Series: Beyond Boundaries
Message #4: Love Beyond Boundaries
By: Jud Wilhite
School started this week. How many of you know someone who started school this week? What is this? Are the parents clapping? Yes, they are back to school! It was a really emotional week for us in our family. My daughter is five years old. She is my oldest. We took her to kindergarten this week. That will mess you up right there. The kids are playing in the playground area before class starts. We’re playing it cool. It’s all good. No big deal. We don’t want to stress her out. Everything was good until right before my daughter walked into class. She turned around, blew us a kiss, and walked in. My wife turned around and the tears just started flowing. At that point I’m starting to cry. It all went down hill from there.
We did the school supplies shopping this week. It hits you in that moment. Time is flying. It wont be long before God willing she’s walking into the door of a junior high. Then high school. When she’s thrity-five she’ll be walking out the door for her first date. That’s what I’m saying. We did the school supplies stuff. I brought her backpack along with me here. She’s real proud of this Hello Kitty backpack. We have the traditional stuff that my wife got for her, note pads, pencils etc. Then there’s some things that I wanted to put in her backpack that Lori wasn’t really down with. I still thought these would have been great items for my five year old’s first day of school. First, a cell phone with Dad on the speed dial on every number. In case you get in trouble, call Dad, and I’ll be there to take care of business. In case she gets lost there’s a little GPS system. If things get crazy on the playground she can bust a flare out. Pop it open and set it down. Just in case some boy comes up to her and says he loves her – it’s an air horn that’s ozone safe. Hit it and the boys run away. That’s what I’m saying. Anyway…Lori didn’t go for it. But I thought it would have been a cool thing to pack all that in the backpack and send her off for the first day of school.
School started and when you think about life, school doesn’t end when you get out of school. Does it? All of life is a school for us. We are always learning. Whether you graduate from high school or you graduate from college in the midst of all that life is the school where hopefully we learn the most important lessons on living well. That’s what I want to talk to you about today. We’ve been going through the book of Hosea. It’s a book tucked away in the Old Testament. Hosea was a prophet for God to people. It’s really interesting in the book as we looked at Hosea in his marriage relationship with his wife. She’s unfaithful again and again. God uses it as a picture of His love for us and of His relationship with us. That’s how the book of Hosea flows through the first three chapters. You get to chapter four and the tone and tenor of the book changes. From chapter four to fourteen at the end we don’t hear a lot about Hosea and his wife anymore. The picture of God changes. It moves from this metaphor of a relationship of marriage between God and His people to a metaphor of a father who loves and cares for his kids. That’s how the shift changes in the book of Hosea. We get to the very last verse in chapter 14:9: “If you want to live well [How many of you want to live well? I’m in for that.] Make sure you understand all of this. If you know what’s good for you you’ll learn this inside and out. God’s past gets you where you want to go.” He’s saying if you want to live well then you have to learn this inside and out.
We say, “Well, what is this?” I’m in. I want to live well. That’s all good. What is it I’m supposed to learn inside and out? What am I supposed to really grasp to live well? To learn that you have to go back and look at the latter part of the book. Learn the lessons from the book of Hosea on who God is and how He can move in your life. Learn the lessons of His love in your life. Then you’ll be able to live well. Let’s go back and pull some lessons from the school of life in the book of Hosea so that we can live well.
The first lesson I want to share with you is this: We have to learn in our lives that God has always been there in our life. He will always be there as we move into the future. How many of you have had an experience where your parents forgot you? They forgot to pick you up at school and you got left for several hours. You were the last kid waiting to get picked up. Have you ever had that experience? That happened to me. I can remember it. I’m sitting on the curb. The bus kids get on the bus. The kids that are fighting and playing their parents eventually come and pick them up. They all get in their cars and drive off. I’m the last kid sitting on the curb. School administrators are going home. Everyone is leaving and I’m just hanging out. Eventually one school administrator asked what I was doing. She called my mom. She rushed down and screeched up and threw the door open. I got in the car. What I always knew is that even though I was alone and everyone else was gone, I knew eventually my parents would come and get me. I knew they wouldn’t forget about me.
