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

Moving Toward Victory

Welcome to the beginning of Holy Week. This is the week, we have been preparing our hearts for as we continue our journey to the cross which will take us through 

Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem…today)

Maundy Thursday (Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, betrayal and arrest…Thursday)

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

Finally to the glorious victory of the resurrection of Easter Sunday!

We do not go into this week with our head held low. Neither do we go into this week trying to avoid the events that happened to God in flesh, Jesus Christ. We go into this week, reminded that the worst thing in life we face is never the last thing. Death is not a defeat. Because of Jesus Christ, we walk with joy. We walk with hope. We walk with a sense of victory.

We begin Holy Week with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – Palm Sunday. This is when Jesus enters Jerusalem as the “suffering servant”, as well as the true Messiah…the Christ…the savior of the world. 

It’s the equivalent of when we say, “hold my drink.” Jesus is saying, “hold my chalice, I got this!”

Remember, Jesus will be saving the world, for us today he, has saved the world, in a much different way than the people of Israel hoped he would – in a militaristic fashion, overthrowing the Roman occupiers.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

First of all, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not the only “entry” that day.

As we think about the events on Palm Sunday, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we should think about what else is happening in the city of Jerusalem. There were thousands, if not millions, in the city for preparing for Passover. 

Not everyone in the city was laying their coats down and waving palm branches for Jesus. King Herod Antipas was entering into Jerusalem, in a grand gesture. (Note: This is why Pilate took Jesus to Herod so quickly and easily during Jesus’ “trials.”)

The other processional was that of Pontius Pilate. His procession through Jerusalem was meant to be a reminder to the people who was in control – it was a blatant show of force.

2 of the 3 rulers entering Jerusalem in parades that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty. They were perfectly willing to kill in order to hold power, and they used impressive shows of forces to demonstrate that fact. Jesus, on the other hand, had no soldiers. He led a ragtag band of followers who waived palm branches as he passed by on a donkey.[1]

With this, we turn our attention to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

In March 2002, the former ruler of Afghanistan, the 87-year-old Mohammed Zahir Shah, returned to his homeland after 30 years of exile. Here’s how an article in the Chicago Tribune described his grand and glorious welcome:

On Thursday, thousands of invited guests lined up for hours at the airport and people gathered on the streets leading to a refurbished seven-bedroom villa to see the former ruler. Delegations arrived from across Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Governors and their advisers, members of women’s groups carrying posters of the king, most of the interim administration, royalists, warlords, men in turbans and others in suits all converged on the pockmarked runway where shells of bombed airplanes lay. Two red carpets were laid out. The newly trained honor guard was on hand, and young women and children in traditional embroidered dress greeted Zahir Shah with flowers and poems.

I hope you’re thinking of the contrast when Israel’s Messiah was born, when he came to his own people.[2]

READ MARK 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

Have we ever asked, “why Jesus sent his disciples to get the donkey AND THEN RETURN IT?

This incorporates a common folklore technique in which signs identify the desired person or object. These signs may include an encounter with strangers in the process. Romans soldiers routinely requisitioned animal and human labor from the people. Jesus’ promise to return the animal promptly distinguishes him from the ruling forces. [3]Jesus is continuing to set himself apart.

Riding a donkey is a richly symbolic act that goes back to King David. The donkey was a humble beast that symbolized David’s identity as the shepherd king. Davidic kings from that time forward rode on donkeys or mules to identify with David.[4]

HOPEFUL PROMISE

The prophet Zechariah gave a hopeful promise 500 years before Jesus was alive: 

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
[5]

Since everyone in the crowd may have known these words, Jesus was demonstrating, clearly, that he was the long-awaited promised King spoke about through the prophets. He was openly proclaiming he was the Messiah![6]

The crowd was cheering and waving palm branches as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

(NOTE: Matthew depicts the crowd “waving” the palm branches on the streets on Jerusalem while Mark says they laid their palm branches down on a street outside Jerusalem as Jesus was about to enter the gates. We do not need to be concerned about this detail; but rather we should be concerned with the purpose of Jesus entering Jerusalem.) 

Palm Branches were a symbol of goodness, victory, and well-being.

The finest specimens of palms grew at Jericho and Engedi and along the banks of the Jordan.

