When it comes to love, love has to be cultivated and nourished. It takes time and attention. Otherwise love can drift in our lives. One example of that would be marriage. Someone put together a little piece on before and after marriage and how love can change. They wrote these words: Before: you take my breath away. After: I feel like I’m suffocating. Before: she loves the way I take control of a situation. After: she called me a controlling, manipulating egomaniac. Before: it’s Saturday Night Fever. After: it’s Monday Night Football. Before: walking arm and arm. After: hey can you pop this thing under my arm. (Okay, that’s wrong!) Before: he’s lost without me. After: why can’t he ask for directions?
Love changes. It morphs over time. We need to cultivate it and nurture it. The same that’s true of love in our life with relationships; it’s true in our relationship with God as well. In fact I think there is a reason that God chose marriage as a metaphor or a picture of our relationship with Him. That love has to be cultivated and nurtured. Some of you when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ it’s so exciting and it’s new. You feel like you have this new lease on life. Maybe you are baptized and you’ve taken that step in your life. It’s awesome and it’s thrilling but then as time goes on; years go on, decades go on – if you don’t cultivate and nurture that relationship you can begin to drift in your relationship with God.
We began to explore last week the Old Testament book of Hosea in this series, Beyond Boundaries. Hosea is this book tucked away in the Old Testament written by the prophet, Hosea. He spoke for God to the people of Israel between 755 and 715 BC. The story of Hosea is really a story of him and his wife, Gomer. God uses their relationship as a picture of His relationship with us. Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea again and again and again. Hosea continued to take her back.
Last week we looked at the children that Hosea had in that relationship. Let’s pick it up in Hosea 2 and see what he says about not only Gomer but about the children. In 2:5: “Their mother, Gomer, has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace.” What’s he saying? He’s saying his own kids have had separate fathers. He’s not the father of his children, at least not of all of them. She said, “I will go after my lovers who give me my food, my water, my wool and my linen, my oil, and my drink.” This isn’t some clandestine affair that Gomer has been having in her life. This isn’t one of those, I’ll meet you at the back of the hotel and no one will see. It will be dark and we’ll hide it. She’s actually pursuing her lovers right out in the public domain and going after them. She’s trusting them to provide for her. Hosea is obviously heartbroken about this. As you read through the book God pulls the curtain back and shows His heart. He says this is exactly what my people have done to me. I am their God. I love them and care about them. They’ve denied me and turned their backs on me. It’s a fascinating look on who God is. It’s what love is really all about.
In a sense God was saying, of the Israelites in that timeframe that they had committed a spiritual affair on Him. We can do that in our lives. I want to talk to you today about how we can affair proof our relationship with God. What are some practical things we can do on a regular basis so we don’t drift in our hearts away from God and have a spiritual affair so to speak.
One of the principles that comes out of the book of Hosea is this: Remember God in everything. We forget things as people, don’t we? I forget stuff all the time. I was going to the grocery store. I asked Lori before I left, “I’m going to get some ice cream. What’s your favorite kind of ice cream? What do you want?” She said, “Get anything as long as it doesn’t have banana or nuts, I’m good.” No problem. I get in the car and drive to the grocery store. I go in and forget what she told me. I decide I’m just going to get what I want and I’m sure she’ll like it too. This is a true story. I grab banana split ice cream and pecan praline. I walk back in the house with the ice cream. Let’s bust it open it’s going to be great. Lori says, “What did you get?” Banana split and pecan praline. She looked at me like, “What planet are you living on?” What happened here? We forget. We forget our glasses. We forget our car keys. We forget all kinds of things.
In the book of Hosea there is some powerful passages on how the people of God and about how Gomer, Hosea’s wife, forget Hosea and how the people of God forgot God. Let’s pick it up in Hosea 2:8, “She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and the oil. Who lavished on her the silver and gold which they used for Bale.” Now Bale was a god that was worshiped in the ancient cultures around Israel. Many thousands of years ago. It was the storm god. He brought fertility and rain to the land, which produced crops. He’s saying the very things that I’ve provided for my people, their food and wine, they are sacrificing on an alter of another god. They’ve turned their backs on them. Then there is this passage just a few verses further down. In 2:13: “She decked herself with rings and jewelry and went after her lovers but me she forgot.” When I read this, just going through Hosea and came to that verse. I just stopped. It struck me as one of the most powerful and tragic verses in the Bible. Here is God saying of His people, “They forgot me.” God – the one who made it all. He created everything. He’s saying, “They forgot me.” I just stopped and said, “God, may I never forget what you’ve done in my life. May I never get to a place where I drift and I move.” Aren’t we capable of that? We are all capable of drifting. I’m capable of forgetting. God keep us at a place where we remember You.
