Jeremiah 3:1-5 – Spiritual Adultery

“If a man divorces a woman
    and she goes and marries someone else,
he will not take her back again,
    for that would surely corrupt the land.
But you have prostituted yourself with many lovers,
    so why are you trying to come back to me?”
    says the Lord.
“Look at the shrines on every hilltop.
    Is there any place you have not been defiled
    by your adultery with other gods?
You sit like a prostitute beside the road waiting for a customer.
    You sit alone like a nomad in the desert.
You have polluted the land with your prostitution
    and your wickedness.
That’s why even the spring rains have failed.
    For you are a brazen prostitute and completely shameless.
Yet you say to me,
    ‘Father, you have been my guide since my youth.
Surely you won’t be angry forever!
    Surely you can forget about it!’
So you talk,
    but you keep on doing all the evil you can.” (New Living Translation)

We all have needs. 

As humans, each one of us has a deep hunger for love, intimacy, attention, affirmation, and encouragement. When these needs are met within gracious and loving relationships, especially in the marital bond, then there is genuine happiness and flourishing. 

But when our deep wants go unmet over a stretch of time, smiles are replaced with furrowed brows and confident strides give way to slumped shoulders.

We feel deeply and are moved at a visceral level because we are made in the image and likeness of G-d – a G-d who feels and has great emotion. 

Perhaps we too often think of G-d as some disembodied ethereal brain without any feelings. I hope today’s Old Testament lesson puts a collar on such notions. G-d entered into a loving covenant relationship with Israel. Yet, over time, the people looked for their relational, emotional, and spiritual needs to be met in other gods rather than the One true G-d. 

And it pained G-d’s heart.

G-d felt deeply about the people turning away to pursue other gods. The Lord responded to the people like a jilted lover, agonized by their acting like a prostitute – looking for their intimate needs to be satisfied elsewhere. 

It seems to me G-d was so profoundly hurt because the Lord knows that our deepest and greatest needs can only really be met through the divine covenant relationship. People need G-d.

To put it in the stark terms of Jeremiah’s prophecy: 

  • Are we playing the part of a harlot, running after all kinds of other relationships and things that we wrongheadedly believe will meet the needs of our lives? 
  • Do we sell ourselves to others in the misguided belief that we will find true happiness? 
  • Have we sought other lovers and forsaken our first love of the Divine? 

Everyone has a legitimate need for attention, love, and relational connection. The problem arises whenever we seek to meet those needs in illegitimate ways. That’s what we call “sin.”

The most important thing in life is not our job position, our social status, or even whether we are married with family. What matters most is the kind of person you are – it’s all about who you become. Because that’s what you will take into eternity. You and I are unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in G-d’s great universe.

Spiritual prostitution – and faith communities acting like spiritual brothels – are far beneath who we are and how we were designed by our Creator.

The pathos of G-d calls us to better than hanging out in a dark emotional shame lounge of sordid characters drinking cheap dandelion wine and smoking nasty cut-rate cigars in smelly old leisure suits.

We belong to G-d.

Our place is in the wide-open sunlit rooms of G-d’s kingdom. We have been adopted into G-d’s family and there is no longer any need for walking the streets and going into dive bars, looking for a quick fix of some damning elixir which promises life.

It behooves us all to become aware and connect with our longings and needs, and thereby allowing the G-d who delights to meet those needs into the core of our being.

Know who you really are. Because in that knowing, there is eternal life.

Jealous God, you are zealous for your presence to be known in the lives of all your creatures. Help me to be aware of the deepest needs of my life. May I find in you the desire of my heart and let you fill me with your infinite grace, love, mercy, and attention so that I will know true peace and joy. Amen.

Micah 4:6-8 – Belonging

“In that day,” declares the Lord,

“I will gather the lame;
    I will assemble the exiles
    and those I have brought to grief.
I will make the lame my remnant,
    those driven away a strong nation.
The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion
    from that day and forever.
As for you, watchtower of the flock,
    stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.” (New International Version)

One of the great tragedies of our world, as well as one of the worst feelings of humanity, is the sense that one does not belong.

Since people are hard-wired by God for community, belonging is essential, not optional. The image of the rugged individualist who gets things done on their own terms and marches to the beat of a different drum might be an appealing picture to many Westerners – but it falls woefully short of real lived human experience.

