God’s Love Prevails

While I was sitting in the airport recently, I observed the people around. Some were in the hustle and bustle of their day. Some were very irate when their flight was missed or delayed. Some were very worried about not making connecting flights. The tension in airports is very high.

The airport is also one of the places where we will see people really only caring about them. I mean, people will run over you, or treat people bad if they do not get what they want. It is as if we have forgotten who we are and who we belong to.

This attitude is not only at the airports, it is all throughout our culture. I have this attitude, “it’s all about me and my schedule”, at times. You do too. We live in a world that makes us believe we are the central focus. We go for our preferences and say this is what God desires for me. We’ll look down on people because they do not have the same lifestyle as us, or their sin has caused more harm to them than our sin has caused us. We can get to the point we end up blaming God for what’s wrong in this world and can easily forget to thank and praise him for all the good and joy in this world. We can forget that God is ultimately sovereign over this world.

WHERE WE HAVE BEEN

A couple weeks ago, we talked about why there is suffering in this world. We looked at the phrase, “everything happens for a reason” and noted that many times the reason we have suffering is because 1) we live in a fallen world, 2) our personal sin does have consequences in our lives, and 3) we humans make decisions that impact more than we realize.

Last week, we talked about finding and knowing God’s will for our lives. The first thing to do is to seek God. God’s general will for all of humanity is to 1) love God and 2) love people. Everything else falls into place. There are times God will speak to you and guide you (call you) to do more; that’s why it’s important to keep a listening ear toward what God is saying.

This week, our point is simply this: God Wins.

Now, there is so much to this statement that we have to take time to look at it closely.

To us, WE LIVE IN THIS WORLD EVERYDAY. TO US THIS IS REALITY.

If we are constantly seeing all of the wicked, negative, and evil news all around us, we will actually miss God’s work in this world. 

One of the places I like to sit and write is at Starbucks and McDonalds. I was at McDonalds one morning and saw many people coming into get their food and just pay attention to themselves. When, all of a sudden, a man walks in and sits down at a table with two other men. He has a concerned looked on his face. After he sits down, he hands over a letter and apologizes for his attitude and behavior and asks for forgiveness.

The other men vented their frustrations with him and told him why he was wrong. NO THEY DIDN’T. They listened to his request for forgiveness and sat there calmly talking things through. The conversation even got around to talking about faith in Jesus Christ.

Many people do not have opportunities to see this kind of behavior in the world because we get so caught up in what’s going on in our lives and what we perceive to be “news.” With all of this information being captured in our minds through our eyes and our ears, we can be filled with the knowledge that keeps us from seeing God work. We become numb to all the brokenness that we actually become indifferent to things working out for God’s glory or not.

I invite you to continually seek God and seek His heart in and for this world. See the world as God sees it: His creation that He loves so much that He will do whatever it takes to transform, redeem, recreate. He’ll do this work in and through His people more often than not.

But how can we see God working in this world through His church when there is so much negativity about the Christian church in America? How can we see God working through churches that are divided? 

Statistically speaking, less and less people are believing in the power of God through His Holy Spirit, and there are less people going to worship in a community of faith. As the body of Christ, we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit to do great work and witness in this world. 

Think about when this particular community faith was started in the late 1800s. There was a great desire to reach people for Jesus Christ by verbal witnessing and by acts of service. We can rekindle that desire to seek the least, the last, the lost (of all socio-economic levels).

Why do I mention this? If we lose our true heart for following God through Jesus Christ, it really all becomes about us and about our own desires and preferences. But God has given us His heart to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world because of the life changing relationships we develop.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, warned his followers:

‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’[1]

So, here is our challenge today: are there times when our zeal for following Christ less important than what we want to accomplish and do in this world, in our life? Do we lose the use of the power through the Holy Spirit in doing the work He has called us to?

The truth is we get so caught up with the negative news and junk that we lose our heart for the mission God is leading us to do. We can get so caught up with what we think is “wrong” that we forget to keep moving toward what is “right.” We get so caught up in saying what we are against and don’t always tell people what we stand for.

Every week, we gather for worshipping the Triune (three-in-one God). Every week, God faithfully shows up. There are times when I am so busy with my to-do lists and work that I can forget to pay attention to His presence. Do we expect to encounter Jesus Christ every Sunday in worship? Or do we only seek for what we think will “feed” us?

The Day of Pentecost came 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, This was a day when thousands, millions, of devout Jewish people would again descend upon Jerusalem to praise God for their harvest. It was during this time that God was showing the harvest He was reaping through the lives that were being changed.

Think about that. God had not forgotten nor given up on the world. Just because Jesus had been raised from the dead, this was not the end of the story. 

GOD’S LOVE FOR US AND WORK IN OUR LIVES IS NEVER COMPLETE.

People were coming to know and follow Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior, by the thousands. All because Jesus’ followers were obedient to sharing the message of Christ wherever they were. The world was turned upside down by just a relatively small number of people. 

Big things happen when small groups of people put their full trust in God through Jesus Christ and do His work in the world. The early followers were not concerned about what the rest of the world though they were lacking. They had everything they needed, the power of God through the Holy Spirit.

God has not given up on this world. Even with all of the chaos and negativity going on, God has given us the greatest gift and resource of all…God has given us Himself.

Our focus should really be on salvation. When we focus on salvation, we can have our eyes open to the incredible work God is doing all around us, and is inviting us to participate.

Now, salvation is so much more than where we will be after this life. Salvation is so much more than escaping hell. Salvation is living in the presence of God here and now. Salvation is knowing Christ.

This is why Jesus told Zacchaeus “today, salvation has come to your house.” Jesus was talking about himself being with and around Zacchaeus and his family.

What if salvation is not what we think it is…”getting to heaven”?

And living in perfect peace away from this world. 

What if salvation is actually bringing heaven to earth?

What if it is about being “saved”, better word is “transformed” to be instruments of Christ to bring his light and love to a dark world?

Salvation is mainly about here and now not just leaving this earth to “go to heaven.”

Salvation is about transformation and redeeming (making right) the fallen, messed up world. 

When the people of God live in ways where his light shines through them, we get to experience heaven (God’s full presence) here on earth and we can see how God’s love prevails and forces evil, or the hardships, to serve the purposes of God by being reconciled (reversed and made right). 

So how does God’s love prevail in this world?

We have seen and learned how the worst thing in life is never the last thing. God forces the evil to be transformed and still work out the circumstances for our good – for the good of transforming and redeeming all of creation.

There are times when it doesn’t feel as if God is with us. How we feel about the closeness of God does not demonstrate the actual proximity of God to us. God is closer to us than we realize and He will be with us, working within us and through us.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Pentecost reminds us God is always with us because of the Holy Spirit. You and I are being called to be in the world to transform the world by bringing people to faith in Christ (think about who is NOT in a community of faith…have more conversations…want to learn how to talk with people about Jesus? I can help) and to serve in this world through missions – we have several opportunities coming up.

