Religious But Not Spiritual

religious not spiritual

It is popular these days to hear people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

Many observe the stale, lackluster faith of those simply going through the motions. Or they see religion as a box too small to contain their worldview. Organized religion is often perceived as corrupt, outdated, or harmful. And we’ve all encountered a person who is both intensely religious and intensely a jerk at the exact same time.

So plenty shy away from the label and baggage of “religion.” I get that.

Even churches tend to resist the term “religious.” I regularly hear (and have probably said), “Christianity is not about religion but relationship.” When we say that we are trying to point people to something dynamic and impactful rather than something that becomes empty and heartless. We believe that checking the right number of religious boxes isn’t the thing that matters most. And the Bible certainly speaks to that repeatedly.

But here is the thing: I need religion.

The truth is sometimes I’m religious but not spiritual. Sometimes I don’t “feel” it. Sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing. Sometimes I have doubt, anger, frustration, or failure in my spiritual life.

If I can only show up when the fire is hot, I will be in trouble. If I was to rely on just my feelings, I’d have quit a long time ago.

There are times I may not feel like attending worship or loving a person who is difficult to love. There are times I am not up for singing “It is well with my soul.” There are times my prayers get caught in my throat.

When those times come, religion keeps me going. The structure built around my faith comes to my aid. The things that have been practiced and rehearsed week after week and century after century minister to my dry spirit.

When I participate in religion I eventually find the things I have been lacking. I find hope and joy and rest. I find substance and sustenance in the bread and the cup of communion. I find peace in the reading of Scripture and support as I gather weekly with my church family for corporate worship.

Even after I’ve already believed and committed. Even when I already obey and follow. Religion and its prayers and rituals and movements bring me rescue and relief. When I go through the motions of religion, I am renewed.

Though I strive to avoid an empty faith or passionless belief, though I desire to always have my heart stirred, the truth is sometimes it doesn’t go the way I want. For whatever reason, sometimes I need a push, a jump-start, a nudge.

I find the help I need in religion.

I wonder if our reluctance to call ourselves religious has been to our detriment. I wonder if we rob ourselves of the very tools we need when we turn our nose up at ritual and habit. I wonder if we’ve damaged the relationship because we have neglected the practices of religion while looking for a purely spiritual faith. 

Religion can certainly be misused, but it is a gift from God and I’m thankful for the ways it has brought newness to my faith. It need not be stale and lifeless, but the very place where grace is found over and over and over again.

So gather with God’s people, even when it’s easier to avoid them.

And say your prayers, even when the words sound hollow.

Sing the songs, even if you aren’t sure you believe them.

Read the Scriptures, even when the message seems distant.

Take and eat, even when you don’t feel hungry.

Go through the motions, especially when the motions are all you have.

And then, may God show up. May your soul find rest and encouragement. May living water quench your thirst. May emptiness give way to satisfaction. May you be formed into the fullness and likeness of Christ Jesus. And may the spiritless become Spirit filled. 

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Church, We Don’t Need Religious Liberty

 

I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack. 2017-05-04 14.39.36

I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.

The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.

The threat is us.

The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.

We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.

Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty.  I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.

I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.

I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.

What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.

What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.

Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.

Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.

He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.

He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.

And neither is ours.

The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.

The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.

I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution will or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.

I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.

Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.

Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.

We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”

Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.

Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.

So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.

Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.

Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.

God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.

We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.

May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.

 

 

 

A Seat at the Table: Lead Like a Girl

Note: One of my strongest convictions is that we need to hear a variety of voices. I think hearing from different perspectives will bridge unnecessary divides and cure unhealthy polarization. I think we will become more empathetic, more grounded, and have more influence in our world. I want to provide a seat at the table for those voices we may not always hear or those who can provide us with insight we would otherwise miss. I will present them unfiltered so that I can learn right along with everyone else, even if we end up disagreeing. Today I present Kristin. She leads a variety of ministries in the local church and is pursuing ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. – Chris

A number of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference geared toward women in ministry.  The opening speaker began by stating something similar to this: “As women who are called into leadership roles, we are not here with a chip on our shoulder or an ax to grind.” I hope and pray that my message is not now nor ever steeped in bitterness toward the injustices in our world. Rather, my purpose in speaking out is that a new voice might be heard. A voice that has the potential to show the world another side of the same coin. A voice that is equally cherished by God, equally inspired by God, and equally part of God’s original plan for humanity.

