Guest Speaker Vincent Nel shares his story and how it connects to the promises of God's restoration in the book of Hosea.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father figures out there, to all the single moms doing double duty, I see you. This day is for you, too. To all of you who might not have good fathers, or have lost their fathers, or didn’t even get to know your father, I know that this day might bring some pain for you while others get to celebrate. But wherever you fall on the spectrum of fatherhood, I hope that what I have to share today will bring a little bit of hope and a little bit of encouragement to you.
This is my first time doing something like this, so I’m quite nervous. I’m mostly excited, but I’m quite nervous. I have my notes right here in front of me, below the camera. You can’t see it. But if you see me doing this, that’s why. I have a lot to share today and I want to stay on track and get it right. So here we go.
A little bit about myself. I have been part of the Cornerstone Community since 2006. That’s also how long I’ve been in this country. I moved here from Cape Town, South Africa. I joined the staff as an intern in 2009. So I’ve been here for quite a while. I met my wife, Aletha, at Cornerstone, too. She was on staff. We got married in 2014, and a year later we had our son, Hosea. It was much sooner than we were anticipating. We weren’t really planning on having children that early, but you know how it goes sometimes.
There were some complications with Aletha’s Health after the birth of Hosea. Four weeks after he was born, Aletha passed away. Now, that was almost five years ago, but it still feels like yesterday. It’s been quite a long journey to be here today, and I am incredibly grateful for all the support that Hosea and I have received, and the love that has been poured out from you, from this Cornerstone Community. It’s only by your love and by God’s grace that I can be here today to share.
But I don’t want to talk about grief today. Don’t worry, this is also not going to be a lecture on how to be a better dad and engage your faith that way. I really don’t feel qualified to offer any parental advice, because I am just in survival mode most days, surviving the age of toddlerhood myself. What I wanted to share today was something a little more simple or foundational, basic, it might seem at first. That is the idea of God’s love as a father and how His faithfulness endures through all things. I think sometimes we need to go back to the beginning, to the foundations of our faith, and look at them with a fresh perspective and in some new ways, in order to move forward and engage with our faith in a new way.
Before I dive in, I wanted to share a story, though, about why we decided to name our son Hosea. I’m not sure I’ve shared this story with many of you, so now you’ll get to learn. We named our son Hosea because of this. This is a sketch that Aletha drew based on a passage from Hosea 2:14. Her version here that she wrote down says, “I will woo her into the desert to speak to her heart with love.” Now, when Aletha came across a Bible passage or scripture that she felt was an important word or a promise in a season for her, she would illustrate it as a reminder to herself.
What this promise was about…, it was about God promising hope and restoration, and healing, and something beautiful out of the desert place that He was going to call her, out of a place of suffering and brokenness. Specifically, it was about marriage. She drew this in 2011 during a prayer retreat. That was before we even really met. So God is faithful. Yes, He is. So we did what they did in the Bible times, and that is, name their children after the circumstance under which they were born to remind them of God’s faithfulness.
Fun fact, two other names that Aletha suggested for our son were Thor and Thouse, which is short for Methuselah. We went for Hosea. So it’s no surprise then that what I’d like to share today are some passages from the Book of Hosea. Now, I know not all of us are familiar with this book in the Bible, it’s kind of obscure to a lot of people. So I’m going to give you some context and a brief overview of the entire book before we dive into the specific passages that I’ve chosen today.
The Book of Hosea is in the Old Testament. It’s one of the minor prophets. Now, they’re called minor prophets, not because of their lack of importance, but only because of their length. They’re much shorter. The Book of Hosea, in particular, is kind of hard to understand when you first read it. It’s not written in any sort of chronological order. It’s mostly poetry and prophetic symbols that Hosea writes. I think that’s why I like it. It’s not so straight shooting.
The historical context is it’s around 700 B.C. and Israel, God’s chosen people, have turned their back on God after God brought them out of slavery from Egypt and through the desert. They were now making political alliances with Assyria and with Egypt. Trusting in those alliances more than the sovereignty of God. They were also worshiping other gods. They had turned their back on God. They were prospering politically, financially, and materially, but spiritually, they were floundering.
