Returning to the Lord

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One of the things about God that blesses me so much is his capacity for forgiveness. Those who come to know God’s forgiveness do so initially when they place their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Doing so makes one a child of God. But while our experience of God’s forgiveness may begin at the cross, it doesn’t end there, for once we become children of God, we proceed to demonstrate what wayward children we are.

There are different levels of waywardness. Some stumble here and there in the details while maintaining an overall walk with God, but others can seemingly┬átend to wander away from God altogether. Either way, God’s forgiveness is always on the table.

In the Scriptures, Israel and Judah, the two nations that comprised the one people of God (i.e., the Jews) showed a great propensity for wandering away from God. And yet, again and again we see God offering them a way back and receiving them when they would turn back to him. Hosea chapter 6 gives us some good insight into God’s forgiveness of his wayward people. We read in verses 1 and 2: Come, let us return to the LORD, for he has torn us that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days, he will revive us; on the third day, he will raise us up that we may live before him.

A child of God who wanders away will inevitably face difficulties in being away from God. Our Father just won’t let us walk away comfortably. And we see in this passage that at least some of the difficulties we face when we walk away from God come directly from him. The way most people view God would suggest that such difficulties are because he wants us to know just how mad he is about our wandering away. But this passage gives a different view of God: namely, that he hurts us to help us. God wants his wayward children back where they belong (i.e., with him), and the difficulties we face in walking away from God are for the purpose of driving us back to the place that is best for us – the place of refuge and safety. They are for the purpose of directing us back to the God who loves us.

But notice that God’s intention in doing this is not just so we can live happy, self-directed lives doing whatever we want to do. He does it so that “we may live before him.” The self-directed life of doing whatever we want in the belief that God is the ultimate tolerant Being is actually the life of wandering away from God. Living “before him” rather than away from him means that we have a conscious awareness that we are in the presence of the holy and righteous Creator and Judge of the universe. It means taking God seriously in how we live our lives. Will we fail? Absolutely. All the time. That is why we require his forgiveness, which, from a New Testament perspective that Hosea didn’t have, comes through faith in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who came to earth to bear our sins on a cross, paying the penalty our sins have earned for us, and offering us forgiveness free and clear through faith in him, a forgiveness which results in a life of fellowship with God and, ultimately, eternal life.

And yet, even when we have this eternal life, we can have times when we wander away from our Lord. When we do, we can be certain that he will (as Hosea says) tear us so that he may heal us, strike us down so that he may bind us up, all in an effort to draw us back to the place of refuge and safety – the place of living before him.

We Need Never Stop Growing

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Today, I had to the privilege of visiting a woman who is dying of cancer. She is not an elderly woman; in fact, she’s middle aged. She does not fear death, for she knows without a doubt that her eternity is secure in Christ and that she will be with him when she passes from this life. At the same time, she would love to remain in this life for the sake of her family.

While I was impressed by her strong faith and the certainty it has given her for her eternal future, I was even more blessed by another aspect of her faith: namely, the spiritual growth she is experiencing through her ordeal. Here is a woman who no longer eats solid food, who is exhausted by more than ten minutes of conversation, and for whom the simple act of shifting her position on the sofa brings excruciating pain. Much of her life is shutting down, but her spiritual life continues to grow like a weed. She spoke of how she is learning to submit to the sovereignty of God as she has prayed for healing and has not received it. She spoke of things she is learning about God and hopes to learn in the future, even as her future appears to be very limited. The doctors tell her that she is nearing death; nevertheless, she continues to grow in grace and in the knowledge of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). When the Lord does call her home, she will cross the finish line at a full sprint.

We will all one day face the end of our lives on this earth, and for many of us, our ends will come in a manner similar to this woman’s in that our bodies will shut down gradually. But one thing we can all learn from the shining testimony of this dear saint is that, regardless of what happens to our physical bodies, spiritually we need never stop growing.