Sermon


Hosea the prophet, Russian icon from first qua...
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As Seward Church continues its journey through the 66 books of the Bible we found ourselves learning about the interesting life of Hosea.  If you aren’t familiar with this story, it is quite intriguing as Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who would cheat on him, multiple times.

Usually with this story you hear that Hosea was told to marry a prostitute.  But Tim tried to clarify that Gomer isn’t a prostitute at the beginning of the story.   Hosea 1:2 says:

the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.”

So she was probably born out of wedlock herself and had some issues that made it likely she would be unfaithful.   Her name does make you laugh though.  Who would name their kid Gomer? The language in chapter 1 clearly indicates that only 1 of the 3 children actually came from Hosea.

In Chapter 3 God tells Hosea that he needs to go find his wife, who now is a slave prostitute and buy her back.  Can you imagine having to go pay a pimp to purchase your own wife back?  God says that this is a depiction of His love for us.   2:5 gives us a little insight into what Gomer was after – she was after material things that became so important to her that she would do anything to get them.

She placed those things above everything else and was willing to sell out to get them.  Does that sound familar? She began to idolize those things and then slowly that idolatry overcame her.  Often our sin begins as love, which can be healthy, but as it turns into idolatry we begin to displace God from His throne and worship the wrong thing.

Part of the problem is that we begin to define what it is that is loving for us instead of letting God define love. We don’t accept God’s love because it isn’t what we want. This leads us to create rules that will enable us to deserve that love and try to hide or change who we are.  We decide that if God (or another person) loves us they will provide this or that.  It would be like saying, “if you love me you’ll give me $1,000.” But maybe I want to express my love for you by strolling down the beach together.

As we begin to idolize things in our life, we start to lose perspective and slowly become enslaved to that which we idolize.  We become enslaved to our desires.  It becomes a slave-master relationship (2:12).

But there is GOOD NEWS! God says there will be a time when we will no longer be enslaved to our sins and we will no longer call Him, Master – but Husband. That is a huge relational shift.  Death will no longer reign, but life (13:14).  We will find freedom through Christ’s sacrifice.  You see we are enslaved to our sinful desires, but God sent His son Jesus to pay for our sin – through His death.  And by His resurrection, we are raised up as heirs in the Kingdom of God.

This payment (redemption) and the resurrection wipe our past clean. There is nothing that we’ve done that He can’t undo.  Just as Hosea accepted back the wayward Gomer, God will take us even as bastard children.

Isn’t that exciting?

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Lamentation of the solitude
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It has been awhile since I’ve written about one of the messages from Seward Church.  This week’s message was about the tough book of Lamentations.  Tough because it deals with the topic of suffering, but we know how the story ends – with the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Lamentations is generally thought of as a book of laments or sorrowful writings.  It tells a story of great pain and suffering.  We don’t like that because we really don’t want to suffer in our lives and if the Bible talks about it, then there is probably a good chance of it happening in our life – especially if there is a whole book devoted to it.  This should actually be reassuring to us as well though, because the Bible is willing to take on the hard issues of life that face us each and every day.

Tim offered some intriguing literary notes to about the book’s structure.  In the original Hebrew the book is written as an acrostic poem that repeats itself in each chapter.  The precision and structure took a lot of work and adds to the overall power of the book.  Wikipedia describes its structure:

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

One of the most important points to  remember about suffering is that ultimately it is not eternal.  It is only for a finite time.  Yes the time might be your entire life, but it will end.  We may suffer alone, but we don’t have to (1:12).  Suffering can be processed through the community.  We should be willing to walk through each part of the suffering process together.  We ALL suffer and we can encourage each other.  As a community we can make sure that we don’t short-circuit the process but that we genuinely take each step towards peace and wholeness together.

Lamentations 3:22-33 (The Message) is a great passage:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way:

Until you get to the last 2 verses which seemingly contradict each other.  Suffering sometimes is a result of sin. We are often rebelling against God and His “rules” or desires for our life. We often tell God that we don’t need His help in this or that area of our life.  We need to stop putting ourselves in the way (ie stop sinning) but since that isn’t ever possible we will have suffering (punishment).  Have you stopped and thought about the suffering in your life?

