Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Door of Hope

Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

In that day, declares the LORD,
you will call me 'my husband';
you will no longer call me 'my master'.
Hosea 2.14-16 NIV

Hope is an amazing thing. Hope deals with our deepest longings. The things we desire to see happen. It is entirely focused on our future as we can imagine it. God Himself is described in the Bible as 'The God of Hope'; Rom 15.13. He is the source of true hope and the giver of hope. His plans and future for us are better than anything we can forge out for ourselves.

Listen to the way God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah to a group of captured Israeli slaves in Babylon. People who now feel rejected, abandoned by God and ashamed of their sin that has allowed this to happen to them. They are now dispossessed and the only ones to blame are themselves;

For I know the thoughts I have towards you says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give you a future and a hope; Jeremiah 29.11.

Despite the discipline that they had been through as a nation God's basic disposition of heart was to do them good. Sin and its negative effects often make us doubt this. We become suspicious of God's motives. But most of the time we are simply reaping the consequences of what we have sown. God's heart, His intention towards us, is good. He wants us to experience life to the full, John 10.10.

In this Jeremiah passage He leaves the captives in no doubt. All is not lost. There is a future for them and their progeny. God still has a plan that human sin has not thwarted. He is bigger than our sin! And His plans include giving us a new destiny. This is the hope that He wants to instill in our hearts.

The passage in Hosea picks up on this theme. Hosea's marriage to Gomer was one of personal tragedy. It mirrored the relationship God had with the nation of Israel. For, like Israel, Hosea's wife went off with other men. He was heartbroken. And God used this man's personal tragedy to speak to the nation; not with the language of strong rebuke and argument, as with other prophets, but with the language of emotion, the language of the heart. In Hosea we see God's pain because His love for Israel is rejected through her adultery with other gods.

The Hosea passage begins with God's strategy. He will 'allure' her into the wilderness. This is definitely the language of romance. The wilderness was where they met. It's where they fell in love. It's where they were married through covenant. God wants to take them back to that place. It's a but like taking your spouse back to where you met, where your heart was captured by who they were. God wants them to remember something - their love for each other.

We know this because He declares, "There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt". God expects that her attitude will change once He gets her alone. Once she is back in that place where they first met. He expects something to stir in her heart that reminds her of the value of what they had together.

Not only that, God is expecting a different outcome to when they were first married. The problem was that Israel had viewed God the way many other nations had viewed their gods. They were masters to be obeyed. Many marriages in Biblical times were like this. But the text implies that this is not what God was after. He wants to be known as a husband and not a master. This is amazing, radical, ground breaking truth. God is actually looking for a partner not a servant! This is why the New Testament language for the relationship between the church and Jesus is that of Bride and Bridegroom, Eph 5.31-32; Rev 21.2.

He wants to empower His wife, not give her orders. Her lack of understanding His heart on this issue led to her looking for fulfillment elsewhere. How tragic! How mistaken they were. If only they had understood how much God wanted to be with them and bless them and empower them. Jesus turned to His disciples one day and said; "No longer do I call you servants..... but I have called you friends",John 15.15. It's a different level of connection; a different level of intimacy; a different level of expectation from the relationship.

Notice how He will do this. He will 'allure' her. The word can be translated as 'entice' or even 'seduce', (the same Hebrew word is clearly used this way in Ex22.16). Given the context I believe this is God's intention. There is nothing wrong with seducing your own wife! That's is God's plan! It's almost like God is saying, "I'm going to take her on a second honeymoon and seduce her".

But the text goes further. He goes on to say He will 'speak tenderly to her'. The word 'tenderly' means I will speak to her 'heart'. God is not using the rational language of argument here; He is using the language of emotion. He wants to connect, heart to heart. And in that place He promises to restore to his wife her vineyards. Vineyards had great significance in Israel. They were a sign of blessing. They provided grapes for new wine and were a symbol of Israel's connectedness to God; Is 5.1-7.

To help Israel understand the impact of this metaphor God chooses an event in Israel's history that left the nation with a deep scar. It centered around the sin of Achan when Israel entered the land and defeated Jericho. This man took gold, silver and a garment. All the spoils from this particular battle belonged to God. They were like a first fruits offering to the Lord; dedicated to Him. Every other battle after that Israel was allowed to keep the spoils.

Achan showed a lack of faith in God by deceitfully hiding this stuff in his tent. It led to the defeat of the nation in a battle at Ai; a much smaller city. Achan's sin effected the whole nation. It brought shame and defeat upon them. Achan was eventually found out and he and his entire family were killed and all his possessions burned with fire at the Valley of Achor. This tragedy left Israel with a deep sense of shame. To speak about Achor was like reminding the nation of the place of failure, defeat, shame and embarrassment.

Now God reminds them of this place, but says He will place there a 'Door of Hope'. In the place of their disappointment He will give a door of hope. This is amazing. It shows the power of love. God is not going to change the past He is going to change the way they see the past. He is going to give them a new expectation. In the place of disappointment they will find hope - for He is the God of Hope!