As a woman called to ministry, I cannot say I’ve faced a lot of blatant sexism in my life. I honestly don’t recall anyone telling me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. In fact, my experience has mostly been the opposite. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. They modeled equality in a marriage as far as I can remember. I always thought of them as two halves to a whole, each of them holding the value of exactly half, no less, no more.  I don’t remember them ever mentioning gender equality or lack-there-of, but somehow I have always believed that men and women are equal.

When I went to college as a religion major, for the first time, I realized the unusualness of my worldview on this issue. Nobody ever told me that I couldn’t be a pastor and my professors were supportive, gracious and inclusive.  Yet even in this atmosphere I encountered countless people who assumed that my role in the church would be to support a lead pastor and minister to a small portion of the congregation – youth, children, women—rather than taking the lead position. And we need good people who will fill each of these roles, but the ability to lead is not gender-specific.

You see, sometimes prejudice doesn’t show itself through nasty words or outright hatred.  Sometimes prejudice is seen in the expectations we hold or the terminology we use. Sometimes it’s the side-long glance or the questioning eyes.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a question like “Do you need to check with your husband on that theological issue?” As if my education isn’t enough. Or a determination of my value based on how well I “pastor’s wife,” as if I am defined by my husband’s job. And sometimes it comes in the form of jokes and teasing, like calling a man “Nancy” when his physical strength is deemed lacking or blaming a woman’s passion on her hormones. It may seem harmless, and it’s probably not always intended to degrade women, but it is a contribution to gender inequality none-the-less.

So for the better part of the last ten years I have questioned what exactly I can do in leadership. What role can I possibly play in the edification of the church? Am I ‘less-than’ simply because of my gender? Am I capable of speaking in public and bringing sound doctrine to the people of God? Is God really calling ME?

Maybe these questions and fears are rooted in my own insecurities.  Or maybe these insecurities have been fed by the biases of other well-intentioned, although misguided, Christians. Either way, I do not believe that God’s intention for me is to be lost in a sea of doubt. Nor do I believe that He desires for me to be silent, to be inferior, to be powerless.

In fact, the more I pray and study and discuss with other spiritual leaders, the more I am sure of it. When I read in the Bible that I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12), and that I can approach God’s throne with boldness (Ephesians 3:12) I feel the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, telling me: “Be bold. Be strong. Be exactly whom I have created you to be.”

Sometimes it’s easy to listen to the voices that say women should not be leaders among men or that a husband and wife cannot function as true equals in a marriage.  After all, those voices are often the loudest.  But just because a voice is blaring as if through a megaphone, that doesn’t make it right.  Wasn’t it Elijah who searched for God in the wind and the earthquake and the fire? And after all the other “voices” had died down, it was instead the whisper of God that spoke to Elijah.

When the voices that ring like thunder surround me, trying to lessen my credibility, I seek the one who speaks in a whisper.  And as one of our congregation’s favorite songs states “I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night. And You tell me that you’re pleased.” God is pleased. With me.  Just as I am: with a passion for leading others into His presence.

I am blessed to have a husband who believes in empowering women, and to be part of a church that celebrates women in all levels of leadership. Not every woman can say that. But a woman, just like a man, is an image-bearer of the one true God. When the voices of women are silenced, the entire church misses out on part of God’s creation. On the other hand, when women are valued and encouraged to embrace their God given gifts, the church is blessed. Inspire her to use her voice, make room for her in your circles, give her a seat at the table. You may just find that this is pleasing to God.
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Kristin Gilmore studied Religion at MidAmerica Nazarene and is a locally licensed minister at Corbin Church of the Nazarene. She is a worship leader, bible study teacher, and budding preacher. She is a mom to three who enjoys running and coffee, just not at the same time. You can find Kristin on Facebook here and Twitter here.

