Archive | February, 2012

Gomer’s Choice

18 Feb

[She] went after her lovers
and forgot me, declares the Lord.

Therefore, I will allure her…  Hosea 2:13-14

Forgetting God is what Gomers do.

Western culture and human nature produce one after another.  Gifted artists, raised in the church where their God-given talents are nurtured, attain a level of ability that gives them options not available to most of us.   In the myriad of choices they forget the One who gave them their talent.

Elvis Presley grew up singing Gospel songs.  After becoming famous, he continued to sing and record songs that glorified Jesus while he chased after fame and self-gratification– empty idols that seduced him away from God.  He died young (age 42) and miserable.

Whitney Houston‘s mother encouraged her to eschew fame and continue singing in church.  The lure of fame pulled her through a morass of substance abuse that ended last week in her early death.

Hosea gave his wife everything she needed.  Gifts that she used for idol worship.  Gifts she attributed to her lovers, not her husband.  (Hos 2:8)  My heart grieves for her, and Elvis, and Whitney – each so blessed and loved, and all so deluded.  They remind me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who went looking for her heart’s desire by running away from those who loved her best and from what, deep in her heart, she really wanted.

Gomer’s story is also Israel’s.  God provided Israel with everything she needed because of His love for her, but His chosen nation chose to worship other gods.  Throughout the book of Hosea, God exposes Israel’s idolatry.  He calls her behavior what it was – adulterous whoring.  (Hos 2:2)  He punished her severely, taking away all His gifts, and put an end to her celebration. (Hos 2:9-13)

But that’s not the end of the story.

God allures her.  He entices and woos her as a lover would to a place where they can be alone together and tenderly speaks to her.  (Hos 2:14)  He gives back everything her lifestyle took from her and promises hope where there had been trouble and despair.  Her actions called for punishment and death; He gives grace and restoration.  (Hos 2:15)

Whitney and Elvis turned away from the Source of their great talent at the beginning of their careers, one choice at a time, until what they were chasing devoured them.  Though we don’t know for sure, reports indicate that they were both seeking God in their final days.  I pray they were able to see through the veil substance abuse had erected to the Face of the Lover of their souls.

It’s the little choices.  The ones that focus attention on me, not God.  To play a fill so others notice me.  To choose a song because it features my talent.  To plan a program that fulfills my need for significance.  To imagine how people will praise me for my abilities when the worship service is over.

We each have some Gomer in us.  Whether we use the talents and abilities He gave us within the church outside of it; whether we tour in a famous band or play in a local 2-piece duo, the choice is: worship myself or God?

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Heart-check for Sunday

What is my motivation for leading, playing in the worship band, designing the service, etc?  Whose glory am I interested in?

During the worship set, where does my mind go?  Am I worshiping and leading others to worship God?

The second half of Hosea 2 covers Israel’s restoration.  Because Israel did not acknowledge that all she had was a gift from God, He took His gifts back.  I have known musicians and teachers who had experienced this, yet with others (like Elvis and Whitney) God lets the gifts remain.  God cares for each of us differently, but in one respect we are all the same: He wants our hearts.  In every case God graciously calls, deep unto deep, with an offer of complete restoration – no strings attached.  Free grace.

That enables me to sing again, as when I first knew Him.

Leading from between a Hard Place and a Rock

11 Feb

Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, and still, while He was overwhelmed, He led His disciples, showing us what sacrificial leadership is.  Mark 14:34

SCRIPTURE

Even though His betrayer was in the room with Him, Jesus led His followers through the Passover meal, reading Scripture within the ritual.  While filled with dread for what is coming, The Word continued to teach His disciples, explaining the Scriptures they knew well in view of their present circumstance.

WORSHIP

Although He knew that all of them would fall away, He led them in a song of praise to God after the meal.  His concern was not that His worship environment met His needs, or that He was surrounded by others totally committed to the Father who inspired Him to worship.  He worshiped God because His Father was the same in His present circumstance as He had been when He delivered Israel out of Egypt and protected every firstborn in homes that had the Passover lamb’s blood smeared on the top and sides of the doorway as the angel of death passed over.