Since the fall of humanity, people have tended to group themselves into insiders and outsiders. In other words, discrimination is the enemy of true belonging. And, what’s more, there always seems to be people who are ready to create such division for their own purpose and profit. Indeed, it’s an age old tale, perhaps best told by Dr. Seuss in his classis book, Sneetches and Other Stories (1961).

In the story, Sneetches with stars on their bellies discriminate against and shun those without. A slick entrepreneur, Sylvester McMonkey McBean, offers the Sneetches without stars on their bellies the chance to get them with his Star-On machine, for three dollars, of course.

The application of stars upon thars is instantly and wildly popular. However, this abjectly upsets the original star-bellied Sneetches. They are in danger of losing their special status! So, McBean then tells them about his Star-Off machine, costing ten dollars, of course, and the Sneetches who originally had stars happily pay the money to have them removed.

Since McBean only cares about profit, he allows the recently starred Sneetches through this machine, as well. Ultimately, the entire affair escalates, with all the Sneetches running from one machine to the next…

“…until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew

whether this one was that one… or that one was this one…

or which one was what one… or what one was who.”

The Sneetches end up penniless. McBean leaves a rich man. The Sneetches learn from the experience that neither plain-belly nor star-belly Sneetches are superior. They finally become friends. Dr. Suess intended his story to be a satire of discrimination between races and cultures.

The kingdom of God is an egalitarian realm. There are no walls and barriers dividing people into opposing groups. And there isn’t such a thing as marginal, excluded, insignificant, forbidden, or discounted people.

Micah’s prophecy tells not of the privileged and powerful coming together for renewal but the lame. God’s care in maintaining a remnant and gathering them for restoration will be made up of the wounded, the ones who have no ability to bring themselves to the center.

The upside-down kingdom of God makes the last first, and the first, last. The Lord’s rule and reign champions the disabled and the misfits – those without an ability to come. They may be forgotten by others but never by God.

Like Santa coming to the island of misfit toys, rescuing and airlifting forgotten toys so that they can become treasured gifts for boys and girls – so God creates belonging where there seems none to be had. And leading the effort is a tossed aside reindeer named Rudolph, using his unique “deformity” to cut through the tough winter storm.

Perhaps you feel a bit, or maybe a lot, like the square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It could be that you wonder whether there is a place for you. You have experienced life as something of an oddity, as if the normal world around you is not aware of your very personhood.

The good news is that a prominent place is given to the humble, for those attempting to make a difference in the world that gives them no place to belong. God sees. God hears. God knows. God cares.

The Lord sends a Savior, a Deliverer, who will himself be a peculiar individual on this earth. It will seem as if he is from another place… which he is. But, then again, aren’t we all? Each of us was crafted with divine care and attention.

You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,
    before any one of them had yet happened. (Psalm 139:13-16, CEB)

The Lord has good plans for you and me. It might seem as if there are times God is placing a heavy hand upon us, even punishing. Yet, restoration is in the future. In this season of the year, we celebrate that Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

May Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one, things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace. Amen.

Colossians 2:6-15 – Our Identity in Christ

Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ by Guy Roddon (1919-2006)

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (New International Version)

I like kids. Since I believe them to be closer to God’s kingdom than most adults, I respect them by bending down to talk with them on their level. I take an interest in what they have to say and what’s going on with them. And I pay attention in ways that helps solidify their sense of worth, identity, and belonging. Indeed, how we treat children within the family, the church, and in public can make a significant difference in the trajectory of how they grow up and think of themselves.

One of the most fundamental of all Christian truths is that we belong to Christ. We are God’s children. God has given us everything we need for a solid awareness of our true identity. 

The follower of Jesus is a person who has moved from the realm of being in the world to the sphere of being in Christ. The Christian’s knowledge, understanding, and sense of identity are vitally important because we tend to live up to how we view ourselves.  

Today’s New Testament lesson is dense with the teaching of who we are in Christ. We are to live our lives in Christ. We are rooted and built up in Christ. We have been filled in Christ. We have a spiritual circumcision in Christ. We have been raised in Christ to new life. We are triumphant in Christ.  All this is meant to saturate us with the richness and security of being in the realm of Jesus Christ.

