Historical Background of Hosea—Assyria

Over the next month I’ll be working through Hosea in sermons and some blog posts. The short book of powerful prophetic poetry (accompanied by two brief narrative sections), cannot be read in strict isolation. It contains virtually no historical context, and without at least some knowledge of the setting the prophetic words are almost impossible to consider rightly. There are at least two elements which need to be briefly described and grasped on some level before Hosea can really come to life for us. First, we must get a sense of the rise of the Assyrian empire, and how Israel responded to that rise, which is the subject of this post. Secondly, we must consider the nature of the Baal worship that Hosea so sharply criticizes. While other historical and cultural factors certainly add color to our reading of Hosea, these two simply cannot be ignored if we are to grasp the essence of the book’s message. On the bright side, if you get these two down a little bit, Hosea is going to make enough sense to you for you to absorb some of its raw and powerful poetic punch.

Jehu pays tribute to Shamaneser III in 841 BC

The resurgence and expansion of the Assyrian empire in the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries BCE dominated the geo-political world of the Ancient Near East. In what historians refer to as the Neo-Assyrian period, a succession of ambitious and capable rulers built an empire capable of efficiently expanding through vicious military campaigns. Israel, located to the south-West of Assyria, would become Assyrian prey early on, paying tribute first of all in 841 BCE during the reign of Israel’s king Jehu. Continue reading “Historical Background of Hosea—Assyria”

Shepherds and the Story—A Sermon about Elders

I’ve been thinking about how our understanding of elders and their roles as shepherds relates to the big picture, the story the church has been brought into by Jesus. With elders, as with many other parts of church life, it’s too easy to think about them in isolation, as though we can simply turn to the proper chapters of scripture that address them and retrieve the list of rules that will tell us what to do. A much healthier approach is to start with the larger story in which we live, and let our understanding of the church’s shepherds grow out of that context, out of that story.

That larger story announces the reality of God’s reign in the world and his willingness to love and redeem the world. It is the story of how the creator God remains concerned with his creation, and is active within it. It is the story of how that God made for himself a people, by making covenant with Abraham, and with his rescued descendants at Sinai. It tells of God’s pursuit of Israel even when the covenant was broken. It tells how, in Jesus, God has made a new covenant with his people and opened the door for men and women of all nations to join Israel in becoming the covenant people of God. That story offers a way for humans to live within God’s reign, and warns of judgment for those who continue to live in rebellion against God’s reign. That story brings humans into participation in God’s plan to fight the darkness that has corrupted the world, and announces that his victory is certain, and what is wrong will be made right.

The church exists because of that story. It exists in that story. And it exists as an expression of that story.

When we talk about shepherds and elders, we can’t jump out of that story and imagine that we’re just dealing with a simple fact of ordering religious life. The shepherds actually function, like the rest of the church, within the context of that larger story. Continue reading “Shepherds and the Story—A Sermon about Elders”

I Just Wanna be a Sheep (Baaaa)—A Sermon on Receiving Shepherding

A couple of years ago a movie was released that I suppose a few have seen, although I have not and hopefully presume that not many of you have either. Indeed, it is astonishing that there was a market at all for Black Sheep. The film is set on a sheep farm in New Zealand, and tells the story of a farm where a bit of genetic engineering goes terribly awry, creating a new breed of—wait for it—Zombie Sheep. Yes, Zombie Sheep. The generally docile creatures turn bloodthirsty, devouring whatever humans they can find, and in true Zombie film fashion, develop the ability to turn some of the bitten farmers into mutant were-sheep—hideous creatures covered with wool, frenzied and ready to join the attacking horde-flock in their quest to devour the remaining humans.

This may well be a parable of the church.

While much attention continues to be given (appropriately) to training leaders and discussing the evolving model of elderships within churches, but we need to talk more about the other side of the relationship—what we sheep bring to our relationship with our shepherds. Like any relationship, we can’t work on only one side of the equation. For our model of shepherding to become truly effective, it can’t just be about the shepherds. We have to also develop our sense of what it means to receive shepherding. You can’t have good healthy shepherds in a church full of bloodthirsty zombie sheep.