I think in our lives we sometimes feel alone. You can be sitting in a room today, right here, with hundreds of people around you but if you are honest you still feel alone. Sometimes we go through seasons where we are suffering and struggling. Life just isn’t clicking the way we thought it should click. We didn’t make the team or we didn’t make the grade or we bombed out in this area or we got a bad health report. Because of that we just start to wonder where is God in my life. Where is He in the midst of this? What is going on and why do I feel so alone? Some of you are here and you are single and you think if I can find the right person or if I can connect with someone on this journey called life then I would be happy. Then things would go well. Then I would no longer be alone. Some of you are here and you are married and thinking, “If I can just be single. Then I’d be happy.” Let’s be honest, marriage can be one of the loneliest relationships on planet Earth if it’s a marriage that’s struggling and going through a tough time. We all know what it is like to feel lonely.
I think when we’re alone and we’re wondering where God is and it seems like everyone around us knows where to go and what they are doing and what is happening in their lives and in our lives we are not sure about any of that. It’s so important for us to remember that God has always been there and God is there with you even in your darkest moment and God will be there with you as you move into the future. In fact, look at the imagery that God brings up in Hosea 11:1: “When Israel [which was the people of God. In other words, my people] was a child I loved them. It was I who taught them to walk. [This is God speaking.] Taking them by the arms but they did not realize that it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” Did you notice how many times that God uses this first person pronoun, I? I led them, I healed them, I taught them to walk, I moved in their lives. God is saying that I’m directly involved. I was always there. It’s true in our lives as well. God was not only literally there when we took our first step but spiritually speaking God was there when we began the spiritual journey of learning more of who He was and growing in our faith. He was there and He led us by cords of human kindness. It’s a picture of a farmer who has an animal that’s harnessed. Rather than whipping this animal to get more work out of it, He’s leading it with cords of human kindness He says. He’s guiding it tenderly along. That’s how God loved us. He bent down to work with and feed His children. It reminds us that He’s always been there – no matter what you are going through.
There is something I’ve seen on lots of framed pictures hanging on different walls. It’s a little poem someone wrote called, “Footprints.” You’ve probably seen it. It goes like this: “One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed before me. Each one I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets but at other times there was only one. This bothered me because I noted that during periods of depression when I was suffering from anguish or sorrow or severe testing I could see only a single set. So I prayed in my distress, ‘You promised Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. I noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has just been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you the most haven’t you been with me?’ To which the Lord replied, ‘The times when there were only one set of footprints, my child, were the times when I carried you.’”
Friends, in our lives, in the seasons when we are struggling and we feel like we are all alone, sometimes that’s the very season when God is carrying us. Sometimes in our darkest night He is so close and we are completely unaware. We just don’t realize that He’s the one who led us, who taught us, who healed us, who walks with us. He’s the one who has always been there. He will always be there as we move into the future. That’s a great lesson for us in the school of life. Learn that God has always been there and He’ll always be there.
Second lesson we can learn from the book of Hosea is this: Learn that God wont give up on you. Now, how many of you have spent time in elementary school, junior high, or high school in detention? How many of you remember what detention is all about? I spent some time in detention, a lot of time actually. I can remember all kinds of different punishment scenarios in my life as I was growing up. I can remember the bored you to tears detentions when you have to stay after class and you can’t listen to your headphone and you can’t talk. Act like you’re busy, I can remember doing that many times. Every time I’d lie down and fall asleep I remember the teacher walking by and elbowing me, “Wake up, Wilhite!” I can remember other forms of punishment. I can remember one time at school I threw a rock at a kid and it hit him near the eye. They took me in the office. The teacher was so mad at me that she put me in a room, shut the light off, shut the door, and left. I sat in this room in the dark for what seemed like forever. Eventually she came back. By that time my parents were there. How many of you had parents that if they disciplined you at school they just added it on when you got home? Dad would be saying to you, “You get a swat at school but you’ll get two at home.” My parents did that sometimes. They weren’t too bad about it but I remember once when I was in school (now this is a small Texas school) they had my parents in the school. They were talking to them in a little conference. Then they took me into the back room and with my mom’s thumbs up they dropped my pants and gave me a bare bottom spanking with the paddle with holes in it. Do you remember what I’m talking about? Don’t clap. What are you clapping about? Yeah, beat him! I still remember that. I went in with the attitude – you can’t do anything. You have nothing on me. It’s no big deal. What are going to do? Spank me, ooooooh, no problem. I walked out, “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh!”