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being, and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple:

“On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.” (1 Kings 6:29)

Psalms 92.12 says that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”

At the end of the Bible, again people from every nation raised palm branches to honor Jesus:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
(Revelation 7:9)[7]

SO WE HAVE TO ASK, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

My guess is we have focused so much on Jesus riding into victory, that we may have missed another point as well. A point that is not mentioned specifically in this scripture; but one that we notice in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

God has won the war. Good ultimately triumphs over evil; but this does not mean we do not face challenging, frightening, unbearable things in our life. We sometimes know, or we anticipate, what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months, years:

Cancer diagnoses, terminal illnesses, spouses leaving, relationships crumbling, jobs ending (either by our choice, or by management’s choice). Jesus has been in similar circumstances. He knew he was about to die. That is why he kept pressing toward Jerusalem. This is part of his mission.

We like to think about Jesus just going forward in strength, in courage, with his head held high. Jesus was fully God. The God-part probably did do this; but was also grieved because of why this had to happen.

Jesus was fully human. The human part of Jesus was probably nervous or anxious. Imagine him riding into Jerusalem, his stomach was in knots, his mind racing about the events that would take place soon.

Jesus knows what it is like to get a death sentence, get a diagnoses for a disease he did not want (sin), feel the pain of people rejecting him for his mission and who he was. Jesus knows our every weakness, knows what we go through.

Jesus shows us, we too can keep moving forward. Why?

Because God is there. God is with him, you, I, all of us[8]. God will provide the strength and power when we need[9]it and give a peace beyond understanding.[10]

Jesus is the ultimate example of the power of God, especially in life’s darkest hours. Look at how the Apostle Paul shows how Jesus handled his life, his mission:

Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very natureof a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.[11]

Pay attention to the events of Holy Week. Be part of the services offered to help us trace the final week of Christ’s earthly life (tonight’s “Easter Experience”, Thursday’s Maundy Thursday service, Friday’s Good Friday service).

Remember the power of God that strengthened Jesus to endure the mocking, humiliation, torture, death sentence, and finally a humiliating death of crucifixion.

Through all of this, Jesus still had the joy of God, the joy of heaven, in his life. He did not allow the weight of the world to bring him down, he still prayed the Psalms on while on the cross. He did not focus on the negative and dwell on it, like we tend to do. He stayed the course of life, trusting God will do what he promised. The promise and presence of God was still experienced by Jesus, even on the cross.

Keep moving forward. Anything you and I experience, God can and does give us strength, peace, wisdom, himself. Move forward because, even though we have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Victory has been won!

God may not get us out of the conflict, the situation we’re in; but he is in it with us. He will ALWAYS get the last word, as we will see next Sunday, Easter morning.

Keep moving toward the victory of Jesus Christ in the world. Everyday, wake up and tell the world, “hold my cup…watch what God will do in and through me today!”

Let’s pray…

Holy God, You have paved the way for us to live as your lights in the world. May everything we do point to you, to Your victory over sin and death, evils which seem to be more noticed than the good, than You in the world. Give us the strength to handle anything life throws at us, help us remember you have won and allow us to walk as joy-filled people shining your light and love to all we encounter, to all who live not knowing the True light of the world – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is in His name that we pray. AMEN


[1]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 139, 143

[2]Preaching Today web Site: Afghans Give Ex-King a Royal Homecoming

[3]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary – Mark. Page 658

[4]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 137-38

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

[6]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 138

[7]https://www.thoughtco.com/palm-branches-bible-story-summary-701202

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11

I Still Believe in the Power Through the Church

I have to believe in the Church. It is a vessel that has been used by God to do incredible world transformation since it’s beginnings. The Church is also still around, even though it seems like it should have died a long time ago.

This week, I am continuing a sermon series, for the season of Advent called, “Prepare the Way.” As I was working on, reading the scripture, and definitely praying about this week’s message (God Finds Favor in Us – Luke 1:39-59), I kept having a nagging feeling tugging at me. I have not been able to focus on the message at all this week.

God seems to be up to something.

This Sunday is also the third Sunday in Advent – the Sunday of Joy.

When have you felt JOY when you have been with other believers of Christ? How long did that joy last after you departed your friends or family? What would make this joy return and stay rooted in you?

