Hosea

If you ever doubt God’s unrelenting and unending love for you and ALL His creation, than read Hosea. If you ever, even for just a moment, begin to believe the lies of the devil, that God doesn’t really love you, that you’ve made too many mistakes too many times and He’s given up on you, then read Hosea. This book paints the picture of a merciful God who loves his people so much that He can’t forget them, even when they’ve forgotten Him. This is a God who cannot  turn His face forever. Though His anger may last for a while, He will ALWAYS bring us back to Him. His chosen people disobey, and worship the fertility God, Baal, and they put their trust in something that has no power. They quickly forget their God, who brought them out slavery, into freedom. They forget He who has always been working all things together for their good. But God doesn’t forget them. Even as He brings judgement upon the people, He is overcome with deep compassion for those He loves. He does not take back the consequences for their actions, they must still suffer for a time, but He also promises hope in the end. He promises compassion and love. This isn’t just reserved for his chosen people thousands of years ago. He shows the same kind of love today that He showed the Israelites. His heart is still overflowing with the same kind of mercy and compassion for us.

I don’t always believe that though. I don’t always believe that God’s love for me is unwavering, and unending. I bet you feel that way sometimes too. Somewhere along the line we have convinced ourselves that we are beyond redemption. We bought satan’s lies, hook, line and sinker. We begin to believe that we have strayed too far for the shepherd to bring us home. One of my favorite quotes is from Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, “If we hear, in our inner ear, a voice saying we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of satan trying to convince the bride that the groom does not love her. This is not the voice of God. God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with the passion of His love.” God never condemns us. He convicts us, and molds us to look more like Him. He does this by overwhelming us with His infinite love and grace. When I feel weak, I know that in those times He is strong. One of my favorite passages in the bible that showcases this idea is 2 Corinthians 12:9(a). Paul is describing how there was a “thorn in his flesh”… or struggle, a battle in his spirit that he was fighting, and he begged God to free him from this stronghold, but God’s answer might surprise you, “But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness.” We look at our weaknesses and we feel gross and useless, but God looks at them and He uses them to show His power and strength. He covers us with His grace and favor. Just like the Israelites, when we go astray there are consequences, but God’s love for His creation is eternal. No matter how far we fall, He is there waiting to pick you up and wrap you in His arms. Remember the story of Hosea, remember the love of God for His people, and forget the lies of satan. You are redeemed, you are indelibly inscribed on the palms of His hands, He rejoices over you with joy and exults over you with singing, He no longer sees the sins of your past, but instead He is doing a new thing. We belong to Him and we are LOVED.

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His Love

I’ve been avoiding the news like the plague. I can’t bear to read the names and ages of the tiny victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut. The minute a picture of them comes up on my screen, I have to look away. I am the oldest of seven kids, and have two very young brothers. One is 8 and one is 4 (almost 5), so this tragedy hits far too close to home.

I look through the pictures I have on my phone, most of which are pictures my dad sent to me of my little brothers having fun together. As I look at their sweet faces, tears quickly fill my eyes. They are my two favorites little boys in the entire world. I have their pictures hanging up in my cubicle at work, and most of the time my phone background is a picture of one or both of them. The older one  has a blonde mushroom cut, and the cutest little smile. He’s starting to loose his baby teeth, and he’s very proud of it. The younger one has the cutest curls and the most mischievous eyes. He loves to cause trouble, but he also loves to give kisses and tell you that he loves you the most. They don’t understand evil yet. They dress up like superheros, and their most difficult problem is beating the next level in angry birds on their Ipod. I want to keep it that way forever. I may not be a mom, but I’m a big sister, and I can’t even begin to imagine how deep the loss must feel for those families. I’ve already carefully picked out the Christmas presents for my brothers. I can’t wait to wrap them and see their faces light up with joy and excitement when they open them up on Christmas morning. I bet a lot of those parents did the same. But now they won’t get to watch their babies open up their presents. I can’t pretend that the questions, “why?” hasn’t crossed my mind. I have asked, “How? How could a loving God allow something so horrible to happen?” It all feels so deeply wrong, and senseless. But as soon as the thought crosses my mind, I hear God answer me. He says, “Sarah, I am more broken over this tragedy than you could even begin to fathom. I formed those sweet children in their mother’s womb. I knew them completely. I knew how many hairs were on their head. I loved their laugh, their smile, their sweet spirits, their love of bikes, and their tendency to make messes. I abhor violence. I will make beauty of out ashes. You can’t see it yet, but I will make something beautiful come from this mess. My love is deep, and fierce, and strong, and unrelenting.” So as I sit here, broken by tragedy, I am reminded that if I am broken, my God is certainly broken, for His love is the kind of love that I can’t even begin to imagine or understand. Maybe I am just sentimental, but in my head I can hear God crying out in distress and in anguish. I picture him, face in His hands, sobbing, just like a parent. I guess I don’t know for sure what God does in the face of such tragedy, but I do know that He loves more than any of us could ever even dream of loving, and I believe that He too feels broken when He sees what His creation has done. His love is deep as the ocean and His compassion never fails. In this I will take comfort, even when so much  in the world me tells me to despair. In the face of tragedy, His mercy and compassions are new every morning. They are great and abundant, and so is His love.

