For far too many, God is “the Big Man Upstairs;” a cold, detached, remote deity in the sky. As a result, our lifeless devotion often follows a similar trajectory. Cold. Detached. Uninterested. Lukewarm love satisfies no one. But, what if rather than being a distant, dispassionate Clockmaker, God is actually the most passionate Being in the universe. In the words of author Tim Chester, “People often talk about what they feel about God. Hosea tells us what God feels about us.” Through the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet Hosea, we get the full range of God’s heartbeat on display. Relying on images of marriage and family, God leverages the real life story of Hosea and his unfaithful spouse, Gomer, to reveal His jealousy, commitment, heartbreak, enthusiasm and compassionate pursuing love that gets the final word. After all, it's the revelation of His white hot consuming passion that stirs our passion in reply: our jealousy for God, our commitment to Him, our heartbreak over sin, our enthusiasm to serve, and our love for the lost. God’s heart sets our tepid hearts on fire. In this new year, let’s feast on the all-consuming passion of God for us and His world.
Moving deeper into the Hosea storyline, the focus shifts from Hosea's children to his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Through her storyline of promiscuity and running into the arms of other gods, God reveals His Husband heart toward Israel as a fickle bride. Rightly stated, God is jealous for the exclusive love and affection of His people. But contrary to human jealousy which is often based on fear, paranoia and petty insecurity, God's jealousy is rooted in His holy zeal for what is rightfully His in relationship. The more we learn about fickle Gomer and unfaithful Israel, the more we see our patterns of wandering that break the heart of God. Our sin is not just about breaking the law. It's even more fundamentally about breaking His heart.
The first chapter of Hosea introduces us to this bizarre, unorthodox and compelling story about a man named Hosea and the calling God has for his family. In the opening lines, we learn that God calls an ordinary man living in opulent times to enact in his family the gospel of grace... even when everything in his gut screams no. This week, we will explore the Hosea storyline and these introductory components (an ordinary man, opulent times, family and grace). In doing so, we are hoping to discover in visceral ways the way that God feels about us. Our lives will only be able to shift from observation to participation in the Kingdom of God when we are consumed by the eternal, infinite fire of the passion of God for us.
Join us as we take a look back at 2018, celebrate God’s grace among us and look forward to what lies ahead in the coming year.
In the story of the birth of Jesus, the main point is the incarnation. John tell us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, the eternal son of God- called the Word- moved into the neighborhood.
But when the Word sounds forth, when the Word comes to earth, He echoes off His people. Meaning, every single character in Luke’s gospel, when they catch a glimpse of God’s saving work in Jesus, all respond in poetry. They sing. They prophesy. They poetically can’t contain themselves. And it just come out… over and over and over again. First, with Mary. She sings what’s called “The Magnificat.” Then old man Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. When his lips are finally re-opened, he sings his prophecy. Next the angels are singing, “Glory to God in the highest.” And then finally, the holy man Simeon in the temple. He blesses God verbally too. In our Bibles, all their echoes are marked with indented italics. Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon. The Word becomes flesh, and they reply. And now, the Word becomes flesh and we reply. Borrowing the words of the carol, we “echo back our joyous strains.” So that in looking at these echoes, we discover more about the heart of Advent and the preparation work we get to do this season. This is the echo of Advent.
As Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the Jerusalem temple for dedication, this young couple finds themselves face to face with an elderly man named Simeon. As he takes the Christ child in his arms, he too breaks out in blessing and praise. Simeon's song reminds us that there are two ways to hold the Savior in our arms: for ourselves and for others. Even though his song of praise is marked by personal celebration for the fulfillment of God's plan through years of waiting, he also celebrates God's saving inclusion of the Gentiles. This song provides the powerful reminder that Advent makes missionaries because true love always extends itself toward the other. In the spirit of Christmas, may we too be a missionary people.
So far in this series, we have heard about Advent through the songs of Mary and Zechariah- both human characters on the ground in the midst of the story. This week, as we move into the 3rd week of Advent, we are given the perspective of the angels in Luke 2. Instead of getting the perspective of a mother or priestly extended family member, we get the cosmic perspective of Christmas. The angels declare good news of great joy to the shepherds and then an entire collection of heavenly hosts break out into the song of "The Gloria." This song, while being short and familiar, actually provides details on the meaning of life and the way it best works. These angels make a declaration of joy by connecting peace and proper glory. It's a message that touches our deepest longings and our everyday glory story. May the Spirit use it to rekindle our songs of joy.
The Advent season is all about the coming of God’s Son. In light of His first coming, the present and His return, we are called to approach Advent with a posture of preparation. But it is so easy, especially this time of year, to miss out on God. We are not as ready for Advent as we might think. This week, as we dig into the story and song of Zechariah, we are reminded that it's possible to be at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing and still miss what God is doing? Some of our lack of preparation comes from missing the point of the story. Some of our lack of preparation comes from being mastered by the darkness of the story. Either way, we need a voice to come and help us become a people prepared for the Lord- to level the way for us to receive God's saving work among us. Zechariah's "Benedictus" helps us get our eyes off us ourselves and back on God, while also pointing to the hope of sunrise in the darkness.