So God sends Hosea as a prophet on His behalf to speak His words, to remind Israel of the promise they made to God to live in His ways, to spell out the impending doom and destruction that is a consequence of their turning away from Him. But ultimately, to remind them of His love. In the first three chapters, we meet Hosea. He’s instructed by God to marry Gomer. Now, some people believe that Gomer was a prostitute. It’s not clear that she was, but what is known is that she was unfaithful. She was a promiscuous, adulterous woman, and Hosea knew this going in. We don’t know if she was promiscuous and unfaithful before they got married, but she was after. Hosea knew this when God told him that this was who he was to marry.
So he obeyed. He marries Gomer, they have three children and Gomer leaves. She finds love in the arms of other men. God instructs Hosea to find her, to woo her back, to pay off all her debts, and to recommit his love to her. He does this. Now, this was supposed to be a living symbol of God’s relationship with Israel, where Hosea represents God and His faithfulness, and Gomer represents Israel and their waywardness and unfaithfulness.
I’d like to stop here for just a moment to unpack this. I want to call attention to the craziness of Hosea’s cool. It’s like his entire life was used by God. Not only was he to share God’s word, but he was to use his entire life as a living symbol of the words he was going to share from God. It’s the greatest performance art piece in history. Note here is that our assignments are different.
If we look at just the prophets as an example, Isaiah got to see the throne room of God, Ezekiel got to see dry bones come alive, Hosea gets to marry a prostitute. Doesn’t seem fair when we look at it from our perspective. But what I’d like to say here is that we each carry a cross. We are each given an assignment. Our assignments and our crosses are not going to look the same. It’s possible that the cross we carry, the assignment that we bear is going to seem heavier and more burdensome, and more troublesome than others.
I don’t want the assignment of being a widowed, single dad. That’s not what I signed up for, but it is what has been given to me. It is what I must carry. We don’t get to choose our assignments. The only thing we get to choose is how we will respond to what is being asked of us. So props to you, Hosea, for living out your assignment so faithfully.
The rest of the book of Hosea, chapters 4 to 14 is really just poetry and prophecies in which Hosea calls out the historical ways that Israel has always been unfaithful to God. He lists the cause and effects of this, and he laments the fact that they’re always going to be this way. He longs for the day that God will reconcile their hearts to them fully. The end. It can seem like a pretty harsh and depressing book, and I think it is in large parts because most of it deals with the punishment and doom of Israel.
But there are some beautiful passages in there of God’s love and His promises. Those are the ones I want to focus on today. The first passage is chapter 11. This one, I’ve chosen because it paints a picture of God as a loving father. So here we go, chapter 11:1-4. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt, I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the farther they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.” This is just another way of saying they worshiped other gods instead of me, instead of God. “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk.” Ephraim is just another word for the northern kingdom of Israel. “Taking them by the arms.”
“But they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them, I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek and I bent down to feed them.” Now, I don’t know what you picture when you think of God, but I hope that we can see a picture of His character in these verses, His tenderness. I think His tenderness is just so evident in those verses, which reminds me of the chapter 2:14 promise that Aletha had. Another version of that says, “I will woo her into the desert and speak tenderly to her heart.”
I think we can also see the pain in these verses. It speaks of Him longing for His child who’s gone astray, wanting to return to him. Now, I am not at a stage in my relationship with my son where he can actively, willfully, and permanently walk away from me. I can’t imagine the pain that will bring if he gets to that part, but if we have had children walk away from us and abandon us, or if we’ve had parents abandon us, or any loved one abandon us, God has felt it a million times over. He longs for His children to return. But there is hope. In chapter 14, there’s another poem that Hosea writes, and it likens Israel to a beautiful, flourishing tree, and the promises that God will restore and redeem all of their waywardnesses and plant them like a beautiful tree.
So here we go, verse four. “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel. He will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon, He will send down his roots. His young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree. His fragrance, like a cedar of Lebanon. Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the green. He will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon. Oh, Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree. Your fruitfulness comes from me.”
This is the picture of God: loving, kind, faithful, redeeming. “He will take us from our waywardness, even though we’ve turned away, and bring us back to Him and give us a full hope to live out of.” It’s like the picture that Jesus paints in the New Testament in chapter 10 of Luke, about the prodigal son. God’s love as a father goes to extreme measures to bring us back into the promise of His love. So there are four themes that I see in the book of Hosea and these chapters that I’d like to explore.
