The next song in our collection the Psalms of Ascent is Psalm 125. Drawing heavily upon the imagery of Mt. Zion, the psalmist reveals that journey of faith is not a wobbly tightrope walk in the sky. Rather, those who trust in the Lord have mountain-like stability, security and shalom. We will not be moved. We are surrounded. And we will be made whole. This song calls us out of teetering insecurity and helps us renew our confidence in the Lord for our deepest needs.
As we continue our series in the Psalms of Ascent, we discover that Psalm 123 is a song about our posture for the journey. Rather than focusing on the questions of "where we are going," this song offers a snapshot of "how we are to go." And the psalmist's primary answer to that question is this: by being a servant. In a world that bristles at the idea of being a servant to anyone, every follower of Jesus must discover the secret of freedom that is found in having the right Master. Psalm 123 anticipates the Jesus-style life that offers our eyes, requests and concerns to the Father, the Master of all.
If Psalm 120 gets us going in our journey through dissatisfaction, Psalm 121 offers a realistic exploration of the journey that we are walking toward God. It's a song that reminds us how life works: that once we set out on this God-ward journey in the Kingdom of God, it will never be without problems. Just because you follow Jesus, doesn't guarantee a "get out of problems free" card. In fact, it might even get worse. This thing called life is a long, hard journey of faith that takes numerous twists and turns and leaves everyone looking somewhere for help. The question of Psalm 121 is this: on the journey of life, where are you looking for help? If we listen well to this song, we will be reminded just how much God longs for us all to move our gaze heavenward- to the LORD, the Watchman, the Protector and the Preserver of His people.
Although it is neither catchy or cool, Psalm 120 is a perfect song to start a series on the Psalms of Ascent. At its core, this is a song of dissatisfaction. It's all about what is "not right" with the world. And the reason this is so essential is that, without dissatisfaction, a person will remain content and never leave in the first place. The natural pull of life calls for us to stay put, not move and never change. So, as with every good journey, the starting spot is the place of recognition of what you don't want, where you don't belong, and a desperate cry to God for change. Without dissatisfaction, there is no repentance and there is no change. Our journey closer to God and the full life of His Kingdom begins here.
This was a special Sunday gathering for Pentecost — a sweet and beautiful time of worship and celebration.
As the Apostle Paul continues his "spiritual" discussion into 1 Corinthians 14, he unpacks what biblical love looks like among a gathered church community. After giving lots of theology, Paul moves to practice. While he does offer more details about the role of tongues and prophecy, he explains that there are greater Holy Spirit principles at play. What should a person expect to experience when showing up for church? Entertainment? Excellence? A spiritual gift free-for-all? 1 Corinthians 14 offers a corrective voice to the Corinthian community and provides some practical rails for us today. A Spirit-led gathering should come with expectations around (1) Edification, (2) Intelligibility (3) Effective Witness and (4) Order. The movement of the Spirit among the people of God will always build up, stir up and clear up one's heart for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Before we dive further into specific gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, this basic question must be answered: What is needed for a person to experience the fullness of the Spirit? We all have heard stories and carry with us our own personal experiences, but what does the Bible say? This week we will take a quick tour of the Spirit's work- in the Old Testament, in Jesus, in the early church- to see what remains true for us today. How does the Holy Spirit operate within and upon the people of God? And, using Luke 11:5-13 as our guide, we will unpack how a person seeks more.
While podcasts are amazing reservoirs of information, inspiration and instruction, they potentially have two dangers. First, they can feed our tendency to have our information outpace our obedience. And secondly, they can put us in a passive consumer position. Where this intersects the church, we can settle for "podcast Christianity"- a life of passive consumption where we gather information with no active participation. Such a reality is incompatible with a biblical vision of life in the Spirit. This week, as we move further into 1 Corinthians 12, we find Paul's underlying presupposition for the Corinthian church: that God is eager to manifest His personal presence in the world through all of His people. We will unpack four main phrases in this passage that serve as helpful guideposts for this kind of spiritual life. Full and active life in the Spirit is so much better than a podcast.
Before diving into the specifics of Paul, Corinth and the letter of 1 Corinthians, we stand in need of a more foundational and big picture conversation about the Spirit. In the same way that Paul did not want the Corinthian believers to be uninformed about "spirituals," we don't want to be ignorant or uninformed too. This week, we will be talking about two roadblocks to any conversation about the Spirit of His gifts- the possibility of the Spirit and the person of the Spirit. Our western, materialistic worldview shapes our engagement of things in the spiritual realm and our inherent mislabeling of the Spirit as a "force" or an "it" also gets in the way. Our hope is to pave a path that allows us to step into life in the "radical middle."
After spending a few weeks exploring the younger son and his time away from home, this week our attention turns to the father and his response to his runaway son. If it is true that "Every baby is born into the world looking for someone looking for them," then our understanding of the father's posture toward wayward sinners is critical for how we make sense of ourselves and the world. In spite of being hurt, disrespected and insulted, the father in the parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the pursuit of our Heavenly Father toward us. In all respects, Luke 15 urges us to behold the Father! Behold the Father's eyes, the Father's heart, the Father's feet, the Father's arms, the Father's lips, the Father's gifts, and the Father's joy. For those who are tempted to believe that their sin has made God the Father turn away in contempt and disgust, this parable tells a different story. The Father is delighted to bring "home" to us in unparalleled grace.
