Last week we talked about the foundation for real love in a relationship. This week's lesson is going to springboard off that Truth with a true story about a couple who went through horrible and unusual trials. I ask you to listen to this true story. It's going to take a while to tell it in detail, but it is so incredible that it is worth it. Much of our lesson will come from these true events.
Just take a few moments to drink in these people's lives and tell me when you think you would have said, "Enough!" and bailed on this relationship?
A good, kind-hearted man has an incredible love for a somewhat wild, much looser girl he knows. He sees something deep in her that is just beautiful. He thinks he can change her with his love. He knows he probably shouldn't get mixed up with her, but he just can't help himself. Surprisingly, she dates him, and gets deeply into a relationship with him—probably because no one else in her life really showed her much real attention, and she clings to the affection. All of his friends are really freaked out by his new girlfriend, and they all question him as to why he would do this. They actually end up getting married, believe it or not, and the wedding scene would have been hilarious, if not so pitiful: his side of the church full of warm, middle-classed, normal family; her side had only a few people—none real family and most were wilder looking, but he didn't care—he was crazy in love. The problems this girl hid during their dating months, were harder to suppress in a now permanent situation. She hid her drug use from him. In her insecurity and selfish lifestyle from the past, she slipped out on him a few times, when people made over her the right way. He eventually found out, and after being totally crushed for a time, forgave her, and loved her as much as ever—although she became a bit angry and resentful, maybe from the guilt. [Would you still be there at this point?] Then, the unimaginable happened—she found out she was pregnant from one of the affairs that she had. Again, he was totally stunned; his friends screaming, "I told you so!" But, he saw the fear and lostness in his new wife. He knew she had nowhere else, no one else. He still hoped to change her with his love, so he still stayed with her. [Would you still be there at this point?] Over time, her drug use grew uncontrollable, as is often the case. Her husband saw the changes but hoped he could love her through it. She finally reached a point where she could no longer support her habit without bringing attention to the amount of money she needed, so, she began to do, "favors" in return for money or drugs while her husband was away. Her need for more drugs and making more money, became so consuming that it couldn't be a part-time, secret life anymore. She left her husband, after all of the love and forgiveness this poor man had shown, to not only go back to her old ways, but to go deeper than she ever had before, as she literally started making her own way working the streets. She eventually began working for a pimp, and he gave her whatever she wanted; let her live the way she wanted; but her meth habit, her crazy life, and her cheap sex quickly left her completely used up and strung out—so strung out that she couldn't even attract good business anymore—so even the pimp barely took care of her, because she started to be more of a liability to him than an asset. She was dirty, used up, unwanted even by scum, and had nowhere to go. She was living in a trashed-out meth house with other druggies. Her husband found out she had been seen on the streets and staked out the area to see if it was true. He watched her pick up a few men. (How would that feel?) He saw how skinny, trashy, scabby, and strung out she had become—and it completely sickened him—but it broke his heart too. The husband followed her back to her, "rat hole" house to see where she lived, and in his pity and love, he literally started bringing food, clothing and other little gifts to her—dropping them off with another girl at the trashy house to secretly give to his wife. (She had no clue as to the source of the gifts.) She used his gifts—the clothes, hygiene products, and other things to continue her cruddy life. Finally, he couldn't take seeing her like this anymore, and decided he had to get involved or she would die. He went to the meth house, stepped around the strung-out bodies, and around his own wife—nasty, smelly and broken—looking for the pimp. She saw him and had this shocked glimmer of hope for just a moment: the only one that had ever really loved her was there. How? Why? Then she quickly realized he obviously was not there because he wanted her back—it would be more like extreme reprimand and mocking, or even getting her arrested in spite. The husband tells the pimp this is his wife, but that he is willing, not only to pay to have her, but pay to keep her permanently, remove her from this life whatever the cost. He had to pay because he couldn't just take her away from this violent group now—she belonged to them. The pimp was happy to quickly agree because he was actually taking money to be rid of what had become a problem for him. (Since she couldn't attract much business anyway.) The husband paid with all the money he had, and still traded a few person items to finish the deal. The man returns to where his scrawny wife sat hunched on the floor of the house with other women. He kneels down and places his hand under her chin, looking into her eyes with tenderness, not judgment. She returns the stare with a glimmer of inexpressible love and hope only for a moment, and then sharply turns her head away, staring blindly at the floor as tears begin, and her lips begin trembling in shame and agony. She knows how she looks right now; how she's acted, how she smells; the pain she's caused; how completely unworthy she is to be loved by this man. Her brief glance tells him all he needs to know, so he scoops her frail body into his arms, and begins walking towards the door. She stares at his face, inches from hers for a brief instance, then, buries her dirty face into his neck in uncontrollable, loud sobs of disbelief, embarrassment, and overwhelming excitement—all at once. Back home, he helps her get cleaned up; get beautiful clothes on; fixes her up really pretty. He doesn’t say a lot—there are no words—he simply gives a deep expression of the true love and acceptance he has for her, by holding her tightly, and singing softly and sweetly to her, until he calmed her fears and shame and she could feel that this moment was real.
