Growing up as a Pastor’s kid had many perks.
Empty wooden pews transformed into our playground. And it wasn’t uncommon for regular competitions testing upper body strength and physical endurance to ensue as we competed to see who could army crawl their way from the pulpit to the back row the fastest!
Vacant Sunday School classrooms (which we had access to, thanks to the master-key we were always able to get our hands on!) were always filled with endless entertainment thanks to glitter glue and infinite amounts of goldfish crackers.
And the day that was always sure to get this PK’s heart racing in excitement was the one in which we would take ‘The Lord’s Supper.’ More specifically, it was when the hundreds of people who had once filled the pews were now heading home with their families for the afternoon, and a little plastic cup with a shallow pool of leftover grape juice marked the place where they sat. It was there that I would wait. Wait for when my father was far too busy cleaning up and locking the doors, to notice me shamelessly walking the aisles and drinking the last remnant of juice…. from each cup… in every row…. until I had savored the last drop of each and every one!
Sorry Mom, I do sincerely hope this isn’t the first time you have heard this.
But above all else, I am most thankful for the skill I have mastered over the course of my many years growing up in the church… the uncanny ability I possess to spot even the most subtle of judgements.
How did I acquire this gift you ask? Because judgement is as prevalent in church as fake smiles, panty-hose, and renditions of Amazing Grace!
Over the years, I have overheard the backhanded comments towards the ‘tattooed couple’ sitting in the back row of the balcony; I have sat at, then excused myself from, a table of people who had nothing better to do then to whisper about the same-sex couple in the booth behind us; and I have endured innumerable prayer requests shared ‘with a heavy heart’ that are laced with malice and gossip.
Sadly, even to this day, I have friends and family who at the hands of such judgement, seem to believe that one must “exude perfection, lest you be judged…”
But this last week, while reading the Book of Hosea, God spoke to the most superficial and judgmental person in me…
Hosea illustrates both God’s uncontainable fury towards sin, and His passionate love and loyalty for His people in spite of it! It begins with the story of a man named Hosea, who is married to a prostitute named Gomer, and whose three children are the product of his wife’s unfaithfulness. A man, who if you were asking just me, had every right to judge! And to light some junk on fire, if you know what I mean!
But God had a plan to deal with Gomer’s straying when in Hosea 2:6,14 He says, “I will fence her in with thorn bushes. I will block her way with a wall to make her lose her way… But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. I will return her vineyards to her, and. transform the valley of trouble into a gateway of hope”
I found it interesting that never once does God ask Hosea to ‘grab her arms, while He grabs her legs…’ so-to-speak. Instead, He makes it very clear that He has a plan and, more importantly, that He’s got it covered! He will fence her in… He will block her way… He will win her back… He will lead her and transform her…
And that, ultimately, He doesn’t need our help. (GASP!)
I believe many of us Christians begin to think a little too highly of ourselves. We start seeing ourselves as the ‘Robin’ to God’s ‘Batman,’ and we falsely believe that the Creator of the Universe needs our help rescuing lost souls…often times one “strategically placed” Bible verse at a time! We resort to pitchforks and engage in spiritual debates; yet in these verses it seems God never asked for the help we so free-handedly offer.
Kinda stings, doesn’t it?
But then God does ask something from Hosea! And what He instructs him to do is surprising…
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. THIS will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel.'” – Hosea 3:1 [Emphasis added]
You see – at this time Israel, much like Gomer, was full of wickedness with a tendency to fall back into its “unbecoming” ways. This was a nation whose people were far from God and indulged in every sin imaginable. But God’s most passionate desire expressed in the book of Hosea is to show the unrighteous and immoral people of Israel that He still loves them in spite of it!
(Now for the record, this post will in no way directly address cheating spouses. Nor is that my expertise! After all, like I said earlier, I lean towards lighting things on fire! 😉
I am talking about the epidemic Christians have believed for far too long! The belief that we are to embark on a passionate crusade against the way other people are living their lives. A journey, that the Lord made very clear to me this last week, I was never invited on to begin with!
My job, like Hosea, is to love.
To ‘go and love’ those who are the cause of my anguish… to ‘go and love’ the person I just don’t ‘connect with’ and who I avoid at all costs in the church lobby… to ‘go and love’ those who have been given too many chances and who are SO undeserving….
You see, there’s a man that stands every day in Times Square with a megaphone…
A man with a message, standing in one of the most prominent areas of our country to speak words he believes are of great significance. So he amplifies his voice loud enough so the 170,000 people walking past him can hear what he has to say.
But the message he has hand-selected to introduce our God to the streets of New York City is always one of condemnation, rage, and disgust with the sin of this city. Even worse yet, our hopeless future as sinners because of it!
And you know what? I don’t think he is a bad person.
I believe just as much as him, that
the world … that WE – desperately need Jesus more than ever! Furthermore, I know that some could argue that the man with the megaphone’s fury against sin and alternative lifestyles, parallel much of the same outrage that God had for Israel at the time…
I fear however, that he is playing the wrong role.
In Hosea, we learn that it is God who can, and will, judge. And ultimately, it is only God’s perfecting love that can “transform …”
But like Hosea, we are only asked to love.
So, we too must decide what message we are going to proclaim to the world. What will be our chosen words to the people who pass by us each day?
Will it be a message that arrogantly puts people in their place and, in doing so, broadcasts that the Almighty God we serve lacks the strength to fight for His people on His own? Do we truly believe that our God is so weak that He needs flawed human beings like ourselves to be His backbone?
OR… are we going to remember the truth found in Hosea and believe that the Lord, in all of His power, will Himself fight for His people? And will we remember that the best thing we can do as His devoted followers, is to choose each day to speak a message that sounds like hope and feels like an outpouring of love to all of His people?
This is the message that beautifully illustrates the fervent love God has for even the most undeserving and unworthy, no matter how far they have strayed from Him!
Because I realized this last week:
It’s not about us as Christians standing by to do nothing. It’s about stepping to the side to allow God to BE everything!
It’s nothing personal, God just doesn’t need your help.