I still believe in the power of the Church. I still believe in the power God gives his people. I still believe God is at work in this world even though it seems as if more and more hatred, crime, indifference, gossip, you name it, seem to be running rampant.

I still believe in the power of God through the Church.

Whenever I come across Christians, I tend to find there are a few different responses about God’s power: 1) some people expect it, 2) some people think God still has power today, 3) some people think God’s shown power was at the time of the original apostles, 4) some people will think God does not have any power, that it all depends on the people.

Where do you fall in those categories?

I find whenever things are going really good, my faith seems to rely more on what I can do. Whenever things are not going well, I find that’s when I cry out to God for help. I wonder how many of you can relate to this?

What would happen, what would change, if we took the time to truly cry out to God, not just speak out minds, but really cry our heart out to him and sit still so we can listen to him? God is still in the business of making the impossible possible. There is nothing God cannot do.

I’m not calling for us to ask for whatever we want. Through prayer, we find our hearts, minds, and intentions are beginning to get aligned with God’s heart and mission for the world.

Do you ever feel like your prayers are not being answered? Like you’re just talking to the ceiling? Like you haven’t experienced God’s power in your life?

I encourage you to block out as much time as you can and be patient on God. He is already with us. Be patient to hear from him because, we may not understand or realize how much junk we have clogging our ears and hearts that muffles his voice.

As you sit and be still before the Lord, pay attention to how you begin to feel. Pay attention to what seems to be calming down. Pay attention to the still small voice that is constantly speaking to us, and we tune out much of the time because we get busy with “our lives.”

I still believe in the power of God through the Church, but I wonder how much of God’s presence and power we are missing and not living out because of all the junk we have clogging our spiritual lives.

Do you believe people can really be changed by the power fo God?

Do you believe our communities can be transformed by the power of God?

Do you believe our state and nation can be transformed by the power fo God?

Do you believe our world can and will be transformed by the power of God?

If not, why?

The longer I am walking with Christ, the more I realize I do not know. The more I realize how much I depend on my abilities, my talents, my power, my personality.

If we want to see the power of God move more, in our lives, in the world, we should expect what we do not expect to witness. We should also be unashamed to share the full message of Jesus Christ. His life is where the power is and lives are never the same after encountering Jesus Christ.

How would you react if there was someone who came in off the street and joined us in worship ion Sunday? What if this person smelled, was on drugs, just finished a night of “work”, did not have a nice home? What would we do? Could we love this person as we know God loves us?

God still does miraculous things in our world. Let’s open our hearts to pay attention. Then let’s also be the people of joy, a joy that the Holy Spirit uses to fill us so we can spread this joy out into the world.

Next, if we haven’t experienced the power of God lately, how many people are we not encouraging to do what God called them to do? How many do we put on hold because it doesn’t line up with our agenda? How many people need to be encouraged to live the life God has called them to live, even if it seems impossible?

I have seen people get crushed when another person says the dream is not right, or gives false information about not having enough to to the work. God will always provide what we need to accomplish his mission. If we haven’t experienced the power of the Holy Spirit lately, how much are we getting in the way of God working in and through other people?

Everything I have just written has been what’s convicting me lately.

I know the power of God is so strong that you will experience a miracle either in your life or to/through someone around you. This is God’s favor. Grace for us so we can show his love and power in the world.

This is the message of Christmas. God came to earth to demonstrate his love, power, and grace for the world. This power is still alive and is still making a difference.

Are we open to this power? Are we ready to experience and witness God do incredible things all around us?

I am. I pray you are too.


 

 

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

Connecting Points

Click here to read Acts 17.

“All you need to do is to teach that person how to…” This sounds simple enough; but is it really that easy to get people to learn new things? Just teach them? When we teach, we are actually connecting the person to what they have seen, what they have experienced and give it meaning.

The same thing is true for sharing our faith. If we listen to the stories of those around us, we can hear something that we can help connect them to Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus did. He would look around and see everyday objects and use them to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven. Think about your life for a moment, what part or aspect has someone used to help you know Jesus Christ or help you deepen your faith in God through Jesus Christ?

