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Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Our Father In Heaven

 “Our Father Who Art In Heaven”

 Message @ Jericho Ridge Community Church – Sunday, Feb 16, 2014

Text: Hosea 11 // Series: Hosea: Lost & Found

 

How many of you had a MySpace account or remember when MySpace was popular? Yeah, me neither.  The thing I do remember about myspace was the really bad, amateurish photos that people would post of themselves on the site.  In mid-2005, I thought we might be rid of this, because in my thinking, the ascendency of Facebook to prominence in our lives could perhaps be attributed to how bad and how campy those pictures were on Myspace.  And yet once Apple put a camera on the early iPhone, and once Facebook started in with the profile pic, we never recovered.  And so here we are in early 2014 where “selfie” is selected as the word of the year for 2013 and the internet is filled to overflowing with people taking selfies.  The selfie says a lot about what you want to convey, doesn’t it?  But I began to wonder “what would it look like if God took a selfie?”  What would He want us to see and know about Himself?     

 

Here at Jericho Ridge, as we have launched into 2014 we’ve been exploring the book of Hosea in the Old Testament.  And as we’ve said before there are two primary images used in this book to convey the ideas of being lost and found.  The first one that we bump into right away at the start of the book is the image of a husband and an unfaithful wife.  Hosea himself lives this out with Gomer and it becomes a painfully sharp way of God saying to his people “this is how I feel about our relationship.  I love you with an everlasting love and yet by choosing to engage in other relationships, you are being unfaithful to me.” 

 

The second image which we have explored and which has come up over the past few weeks in particular is that of a parent and a rebellious child.  For chapter after chapter, we’ve heard Hosea speak out against the evil bahaviours and bad choices people are making and how God is going to let them experience the consequences of these choices.  But today the lens shifts from a focus on the children to the parent.  We’re still working within this image, but in Hosea 11, God turns the camera on himself and lets us into a unique window on His emotions, thoughts and feelings about us.  It’s raw.  It’s unvarnished.  If you will permit a bit of irreverence, it’s a bit of a divine selfie.

 

In several places in the Bible, not just in Hosea, God is compared to a loving father who longs for us as His wayward sons and daughters to return to Him.  Most often, when God is depicted in classical or contemporary art, he is given this kind of grandfather or fatherly image.  But this notion of God as Father is not without some challenges.  (I invite you to tweet your thoughts and include the series hashtag #MessyLove or tweet them to @jerichoridge).  I want us to pause and think about some of these before we dive into our text this morning as they will inform what we find there. 

 

The first challenge that is often raised when we think about God being revealed to us as a father is that

  1. Image can be easily tainted by our experiences

Both negatively and positively.  If we had a good experience growing up with our dad, then we may lean in to this image and find it warm and helpful.  But for many who suffered neglect of abuse at the hands of their earthly father, this image of God as a father becomes tainted or confusing.  And yet God still reveals Himself as a Father in the Scriptures.  Jesus refers to God as Father and invites us to do the same in the Lord’s Prayer.  In the NT, God is often referred to as a Father.  Why take that risk knowing the broken and fallen nature of humankind and the potential for us to blur the lines between our experiences with our earthly fathers? 

 

  1. Image of a father is not very gender-inclusive

Starting at around the mid-point of the last century, feminist biblical scholars have flagged the notion that the image of God as a Father is highly male oriented / male dominant and perhaps there were other ways of expressing who God is and what we mean when we talk about Him. Or Her. Or It. Or They/Them…  I can remember a number of years back when Meg and I visited a church on the East Coast which had made gender inclusion as a massive part of its liturgy.  They had a gender inclusive Bible in every pew and they took great pains to explain their view that the Scriptures had been tainted by patriarchal cultural history.  Every time they referred to God in song or public recitation of Scripture or in the sermon, it was always He/she or “our father/mother who art in Heaven…” which made some songs very hard to sing.  Now before you roll your eyes as an evangelical and make some snide comment about liberalism in mainline denominations in Canada, our own Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith works hard to wrestle with this issue and says “God comforts like a loving mother, trains and disciplines like a caring father, and persists in covenant love like a faithful husband. We confess God as eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  I think this is a helpful direction to take because it reminds us of the third potential challenge of thinking of God is male terms:

