DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Why Worship? (Isaiah 6:1-8)

I don't know if you've ever wondered what keeps a pastor awake at night. Somehow, I doubt it. But I'm going to tell you anyway. It's not the next deacons meeting, or next week's church service, or a lot of things that I might have worried about at one time.

Something else keeps me awake at night: statistics like this. George Barna conducted a survey in 1987, and found that nearly two-thirds of regular attendees say they have never experienced God's presence at a church service. 48% of regular church attendees have not experienced God's presence in the past year.

These are exactly the kind of statistics that give me nightmares, or that keep me awake late at night. The primary purpose of the church is worship, and yet most haven't experienced God's presence at a church service. This is not good news.

Worship is the reason why we exist. Even evangelism - which has become central in a lot of churches - is about God's desire for more worshipers. We call this a worship service. It's not a preaching service, although we sometimes act like it is. It's a service that's supposed to bring us together to worship God. And yet two-thirds of people say that they don't experience God's presence when in worship services. That's a big problem.

It could be that we put too much stock in feelings. How do you know if you've experienced God's presence? But, when we look at the Bible, you discover that there's no mistaking God's presence. You feel it. You experience it. It's not something that you miss.

It could be that we're so used to showing up at church and not experiencing God's presence. Maybe a lot of us came today without really expecting to meet with God. When I go to McDonalds, I don't go expecting a great meal. If my fries are warm and my burger's edible, that's a successful trip to McDonalds. My standards have dropped and I'm seldom disappointed. Anyone here work for McDonalds? I didn't mean your McDonalds. Maybe, though, we're the same when we come to church. Our standards have dropped, so if the songs aren't bad and the sermon keeps us awake, that's a successful trip to church. We never expect to encounter God there.

God does want to meet with us. It's not at all about the building or the time or even the forms that worship takes. But God does hunger and desire to connect with us, for us to experience him. God's highest desire is to fellowship with us. Take a look at the person next to you. God's highest desire is to have a relationship with that person. Honestly, can you figure out why? If you could look in the mirror, the same would be true. It's inexplicable. God's highest desire is to be in relationship with you, to connect with you, for you to worship him.

When we worship God, we get to meet and interact directly with the God of the universe. The one who created all of this, to whom nations are a drop in the bucket - he desires a relationship with us. He wants us to be his worshipers.

The next few weeks, we're going to look at worship. We've had a group of people who have been thinking through some of these issues, about how we can learn to connect with God and experience his presence more in worship. Today we're going to look why to worship, because the answer to how is why.

The question "why worship?" isn't quite right either. All of us are worshipers. The question isn't whether or not we worship. The real question is who we're worshiping. Let's take a look at this video clip, and you can tell me who or what these creatures are worshiping.

Video clip from Toy Story - Buzz Lightyear have arrived at a pizza parlor in a search for their boy. Buzz enters a rocket-shaped toy filled with three-eyed green alien toys. Buzz, believing he's on an intergalactic mission, asks who's in charge. The whole group answers in unison, "The claw!" They look above at a gleaming metallic claw hanging above them. "The claw is our master." "The claw chooses who will go and who will stay."

Soon, a child puts a quarter in the machine, and the claw begins to move. One alien calls out, "It moves!" The claw descends and grabs one of the alien toys. The alien says, "I have been chosen! Farewell, my friends. I go to a better place."

Who did these three-eyed aliens worship? The claw. The clip is funny, but it makes a point. We all worship someone or something. Our version of the claw may be our work. It may be our kids. It may be our goals or plans for our lives. But we all worship something or someone. We're all worshipers.

Tim Kelly has said, "Worship is taking our affection off idols and putting it on God." Worship is about abandoning the idols - the claws - that normally dominate our lives, and giving our affection to the God of the universe.

Today, I want to look at someone who encountered God in worship. The story is found in Isaiah 6. It takes place in the Temple, which was the place that God chose to represent his presence on earth at the time. I love the story, because it starts off just like a regular worship service of some kind until Isaiah encounters God. It's as if God opens up heaven to Isaiah's eyes to let him see what's really happening as he worships.

What happened to Isaiah probably won't happen to us here, but it gives us a picture of what takes place behind the scenes as we worship. It's not something we do in isolation. As we worship God - together, alone, in music, obedience, in whatever form worship may take - we don't worship alone. Angelic beings join us in our worship. God may not meet us just as he did with Isaiah, but he will meet with us. Significant things happen when we encounter God in worship.

Isaiah 6 says:

1In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Hovering around him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. 3In a great chorus they sang, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!" 4The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke.

Picture that scene. Isaiah's worshiping at the Temple, as he had many times. All of a sudden, everything's different. He's able to see beyond the people and the Temple. He sees the trains of God's robes filling the Temple. He sees angel-seraphs hovering and worshiping. They cry out, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" That's not a reference to the Trinity - you can find teaching about the Trinity elsewhere. That's an expression of how holy God is. "Holy" one time doesn't do it.