This week's sermon focuses on the journey of the younger brother who ends up in the far away country, miles away from his father and his home. Everyone who travels down this road eventually follows the same familiar markers and landmarks: the separation of shame, the isolation of shame, and the narration of shame. As we unpack this shame story, we discover a way out and a new story enacted by our Heavenly Father. To know our way back home, we have to understand how we left. We have to answer the question of God, "Where are you?"
The Parable of the Prodigal Son does not happen in a vacuum. In fact, it's the third of a three parable set that Jesus tells focusing on the motif of "lost things." As Jesus teaches about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally a lost son, He is not just riffing on a random theme. Rather, he is directly responding to a real life conversation with the Pharisees who grumble and scoff at Jesus' eating habits with sinners. In a sense, they are asking Jesus "why bother with lost things?" This week, as we step into the first week of this new series, we will explore the background of Luke 15, the other parables of Luke 15 and begin to examine the movement of the younger brother away from home. This parable has both a personal and a missional lens of application as we examine the journey home- both for us and for others. God wants you and others home to be safe, loved and known. And frankly, we struggle with that more than we know.
For the vast majority of this book, the primary metaphor for God's relationship with Israel has been that of a husband and a wife. Marriage is the overwhelming backdrop of this book- between Hosea/Gomer and God/Israel. However, in this last sermon of the series, God changes the metaphor and swaps out the comparison from marriage to parenting. Hosea 11 is a complete poem about the Father heart of God. Same prophet. Same people. Same limitations. Different angle. God replays the tapes of Israel's childhood and "teenage" rebellion. And then, in deep emotion, God declares His heartfelt compassion for Israel that will not give up. This book closes with one more reminder that God is not what we think or what our collective experience tells us. God has emotion for His people, emotion that He needs us to experience if we ever want to live out the fullness of our life story.
There is probably no single attribute of God with greater baggage or that causes more visceral triggers than the wrath of God. The very mention of that word causes many to cringe, recoil or shudder. Unlike God's wisdom, mercy, holiness or love, the wrath of God causes people to avoid it, ignore it or artfully dance around it. However, because love and wrath do not stand in contradiction to one another, the unlikely prophetic love story that is the book of Hosea would be incomplete without at least one conversation about it. This week, in exploring Hosea 8, we will take a biblical view of wrath, see how it is provoked and explain what is at stake for a 21st century disciple of Jesus. Rather than being a grumpy, irritable, out-of-control overreaction, the wrath of God challenges our flippancy, hypocrisy and complacency while also giving us hope in final justice and the supremacy of Christ.
Moving into Hosea 4, this passage marks a new section of the book and a noticeable shift in our eccentric, heart-wrenching, unlikely prophetic love story. Rather than focusing on the details of Hosea and Gomer, chapter 4 and following involve the details of God summoning Israel to court with the specifics of His legal complaint. God has the chance to openly and passionately explain His "indictment" of the people of God. God speaks and the people of Israel are called to listen. As God dives into the specifics of their sin, we are given a better understanding of how sin works- all of which reveals how often we ask the wrong sin question. Most of us spend a lot of time on the "what" of sin rather than the "why." Hosea 4 helps us unpack both the what and the why; the sin and the sin underneath the sin. Or, using other terms, Hosea 4 exposes both the fruit and the root of our sin. God calls us not just to end the various sinful behaviors. But even more deeply, God's calls us to a place of loving knowledge of Him in real relationship.
Hosea chapter 3 brings the storyline back to the specifics of the Hosea/Gomer love affair. Being a chapter with only five verses, it is a concise, quick, punchy real-life redemption parable. As Hosea is called to "go back and love" his unfaithful wife who is in the arms of another man, his action brings further understanding to the elements of redemption that we often have a hard time holding on to. God-style redemption reveals (1) Limitless love, (2) Costly love, and (3) Intimate love in ways that blow our minds and stir our hearts. Hosea 3 reminds us what God's redeeming love actually feels like as it speaks to our shame.
The deeper one moves into the story of Hosea, more questions emerge. How does a holy and jealous God respond to the fickle ways of an unfaithful people? When we scorn God, how will He respond? The end of Hosea 2 reveals that God does not give up, run away in exasperation or respond in passive aggression. God, in His faithful love, pursues His unfaithful bride when she least deserves it. And He does so in two unconventional ways that need some explanation. In pursuit, God frustrates our misguided loves. And in pursuit, God flirts with our souls. He frustrates our misguided loves by exposing and upending the idols we are quick to chase. Then, in His kindness, He allures us by speaking tenderly to our identity. Come discover the One who frustrates and flirts, drawing us closer to an exclusive love relationship with Himself.
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.