Well Fed

Ezekiel 34:26-27 “I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers of blessings. The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in the land.”

Our Good Shepherd pours down showers of blessings on his people. Those are not neutral, passive terms. Water is a powerful thing. It can carve a canyon out of rock. It can uproot trees and flatten buildings. It can turn a turbine and light a city. But its most amazing power is its power to support life. That power is present even in a gentle shower of rain. In the desert, a little rain can make the landscape come alive.

“Blessing” is likewise a powerful term. The Bible has a number of different words we translate as “bless.” Sometimes it means simply, “Speak well about someone.” When we bless God, that is what we are doing–we are praising him. Sometimes it refers to a state of happiness. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” in the Sermon on the Mount, he is saying that they are happy.

But when God blesses, as here, he is using his power to give success, prosperity, longevity, even life itself. When God blesses, things change. The situation improves. His people benefit. When God blesses, he is at work on our behalf.

What is that power our Lord uses to shower us with blessings, showers that make life fruitful and feed his people so well? When Jesus was sitting at the well of Jacob, talking to the woman from Sychar, he told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 13-14). What is the life-giving water Jesus gave? Earlier in his book John says, “The Law came through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” God’s word of grace brings these blessings. It is the message that he loves us though our sins made us unlovely. He has saved us because we can’t save ourselves. It is the good news, the gospel, that is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. That gives life. That feeds faith. That makes things spiritually grow.

Then what happens? “The people will be secure in their land.” His sheep live in safety. Why? “The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops.” After World War I, much of Europe teetered on the brink of famine. In order to give people the illusion of having food, some bakeries substituted sawdust for flour in bread. The people felt full after eating, but they were still seriously undernourished.

Sometimes people eat the spiritual equivalent of sawdust. It gives them the illusion that they are spiritually fed. It may take the form of “God-talk” that is little more than sweet sentiments or speculation. It may be served as moral instruction, loads and loads of it. It doesn’t add strength; it just adds weight. Over time the burden becomes heavier, and heavier, and harder and harder to bear.

But where sins are regularly confessed and forgiven, where God’s grace in sending a Savior is sung and celebrated, where the cross and all it means is preached week in and week out, where Jesus himself regularly offers the forgiveness of sins in his supper, there God is pouring down his blessings. His sheep are being fed, and they are safe from spiritual famine.

That They May Live in Safety

Ezekiel 34:25 “I will make a covenant of peace with them, and rid the land of wild beasts so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forests in safety.”

Ezekiel was not describing a problem with actual wild animals. Chapter 34 of his book is an extended parable in which the Lord portrays his people as sheep, and their leaders as unfaithful shepherds. He promises to gather his scattered sheep himself. He promises to send them his servant David–that’s Jesus– to tend them properly. Now he pictures the results of his good shepherding for us.

For centuries the wild beasts who attacked his people had been false prophets of one sort or another. Their message destroyed faith and murdered souls. Many of them promoted a religion that tossed out some part of God’s law. Some served Baal, whose service not only ignored the sixth commandment. It even incorporated sexual perversions into their worship rites. Others offered Molech, for whom parents murdered their own children.

Even worse were the prophets who claimed to be speaking for the Lord. Most of them had chosen popularity and acceptance over truth. They would not confront the sins of God’s people. The preached a message that made the people feel good about themselves. “You haven’t done anything wrong. God is not angry about your behavior. You are his chosen people! You have no need to change. You have nothing to feel sorry about. Be at peace.”

The ironic thing about that kind of religion is that, for all its lawlessness, it is really a graceless religion. When people are told they are good enough just the way they are, the actually believe they can please God on their own. They don’t need grace. They don’t need forgiveness. They just need to make God happy. And since his law has been watered down, that isn’t hard to do.

The same wild beasts are at work today. Even inside Christian churches one finds “prophets” approving of sexual perversions, practicing them themselves, or proclaiming that it is acceptable to murder your own children before they are born. The worship of Baal and Molech continue in new clothes.

Others have chosen the path of popularity. They tell their people to feel good about themselves. “God will bless you if you just try a little harder. Here are a few secrets I have discovered to make it easier.” A part of us that wishes they were right. We envy their success. We may lack the courage to say they are wrong.

Yet what does the Lord promise his people through Ezekiel? “They may live in the desert and sleep in the forest in safety.” “They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid.” His sheep live in safety. He protects them. But how can he say that?

He has made a covenant of peace with them. When God sent his Son as the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. Jesus’ death on the cross took away the sins that cause our greatest safety concern: can I be safe with God? Since God forgives our sins, he is at peace with us. That’s his covenant. Though he is the only truly free being in all the universe, he has contractually bound himself to forgive us and give us peace. He feels no hostility toward us, and we are safe with him.

With the Lord, peace is so much more than the end of hostilities. It’s more than confidence he will not hurt us. When God is at peace with us, all of life begins to fall into place. That does not mean that everything becomes easy. It isn’t the end of all troubles. But by faith we cling to the certainty that the Lord is directing traffic and everything serves us now.

Perhaps the landscape has not been completely cleared of the wild beasts. But if we take these dangers seriously, he may even use them to bring us closer to him, like a frightened child who holds more tightly to mom or dad the closer the frightening thing comes. Godless governments can legislate, intimidate, even exterminate all the Christians they want. They have no jurisdiction over hearts and souls that belong to God’s spiritual kingdom. He protects his sheep. He protects and defends their faith until he brings them to complete safety in heaven.

The King Concealed

Luke 9:51-62  “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.”

I have been wearing eye-glasses since I was in the seventh grade, so maybe this is an experience you can relate to only if you wear glasses. Have you ever asked, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” and someone else responds, “You’re wearing them”? I remember a similar incident in a college Greek class. My professor was holding his Greek text in his hand and asking, “did anyone see where I put my book down?”

Sometimes things become so much a part of us that we don’t realize that they are there anymore. I have been looking at the world through glass lenses for so long that I sometimes forget that they are perched on top of my nose.

Something similar may happen to our spiritual eyesight over time. Many of us have been looking at Jesus and looking at his word through the eyes of faith for so long, that we can’t remember what it was like to look at him without that faith bringing things into focus. Faith has been such a part of our lives for so long that, in a sense,  we forget it’s there, and that without it we could not see.

So it is that we are befuddled by our Jewish friend who can read the same words in Isaiah 53 as we do, words  which describe Jesus’ suffering and death so clearly, to our way of thinking. But somehow he just doesn’t see it. Why doesn’t he get it? There is that neighbor or family member that we have been witnessing to for years. They seem to carry such misery around with them. So many of their problems are self-imposed. Maybe they have even accompanied us to church once or twice. Why can’t they see that Jesus is what they need?

The problem is that they aren’t looking through the miraculous lenses that allow us to see Jesus as he really is. The problem is that so much of who Jesus is lies hidden behind a very plain and ordinary human exterior.

It was no different when Jesus visibly walked through the streets of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. The King and Creator of the Universe lived here incognito. The Samaritans in our lesson could not see his divinity or his charity. All they could see was his nationality. Jesus was too human and too Jewish for them to welcome, and so they passed on the chance to host the single most powerful, most important, and most giving and gracious person in world history.

Even after the Spirit has fitted us with faith-tinted lenses, we have trouble making Jesus out. He doesn’t fit our expectations for heavenly royalty. We expect more as members of his court. Shouldn’t friends of the crown, even members of the royal family like us, find richer, easier, more trouble-free lives in this world? Shouldn’t they be given a little slack when it comes to the urgency of the work of God’s kingdom? Shouldn’t they receive more privileges, and more accommodation, when it comes to their earthly needs, and their earthly relationships? The three would-be disciples in our lesson all seemed to think so. They weren’t looking for following Jesus to get in the way of their earthly comforts or their family relationships.

But the Jesus who makes everything in life more comfortable, who makes every human relationship happier, is a false god who exists only the minds of those who can’t see the real thing. Following the real Jesus means a life of self-denial, and taking up your cross, not a life of self-indulgence on earth. Following Jesus means a life that often turns a man against his father and a daughter against her mother. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Those are his own words. Following the imaginary Jesus of ease and comfort and heaven-on-earth is a sin for which he calls us to repent.

The loving and gracious Savior who promises rest for the weary may be hard to see in the suffering Jesus whose followers suffer with him on earth. But hidden in Jesus’ own suffering is the unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness we seek. And hidden beyond our own suffering is a real heaven, not an earthly counterfeit, which Jesus will reveal at the proper time to those who continue to fix their eyes on him in faith. May Jesus himself continue to fix our focus.

Just Like Jesus

1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

For all the love that God lavishes on us now, we would not be satisfied if this were all there is, and God himself has promised us there is more to come. I find it interesting to think that as children in our earthly families, we spend our early lives at home, and we leave home when we grow up. But as children of God you and I have spent our entire existence away from home, and we are still waiting for the day when we see home for the first time. It’s almost as if this world were the hospital in which we were born, and the Lord hasn’t taken us home from the hospital yet. As we look forward to that day, we know God loves us as we anticipate what we will be.

Perhaps you have thought to yourself, “Shouldn’t being one of God’s own children make a bigger difference than I currently experience?” And the answer to that question is, “Yes, it makes a much bigger difference, but we have to wait for heaven to see completely what a difference it will make.”

John reminds us that what we will be has not yet been made known. That’s not to say we know nothing at all about the changes in store for God’s children when we reach heaven, only that the picture is still incomplete. Does that trouble you? I don’t think that it is hard to understand if we have ever tried to explain an experience to someone who has never seen anything like it before.

Years ago my wife and I read the “Little House” books to our daughter.  Every once in a while Laura Ingalls Wilder will describe some kitchen tool or piece of furniture we don’t use anymore, and my daughter would ask, “What is that?” Sometimes I’ve seen antiques like it and could explain. But as good as Wilder is at painting word pictures, sometimes I had to shrug my shoulders and admit, “I really can’t tell you what she’s talking about.”

What we will be like in heaven is a little that way. If the Lord tried to give us the details, we wouldn’t be able to understand them anyway. We may speculate about how our bodies will be changed. We would like our nose to be a little smaller, our ears to stick out a little less. We hope, perhaps, that a few of these pounds won’t follow us to heaven, and we are happy that we will be able to throw away our glasses and get rid of all our medications. We know we can look forward to some physical changes, though the Lord never goes into much detail about them. He considers it enough to tell us our bodies will be made imperishable.

But the changes which can fill us with even greater anticipation are those John hints at in the words that follow. “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We are God’s children. Jesus is God’s one and only Son. If we want to know what changes are in store for us in heaven, the best indication is to look at the family member already there. We will be like Jesus–perfect in purity, and perfect in love. That may not seem such a tantalizing existence to those who have never really wrestled with their sins or looked down the bottomless pit of their own corrupt human nature. But for us beginning to see how sin has infected and corrupted every feature of life, nothing could possibly hold out greater promise or appeal.

We will be perfectly pure like Jesus–no lost tempers, no petty self-pity, no secret indulgences: nothing to ever feel guilty for again! Even now, God may love me “just as I am without one plea,” but he loves us too lavishly to leave us that way. He won’t be finished with his children until they are all home in heaven. There we will look just like Jesus, and see him as he is.

A Place in His Heart

1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Now we are children of God. We won’t appreciate what that means unless we take a few moments to consider it for ourselves. First of all, the word “child” used in the Greek suggests an endearing relationship we have with God. Little children have some sort of direct line to grown-up hearts. When they are playful and happy their cheer tends to spread to us and give us pleasure. When they are threatened, we become very protective. When they are sick or in pain we are moved to compassion in an extraordinarily powerful way. How many times haven’t you seen pictures of adults suffering through some famine in some part of the world, and you were concerned? But then you saw the skinny little children with distended stomachs, and it next to breaks your heart!

We are God’s children. As such God has a special heart of concern for you and me. Your plight on earth moves him to deep compassion. David reminds us in Psalm 103, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

Those are beautiful words, and they’re not just empty sentiments. When God actually came and lived with us on earth, what do we find? When the man with leprosy comes to Jesus to be healed in Mark 1, Jesus is filled with compassion, and he heals him. When Jesus sees the crowds who have no spiritual guidance, no good shepherds, in Matthew 9, he has compassion on them. Then he prays for workers and he sends them his disciples.

When you are overwhelmed by anxiety as you stand next to your child’s hospital bed, as you stare at bills you don’t know how to pay, as you wait for test results from your doctor, as news of your spouse’s unfaithfulness knocks the wind out of you, as you fret about your children’s wandering ways, or as you grapple with the smothering loneliness that fills your life, you can be sure that help is on its way. You are the children of God, and your heavenly Father lavishes his love on you.

Actually Children of God

1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

John says that we are God’s children. Perhaps we don’t appreciate this more because we have forgotten what an astounding thing this is! We never appreciate something more than when we know what it is like not to have it. We value it most when we realize that we are sitting on top of a gift we don’t deserve.

Maybe some of you have had the experience I had when my parents had to sit me down and explain to me what a creep I was being on my birthday, only to surprise me with something later I never dreamed they would get me. Knowing life without it, and knowing you don’t deserve it, raise the level of appreciation.

Some of you know what it is like to live without the comfort that you are God’s children. God’s love in the gospel didn’t make its impact on your heart until you were somewhat older. But even if we are people who grew up singing and believing “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb,” there is a gap between our appearance and God’s promised reality that can help us appreciate even more what it means to be God’s children.

Children usually resemble their parents. It’s more than how they look. I have picked up mannerisms from my parents I once promised myself I would never do. For better or for worse, I see ways in which my children are taking after me.

If we are God’s children, how much do we take after the heavenly Father? How much do we look like his only-begotten Son? If anyone ever had reason to complain, “I am surrounded by idiots!” it was Jesus, don’t you think? The disciples could be so dull. But what did Jesus do? He didn’t insult them. He didn’t fire them. He might confront them, but he saw this as a teaching opportunity.  He taught the same lessons over and over again. How’s our patience?

If anyone ever had reason to say, “I’m burned out,” it was Jesus. Wouldn’t you agree? His 12 trainees required as much attention as they provided help. The crowds never let up, and with them it was “take, take, take,” without ever giving in return. “Jesus, help me! Jesus, heal me! Jesus, cleanse me!” The only way the poor man could find time pray was to carve time out of his sleep. But Jesus pressed on unswervingly in his mission. How is our dedication to serving others?

Examples could be multiplied. Are we picking up a strong family resemblance here? Or do you, like me, find that we don’t look so much like the children God says we are? Would it be perfectly understandable if the Father were to hang his head in disappointment, turn his back, and deny that he ever knew us?

Now listen again to John’s words, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” God calls us his children. Then, just in case we might get the idea this is nothing but a polite lie, John assures us, “That is what we are!” When God says something is so, then it is so, no matter how it looks, no matter what anybody else may think. If you or I were to say that the sky is yellow, that would not change the fact that it is blue. But if God were to say that it is yellow, then it would be yellow, no matter how it looks and no matter how much the rest of the world might object.

So God declares that we are his children. Though we may not look like his children, though we may not fit the common definitions of what it means to be someone’s children, his declaration here has a basis. You know very well what he did to make us his children. It emphasizes that much more how lavishly he loves us. He made his natural Son–the one who looked like his Son, and acted like his Son, because he was his only begotten Son–he made Jesus first join our family, and look like one of us. Even more, in the Father’s eyes he looked so much like us that when he was kind and loving, it looked to the Father as though we were kind and loving. When we were mean and nasty, it looked to the Father as though his Son were mean and nasty. So he had him executed for our sins on the cross. This was not just a case of mistaken identity. It was a case of exchanged identity. It was God’s loving way of dealing with our sins and forgiving them. It makes us sure that John’s statement is true: we are the children of God.

Four Pictures of a Shepherd

1 Peter 5:2-3 “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

There are four things to point out in Peter’s directions. First is the general picture of leadership: “Be shepherds of God’s flock.” A shepherd is a dear picture of the kind of care our Savior wants us to receive. He uses it as a picture of his own love and care for us. It involves feeding and nourishing people, defending and protecting them, seeking them when they are lost, and leading them in the right direction. Having a shepherd isn’t about having a boss and being told what to do. It is about having someone always watching out for you and being loved.

That is at least a partial reply to those who don’t have much use for churches or pastors. A woman who hadn’t attended church for many years once said to me, “I don’t have to go to church to praise the Lord.” It is true, you can do it at home. But you are only cutting yourself off from the loving care and attention God wants his people to be given. It means not hearing that you are the dear child God has always loved, and forgiven, and gave his Son to save. “Be shepherds,” Peter tells the elders. That means he wants us to be shepherded, too.

One reason people may not understand that may be a failure of many shepherds to follow the second godly direction Peter offers: “not because you must, but because you are willing.” Serving God as pastor is not a rule, an obligation, a burden he has laid on the backs of some poor unfortunate souls. It is a joyful response to his grace. It’s an opportunity to return some love to the one who loved us all the way to the cross. It is an evangelical task, not a legal one.

If a man doesn’t see it that way, he might view himself as the police sent to keep the unruly citizens in check. He might end up like Jonah who preached God’s wrath and destruction to the people of Nineveh, then was disappointed when God relented and didn’t send the destruction he threatened. We may need a little pulpit pounding from time to time. Hard hearts may call for some fire and brimstone. But the last word never belongs to God’s rules or threats. It always belongs to the grace of God that makes hearts willing.

Third, serving in the ministry is never a mere means for making a living: “not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” I appreciate the salary I receive for being a pastor. It allows me to take care of my family and offer my services to more people. But it’s not the reason I do the work. Nor should making money be the main reason for any of the jobs God calls us to do. I once asked a Bible class, “From a Christian point of view, what is the reason for having a business?” Most people answered, “To make money.” No, God created a world in which we can create businesses so that we can offer a product or service to our neighbor. A business is a way to love my neighbor. The money simply makes it possible to keep the business open so that we can offer our services full time.

The same applies to the ministry. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “It is God’s will that those who preach the gospel should earn their living from the gospel.” But this is not a money-making venture. It is a service, and shepherds who take that to heart would work for free if their circumstances allowed them to do so.

Finally, Peter gives godly direction regarding methods: “not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock.” Remember when James and John came to Jesus, and they asked him for the positions of power at his right and left hand, because they were power hungry? When the whole group became angry (not because James and John asked for these positions, but because they had the gumption to ask before the rest of them thought to do so) Jesus had to remind them all, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…Not so with you.” Jesus doesn’t call disciples, or shepherds, to create little dictatorships ruling over little kingdoms with an iron fist. That’s the pagan way of doing business.            

Peter expects the shepherd to lead by example. Shepherds need to practice what they preach. That’s what the Chief Shepherd did. Jesus says he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” They called him Lord and Master, but he was the one who stripped down to his underclothes and washed his disciple’s feet. For pastors today, being shepherds means that the sermon they preach with their lives Monday through Saturday is at least as important as the one preached Sunday morning. As God’s people, we are wise to pay attention to both messages.

Qualified Sources

I Peter 5:1 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s suffering, and one who will share in the glory to be revealed.”

Have you ever been frustrated by someone who had a theoretical knowledge of how something was supposed to work, but had never actually gotten his hands dirty in real life? Maybe it’s the tech support person working off his script, telling you your computer couldn’t possibly be doing what it’s doing right now. Perhaps you become exasperated with the know-it-all friend who once read a book about gardening or car repair. He dishes out advice, but he has never had any dirt or grease under his fingernails.

Peter was not that person. He wasn’t an ivory tower academic. He had years of experience caring for God’s people. He was a fellow elder who had spent his time in the trenches preaching, teaching, and leading congregations.

Peter’s qualifications suggest two things about our pastors today: they speak with both an authority, and a humility. They speak with an authority because the Apostle Peter regards them as fellow elders. They are colleagues with Jesus’ apostles in the same line of work. Sometimes Christians are tempted to dismiss what their pastors says. “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re just a man, no better than me.” True, pastors and elders have no claim of moral superiority. We are all aware of horrific scandals in which some clergy have become involved. In our church, the pastor confesses his sins each Sunday right alongside the rest of the congregation. Like you, pastors sin real sins, not theoretical ones. They need a real Savior, not just a theoretical one, too.

That doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has called your pastor to speak for him, just like he did Peter. Men called into the ministry are fellow elders. They have been deputized to uncover sin and apply grace just as Peter did, just as Jesus did. If we accept Peter as a qualified source of biblical truth and godly guidance, we ought to regard our pastors and elders that way, too–so long as they stick to the standard of Scripture itself.

Speaking of Scripture, Peter has something to say about the reliability of his message. He was also “a witness of Christ’s suffering.” Like Matthew, Mark, John, and James, Peter was not reporting things he had researched or been told. In his second letter he says it again, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses…” Jesus also promised his disciples the Holy Spirit to guide them in their preaching and writing, but Peter had heard Jesus message from Jesus’ own lips. He saw Jesus’ life with his own eyes. He was qualified to pass Jesus’ words and wisdom on to us in every way.

The man who serves as your pastor can’t claim to be an eyewitness in the same way. But he preaches the same message. It’s true that almost 2000 years have passed since Peter put this down on paper. Sometimes people have the idea that the Bible has gone through all kinds of changes because this all happened so long ago. Like the line in my favorite story, The Lord of the Rings, for them “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth.”

But what might seem legend and myth to some is still history. No book from antiquity has been as carefully copied and passed down to us as the Bible. The manuscripts of the New Testament we have in our hands were copied closer to the actual events than almost any other book in history. When your pastors preach on these pages, you are still getting the eyewitness accounts from the qualified sources who first saw and experienced Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

An Everlasting Love

Jeremiah 31:3 The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

I try to tell my wife often that I love her. But rarely do I say it in public. I can’t think of the last time that I said it when anyone else was listening. It’s not that I am embarrassed for people to know. I agree wholeheartedly with the words Luther said about his wife Katy: “When I look at all the women of the world, I find none of whom I could boast as I boast with joyful conscience of my own. This one God himself gave to me, and I know that he and all the angels are pleased when I hold fast to her in love and faithfulness.”

It’s not that I am embarrassed for others to know, nor do I have any doubts. But like other displays of affection, there is something inside of me that tells me this belongs to private moments between us, a few exceptions granted.

If your sensibilities are anything like mine, then maybe some of our Lord’s expressions of love and affection toward us are almost enough to make you blush. These words in Jeremiah sound almost like the kind of thing you might hear in a pop-song or between two infatuated teens, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

And God himself is not afraid to use the passion of romantic love to describe and illustrate the fervor of his love for us. We are all familiar with the many places in Scripture– Song of Songs, Isaiah 61, Hosea, many of Jesus’ parables, Ephesians 5, Revelation 19– in which he uses weddings and brides and grooms to describe his love for you and me. God’s love for us is not a dry, intellectual, or theoretical thing. It burns with an intensity that is evident in the Flood, the Exodus, the Babylonian Captivity, and ultimately, at the Cross. His holy jealousy, his unwavering devotion, and his willingness literally to die for us all tell us that he loves us dearly, and deeply.

Of course, God is not our valentine. His love for us far transcends what we think of as romantic love. Like a parable, there is a point of comparison to be gleaned from the comparison between God’s love for us and a man’s love for a woman. Then we should be careful not to take the parallels too far. It is an irony of human romantic love that it inspires the word “forever” so often, but it is the least likely kind of love to last anything approaching “forever.” People like James Dobson and Gary Chapman tell us that human infatuation lasts between 18 months and two years. After that there had better be another kind of love to keep the relationship going.  People will love their husbands or wives when they get to heaven, but we will be like the angels, and that love will not be “romance.”

Even at its best, our love for God often resembles an unsteady infatuation, and in Hosea 6 he complains, “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like a morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” (Hosea 6:4)

But, as Jeremiah reminds us, God loves us with an everlasting love. In all its facets, in all its benefits, God’s love is eternal. Not only did the Lord appear to us in the past and tell us he loved us. Our election in eternity reminds us that God’s love for us, like God himself, has no beginning. God has always loved you, not just as long as you have existed. There has never been a “when” God didn’t love you.

God’s love for us will never know an end. When he says, “I have drawn you with loving kindness,” the word used has a nuance meaning “mercy” or “faithful love,” a kind of love God must have for us since our fall into sin. Not only has this love wooed our hearts to faith, but it also assures us that God’s love will survive and overcome our lovelessness, and that he will still love us long after time itself has come to an end.

Jeremiah shared these words with people who were facing starvation, death, defeat and exile–the worst that life could do to them. May we find God’s everlasting love to be a lifeline for our own faith, no matter what life may bring.