The word "Holy" means altogether different. They angel-seraphs had been worshiping God for ages. We don't know how long. They're not eternal creatures, so take your pick - in the thousands or millions of years. But still they cry out, "You're different! You're better! You're altogether holy and separate from everything and everyone else!" They hadn't gotten over God's glory.

This is what happens when we worship God. We encounter him. God draws near to us, and he allows us glimpses of his glory. It reminds us of who he is. It's all about him. It's not about us. It puts us in perspective, because all of a sudden we see his glory and everything else becomes a lot smaller.

Isaiah mentioned the death of King Uzziah. That would have been a pretty significant historical event at the time. Uzziah's reign of fifty years came to an end the same year that this event took place. However historically significant Uzziah's death might have been at the time, I can guarantee that Isaiah had a different perspective. He had seen God. He had encountered him. That made all the difference.

I imagine there are some people here going through some very tough life events. When we worship, we're able to see past our immediate surroundings to the God of the universe. When we face death, we can meet God and know he's the one who's walked many of his children through death. When we lose our jobs, worship allows us to meet the God to whom the entire value of a company like Microsoft is like pocket change. We see the one who created all things, who sustains all things, who makes nations rise and fall, and we see things differently, because we've seen God in his glory.

Isaiah saw himself differently too. I have such an inflated view of myself sometimes. Okay, all the time. If I have a good day, it's because things have gone well for me. If I have a bad day, it doesn't matter how good a day Charlene has had. I'm still ticked and grumpy. I measure everything by how well it suits me and my plans. I'm selfish and in danger of making myself the center of my universe. That's human nature. When we worship, we see ourselves differently. In verse 5, Isaiah says, "My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!"

Isaiah saw himself as he really was. He was convicted of his sinfulness. He didn't feel worthy enough to worship the King of Kings. Compared to God's glory, he knew that he had a problem. He was not worthy of worshiping God. He definitely wasn't worthy to be the center of his universe. He knew that God was God and that he wasn't.

Imagine if all of us experienced this. If all of us walked out of here convinced of God's glory, and that this isn't all about us and our happiness and wellbeing - imagine what would happen if we all walked out of here with that attitude. We would be set free from caring as much about ourselves and our welfare. We'd see ourselves as John the Baptist did, that we must decrease so that Jesus Christ might increase. We would know that this world isn't about us.

God doesn't leave Isaiah in the dust:

6Then one of the seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. 7He touched my lips with it and said, "See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven." (Isaiah 6:6-7)

When Isaiah worshiped God, he found forgiveness. The God who is above all and completely different from everyone else, and to whom we are insignificant and unworthy by comparison - that God knows us, is concerned for us, and wants to cleanse us. He removes our guilt and forgives our sins. The central focus of our worship is God, and his saving deed in Jesus Christ. It's about what God has done through Jesus so that we could be forgiven, so that our guilt could be removed.

Verse 8 says, "8Then I heard the Lord asking, 'Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?' And I said, 'Lord, I'll go! Send me.'" When we encounter God in worship, it inspires us to serve him. No wonder the Evil One doesn't want us worshiping. When people have met with God, it's changed the entire course of their lives. When Moses met with God at age 80, he changed direction. When Isaiah met with God, he answered the call to serve. When Paul met with God on a road, he became a new person. Meeting with God inspires us to serve.

That's why we worship: because in worship we experience the presence of God; we see ourselves more accurately; we are freed from our guilt; because we're inspired to serve. But that's still too much about us, isn't it?

The real reason we worship isn't because of what it does for us, although that's usually what we talk about. The real reason we worship is for God. It's because he is worthy. It's because he loves to receive our worship. Even if worship did nothing for us, we would still worship. Why? Because God is worthy. Because if we didn't worship, the rocks would lose their cool and finally burst out in praise (Luke 19:40). We ultimately worship because God is looking for worshipers.

You came here today expecting something. I hope it was more than a sermon. God's deepest longing is for fellowship with you. He desires us to experience his presence. He wants to meet with you.