The first theme is what I like to call the waywardness of my heart versus God’s faithfulness. I see myself in these passages and in the story. I am Israel. I am Gomer. Now, I haven’t gone full Baal like in verse two of chapter 11, and I haven’t taken a little lamb and burnt him at the altar of this giant bronze statue of a false god. But I do know what it’s like to seek my identity, my value, and my satisfaction in things other than the Lord sometimes. I have tasted God’s love, just like Hosea, I mean, just as Gomer tasted Hosea’s love, and I’ve seen God’s faithfulness, just as Israel saw God’s faithfulness. But still, I stray.
Still, my heart turns away and tries to find it in other things. I used to laugh or sort of get frustrated when I would read the story of the Israelites, their whole account, because they were led out of slavery and saw the Red Sea parted and a pillar of fire led their way through the desert. Huge miraculous signs, and still they turned away. How could you forget such miraculous signs? But I do it, too. It’s part of our human nature to forget the faithfulness of God. I think we forget the faithfulness of God because sometimes we might just be completely oblivious to it.
Other times I think maybe we just get so accustomed to it, we get so used to it that we grow bored of it and we take it for granted. Other times, I think we forget God’s faithfulness simply because we just get distracted by the monotony and the busyness of our everyday lives. There’s a photo in my bedroom of Aletha. I have lots of photos of her, but there’s one in particular that sits next to my desk near my closet. A few weeks ago, I saw it and I stopped, and I felt the tears flooding to my eyes. They weren’t tears of grief, though. They were tears of joy.
For the first time in a long time, I was reminded of the beauty of my marriage. I was reminded that what a gift I was given to be able to know and love Aletha in the way that I did. I know she’s not here, and I know that it didn’t work out the way that I did, but our marriage, our union is still evidence and proof of God’s faithfulness. I don’t know if my heart will always be here as well, I think I’ll stray again into grief and woe is me, and just get stuck in the monotony of my life sometimes, but God’s faithfulness is true and constant. It does not change depending on how I feel about it, or whether I even acknowledge or realize that it’s there. It does not change ever, based on my actions or my feelings.
The second theme that I see in the passages that I’ve chosen in the Book of Hosea is what I like to call the double-edged sword of God’s kindness. When Hosea runs … No, Hosea stays. When Gomer runs to her other lovers, Hosea pays off all her debts. He’s the one that pays the lovers to provide her with the fine linen and the wines and all the things that she was being satisfied with. All the while, Gomer thinks it’s coming from her other lovers. But it’s not. It’s coming from Hosea. God’s faithfulness is like that.
No matter how far we run, He will still provide us His grace. It’s not only for us when we’re in alignment with Him. He extends His grace to us, even in the places we turn away from Him. That’s how big His kindness is. But there’s an aspect of God’s kindness that I don’t think we acknowledge enough, and that’s the tough love aspect. God’s love is perfect and righteous, pure and holy, and so, so faithful. Just free for all. But it does not exclude the fact that it’s holy and righteous and pure. Meaning the results and consequence, if we walk outside of it.
Not following God has consequences in our lives. I think sometimes God allows these consequences so that it brings us face to face with our own brokenness and our own sins so that we can in turn see His mercy and be able to receive it because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to listen. In Hosea 2:6-7, it says, “Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes.” This is what Hosea is saying he will do to Gomer as she’s trying to run away from him and find love in other places. “I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers, but not catch them. She will look for them, but not find them.” “Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as a first. For then, I was better off than now.'”
God is going to use thornbushes to block Gomer’s way. That’s painful, that hurts. Those don’t work. He’s going to allow her to go into the arms of her lovers and come up so empty and be forced to face the end of herself, where she sees her own brokenness and pain for what it is worth. Is it possible that the pain in our lives is for our own good? Now, I’m not saying that every pain and every trial in life is a direct consequence of our wrongdoing. God can always bring something beautiful out of something broken and terrible and painful.