We get to help people see and experience the real presence of the Kingdom of God here and now – not just something to look forward to after this life

God’s love prevails and wins in this world because God ultimately has the final word.

We are already living in victory

We know the end of the story – Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, ”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. 

Live as people who 

Know God

Love God

Know God’s love for others (including our enemies and people we don’t like)

Love people

Go into the world showing and sharing God’s love wherever you are and with whomever you’re around


[1] Wesley, John. ‘Thoughts Upon Methodism,’ 1786.

Why Can’t I See God’s Will for my life?

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

~Colossians 1:9-10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

~Romans 12:1-2

 “When you’re living in the will of God, everything is so peaceful and joyful.” “All you need to know is God’s will for your life.” “God will guide you in your life.

These, and so many more, are just some of the things we tell people about God’s will. I have said them before. While there is nothing really wrong with these statements, we do need to understand what we are saying.

God’s will. What does this mean? Does God have everything planned out for us that we are basically like his puppets for a play? How can I make sure I am living in the will of God?

Truthfully, we all have battled with this for most of our lives. We have to be careful though because often we can mistake what society, our culture, says is the right thing to do as the will of God for our lives. Think of how we are told to act, to behave, to achieve. Many people want to lead so this leaves us without as many “humble” followers as we need. 

We tend to act as if this is God’s will for our lives because we will actually focus more on these attributes than following the Spirit’s historical and present movement and workings in the world and in our lives.

God’s will for our lives is so much more than just acting a certain way, or by achieving certain accommodations. God’s will for our lives has to do with our whole being, everything about who we are; and if we focus more on what will please society, we will completely miss the working of God in our lives.

Today is Mother’s Day. This is a day of great joy for many women because of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. This is also a day of mourning for those who have lost children, whose children have gone astray. This is also a day of grief for the inability for some to have children. We recognize that all women have the incredible opportunity to be a mother-figure to many people. To be the ones who nurture and care for those down on their luck. To bring people to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Hear this. Just because you, or someone you know may not have children, or life hasn’t given you what your heart desires, does not mean you are not living in God’s will.

To learn what God’s will is, we must first seek God AND know

OUR LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

God’s grace is with us even before we know it is. This is called prevenient grace. There is a time when we come to a place of realizing the grace of God through Jesus Christ and we accept Christ. This is justifying grace. Then there is sanctifying grace – the grace of God moving and working in your life to make you into a new creation, “born again,” made into the likeness and image of God.

There are a couple prevailing viewpoints of God’s work in our lives. Calvinism and Arminianism. Basically, parts and thoughts of Calvinism say that God has everything worked out and planned for your life, everything that will happen, even the words you will speak. God has already determined those who will spend eternity in either heaven and hell.

We discussed a couple weeks ago the concept of “everything happening for a reason.” We have noted that God may not be the one bringing the hardships in our lives. Hardships come because of the consequences of Sin. So remember we live in a fallen, messed up world.

Then we have Arminianism. To put it very simply, this is where we have the opportunity to choose God, even though he has already chosen us. Our lives are lived out because of God’s grace. God allows us to live and make decisions through our free will, a gift from God. 

In this view, we have opportunities to live our lives with God, as a co-author. He will write the parts of our lives when we are following him. He also allows us to write parts of our lives when we are living for ourselves.

Our lives are a work in progress.

William Shakepeare says it like this, 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,”[1]

Doc, Emmit Brown (from the Back to the Future movies) says, “your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”[2]

We will all make mistakes and will do things that hurt God and hurt people. God’s will for our lives is that we know him and follow him.

But hold on because

GOD DOES HAVE A PLAN

Yes, God does have a plan for our lives. I believe if we listen to the promptings and voice of the Holy Spirit, we will know what to do and what to say in all areas of our lives.

2 Samuel 16, Samuel learns that God is more interested in the heart of people. 

John 2 says that Jesus knows people. Genesis 6 (and really the rest of the Bible, history, news, media, etc) shows us what life is like if we allow our sin to control us.

But, through all of the messed up parts of this life, God does have a plan. Take time to read through the entire Bible, not to see what God wants you to do in specific aspects of your life; but to learn about the character of God and how he has worked, will work, and is working in the world and in your life. Learn about Jesus Christ, God in flesh, who showed us how to live.

God desires for you and I to know him.

2 Timothy 2:4 “God, our savior, desires all people to be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Psalm 46:10 “Be still and KNOW that I am God.”

Hebrews 3:15, 4:7, Psalm 95:7-8 “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

So what are some other aspects of scripture, we can pay attention to?

The 10 Commandments give us a basic model for how we should live our lives:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make or worship any idols.
  3. You shall not use the name of God in vain, or as if it had not significance.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony (lie) against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet (be jealous/envious) of your neighbor’s possession, family, etc.

The Apostle Paul also writes “this is the will of God for your lives” in 1 Thessalonians, and this same message is sprinkled throughout his writings. So I am challenging us to read through his letters this week (Galations – 2 Thessalonians)

Scripture gives us a very high standard of how we are to live our lives.

Jesus even said we are to be lights on a hill, to be salt in the world. 

We cannot live this way unless God is working in and through our lives. Every time we share our faith, we can show people the light of Christ in the world. Every time we do a good deed we show people good works in this world. Every time we point people to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we give people the opportunity to see God working in and through their lives.

When we read scripture, we see several, separate, things that are part of God’s will. Here it is in a nutshell:

Jesus summed up everything with two phrases “love God, love people.” [3]This is God’s will for our lives.

Also, Colossians 3:17, do everything for the glory of God, whatever you do.[4]

Above all of this, always remember:

GOD IS USING YOU AND SHAPING YOU

Throughout our lives, we are given new mercies each morning. How do we use and live into these mercies?

If I were to ask you, today, “how is your walk with Jesus Christ deeper, fuller, and richer than it was this time last year?”

See, too often we can get into a “comfortable” place and desire to stay in that phase. We tend to talk more about the peace of God when everything is calm; but we talk about everything we have to get done when everything is chaotic.

God is shaping us to be people who live our lives for him and share his love and grace in a world that really doesn’t want anything to do with him. Remember, we have talked about the worst thing in life is never the last thing, and God is with us and giving himself to us no matter what we’re going through, good or bad.

The Apostle Paul writes, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”[5]

God is shaping us to be different, and live our lives in such a way that the world around us does not draw us in. We are to be “living sacrifices” in this world, always seeking where God is working. Always seeking to bless God with joining him in his work. Always focusing on what God will provide instead of only looking at what we may be lacking.

God is shaping us, as he uses us, to show the world what real life is. When we realize this, we understand it is

“GOD-INCIDENTS” INSTEAD OF CO-INCIDENCES

A couple weeks ago, Solomon and I went to get our haircuts. When we walked in, there was one other lady getting her hair cut and 2 stylists. As we were waiting for our names, and even while Solomon was getting his haircut, this lady who was getting her hair done, began to talk about everything wrong with the medical system, her doctor, and her illness. I stood by Solomon, watching him get his haircut and listening to this lady talk. 