The whole point in discipline in school or discipline from a parent to a child is to help the child change in their life and make better choices. Discipline when it’s done right (hopefully we use a little different methods than just paddles with holes in them) the goal of it is that a child would learn and change direction and not make those same choices. Sometimes God disciplines His children. People don’t like to talk about it because it’s not like the warm and fuzzy message. But sometimes the Bible says He disciplines His children. What does that mean? It means that sometimes He allows hard things to come into our lives. Sometimes He allows us to go through really difficult circumstances and scenarios for us to remember to turn back to Him, turn our hearts to Him and to acknowledge He comes first in our lives. That’s what you see in the book of Hosea. God’s people continue to turn their back on Him. They continue to put other things above their relationship with God. Eventually, God disciplines them so they will turn back to Him. In the book of Hosea you see these amazing pictures. God is pulling the curtain back and letting us see the emotional side of His love for people.
In Hosea 11:8 there is a passage that goes like this, God says, “How can I give you up?” He’s looking at His people and He’s frustrated with them. They’ve continued to turn their backs on Him. In one verse He’s saying, “I’m going to bring it. I’m going to bring judgment and I’m going to bring discipline,” and then the very next verse He says, “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me. All my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger because I am God and not man. The Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.” What an amazing statement from God saying, “This is who I am.” I don’t think God just changes His mind on a whim because He’s God. He knew this was going to happen. He knew they were going to go through this but He’s letting us see the emotional side of His love. He says, “My compassion is aroused within me.” I’m different than you as people. My love is perfect and it’s true and it’s just. How can I give you up? That’s the love of a true, good father.
Some of you haven’t had good fathers in your life and when you hear this idea of God as a father that can be very disturbing for you. God is a good father and a righteous father in the best sense of the word. Here He says, “I love you and I will care for you. I won’t give you up even though you continue to deny me in your lifestyle.” I shared with you last week how my two year old boy loves to flush stuff down the toilet. All the time he flushes stuff and clogs the toilet up. I’ve become an amateur plumber. Basically I can take toilets apart. I know how toilets work. I have it all figured out. I can put it all back together. This week once again we find out that the toilet is clogged up. I’m thinking, “Surely not.” It must just be a plumbing issue. I get in there and plumb all I can. Nothing happens. All right, it’s on. He flushed something down the toilet again. I take the toilet all apart and get my coat hanger, my trusted coat hanger! I cannot get this thing out, whatever it is up in the toilet. I’m doing everything I can do. Finally we break down and call the plumber. The plumber comes and he can’t get it out. I don’t know what’s in there. He’s got his tools. He’s like permanently scarring the porcelain inside my toilet trying to get this thing out. He’s about to give up but finally gets it out. My son flushed his plastic squirt gun down the toilet. It got all lodged. $129.00 later the plumber leaves. Let me just tell you, I’m not happy. I’m really, really not happy. Then I have to deal with this message this week out of the book of Hosea. I have to go up to my study, open up the Bible and I have to read this passage right here! “How can I give you up?” God says, “How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me.” I’m thinking, “My heart has not changed within me.” He says, “All my compassion is aroused.” My compassion is not aroused! “I will not carry out my fierce anger.” OH – I want to carry out my fierce anger. “For I am God and not man.” That’s the difference, isn’t it? “I’m God and I’m not like you. I’m better than that. I’m above that. My discipline and my work in people’s lives is good and true and it’s for their best interest as well as it’s for our relationship.” It just reminded me just how wonderful God is. I did end up softening my heart toward my two year old guy who I love to death. I guess I’m just going to have to budget money for the toilet fund because apparently no matter what I do it’s just going to keep happening. The kid has my DNA all the way down through him. When my wife gets to the end of her rope she calls my mom for sympathy. My mom just laughs. “That’s just how Jud was. That’s exactly how Jud was.” I know my mom is saying, “Yeah God, you are finally making it right.”
This whole passage just reminds us that God wont give up on you. You may go through a season in your life where you do something or you experience something that’s so difficult that you want to give up on God. I’ve talked to parents who lose kids and I cannot imagine how painful it is to lose a child. I talk to people who go through seasons of suffering and difficulty and there are sometimes windows in our lives where we are ready to give up on God. We don’t understand. All the pieces don’t fit together and we’re ready to walk away. But the cool thing is even when we are ready to give up on God, God wont give up on us. He says, “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My compassion is aroused within me.” Someone wrote these words: He will never leave me, never forsake me, never mislead me, never forget me, never overlook me. When I fall He lifts me up. When I’m weak, He’s strong. When I’m lost, He’s the way. When I stumble, He’s steadies me. When I’m hurt, He heals me. When I’m broken, He mends me. When I’m blind, He leads me. When I’m hungry, He feeds me. When I face trials, He’s with me. When I face persecution, He shields me. When I face problems, He comforts me. When I face loss, He provides for me. When I face death, He carries me home. He is everything for everybody, everywhere, every time, and in every way. He is God and He is faithful. He’s the first and the last. The beginning and the end. He’s the keeper of creation and creator of all. He’s the architect of the universe and the manager of all times. He always was. He always is and He always will be unmoved, unchanged, and undefeated and never undone.