Have Mercy On Me, a Sinner

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What we think of ourselves says a lot about how we approach God and how we treat others. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus uses a story of two men at the Temple praying in order to teach us a thing or two along those lines.

One of the men is a Pharisee. He is devout and schooled in theology. He knows the Scriptures in and out. He has mastered the disciplines of his faith. He knows he is good.

His prayer is a picture of self-righteousness, “Thank God I’m not like everyone else.”

The other man is a tax collector. He is considered a traitor to his people and his faith. He gets rich working for the bad guys while lining his pockets with the neighborhood’s money. He is despised. He knows he is broken.

He prays from a place of humility and contriteness, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Jesus explains it is this man, not the “good” one, who leaves the Temple right with God.

Now sometimes us church folk fall into the category of Pharisee. We start thinking we are better or more holy than others because we do the right things or avoid the wrong ones or at least don’t do them as much as other people. The problem with the Pharisee’s prayer is not that it isn’t true, but that it is built on what he has done and dripping with pride.

This mindset is graceless. Here being right with God is about behavior modification. Here we forget we need God just as much today as we did at our lowest point. And here we become hypocritical judges in our assessment of everyone else. We reassure ourselves of just how good we are and miss out on God’s work in our lives and transformational relationships with people around us.

This is a dangerous place to live.

There is another mindset that isn’t mentioned in the parable but is prevalent in our culture. Sometimes we model a similar prayer, “Thank God I am just like everyone else.”

Here we aren’t bothered by our brokenness, we are just glad we aren’t the only ones experiencing it. We excuse our behavior/thoughts/attitudes because everyone else seems to be on the same page and, hey, we’re just human after all. Here the idea isn’t to elevate ourselves over tax collectors, but to lower the bar for what is required of us.

We like being broken, so we don’t change. We rest in the comfort of knowing there are other broken people, so we don’t want to see them change.  We enjoy our sin. Or perhaps its too hard to resist so we’ll just stay right where we are.

This too is a dangerous place to be. Here we find cheap grace. Cheap grace is as useless as no grace.

The only proper approach is that of that tax collector. It is here we realize how much work needs to be done in us. That scandalous sinner or pious preacher, I need God. It is here we see regardless of how good or bad our behavior is we must have mercy.

Change without mercy is fine, but cannot save anyone. Mercy without change is easy, but meaningless. Mercy, when experienced with a humble heart, has the power to bring about change in us.

This is the mindset the Church is to have: acknowledging our need of mercy and allowing mercy to transform us.

That means more than mouthing these words in prayer, but allowing this understanding to shape us through and through. We are to embody this concept in attitude and action. It should guide the way we take inventory of our hearts. It should affect the way we approach our neighbors and our God.

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

May these words be on our lips and in our heart. May we pray them and live them. May we be humble and contrite. And may we find the mercy we so desperately need.

To My Non-Christian Friends This Election Season

To My Non-Christian Friends, dearfriends_black

This election season has been something else, huh? (Here is a video of puppies if you need something to cheer you up.) Take heart, it is almost over. We have at least until February before people start openly campaigning for 2020.

In the meantime, I’d like to say something to you. Specifically, I’d like to say sorry. I think you have seen us Christians at our worst lately and for that I apologize.

I’m sorry that you’ve seen so much fighting between us. We can be brutal to each other and we call ourselves family. We fire missiles from all sides of the aisle and don’t worry too much about collateral damage. It probably isn’t very inviting when we behave this way. I’m sorry if you are less likely to want to be around us after all this.

I’m sorry that you’ve probably gotten into a debate or two with one of us. I’m sorry that we don’t often fight very graciously. I’m sorry that we stoop to things like name calling and rapid dismissal.

I regret that we often want to be heard, rather than hear. That isn’t very kind of us.

I’m sorry if you were unfriended because of your political views. I’m sorry we value our opinions more than your friendship. I’m sorry that we let partisanship get in the way of relationship. There are things we will all never agree on, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing meals and photos of our kids and life in general.

I’m sorry that you see us defending things that are indefensible. Things Jesus would oppose. Things we have routinely and loudly condemned. I’m sorry that we hold a double standard so that we can excuse our candidates and condemn someone else’s. That’s not consistent and its certainly not Christlike.