We were in a hurry and she was just talking and talking and talking. I am a very patient man. J

It got to the point when I felt, nudging, I needed to intervene. I could tell the stylist was getting tired of listening. So, I gave some advise about a particular doctor I tought could give her the care she was wanting and told her how I knew the doctor. Y’all, she kept talking and complaining.

Did I mention I am a very patient man?

I looked at her again and reiterated she needs to make contact with the doctor I suggested. At this point, I looked at the stylist very seriously and asked (in front of the lady), “Can I get my haircut now? We’re in a hurry.” (Not one of my finest moments.)

But, when I sat down to get my haircut, the stylist said “she wasn’t talking about any of that until you got here. I guess you were supposed to be here at this time today.”

How many of you have, in hindsight, discovered you were in the right place at the exact right time?

Throughout my life I have come to not believe in coincidences anymore. I believe these are all God-incidences, where the Holy Spirit nudges and prompts us to be somewhere, or say something at that right time a person needs to here it, or just have someone to be with.

I have had many moments like this in my life. I know you have too.

As we seek to live into God’s will, remember that life will not always be easy. We will not always know what we are doing. Plans may fall through or change. We may experience great hardship. But through it all, God is with us and is leading us. 

So, what is God’s will for our life? I think the Apostle Paul sums it up nicely:

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”

When we seek to live our whole life for Christ, we will see his will being lived through us no matter what stage of life of circumstance we’re in.


[1] Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It”. Act 2. Scene 7.

[2] “Back to the Future” Part 3 movie

[3] Matthew 22:37-39

[4] Colossians 3:17

[5] Romans 5:2b-5 NIV

Why do the Innocent Suffer?

GENESIS 1:27-28

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

LAMENTATIONS 3:1-3

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard questions like, “How can you believe in a God who would allow this to happen?” or “Why did God take my child, husband, wife, daughter, neighbor, friend, etc.?” or “If God is really loving then God is not all powerful and if God is all powerful then God is not loving and just.” These are reasons many atheists give for not believing in God.

These are legitimate questions people face when it comes to reconciling what is taught and believed about God with what is happening in the world.

There is a theological term that is used to when people attempt to reconcile belief in an all powerful God with all the suffering in the world: theodicy from the Greek words meaning God and justice. In other words, theodicy, is an explanation of the justice of God in the face of counterevidence, what we witness everyday.[1]

Jeremiah, the author and prophet of Lamentations when Jerusalem was destroyed, was so distressed and depressed about the state of the people of God because of what they were going through and what he had to tell them. So, he began to feel as if God was the one who was punishing him.

Harold Kushner, rabbi and author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, writes, “Like every [person], I pick up the daily paper and fresh challenges to the idea of the world’s goodness assault my eyes: senseless murders, fatal practical jokes, young people killed in car accidents on their way to their wedding or coming home from their high school prom. Can I, in good faith, continue to teach people that the world is good, and that a kind and loving God is responsible for what happens in it?”[2]

He writes this in the beginning chapter of his book. The reason he wrote the book is because he and his wife lost their son, Aaron, just after his 14th birthday due to an lifelong illness. Kushner began to wrestle with the notion of suffering and God.

His story is a lot like many others. Many people here can relate to this story on some level. Loss of a child, infertility, murder, cancer, a loved one taking their life, and so many more. We can look at the news and see natural disasters all over the world taking lives and causing so much destruction. Often times, we are left with, “Why did this happen?”

Over the next few weeks, we will be in conversation by looking at questions people have such as, “Why do the innocent suffer?,” “What is God’s will for my life?,” and ultimately we will focus on how God’s love and presence in this world prevails. There is no way we can cover everything and completely resolve these issues in 4 weeks, but this gives us a good starting point.

I am not going to pretend to know why everything happens in this world; but I am holding strong, and I’m encouraging you, to hold tight to the One who does know each person’s heart, cling to the One who never leaves you nor forsakes you. 

WHAT YOU BELIEVE ABOUT GOD DETERMINES HOW YOU HANDLE LIFE’S SITUATIONS

When we look in the Bible, we see lots of people suffering. There are several verses that make us believe God is the one who brings all the suffering because it is what the people deserve:

Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.
Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done. 
(Isaiah 3:10-11 NIV)

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.

(Lamentations 3:1 NIV)

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7 NIV)

We can pick these verses out and make it seem like God is the ultimate source for all of our suffering in the world and it is because we deserve it.

But the Bible actually paints a different picture for the people of faith. The Bible shows people who have refused to let go of their faith in spite of their surrounding circumstances and see God in every situation.

Joseph (Jacob’s son) is sold into slavery by his brothers

The Israelites spent 400 years oppressed by the Egyptians

Moses does God’s work yet is so miserable that he wants God to take his life

King Saul spend years searching for young David to kill him

The book of Job is about a man who suffers terribly, yet does not give up his faith

At the center of the New Testament is a man who was beaten, abused, and finally nailed to a cross.

The disciples were martyred.

Paul was beaten and put in prison many times

Following Jesus Christ does not mean we will have an easy life; but we are promised that God is with us in every situation.

The writer of the 73rd Psalm reminds us, “my flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”[3]

And Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Philip Yancey writes, in his book Where is God When It Hurts, “Faith in God offers no insurance against tragedy. Nor does it offer insurance against feelings of doubt and betrayal. If anything, being a Christian complicates the issue.”[4]

It is important for us to understand how the bible shows God in people’s lives during suffering. God is present in the biblical characters lives through all aspects of their life good and bad. He is with you always too.

Another notion we should consider (reconsider) is what people will often use to bring comfort:

Everything happens for a reason.

WE NEED TO RETHINK AND BEGIN CHALLENGE THE NOTION (and really stop telling others): EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON

We use this phrase in an attempt to bring comfort to those around us, to those going through hardships.

We usually mean to say that God has a plan for you and you will one day see this plan through your suffering.

Well meaninged Christians say this to try and tell people, most of what they’re going through is not their fault. There was a reason for the tragedy, suffering, illness, etc.

Yes, there are reasons why everything happens. But let’s rethink this idea for a bit, in the manner we typically use it. When we tell people “everything happens for a reason,” we find we give them an opportunity to blame God for what happened. Many, still, will come to believe they have done something wrong and God is “smiting” them and causing this to happen. Incredible guilt and shame can (and does) come upon people when we present ideas that cause them to think God caused the suffering for their behavior.

I know of a family whose 9 year old daughter developed a terminal brain cancer and the pastor of their church told them the reason their child has this cancer is because they were not faithful enough and did not come to church like they should. The family felt a tremendous amount of guilt.

When we say “everything happens for a reason,” or “it must have been the will of God,” we are also implying that God is the one who brought the tornado, hurricane, earthquake, etc. We are telling people God put it in the heart of the murderer to kill that person. 

