A Door of Hope

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“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. “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And 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” (Hosea 2:14-20).

“Hope is a waking dream.” Augustine

 

The Bible is filled with messages using paradox as a means to communicate a deeper truth that causes our heads to go just a little cock-eyed for a moment. Jesus was especially known for this, saying, “the first will last and the last, first”, “the greatest must be the servant of all” and “to save your life you must lose it”, just to name a few. God through Hosea states a truth in a similar manner by saying that the Valley of Achor will become a door of hope.

What a contrast!

If you don’t know the whole story check out the sin of Achan and Israel in Joshua 7. In a nutshell, the Valley of Achor (“trouble”) was a place of great humiliation and judgment brought upon Achan and all that was his. Think of the most humiliating time in your life; when you were caught “red handed” doing something wrong or shameful. For some of us that has included a shame brought to our family or larger community. They were innocent of any wrong doing but by association with us were disgraced along with us. Remember the depths of the emotional despair during that season; the gravity of sin’s judgment? That was our Valley of Achor.

Somewhere in this darkest of moments a secret grace was hiding. In the middle of the worst time in your life God was preparing to make it a moment of great mercy and hope. You thought you would never breathe again, but God infused you with newness. It is just like God to bring a song to our hearts right in the midst of a time of brokenness and shame. That’s grace! That’s the Jesus message. Notice Hosea doesn’t say Israel would sing a new song when they achieved some future place of holiness. He says that it is right in the midst of your valley of trouble new dream and visions will spring forth. Hosea compares it to what the Israelites may have experienced as they were launching from Egypt. Yes, they were uncertain; yes, they saw the Egyptian army in their rearview mirror but they must have been filled with a great heart of worship and anticipation as well. Do you remember the early days of faith? Everything was filled with hope and expectation. There is no way to go back and live those days again. Yet as we come down from the mountaintop of new faith and dwell in the inevitable valleys of sin below, God declares that He is able to make the valley as the mountain; the old as the new; the “troubled” with a passion-filled hope.

How can this be? There is a kind of evolution that has occurred in our relationship with God – an evolution wholly initiated on His part. Our relationship was once based upon the ever-enduring fact that “God is God and we are not”; He is wholly transcendent to us. While there is still a sense where this has not changed, Hosea declares to Israel that God has taken this whore of a nation as His wife while they remain in the Valley of Trouble. Again – check out the contrast and level of intimacy that Israel will be anointed with. They move from a Master-slave relationship to the familiarity of husband and wife. This same relationship is inherent in the New Testament as the church is described as the Bride of Christ. This reality is too big for us to wrap our minds around but is nevertheless true.

The promise is not only of marriage but that the “old lovers” will be removed and indeed not even remembered. There is now in Christ a new covenant, a union and bond that “man cannot separate”. “Behold the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

It is not a leap for me to acknowledge that ALL of our marriages have seen the Valley of Achor. There has been a season – perhaps a long one – wherein you could see no way through the maze of hurt, misunderstanding, and doubt; perhaps even a time of betrayal of old and new lovers who have defiled the purity of your marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Your emotions were (are) raw from the pain of your shameless ways – both “his and hers” or perhaps just his or just hers. The valley feels the same.

But in this very place God is prophetically speaking to your marriage today and says there is a hope you can have for this “tired and broken” union. There is a supernatural movement of God even as you read these words that will cause you to have eyes that see what is invisible to your eyes of flesh. There before you is the wife of your youth, the husband of your dreams and God has made it so.

Coming out of this valley, you currently find yourself in, begins with choosing to know that there is doorway, an opening and you are choosing to walk through it. Will you make that choice right now?

“And you shall know the Lord.”

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Oh Lord, that we would “know” You more! That we would want to want! That we would lay hold of the fullness of the gift you have afforded us. It is a shocking mercy you give us in this marriage. Thus may we keep our vows and lay intimately with You. Give us hearts of expectation that draws near to You and to the one we have pledged ourselves to. In the authority of Jesus, the Son of the Most High God. Amen.

Marriage Challenge: Explore, Discover

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Learn something new. “Knowing” our spouse is a process.

Do Not Disturb

“You don’t do that very often, I like it.” He said with a wink.

“How could I not have known.” I thought to myself.

After nearly 14 years of marriage I (Megan) love it when I discover new things about my husband.  It gives me a giddy feeling that there are still heights and depths which I have not yet become familiar. Each time I learn something new it brings about the opportunity to love more and connect more deeply with the man I married.

Marriage is like that, full of things that surprise us and mysteries we don’t understand. The only way to uncover these mysteries though is to explore, to take the opportunity to engage and discover what we may not already know.  Today’s marriage challenge is to explore your spouse in order to discover something new. Use questions, observations, experiences, physical touch and the like to fuel…

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Your spouse is waiting to meet this person.

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“Incarnational spirituality – the living, reigning and ascended Jesus living through us and transforming us into different people – does not exist to uphold a few rules but rather speaks of a process that creates an entirely new person who sees with new eyes, feels with a new heart, hears with renewed ears, and lives with a new passion. It is, I believe, the only life worth living.” Gary Thomas, “The Beautiful Fight”

I highly recommend this book.

I Will Allure Her

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14“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15And 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.

16“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:14-20).