This is a true story. When would you have given up on her? When would you have turned angry and spiteful? Would you have ever dreamed of taking her back? This is a modern telling of a very old and true story of Hosea and Gomer. God told Israel and Judah exactly how He felt about them and their rebellion against Him, through the life events of Hosea. The Nation had turned from God because they were living in a time of great prosperity (sound familiar?), and in their need for nothing, they left God and chased after their own desires. Those desires were destroying them.
Listen first, to the direct comparison of our story, to the story of Hosea and Gomer: Hosea married a very loose woman and had children from that marriage belonging to others: Hosea 1:2; Hosea 2:4. Gomer wanted and desired things passionately (like the drugs), which she wouldn't look to her husband to give her: Hosea 2:5. She eventually would not even be able to find lovers as a prostitute: Hosea 2:7. She was unaware that it was her Husband who brought gifts the whole time she lived her horrible, selfish life: Hosea 2:8. The husband went after her again, in the middle of her horrible adultery and prostitution, and paid all He had to get his own wife back again: Hosea 3:1-2. The price of a slave was thirty shekels of silver. Hosea paid fifteen shekels, and then began offering grain, inferring that he had no more money. (See comment from Claude Mariottini, Professor of the OT, at Northern Baptist Seminary). And let her decide, even then, if she wanted to come home with Him once more: Hosea 2:14-16, 19-20. When she does, He comforts her and rejoices. [Zephaniah speaks of this same moment she returns with beautiful details about our God: Zephaniah 3:17.] What an incredible love story, and it was all lived out in order to show a true, accurate illustration of how God loves us.
Here are the incredibly important points that God wanted us so desperately to see; things He gave us examples which we could relate to, and literally feel, so we could grasp how He feels about us. 1) Though we may run from God—sin against God on purpose and live completely for self—He never stops loving us desperately. And God purposefully used this picture to show us how He hurts in our defiance. [In adultery, you aren't hurt because someone broke a rule, you are crushed because your intimate beloved wanted someone else; needed something you seemingly couldn't give; you weren't enough for them.] God wants us to realize this is how He hurts when we sin or turn from Him. He never stops watching us, and even caring for us in our rebellion. 2) Walking away from God always leads into a valley. A valley full of broken dreams, crushed emotions, and messed up lives, and what may seem like freedom is really chaos; loss of value for everything in life, and enslavement to things that hurt you instead of loving you. 3) God will let us walk away because real love has a choice. He loves enough to give us freedom. He knows that a chance for real love has to have a chance for great pain and loss. He also knows that sometimes to walk away is the only way we will ever see that He is all that can ever truly meet our needs and love us perfectly. 4) He doesn't let you wander off without care. He comes after you; He goes where you are; He pays for you to come home, and He'll carry you there if you can't even walk with Him. Just trust Him and hold on to Him: Luke 15:4-6; Hosea 3:1-2. 5) God loves you more than you could possibly know, and it's time to leave the cesspool and go home with Him. The biggest illustration of this entire Book of the Bible is simply this: when you are faithless, He is faithful. When you are lost in sin or shame, He will find you. When you are enslaved and hopeless, He will buy you back. When you give up on Him and life, He never gives up on you. He will leave you to your own choices until you wreck your life enough to see the futility in your ways, then He will come take your hand: Hosea 6:1. When we realize what we look like, how bad we've really hurt Him, and how far He's come to bring us back, we have to love Him deeply. Luke 7:47. So many of us feel like God sees us differently than He sees others; especially because of our failures in His eyes, when so many others seem to be doing much better. ("We must banish from our minds forever any thought that God admits us begrudgingly into his kingdom, as though Christ found a loophole in the law, did some fancy plea-bargaining, and squeaked us by the Judge. No way! God himself, the Judge, put Christ forward as our substitutionary sacrifice, and when we trust him, God welcomes us with bells on. He puts a ring on our finger, kills the fatted calf, throws a party, shouts a shout that shakes the ends of creation, and leads in the festal dance." John Piper)
Luke 15:10. Based upon the combined knowledge from the Scriptures of Hosea, Zephaniah, Isaiah, and Jesus Himself, He is already where you are, no matter how far you've gone away, and no matter how dirty, nasty, smelly, sickly, or selfish you feel; He will pick you up and carry you home in His arms. Clean you up, put new clothes on you, hold you tightly and sing to you Himself, until you truly believe how much you are loved. And then He will break out the best He has in a feast for you, and lead you unashamed, with excitement, in dancing. I'd say that sounds like a very personable, emotional, crazy-loving God Who is just so happy to have you home with Him. After all, just like Hosea, He paid all He had to get you back as well. None of us will ever experience that kind of relentless love anywhere else. It is real. He deserves our passionate faithfulness because He is so faithful to us. We don't just break, "God's Rules" when we turn against Him; we hurt Him like an adulterer; we reject Him. We can have an exciting and personal life with God, not a distant, formal, strained relationship; we just have to see Him as He really is and love Him back with the same passion. Come back to Him. Come closer to Him. Come to Him for the first time. Just come.
And love your own spouse, as God has given us a picture of how He loves us—unconditionally.
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