PRAYER

In Gethsemane Jesus prayed as no one has ever prayed.  Deep pleading and total surrender collided, preparing the way for the redemption of the world.  He understood the great suffering that would begin with His arrest, which was moments away, and continue until the rock was rolled back from the tomb on the first day of the week.  And His disciples were there to witness His prayer– until they fell asleep.  Not once or twice, but three times.  Why Jesus continued to wake them up is not recorded.  Was He looking for support from His friends?  Was He checking on them to make sure they understood how to truly pray?  Did He want to make sure they did not miss this ultimate lesson in prayer?

SACRIFICIAL LEADERSHIP

Knowing He was headed toward the cross and that everyone, including His Father, would abandon and turn away from Him, Jesus continued to lead His disciples to the Father.  They listened as He recited Scripture.  They sang praises to God with Him.  And they stayed awake long enough to hear Him wrestle in prayer.

Heart-check for Sunday:

Am I running away from God or toward Him? (There is no other direction!)

When I am in hard places, do others see God through my anguish?  Do I pursue Him with more resolve, so that others are drawn to Him instead of feeling sorry for me?

Christ is our example.  Even in our struggles, especially in the hard times, our leadership thunders through rhetoric into the hearts of those entrusted to us.  Hardship is laced with teachable moments if we stand firm in our relationship with God and run to Him.  Everyone is watching.  Some will follow.

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Illustration courtesy of Jonathan David Design

Beauty Sandwiched by Evil

4 Feb

“She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6

Humble devotion in the midst of evil deception, protected and affirmed by the Object of both.

Evil Deception

The sly and stealthy serpent wound his way through the streets of Jerusalem.  Just two days before Passover, the crowds were more excited than usual.  The Rabbi was here – the one who had healed with compassion, taught with authority, and recently called the scribes and Pharisees a brood of vipers.  And so they are looking for some sly way to arrest and kill Him.

Their hunt produced one willing – one of the Twelve.  The chief priests were delighted and promised to pay him well in pure silver.

Humble Devotion

During their plotting, in nearby Bethany, Simon’s house cradles great beauty.  The Rabbi is reclining at table just days before the greatest suffering the world has ever seen will begin, and a woman invades the meal with a spectacle.

She breaks alabaster (this is stone, not easily-shattered pottery), pushes through the men (who were leaning on an elbow, heads toward a low table, feet emanating outward like pillow fringe), and pours (it went everywhere, splashing the table, food, others) pure nard (very concentrated and highly aromatic, probably over-powering in a small room) on Jesus.  Her worship was not a quiet, unobtrusive moment with violins playing in the background.

There was no missing or ignoring her actions.  But those eating with Jesus missed her heart.  They rebuked her harshly; they yelled at her and criticized her intentions with, what they thought would have been a better use of her valuable nard.

The contrasts couldn’t be more compelling: powerful hordes of religious leaders and the inner circle of disciples opposite a single, unnamed woman; anger, power-hunger, self-righteousness, hate, criticalness, and deception juxtaposed against humble worship.  Sandwiched between the evil of the chief priests and Judas’ deception, this woman teaches the world what beautiful worship is.

Her devotion was–

  • humble and courageous.  She had to break through the social line of “no girls allowed”, knowing the men around the table wouldn’t like it one bit.  Even the women serving from another room would have been shocked at her bold inappropriateness.  If she cared what others would think, she didn’t let it stop her.
  • total.  Once she broke the alabaster, there was no mending it.  She knew before she entered the room that she would be giving it all.
  • pure.  She poured pure nard over Jesus, not a cheap or contaminated substitute.
  • intimate.  Touching the head was an intimate sign of blessing reserved for close friends and relatives.
  • public.  There was no hiding what she did from the people in the house, who, no doubt, spread the story throughout Bethany.
  • beautiful.

That she would always be remembered or that she was playing a part in the Passion of Messiah by anointing Him for burial wasn’t in her thoughts.  Jesus was.

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Heart-check for Sunday:

Am I a Teacher of the Law– in my own righteousness trying to force Jesus into what I think is God’s plan?

Am I one of those around the table– criticizing others’ worship with my superior plan, while not worshiping myself?

Am I able to worship God without regard to social conventions and with unadulterated total surrender?

What would the Church look like if each believer’s ultimate goal in worshiping Him was to hear: “She has done a beautiful thing to me”?

I want to find out.

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