We often try to hide the pain in our life – saying “everything is fine” or something similar without truly embracing or accepting that things aren’t fine.  Our lives are a mess.  It is ok.  My life is a mess – just like yours.  Did you know that Jesus, when He died, experienced the worst pain/suffering imaginable?  For those 3 days he was dead, God actually turned His back on His beloved son.  Jesus accepted that responsibility so we wouldn’t have to.

At the time Lamentations was written, everything that the Israelites thought was important to God was destroyed. God never expected the Temple to last forever, from the beginning He knew about Jesus.  But think how that might mess with the minds of the Israelites.  Yet, at the end of the day “I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” (Lamentations 3:24)

None of us (as Christians) have been infinitely abandoned by God.  Jesus alone stood abandoned, infinitely, bearing God’s wrath for us.  We are broken A-Z as deep and wide as the sea.  However, God loves us too much to be indifferent to our desire to be our own God.  He wants us to be blessed immensely, but like any good father provides discipline to help us understand the correct path.

We must rest in the promise that through Jesus’ suffering we won’t suffer forever, but will one day rejoice in the faithfulness of God and His great mercy.

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I’ve struggled the last few weeks to stay focused during the message.  I’m pretty sure it has been more me than David though.  It seems like so much has been going on in life and so much is going on in my head – it is hard to sit quietly and listen to the Truth being presented.

That being said, this week’s message at Seward Church comes from Esther.

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing. – Edmund Burke

The Book of Esther is full of evil messy stuff going on.  David referred to Psalms 12:8 for a good description of what was occuring during this time in the world.  The story of Esther going from a random virgin on the street to becoming Queen is also a messy tale of lust, violence, greed, and immorality.  Even as queen she still had to be very careful or risk being thrown out like her predecessor – Vashti.

David shared a little analogy of the past three books

Ezra can be related to the church, while Nehimiah is like an urban developer, and Esther is like the politician in charge.  Each has their own range of power and influence to create change.  At each level their is a different responsibility for their “people”.

Esther’s ascent to the throne was very much on the “inside”.  She asked around to see what she could do to win favor.  She worked within exsisting systems and structures to succeed – not creating her own separate ideas, even though she was an ethnic outsider.  We too need to work within existing structures and create change within the system – redemption and restoration comes from within.

If you know the story of Esther you know that she becomes Queen and then a short while later her husband is convinced that all the Jewish people should be killed.  He didn’t remember or realize that his “beloved” was Jewish. But you better believe her friends and mentors didn’t forget her Jewishness and quickly came to her for aid.   Esther tried to play them off saying I don’t have any power and oh by the way – remember Vashti?  I could lose my life if I confront the king on a matter of policy.

This line from Esther 4 is great:

Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.

Yes, maybe God worked out your life’s plan so that you could be in a position to save your people.  Maybe you should risk your life so that you can have life.  Esther was in a position where she could lose everything.

– If she did nothing, the King’s edict would ultimately kill her

– If she talked to the King about his edict, he could kill her outright

– Or, she could talk to the King and he could change his policy and she (and her people) would get the chance to live.

It seems like a no brainer right? But we often face a tough calculation like this and struggle to take the risk. I know I do.

The story does ultimately have a happy ending.  The Jewish people are saved from the king’s sword.  Esther is a precursor to Jesus.  He risked everything and ultimately died for our freedom.  He left the beautiful palace of heaven to walk among us and offer a free gift of salvation.

Esther became a person of greatness only after she was willing to risk everything.  David pointed out that she was called Queen Esther only 14 times in the whole book.  Once before she risked her life and 13 times afterwards.  We become great people of God when we are willing to lay down our lives for Him and the people He loves.

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Meditation
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Friday night David shared from the Old Testament book Nehemiah at Seward Church.  His focus was again on the community found within the Biblical story.

As a community the people listened attentively to Ezra’s reading of the Law (Neh 8:1-3). As a result of hearing the Law the people were grieved for their sin and as a result are making a covenant together to focus on pleasing God – through the law. (Neh 9:38)

I had a little trouble following David this week, but even though the Israelites were very focused on works-based salvation through the law – God had already offered them His radical love and salvation.  Even before they deserved it.  9:9-11 and 9:13

One of the purposes of the law is to create a community.  Whenever one person in the community suffers – the whole community suffers.  When we have an unraveling in our lives it is because our relationship with God is unravelling.  This too can have a negative impact on the community of believers.  Hearing the Word of God stirs something within us – as it did many times throughout the Old Testament stories.  Together and with the Holy Spirit’s help we can live together in community and carry each other’s burdens.  God doesn’t forsake us (9:17) even though we are all sinners (9:27,30) God has enduring patience and mercy.

