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Loved: In Spite of Ourselves
Scripture: Hosea 11:1-11
Track 18 of 27 in the Transforming Story As God Gave It series
Running time: 34 minutes, 13 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

4/30/2006 Loved: In Spite of Ourselves

Probably the easiest way to say this is, I just don't get it. I don't understand. I watched this little girl from the time that she was just a toddler. I observed her home life; I saw the parents who loved her deeply, who, frankly, poured their whole soul into her -- only child, literally gave everything they could as parents to really try their best to raise her in the discipline and love of the Lord. There are a lot of extenuating circumstances that I'll not take the time to tell you, except to tell you at this point in her life, she's not yet reached rock bottom. She is just recently out of jail, where she spent the last three months. She is pregnant with her fourth child by four different men. She has been in a series of unwise relationships. The man who is the father of this most recent pregnancy will leave here before very long, because he had no interest in her other than what he could receive from her, and that's now going to create obligation that he doesn't want.

And I confess to you I don't understand, I don't understand how it is that someone who is loved at the depths that this young lady has been loved, can so completely turn the other direction. I confess that I don't understand it. I don't know why I don't understand it, because I've seen it so often. And I don't know why I don't understand it in light of the story of Scripture. Scripture is so abundantly clear that those are issues that we face all the time. You don't have to look very far in the story that we've been telling to recognize that men have been doing that very thing to God since the very beginning. It's never really been other than that, so I don't know why I'm responding with such surprise to this, but I am.

In the Garden of Eden God had given Adam and Eve absolutely everything; I mean, he said you can have it all. There's only this one minor little thing—don't eat from that tree over there called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And what did they do? They ate from the tree. You move a little further into the story and you watch God as he observes his people. They're enslaved in Egypt; he hears -- the text literally says he hears their cries, and so he responds by sending Moses to lead them. And they have this absolutely incredible experience of observing God work these incredible miracles against, in every way against, the gods of Egypt. He takes them across the Red Sea in this miraculous experience of being redeemed and freed. Every day they went out and there was food on the ground for them. Didn't have to work for it, all they had to do was go and pick it up. When they ran out of water, Moses spoke to a rock and it gushed forth water. And what did they do? They grumbled and they complained because they wanted meat.

I don't know why I'm surprised when God's people respond badly to what he does for them. We watched them; forty years later they have the same kind of experience. They have been wandering in the wilderness; they're invited to cross over the Jordan River. God will give them the land of Jericho; it will be theirs, they can have it. They walk up to a walled city; once a day they walk around the city. The seventh day they walk around it a few more times. They never lift a sword; they simply shout, and the city collapses, and God gives them Jericho. And what happens? Achan takes some of the loot and he buries it under his tent. And they suffer defeat at the very next battle.

Well how many stories would you like? God continues to be with them; he says I'll be in your presence, I'll be your leader, I'll be a king for you, I will be responsible for you, I will lead you -- and what do they do? They clamor, we want a king like everybody else. God, you're not good enough for us, so make us like the rest of the world. Give us a leader. So he says, ok, I'll give you a leader. In fact, I'll give you a leader, I'll give you a king who has absolutely everything. He's absolutely brilliant, he is a military marvel, he has my heart. And what does he do? Instead of choosing God he chooses Bathsheba – and loses four sons.

And we could just go through the story over and over and over again. God offers promises, God offers care, God gives to his people everything they could possibly want, and they choose to worship Baal or to worship some other idol; they choose to be unfaithful. I'm not sure why it is that I'm so surprised by that. But I confess to you that I continue to be surprised at God's people.

I want you to listen to a passage. It's not the one we're going to look at particularly, but I just want you to hear the way that God speaks in that kind of context of trying so hard to say to his people, I really am on your side. I really do want you in relationship with me; in fact, I'll do most anything that I have to to try to keep this relationship going. And so he has his prophet say this: I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, and yet you've not returned to me, declares the Lord. I withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away; I sent rain in one town and withheld it from another. One field had rain and another had none and dried up and people staggered from town to town for water, but they didn't get enough to drink, and yet you have not returned to me. Many times I struck your gardens and your vineyards; I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and your olive trees, and yet you've not returned to me. I sent plagues among you and yet you did not return to me. I overthrew some of you and yet you did not return to me. Over and over again, on the one hand he does these wonderful, marvelous things and Israel walks away. And on the other hand, he says if that doesn't work, I will try to discipline you to get your attention and draw you back to me, and you still ignore me -- you pay no attention to me.