But if we aren’t going to listen to His gentle, tender whispers in the desert while we’re going astray, He might have to pull out the thornbushes before we’re ready to listen to Him. He’s done that to me. There have been times where I have set down on the path of Gomer, ready to turn my back on God saying, “All right, this is it. I’m going to try this now.” But He has put some serious thornbushes in my way to prevent me from going any further. It hurt, it was painful, and I was mad. But ultimately, I was grateful because I don’t know what would have laid on the other side of those thornbushes. I’m pretty certain that what lay on the other side were things that would have caused even more pain and hurt and damage to me than the thornbushes did.
So while God’s kindness and His love might show up as harsh discipline or some extreme measures, I think it is infinitely more kind and less painful than the total despair of being outside of God’s will. Running away from God never ends well. Gomer did that and she was left by all her lovers and sold for half the price of a slave. Israel did not turn back to God after hearing Hosea’s words from God. They were conquered by Assyria. But it doesn’t end there. Even when we choose to run away from God, He will never leave us there. He will always bring us back to Him. Let’s just maybe turn back to Him when He’s using the gentle, caressing, corrective voices in the desert, rather than the painful thornbushes, yeah?
The third theme I see is what I like to call to know the Lord. When Hosea explains to the people of Israel about their waywardness and their unfaithfulness to God, he says it’s because of a lack of knowledge of God. The word he uses for knowledge is the Hebrew word, [Hebrew 00:22:14]. This implies a personal relationship. It’s more than intellect. It’s more than head knowledge. It’s the difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone intimately. It’s head knowledge versus heart knowledge.
God wants the latter. He doesn’t just want intellect or rote obedience. He wants us. He wants our heart. He wants us to know the love that He has for us. And that, in turn, becomes the knowledge that transforms our lives. This is what God desires. In chapter 6:6, it says, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” This is a big struggle for me, too. One of the reasons I was very hesitant to share a message on Father’s Day about God’s love as a father is because I don’t always feel it.
I know that God loves me and I know that His grace is offered to me, but sometimes I have a hard time resting in that truth. I make my faith about a list of rote responsibilities to fill out, or quid pro quos, or balancing a checkbook. I don’t often enough rest in the knowledge of Him as an intimate father and a friend. I don’t have any advice to offer to prevent that. Sorry, but I just want to point out that let’s not forget that what God wants most of all is us. Our hearts.
The last theme that I want to explore is what I call the hope in the now, but not yet. A large swath of the Book of Hosea is all about the ways that Israel falls short of what God requires of them, and that is a theme that is in the entire Bible actually. Our lives will never be able to measure up to what God requires of us. While there are consequences to that, and He does bring about justice, God’s ultimate purpose is to heal and save His people. That is the final word. Gomer being abandoned by her lovers and sold for half the price of a slave is not the final word. Israel being conquered by Assyria is not the final word. The final word with God is always hope, restoration, and redemption.
We see a promise of this in chapter 2:19-20. He says, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, and love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord.” The promise of God the father is to reconcile our hearts to Him forever. He will remove the desire of false gods from our lips and from our hearts, and He will betroth us to Him. In chapter 14, it says, as we saw earlier, “I will heal the waywardness of their hearts.” Plot twist, this promise has already been fulfilled.
This final answer, this final word, this door to hope has been fulfilled in Jesus. He became the sacrifice to make up for all the ways that we were lacking and fall short of God’s requirement. He bought us out of the slavery of our sin and brokenness, the same way Hosea bought back Gomer. He ultimately leads us into the future hope and restoration of these new trees of faith that are going to be planted. Now, it could end there, because what a beautiful word for us, but I do want to sit with for a moment, the nuances of how this plays out in our everyday lives because while the work has already been done, it is still being done.
Until Jesus comes back and takes us into heaven to live with Him in eternity, there are always going to be aspects of our lives and parts of God’s promises that are incomplete on this side of heaven. But that doesn’t make God’s promises any less powerful or any less true. It’s just the wrestling we have to do in the now, but not yet. I know that Jesus satisfies all my desires, but I don’t always feel it in my heart. My heart and my head are not yet fully aligned on this side of heaven. I know that God loves me as a beloved child and delights in me as His son, but I don’t always feel it in my heart on this side of heaven. My head and my heart are not yet fully aligned.
I know that God is faithful and I’ve seen evidence of this in my life, but still, my heart doesn’t always feel that. It forgets and turns away this side of heaven. My head and my heart are not yet fully aligned. On this side of heaven, I don’t think our hearts can ever be fully aligned with the promises and the truth of God that we hold, so let’s give ourselves grace in this process as we wrestle with that. And let’s also not forget to anchor ourselves in the truth of God’s character, in the truth of His promises. “For where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.”