I think when we forget God it’s not like we wake up and choose to do it. I think it’s often subtle and slow. I think it kind of works like this. You get real busy in life. You have work responsibilities. You have all kinds of things going on. Maybe you have hobbies going on and they are great hobbies. You get into them and you are consumed with hobbies, work, and maybe family issues. You are trying to get by and have a little fun. You are trying to survive this thing called life. Over a period of time your church attendance gets more sporadic. You hit church here. Then you hit it there. Your prayer life if you are honest with yourself it is more hit and miss. You used to pray more regularly when it was all fresh and new. Now you pray a little here and there. If you are honest, you pray a lot when you are in trouble. Like when you have a test. Prayer will never be out of school; you don’t have to worry about it. Every time they pass a test out in school kids are saying, “God, help me.” I used to have a teacher in a Christian college who would pass a test out and say, “I’m going to pray before the test.” No lie, he would pray, “I would pray that you would bless each student to according to the level of his or her preparation.” That’s just wrong right there! He was negating my prayer – stop!
We drift. Our prayer life gets a little more intermittent. Then maybe we get to a place where we used to be involved in a small group, where a community of people our age that pray and encourage us. That shifts in our life. Over time we just remove God from the place that He used to be in our heart and lives and we insert ourselves. We’re number one. We’re the ones we primarily think about. We’re the ones we primarily serve. We’re the ones we are primarily consumed with. God gets moved to the side. I’ll tell you friends, it’s happened before in our lives. It happened in the story Hosea. It happened to the Israelites thousands of years ago. It can happen again to us today if we are not careful. Those words, “…but me, she forgot.” We have to remember God in all that we do.
How do we remember Him? How do we do that? How do we cultivate that God awareness in our daily lives as we go about our work, relationships, and challenges. Let me give you some practical thought. How many of you love music? It excites you and you love it. That may say a lot about how you are wired up. It says a lot about who God has wired you to be. Some people have a pathway to God that functions with music and worship. If you raised your hand then I hope you have worship CDs in your car that you can put on periodically through the week when you are on the road, in the commute, or angry at the car in front of you. Just to help you remember God in all of your life. Central did its own live worship CD. You can always pick that up in the bookstore. We have other great worship CD’s. Those are there to help encourage you on that spiritual journey.
Some of you are more wired up with intellectual pathways to God. You love learning new things and getting new insights. That’s why we have books and different Bible versions. It’s all there and available. Grab that stuff it’s there to help us grow. I think church attendance is a really, really important part of this whole thing. I know there are mornings when you get up and you really don’t want to come to church. You are tired and you have stuff going on that’s stressing you. Hey, there are mornings when I don’t want to come to church. But I’ve found that even when you get up and you don’t really want to go and you go anyway that at the end of that day you usually walk out glad that you came. Because God met you there and taught you something that you needed to hear. He instructed you in your life. True? There have been seasons when I’ve pulled up at church and I’m tired and worn out. I come in and I’m supposed to be one of the pastors teaching and ministering to people. I find people encourage me and touch me as well. It goes back and forth. That’s why God has called us to come together. I applaud you for being here. Put it on your calendar on a regular basis to be here at church. Get involved in a small group. Get together with a group of people, even if it’s every other week, with a group of people that can pray for you and watch your back. Our small group booth is always there in the lobby. It’s the stuff that can help us remember God in all that we do on a regular basis.