It’s awesome, isn’t it? He’s unmoved, unchanged, undefeated and never undone. You can hang onto that this week no matter what you are up against. If we are going to live well, then in the school of life we’re going to have to learn that God has always been there and He’ll always be there. God won’t give up on us no matter what we are up against.
Another lesson that we see in the school of life is to learn God’s pathway to life. We see it in chapter fourteen. It says, “Return O’ Israel to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall.” Here are God’s children who have been rebellious and who have gone their own way. They have done their own stuff. God shows up and says, “Return to me.” It’s the word for repent. It means to do a 180 in our lives. Go back to God. He lays out a pathway in Hosea fourteen for us to do that first step is to ask for forgiveness. Then Hosea 14:2 says, “Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him forgive all our sins and receive us graciously so that we may offer the fruit of our lips.” No matter what you’ve done, where you have been or what you have experienced this week or last night or even this morning already – the first step in our lives whether you have been a believer for fifty years or you are just beginning on this spiritual journey is to continue to return to God. It often starts with simple confession to Him. Say, “God forgive me for the stuff and the junk in my life.” Ask for His forgiveness. Look at what it says, “Forgive all of our sins and receive us graciously that we may offer the fruit of our lips.” He will receive us graciously. The amazing thing about God as you read through the Bible is that He loves failures. Have you ever noticed that? You read about Jesus and cut through all the Christianity stuff in our culture and go back to the Bible and read it. You’ll realize that Jesus loves people who have made mistakes and who have failed in life.
Now, to those who think they are perfect among us – that really bothers them. But for the rest of us, that’s really, really good news. He loves people who have failed in life. He loves people who have made mistakes in life. You see it in the way He interacts with people, with the downtrodden, and the hurting. The first step for us is to come back and ask for forgiveness. The amazing thing about God is it says that He literally will receive us back. He’ll receive us freely. We don’t have to come back and think that God is going to say, “See, I told you so.” Or that God will somehow look out and try to find a way to trip us up so we can realize how wrong we were. When we come back to Him God is there to offer forgiveness.
The second challenge on this pathway of life is to make a break with your past. What I mean by your past is that past can be a rich wonderful heritage but there can be behavioral patterns in our past that are destructive for us and for our families and those around us. Ultimately, they are sinful in our relationship with God. In those areas of our lives sometimes we have to make a break from our past. We have to turn from our past and say, “God, I’m going to turn back to you.” The Israelites worshiped all these other gods. It talks about it again and again in the book of Hosea. Look at what they say in 14:3: “We will never again say, ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made for in you the fatherless find compassion.” We will never again say “our gods” to what our hands have made. They are saying, God we are going to turn to You and put You first. We’re going to make a break with that part of our past. The past is the past, friends. We can’t change it but we can begin today to step away from it, ask for forgiveness, and move closer to God.
Thirdly, we depend on God’s mercy. Hosea 14:4 God says, “I will heal their waywardness.” I love how that is worded. “I will heal their waywardness and I will love them freely for my anger has turned away from them. Men will dwell again in his shade.” That just jumped out at me. That was from verse seven. It’s such a beautiful image that God will be shade again for his people. The Bible was written to a group of people who live in a dry, hot arid climate. We know what that is all about, don’t we? Isn’t shade a huge premium in our world and city? When it’s hot – when it’s 110 outside and the sun is beating down on you – how many of you do this? You pull into a grocery store and the black top is hot. You don’t drive around looking for the closest parking space to the door – you’re looking for shade. Where is the shade in the parking lot? Have you ever done this? You drive around on the shade search. You’re looking, you’re looking…you see this one car that has full shade. Sucker, he got that parking spot! If you’re like me you’ll look all over. Then you find this little itty-bitty tree. Where are the trees in Las Vegas is what I’m saying? All these little stick things that have ten branches and eight leaves. You pull up next to that spot that throws a partial tree frame over your car on a shadow. You get up to get a little shade on the windshield because you know if you are in the grocery store for an hour that’s going to make a difference right there. That will help.