If we make God’s love for us and His promises as our treasure, our hearts will follow. He promises this. In Hosea 6:3, it says, “Let us acknowledge the Lord, let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear. He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth. He will appear.” For my 30th birthday a few years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was watch a speech by Sheryl Sandberg, who’s one of the bigwigs at Facebook, in which she details the death of her husband and how she walked through her grief.
I know, super awesome thing to want to do on your 30th birthday. But that’s where I was. She lost her husband around about the same time I lost Aletha. I really wanted to see what she had to say. I watched the speech with Pastor Paul, who has been an amazing example of an earthly godly father figure. What a gift in my life. We watched her speech, and what an amazing speech. She gave incredible insight into her journey of grief and how she moved through it and overcame it.
I was struck by it, though, because never once did she mention Jesus or God as an anchoring point in helping her move through that storm. I sat with this and I asked Pastor Paul, I said, “If someone can get through such a huge storm as this without the need for God, why do we even need Him?” And his answer to me was very simple and very profound, and it’s a truth that I had forgotten. He said that “Not once in her speech did she mention the hope of ever seeing her husband again.” That struck me because I do have that hope. I know where Aletha went.
I know I will see her again, and I know we will be reunited. That is the hope, that is the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus. This is the only thing that I have that I can hold on to. It is the only thing that makes things make sense. And yet I still have the pain of her loss. Her loss is very real, and I will feel it till the day I am taken to heaven. This is the wrestling of the now, but not yet.
Let me end by saying that this promise is for everyone. It’s not just for God’s chosen people, Israel. If we go back to chapter 1, we will learn about Hosea and Gomer’s children. It’s not clear that Hosea was the father of all these children. He might have been the father of one. He might have been the father of none. In fact, one of them was given the name Not My People. Super awesome name for a child. But God, in His loving kindness, promises to make them His children. He promises this in chapter 2:23. “I will show my love to the one I called, not my loved one. I will say to those called not my people, you are my people. And they will say, ‘You are my God.'”
After Jesus came, this promise was fulfilled. We have all been called. We have all been named children of God because of Him, and so His promises as God the father are for all of us. So, to all the fathers listening, to all those with good fathers, with bad fathers or with fathers in between, to those who don’t have fathers, to all those who feel like Gomer or not at all, to those who are on the path of waywardness like Israel, or who are not yet part of the tribe, my message to you is the same: God is faithful. His love is big. It is wide and His arms are open, waiting for us to run into them and fall into His grace. Happy Father’s Day. Amen.
So what’s going to happen now is we have one more song to share that I’ve asked the band to play, that ties into the themes that we’ve explored today. Pastor Terry will come back after that and give us a final prayer and word of blessing as we head into the rest of our days. But right now is the time in our service where we usually have our time of giving.
You can do this online through our app or our website. It’s super easy and it’s super safe. I encourage you all to continue to participate in your tithes and offerings in the faithful way that so many of you have already been doing. And I thank you for that. Thank you for letting me share with you today. Thank you for choosing to listen. With that, take it away, Ray-Ray. (singing)
How good is it for us to have had this time together? Vini shared a beautiful, tender, honest, authentic word with us. It’s a word that flowed out of his heart and taught us to be open to the love that flows right out of God’s heart. We may not always have the answer to all the things that are going on around us. Things may not always make sense. Some things may be hard.
But one thing we know for sure is that when we stay close to the shepherd when we stay close to Jesus, we are never a people who live without hope. His faithfulness, He said to us, “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you. Lo, I am with you always, even into the end of the age. I will never leave you.” The Lord’s faithful presence, walking with us through these challenging times.
We thank you for it, Lord. We ask that we would be a people who are committed to sowing and watering and reaping, that our love for you would remain strong. That we would in turn be life-givers. Keep our hearts soft, tender. Because You love us, we want to love others. Help us to be peacemakers and life-givers in Your name. May the Lord’s blessing be yours this day, this week. May He protect you and keep you, spirit, soul, and body in every way, every day, in Jesus’ name. You are loved.