Prayer

Forgiveness that we've made worship about us; that we don't come really longing to experience God

Prayer that we will grow in worship, not just in "church" but in all of our lives; that we would experience God's presence

Why I'm Gomer (Hosea)

Last week we looked at the story of Hosea and Gomer. I thought I needed to clarify last week that I wouldn't be talking about Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith show. It turns out that I should also have clarified I'm not talking about Homer from the Simpsons. I suppose that statement has some truth to it too - I am Homer - but that's an entirely different series. We may get to it later.God is a lot more creative in communicating with us than we are. He told one prophet to walk around naked for three years. That got people's attention. He told Hosea, one of his prophets, to marry a hooker. It's a story that's really about us - how God loves us when we're unlovely; how he continues to love us despite the fact that we're unfaithful to him; how he turns those who know nothing of love into true lovers. It also shows us that the real issue in our relationship with God isn't a set of rules. It's a relationship that has been broken by our faithlessness, and the result is relational breakdown. It's a story of God's love for unfaithful people.Last week I talked about the fact that "I am Gomer." Today I want to talk about why I'm Gomer. We never really looked into what it was that Israel did to get God so ticked off. At first glance, it looks pretty simple. Hosea 1:2 says, "Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods." Looks like this could be a short message, because this really isn't an issue today. There aren't a lot of people here who are actively worshiping other gods. Any Baal worshipers here? End of sermon. Let's all go home.But there's a little more than meets the eye. When Israel first moved into Canaan, God told them:
I, the LORD, am your God. 3So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. 4You must obey all my regulations and be careful to keep my laws, for I, the LORD, am your God. (Leviticus 18:2-4)
When they first moved to Canaan, they were shocked and intrigued by the religious practices of the people who were there. They knew that there could be no compromise. To accept the Canaanite religion would be to abandon the God of Israel. The Israelites were wobbly on a lot of things, but most of them understood that the Canaanite religion was incompatible with their faith in God.You can imagine what happened. Over the years, the shock wore off and Baal didn't look so bad. By the time Hosea came along, Baal worship was prevalent. But people didn't think they were choosing between God and Baal. They actually began to combine to two beliefs. Hosea 2 hints at this: "'In that coming day,' says the LORD, 'you will call me 'my husband' instead of 'my master.' O Israel, I will cause you to forget your images of Baal; even their names will no longer be spoken." (Hosea 2:16-17)There's a play on words that doesn't translate well into English. "My master" sounded a lot like the word for Baal in that language. The people of that day continued to worship the God of Israel, but they combined elements of Baal worship. They didn't see the contradiction. They may have even believed that Baal and the God of Israel were the same. They had adopted the religious beliefs of the culture and incorporated it into their faith, but they still believed they were worshiping the one true God.Back then, people believed that Baal controlled fertility. That's not just human fertility. It's the fertility of the animals and crops as well. Baal was almost like the god of the economy. Just as we track the markets and indices, and keep an eye on rates and all kinds of economic indicators, they followed their economy. For the economy to go well, they believed, Baal had to do his part. One way that they tried to encourage Baal to increase fertility was to engage in ritual prostitution in sacred places. This sounds weird, doesn't it? I'm sure there's a cult somewhere that still teaches this stuff. They believed that if they engaged in sexual acts in certain sacred spaces, the gods would be inspired to be fertile. Hosea 4:13-14 says:

That is why your daughters turn to prostitution, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery. 14Why should I punish them? For you men are doing the same thing, sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes. O foolish people! You will be destroyed, for you refuse to understand.

The people had uncritically adopted the values of that culture and incorporated them into their worship. They didn't even understand that they had done this. Just like fish don't know they're swimming in water, these people didn't even know how much of that culture they had accepted and merged with their worship of God.

Baal Worship Today

It almost sounds like we ought to end here. It's not immediately obvious how this applies to us today. But the longer I thought about this over the last week, the more I became convinced that we're facing exactly the same danger today. We don't worship Baal, because we don't live in Canaan when Baal was around. But we do live in Canada, and there are gods and beliefs that are circulating around us. And there's always a danger that we begin to adopt those beliefs and values and incorporate them into our worship of God without even knowing it.Every culture has a way of interpreting the world. It has values it considers important, and explanations of how to live successfully in the world. Every culture has a philosophy that explains how the world works. It comes with ethical standards, economic principles, and an explanation of the divine. In most cases, we're not even aware of this philosophy because we've never known anything different. There are a lot of values we've accepted because they're just part of what our culture values. We wouldn't even know what else to believe, in a lot of cases.The problem for us is that we also know of a Kingdom that has a completely different set of standards. You're here today, so you've at least heard of Jesus. Some of you have been following him for years. Others don't know what to make of him. One thing's for sure about Jesus, though. His values weren't the world's values. His followers are called to live to a completely different set of values and standards from the world.Is it possible that we've done the same thing the Israelites did with Baal? Is it possible that we've adopted a lot of the world's values and incorporated them into our worship of God without even knowing it?Shortly after the last power failure, I drove through Elora and saw some Amish people. I thought, man, I should have gone to them when the power went out. They were okay. They've recognized the danger of accommodating culture, and their solution has been to withdraw from culture. Let's give them credit. They understand the danger. I don't think that their solution is necessarily the best, though.Some people just uncritically adopt culture. I don't think that's too smart either. If the values of this culture aren't the same values of God's Kingdom, then those aren't the values I want to follow. There's got to be a better way.We could choose to do what Jesus did. Jesus didn't withdraw from society, nor did he adopt his values. He lived within it. He was aware of the events and thoughts of the day. He was comfortable referring to the news. He went to parties and knew people from all walks of life. But while he walked in this world, he lived by a completely different set of values from this world.