I also will periodically stop and turn to the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. It’s in the middle of your Bible. I will pray through the Psalms. It’s just a way to help me remember God in all that I do. It doesn’t have to take a long time. It usually takes me five to ten minutes and I do it three times a week. It’s not really planned for me. I go out back in the morning. I open it to the Psalms. I want to walk you through one way to pray through the Psalms. Some of you may say, “I don’t know how to pray. I don’t know what to say when I pray.” I’ll open up to Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, O’ my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” I’ll stop and sit there for a minute in my mind. I’m not praying out loud in my backyard where my neighbors are looking over the fence thinking, “What’s wrong with that guy?” If you looked over the fence you’d think I was kicked back reading a book. I’m praying. I’m having time with God. I’m saying, thank you God for your benefits. Then I start going through the benefits in my mind. The benefits of knowing God and being in a relationship with Him. Then I come to the next line, “He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” God, thank you for healing me of all the junk in my past. Thank you for forgiving me of my sins. Even when I do this in the morning, it’s 6:30 in the morning before the day starts, I’m like, “God, here are the list of sins already for today. Thanks for forgiving me for these as well.” Thanks for Your grace. You go on a little further and it says, “He redeems your life from the pit, crowns you with love and compassion. He satisfies your desires with good things.” If I’m really not feeling very satisfied in my life I’ll say, “God, where are those good things? Satisfy my life with those good things.” If I am feeling satisfied, “God, thank You for the satisfaction You have poured into my life.” It says, “He renews your strength like the eagles.” If I’m tired I’ll say, “God, help me. Give me strength because I need it.” If I’m feeling great then I thank Him for that. That’s how you just pray through the Psalms. If you say you don’t know which Psalm to turn through – then 103, 104, 105, or 106 those are great Psalms to start with. I don’t go through the whole Psalm. I’ll just start and go through several verses. In a few minutes it’s very rewarding and refreshing. It gets my focus on God and reminds me of Him in all that I do.
Another principle we see so we can affair proof our relationship with God is to learn the secret of contentment. What the Israelites engaged in was idolatry. They worshiped an idol. Bale was an ancient god of storms. Well, God, we don’t worship the storm god today. What’s up with that? We would never think of doing that. But in our own ways, we do have idols in our lives. An idol is anything that we put above God in our hearts. We all wrestle with different issues and things that compete with God in our lives. When we put things above God in our lives we are putting an idol in place of God. Do you know what the root issue is with idolatry? It’s actually greed. When I look in the New Testament, for instance in Colossians 3 Paul writes these words: “Greed which is idolatry.” Greed is the root. It’s the root cause of idolatry in our lives. The word greed comes from two Greek words. One means to have and the other means more. Isn’t that profound? Greed means to have more and more and more and more and more. Don’t we get caught up in that in our culture? I have to have this or that. I have to have more. In that desire for more, if we are not careful, we can begin to put those things that we want in the place of God in our hearts. How do you combat that? You learn the secret of contentment.
One way to combat it is to remember that all these things that we desire. All these things that we want, all these things that pull on our hearts and compete in our lives, all of them have a very short and limited shelf life. For instance, take music as an example. This some of you will remember if you are old enough. It’s a record. We used to play these things. They would spin them. This isn’t just any record. Let’s zoom in here. This is Michael James Murphy, our very own worship leader here at Central. You may not know this but Michael’s old enough to have an album. Check out the hair up there. Look at the mustache he’s sporting. Michael, in the 80s, toured all over world. He played in the country music arena. You can still buy his albums. They are out there. He was a tremendous artist. He won four dove awards in his career. But he’s old enough to have albums. Albums were around for a while. Then another thing came about. That was 8-tracks. This is the Michael James Murphy 8-track. He even had an 8-track! I’m not so young that I don’t remember 8-tracks. I can remember my older sister had the Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits on 8-track. I would put it in the deck and hit play. I thought I was so cool and big. Then came the cassette tapes. Some of you remember these. Some of you young ones don’t. This is Michael James again. By the way, he’s now the artist formally known as Michael James Murphy. Then he began to record under Michael James. Then comes the 90s and we have CDs. Here’s another Michael. Let’s zoom in on the handsome cowboy. You’d never know he was a cowboy. Then there is the iPod now. Everyone has to have an iPod. Every kid I talked to last year had to have a video iPod or they were going to die. By the way, under Michael James you can download his music on iTunes. I think that’s cool.