But I think what people try to say is “we live in a fallen world and a world of cause and effect.”

Things do happen for a reason. The reason could be some of the choices people make, or where they happen to be when the natural disaster strikes, etc.

We have to be careful not to attribute all disasters to God – He may not have brought them – we could easily violate the 3rd commandment (using God’s name wrongly) and misrepresent the nature and character of God..

When non-Christians hear Christians say things like, “everything happens for a reason” and “it must have been the will of God,” they are left with an impression of God that is hardly loving and just, but instead left with a picture of God who wills evil and suffering in the world.[5]

Let’s consider some ways to make sense of the relationship between God and human suffering.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  1. God gave humans dominion (stewardship authority) over the earth

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [6]

We live in a world that God has given us authority to take care of. God has given us intelligence, a soul, conscience for us to know right from wrong. 

God, in his providence, did not leave us to our own devises to rule and care for the planet. There are natural laws set in motion that govern the seasons, help cool the plant, protect the earth and everything in it, and these natural laws are predictable.

God has also given the Law to show His people how to live. He sent the prophets to redirect people’s lives toward God. When these were not enough, God gave us Jesus Christ who taught us God’s will for us by showing us how to live in this world: “to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, to do unto others as we’d have done to us, that we forgive, that we clothe the naked and feed the hungry, that we welcome the stranger, that greatness is found in serving, and that by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross he demonstrated to us what sacrificial love look like.” “Finally, God gave us the Holy Spirit to ‘guide us in all truth’” and the church.”[7]

God uses his people to do incredible things here and even uses people to be the answered prayer of someone suffering, someone in need. Feed hungry children, care for the sick, seek God’s justice, encourage those who are discouraged.

We have free will.

At the beginning of the book of Genesis, we see that God gave Adam and Eve the choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have always had and will always have the freedom to choose between right and wrong…God’s will be done or My will be done. 

We love the idea of being free to make our own decisions and be our own person and we will defend this freedom.

Since we have been given free will, we are prone to stray from God’s path. Just look at the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 1-3.

No matter how you read this story (literally, figuratively, symbolically), you and I can still see ourselves in this story.

This story captures the idea of what happens to us, as humans, on a daily basis. Everyday, I hear the voice of the serpent trying to lead me astray, convincing me there is a better path than what God has said. I can listen to it, or I can believe what God is leading me to do or believe about Himself. When I listen to the voice of the serpent, a little of God’s paradise is lost inside me.

Straying from God’s path brings sin into the picture. The Hebrew and Greek words for SIN mean to “miss the mark.” When we do not live the way God desires us to live, we become so full of ourselves and we end up finding ourselves being drawn to the things that hurt us or others.

Sin is in every aspect of the human experience and leads to

Dictators and tyrants abusing people

Men and women violating their marriage covenant

This results in people worshipping false gods (idols) of

Money

Sex

Power

Self 

We have been given incredible power and authority over the earth, free will, the power to choose right from wrong. So let’s briefly look at God’s power and human suffering.

Natural disasters happen all over the world and many people die from them each year. Throughout human history, people have thought of these events as “acts of God.” Insurance companies still have clauses in their policies that talk about “acts of God.”

We now know, as a people, that these events actually have a good purpose for life on our planet. For example, earthquakes are the result of the movement of the earth’s plates, a process designed to keep the core of our planet from superheating. Without this, the earth could not support human life. Monsoons that bring terrible flooding are part of the earth’s system for cooling our atmosphere. When human beings get caught in these giant forces of nature, there is death and devastation, but these forces are essential to life on this planet.[8]

It is okay to ask, “Where is God?” in our life situations.

So, where is God when tragedy strikes? One of the places, I believe, we can see God is him working in and through emergency personal, and disaster relief teams to bring a sense of healing and hope. One of God’s primary methods for showing the world his presence and care toward people is by sending his people out.

He sends his people to provide medical care, food, clothing, shelter to their communities and around the world so children don’t have to die of hunger. We see the state of our fallen world all over all sources of media. Much of the suffering in the world is still happening because God’s people are not hearing or answering his call. What is God putting in your heart to show how you can make a difference for transformation and healing in this world? 

There is suffering that is caused by human decisions because we have been given the freedom to make these decisions. Some of the people angry with God are really angry with themselves for the decisions they’ve made. Our decisions (such as resources not being deployed out in areas of need, people not responding to God’s call on their life to share his love and help those in need) can have painful consequences for others.

In his book Night, Elie Wiesel writes about his experience as a boy in the Holocaust Auschwitz concentration camp. He says he keeps hearing the question, “Where is God now?”

The book, A Child Called It, depicts the true story of Dave Pelzer who somehow survived the worst case of child abuse in California history.

I have a close friend who lost his wife and child, while they were driving to church, because someone chose to drink and drive.

We know of businesses, who people invest their retirement into stocks, who fail because of bad accounting practices done to hide the truth of how the business was doing.

There is also suffering that is caused by illness. We live in a fallen world, and our bodies are not what God originally created them to be. Our current bodies are incredible machines that can heal themselves; but sometimes they just don’t heal like we want them to.

Leslie Weatherhead, a preacher in the 20th century told about his time as a missionary to India. A young Indian man he was ministering with had a daughter who had just died of cholera. The young man, with great resignation and grief said, “it must have been the will of God.” Weatherhead stopped him and said, “John, what would you think if someone crept into your veranda by night and held a cholera germ-covered cloth over your daughter’s mouth?” The man became indignant, “Such a man would be a monster!” Weatherhead replied, “But John, is that not what you just accused God of doing?” [9]

Sickness is not God’s way. When Jesus walked this earth, he spent much of his time healing people not making them sicker… So, do we blame God for the illness, or do we, with the psalmist, look at our bodies and declare that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)[10] even though our bodies are failing us?

Disease, sickness, injury, and death are all part of having flesh and blood bodies. This is, unfortunately, part of our life. Part of the risk of living is that we might get sick and we will die. This is not God’s doing, it is simply part of having bodies like ours in a world like ours.[11]

So, I invite you to remember that following Jesus Christ does not mean we’ll have an easy, pain-free life, and to keep thinking through what “everything happens for a reason” means when we say this other people. When we have the opportunity to listen to people going through very significant challenges, we get to be a source of comfort and God’s love, reminding them God has not forgotten them and loves them tremendously.

The truth is we live in a world where we do not always know the real reasons things happen or why people do what they do. But rejecting God won’t change the situation. Remembering God is present, asking God to be present, changes our viewpoint. We can then understand more, the Apostle Paul when he wrote (here’s a different version of Philippians 4:13), “I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”[12]

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE 

Christianity does not promise we will not suffer but does promise that suffering will not have the final word.

Israelites set free from slavery

David found deliverance from his affliction

And on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26)

God does not bring unjust suffering upon his children; but he will force such things to serve his good purposes.

He will walk with us through all of the hardships, challenges, sufferings in this life.

NT Wright says, “We are committed, within the worldview generated by the gospel of Jesus, to affirming that evil will finally be conquered, will be done away with.”[13]

The Apostle Paul puts it in a different way in Romans 8:18 “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)


[1] Wright, NT. Evil and the Justice of God. Page 45

[2] Kushner, Harold. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Page 10

[3] Psalm 73:26

[4] Yancey, Phillip. Where is God When it Hurts. Page 70

[5] Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sens of God’s Will. Page 9

[6] Genesis 1:27-28

[7] Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sense of God’s Will. Pages 11-12

[8] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Pp16-17

[9] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 25

[10] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 25, 26

[11] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 26

[12] Philippians 4:13 CEB

[13] Wright, NT. Evil and the Justice of God. Page 16

Knowing Jesus

I’m sure you have heard it said, “know Jesus.” I have often wondered what different people think when they hear something like that. How do you get to “know Jesus?”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was asked, before his Aldersgate conversion, if he knew and believed in Jesus. His answer was, “I believe he is the savior of the world. After his experience on Aldersgate, Wesley was able to say,

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

John Wesley “knew” Christ in a personal way and took ownership of the faith and grace given.

In the Old Testament scriptures, the word for “know” is “yada”. This means more than just casually knowing someone. This has to with intimacy and knowing someone deeply. 

Here are some thoughts: How do you get to know another person? Most of the time we ask questions and seek to spend time with them to see how they are in different situations and what they think. 

The same is true for us to “get to know Jesus.” We seek to spend time with him and ask questions, waiting for an answer. 

There is a difference between getting to know Jesus and getting to know a person right in front of us. For one thing, we can see the person; we trust Jesus is there. This is one of the biggest promises he made when he ascended (“rose”/went/entered) heaven. He promised to be with us always, even until the end of time. Has there ever been a time when, though you may have been all by yourself, there was a peaceful, yet powerful, pretense with you? It is very possible Jesus was making himself known to your spirit that he is there with you and you do not need to worry about being alone.

Spend time with him. How can you do this? For one thing, when we spent time with our friends or family, we usually block time out of our day, week, year, etc. to devote only to them and the experience. The same is true with Jesus. To get to know him, read about him in the Bible (especially the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). See how the words speak to you. Carefully read the Gospels.

Ask questions and pay attention to what he says. Is there anything that just doesn’t make sense to you? Ask. Out loud. Write down the question. Talk about it with other believers of Christ. You never know how and when Jesus will speak in and through you and others to make himself known, to answer your questions, or to give you an assurance/peace beyond an understanding. This is one of the aspects of praying, we talk with God personally and directly.

Allow him to speak directly to you, straight to your heart. This is one of the biggest things we have to do. We have to have an open heart, with faith, that Jesus is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit. When his words come into your life and fill your mind, transformation happens within us. This is the best part about praying, when we open ourselves to hear from God directly.

When all of this happens, we will realize we have a different worldview than before. We also realize we have been called to do the mission and ministry Christ started when he walked this earth. 

Now, is this the ONLY way to get to know Jesus? No. One of the best things to do is learn who his is, talk about him in a group (develop a community), and look for ways you can sense the pretense of the Holy Spirit among you, in you, and working through you. Over time you’ll find you have come to “know”, not just know about, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, yes; but also your savior who saves you from the power and presence of sin and death.

One day, I know you’ll be able to look back and see you have come to “know” Christ because he has transformed and changed you into his likeness and image. 

May you become so aware of the presence of Christ with you always so your life will be filled with incredible love, peace, hope, Joy, grace, forgiveness, and new life.  

The Problem of Evil

A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.

God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.

Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.

Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.

Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.

Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.

Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.

This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.

Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”

There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.

To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?

Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.

The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?

On Miracles

Question:   Can a modern, educated person rationally believe in miracles?

I believe a modern, educated person can rationally believe in miracles if they have faith miracles can happen. If a person, any person, does not have faith, miracles can happen, then they would not be able to know if it was a miracle. Belief in miracles depends on the person’s worldview: do we live in a world where God can intervene, and we have personal religious experiences?

There seem to be different understandings of what a miracle is. Some people describe a miracle as an unexpected event or occurrence. Most often, a miracle is defined through the lens of religion, primarily because of the result of divine activity. Two types of miracles are violation and coincidence miracles. Violation miracles are those we tend to think of the most—God stopping a natural disaster, terminal disease cured, a person saved from a horrific accident unharmed. These are the miracles that give the best stories. If religious experiences people have are challenging to examine or prove, then violation miracles could be challenging to prove as well. Coincidence miracles are those events that seem unlikely to occur, though they do not violate any laws of nature (i.e., a candidate gets a job they were not qualified for, etc.) In these miracles, the eyes of faith can see God working.

Throughout history, there have been unexplained events that make no sense unless they are described as miracles. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most significant one people still grapple with today. Had this not been a miracle and real event, the early disciples and followers would not have been so bold in their faith, their testimony, or even to be willing to die for the message Jesus Christ lives.

I think the most significant aspect of miracles that make them difficult to believe in is that they force people to look beyond themselves as the center of the universe. Meaning, we have to open ourselves up to the possibility there is a higher power (God) that created the world and is still working within this world and the lives of the people, whether they know he is nor not. Yes, this is a challenging thought and concept. But what if we took the wager of Pascal and began to seek to have faith in God just for the outcome of experiencing joy and seeing everything around them in a new way?

For me, I do believe in miracles. This past summer was one of the hardest of mine and my wife’s life. She was pregnant and had a very, very difficult pregnancy. It was so complicated that we were not sure if the baby was going to live outside the womb or not. We also were not sure my wife was going to make it either. We recently had our baby boy baptized. So every day, I believe I am looking at a miracle when I look at my baby boy and wife.

For an intelligent, modern person to believe in miracles, we have to go back to the questions at the beginning, do you think we live in a world where God can intervene, and we have personal religious experiences?

What Can “Baby Shark” Teach Us?

It has taken the toddler country by storm. My toddler is obsessed with “Baby Shark.” Actually, obsessed may be too nice of a word. She has the toy shark that swims and sings in the bathtub. The phone that plays the song. A book. A Baby Shark puppet. She wears herself out dancing to the song! (If we need to keep her awake a little longer or get her to cooperate, we play the song. So this may be our fault. 😂)


Then it happened.


One day I was listening to the song and I realized there is a lesson we could learn. (Maybe I was hallucinating after hearing it like 5,000 times that day.)
If you feel brave, listen to the song now.

What do you hear? What do you think? It is very repetitive and repetition is good to learn.
The part that caught my attention was the end, (run away… Safe at last). That is the end of the song. This is really what we long for in life; to be safe at last.


We have all sorts of things coming at us. Little, or “baby“, things that want to try to take us down. There are bigger things that want to try to take us down. There’s old things that want to try to take us down. All of these “enemies“ want to cause us to live in fear. But the end says we are safe at last.