In Jesus Christ:

I am God’s child (John 1:12)

I have been justified (Romans 5:1)

I am Christ’s friend (John 15:15)

I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)

I am a member of Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12:27)

I am assured all things work together for good (Romans 8:28)

I am confident that God will perfect the work begun in me (Philippians 1:6)

I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)

I am brave, strong, and self-disciplined (2 Timothy 1:7)

I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)

I am blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)

I am chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 11)

I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)

I am adopted as God’s child (Ephesians 1:5)

I am lavishly given God’s glorious grace (Ephesians 1:5,8)

I am redeemed (Ephesians 1:8)

I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 1:14)

I am hopeful (Ephesians 1:12)

I am included (Ephesians 1:13)

I am sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)

I am a saint (Ephesians 1:18)

I am the salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14)

I am God’s coworker (2 Corinthians 6:1)

I am a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

I am alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)

I am raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12)

I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6)

I am rich with God’s grace (Ephesians 2:7)

I am a recipient of God’s kindness (Ephesians 2:7)

I am God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)

I am close to God (Ephesians 2:13)

I am peaceful (Ephesians 2:14)

I am a member of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19)

I am secure (Ephesians 2:20)

I am a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19)

I am a dwelling for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)

I am a friend of God (Ephesians 3:6)

I am free and confident (Ephesians 3:12)

I am joyful in my sufferings (Ephesians 3:13)

I am loved and can love others (Ephesians 3:18)

I am called (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:9)

I am humble, gentle, patient, and tolerant of others (Ephesians 4:2)

I am truthful (Ephesians 4:17)

I am living a new life (Ephesians 4:21-32)

I am kind and compassionate to others (Ephesians 4:32)

I am forgiving of others (Ephesians 4:32)

I am good (Ephesians 5:8-9)

I am grateful (Ephesians 5:20)

I am secure (Ephesians 6:13)

I am dead to sin (Romans 1:12)

I am not alone (Hebrews 13:5)

I am growing (Colossians 2:7)

I am united with other believers (John 17:20-23)

I am victorious (I John 5:4)

I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12)

I am blameless (I Corinthians 1:8)

I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)

I am safe (I John 5:18)

I am healed (I Peter 2:24)

I am no longer condemned (Romans 8:1, 2)

I am not helpless (Philippians 4:13)

I am overcoming (I John 4:4)

I am persevering (Philippians 3:14)

I am protected (John 10:28)

I am born again (I Peter 1:23)

I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I am delivered (Colossians 1:13)

I am redeemed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13)

I am qualified to share in Christ’s inheritance (Colossians 1:12)

I am victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Take ten minutes today and focus on one of the phrases or words from these verses. Think about its meaning. Ponder how it makes a difference in your Christian life. Then decide what you will do with the insight God gives you. Finally, share it with a friend. In all these ways we can press the truth of our identity firmly into our souls and live into the reality that we belong to Christ.

Gracious God, you have brought me from death to life, from being of the world to being in Christ. Solidify my sense of identity with Jesus and release that self-knowledge into loving practice toward others. Amen.

Song of Songs 5:2-6:3 – I Am My Beloved’s

Song of Songs by German illustrator Egon Tschirch, 1923

Beloved

I was asleep, but my heart was awake.
    It is the voice of my beloved who knocks:
    “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled;
    for my head is filled with dew,
    and my hair with the dampness of the night.”
I have taken off my robe. Indeed, must I put it on?
    I have washed my feet. Indeed, must I soil them?
My beloved thrust his hand in through the latch opening.
    My heart pounded for him.
I rose up to open for my beloved.
    My hands dripped with myrrh,
    my fingers with liquid myrrh,
    on the handles of the lock.
I opened to my beloved;
    but my beloved left, and had gone away.
My heart went out when he spoke.
    I looked for him, but I didn’t find him.
    I called him, but he didn’t answer.
The watchmen who go about the city found me.
    They beat me.
    They bruised me.
    The keepers of the walls took my cloak away from me.

I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
    If you find my beloved,
    that you tell him that I am faint with love.

Friends

How is your beloved better than another beloved,
    you fairest among women?
How is your beloved better than another beloved,
that you do so adjure us?