All this stuff is good but the shelf life is temporary. Someday we’re going to say iPod and the next generation is going to look at us and say, “What are you talking about?” Everything is temporary in life but God is eternal. His word, the Bible says, stands eternal. There are some things that we can hold onto. Paul says this in book of Philippians 4:12: “I’ve learned the secret of being content.” Don’t miss this. There is a secret to being content. You and I weren’t just born with contentment. We didn’t wake up and say, “I’m content. I don’t want anything.” No, we have to learn the secret in life. We have to learn it. How do you learn it? Paul says this, “I’ve learned to be content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry. Whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
There are several things as you begin to look at this passage. If we are going to learn contentment then first we have to avoid comparisons. Paul is saying that he’s learned to be content whether well fed or hungry; whether having a lot or a little. Then he’s going to have to learn to avoid comparing himself all the time to other people. We do that, don’t we? Our car is great until we see the neighbor’s car. Our house is great until we see our friend’s house or that kitchen. Then all of a sudden you have to have that kitchen to be happy. My high definition TV was great until I saw Michael Murphy’s and now I’m all messed up. That’s just how it works in our lives. To learn the secret of contentment you have to come to that place in your life where all those things can be good but you have to keep them in their right perspective and be glad for what God has brought in your life. Be orientated to Him and be grateful for what He has done.
Another thing we can do is not only avoid comparisons but we have to learn to adjust to change. There will be seasons in our life where we will have plenty and seasons where we have want. We’ll go back and forth. The only way we’ll find contentment in the ups and downs of life is to be able to adjust to change. The last sentence in this passage that I read is so powerful, he says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” As we begin to depend on God’s power and God’s love we can learn the secret of contentment.
Another thing we can do to affair proof our relationship with God is we can return to God when we fail. We have such interesting perceptions of God. So many people think God is out to get them or judge them. People I talk to all the time thinking God is up in heaven waiting for you to mess up. He’s up there watching and as soon as you mess up He’s going to zap you. That’s what God does; He zaps people when they mess up. But when you read the Bible the facts are very different. You have to have your facts right. For instance, Linda Burnett pulled into a grocery store parking lot. She’s a twenty-four year old woman. This was reported by the associated press. She was sitting in her car. When a guy pulled up next to her he noticed she was sitting with hands up over behind her head. She wasn’t moving. He thought that was odd. He went in and got his groceries and she’s still sitting in the exact same position. He taps on the window and says, “Ma’am are you alright?” She said, “I’ve been shot in the head and I’m holding my brains in. Call 911.” He calls 911.The paramedics and police come. She has her hands up on her head and she won’t roll the window down. They bust through the window to get through the car. Here is what happened, apparently. She pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store and a can of biscuits in the back seat of her car exploded due to the heat. When it exploded it made a sound like a gun. It hit her in the back of the head, knocking her head forward. When she reached back to touch the back of her head she touched the biscuit dough on her hand and was convinced someone shot her on the back of the head. She put both hands up and was not moving her hands. It just goes to show that you have to get your facts right or you’ll be all messed up.
I think there are people in our world that are paralyzed by their view of God. It’s like they are sitting in life with their hands locked behind their head saying, “I can’t go to church. I can’t pray. I can’t go to church because of what I’ve done. Or because who I am or what has happened in my past. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.” I talk to Christians all the time too that are paralyzed with a sense of guilt because I should know better. I’ve been a Christian my whole life but I still fall. I’ve been a believer but I still make mistakes. They just carry this guilt around. What God desires for us when we fall, listen, He desires for us to return to Him. He doesn’t want us to run away and hide. Not to be paralyzed with fear. We have to get our facts straight when we talk about God. In fact, Hosea brings this out in some very powerful imagery. In Hosea 2:7 speaking of Israel: “She will chase after her lovers but not catch them. She will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as it first for then I was better off than now.’” God is saying that she will get to a place, my people will come to a realization that what they are looking for, outside of Me, ultimately wont satisfy their lives and they will come back to Me. Then you get to 2:14 this is so powerful: “Therefore, I’m going to allure her.” Check this out - that word allure all throughout the Hebrew Bible in the Old Testament is a romantic term. God is saying, “I’m going to romance my people.”