When the Apostle Paul was traveling, his goal was to preach Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.” He was showing that when we go to people, we find what speaks to them and go with it. He understood where he was, and knew the people’s culture, so he spoke to them in the way they were most comfortable with and he gave the people the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Many people turned away; but many accepted the message. I’m sure it bothered Paul when people criticized him for the message of Jesus Christ; but he stayed the course and kept preaching Christ and him crucified and raised. He may have used the language, symbols, culture of the people, but his message was always clear cut. When we speak with people, we should have this same kind of conviction.

Acts 17 gives us a time when Paul had a great opportunity to share his faith, and he gets ridiculed. He is placed in front of some of the smartest and brightest minds in Athens to be mocked. How would you feel if you were placed in that position? Paul never waivers; he searches around and sees all of the gods the people have made. It must have been hard to try to find something to relate to Jesus Christ; but there it was, a statue to the “Unknown god.”

That was his starting point. Paul used the people’s own poetry, about Zeus, and gave it new meaning to point the people to the real God. Again, some accepted, some left. But, he stood firm in the gospel message and people responded. Imagine what would have happened if Paul never spoke then? Imagine what happens when we don’t take time to really connect our lives with Christ to another person so they can experience Christ.

There are connecting points all around. Look at everything you can see and you might be amazed at how the Holy Spirit gives new meaning to worldly objects.

Trouble Again?

Click here to read Acts 16:16-40.

“Paul and Silas in prison.” This is the heading for this passage in my Bible. With a heading like that, someone is bound to ask, “Wait, wasn’t Paul thrown in jail a couple chapters ago?” The answer would be yes!

In the book of Acts, there is a pattern: Paul goes to a town, Paul proclaims Jesus Christ, people get upset, Paul goes to jail/is stoned/thrown out of town. How would you like this kind of life with a pattern like this? The Christian life is supposed to be easy, right? After all, Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” But we miss the point if we think our life is going to be easy.

When we accept Jesus Christ and follow Him, we immediately are different from the world’s viewpoint. This means we get to be the people who bring the light of Jesus Christ with us, wherever we go, to shine light in peoples’ dark lives and to show sin the Holy Spirit is convicting people of.

Paul is on his way for prayer. He is on his way to spend time with Christ and allowing him to fill Paul’s spirit, mind, and heart for the task ahead. But he was interrupted. A fortune teller was there trying to tell everyone who Paul is, causing a disturbance. This happened day after day, after day. This had to be stopped. Paul commanded the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” Her “owners” did not like what happened. They lost their income.

Instead of being able to continue on with their mission, Paul and Silas were grabbed and taken before the city officials. Paul and Silas were being blamed for the disturbance within the city. We all have been through some kind of situation like this in our lives. The truth is it is so much easier to blame lack of business, or even turmoil, on another person rather than looking at the true source. (Look at Romans 2:1-11)

Even though it may seem as though you are cut off from the world, because of a situation, the joy of Christ can be so firmly and deeply rooted in your life that it can never be taken.

May the joy of Christ continue to shine in and through your life and become so contagious that the people around you are drawn to the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you.

Philippians 4:4-7

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

United in Grace

Click here to read Acts 15:1-35.

Unless you…

Believe, belong, accept, perform, think, dress like, etc.

We have all been part of this kind of thinking at some point in our lives. Maybe we have said this to another person to make sure they were the “right material” for the group, the club, the organization. Maybe we have heard these stipulations given to us. What is the first thing that comes to mind when stipulations are placed on others for the sake of making them conform?

Part of the reason we create these “rules” is because we are more comfortable being around people just like us. We would rather have everyone in the group agree with us. No one likes to be called out for being “wrong.” (I know I don’t.) But can we be missing something when we try to force people to conform to a certain way of thinking, to be a certain kind of person?

The early Church had this same kind of issue. There were people who were nervous, including some of the apostles, for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) to become followers of Jesus Christ. After all, the people of the Jewish faith had to go through rigorous training, knowledge, liturgies as part of their faith. Jesus was raised as a Jewish person. So why not make everyone follow the Jewish law and then give them the opportunity to follow and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Why not? Because grace has something more amazing in store for the world. I want to add, this does not mean, or say, that creating liturgies, ways of learning, or any training to deepen our faith is bad or wrong. It just means that we do not have to go through all of that BEFORE experiencing God’s grace. Throughout scripture, we see the image of God reaching out to the world. God reaching out to the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the dead, the rich, everyone. He makes no qualms about the way people grew up and lived their lives. He met them exactly where they were.