The story of the text, this transforming story of God that we have been walking through since Genesis Chapter 1, is the story of God calling to his people and calling to his people and calling to his people, and saying I really want nothing more than to just live in a relationship with you. Why won't you listen to me? Why won't you come to me? Why won't you be faithful to me?

And every time that happens, I confess to my surprise. I don't get it. I used to sit right here, not in this building, in another church, front row. I mean, how many people are front row people? Four. And they're only in the second row. I mean, you just can't get people in these front rows, man, they just don't want---- but there they were, front row people, brand new Christians. I mean, just so excited about their faith. One day she doesn't come with him. Where's Sally? Well, she didn't get home in time to get here. Where's Sally? Well, ---. That went on for several weeks until he finally decided that he just wanted to tell me the story of what was going on in his life. This is a man who deeply loved his wife and his children. And she turned 30 and decided that somehow along the way, she had missed out on what it meant to be a teenager. So she decided at 30 to become a teenager. And she did. She started drinking, staying out all night. And he never left, he just stayed right there. And he said when you finally grow up, when you finally wake up and recognize what you're doing to yourself and to me and to your children, I'll still be here. And you know what – he's still there.

I just confess that I don't understand how it is that people can see and experience the kind of love that God pours out on people, and they just continue to walk away from that kind of love.

One of my favorite texts of Scripture is the book of Hosea; one of my favorite texts within that favorite text is the 11th chapter of Hosea, and I'm going to look at it this morning for just a little while. We've looked at it before; this will not be an unfamiliar text to you if you've been here very long. I tend to go back to those kinds of text that speak so clearly to me. Hosea Chapter 11. I want to read the first seven verses. I just want you to listen for the language God uses to talk about his relationship with his children. When Israel was a child, I loved him. Out of Egypt I called my son, but the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms, but they didn't realize it was I who healed them.

I don't know if you were in the foyer earlier this morning, but Ellie's learning how to walk. She's got the drunken stagger down pretty good. You know how those little kids are when they're just first --- don't you remember, parents, grandparents, when you had them by the hands and you were doing this number with them? That's the image that God is talking about. They didn't know that I was the one holding their hands and helping them walk. He's talking like a father who has this deeply ingrained experience of knowing his children and loving his children and caring for his children. He says in Hosea 11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness and ties of love. I lifted the yoke from their neck and I bent down to feed them. And listen to him, listen to his heart--- Will they not return to Egypt; will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates, and will put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them.

I want you to hear that last line, because that is a frightening line of Scripture --- even if they call to the Most High, he will not exalt them. Does God ever run out of patience? Does God ever get tired of his children just totally ignoring him? Does he ever just reach the place where he says, listen, I've done everything I know how to do for you, I've done everything I can do for you, and you're not listening to me.

I confess to my bewilderment. The difficulties began—well, at least the first time you could begin to see the difficulties, the first time that you could trace the difficulties, was when she was in junior high school. That's when the rebellious spirit began to show itself. It was subtle at first; you didn't notice it a lot. In fact, I think probably as parents, it was one of those situations where, frankly, you just assumed that it's childhood disobedience, you know, the kind of thing that you expect from teenagers. The kind of thing that everybody talks about, that you get warned about. You got this wonderful little two-year-old and they say, just wait! They don't mean anything by it, so you don't think anything about it until you begin to notice that the behavior is just a little more bizarre than you thought it was gonna be. This became so serious that by the time she was in high school, there was a confrontation one day where her father took the suitcase and sat it at the front door and said, these are your choices -- you can live here under our roof by our rules, or here's the door and here's your suitcase. You're gonna have to leave.