Kingdom Values

Every time you look at Jesus, you realize that his values are just plain different from ours. We can't adopt the world's values and think live comfortably in God's Kingdom. It's not just possible.Let's look at some examples. Our culture really values stuff. We don't even think about that. I heard about someone who filled up their house with so much stuff that they had to live in a trailer. That's a pretty extreme example, but isn't it true that you have so much stuff you don't know where to put it all? We've got garages and basements and self-storage units full of stuff we've accumulated. We don't even know what to do with it all. This world really values stuff.I chatted with someone from New Zealand the other day. She said, "What's with North America and cars?" She knows one person in New Zealand who's bought a new car, and that person is incredibly rich. Here in North America, it's common to have two or more cars in a family, and a lot of them are pretty nice. We value our stuff.Jesus comes along and turns all of that upside down. We think the disadvantaged are those who don't have as much stuff. Jesus says, "I'll tell you who's disadvantaged. If you have a lot, you're disadvantaged." He tells us that the poor are blessed. No offense against the rich; they just have more of a hurdle, Jesus would say. In Jesus' kingdom, it's the rich who are disadvantaged, and it's the poor who are blessed by God.Then there's our security. Our culture really values security. I don't know that this is all wrong, but it's pretty important for us to feel self-reliant, that we are providing for ourselves and our future. Anything that threatens that self-reliance makes us feel very unsure. Then Jesus comes, and walks up to people at their place of business and says, "Leave your nets and boats (your livelihoods) behind and follow me." He tells people to liquidate their assets and give to the poor, and don't worry, because God will take care of you. That's a completely different set of values.Another value that we hold is consumerism. I get so ticked off when I'm not treated right as a customer. I'm actually getting used to it, but the odd time I get really riled because the level of service just isn't what it should be. Then Jesus says, "If you want to follow me, you've got to forget about your rights. You've got to lay them aside, die to yourself, become a servant, and follow me."We value power. We like to call the shots and get our way. We like to know powerful people, because it's not what you know...you know the rest. Then Jesus comes along. The moment that he knew that he could do anything - that all power and authority had been given to him, and that God had put all things under his control - he showed us what true power looks like in God's kingdom. He got down on this knees and washed the dirty feet of a group of guys who couldn't keep it together for more than five minutes.We like beauty. Jesus came, and the Bible says that there was nothing in the way that he looked - no beauty or majesty - that would attract us to him.We like strength. I like people who can put the puck in the net, or keep the puck out of the net, or hit the ball, or triumph with their talents. Yet in Jesus' Kingdom it's the weak who are strong. It's the proud who are humbled. It's the powerful that are excluded and it's the people on the margins who matter. In the Kingdom of Jesus, something as small as a cup of cold water offered to a "nobody" has eternal significance.Let's think about that even in terms of church. Our world judges churches by these same standards - their success, their size, their significance. We look at some of the most powerful and successful churches and we're wowed. Yet God looks at churches we've overlooked - a church in a prison or leprosarium or a country in which Christianity isn't allowed - and says, "There's a church that's successful. They're not successful in the world's eyes, but they are in mine." Jesus turns all the values of this world upside down.

Come Back

We don't have the luxury of living in a world that lives according to the values of Jesus. But we can live Jesus' values in this world. We can make ourselves aware of the ways in which Jesus' values are different, and watch to make sure that we're not incorporating the world's values into our worship.It's possible, if we don't watch it, to stop noticing the differences between Jesus' values and this world's. Inch by inch, we can stop being shocked or even aware of the differences. Or, we can stay so in tune with Jesus' values that we never stop knowing that there's a difference.I don't have the answer here, but I do have some ideas. I think one of the best things that we could do is to become so familiar with Jesus and his values that it just becomes part of the way we think. If you're ambitious, read the Gospels. Just read them over and over again. See the way he taught, the words that he said. If you don't have the time, read the Sermon on the Mount - three chapters, Matthew 5, 6, and 7. There's enough there to shake us up for good. If you really want the concentrated version, then memorize the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. Every one of them is a statement of value that contradicts what our world values. Make them your text.Another suggestion is that we become critics of culture. I don't mean negative critics. We can watch some movies and see positive things. Some watched Finding Nemo and saw it as a beautiful picture of God's pursuit of us. You don't have to make everything religious, but there are lots of things we can appreciate in culture. When the new season of the Simpsons comes out, I'll be watching, because there's sometimes some very accurate indictments against our culture and even the church in there. I like a lot of it.But we can also become critics of what's bad. We can recognize that most commercials try to convince us that if we buy their product, we'll be happy, sexy, or rich. We can recognize that our friends who go out and party every weekend don't look as happy as the people in the beer commercials. We can begin to decipher the values that are contrary to Jesus' Kingdom. We're still like fish in water, but at least then we'll realize that we are in water and that the water is sometimes dirty.You may even be here thinking, "Yes. That's what I want. I've been turned off because the church isn't any different. Their values are the same, and frankly, that's disappointing." The good news for you is you're right. God is a God who favors the poor, the weak, the powerless. That's his kingdom; it's his message.Hosea slammed Israel for prostituting itself to the culture. You get the idea that God was more than a little ticked. But overall, Hosea is a message of love and hope. It's not too late. No matter who you are, or how much Gomer's story is your story, here is the message: "Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring" (Hosea 6:3).
Prayer:Confession of unfaithfulness - we've adopted the world's values into our worship of GodThanks for God's Kingdom - a Kingdom that turns the values of this world upside downPrayer that we may know him and return to him