“Soar back through all your own experiences. Think of how the Lord has led you in the wilderness and has fed and clothed you every day. How God has borne with your ill manners, and put up with all your murmurings and all your longings after the ‘sensual pleasures of Egypt!’ Think of how the Lord’s grace has been sufficient for you in all your troubles.” Charles Spurgeon

It seems as if I could say this about a thousand texts of Scripture, but I am astounded at how packed Hosea 2 is with meaning. I know… “all scripture is God-breathed and profitable…” but these few verses are among some of my personal favorites. God, through the prophet, has just cast His judgment (yes, I said that word) – His severe judgment upon His people. Israel’s unfaithfulness was notorious. Their willingness to walk away from the “love of their lives” over and over again was well documented. Yet, in the midst of God’s justifiable indictment of His obstinate people we as readers are blinded by the brilliance of His sovereign grace. He shows the greatness of His nature by choosing to write a “love letter” – a letter of reconciliation to those very same people who were “whores of faith”. So it is appropriate for Hosea to say in verse 14, “Behold!” – a word used not just to call us to look but to look intently because what we are about to see is breath-taking – unbelievable.

The first wonder we see is that God is going to faithfully husband Israel even though she has been with “another man”. He takes the initiative to “entice” her. What a picture into the nature of God. He is not blind to Israel’s unfaithfulness. In fact, it is in full view of her “slutty” ways that He intentionally sets out to draw her back to Himself.

Some of us know firsthand the devastation of having our spouse be sexually unfaithful and thus the thought of being the one to initiate restoration and healing is a difficult one to consider. Others of us have been spared such heart break but can certainly speak to those times where our mate has pushed us away, been unkind or was seduced by work, hobbies or even ministry. Our inclinations are to withdraw and say to ourselves, “She must be the one to make the first move; he’s the ‘unfaithful’ one – he needs to get it together! He needs to make this right then I will be drawn to him.” Not so with God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).

It is taken for granted in our human experience that when one person hurts another there is a reactive recoil from the relationship. Not much to “see” there – it happens all the time. But what is worth “beholding” is when we witness someone rise above their mortal predispositions and love when it hurts, when offended and violated. This is not to say that the offender has no responsibilities – they do. But that is expected; not unusual. The miracle worth our long gaze and astonishment is when we see one take on the challenge of imparting the “undeserved enticement” found in God’s love. That is worth watching.

Shocker number two:

If a friend of yours came to you and asked, “I want to win the heart of my adulterous wife back. What should I do?” What would you say? Most of the time we would probably suggest a myriad of intimate, bridge-building activities to “fall in love all over again” and we would be right in saying so. But look where God is planning His “romantic getaway” with Israel.

The Wilderness – the desert.

He did not book a secluded spot on the beaches of Aruba or a romantic dinner of two in a fine restaurant or even some simple “coffee time” at that quaint little coffee shop in the artsy part of town. No God’s idea of “showing his girl a good time” was to take her to a place of desolation and discomfort!

Uhhh… God?

I am reminded here of Jesus being “compelled by the Spirit” to go into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). The difference in these two scenarios is that Jesus had not been unfaithful but was “commanded” to go to the desert nonetheless. God will not always lead us into a hard place in order to show us His love but often enough He will use the most painful of circumstances to display Himself to us. In fact Hosea says God will speak “tenderly” to us there, as one lover to another.

But couldn’t He speak to us tenderly in a better setting than the wilderness? What purpose does God have in leading us into the wilderness? Doesn’t He know that we’ll be uncomfortable there? If He really wants us to hear Him shouldn’t we be in a more conducive setting?

Funny thing about deserts… they aren’t very good at providing a good WiFi connection; there aren’t many shopping malls (minus Dubai); traffic’s not bad but where would you want to go. The one thing that the wilderness provides is limited distractions. Really the only distraction you have in the wilderness is recognizing how many false lovers you have that have not traveled there with you.

It was true of Israel, it is true of us. There are far too many things that distract us from intimacy with the living God. Some of those distractions are the results of daily demands placed on us by living life – neither good nor bad. However, many “distractions” are the result of deliberate choices we make to remain distant. These choices equate to idolatry. In our modern/post-modern world we are not comfortable in describing our “choices” as potentially being idolatrous, but “it is what it is”. Anything we are enticed by other than God has potential to be a “golden calf”. Israel was already adept at practicing idolatry. God understood that for them to be “drawn” to Him again would require a removal of all of those sacred things they had raised up ahead of Him – thus the desert.

Similarly, there are seasons of “wilderness walking” in marriage as well; times when the work of married life leaves us parched and thirsty for an oasis of relief. In this place there is nothing left that will satisfy our thirst other than calling out to God. We can deny that we are in the desert and delude ourselves with the mirage of stability but the truth is the sun in still baking our backs. We can long for another time in life when we were refreshed, “comfortable” and full of life but the truth is we aren’t there any longer and we’re really tired. We can point the finger at one another for this place we’re in and continue wandering for “forty years”… or … we can realize that God brought us to this hard place so that He may indeed speak tenderly to us there. There is nothing more vital for us to understand than that God will take us into the desert places so that there is nothing left but for us to draw near to Him.

Lord, reveal in me the people and things I have enthroned before you. Do your surgical work in my heart and mind that these things may either be completely vanquished or that they may find their proper place in submission to You. As a result may my union with Robyn be all the more glorifying to You. To that end help me not to fear the wilderness but be all the more willing to listen to You there. In Jesus.

 

Cheap Grace

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“Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap? …. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship).