Thursday, September 19, 2019
   
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God Loves Us; God Longs for Us

A short history of Valentines Day

How did Valentine's Day begin? Legend has it that it started in the time of the Roman Empire. Here are some of the origins of the celebration which has evolved into Valentine's Day as we know it.

In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday in honor of Juno, Queen of the gods and the patroness of women and marriage. The following day, February 15, began the Feast of Lupercalia—a chance for Roman children, normally kept strictly separated, to meet. The boys would each choose a girl's name from a vase. The boy would then partner with the girl he had chosen for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing would last an entire year, and often the couple fell in love and married.

 

Now shift gears to a later date. Under the rule of Claudius II, Rome became involved in many bloody and unpopular military campaigns. Claudius the Cruel, as he was known, had some difficulty raising the armies he needed. (No wonder, with a name like that.) For example, he believed that as married men, his soldiers would want to stay at home with their families rather than go to war, and so to combat this, he forbade his soldiers from marrying or becoming engaged. An Italian bishop, Valentine, defied the Emperor's decree, and performed clandestine marriage ceremonies. This ticked off the Emperor when he found out. Bishop Valentine was eventually arrested, imprisoned and put to death on February 14, 270; and was later declared a saint by the Catholic church.

As Christianity's influence grew in the Roman Empire, Lupercalia was renamed in honor of Saint Valentine, in recognition of his sacrifice for love. The pagan connotations of love and fertility, however, have endured, and remain to this day.

Here are a few other interesting bits and pieces:

  • In 496 A.D., St. Valentine's Day was declared a day of feasting by Pope Gelasius.
  • The first Valentine was thought to be sent in 1415 by a captured French knight in London, to his wife in France, after the Battle of Ag-in-court.
  • Women, during the 1700s, hoping to dream of their perfect lover, would remove the yolk from a hard-boiled egg, fill it with salt, and eat it all—shell included! (I think that sounds more like a nightmare.)
  • During the 19th century, the English would choose the first person they met on February 14 as their Valentine. (What do you think—was there some planned spontaneity on those days?)
  • America was the first country to really establish flowers as gifts on Valentine's Day.
  • The name "Cupid" comes from the Latin word for desire. The Greeks call this god "Eros" (E-ross), the god of love.
  • The apple is sacred to Venus, the Roman goddess of love. It has long been associated with love divination.
  • In Italy, there is an old tradition for a single woman to awaken before sunrise to keep a lookout for any man to pass her window. (On Valentine's Day?) It was believed that she would marry this man, or someone similar, within that year. (The result was, guys stopped walking in the morning after that—unless, of course, they knew where the one they loved lived.)
  • The old country name for the daisy is measure of love, and it is still one of the most popular love tests. Pick off the white petals of the flower one by one while saying alternatively, "he loves me," "he loves me not." The last petal will supposedly reveal the truth.

1999 NZCity Ltd.

 


Well, I like the idea that Saint Valentine's Day was the renaming of a pagan holiday in recognition of a sacrifice for love made by an Italian bishop who defied the Emperor's decree and performed clandestine marriage ceremonies for soldiers who were forbidden from marrying. (You have to like a day like that.) Most of us understand, however, that Valentine's Day can be a day to be pursued, ignored, or even rejected. The day reminds us that some people have growing relationships that are wonderful expressions of love. Others know, however, what it means to pursue or love someone, only to have that person show no interest, and maybe even scorn. Such terms as rejected, refused, cut, shunned, rebuffed, and snubbed come to mind. Love can be very painful if our feelings for another are rejected or ignored.

We want to focus here on the origin of love and the greatest display of love ever shown. Of course we are talking about The Love and Longing of God for all humankind. God's love is the ultimate pursuit, sacrifice and expression, and yet it is still rejected and/or ignored by so many in our world today. Why is that?

Throughout history, it is surprising to see how so many have turned down and even spurned God's overt and obvious displays of love. A wonderful example of God's love is found in an Old Testament phrase: "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you"—Isaiah 30:18. The word "longs" holds in tension both the desire to do us good and the frustration of our resistance.

I hear that same frustration and love in Jesus' words, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matt. 23:37).

Early one morning I walked to the church. When I got there it was snowing and pretty cold outside. I went into the church and prayed; as I was about to leave, I noticed a guy kind of huddled by the front door eating out of a knapsack, his hands shaking because of the cold. When I left, I greeted him and asked if he wanted to come inside and get warm. He said no. So I asked him if he was working or living in the area and a few other simple questions. He looked at me and said, "I don't want to talk. And then he tossed a few expletives my way and told me to go to (that warm place). Obviously he didn't need my help and wanted me out of his life quickly!

The main question I want us to ask is, how are we relating to the love and longing expressed by God?

  • Have we taken it seriously?
  • As God looks over our life, is He still longing to be gracious to some of us?
  • Is God still longing to gather some of us under His protection and love?
  • Is He frustrated at our response because we are not willing to come to Him?

For a moment, try to put yourself in God's place. Maybe you know something about stretching yourself to help certain people and then watching them turn on you. Maybe today, as the result of loving and trying to help someone, your heart is raw and tender because your efforts and love were rebuffed.

Weve all had those kind of experiences, some more hurtful than others. You may continue to long to help certain individuals, but for now, they are uninterested in any help you might offer. Maybe you wonder if anyone knows how much you hurt after being rejected. I think we can all take great comfort in the fact that Someone's love and longing to help far exceeds our efforts. We need to be reminded how much our reaching out in love pales in comparison to God's love for us.

 

God's Longing and Love for Us

How big and lasting is God's love for us? It is astonishing when another's love and longing surpasses our own capacity. In fact, His are greater and holier yearnings than anything we have ever offered or seen. His love far exceeds any human love when he says He longs to be gracious to us (Is. 30:18) and He longs to gather us together as children (Matt. 23:37). His longing is an expression of love that cannot be measured, and therefore, He won't turn His back on us even if we are indifferent to Him! In fact, His longing, unlike ours, comes from a selfless love, not from any need on His part.

Remember, God is complete in Himself, but when He created people He opened a door of pain and longing! Dame Julian, a 14th century contemplative, said that just as God is a God of compassion and pity, He is a God of thirst and longing. I think she is right. In an amazing display of longing, God has taken the initiative to make Himself known over and over again! Why doesn't He give up?

He must make Himself known because He is invisible, infinite, eternal, and divine. Humanity can't know God unless He makes Himself known. That's why God demonstrates the enormity of His love and longing. He says in Isaiah 65:1-2,

"I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.' All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations."

 

God's Self-Revelation

God reveals Himself in countless ways, but I think we might focus on three general categories: creation, metaphors, and stories.

 

God reveals Himself in creation

The sun and moon are two faithful witnesses to the God who wants to be known, part of God's diverse and profuse communication with humanity. He sows planets and stars in space like so many crops on earth. The picture we get of God from nature is incomplete, but every hill and valley, every detail or horizon, whether bleak or beautiful, reveals something of Him.

Everywhere, God is trying to startle us awake that we might see Him. If when we look at creation all we see is a process, we are missing a very special revelation of the person of God. In fact, the Scriptures say God formed the heavens and the earth with man in mind:

 

"For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: 'I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in darkness; I have not said to Jacob's descendants, Seek me in vain'"—Is. 45: 18-19.
God's primary intent, then, is to reveal Himself: not to hide or withdraw but to speak. Does it make sense that God would put in man the need for Himself and then retreat to a dark corner of an impossible maze? No! In His essential nature, God is a communicator. One writer has said, "Everywhere, a longing God attempts to unfold some glory of Himself in small glories that our finite minds can receive"—Jean Fleming, Discipleship Journal, July/August 1995, Issue 88, pp. 18-22.

God has shown His love and longing for us in creation in very special ways.

 

Romans 1:19-20—...what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
We have no excuse for not seeing God in creation. What amazing communication this is! Think of it—God is showing Himself to us in ways we can see and understand.

As we have seen already, however, man has rejected and even marred this clear presentation in creation—God's valentine has been rejected by so many:

  • Through sin
  • Through pollution we humans ruin the air and the environment
  • Through greed and waste we have marred God's beautiful displays of His qualities in animate and inanimate creation
The rejection of God has caused the problem uncovered in Romans 8:19.

 

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. [Why this eagerness for believers to be revealed at the end of time?] 20] For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that 21] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22] We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Speaking about this verse, Ray Stedman said,
Paul is saying that creation is linked with man. Creation fell with man, the apostle declares. Not only did our whole race fall into the bondage of sin and death, as the earlier chapters of Romans explain, but the entire physical universe fell as well. It was man's sin that put thorns on roses. It was man's sin that made the animals hate and fear each other and brought predators and carnivores into being. With the fall of man came the spreading fear, hostility, and hatred in the animal world, and the whole of nature testifies to this fact. It is, as Paul describes it here, subjected to frustration.

He also speaks about "the bondage to decay."

...it is a very accurate description of what scientists call the second law of thermodynamics. This is the law of infinite increase of entropy. Everything is decaying; everything, with no exception, is running down. Though for awhile something may seem to grow, eventually it dies. Even human life dies, and so does all that is with it. All of this is because of the fall of man.
I am most moved by the fact that God puts aside His dignity and reveals Himself in the most ordinary kinds of things. Think of how God has lowered Himself to speak to us! He also expresses His love and longing in terms that are concrete and familiar to us, so the truth will be accessible to our limited, human minds.

 

God reveals Himself in metaphors

He is like a father who stoops to look his toddler in the eye—to talk to us. We might say, God considers our limitations and designs His speech accordingly! For example, He interprets and explains Himself in numerous similes, metaphors, and analogies. Does it strike you as funny, as well as touch you deeply, that God would tell us He is like a chicken, a gardener, a nursing mother, or a rock? Other metaphors are:

 

  • the bread of life—John 6:35
  • the light of the world—John 8:12
  • the door of the sheep—John 10:7
  • the good Shepherd—John 10:14
  • the way—John 14:6
  • the true vine—John 15:1
  • the rock—1 Sam. 22:32
  • the stone of stumbling—1 Pet. 2:8
  • the chief cornerstone—1 Pet. 2:6
  • the fountain of living waters—Jer. 17:13
  • the bride—Is. 54:5; 2 Cor. 11:2
  • the Lamb of God—John 1:29
  • the gift of God...."—John 4:10
  • the first and the last—Rev. 1:17b,18
  • the author and finisher of our faith—Heb. 12:2
  • the everlasting Father—Isaiah 9:6 The prince of peace—Isaiah 9:6

I suppose a fourth-century believer was right when he said, "Because God cannot tell us what He is, He very often tells us what He is like"—Athanasius. The psalmist stretches metaphors almost to the breaking point when he writes, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart"—Ps. 91:4.

It would be ludicrous, even blasphemous, to say that God is a bird or a shield, but God gives us verbal pictures of Himself that only imperfectly represent Him, so that we might know Him.

 

God reveals Himself in stories—yes, stories.

Narratives fill the pages of the Bible. It makes perfect sense; everyone knows that a good story often hooks a listener sometimes better than a great speech. God is the ultimate storyteller, and His stories explode with tremendous force. Just think about the stories He's woven for us.

 

The prodigal son—a story of waste, purposelessness, jealousy...and love— Luke 15:11-32. Hosea and Gomer, a tale of colossal failure and restoration (Hosea)
one tells a story about a rebellious child the other about an unfaithful spouse
Relevant topics for any generation
a restless, angry son throws away a good life at home and ends up eating with the pigs a wife with insatiable lust strikes out on her own and finds herself used and mistreated
Both are common stories. But don't miss the uncommon figure in each of these stories; it is the heartbroken father and the wronged husband who play God's part.

 

To illustrate something of His desire for us, God commanded Hosea to marry a woman unworthy of him. What a plot! Why would God ever ask Hosea to do this? Gomer was unloving, ungrateful, and unfaithful. Hosea, on the other hand, loved and provided for her even though she was hell-bent on looking elsewhere for love. Despite her frantic promiscuity, God told Hosea an amazing thing: "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other Gods"—Hosea 3:1.

One author said: "This is the account of a real woman on a self-destructive slide, a woman ravaged and dissipated by loose living, a woman staggering in the muck and mire of poor choices. ("A God Who Wants to be Found," Jean Fleming, Discipleship Journal, July/August 1995, Issue 88, pp. 18-22.) Gomer, a shell of the woman she could have been, is bought out of prostitution by her husband and taken home again as his wife.

So look at both stories together. Neither Gomer nor the prodigal son could see how good they had it at home. Some craving within drove them away from the protection and love of a good home and healthy relationships. Though these might seem extreme examples to some, they aren't to many who are away from God. For all of us, however, both of these stories represent the human condition, the side of us that is unsatisfied, restless, driven by some sense that life is better on the other side of the fence. We all tend to ask, "Am I missing something?"

The high point of these stories is that just when we might expect God to throw in the towel and walk away, His son returns asking His father for forgiveness. Then the father runs to his son, falls on his neck with kisses, and kills a fatted calf for a dinner celebration. Where are the recriminations, the retaliation, the vengeance? Where is the "I told you so," or the "I've had it with you;" "you've gone too far, I can't help you now." How about, "Serves you right?" No, God wants Gomer bought out of slavery and made a bride again.

What are we to make of these stories? God's longing and love could leave some embarrassed for Him, saying, "I don't want God to make a fool of Himself over Gomer or a delinquent young man. I don't want to see Him standing there with red, swollen eyes, or an aching lump in His throat."

And then He turns those red eyes toward us. He puts the robe around our shoulders. And slips the ring on our fingers. And turns us toward home.

Mark it down: in these dramas, God is there even when a person is trying to find satisfaction in illegitimate ways. He says, in essence, to the wayward son: "I give you what you want, but I will engineer the circumstances so that after you have spent everything, you will end up in such a terrible place you will come to yourself."

So God was there when a severe famine hit; when the prodigal was hungry and needed a job; to make sure the son was offered the lowest of all jobs for a Jew—to work with pigs; and when he came to his senses (and) said, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father..."—Luke 15:17-18.

So God was there to say of Gomer, "Therefore I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way... She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them"—Hosea 2:6, 7a. All this that she might say, "I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now"—Hosea 2:7b.

God's presence and longing, as well as our longing, is found in these stories of agonizing loss. We will eventually realize that good things and good circumstances cannot fill our yearning either. Incredible as it sounds, the good life actually stirs the fires of longing as powerfully as hard times, because they make clear that we have not found what we are longing for. We race after lovers, wealth, power, and freedom, and we find emptiness.

Perhaps you are bruised, and stripped of all you thought you wanted or needed; your life is missing something deep inside whether you have much or little. Any situation is designed to bring you to the end of yourself, to bring you to your senses, to turn you around. God loves you and longs to throw you a party celebrating making your way home to Him!


Conclusion:


It seems that God will try almost anything to get our attention and get us home to him. One January day I had a very interesting experience that illustrates that truth.

It was about 6:30 in the morning, and I was standing and praying next to the fence around the church playground, praying out loud for people to come to know the Lord. Right in the middle of my prayer I heard this loud noise to my left—someone was jumping out of the turret in the children's climber! He looked like the abominable snowman, because he was wearing a coat with the hood tied around his head.

It turned out he was a 20-year-old who had been told he couldn't stay at home because he hadn't finished treatment for substance abuse. He had found this place to sleep overnight, and just as I was praying, he jumped out of the climber. After a period of time I was able to get him on the bus so he could go to the mission (I didn't have my car; I had walked). Later I drove to the mission and took him to breakfast. We had a great conversation; I gave him the Power to Change book.

Later I called his mom. She has attended our church, was exercising tough love toward her son, and was so grateful that I was there to speak to him. I got to be God's representative to remind this young man of the logical consequences of his action. I was able to tell him about the pigpen ahead, that God loved him, and that he couldn't make it without the Lord and the Lord's kids!

As someone has said, the harvest is so plentiful it is falling off trees.

God may have brought you to this site today to remind you of His love and longing for you. He is a waiting Father, doing whatever is necessary to get your attention. He has used creation. He has expressed Himself in incomplete, but meaningful metaphors. He has come to you as the Master storyteller to tell you that you need to submit your life to Him and that Jesus Christ is the way to Him.

I'm here to tell you to heed His call to you today, or wait. If you wait, the circumstances will become more difficult and the cost higher, because He loves you and longs to give you what He has planned for you for eternity. It comes, however, as we acknowledge our sinfulness, our need of Him, and purpose to follow Him wholeheartedly the rest of our lives.

If you think you will be good enough to make it, you are mistaken. The Bible says, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23); there is none righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:10).

In summary, this is what we have learned about God's love and longing for us.

  • He has shown fragments of Himself in every imaginable way—creation, metaphors and wonderful stories—in the Scripture and stories of those who are followers today!
  • Our God waits by the fence, or by the pigpen, to help you home.
  • There is no end to the things He'll try, to move you toward home!
  • But He will not force you; the choice and the consequences are yours.
What will it be?

 

Lord, Your longing takes me by surprise and moves me. You want me to know You, but You never loom or blare. You come quietly, gently, softly, delivering parcels of Yourself and drawing me into Your presence. Forgive me. I have such trouble looking beyond my own longing to see Yours. Open my heart to Your longing, O God; open my heart to your will and way through Jesus Christ!

On Your Own

Picture This

The Bible paints word pictures to help us understand what God is like and how He wants to relate to us. What word pictures do you find in the following verses? What does each communicate about God?

 

  1. Deuteronomy 32:10-12
  2. Psalm 18:2
  3. Isaiah 25:4
  4. Isaiah 40:11
  5. John 1:1
  6. John 6:35
  7. John 15:1-2

Ask a friend to do this exercise with you, then share with each other a time when God revealed Himself to you both in one of the ways described above.