I am Gomer (Hosea 1)

Today's passage may take a bit longer for you to find, so I'm going to ask you to start looking now. It's in the Old Testament, somewhere past the middle of your Bible just after Daniel. It's the book of Hosea, and we're going to look at chapter one today.

Last week I mentioned I was going to speak on "I am Gomer" today. I think I confused some of you, because you thought I was talking about Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith show. I'm sorry to disappoint you. We're going to look at someone else called Gomer in one of the strangest yet most beautiful stories in the Bible.

Have you ever thought of the lengths that God goes to in order to communicate with us? Think about the plagues in Egypt. Every time the Egyptians refused to listen to God, God found a more effective way to get his message through. That's just like God. He seems to be pretty good at getting our attention.

Then there's the ultimate way that God has communicated with us. Hebrews 1 says that after sending his prophets, who spoke "many times and in many ways," God took the ultimate step of communicating to us. He sent his own Son. You can't do much better than sending God to come in the flesh to communicate to us.

But we can't forget the prophets. Imagine if God asked pastors today to do what the prophets did. In Isaiah 20, God asked the prophet Isaiah to go naked and barefoot for three years as a sign to Egypt and Ethiopia. I was going to ask you to picture a pastor coming in naked to church and saying, "God told me to do this as a sign, and the good news is it's only for three years." But really, I don't want you to picture this. Maybe try to imagine it, but please don't picture it in your mind. We'd think that this pastor should be committed into some institution.

Then there's the story we're going to look at today. Imagine if God asked a pastor to do what he asked Hosea to do:

2When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, "Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods."

Hosea's immediate reaction isn't recorded. We know that he obeyed, but I have to think that he may have had a few questions or doubts along the way. I know I would have. Hosea was being asked to live out a story, a parable of God's relationship with his people. Where would he find this prostitute? I'm not sure Hosea would have known how to go about this. How would he get one to agree to marry him? Imagine Hosea saying, "Okay, my to-do list for tomorrow: find and marry prostitute. Better get a good night's rest." I can't even imagine.

God was about to communicate something profound about his relationship with his people. I'm sure that Hosea gained a new perspective on God through this marriage. As I read this passage this week, I began to see myself represented in this story too. This story is our story. I am Gomer. You are too.

The people of that day probably would have said, "We're not that bad. Sure, we mess up just like everyone else. But we still worship Yahweh. Give us a break. We're not that bad."

It's interesting that the image God chose to communicate his relationship with us here isn't a judge who's passing sentence, or of a father scolding his children. The picture here is of one of the most intimate relationships possible. It's of a marriage relationship. It's a picture of intimacy, love, trust. Those of us who are married know that these qualities aren't always present in a marriage, but the desire is usually there. God paints a picture of himself as a husband who longs for intimacy and closeness with his people. We're pictured as violating this trust.

I tend to focus on certain qualities of God at different times. I find that I can sometimes get pretty glib about my lack of faithfulness to him. When I'm not living faithfully, I focus on certain passages that talk about God's forgiveness and mercy. Those are true passages, but they're not the complete picture. I like Hosea's picture, because it shows me what my sinfulness really is like, while still also showing God's compassion and forgiveness. When I sin, when my heart wanders from God, it is a big deal. It's a lack of faithfulness. It's spiritual adultery. Yes, God is compassionate and forgiving, as we're about to see, but my sin causes great damage to our relationship. It's hard to even think of God in emotional terms, but there's the same type of damage and hurt that a husband might experience when his wife is unfaithful. That's what my unfaithfulness does to God.

Truthfully, some of you have probably experienced that type of hurt. I haven't, but I had one of those weird dreams a few months back that seems so real that you're sort of stunned when you wake up. In this dream, my wife was unfaithful. I don't remember the details. I do remember the overwhelming sense of betrayal and hurt, that our trust had been broken. I remember the relief that overwhelmed me when I woke up and realized that it had all been a dream. The hurt of broken trust in the most intimate of our relationships is the picture of what happens between God and his people when they're unfaithful.