Wait a minute - they just had a spiritual affair on You. They have turned their backs on You. They have forgotten about You. They have denied You. They have worshiped other gods. No, God says, “I will allure my people and bring them back.” Check this out, he says, “I will lead her into the desert and I will speak tenderly to her.” The desert is this loaded place in the Bible. The desert is where the first honeymoon took place with God and His people when He called the Israelites out from Egypt into the desert. There in the wilderness for forty years they roamed. In those forty years they learned that God was holy and good, true and just. In those forty years they learned they could trust Him. He would always stand with them. God says metaphorically speaking that he’s going to take them back to the desert for a second honeymoon. There they are going to learn again that I’m their God. I will not turn my back on them. I will remain faithful and they can return to me when they fail. Isn’t that awesome? I don’t know about you but that fires me up. I start thinking if there is hope for them then there is hope for me. If there is hope for me then there is hope for everybody. No matter where we are at in life, if we return to God when we fail, He’ll be there. You have had an affair in your life, you may have been a victim of that in a family or had a family devastated because of that. You may have been involved in drug addiction. There are all kinds of levels of doing things that you would never imagine that you would do - lying, stealing, cheating, the whole thing. You may have been involved in embezzlement. You may have been involved in any number of things. What God asks of us is that we return to Him.
That word return when it says that she’s gone after her lovers but she won’t find them and return to me. It has the idea of repentance. We’re going to turn around and live toward God now. We are going to live different lives. He gives us the option and freedom to do that. We can return to God when we fail. Then we can enjoy God forever. In Hosea 2 there are some powerful imagery in verse nineteen. God says this, “I will betroth you to me forever.” That word, betroth, in the original language has the idea of a bride price that’s paid for a bride. A groom would pay it to the father of the bride for the bride. He says, “I will betroth you to me forever.” How long? Forever! “I’ll betroth you in righteousness and justice and love and compassion. I’ll betroth you in faithfulness. You will acknowledge the word of the Lord.” That word acknowledge is used in the Hebrew language for intimate/sexual relations. To know someone – He’s saying you will know me in a personal intimate way. I will betroth you forever. That’s awesome imagery. It means we can enjoy God forever.
Friends, that’s why we are launching a campus in Summerlin, September 9/10. We want more people to enjoy who God is. We want more people to enjoy who God is and experience the love and goodness He gives in their lives. To find hope even in a world that seems hopeless. To find peace in a world that feels chaotic and out of control. If you live in that area and want to get involved all you have to do is stop at the Summerlin booth out in the lobby and you can jump in. That’s why I have challenged you to invite forty thousand people, forty thousand personal invitations between now and the kick off of our ministry season, September 9/10. There are little boxes at the exit called the “Game of Life.” We’re kicking off a new series. We’re going to look at work life, social life, and all the different dimensions of life. That’s going to happen beginning September 9/10. The goal is to have forty thousand personal invitations going out all across the Las Vegas valley. In fact, inside one of these boxes you have an instruction sheet with four or five invite cards. The instruction sheet is just to give you some ideas but it’s a simple task. I talked to someone this week. She didn’t know I was a pastor or anything about Central, she said, “I just moved to the valley in the last four weeks from Florida.” We just started talking about her life and the journey that she’s been on. She’s having a hard time making friends and connecting. I began to share with her, not cram it down her throat, just share with her in a real light way about God and the difference faith might make in her life. Do you know what she said to me? “I need that in my life. Tell me more about that.” I began to tell her about Central. I gave her a card and showed her where it was. I told her she could go online if she wanted to watch some aspects of the services to get a feel before she came. When I left, here is what she said to me, “Thank you so much. I’ll be there. I’m looking forward to it.” She may even be here in this service today, I don’t know. It’s awesome. All people need is sometimes a simple invite. Walk across the room and have a conversation. If someone is going through difficult times in their life God can make a huge difference in the midst of that.
Glen Wolf is a guy who died at eighty-eight years of age in Los Angeles. He died as many people do in our world, alone. There was no one to take care of him and no one to attend to his funeral. He didn’t really have a funeral. He was buried alone. It was a tragic way to end your life. But Glen Wolf had a very unique distinction. He is the Guinness Book of World Records holder for the man who has been married the most in his life. True. Twenty-nine times he walked down the aisle with a different woman. Twenty-nine times he stood and said, “I do.” Twenty-nine times he watched a relationship explode. He died alone. He never learned that love has to be cultivated, nurtured, and matured in the midst of the heartaches and difficulties of life.
Friends, what the book of Hosea is teaching us that God, unlike Glen Wolf, will never walk out on us. God will never turn His back on us. He’s there. The problem is us when we turn our back on us. The call for us is to return to Him and remember Him in everything that we do. Learn the secret contentment. Return to Him when we fail. Enjoy Him forever because He’s there for you. He loves you and wants to be in this relationship with you. When you do that love will lead you on.