Now, apply this to your life. You have many things coming against you. Things that seem small. Things that seem big. Stuff from your past. All of it is trying to take you down. But take this time to trust in Christ to be with you always. To protect you. To guide you on the path to safety.


Now, before we take this to mean just individual level of protection, we need to realize this is bigger than us, then just us alone. Whenever fish are swimming away from sharks or their predators, they typically swim with other fish, so they are in a community. We are part of a community, and as the light of Christ, we get to play a part in protecting those around us because that’s what Christ calls us to do. We get to lead people to the safety found in Christ.

Now, before we take this to mean just individual level of protection, we need to realize this is bigger than us, then just us alone. Whenever fish are swimming away from sharks or their predators, they typically swim with other fish, so they are in a community. We are part of a community, and as the light of Christ, we get to play a part in protecting those around us because that’s what Christ calls us to do. We get to lead people to safety because that’s where Christ is.


So we have a call. To stay in the safety of Christ and to bring others to this place of safety.


This may be a little far fetched, but this is a lesson I think we can, and should, learn from “Baby Shark.”


(You’re welcome for it being stuck in your head now 😂. )

What if Joseph said “No”?

Every year we hear the story of Christ’s birth. The angel speaking to Mary. The shepherds. The magi (wise men). To Joseph, through a dream.


We can read in scripture, and maybe know by heart, the storyline. But what if Joseph said “no”? Would we blame him? Would we understand his decision? Mary was just found today be with a baby that wasn’t his.


What must have been going through his mind? Joseph never says a word in scripture, but I bet we can imagine what he says or thinks.
Maybe he was asking for a sign about what to do? Maybe he was so interested in Mary he didn’t want anything bad to her so he kept thinking of what to do.


He got his answer in the form of a dream. “Take Mary, raise the boy as your own, name him Jesus.” What was going through his mind when he awoke?


Had Joseph went against the dream, Mary could have died. Where would that have left Jesus?


I think this one of the points of this narrative is that this is the adoption story of Jesus by Joseph. Being a dad of children I adopted, this is a powerful story to me.


Jesus would have found a way to be born. He wouldn’t have had Joseph’s influences on his life. Joseph would have missed out on being complete as the earthly dad of Jesus.


This Christmas, we have the choice whether or not we’ll adopt the life of Christ into our lives. When we have Jesus in our lives, everything is more complete, more illumined, more peaceful.


I don’t think it’s Jesus that would have missed out if Joseph said “no”. It was Joseph who would have missed out on raising the Christ child and being the man Mary needed. Joseph would have missed everything. But he didn’t.


It may not be your “ideal” situation; but just see how God works and is present in working things out for the good. Let the light and presence of Christ shine into your life, this Christmas and always.

Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 4)

THE BIGGER PICTURE

“But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?” ~Jonah 4:4 NIV

What do you see in these pictures?

full frame abstract microscopic shot showing the cellular structure of a red rose petal

What do you think? I bet these pictures are not what they seem to be. Here is what they are, from a zoomed out view:

Part of the issue with the fallen state of humanity is we often do not look beyond our own circumstances. We even often do not think big enough about God. When we read the book of Jonah, I hope we can get a big picture of who God is.

Remember a question we started this series with: “If you only had the book of Jonah, what could it teach you, and what could you teach others about who God is?”

REVIEW WHAT WE KNOW OF GOD THROUGH JONAH, SO FAR

  1. God knows our hearts; yet he still calls us
  2. We cannot hide from God. God never leaves us
  3. The Lord is the One who created everything à even you!
  4. People come to know God through our lives
  5. God offers grace and desires life for people
  6. God answers prayer
  7. God has not abandoned you or forgotten you
  8. God relentlessly pursues you and I so we can reach the people we’re called to reach
  9. God desires holiness from all because he is holy
  10. God even cares for our enemies

Jonah 4

Jonah has left Nineveh after reluctantly obeying God and warning the people of coming destruction. Chapter three ended with Jonah seeing that God did not bring the destruction that was foretold. This made Jonah angry. Do you know why he was angry?

First of all, we have to understand anger is not a primary emotion. Anger comes from another emotion/feeling that has grown. Most of the time it is because of being hurt. When we get hurt, we can easily nurse that wound (emotional or physical) until we get into a place of anger toward something or someone else. The reality is, we are really just upset because of another cause.

Look deeper into who Jonah is. Remember prophets were only considered authentic and valid if the prophesies they gave actually came true. From what we have learned about Jonah, both in this biblical book and in 1 Kings 14, we see Jonah has not seemingly done very well. This could have been eating away at him. When he gave the message Nineveh will be overthrown, he went and sat down to make sure it happened. When Nineveh was still there, imagine how he felt about himself being a prophet.

There is a good chance Jonah was realizing people would view him as a false prophet which would make his life much more difficult because people would no longer listen to him. This would be a valid concern if the prediction he gave (from God) did not come true. I am sure the anger he was beginning to feel came from not tending to the deep emotional hurt he was feeling.

Let’s pause for a moment and ask the question, “Why was Nineveh not overthrown (destroyed), or was it?” Jonah had it in his mind Nineveh would be wiped clean from the face of the earth.

But from what we have learned about God, through this short prophetic book, we learn, even more, how God does not work like we work and think like we think. Jonah had one end goal vision for Nineveh – to be destroyed. But remember in chapter 1, God tells Jonah, “it’s wickedness has come up before me.”[1] This was God’s concern the whole time. So, when the text says Nineveh repented, God relented from destruction.

Anytime people turn away from wickedness, sin, self-love, self-pity, and turn to God, that person (that city, culture, country) has been overthrown by grace. So, Nineveh would have been overthrown, just not how Jonah was thinking it would be.

After we understand this, now we can look at what Jonah says to God. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, and abound in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”[2] What is amazing is that Jonah says that God is good. He names the good attributes about God. This is part of what God says about himself to Moses in Exodus 34. What amazes me is how Jonah knows the incredible goodness of God, yet is still angry at God.

This is the part of the story where we get to witness Jonah throwing a hissy fit and a temper tantrum. He says this is why he tried to flee from God, because he knew God would not bring the destruction as promised. He was viewing his mission, and life, like this:

When God desires he/we look at the world with a much bigger picture, such as this:

This is one of the things I love about reading scripture. Every time I read it, I see a much bigger and deeper view of God than I had before. I also see how much God is working in and through humanity. We see a picture of just how far the journey is to, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”[3] Showing this kind of love is difficult because 1) we are not God and 2) humans, in our fallen state, love conditionally (i.e. if you treat me good then I will love you; if not, I don’t like you).

When things to do not go our way, it is easy for us to throw a fit and get angry at God when the reality is we are really upset because we realize we are still so far from perfect. God has not even placed earth as the center planet. Our solar system is not even in the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The weight of this realization is too much for us to bear at times, so it will manifest in anger and self-loathing. This is why the concept and truth of God’s grace is so important for us. We have the opportunities to remember we are not the center of the universe.

Fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus never says “get your life in order and then follow me.” He simply says, “Come…Follow me.”[4] This is an incredible picture of grace. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.[5]

We can get to a place where we understand and praise God for the grace that we did not earn. We can begin to follow Christ, but we also have to battle constantly with the urges we have (deep within us because of Sin) to not retort back to our fallen nature.

Jonah was a prophet of God. He knew the goodness of God. Jonah knew how merciful God is. Jonah still wanted to see his enemies go down. This is what we have to be careful of. There are people we don’t like. There are people who don’t like us. Yet, through it all, God is for all the world, not just you or I. If God can save you, through Jesus Christ, why do we forget God can save the people overseas? The people in the slums? The people in the White House? The people coming to our borders? Why do we still allow our anger to burn against other people, that God is also for (as we saw in the last chapter)?

Jonah was allowing his prejudice to creep in and take over. He was allowing his desire for revenge to be demonstrated. Remember, this book was written during the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon, where Nineveh was. These people took away the livelihood and freedom the Jewish people had in Israel. For them, this book would have been really close to home. Why wouldn’t God take care of and destroy our oppressors when they did this to us? Remember that God is still trying to work on, even the oppressors too.

What we have to be careful of is not allowing our prejudice and our stereotypes of other people groups to be the lenses with which we view the world. When interviewed about the future of planet earth, God skeptic and physicist, Stephen Hawking had something interesting to say. “When asked what human trait he’d like to change, Stephen Hawking replied, ‘Aggression.’ He said it could lead to irrational behavior, like sparking nuclear war and ending the world.”[6] This is why what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount is so important.

“Don’t you see that whatever goes into the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, slander. These are what defile a person…”[7]

And what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 4, Galatians 5, and Titus 3:

29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.[8]

18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry,21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.[9]


Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone.[10]

What does this teach us about God? It all goes back to being holy which means being perfect in love. Which means we have to look beyond ourselves and our families and friends to try to grasp the bigger picture—God is working toward remaking (not destroying) the world. Redemption is God’s plan.

God continues to show his creative nature with what happens next with Jonah.

Jonah goes east of the city. He finds a place, makes a shelter, and waits. He would have waited at least 38 days in this spot. (He walked one day journey into a three day journey length of Nineveh. This meant he would have 38 days until the destruction of the city.) It’s easy to imagine the scene. We do it all the time when we’re watching our favorite movies and television shows with a character that is supposed to have something bad happen to them. We get our popcorn and drink, sit back, relax, and wait in anticipation (sometimes happiness) that the character will get what’s coming to them.

But God is not one to be mocked, or break from his character. While Jonah is (patiently?) waiting for Nineveh to be destroyed, God causes a plant to grow which helps produce shade for Jonah. Oh, Jonah likes this. Not only does Jonah get to wait for the destruction of the city, but God was so good to him that a plant was provided for his own comfort. (Sense the humor here?)

But the very next day, God created a worm (irony) that ate the plant. Jonah’s anger continued to burn, this time more so at God. Not only does God send the worm, but God also sends a “scorching east wind.”[11] Imagine how Jonah was feeling now? Did he finally repent of his actions and attitude? Nope!

Jonah continues to have the gall to be upset with God. This time he stays mad because God provided and took away the comfort and shade. Jonah uses the excuse he does not want to live anymore because, as Jonah says, God is too good and compassionate.

Does God deal harshly with Jonah? Not really. Instead, God asks some real important questions about how Jonah’s view of the situation and the world needs to change. This is where the book of Jonah ends:

God asks Jonah, “should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from the left—and also many animals?”[12]

Not only does God ask this of Jonah, but God also asks us this same question today.

So, I have to ask, where is your heart toward God? I’m sure I would hear that our hearts are great with God. This is definitely something we all desire. Now, where is your heart to the people of the world? The person who cut you off in traffic? The boss who isn’t fair? The person who harmed you or stole something of yours? Where is your heart toward the judge who did not give a strong enough sentence to the defendant? This is where it gets difficult.

I sure hope the book of Jonah has come alive to you in a different way than before. I hope you are seeing new aspects that were not visible before. Above all else, I hope we all come away with a much larger picture and view of God than we had before.

God is big enough that we can be mad at him, yet he still seeks to offer grace. This is where the picture and person of Jesus Christ comes clearly into focus.

Not only did God create the universe, create the world, create each and every individual person, God decided to come down and live life here on earth, as a human, for a time, so he could live and dwell among us. High and powerful people did not like Jesus Christ, still don’t, and had him put to death. But catch this. Jesus willingly went to the cross. He willingly was humiliated, tortured, wrongly convicted, wrong executed. With his arms outstretched on the splintery cross, Jesus said, “forgive them.” He demonstrated his incredible compassion and love for all of humanity (past, present, and future). What an incredible picture of God’s compassion, love, and mercy for you and I today.

May we continue to seek to live in true peace with each other. May we continually repent and turn our lives toward God. May we constantly praise and glorify God, even when we do not get what we want. Above all, may we seek to know and love God, and God’s people, more and more each day.

Amen


[1] Jonah 1:2b NIV

[2] Jonah 4:2b NIV

[3] Matthew 5:48 CEB

[4] John 1:39a, 43b

[5] Ephesians 2:4-10

[6] https://nypost.com/2018/03/14/heres-how-stephen-hawking-predicted-the-world-will-end/

[7] Matthew 15:17-20a NIV

[8] Ephesians 4:29,31-32 CEB

[9] Galatians 5:18-21 CEB

[10] Titus 3:1-2 CEB

[11] Jonah 4:8a NIV

[12] Jonah 4:11 NIV

Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 3)

RELENTLESS PURSUIT

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give to you.” ~Jonah 3:2 NIV

One of the things I hope we are understanding in this book of Jonah is that God never gives up on you. God is relentlessly pursuing you. God is relentlessly pursuing his people. God is relentlessly pursuing the world in so many ways. The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “[God] wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”[1]

Cory Asbury, a contemporary Christian artist has a song out called Reckless Love.” I love the lyrics. The chorus goes like this:

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Oh, it chases me down fights til I’m found leaves the ninety-nine

And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Now that really sums it up, doesn’t it? I think people can get concerned about saying God’s love is reckless; so we’re using we’re saying that God’s love is relentless. This means he never gives up. One of the verses for the song says:

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me 

You have been so, so good to me

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

You have been so, so kind to me 

Isn’t this a picture of God in the Book of Jonah. Think about it. Jonah has been running away. He’s been trying to escape God. He’s been trying to go where God is not; or he thinks that God is not. He knows, because he is a Hebrew prophet that God is everywhere. That part of God’s nature is that God is omnipresent. God is also all-powerful (omniscient) because God knows what Jonah will do; yet calls Jonah anyway for this mission.