The news gets worse before it gets better. Not only does Hosea marry Gomer, but he then has some children. Now it's getting serious. Each of the three children are named to communicate the consequences of unfaithfulness to the people.

3So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son. 4And the LORD said, "Name the child Jezreel, for I am about to punish King Jehu's dynasty to avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel. 5In fact, I will put an end to Israel's independence by breaking its military power in the Jezreel Valley."

2 Kings 9-10 records a slaughter of innocent people by King Jehu so he could consolidate his power. The child was named Jezreel, after the place where this took place. The name means, "God scatters." The child symbolized that Israel would cease to be an independent nation as a result of the slaughter. The child represented God's judgment. Within Hosea's lifetime, this prophecy came true.

Then, a second child was born:

6Soon Gomer became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter. And the LORD said to Hosea, "Name your daughter Lo-ruhamah-'Not loved'-for I will no longer show love to the people of Israel or forgive them. 7But I, the LORD their God, will show love to the people of Judah. I will personally free them from their enemies without any help from weapons or armies."

A child's born with the name "not loved". Here's a daughter who doesn't experience the love and affection of parents. Israel was split into two nations - Judah and Israel. To Israel, God says, "I'll no longer show love to you or forgive you." To Judah, he continues to show his love, but to Israel, it's over.

If I were Hosea, I would hope that this was enough to get God's message across. But then a third child is born:

8After Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she again became pregnant and gave birth to a second son. 9And the LORD said, "Name him Lo-ammi-'Not my people'-for Israel is not my people, and I am not their God.

Here you have a breaking of the covenant relationship God had with his people. He would no longer see them as his people. He would no longer be their God.

Do you get the impression that God is ticked? In a recent movie, a husband meets a private investigator he's hired to follow his wife. The investigator shows him pictures of his wife with another man. His worst suspicions have been confirmed. His wife has been unfaithful. The husband faces the decision of how to react, and he also faces the emotional effects of the betrayal. These are the same questions that God faces as he sees the unfaithfulness of his people.

You know what strikes me about this? It's how much God desires relationship with us. This redefines our understanding of sin. So often, we talk about sin as a violation of some moral standard. It's more than that. It's a violation of a relationship. So often God is pictured as an angry judge. Here he's pictured differently: as someone who loves us, who wants relationship with us. Sin isn't just about violating some moral code. It's an act of rebellion against the love of God. This helps to redefine sin for us.

When I let Charlene down, she sometimes communicates her displeasure. She's good at that; it's a healthy thing. What happens next is that I get defensive. What helps me get past that defensiveness - sometimes! - is the realization that she's not voicing her displeasure because she's judging me. Instead, she's communicating disappointment because she craves for intimacy, for relationship with me. It's not an attack as much as a desire to connect with me. It's hard to be offended by that. In the same way, God's desire is for connection, for relationship with us.

That's what makes these next few verses easier to understand. A lot of scholars find Hosea 1 hard to swallow. They can't understand how God could ask a prophet to marry a prostitute. Then they read the chapter and it's all about judgment. All of a sudden, without any transition and for no apparent reason, the tone changes It's a lot easier to understand why once we see what God desires from us, when we understand it's not about judgment as much as it is relationship. Read Hosea 1:10-11 with me:

10"Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.' 11The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.

Despite the unfaithfulness, despite the violation of trust, God says, "I'm not done. I'm going to restore you as my people. I'm going to continue my love relationship with you." It's not over, because God simply won't give up on us.

Here's the deal: God loves us at our worst. He didn't choose us because we were moral or virtuous. He wasn't enamored with us because he had an unrealistically positive view of us. He knew about the worst things that we would ever do, things that we can barely stomach ourselves. And yet he loved us when we were in our very worst condition.

He keeps after us until he gets us. We run, we continue to be unfaithful. God doesn't force his love upon us, neither does he give up on us.

And then God makes lovers out of men and women who know nothing of real love. He cleans us up, brings us close to himself, and never, never gives up. This is God's love for us today.

We're about the celebrate communion today. Another picture of God's love is found in a beautiful Old Testament book called the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon. At one level, it's a celebration of love and sensuality. In another sense, it also pictures God's relationship with us.

Song of Songs 2:4 says, "He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love" (NIV). The Message puts it this way: "He took me home with him for a festive meal, but his eyes feasted on me!" God knows us. He's not surprised by our doubts, our insecurities, the things we've done to mess up. Yet he invites us to come. He loves us. He doesn't pretend that he hasn't been hurt, and he doesn't downplay our mistakes and our sins. But he still invites us to come and to be in relationship with him. That's his invitation today.

