbs together I see what a powerful influence husbands and wives have on one another. We can become a constant irritation, making the other miserable or we can be a source of joy and blessing. It’s reasonable that every husband and wife take stock once in a while to be sure that their spouse views them as evidence of the favor of God on his or her life.
Take Away: Be a blessing and not a constant “drip, drip, drip” to the person you love the most!
Don’t play with fire
Proverbs 6: Can you build a fire in your lap and not burn your pants?
King Solomon is credited with writing Proverbs. I guess a man married to as many women as he was either knows a lot about women or nothing at all about them! I’ll give him credit for knowing a lot about life in what he says about extramarital affairs. In some ways his comments on this topic that cover the greater part of three chapters of Proverbs are out of date. His picturing the man as some foolish, gullible fellow being seduced by some worldly woman seems out of date to me. I’m not saying that never happens, but it’s just as common for the shoe to be on the other foot and it’s the female who is fed a line. In fact, I have the idea that often it’s both who are victims of an entertainment media and popular culture that treats sexual intimacy as something far less than was intended by God when he gave it to us as a wonderful gift. However, if I think Solomon is rather narrow when he focuses only the young man as the gullible one, he’s right on when it comes to the consequences. The loose lifestyle causes terrible emotional pain. Couples think they’re entering into “no fault” relationships, and when one is ready to call it quits they’ll both just move on. It never works that way. Both are cheapened by the experience. They’ll never know the depth of what might have been. Our society has been sold a bill of goods that’s supposed to be freeing and fulfilling. Instead, to use Solomon’s description, many are being burned and will spend a lifetime dealing with the scars of their so called freedom.
Take Away: Despite what culture says, God’s way is still the best way.
Renewal of vows
Deuteronomy 26: You’ve renewed your vows today that God is your God…today God has reaffirmed that you are dearly held treasure.
As a pastor I’ve officiated at several renewals of marriage vows ceremonies. In some cases it’s a landmark wedding anniversary, like the 50th. In others, couples just feel that they want to publicly reaffirm their commitment to one another. A renewal of wedding vows doesn’t make a couple any more married; it’s just a way to celebrate what already exists. That’s the feeling I get from this passage. God’s people renew their vows to God and he responds by reaffirming that he loves and treasures them. This also works on a personal level. It makes sense that I find occasions to restate my vows to the Lord — and what a blessing it is when he responds, telling me that he, too, treasures our relationship.
Take Away: It’s a good idea for believers to sometimes restate their vows to the Lord.