I’m sorry for all the false memes and bunk articles we have posted. We don’t think very highly of lying, but we are at times in such a rush to be right we fail to check our information. That isn’t very good of us.

I’m sorry if we have led you to believe that a person’s eternal destiny hinges on how they vote. We don’t actually believe that, though we sometimes act and preach like it. Sometimes we (rightly or wrongly) put a lot of hope and energy into these things, but if you give us a time to catch our breath we will remember it is grace, not ballots, that save us.

We sing a song that says our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. I’m sorry we haven’t acted that way lately. While we want to have a say in government, ultimately our hope is not in presidents and senators and legislation.

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by the way we talk about the candidates and their supporters. Regardless of politics you and they are loved and cherished by God. We’ve failed to reflect that too often. That grieves me.

I apologize that regardless of which side we are on, we are often unable to understand where you are coming from. I’m sorry if we talk down to you or figure you couldn’t possibly know or have hurt you with our assumptions.

I know it is probably hard to see through all the nonsense, but Jesus is better than we represent. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but I’m absolutely positive of that. I’m sorry if we have failed him and you this election season.

If we are honest we are just regular ole humans. We mess up, we don’t always do what we want. We can be too passionate, we can be misguided, we can be flat wrong. Please don’t hold that against Jesus.

I can’t speak for all of us, but I can speak for me. I would trade in all this election stuff if it meant people would be more likely to consider following Jesus. His ways are better. We have a saying that goes like this, “His grace is sufficient.” The grace of God is sufficient to cover our weakness and our mistakes. We greatly depend on that.

Now I’m asking for grace from you. Please forgive us for our actions and attitudes, our words and our compliance. Please forgive us for pointing you toward a political party more than Jesus. Please forgive us when we cross the line, wound others, or look no different than any other person you know.

We are supposed to do better than that. We have been wrong. Maybe not all of us, but some of us, including me. And I’m sorry.

Church, We Have No Dog In This Fight

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One of the worst aspects of an election is that it pits people against each other. We start noticing who is with us and who is against. We draw lines and form ranks. Its us versus them.

As we line up to choose sides the candidates lay out their battle plans. Pro-this and anti-that. We (hopefully) weigh the pros and cons and we chose our side.

We select our candidate. We stand united. We rally behind them. We argue as to why they are the most suited to hold office. We applaud their good nature. We justify their bad behavior. And we stand at the ready to defend and fight for their rightful place. This is our normal.

The question I have been wondering this election cycle is, why do we, the church, feel the need to pick a candidate? Why do we feel like we have to take a side? And perhaps most soul searching, why do we feel like we have to baptize our candidate of choice and line them up with our religious beliefs?

This is a concept foreign to many Christians in the world today and for most of church history. Things like democratic elections are still rare when you consider the breadth of human experience and existence. Yet here we are lining up, doing battle, anointing our candidates.

What if we decided we don’t have a dog in the fight? What if we said, you know what, these candidates are so flawed, so disingenuous, so other-kingdom focused, that we’re not even going to bother taking sides?

I believe this is what the early church would do. As the church was being born, first making its way across foreign lands, the Roman Empire held much of the known world and would soon experience great politic unrest. They didn’t hold elections and they didn’t care too much about what the church thought, but I think there is a lesson here for us.

If you would please allow me a moment for a brief history. Just a few decades after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Roman emperor Nero had become so unpopular that the empire turned against him. In response he took his own life, leaving a vacancy for the throne.

In the year that followed, four different men would hold the title Emperor of Rome. Galba would be the first and hold office for seven months. He withheld payment from his soldiers and they in turn killed him, backing the authority of a man named Otho. Otho would take the throne only to learn that yet another man was marching on Rome. This man, Vitellius, would conquer Otho’s forces and be recognized as the legitimate ruler of the empire. That is, until Vespasian arrived from the Middle East and dispatched Vitellius and his sympathizers, and took the throne for himself.

Talk about a crazy twelve months. It makes 2016 look fairly tame in comparison.