The Dying Church (Mark 8:34-37)

Welcome back from the summer! It's good to see some of you that we haven't seen for a few months now. Maybe to start things off we can say hi to one or two people that we haven't seen recently.Pastor Ed forgot to make one announcement about next week. We've decided to have a No Excuse Sunday. It's designed for those who have very good reasons for not attending church. We're trying to make it possible for everyone to attend church next Sunday:
Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in."There will be a special section with lounge chairs for those who feel that our pews are too hard.Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching TV late Saturday night.We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church."Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot.Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can't go to church and cook dinner too.We will distribute "Stamp out Stewardship" buttons for those that feel the church is always asking for money.One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature.Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday.The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them.We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton for those who can!...and golf clubs will be available for practice swings.
Last year, on the first week after Labor Day, I did something new. We had just been through an incredibly tough year as a church, and last year I spoke from my heart about some of the challenges we were facing as a church. I remember speaking on 2 Timothy 1:7: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."At the time, I really had no idea what kind of year we would face. I think it's true that when things go wrong, most often it's our fault, but when things go right, God gets all the credit. This past year, God has most definitely been at work. We're not perfect - far from it - but we've really seen God doing some great things around here this past year. I'd like to take credit for this, but I can't. It's been God at work. We've just been able to come along and enjoy the ride.Today, I want to take a bit of a risk and speak more personally than I normally do about how God has been challenging me in the past year. It's a risk, because what I say may not resonate with you, but sometimes in sharing more personally, you discover that others can relate to you even more than usual. In the past year, God's been doing something in me, and it's affected my own walk with God, along with the way that I see the church and my role.

The Dying Follower

The passage that God has been using is found in Mark 8:34-37. Up until this story in Jesus' ministry, everything had been on the upswing. People saw Jesus - his ability to heal, the authority he had when he taught - and followed him. There was nothing not to like, at least until this story.It's as if Jesus said, "I've got to give them the complete picture of what it means to follow me." He began to explain that his life wasn't just about healings and authoritative teaching. He explained that he would suffer and be killed, and that following him would mean suffering and sacrifice.Peter, the disciple we all criticize because he resembles us so strongly, took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Jesus dealt with Peter. But then Jesus did something significant. It's almost as if he realized that this was a teaching moment. He called the rest of his disciples and the rest of the crowd together. Let's read what he said:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
Last October, Charlene and I attended a conference together. Those of you who know me well know that I'm a conference junkie. I love conferences of all kinds. This one was great because Charlene was with me. The messages were all challenging, and God seemed to be speaking to us in a unique way.I'll never forget sitting with Charlene during one of the break sessions and talking about what this would mean in our lives. We had a sense that God was calling us to do something new. We didn't know exactly what, but we knew it involved taking some new risks. It might cost us something. God began to use the passage we've just read to ask me some pretty tough questions.I don't like to admit it, but I've got it pretty good here. I began to ask myself, "Would I follow Jesus away from my current comfortable situation into uncomfortable situations?" I mean places in which my pay might be cut, or I may not get paid at all; places which have fewer resources, less to offer me in return. I sensed that God was asking me to do something new, which would involve more risks and less safety. Was I ready to follow?We live pretty modestly, but I began to look at my lifestyle differently. I found this website. You punch in your income, and it tells you where your income rates in terms of the world. I was in the top 2%. I'm one of the top 2% richest people in the world - and so are you. Would I be willing to risk any of that to follow Jesus?See how uncomfortable this gets? God began to challenge me about how much I was the focus of my relationship with God. When I read the Bible, it was to find passages that would help me. When I prayed to God, it was prayers for my welfare. When I sang songs to God, it was about which songs I like and which songs I didn't care for. God was really messing with my mind.It's about dying to self. Jesus said, "If you're going to follow me, you're following a dead man walking. You've got to pick up your cross daily." The image is of a person who's been condemned to die, and who's carrying the instrument of execution with them, because they're about to be killed. Jesus says that's what it means to follow him. It means we stop living for ourselves and our concerns.Jesus also talked about denying ourselves. I wish that he meant that we should deny ourselves something. That would mean that all I would have to do is to give up chocolate for Lent, or to give up watching Friends for the coming year. But Jesus wasn't talking about giving something up. He talked about denying ourselves - to stop making ourselves the center of our lives. This is what it means to follow Jesus.If this scares us - and it should, because it's going to cost us - Jesus also gives the other side. He says that only in dying to ourselves do we discover true life. Some have literally given up their lives for Jesus, but they've discovered true life. Some have suffered incredibly as a result of obeying these verses, but they would never go back, because they're living with more freedom, more life that was ever possible before. Erwin McManus puts it this way: "Jesus wants to take us places only dead people can go."Here's what it means. It means that I'm no longer the center of my life. It means that I follow Jesus, no matter where he leads, and no matter what it costs. It means that we're willing to die for Christ, knowing that it's the only way that we discover true life.Wow. It would have been enough if God had left it at that. But have you ever noticed that God doesn't stop working when you think you've had enough? God wasn't finished with me yet. God began to challenge me in a different area. It's not enough to die to self and follow him. We don't follow God in isolation. There's something else that we call the church.