But when Jonah was his foe God fought for Jonah to do the mission that God wanted Jonah to do. The mission was to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the word of the Lord that he was given in the first chapter. God told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before him.[2]

We have been looking at how we can see and experience and appreciate the nature of God by finding out more who of God is through this short book of Jonah. As we continue our journey through this prophetic book, we have to understand is this is act 2 of the story. Act 1 of the story was God speaking to Jonah, Jonah running away, Jonah getting swallowed by a fish and then God speaking to the fish.

The book ends of act 1 for Jonah shows a word coming from God first to the person of Jonah and second to the fish who spews, vomits, disgorges Jonah from its belly because it is sick of Jonah being there.

In Act One, the very first thing we learn is how God is persistent God is. How relentlessly he desires his word to be to go to the city of Nineveh and he wants no other person besides Jonah to deliver this message.

Beginning Act Two, chapter three, verse 1 says, “then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” [3]Not only is God persistent, God is gracious in giving second chances. 

I bet there are people reading this here and now that may need to go back to remember, a main point from last chapter is that God is not done with you. God is a God of second chances and he’s constantly working in us and through us so we become the people that he has called us to be. All so we can reach the people that he has called us to reach. Remember Paul’s words in Romans 10:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[4]

This is something very important, God is a God of second chances. Now you may not have done everything right the first time around, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the 50th time around. God is patient. God is relentlessly pursuing you and I so that we are going after the people that he is pursuing. The people he desires to know his salvation which is his eternal life, his presence here and now, and in the life to come. That is one of the beautiful aspects about the Christian faith, that we can have assurance of knowing that we are going to be in God’s presence. We know that this life is not the end of the story. God is saving up for us to be with him in all eternity. Not only that but God is desiring to use our lives to be part of the redemptive story of the world’s transformation. 

God says go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message he gave to Jonah. The very next verse says Jonah obeyed, this time. The New Testament, in Matthew 21, has a parable of Jesus about a father and his two sons.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.[5]

Jesus explaining the first son is the one who obeyed God because he did what God desired. This time Jonah obeyed. So he went out, he was probably reluctant as we have seen through Jonah’s character so far. 

The text says that Nineveh was a very large city, and it would take three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”[6]

What we see here is a picture of a reluctant prophet, reluctantly doing what God has called him to do. He’s not even halfway in the city. He waits until he is about a third of the way in (about a day’s journey), and according to the text, he proclaimed the Lord’s proclamation once. This means Jonah did not go through the entire city. Jonah stopped after just one day, after only going a third of the way in. That is when he proclaims the single message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He doesn’t even say this is God’s declaration for them. It is almost as if that Jonah is not wanting to tell the Ninevites the whole story. But the very next verse says the Ninevites believed God.

What’s interesting about that is Jonah, as we have said, did not say anything about God in the proclamation, but the Ninevites, the text says, believed God and all of a sudden a fast was

Proclaimed. All of them, from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth and the message even went up to the king who gave a decree that went out to all the people. Now what does this mean?

Think about what this is saying for who God is in our world. Number one, as we have seen in Chapter 1, it says that Nineveh’s wickedness has come up before God. This is saying that God is concerned about holiness. God is concerned about us being holy. His people, really the not just his people but the entire world being holy, being recast into his image, being perfect, being just like him. In New Testament terms this means being like Christ.

God is concerned about our holiness. Here’s the deal with that. None of us can measure up to this standard. None of us, as it says in Romans chapter 3, have lived up to the glory of God

because it says it all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. 

The other thing that we see is that Jonah went a day’s walk, about a third of the way, into the city. He did kind of this half-hearted proclamation, but what we see is that when he proclaimed the Word of God, when we proclaim God’s truth, God’s Spirit works incredible wonders amid our timidity, in spite of our prejudices, in spite of our reluctedness to go.

Remember, as it says in Hebrews four, “the Word of God is sharper and active than any double-edged sword.” God’s Word works incredible wonders. Now, what happened? 

In Jonah’s message, he doesn’t say “repent” but the people hoped that if they repented, God would relent from the destruction of their city being overthrown.

Let’s talk about repentance for a moment. Repentance is one of those words, Church Words, that we like to say; but here’s the thing about repentance, repentance means doing a 180 in our actions, in our words, and in our thoughts so we are not going on our own path anymore. The path we are turning around to, is God’s direction.

Repentance means that we are going to have to make a change in our heart and life. That’s what repentance means. In Greek, the word is metanoia, which is a change of mind, a change of heart which means that all of us are going to change and be given over to God’s will. We like to say “repent” because we don’t like to hear change, that we have to change in order to become holy in order for Christ to shine in and through us. That’s a challenge for us; but see the incredible thing about grace is that God works in spite of us. We are all called to repent.

Jesus’ very first sermon was, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” which means change your heart and life because God’s eternal presence is here. His kingdom of heaven is already here. Change your heart and life so that you are able to live in and experience this incredible place called heaven.

Verse 10 says, “when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” God desires holiness but God is about forgiveness.

We have an incredible picture of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When he was on the cross, his arms were stretched out wide. He looked down and in the crowd. It was as if he looked through time past, present, and future. He said these incredible words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Think about that. What he was doing was looking at you and I because we do not know what we are doing because our desire is to follow our own heart. Our desire is to do things our way, our desire is to be in control of our lives. Our desire even, if we profess Christ, is most of the time to do things our own way. God desires to forgive. 

One of the attributes of God is found in the book of Exodus chapter 33 verse 19. I love this verse because it’s repeated multiple times throughout the scriptures. God is speaking to Moses and he says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

What we have not said up to this point is that Jonah, a Hebrew, is going to the pagans, the Gentiles, in Nineveh. Now, Nineveh is in the area of Babylon place that had many gods and worship the king. Jonah was going there to a place that the Hebrews did not like. In fact this was an area that captured the Hebrews and put them in captivity in exile.

Jonah was called to go there to tell Nineveh it’s wickedness has come up before God. Why should Jonah care about this city? Because God cares about our enemies. When we read Joshua chapter 5, we see the commander of the Lord’s army appearing before Joshua. Joshua bows down and asks, “are you on our side or you for the other side?” The commander the lord’s army says, “neither I’m for God.”

That’s one of the things that we have to understand and remember as Christians. When Jesus says pray for your enemies he means, “don’t let anything come between you and other people. Find a way to make it work.”

God desires forgiveness. God desires holiness. God’s Word works wonders in the world. When we live by God’s Word we see how our enemies are overthrown. We’ll talk about that next week.

Maybe our enemies are not overthrown in the manner in which we want but in the manner in which we may lead them to God.

God is relentlessly pursuing you and I to do the mission we are called to. Are you ready for this work? It will not only change your life, but will change the world!


[1] ! Timothy 2:4 NIV

[2] Jonah 1:2

[3] Jonah 3:1 NIV

[4] Romans 10:14-15 NIV

[5] Matthew 21:28-31a NIV

[6] Jonah 3:4a