I'm not so bewildered about the child at this point as I am bewildered about the parents. I honestly don't know how they endured, patiently, coaxing and praying, and confronting and challenging and praying and coaxing and loving, and disengaging and engaging and through college and the awful, terrible kinds of things that were experienced in college. And ten years later she's in church. I don't know if her heart is where it belongs; I don't know if she is fully yet engaged with God. But there is such a remarkable change in her life, it is just almost night and day. There's a return of affection and conversation that wasn't there for a long time. And I find myself not so much marveling at the child as I am marveling, frankly, at the parents who just absolutely refused to give up. I have to admit – I don't know if I could do that; I don't know if I have that kind of patience to just wait and wait and wait after insult upon insult upon insult. But I don't know why I'm surprised. I mean, after all, parents are nothing more than the microcosm of God.

You've thought about it, right? Here they are in the Garden of Eden. God says there's all these things that you can have, and they choose to eat the wrong one? And what does he do? He's the one who provides them with the coat, the clothing. He's the one who takes care of them and covers them. They go out into the wilderness and, yes, they moan and they groan and they complain and they gripe and they want this and they want that, and so what does God do? He gives them manna and water and quail. And they get themselves in deeper trouble; every time they turn around, they're falling into worse and worse sin, and so what does God do? He raises up judges -- Deborah and Samson and Barak -- and he takes care of them and he redeems them and he calls them back to himself. One more time he comes back to them. And I think of the story of King David and how he was a man after God's own heart and yet he had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and yet God used him to bring the Messiah, to write the Hebrew Psalter, to give us 150 hymns to sing. I think about Israel and their Baal worship and how God, in an attempt to discipline them one more time, sent them to Babylon, and they stayed there for 70 years, but after 70 years of discipline, he brought them back home and gave them the land again.

I think of Peter, who made this promise, I will not deny you. I don't care what anybody else does, I will not forsake you. And three times he says, I don't know who he is! And Jesus meets him on a beach and has breakfast with him and says, do you love me, Peter? Cause I've got big plans for you, man. I am gonna to do things in your life you cannot imagine.

I think of the Apostle Paul before we ever knew him as an apostle. He's a Jewish zealot killing Christians to try to stop the church. And God comes down to him on the road to Damascus and says, yeah, I know, but I want you to be an apostle to the Gentiles, I want you to go to kings. There's something about God's incredible patience with us. Come back to Hosea 11. The last thing we read was verse 7, ---even if they call to me, I will by no means listen. It's almost like there's a dramatic pause in the text while God catches his breath, and then listen to what he says – how can I give you up, how can I hand you over. How can I treat you like Admah or make you like Zeboiim? (Those are sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.) How could I destroy you like I destroyed them? My heart is changed within me; all of my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God and not man, the holy one among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion and when he roars, his children will come trembling from the west; they will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria, and I will settle them in their homes, declares the Lord. Do you hear this text? As bad as you choose to be, God never gives up! He refuses to give up.

He is the ultimate seeker. Do you understand that? He is the ultimate seeker. When man chooses to disobey God, from the very beginning in Genesis Chapter 3, there is this inherent, innate experience within us. We know that we have left God, we know that in our heart, and we begin to hide from him. Why do you think my father's bar was so stinking dark? Because people believe that you can find a place in the dark to hide. And what does the text say? God came looking for them in the garden. God came looking for them!

And the most famous parable that Jesus may have ever told – there was a father who had a couple of sons, and one of those sons came to his dad and said, Dad, I want my inheritance early. And so he took it, and he went off to a far country, and he lived unrighteously and he wasted his father's money, until he found himself feeding pigs and wishing he could eat what the pigs were eating. And he decided, when he came to his senses, to come home. And here is this dignified Jewish father standing on the front porch, and he's straining every day for a glimpse of his son. And somewhere, somewhere down the driveway, he sees the shadow of one who looks familiar. And the next thing you know, he's doing what no Jewish father does – he runs down and he takes him and he throws his arms him, and he won't even let him finish his speech. And he says, bring the robe and the ring and some shoes. My son is home!

He's the ultimate seeker. He never gives up; he never stops standing on the porch looking. He never says I've had enough. All he wants, all he has ever wanted, is just to live in relationship with you, to have you say, you're my God. That's all.

All that time when he said, I did all this stuff to you, I did all this stuff to you, it was always in the context, and yet you didn't return to me. It was always an attempt to draw them back to himself. God is this ultimate seeker. And I think we must be the ultimate hiders.

