In the sermon this morning the preacher listed several typical “New Year’s Resolutions” during his lesson. They were things like weight loss, smoking, etc. A thought ran through my mind when he said “smoking” that really struck me. It was simply, “Yeah, but there’s a patch for that.” If only there were a patch for the deeper struggles we face. No, our struggle against sin is deeper and stronger than any chemical dependance (not to minimize the struggle of smoker) and yet there is no patch down at Walgreen’s.
Sin has left many a life dashed on the rocks. Lust destroys love and marriage, drunkenness leaves anothers’ child dead in the ER, hopelessness snuffs out the life of the vulnerable and unborn. There is no patch for that.
Well over 3,000 years ago God called a nation to holiness. He called them away from all the greed, lust, and pride of the world, and into a life of holiness, purity, and faithfulness. Israel’s is a story of a nation that has truly lived up to its name–it has wrestled with God. From times of great praise and devotion to times of abject pagan idolatry and unfaithfulness, God’s people have lived the whole spectrum. In the book of Hosea, God compares his relationship with Israel with that of Hosea and his wife, Gomer. Gomer was a woman who made the word “adulterous” look like an understatement. Some of “their” children had names with meanings like “not my people.” That’s got to make for some awkward conversation when the kid is old enough to ask dad, “why?” I wonder when reading of Hosea’s life how he must have hurt. There is no patch for that. Yet, the point of the book is that God and Hosea are parallel. God is as hurt by Israel’s unfaithfulness. And there was no patch for that for Him, either. The book shows that both God and Hosea wrestled with how to reconcile such pain, and such a marriage. Throw her out and let the door hit her on the way out? Or, woo her back with love? Neither would be easy. Both would hurt. There is no patch for that, and Gomer is not the only person to give herself over to her weaknesses at the expense of all, including God. We all stand convicted.
Into such a world of unfaithfulness, division, pain, sorrow, and a longing for redemption–a world wishing for a patch–a message from the heavens comes: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” That young woman could not have imagined what was to come, but Mary was a beautifully willing servant. If only we would all answer the call so humbly, so filled with faith. Dawn was breaking after a long, dark night. Better than a patch, the Father of Heaven was sending a Savior. His advent was one of striking contrasts. To heal a world of pride, he sent a humble servant that started life (so to speak) in a feed trough. To show greed the door, he lived the life of an itinerant preacher–no home, no stables, no manor or fleet. Lust got the boot, too–he lived a life of purity leaving behind no broken marriages, no list of children wondering who “daddy” might be. No lies, no hate, instead it was healing that was left in his wake. Such a life seems alien to us sinners, yet an alien he was not. Immanuel (God with us) was fully human, facing all the same temptations, all the same trials as you and I face. Why? Good question. Why would God-in-the-flesh bother with all this hardship if he didn’t have to? Why deal with a 40 day hunger, an angry mob, or a crooked trial and unjust execution? Why put up with 12 guys that run when things get tough or crowds that only come for the freebies? Why become a completely vulnerable infant in such a crazy world?
As I’ve been writing this, my daughter has gotten out of bed and wandered in. She’s an incredible little girl. Smart, beautiful, a smile that makes a day. Right now she’s at an age where the biggest hurdles in our relationship are grumpiness (in either of us, to be honest) and getting her to eat her green beans (and the odd tantrum, but that’s fading, and normal with age). I know there are times ahead when we’ll be battling up far steeper hills. I dread it. I pray now for the wisdom I’ll need then. I’ve no idea what those steep hills will be. I do know this: love will be what gets us over them.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Why would God bother with all that? The “Bible Answer” is that “God so loved the world…” It’s a truth I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my mind around. Even more so realizing that 2,000 years later we humans are still as consumed by greed, power and appetite as we were then. That “Bible Answer” is the only one that makes sense to me. Just as I look ahead and know there will be steep hills, God looked ahead and saw our need. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” said the apostle Paul (Romans 5:8). I’m reminded of the old hymn verse, “If that isn’t love, the ocean is dry.” Just as I’m looking ahead and knowing that love must prevail with my daughter(s), God has shown that love has prevailed in His relationship with mankind. For all the steep hills and dark valleys, God’s love is the salvation we long for and the healing of our wounds. We humans are experiential by design. He knew a simple patch would never do. We needed a demonstration in the flesh of His love for us, and that demonstration is Jesus. He not only lived a life showing God’s love for us through his healing of the blind, lame, and sick and his forgiveness of the sinful, but he also showed us that a life of godliness and holiness is both possible and worthwhile.
Yesterday I saw an episode of Man vs. Wild that was set in the Sahara. It was a bit graphic. The guy had to slaughter a camel and drink the liquid squeezed from the contents of its stomach to avoid dehydration (at one point he does a full body dive into the hollowed out carcass to show it can be used as emergency shelter). He also bit a frog’s head off–still alive to that point–for nourishment. Survival in the desert isn’t easy. It will require that one step out of his/her natural way of thinking and doing to make it through. At one point he said that it is in such extreme conditions you call upon your body to do more than you think it will do, and sometimes are surprised at its ability to come through. Having done so, you come away stronger and more resilient and able to cope with what lies ahead. The intent of the show is to demonstrate the techniques necessary to survive such a brutal environment. There’s no patch that gets you through the Sahara, after all.
There is no patch for life’s struggles either, but God sent his Son into this world to pay the price of our redemption and demonstrate the kind of life that gets us through the desert. Sin will still tempt. Trials will still assuredly come. His life, though, is a testament the resilience of the life that is given to God by faith. What He was able to overcome, He promises to help us overcome. What He was able to handle, He promises to help us handle. The wisdom He used, He shares. No patch. Patches are useless in the desert. He instead demonstrates to us the spiritual tools that are necessary to survive–and even thrive–in this world. Like survival in the Sahara, we will have to take on a different way of thinking and doing. We will need to take on the way of Jesus.
In the end, we will be better than if there were a patch. Patches fight chemistry with more chemistry. The way of Jesus transforms heart, mind, body and soul. We don’t come away simply breaking a chemical dependancy, we come away changed, renewed, stronger, and able to face the next hill by faith, because God loves us too much to deal in snake oil quick fixes. He transforms us through His Son.
“This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.” I Peter 2:21 (The Message)