Here’s the kicker to all of this. Just because God meets people where they were/are in life, it doesn’t mean he desires them to keep living that way. It is through His grace, His unmerited favor, that He gives us a new life, a new purpose, a new heart, a new mind. He knows what He created us to be. As for the laws the Jewish people lived by, He did not abolish them; but God did work in the hearts of the Christian leaders, the apostles, to say no one should have any barriers to coming to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtains were torn in two, the direct path to God was now available to ALL people, not just the High Priests or the Temple Priests. This is great news! You and I get to enter into eternal life, living in the presence of God, here and now. The only barriers to not living into this grace are those we place on ourselves.

No, you and I are not good enough, nor can we do enough to earn God’s grace. That is why His grace is a FREE gift to ALL people. The apostles and early church leaders learned this, and they became united with God in the sharing of His grace in a new way. We are given opportunities to experience and share His love and grace each and everyday.

Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

People Can Change

Read Acts 9:21:31 here.

We all, I’m sure, have known people who say they are going to change. And then they relapse into whatever they needed to stop. It breaks our heart and we lose trust. We begin to learn that the person “cannot” change. The reality is people change when the desire for Christ and the real recognition change must occur is stronger then the emotional high received from telling others they will change.

Unfortunately most people have to hit rock bottom before change will begin. What is rock bottom? This is the place and realization they have no where else to go. Most of the time, my guess is, people really do want to change. It’s the asking for help that leaves people in a state of embarrassment for some reason. However, when a person hits rock bottom, they know help must come.

When the Apostle Paul was on a mission to imprison the people following Jesus he was so obsessed and addicted to capturing them and interrupting their fellowship. Can you imagine the high he must have been on? The thrill of breaking a meeting, of sending people to prison just for following Christ. This seemed to drive him.

Paul (Saul is his Jewish name so that’s what he’s called in this part of Acts), knew the Torah better than most people. He knew the teachings and scriptures from what we call the Old Testament. He knew the line “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I know he understood that people were made in the image of God. But he was on a mission to stop people from following or talking about Jesus.

He hit his rock bottom when he experienced a real encounter with the risen Christ on his way to find more people. It was then his heart was opened and the words of Jesus filled his being so he had a greater desire to change his ways and follow Jesus then pursuing his followers.

Did people believe that he had transformed? No. Not at first. All they pictured was this man who went on rampages across the country. All they remember of this man is the hatred they felt whenever he was present. But when we spoke about the risen Christ, they noticed something different. Saul had truly changed. Now they did not accept him fully at first, but they realized he was on their side from now on.

How about you? Do you believe that people can and do change? I know I have made big mistakes. If I were to be remembered by mistakes I have made then I would not have been able to follow God’s calling in my life. Thanks be to God people really do change.

What is more sad to me than when people, who deep down want to change, have difficulty asking for help is when people flat out refuse to want to change. There is so much more joy, peace, hope, love when we allow the risen Christ to shine and work in our live than we could have ever imagined. Our sins (things we do against God or other people with our actions/inaction, words/lack of speaking up, or even or thoughts) cause a real death. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin are death.” We cannot keep doing only what we want or giving into our pleasures/desires without some kind of death to occur (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual). But the second part of that verse is even more powerful, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

People can really change. I have seen it happen. I am different because of Christ. Sin does cause death; but God gives us something greater, he gives us himself. He gives us the chance to live in his presence (eternal life) here and now AND in the life to come.

Think of people you know whose lives are derailing. Pray that God might open their hearts and minds to see a better way of life. Find some books on the subject and talk with professionals who can help.

People do change. It’s having the desire to change and leaning into the grace of God that begins a change with our hearts. Trust that God is still working. Even though the road to recovery is challenging, it is worth it and great good can from it. Need an example? Just look at the life of Saul who became the Apostle Paul who wrote most of what we have in our New Testament. Changed lives change lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God.

Keep Moving Forward

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 8:1-4.