Beloved

My beloved is white and ruddy.
    The best among ten thousand.
His head is like the purest gold.
    His hair is bushy, black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves beside the water brooks,
    washed with milk, mounted like jewels.
His cheeks are like a bed of spices with towers of perfumes.
    His lips are like lilies, dropping liquid myrrh.
His hands are like rings of gold set with beryl.
    His body is like ivory work overlaid with sapphires.
His legs are like pillars of marble set on sockets of fine gold.
    His appearance is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
His mouth is sweetness;
    yes, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, and this is my friend,
    daughters of Jerusalem.

Friends

Where has your beloved gone, you fairest among women?
    Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?

Beloved

My beloved has gone down to his garden,
    to the beds of spices,
    to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.
    He browses among the lilies. (World English Bible)

God is love. God rejoices over you. 

There is a reason why so many people in this cruel and calloused world are unloving and unkind: They are unaware that God loves them. 

If we neither believe nor know God’s infinite love for us, then our words and our actions will reflect more of hate than love. God really truly does love you and me. This is crucial. Do not forget this. Believe it. Live it. Enjoy it. Know it. Tell it to yourself until you are thoroughly bathed in it, because it is more wonderful than any ‘70’s sappy love song could ever describe it.

I believe the small book of Solomon’s Song of Songs too often gets a weird hermeneutical spin of literalism from modern-minded simpletons. For nearly all of history, this poetic ode to love was understood as an allegory of divine love for humanity – and the believer’s reciprocal response.

When the beautiful text of Scripture says I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, and that his desire is for me, it is a wonderful way of communicating that God’s love for us is not abstract, distant, or detached. (Song of Songs 6:3, 7:10) 

The truth is: We belong to God. The Lord’s desire is for you and me. God has an intense and overpowering longing for you. Let the deep desire of God for you shape and form your thoughts so that fear is replaced with faith; loneliness with enjoyment; the fickle nature of others with satisfaction; praying as duty with praying because I want to be with the God who loves me so much.

Oh, how we need a vision of God singing over us with joy! Yes, God loves you that much! Grab a hold of what the prophet says:

The Lord will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17, NLT

Even the most unlovely of people are made lovely through God’s persistent and pursuing love for them. You are being wholly seen every single day by the infinite gaze and eternal compassion of God, who watches our every step with delight.

Christianity does not “happen” simply by knowing some beliefs about God, as if it is a mere contractual signing-off on a doctrinal statement. Rather, Christianity “happens” when individuals experience the white hot burning love of God in Jesus Christ. 

Jesus came not only for those who skip church and only occasionally read their Bibles. Christ came also for the hard-hearted prick, the immoral adulterer, the strung-out addict, the terrorist, the murderer, and for all those caught in bad choices and failed relationships. 

“I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Matthew 9:13, GNT)

“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” (Matthew 28:19, MSG)

“You will be witnesses for me.” (Acts 1:8, GNT)

“Love each other in the same way that I have loved you.” (John 13:34, GW)

All Christ’s words and actions are because of the Lord’s intense desire to love the world, and to love it through the divine beloved people of God.

God’s love is never based on our performance, or how good we look to others; it is never conditioned by our moods. The love of God only looks longingly at you and me with the potential of what we can become in Christ and cares for us as we are. It is a world-altering revolutionary thought that God loves me as I am and not as I should be. 

God loves me as I am, and not as I should be.

God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8, GNT)

Despite the erosion of church attendance, the majority of people still believe God exists. Conversely, however, many people do not believe God really loves them. We are in a crisis of love. People need to know the God who is pure Love. 

Christianity never begins with what we do for God to make ourselves lovely. Christianity always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wonderful love that exists for us in Christ Jesus.

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, easy marks for sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. (Titus 3:3-8, MSG)

All the wrong turns in the past, the mistakes and the moral lapses, everything that is ugly or painful, all melts in the light of God’s acceptance and love for us.

If the consuming passion of Christ’s followers is not showing God’s love, then we have lost both our mission and our first love of Jesus. Perhaps we must let time evaporate, as we bow at the foot of the cross, and experientially know the great love of God in Christ for us and for the world.

May it be so, to the glory of God.