The Dying Church

Last Fall, somebody used our building to host a conference on being a turnaround church. Somebody asked, "What's a turnaround church?" I heard somebody else answer, "We are!" "But I thought we were a purpose-driven, naturally developed, disciple-making church." I think there were a few more labels attached as well.Over lunch, somebody told the presenter, "We need your brand in Canada." It really struck me. We have all kinds of brands of tools that help churches grow and become healthier. We have excellent tools that help churches develop and become stronger. There's nothing wrong with a lot of those. But I began to ask myself, "Does the church need to get stronger and healthier? Or does the church need to die, to take up its cross and die to itself? What about the dying church?"For years, I've bought into the slogan, "The local church is the hope of the world." I now think that statement is wrong. The Gospel is the hope of the world, and churches can help bring that hope to the world. But churches are only the vehicle. By making the church the hope of the world, we put our energies into building churches, and working on their advancement and growth.There's nothing wrong with wanting a church to faithfully bring the Gospel to a community with as much effectiveness and wisdom as it can muster. But I've become more and more convinced that church growth and health isn't the point. Following Jesus is the point. Jesus may want to lead us as churches to places that will hurt our church's growth and health. He may want to lead us to places in which our churches won't even survive. The issue isn't church growth or health. The real issue is whether or not a church is willing to follow Jesus.What about this - a church that is willing to die to its own interests and welfare, to pick up its cross, and follow Jesus? What about a church that, if faced with a choice between following Jesus into unknown and dangerous territory, and taking a safe route that would lead to growth and health - what about a church that would willingly take the dangerous route in order to follow Jesus?I really began to struggle with this. I didn't know if Richview was ready for this, whether it would mean staying here or leaving. I even used Biblical language. I said, "Lord, you know our deacons, how they are a rebellious and a stiff-necked people." Actually, they aren't. I began to look around and realize that there was nobody in a position of power or influence who wanted to do anything but follow Jesus, no matter where he leads, no matter what it costs. As I began to communicate some of this, I sensed that it resonated with the type of church that we want to become.What does this all look like? Where does it all lead? I have no idea. I know it involves following Jesus, with no regard to what it costs us.I did write down a few outcomes of this decision. A dying church is one in which:
Its own growth and health is not as important as its willingness to follow Jesus wherever he goes, whatever it costs.It is willing to turn its back on everything - its building, programs, staff, everything - in order to follow Jesus.Institutional advancement is not as important as Kingdom advancement.The church is not concerned with its own institutional survival.Pastors are not CEOs managing/leading people toward a goal, and plans/goals/numbers/budgets are not the main thing. Following Jesus has been the main thing. The pastor becomes somebody who's hopefully helping to set the pace in following Jesus, but is only a co-follower with the rest of the people.
It hit me as I prepared this message that every church is a dying church. There are three types of dying churches. One is the church that is literally dying. Its membership is declining. It's probably not going to survive much longer.The second type of dying church is glitzy and successful. It's maybe got a big building and programs every day of the week. It looks alive, but in reality it's never died to itself. It's trying to maintain its own life. That church doesn't look like it's dying, but in trying to save its own life it's actually losing it.The third type of church is one which says to God, "We will follow Jesus no matter where he leads and what it costs. We will gladly lay down our institution and our building and our survival to follow him." This church may be small and overlooked, or big and well-known. But it doesn't care about that. It only cares about following Jesus.Every church is a dying church. Only the last type of church will experience a resurrection. Only that church will experience the life that comes on the other side of death to itself. To paraphrase Erwin McManus, Jesus wants to take us places that only dead churches can go.I don't know how this has resonated with you. I invite you to sort through it, sift through the stuff that's from God, and the stuff that's from me. But most of all, I invite you to take the dangerous road, the road that Jesus is calling us to take, so that we go anywhere Jesus wants us to go, no matter what the cost.Prayer:
I think Jesus would say to the church:
If any church would come after me, it must deny itself and take up his cross and follow me. For the church that wants to save its life will lose it, but whatever church loses its life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a church to gain the whole world, yet forfeit its soul?
Respond to this call; pray silently to God.I know, Father, we're all in different places when we hear this call. Some of us are scared to death. Some of us are saying, "Let's go." You've been taking me through this process for a whole year. Thank you for relentlessly challenging us, yet for showing grace when we don't follow as readily as we should.I pray that you would make us a group of people who really don't care about preserving our institution as much as we're concerned with following Jesus. May we become a dying church. In Jesus' name, Amen.