19 [O Lord] remember [earnestly] my affliction and my misery, my wandering and my outcast state, the wormwood and the gall.20 My soul has them continually in remembrance and is bowed down within me.21 But this I recall and therefore have I hope and expectation:22 It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not.23 They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness.” -Lamentations 3:19-23

Romans 7

One of my favorite parts about the bible is that is seems to transcend time and trends. The same things that were true thousands of years ago when the book was written, are still true today.

Like in Romans 7. There aren’t many times where I read the writings of Paul and think, man I am Paul… I do that too. Usually when I read his writings I’m thinking somewhere along the lines of, “holy cow, this man is incredible”, but recently I remembered how even Paul was human and experienced temptation, and did things that he knew he shouldn’t do. Man can I relate to that. I often find myself getting frustrated with the way I act. I do what I know is wrong and I don’t do what I know is right. I say the same dumb thing, I make the same mistake, and I begin to beat myself up because I think that I must be the only person to ever do what they know they shouldn’t do.

Then I read Romans 7, and I remember that my problem is a problem that most humans face. “For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]…for I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing.” Can you sense Paul’s frustration? I am right there with him. I know what I should do, I know what I shouldn’t do, I know what is right and what is wrong because I have the spirit of God living inside me, acting as my compass, directing me in the way I should go. And yet… I still mess up. I hear that voice inside me that says, “stop”, and I ignore it. I push the voice deep down inside me so that I can’t hear it anymore. Suddenly I take a back seat, and the sin within me takes over. Paul puts it pretty well, “Now if I do what I do not desire to do, it is not longer I doing it [it is not myself that acts], but the sin [principle] which dwells within me [fixed and operating within my soul].”

I am a sinner, odds are you are a sinner too. Because of this a sin nature dwells within us, which causes us to do the very things that we hate. Sometimes it causes us to do the very things we said we would never do. A sense of hopelessness can quickly begin to creep in, and I begin to feel like I’m always going to fail.

But then I read the end of chapter 7. “O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death? O thank God! [He will!] through Jesus Christ (the anointed one) our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the law of God, but with the flesh of the law of sin.” Who will save me from my sin? Who will free me from myself? God will! The lover of my soul, and the perfector of my faith. He will break the chains of my sin, of my temptations, and at long last I will be free.

Respect…

I went to upstate NY this past weekend and I learned a very important lesson on respect from Steven’s mom. We drove the 8 hours on Wednesday night so that Steve could take care of all of his different best man duties. While he was at the bachelor party, I got to spend some time with Mrs. Combs. She taught me how to make crutons, and I helped her download audio books onto her iTunes, but mostly we just had really great conversations. We talked a lot about what it means to be a Christian woman, to be a woman who truly follows God’s plan. We talked about learning to watch our words, which was something that was more difficult for both of us. We talked about showing respect, even in small ways. A little while later her husband came into the kitchen and I got to witness her live out the conversation we had. I’m sure she has no idea what a big impact such a short conversation would have, but this is how the conversation went…

“Do we have anything planned for tomorrow?”,

“We can do whatever you want to do Jim, it’s your day off.”

“Well I was asking if we had any plans.”

“No, we don’t, we can do whatever you want to do.”

“Ok, I’d like to go eat breakfast with my dad tomorrow morning, I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Ok Jim, we can do that. You and I will go eat breakfast with your dad!”

That might seem like a pretty normal conversation between a husband and wife, but let me give you some background. That morning she had told Steven and I the plans she had for breakfast the next morning. She knew what she wanted to do, but her husband was important enough to her that she put his desires before her own. She put aside what she had planned, and went along with his. She could have easily said, “Well Jim, I know you want to do that, but I actually planned this thing for us to do instead.”, but she didn’t. Respect isn’t just a nice idea to Mrs. Combs, it’s something that she is living out. It’s something I want to learn to live out better. It’s something we all need to learn to live out. Respect isn’t just something you show in a dating or marriage relationship. It’s something you show to everyone. God calls us to live a selfless life, putting others and their needs before our own. This means we have to fight against ourselves and our selfish desires, which is hard, but the end will be worth it. Respect isn’t just a word, it’s an action. We can’t just talk about it, we have to go do it. So today, look for opportunities to make other greater than yourself. Look for ways to serve and love others. Look for ways to show respect.