Somebody shared this with me this week; I found this really interesting. I'll just read most of it. A boss wondered why one of his most valued employees had not phoned in sick one day. Having an urgent problem with one of the main computers, he dialed the employee's home phone number and was greeted by a child's whisper, "Hello." "Is your daddy home?" "Yes." "May I talk to him?" "No." Surprised and wanting to talk to an adult, the boss said, "Is your mommy there?" "Yes." "May I talk to her?" "No." Hoping there was somebody with whom he could leave a message, the boss said, "Is anybody else there?" "Yes, a policeman." Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee's home, the boss said, "May I speak with the policeman?" "No, he's busy." "Busy doing what?" "Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the firemen." Getting more worried as he heard what sounded like a helicopter through the earpiece of the phone, the boss asked, "What's that noise?" "A helicopter." "What's going on there?" Again whispering, the child answered, "The search team just landed the helicopter." Alarmed, concerned, a little frustrated, he said, "What are they searching for?" "Me!"

Some of you are hiding behind the couch. Some of you know that God is looking for you. That he's calling for you. And you're hiding behind the couch. And I don't know whether you're like that little child and you think it's just a game, but God's looking for you. You see, God is not looking for explanations, he's not looking for excuses, he's not looking for you to enlighten him, he's not looking for you to explain yourself. God's looking for you. He's not looking for you to rationalize or to give him some reason why you don't want to come home. He's not looking for words at all, he's looking for you. He's looking for you to simply come and give him yourself, to come to him and to pour yourself out to him in worship, to make him the one who is central to your life.

He is the ultimate seeker. Now, I understand man's a mess, I know that; God knows that. He still wants you.

Back in the 1940's, Charles Templeton was probably the second leading evangelist in the United States. He was a Canadian journalist who became a Christian. He worked with Billy Graham; he was cofounder of Christ in Youth. He was touted by many to possibly be the greatest evangelist that North America had ever heard preach. Somewhere along the way, Templeton began to doubt whether or not God meant what he said. In fact, he and Billy Graham had an ongoing conversation about the reliability of Scripture. Templeton had decided that science had debunked most of the stories of the Bible and therefore they couldn't be trusted. But the turning point for him, the turning point for Charles Templeton, was starving children and the injustice of the world. I don't know how you argue that as a Christian, when there is no way that you can ignore the fact that there are starving children in the world, that there is injustice and suffering. That's what the world is made of, and so God took second seat in Charles Templeton's life; in fact, he became an avowed atheist. He wrote his final book, Farewell to God. He died of Alzheimer's about two or three years ago.

You can do that – you can take a look at what the world is like, you can look at the unexplainable and the difficult and you can recognize that there are things that are really hard. And you can decide that God isn't good, or maybe there's no God at all.

Lacey was sharing with me a story about a composer, Franz Liszt. Liszt was an eccentric in some ways, way ahead of his time is what I mean, in composition, flamboyant. Is that a fair word, flamboyant? Yeah. A showman, artistic, in the early part of his life. Two affairs, three illegitimate children. The second woman that he lived with, had an affair with, he was wanting to marry and he had permission from the pope to get married; he was going to grant a divorce so that she could marry him, and then he, at the last minute, cancelled the divorce and that angered Liszt. He lost his friendship with the composer Wagner; something happened between them and they lost their friendship. His 21-year-old son died unexpectedly. And Liszt, Liszt became a lay priest, took the orders of a priest, in order to get closer to God. And in the last part of his life, he wrote primarily music for the church, sacred music.

See, that's it, isn't it? There isn't anybody in this room that is exempt from hard times. There's nobody in here that's exempt from having something bad happen to you or something bad happen around you. That's common to everybody here. What's not common to us is whether or not we respond to it correctly. You can look at the hardship, the difficulty, the hardness of life, and you can respond like a Templeton, and you can say, I don't want anything to do with a God like that. Or you can respond like Liszt and you can say, I don't know if I understand this, but I'm going to draw as close to God as I know how. And I want to offer him what I have for his sake. God is not looking for you to explain yourself or to excuse yourself. He's not looking for words from you at all. He's looking for you -- to respond to him in worship, to bring him your heart, to give yourself to him. Maybe this song can help you do that. Would you stand with me?

[Transcribed by SM11]