This is how redemption works. It gives hope to the hopeless. It says that the mistakes of the past do not have to be what define us in the future. There is forgiveness with God. There is the possibility that we can start again; that it can be even better than it was. To call God 'my husband' instead of 'my master' shows a new way of relating has been formed. This is what God is promising to His beloved wife. It will be better than ever!

I take great encouragement from this. Think of the seasons in your life you would rather not talk about. They were shameful, disappointing times. You feel embarrassed to speak of them. People run away to new towns and build new lives in order to avoid their failures and disappointments. But this strategy of avoidance always leaves us looking over our shoulder. What if we are recognised? What if someone turns up who knows? It's no way to live.

God takes our disappointments and failures and uses them to create a door of hope. How can that be? Let me tell you about a friend of mine who was a drug dealer. He was notorious and well know to the police in the area he came from. Eventually he ended up in prison and there he met Jesus. He had nowhere to run. He was as it were, a captive audience! In that prison he grew spiritually. He began to see the negative impact his life had had on so many people. In his sorrow and repentance He found forgiveness and hope.

Today this man is a pastor and I count it a privilege to call him a friend. He has shared his story with many drug addicts and pushers and lots of them have found faith and healing in Jesus. And some of the stories are remarkable. Long term, hardened, criminal drug dealers, have found forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Tragedy has turned into triumph. Sorrow has turned into joy. Insecurity has turned into confidence. Disappointment has turned into hope. All of this because his testimony created a door of hope and others have walked through it.

Rom 15.4 says: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are meant to 'abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit'. I like that. Two things strike me. The first is that when it comes to hope there is meant to be a surfeit, an abundance. The word abound means to have a large measure or to overflow. This is how God wants us to be in our lives. Overflowing with hope. Full of expectation. Enough for ourselves and for those around us who have no hope. Enough to give away to others.

The second thing is that we don't have to produce this ourselves. It's not about working something up in our emotions; getting psyched up to be positive about the future; reading a Dale Carnegie book on the power of positive thinking. This is released in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Wow. God releases hope into our lives through His abiding presence. The Holy Spirit usually does this by taking the promises of God and awakening our hearts to their reality for us.

We come to see that God has not just forgiven so and so He has also forgiven us. So and so's testimony may have been used by God to create a door of Hope but once we pass through that door we can claim that we too are changed; we too are forgiven. Through the Holy Spirit we too have Hope. And this hope changes everything. It changes the way we see life; the way we see other people; the way we even see ourselves.

Two qualities mark out this kind of Hope according to Rom 15.13. The first is joy. Disappointment often leads to sorrow and sadness. But hope leads to joy. Hope can make you happy! Think of Hannah in 1Sam 1. After she had poured out her heart to the Lord she went away to her home. The Bible says; "So the woman went her way and ate and her face was no longer sad", 1Sam 1.18.

She did not yet receive the answer to her prayer but she had hope and it made her joyful. It literally changed her face! Our face is often a reflection of how we truly feel. We may learn the art of hiding our feelings but eventually how we feel leaks out. Emotional reactions are like a reflex and our face betrays our true state of mind. Hannah's face changed because hope now filled her heart.

The second quality of this kind of hope is peace. Disappointment is often marked by feelings of guilt or bitterness over lost opportunities. It can make us angry and contentious. Peace however is not just the absence of these emotions, it is positive feeling of well being. A sense of order in our inner world.

To know that God is for us and not against us; to know that He has plans for us despite our failings; to know that He is working together for our good all bring a deep sense of peace. We don't have to strive to make things happen in life. We can rest in the plan of God that He will bring about His purposes as we wait expectantly on Him. In fact the Old Testament term 'wait on the Lord' meant to wait with expectation that He will act. It wasn't a passive resignation to the ways things were. It was a positive expectation that things would change and get better.

The last thing to remember about Biblical hope is that it requires patience on our part. Hope is about the future. It's about something that will happen. Joy and peace keep our hearts buoyant while we patiently wait for God's 'hour' to come. It what the Bible calls a 'Kairos' moment. A moment that has come about because all things are now in order for God's purpose to break through. Galatians puts it like this: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son", Gal 4.4.

God waited until the time was right. Others like Simeon were, "Waiting for the Consolation of Israel", Luke 2.25. He too had this sense of timing, living in expectant hope that God would act before he would see death, Luke 2.26. This becomes a way for us to see if our hope is birthed in God or just wishful thinking. If it's birthed in God then we can expect to have joy and peace. Our face should reflect our inner life. Any patience we show will be a product of that peace and not peppered with frustration like when we are waiting for a late bus.

God's promises are there to help birth hope in us. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope", Rom 15.4. The stories and promises of scripture comfort us. We can rest in His timing. We can trust His purpose. We can find hope where there has been disappointment. And as we do we can bring this to others.

Live this week in the power of the Holy Spirit who will help you abound in hope. Let joy and peace fill your heart as you do. watch and see what God can accomplish through you as you adopt this inner posture. It's like a door. It stands open waiting for you to pass through. Take this step into your future and see it through the eyes of hope. And as you do, your testimony creats a door of hope for others too. In this simple way we can touch the lives of many people.