When people typically focus on Mary and her story, the phrase is often used, "Mary, meek and mild." Yet much of that has more to do with our carols and our art than the Bible. When you come to Mary's "Magnificat" in Luke 1, her words are anything but tame. This is not "Mary, meek and mild." This is Mary, "subversive and wild." Her song is not a lullaby, but a battle cry. Advent is subversive and so is Mary's song. Through her words in Luke 1:46-55, Mary reminds us that Advents subverts our timing and our treasure because it challenges our waiting and our wanting. Come enter the Advent season through the words of Mary's song.
On the evening of the first Easter Sunday, Jesus invaded the locked room of his fearful disciples and issued a world-changing proclamation: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And with a few simple words, Jesus commissioned his disciples to a new way of life – a life where the extraordinary and the ordinary collide. Every follower of Jesus is supernaturally invited to join the Missio Dei (the mission of God) whereby everything in heaven and earth is joined together under Jesus as Head. But, as followers of Jesus, they are called to do it in the way of Jesus. Most people gravitate toward the extraordinary out of a desire to be great. And few embrace anything ordinary. Yet when Jesus called His disciples to a sent life as the Father had sent Him, this includes a lot of normal, everyday activity. This fall we are going to explore the extraordinary/ordinary ways of Jesus. How did the Father send the Son? As a newborn baby. With 30 years of obscurity. With love for the stranger. With lots of meals with unexpected guests. With hospitality. With celebration. In an empire. With racial reconciliation. By the power of the Holy Spirit. Our sending as the people of God is no different.
As we near the end of this series, we are going to circle back to the place where we started: in the room, behind locked doors with the disciples on the first Easter evening. When we opened this series many weeks ago, we did so by listening to Jesus words of sending for his disciples. "As the Father sent Me, even so I am sending you." Which launched us into a conversation about the extraordinary/ordinary ways of Jesus- hospitality, table meals, celebration, reconciliation, work and the like. However, the first time we went through John 20, I intentionally stopped the story at verse 21. The rest of the story is essential, because within it, we discover our only hope to ever live this kind of life: the Holy Spirit. After speaking his words of sending, Jesus breathes on the disciples and calls them to "Receive the Holy Spirit." This week, as cycle back to John 20, we will explore how we are to engage the Holy Spirit as the power, source and non-negotiable Helper to our everyday. Unfortunately, so many in the church have walked away confused or discouraged about the One who is meant to be our primary spiritual assurance. The Holy Spirit has been given to catalyze our Extraordinary/Ordinary.
In 1 John 3:8, we learn that "the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." Such language often triggers images of exorcism, possession and demonology. However, in addition to extraordinary spiritual warfare (which has its place), there is another facet to spiritual warfare that looks and sounds very ordinary. In the life and ministry of Jesus, we find numerous battles that take place in simple, understated and everyday ways. This week, by examining Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, we are able to discover the battle lines surrounding our daily, ordinary battles: the undermining of identity, temptation, truth distortions, and shortcuts. As followers of Jesus, this is the extraordinary ordinary battle of spiritual warfare that we never grow past.
As a church that is primarily comprised of white, upper/middle class Americans, we often need to be reminded that Jesus was neither white nor American. When the Father chose to send His Son to redeem the world, He did so as a 1st century Middle Eastern Jewish Messiah. And, as the Lamb from Revelation 7 who is worshipped around the throne, Jesus has come for a bride that is from every nation, tongue, tribe and language. Therefore, as people who follow Jesus, we too have been sent with a ministry of reconciliation. This week, we will learn from Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well from John 4 and talk about what it looks like to pursue extraordinary/ordinary reconciliation. Issues of race stand at the core of the gospel message and can't be ignored.
In a fast-paced, hyper-technological world, our lives spin ever faster. And amidst that culture, the church is in danger of losing one of its greatest gifts: the ministry of presence. The great writers of our faith talk endlessly about the rare ability to bring the best of who you are, offering oneself fully through attentive availability. Though often overlooked, one's ministry of presence hits at the heart of our common humanity. This week, we will explore Jesus' ministry of presence through his interaction with Mary and Martha around the death of their beloved brother, Lazarus. Not only has He saved us from our sins, but Jesus invites us to follow in His ways. This involves a beautiful balance of being present to the Father in such a way that allows us to be fully present to others.
Among the weight of sorrow, sin and disillusionment with life in a fallen world, it is very easy for followers of Jesus to become a sad and sullen people. However, as one reads the life and ministry of Jesus, one theme that rises to the top is the recovery of a spirit of celebration among the people of God. As a people of the resurrection, we are sent to celebrate. This week we will look at Jesus' first miracle (turning water into wine at a wedding) and his first sermon (an announcement of Jubilee). Jesus' miracle and His message both call us to embrace a life of celebration that is rooted in the true story of the world. If we are going to seriously follow in the way of Jesus, we need to fight for the supremacy of celebration among everyday life.