Continue reading “I Just Wanna be a Sheep (Baaaa)—A Sermon on Receiving Shepherding”

Elders Part 2: Making Decisions about Making Decisions

Most of the time, when men become elders, they have very little idea of what things are going to be like.  What should they expect in meetings? What’s expected from them outside of the meeting room? What kinds of questions are people going to start asking them that they never would have heard before? What do you do when your thoughts are on the fringe? It can all be shocking at first, and it takes a little while before it begins to feel somewhat normal.  I’ve heard a lot of men say it was at least six months or a year before it felt normal to them—even two years is common!

Typically, churches add elders in batches, and since a new batch can take a little while to adjust, they often assimilate into the way the group already does things, going with the flow while they learn to swim.  Commonly being a part of an eldership is a moderating force on individuals, bringing them towards a center of thought. That’s mainly healthy and appropriate, part of the way the Spirit runs the church, but there is at least one by product of that process which is potentially negative.

Continue reading “Elders Part 2: Making Decisions about Making Decisions”

Mama Esther

When I was a kid, our extended family always went over to Mama Esther’s house on Christmas Eve. She was my great-grandmother, the matriarch of the Flippo side of my family, which has always been quite definitive for me and how I think about family.  It was a huge crowd, with eight fully formed branches. There’s a big family cookbook that was made sometime in the 90’s, and my copy of it is something like a manual for southern cooking. It’s great food with a lot of soul, but if you only eat food out of it, you’re health insurance rates are going to go up. It’ll probably kill you, but you’ll die happy. It’s old school and kind of awesome, like most of my family is.

In the front of the book, before the recipes, there are pages and pages of family stories. I love reading these, and really can’t help but get a little choked up reading them sometimes. Alternatively, some of them really crack me up, like the story of my uncles burying a mule. (Seriously, I’m going to have to post that one sometime. It needs to be on the internet.)

The parts about Mama Esther are some of the parts that really choke me up sometimes. By the time I knew her, she was the ancient, respected matriarch—I remember her as an almost otherworldly presence, due to be treated with the utmost reverence. I remember that well, the sense of her aura, the respect that she was so freely given by everyone in the family when we were around her. When I read these old stories, all of that makes so much sense. Continue reading “Mama Esther”

Motherhood and Mystery—A Sermon for Mother's Day

This past week has been an unusual one. Preparing for the sermon has not been about deep exegesis, but deep participation.

Kelly, apparently knowing full well that I was unprepared to preach for mother’s day—being a man who understands almost nothing about the subject, graciously offered me the opportunity to deepen my understanding while she went to the beach this week. That’s right—for nearly a week I’ve been flying solo with the girls, which is of course a joke you can understand only if you know both me and the girls in question. Indeed, today’s short sermon is mostly due to the fact that I have to get home and clean up before she gets back later tonight.

Mothers are amazing. It is well and good that today is a day marked off to say thank you to all those mothers out there, the stay at home moms, the working moms, the single moms, the struggling and victorious moms who give so much of themselves to their families, fulfilling the sacrifice of Christ in the most humble and incredible ways. To you all we say, “Thank you. We could not be who we are without your love and sacrifice.”

The Bible has much to say about motherhood. The story of redemption is full of many stories of women, women who took down and raised up kings, who preserved the people of God and who opened the way for exodus, conquest, and redemption. Along the way, many of these stories (though not all!) are stories of women who worked, wept, and waited for children—women who saw their place in the story of God as being related to their calling as mothers. That’s not at all to suggest that this was a single, homogenous sort of work. Indeed, stories such as Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, Bathsheba, Ruth, Jochebed and Zipporah testify to the diversity of paths that may all be called, faithfully, “motherhood”. “Motherhood” mysteriously takes many forms, as each person who finds that role to be part of her story works out what it means in her own context, in the face of her own challenges and amidst her own blessings. We do motherhood a disservice when we try to make it take one form. Indeed, no two moms are any more alike than any two sons or daughters. Mothers, be free, not to become just like the other moms you see, but what has called you to be in the life of your family. Learn from the example and wisdom of other women as well as you can, but do not try to become them. God did not give your children to them, but placed them in your care, entrusted them to you. You honor that trust not by simply imitating others, but by seeking out the gifts and blessings that you can uniquely offer your children. That freedom is not license to be irresponsible (this is just my way!) but is an immense challenge, that by struggling, collecting wisdom, and discerning what is right and faithful you can become exactly the mother God created you to be rather than a copy of someone else. Continue reading “Motherhood and Mystery—A Sermon for Mother's Day”