The reason I tell you this story is because I doubt the early church, our foremothers and fathers, put much stock in which emperor they supported. I’m guessing they didn’t pass out voter’s guides at the weekly gathering or put signs out in their yards. I am fairly certain they weren’t overly concerned with which one was going to raise or lower taxes and which one had a better economic policy or even which one was more pro-life.

I am positive they weren’t looking to see which candidate would more closely line up with their Christian values. They would have never tried to force one of them to fit their worldview in order to justify their support. I don’t imagine them saying, “Well if you don’t like Vespasian you must be pro-Galba.”

They likely would not have chosen a side. They had no dog in the fight. No horse in the race. Whoever sat in the Roman equivalent to the Oval Office made little difference to the church. I can hear them saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The church didn’t pick sides because no matter who is emperor, Jesus is Lord. They didn’t pick sides because the options laid out before them were unsatisfactory. They didn’t pick sides because the laws the Romans passed had very little to do with how they were called to live. They didn’t pick sides because God already sat on the only throne that mattered.

There is the Kingdom of God and there is the empire of Rome. They are two different realities. The church firmly established that they were Kingdom people. “Strangers in the world,” one writer would say.

Kingdom people have too much to do to worry about who is going to be the next Caesar. In the Roman world when babies were abandoned to die, the church brought them in and built orphanages. In the Roman world when health was fleeting and disease was rampant, the church brought them in and built hospitals and administered healthcare. It was the church who brought in strangers and foreigners and took care of the poor and widows. It was the church who stood against a world full of racism and sexism and classism and slavery. And they did it without petitions or lobbyists or super pacs.

The early church didn’t look for the government to legislate morality or justifiably use tax money. They didn’t look to the government for tax breaks or religious liberty. They looked to Jesus and tried to live faithfully.

Galba. Otho. Vitellius. Vespasian. Why pick a side? We are pledged to Christ.

Church, I truly believe in this election (and probably most elections) we don’t have a dog in the fight. I don’t think it is worth choosing sides. We have the two least liked candidates in our nation’s history and we keep saying you can or can’t be a certain kind of person if you don’t pick the right one.

To be so emotionally invested in picking the next Caesar is a waste of energy. To put our hope in whichever one we think will protect our freedoms the most is dangerously shortsighted. Emperor-to-be Otho promised the world to his soldiers, they put him in power, and then he withheld everything he promised and was forced out three months later. Don’t sell yourself to the highest bidder.

You don’t have to do all the lining up behind your choice. You don’t have to become their champion. You don’t have to justify their every move or attempt to get their world and your world to line up perfectly. Spoiler alert: they don’t fit. You don’t have to compromise your fundamental beliefs in order to pick one of the people desperate for power.

If you objectively study the candidates (and not just the top two) and can vote for one, okay. It is also a completely Christian response to say I can’t choose between these people battling for the throne. It isn’t a waste, it isn’t a vote for the other side, it is a matter of principle.

We are Kingdom people first. Our fight is a different fight. Our Kingdom doesn’t require borders or laws or military or taxes or presidents or elections. We have already made our choice. Caesar can have the throne, the land, the money, the power. None of that matters. Caesars come and go. Presidents come and go. Nations come and go. But the Kingdom of God endures forever.

So don’t worry. Don’t fret. Don’t feel like you have to pick between the lesser of two evils. Pick Jesus. Live faithfully. Love people.

If you feel you must make a choice and just have to put out a yard sign or bumper sticker, go with one that says, “I’m with Jesus.”

The Promiscuous Church & Her Part-Time Lovers

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Source: Pixabay

The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of a man named Hosea. This religious leader and prophet is instructed by God to marry a promiscuous woman named Gomer (sounds wonderful, right?). Their marriage will demonstrate to the people of Israel how they have forsaken God by turning to the gods of their neighbors.

The neighbors’ gods were promising a host of wonderful things. A bountiful crop, fertility for families and livestock. They offered health and wealth and security. They promised to vanquish their enemies. And the Israelites bought it hook, line, and sinker.

They worshiped these other gods. They looked to them with hope and expectation. They gave them their time and treasure and affection. Perhaps they even put bumper stickers on their donkeys and filled social media with how these gods were going to save the day.