The cards seem to be stacked against you. It seems like everyone is against you or making your life more difficult. We have all had those days, or even those weeks, where it seems nothing we do will improve the situation. A co-worker could have betrayed you, a spouse could have been unfaithful, people we trusted could have been found out to be frauds. Whatever the situation, or your personal experience, God is still present and active.

Right after the stoning of Stephen, the church scattered. They were nervous and scared because of the threats and harassment they were subjected to. Now, this was not harassment by governmental leaders like the Romans. This was done by the people they used to call family, by those in the same faith they grew up in.

But since the followers of Jesus said he was the Messiah and began to follow his teachings and worship him. This infuriated the religious leaders because they were losing the control over the people because of Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting how people react when the power and control they had is beginning to dissolve. They will panic. They will act in ways of anger. Remember anger is a secondary emotion, meaning something else is triggering the anger. Whenever someone loses the control they enjoyed for so long, they begin to feel scared and insecure because now what are they going to do? From this place of fear and insecurity, people lash out in anger.

Jesus came and showed people a new way of life. Well, actually, the original way of life God designed people to live. When the people heard this truth and experienced the life of Christ, they were different and had a new source of joy and peace. But in the situations of being persecuted (threatened, harassed, tortured) fear begins to creep in. So the people scattered and got away from the place so they could try to live in peace and safety.

Was God in this? Absolutely! Remember what Jesus said in Acts 1:8 “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.” Because of the harassment and persecution they were facing, they spread out. When they spread out, they began to tell the people around them about Jesus Christ. God’s Word was continuing to spread and expand!

Here in America, we Christians do not face persecution like what is seen and experienced in other countries around the world. I invite you to take some time and pray for Christians around the world. Pray for the message of Christ to be known and shown. A good resource to help remember to pray, and pray for a country or area each day is Operation World. Click here to begin to learn about other countries and to pray for the world.

No matter what is going on in the world, the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ continues to move forward. So should we.

Beyond Jealousy

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 5:17-42 CEB.

Jealousy. We all get jealous at times. Sometimes we don’t even want to admit we feel this emotion. Jealousy, when left unchecked, causes us to act in irrational and hurtful ways. Oh, we want to feel excitement for the accomplishments and gifts of other people; but deep down we wish it was us getting that recognition, so we can try to do anything to undermine the work of another.

Often times, when I write a blog about scripture, I can see my own flawed nature. This is hard because I would like to think I am always striving to encourage and develop others; but honestly, this is not always the case. My guess is this same thing happens to you, would you admit it?

So where does jealousy come from? Our flawed humanity seems to be always seeking to acquire and use what we do not have. This is why the 10th Commandment is “do not covet anything of your neighbor’s.” (See Exodus 20:17) Why is this included? I believe this commandment is part of the other nine because if we desire to have what our neighbors (those around us) have then we will never be content with what God has given us and we will seek to be made in the image of the other person rather than being formed and molded into the image of Jesus Christ.

Have you ever thought of that? Why would we want to be a replica of another person who is flawed and imperfect? Why wouldn’t we strive to be made perfect through the grace of God working in and through us? People who are in leadership positions most certainly fall into this way of thinking and of life.

Whenever another person seems to have more success than you do, be careful not to fall into the trap of doing everything exactly the way they do. The other person has different gifts, and a different area to work in. Just because success is happening in a specific way in one area does not mean it will work in your area. Just because another company, organization, church, group has something we don’t have doesn’t mean we have to go out to bash it, to try and stop it, or even try to replicate exactly.

We see this behavior all over the place. Spectators who want to be coaches instead of fully enjoying the nature of the game. Bystanders who want to know they are not getting what they want instead of being part of the activity, ministry, mission to serve other people. Deep down, there is a desire to be better than the person next to us.

Instead of waiting our energy tearing down another person or group because we’re jealous, let’s instead find a way to say “thanks” for the work they’re doing, for how they are using their gifts from God, for the opportunity to work together for the common good and goal of ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s take Gamaliel’s advice to the Jewish Council speak to us today, “Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!”

So let’s praise God for the way he works through many different people and in many different ways. Let’s praise God for the way he works through you and me. Let’s allow more thanks and praise to flow from our lips. We have so much to give praise for because we, along with those around us, have the presence God working in us and through us AND we get to watch his work through other people.