Summary: God, though He is a god of wrath, also gives Himself permission to start over with us; we ought to take a cue from that and give ourselves permission to start over in our relationship with Him.
Did you ever start something and then find that it was going so badly, it was such a mess, you just wished you could just start all over again? You started down some path, you knew it was a mistake, but you got so invested in it you felt you had to see it through, even though it was getting worse and worse!
I dare say, for example, that every one of us who drives a car has on occasion taken a wrong turn. When you did that, when you took that wrong turn, what did you do? Did you turn around and go back the way you came? Or did you make the mistake of going and going and going, figuring out the way as you went?
Several weeks ago I went over to visit with Charles and Rosalind Gray. I’d been there before. I knew my way; I felt confident. Even so, I consulted the map before I went, just to make sure I knew the twists and turns of the streets. I found their house easily. All was well.
But after the visit, I thought, well, I’ll just go out of the subdivision another way. No problem. I’ll navigate by the stars. I’ll be fine. Well, it wasn’t fine. It wasn’t that easy. Do you know how many of your streets are named "No Outlet"? Did you notice me passing your house four times that night?!
There are times when we get started on something, and we just keep on going and going and going, when we really ought to start over. But our problem is that we get so invested in trying to muddle though the mess we’ve made that we don’t give ourselves permission to start over.
Have I ever told you about my first sermon? The very first time I attempted to preach, I was about twenty years old, and my pastor told me that the best way for me to learn to preach was simply to go and preach. He set a date for a Sunday evening on which I was to bring my first message.
Now my pastor, bless his perfectionist heart, had some advice for this fledgling preacher. He said, "First of all, use the classical three-point outline. Don’t try to get fancy until you have mastered the basics. So create three main headings to communicate what you want to say."
And then he had some delivery advice. "Memorize. Memorize. Do not bring your notes into this pulpit. Memorize." Well, I followed his advice. I wrote my three points and I memorized. I practiced that message over and over, every day for two weeks. I knew every syllable of it down cold. My brother had heard it so often he could lip-synch it with me!
But, of course you can guess what happened on that fateful Sunday evening when I stood to preach, without a shred of paper in front of me! Point number one went fine. Point number two escaped me completely. I stammered, I stuttered, I stopped. I looked over at my brother in the choir and said, "You’ve heard this thing. What comes next?" And then, in desperation, I plunged on into the third point, leaving out the second.
Well, somewhere in the middle of the third point the second point came to my mind, so I tried to blend them and put it all back together. It was a disaster. A total disaster. What had I have done? I tried to keep going and going when I should have abandoned everything and started all over.
There are times when we get started on something, and we just keep on going, when we really ought to start over. But our problem is that we get so invested in trying to muddle through the mess we’ve made that we don’t give ourselves permission to start over.
Have you ever considered the possibility that even God sometimes gets down the road and feels caught in something that He would like to scrub and start over? Did you ever think about God’s being so disappointed with something He has started that He feels like starting over?
Hosea the prophet discovered this in God’s life. Hosea had been through such an agonizing time in his own home, wanting to be married to Gomer and then not wanting to be married to Gomer, wanting the children and then rejecting them because some of them were fathered by another man. Hosea the prophet had been in profound personal agony about his marriage. But in the crucible of that painful experience he discovered something about God that few had ever seen before. Hosea discovered that God wants to start over with us.
The eleventh chapter is the most poignant passage of Hosea’s prophecy. In it he senses the depth and power of God’s love-anger relationship with His people. In the chapters prior to this 11th chapter, God ventilates His anger at the people because of their unfaithfulness. The God of these early chapters of Hosea’s prophecy is an angry God, a God of wrath and of judgment. But the tone changes at chapter 11.