David’s final point was that we should all continue to PRESS ON TOGETHER with Christ as our center.  Look at last week’s message to see more about God’s community.

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David went a little off-topic for Friday’s message at Seward Church. Instead of the usual story of grace this week focused more on faithfulness and community, which does connect with grace!

In John 13:34 Jesus commands the disciples to love one another in the same way that He has loved us.  This is the basis for a community that serves Christ and functions well together both internally and externally.  David shared an image of a lighthouse (similar to this) which I had never thought of before. Jesus is the light that is shining out across the sea, serving as a beacon for all to see.  But it takes people (in community) to go out and be the light touching lives and rescuing or searching out people to help draw them into the lighthouse.  Does that make sense to you?

In  Ezra (3:1,8-9) we see that the Isrealites have placed their faith in God again.  Building the temple was their expression of faith.  Building the temple or a church also represents the people coming together in a community.  All believers should come together and be made more holy (sanctified) as seen in John 17:17-22.    Ephesians4:3 says that we should do everything to keep the bonds of peace.  David really emphasised that community is a gift not a right.  As a gift we also have to work to stay unified – but also let the Spirit do its powerful work in us.

A little more controversial statement is that the community is strengthened not by looking at each other but by looking towards Jesus for His strength.  We are all imperfect beings and will annoy the heck out of each other – which could cause problems.  When we place Jesus at the center we tend to focus more on His love and grace for each one of us.  We also need to make sure that the focus doesn’t get turned towards the community we are trying to serve, because then we become all about service – not Jesus.

We all need or want to be in a community and having friends isn’t a problem but a sign of maturity.  In Genesis 2:18 God realized that man couldn’t do everything by himself – so He created the woman.  David extrapolated that to be that we shouldn’t be trying to do good works alone (individually or as a married couple) but together within the community of our church.  Community is by no means easy (as I mentioned above), I’m sure we all annoy each other!  But being in a community and having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of others helps draw us closer into the heart of God.  I’m sure we annoy Him alot!  Ultimately, community makes us better people.

While building the temple, the Israelites ran into some conflict.  Basically the king withdrew their building permits and made it illegal for them to keep working.   Ezra 4:17-21 makes it clear that soldiers were sent to stop the building process. Even though they were given clear direction by God to build the temple, the Israelites caved in to the pressure.  If construction was a sign of faithfulness, then halting construction was a sign of faithlessness.  They were concerned about their relative safety and not focused on God’s Safety.

Similarly if the church today focuses on self-preservation above following God’s calling they are acting without faith.  You can read many stories of Christians around the world standing up admist persecution and losing everything, even their life.  Almost as bad is when the church focuses only on building itself up.  Building new gyms, adding expensive stained glass, creating church schools or home-school co-ops, and forgetting to focus on the external community.  Building a fitness center within a church campus says two things – 1) community we don’t want to smell your sweat or touch your machines and 2) God you are unable to protect us from those “evil” people who live out there.  Both of these are false.  David shared an interesting analogy with manure.  Manure is an excellent fertilizer, but only when spread out across an entire field.  When kept in a manure pit it will actually kill all the grass around it, not too mention that it reeks!  Christians are like manure – we are best when we are spread out around town.

The anaolgy breaks down a little bit because we are actually at our best when we are spread out in community with other Christians who can love and support our endeavors. But the point of the analogy is pretty clear.  Again, Jesus must be at the center of our field – maybe He is the manure spreader!

Even when we forsake or forget about Him, God continues to be faithful to us.  God really wanted a place for His people to come together in worship to Him, He wanted the temple built.  In Ezra 5:1-2 we see that Haggai and Zechariah were sent to kick the Israelites back into gear. They began rebuilding the temple.  The Book of Zechariah captures some of the prophesy, specifically 4:6-7 which includes the phrase – “Grace, Grace to It.” The NIV says, “God Bless It.”  Even after turning their back on Him, God gave them a second chance.  He has given us a second chance and the ultimate act of grace by letting His Son die for our sins.