         

  1. Limited by language (creates binary categories)

Any use of anthropomorphic terminology, which means using human categories or characteristics to try and describe God, is going to fall horribly and short of the mark.  How could we ever hope to capture the totality of God’s revelation in the term ‘father’ or any other term?  Our challenge is that we can get locked into thinking that if God invites us to address Him as Father, that he is male.  But God is neither male nor female – those are categories of gender that express how He created us but remember in Genesis it says that God created male and female in His image so God is neither male nor female, He is God.  But despite all of these limitations and challenges, God still chose to reveal Himself as Father to us.  And we’re going to see in Hosea 11 that perhaps one of the reasons why is that this image gives us a window into the relational nature of God and also the nature of our relationship with Him.  Let’s begin reading in Hosea 11:1 – I’m reading from the NLT and will go to verse 11.  The text will be up on the side screens here. 

 

Powerful parental language, isn’t it?  I think there are maternal as well as paternal emotions in there.  So let’s look together at what we learn about God in this portrait.  We’ve talked about some of challenges but what are some of the up-sides or helpful things that we can take away from seeing God as a Father?  The first one comes up right away in verse 1 – “when Israel was a child, I loved him and I called my son out of Egypt.”  This is rooted in redemptive history all the way back in the earlier part of the Old Testament where God chooses the children of

 

 

1)   God chooses to love us not because we are worthy but simply because we are His children

As a parent, I get this in a small and partial way.  When our first son was born, the instant I laid eyes on him, I loved him so deeply.  In that moment, my heart was so filled with love that I would have done anything for that kid – I would have taken a bullet for him.  But he hadn’t done anything of substance to deserve that kind of overwhelming love.  It wasn’t merited or based on his behavior or achievements… it was simply based on the fact that he was my child in whom I was well pleased.  And I loved him.  This past week, we got such a precious and powerful window into that love with Chris and Serenity as they dedicated little Samuel on Thursday. Chris expressed his thoughts as a dad in a voice over on the video of little Samuel’s life and it was powerful.  In as many words, God says to us

          “I have loved you, my people, with an        everlasting love. With unfailing love I have           drawn you to myself.” (Jeremiah 31:3)               

In the New Testament, in the book of Ephesians we are again reminded that this is all God’s choosing and His work – it is not by works of righteousness that we have done but according to His mercy He saves us.  “Ephesians 1:4-6 says “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” 

God chooses to love you not because you are worthy, but simply because you are his child.  All you can do is choose to receive & respond (or not).  We can receive His love by choosing to open our hearts to relationship with Him.  Perhaps for you today, that is a new idea or one that you have thought about before but have never acted on.  Perhaps today is the day you stop resisting and fighting against the Father’s love and instead you lay down self-sufficiency and pride and say “God, thank you for your invitation.  I want to be a part of your forever family”.  Perhaps today is your day to receive and respond to God in gratitude, in praise, in commitment of our hearts and our lives to Him. Or not.  God’s love is not forced.  We see in Hosea 11 that the people rejected God – the more God called to them, the further they hid from Him.  But that this is not God’s desire.  Because the second thing we learn about is that as a father,     

 

2) God doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves

Look at the language of Hosea 11:3-4…       

He teaches us (11:3)

          He leads & guides us (11:3,4)

          He delivers us (11:4)

Just like a parent, this love is sometimes expressed in discipline, in teaching and guiding but it is also expressed tenderly in proximity.  God is present acknowledged or not.  And so you and I can take comfort in knowing that no matter what comes into our path, our Father will never leave us or forsake us.  And so        

You can face the trials of life knowing God is near

I love the way this is expressed in another OT prophet, Isaiah 41:10…         

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.

              Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.

          I will strengthen you and help you.

              I will hold you up with my victorious right hand                                                                Isaiah 41:10 NLT

God will not leave us as orphans.  His presence may not always be felt or experienced but He has not left you.  We may choose to turn from Him, we may be smack in the middle of experiencing the negative consequences of our own choices and actions.  We may even be determined to desert God and to not truly honour Him.  We may rail against Him and question why and get angry at Him and others around us.  But God is still our Father.  And His heart is still filled with compassion and love for you.    