I’m sure many people thought all of this was simply in addition to the worship of their God. I’m guessing some figured God was using these other gods to accomplish his will for the people. Many probably thought they could remain faithful to God, while using these other gods to meet their needs.

But they couldn’t. They cheated on God. And Gomer’s continued infidelity was an illustration of the way the people had traded in the faithful love of God for the groping arms of part-time lovers.

There is a lesson here for the modern Church. 

Certainly the gods look a little different these days, but they still promise the same benefits: comfort and luxury and security and all the things we dream of late at night. Our politics and culture and lifestyles are just another group of suitors clamoring for our affection.

They invite us to give ourselves to them in exchange for some lofty promise. We are convinced they will make us happy or feel important or keep us well fed. We slide under the sheets with political parties and cultural fads and materialism thinking that this time we will finally find all the things we are looking for.

There may have been times when we felt guilty about our little forays, but lately we justify it, baptize it in religious language, and even convince ourselves this is God’s will for us. We join the Israelites in assuming all of our potential lovers are legitimate. We think we can still be faithful to God in the midst of it all.

But we can’t. And just like Gomer we have become harlots. We sell ourselves to whoever will promise us the most. We forsake our vows and our values for the chance at something enticing: a record-setting crop, the promise of security, heaps of privilege and power. We prostitute ourselves to whoever and whatever can make us feel prettiest or safest or shower us with the most presents.

But in the morning when the lights are turned on the Church finds herself in bed with a multitude of strangers who are not all that interested in her. When the elections are over or when things start to get a little tense or when someone else a little more appealing comes along, we find that we have not been loved in the slightest.

Those who intoxicated us with their charm and flashy smile have abandoned us. They weren’t faithful and never planned to be. They lied, promising far more then they could ever deliver. They used the Church for their own pleasure and gain.

So we are left unloved and broken. Those we hoped were lovers turn out to only be consumers. What we had hoped would satisfy has done nothing but leave us starved. What we hoped would make us feel whole has instead wounded deeply. And our reputation has been sullied in the process.

In the story of Hosea, the two-timing Gomer eventually finds herself living with another man. Sadly she has become his possession, not his beloved. She is exploited, not adored. How often is this our story?

Hosea, her rightful husband, the man who loves her, purchases her back. He redeems her. He tells his wife, now forgiven, that she needs to leave this life of promiscuity and not fool around with other men. He commits to be there as she restarts her marriage. He will not leave her.

You see, God wants his people to realize he is faithful. He isn’t quick to drop them. He isn’t running around on them. He isn’t sneaking off in the dark of night. He actually desires them. He cares for them. He loves them. He is always true to them.

The message for Israel is the message for the Church.

It isn’t these other gods who care about you. They have no real power to change your life. They might look appealing and they might offer little trinkets, but they are not worth your affection. They will leave you feeling empty sooner or later.

It isn’t the political parties who love you. They are just another john in a long line of johns who will promise you the whole world if you’ll just be faithful to them. They want to use you. If you want to give them your vote, okay fine, but not your allegiance. Not your heart.

It isn’t comfort or cash or attention or accolades or pleasure or power or privilege that will satisfy you. In the morning they will all run off for the next person and then the next person and then the next person. These things are fleeting, not faithful. Don’t give yourself to something that won’t give itself for you.

If the Church is the Bride of Christ, she cannot allow herself to be seduced by the siren songs of potential suitors. We cannot climb into bed with whatever things sound most fun or promising or comforting right now. We cannot give ourselves to anyone or anything other than the God who redeems us.

Ours is a God who is faithful. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. He is the one who will satisfy our desires and give us hope. He is the one we can rely on and who won’t run away when times get rough. He won’t abandon us for the next pretty little thing that walks by or use us only for his personal gain and pleasure.

Church, may we be faithful to the One who is faithful to us. May we remember that the sweet nothings whispered in our ear by culture and politicians and neighbors are nothing more than empty words that lead to broken hearts. May we remember our vows and may we change our promiscuous ways. And may we find all we ever need in the loving and trustworthy arms of Christ.