We finished the evening with communion – the ultimate symbol of Christ’s life and death and a symbol of community. David said, “Communion is an act of kneeling together and looking at Christ.”  As 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Let us each proclaim the love of God to all we meet and rely on God and the community He has given us to love those who are hard to love.

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Jesus rescuing Adam and Eve from the grave
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Who are you? That always seems like a tough question – are you American, Somali, your father’s son, a husband, brother… who are you really?

During the time that 2 Chronicles 1 Chronicles was written the Jews were living in exile and were beginning to forget their heritage and the important stories of their history.  Ezra begins the book with a geneology – 9 chapters long from Adam all the way to David.

Remember last week when Josiah found the law?  Ezra was also bringing back the ideas surrounding the covenant made in Genesis 15.  Part of the covenant’s promise was that God would continue to provide for the Israelites as long as they followed His dictates.   The covenant was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ death (Is 53:5).  We need to remember that the covenant is both relational and legal.

Sometimes we let things get in the way of God’s work in our lives.  For example by Jesus’ day the Jews were creating all types of rules and laws to “help” people follow God.  Ultimately, these had the opposite affect placing barriers in the way of a relationship with God.

We can find great hope in this Hebrews passage (1:1-5)

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

Jesus is the King forever. He iniaited the original covenant and fulfilled it. Ezra was trying to bring the Israelites back to a story of Grace through the covenant.

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"The Jews' Passover"—facsimile of a ...
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This is actually a week late.  It is from March 6th.  Stay tuned for the 13th’s recap.

Second Kings is full of stories about kings, obviously.  Sadly it is a story of human kings who continue to screw up on a regular basis.  These kings ultimately face justice for their actions.  But during Friday night’s service in which Tim shared the story of grace from 2 Kings we focused on a king who was doing a lot of the right things.

King Josiah’s story is found in 2 Kings 22-24.  He was a pretty young king at 8 years old.  We are told that at age 16 he was seeking after God and by age 20 was waging military campaigns to expand the southern kingdom’s boundaries – into the northern kingdom.  Part of this campaign was dismantling idolatry,  especially temple prostitution.  When he was 26 some of his administration rediscovered the Law (vs 8-11).

This was a pretty big deal because God’s people had strayed pretty far from God’s desires and the law included judgement – the wrath of God.  Josiah was quite distraught and tore his clothes.  He then sought to restore God’s order throughout the kingdom.  It took between 6-8 years to destroy all the idols.

King Josiah even went so far as to restore the celebration of Passover (23:21), which for the Jewish people was the centerpiece of grace in their year and lives.  David, a man after God’s own heart, didn’t even really celebrate the Passover. It seems similar to many of the holidays we celebrate today – like Memorial Day or even Easter.  It is just another day on the calendar that we mark by getting some time off work.

Sadly, we see in verse 26 that this wasn’t enough.

Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.

For the Jewish people of the time and even today, the Messiah is seen as a person who will come and be an earthly king.  You can see this in some of the Gospel stories where Jesus was treated as a conquerer coming to overthrow the Roman government.  Unknowingly, the Romans called Him King of the Jews at His death.  Truthfully, Jesus was the promised King that would offer hope and salvation to the Jews – but they rejected Him.  Jesus also represents the perfect and final Passover for the Jewish people.

Ultimately God’s wrath came down on the Israelites and they were forced into exile for their sins.  Sin is always causing problems – putting us into exile from God.  Adam and Eve were “exiled” from the Garden of Eden and we continue to put sin between ourselves and God.  We will never be perfect while we walk the earth, but when we knowingly sin we are intentionally turing our back and walking away from Him.  When you sin you are saying that the object of your sin is worth more than God and you elevate it to a position of power in your life.  You can only have one God.

He is always there to accept and love us when we turn to Him in repentance.  We can see this in 22:18-19

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD.

Jesus is from the lineage of earthly Kings (Matthew 1) and the son of God, representing our eternal King who will lead us away from exile.

Jesus has freed us from the dictates of the law and fulfilled the promises made to the Isrealites.  He offers us freedom, grace, and love.   Will you accept it today?

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