 

Which brings us to the last thing we learn from this text.  As a Father…

2)   God doesn’t give up on us when we fail (11:8-10)

This is perhaps where Divine love departs from my capacity as a parent.  I have tolerance for a certain amount of straying or disobedience, but at some point you would cross a line where I would have a hard time forgiving you if this is the 15th time today we have had to deal with that issue.  But the picture we receive of God in the pages of Scripture is the Father of the prodigals – who, after giving away His earthly wealth only to see it squandered on pure stupidity – still waits and watches and longs for His wayward son or daughter to return.  And when they do, He doesn’t lecture or cajole or hold back part of His heart so that he doesn’t get hurt the next time.  No.  As a Father, God is unrestrained and lavish in His love, mercy and forgiveness.  Does this give us license to do whatever the heck we want?  No.  One commentator puts it this way: “Repeated rejection of God will injure a relationship, but it will not destroy His deep love for people.  He repeatedly promised that when Israelites were suffering is distress, He would not abandon them or fail to keep His covenant promises (Duet 4:30-31; 31:6-8)” (Smith, 165). 

 

Since it was just Valentine’s Day, we toss around the word “love” in our culture a lot.  But this love that God has for you and me is a deeper, richer, more substantive kind of love than we are offered in trite greeting cards.   When God says I love you, He means that

          “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (I Corinthians 13:7)

To me, this is astounding because we get the clear picture from the past few chapters of Hosea as to how far the people have strayed from God.  It’s not that they have made a few bad choices.  Verse 7 really is true: they have purposed in their heart that they will desert Him.  And Yet He never gives up on them.  He is always hopeful and His love for them, and for you and me endures through every circumstance.  Every circumstance.  You see some of you here today believe that you have done things that have removed you permanently from the reach of God’s love.  You think that that hidden sin that keeps rearing its ugly head in your life means that God is frustrated with you to the point of being finished with you.  Some of you think that your sins are so huge that you are forever doomed to live outside of the reach of God’s love.  I’m going to be brazen and read V.8-11 and invite you to put your name in there… 

 

This kind of radical love that God has for you and me is in short supply in our world today.  Even in our family systems, we tend to give and receive love based on behaviour and performance and yet the love of God expressed here in Hosea reminds us that not only does God choose to love us not because we are worthy, but simply because we are His children.  But He also chooses to never leave us or forsake us, even when we fail.  This is a radical love.  This is a love that the world needs to know and to hear and to feel and to see and to experience.  But Do we have the courage to model this kind of love for each other and for a world who needs it?

 

Because here’s the thing…      

Acting on What We have Heard

The love of the Father needs to be experienced in order to be understood and embraced

As Christians, we have been pretty guilty of telling people all about God’s love but this passage in Hosea is meant to jar our sensibilities a bit and touch our emotions as well as our intellects.  Because love can’t be embraced if it is only understood.  It has to be lived.  To be experienced.   So as we move into a time of worship response, I want you to ask yourself two questions:    

          Are there barriers you need to overcome?

Do you have hurts, habits or hang-ups that you personally need to bring to God and confess to Him?  Perhaps the notion of God as a Father has been tainted for you in some way but perhaps today is the day that you begin to break down that barrier or hard place in your heart and allow God’s love to pour in. Perhaps you need to experience mercy triumphing over judgment in your life today.  If you would like us to pray for you, we have our pray response teams ready and willing.    

          Are there actions you will take this week?

 Who around you need to experience the love of the Father this week?   What would it take to show them his love? It might be a simple act of taking a meal over to a widow in your neighbourhood.  Or taking a hurting colleague out for lunch and listening to them because you know the others in your office are sick and tired of hearing them talk about their challenges.  It might mean that you want to come for prayer and ask God for strength to relate to your kids with His patience and kindness in a renewed way this week.  It might mean you deepen your Scripture intake so you can begin to allow God to speak to you about His love on a daily basis.  Ask God to give you one thought or one action that you will take this week to live out the love that God has for you in practical and meaningful ways. 

 

The team is going to come and lead us in three songs of response that all speak of God’s love as a Father for us.  Let’s pray as we respond together in worship.

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