The picture is, when my people return to me and they ask for forgiveness and make a break from those destructive elements of their past. When they seek Me out and depend on My mercy. I’ll be their shade. I’ll be their covering. I’ll be their protection. I’ll shield them from the harsh elements of the sun. I’ll be the one who gives refreshment to them. It’s a beautiful picture.
I thought since school is kicking-up I thought of a story that just reminds us of how important it is that we not only learn these lessons in life but that we share the lessons we learn with others. It’s about a student whose name was Teddy Stoddard. Teddy went to a school and was a bad student. He slouched in his chair. He often dressed in geeky clothes. He smelled and didn’t do well. His teacher, if she was honest, didn’t really like him. She didn’t treat him fairly. Christmas time came and all the different students brought their gifts. Teddy brought his gift. His gift was wrapped in a paper bag that was taped together. It looked sloppy. She took his gift and the students laughed. If she would have read his history she would have known what was going on in Teddy’s life because his file read like this: First grade, Teddy’s a good boy who shows promise but he has a poor home situation. Second grade, Teddy is quiet and withdrawn. His mother is terminally ill. Third grade, Teddy is falling behind. His mother died this year. His father is uninvolved. Fourth grade, Teddy is hopelessly backward. His father has moved away. He’s living with an aunt. He’s deeply troubled. In that moment, Teddy gave his teacher this Christmas gift. She took it and opened it up. When she opened it – it was an old rhinestone bracelet with several stones missing. It was cheap perfume, just a little bit of it left in the bottle. The kids in the class began to giggle and the teacher almost started to laugh but she caught herself. She put this bracelet on and said, “It looks beautiful, doesn’t it?” She put the perfume on and said it smelled great. After class that day, Teddy walked up to her and said, “I’m glad you liked my gifts Ms. Thompson. You smell just like my mother did and her bracelet looks really nice on you too.” When he left that day, Ms. Thompson said she put her head down on the table and she began to weep. She asked God to change her heart towards kids like Teddy. The next day when school began she made a decided effort to teach differently. To help the kids who couldn’t catch up with the rest of the class. She poured into Teddy and other kids like Teddy until they were able to get up to the level that other students were. Eventually, Teddy went on in school. Years later she received a note from him, “Dear Ms. Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know that I’m graduating from high school and I’m the second in my class. Love, Teddy Stoddard.” Four years later another note came. “Dear Ms. Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know that I’m graduating first in my class. The university hasn’t been easy but I liked it. Love, Teddy.” Four years later, another note. “Dear Ms. Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know that as of today I’m Theodore J. Stoddard, MD. How about that? I met a girl and I’m getting married. Would you come and sit where my mother would have sat? You are the nearest thing to family that I’ve ever had. Love, Teddy Stoddard.” At his wedding, Ms. Thompson sat where his mother would have sat. She wore an old bracelet that she never got rid of that had rhinestones missing from it. I can promise you that she smiled just like Teddy’s mom smiled in that last Christmas before he lost her.
It just reminds us that sometimes the smallest acts of care and concern can make the greatest impact on people’s lives. Think about a door - a door can be huge, big, solid and hard. But it turns on small hinges. Sometimes you and I can be the hinges that can open the door in a kid’s life, that can open a door in a neighbor’s heart, that can open a door on a family member through acts of encouragement, kindness, and love. We learn in the school of life that God’s always been there. Then we cheerlead others who are going through difficult times to remember that God is still there for them too. We learn in the school of life that God won’t give up on us. We turn to friends and family members who may be going through challenging times and ready to give up and we remind them that God wont give up on them either and neither will we. We learn the pathway to God’s life. The life that He offers us through asking for forgiveness, making a break with our past and depending on His mercy.
Friends, that’s why we invited so many people to our kick-off weekend next weekend. It’s not about me; it’s not about us. It’s about God and helping people connect with His grace and with who He is. Finding that new hope in their lives. It’s about helping people take new steps and grow. It’s about being little hinges on a big door and seeing God do something beyond all of our abilities as we do those little acts of service. I want to challenge you to keep giving those invitations out, keep encouraging people, keep sending notes, keep cheerleading those around you. Be a life giver in your circle of influence. God will use that to make a difference.