As a church, we believe that at the center of the universe is a relationship. We believe in the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God in three Persons. And yet, when it comes to the trinity and our engagement of God in the practical parts of our lives and church, many people have a hard time knowing what to do with the Holy Spirit. Most people get the Father. Still others are fine with Jesus. But this Holy Spirit… what to do with Him? The further one moves into any Holy Spirit conversation, the more binary it becomes as people want to force you to pick between two camps. Are you… Pentecostal or Evangelical? Charismatic or Reformed? About the Word or the Spirit? Truth or experience? Do you seek the fruit of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit? As a church, we are seeking what Gordon Fee calls “life in the radical middle.” We desire both character and gifts, both Word and Spirit, both fruit and fire. Over the next six weeks, we will spend some time listen to the Apostle Paul’s conversation with the believers in Corinth to see how the Spirit forms our life as Christ’s body. The vision that God has for His church cannot be attained without a robust understanding and whole-hearted embrace of the Spirit.
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."
Deep in our souls there is a longing for home. It shows up in our books, our movies and our songs. Our “homesickness” shows up everywhere, but it seems that few know the way back. Home has become this theme, this larger-than-life magnet that powerfully draws the iron shavings of our soul. But, underneath it all, home is not about a building, an address or a room. Neither is it about the comforts of familiarity. Those things matter, but it’s deeper. All of us have an innate desire to get back to that place where we are safe, where we are known, and where we are loved. Simply put, we all long for God. In Luke 15, Jesus tells a triad of parables about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this story is about a man who has two sons: one older and one younger. As we come to find out, both of them leave home. One son goes to a faraway land. One son leaves home by staying home. And both are invited to experience a Father who navigates the world of lost children. Both brothers are lost. Both brothers need help. Both brothers are at a distance. And both are invited home to experience the father’s heart, the father’s joy and the father’s love. God wants people “home”- including you and the ones you may think are too far away.
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 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.
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.