Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 1)

A WORD FROM GOD

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:” (Jonah 1:1 NIV)

Take some time to read the first chapter of the book of Jonah in you Bible.

I recently told my congregation, there are two things to know about me, right off the bat. Number one, I am a really smart guy. Now, I know I do not always do things that make it seem like I am smart, but I do work really hard. I also had to tell them, I promise I am safety conscious. This was really important because the weekend before, I had gotten the church’s zero-turn lawnmower stuck in a ditch. It would have been funny if this had been a one-time incident, but alas, it was not. 

See, the parsonage has a few inclines that would make mowing them challenging. If you did not go at the right angle, I learned, the mower will slip back down the hill. And that is what got me caught in the ditch, the first time. Don’t worry, we were able to get the mower out easily and I was able to finish what I needed to for the day.

This might be a good point to say this is my first time using a zero-turn lawnmower. Over the course of three mowings, I was able to get more confident and do more of the yard safely.

The next day, I decided I needed to finish an area of the yard that had not been able to be mowed because it had been real marshy and I needed that to dry up. The time had come. I put on my rain boots, walked through knee-high grass, and found the ground was dry enough for me to finish this patch of grass. I was excited!

I got the mower out, put in my headphones and turned on Pandora Radio on the Contemporary Christian station. I was getting more and more of the yard mowed, and it was looking good! At this point, I felt myself getting prideful and decided to go up a hill, close to the driveway, so I could easily go back and make another pass. This worked great, until…there was a little culvert ditch I did not see until it was too late. This time, the lawnmower had been backed up into the ditch.

Most of the time I am not easily embarrassed. When people drove by and saw the mower, and then the vehicle pulling a rope (that kept breaking), I felt I just needed to laugh at this situation. Then, a friend came by, called his son, and they were able to get me unstuck.

The other thing I told the congregation they needed to know about me was that I do not like to be told something is too much of a challenge, or it is impossible. I have had this character trait verified on multiple occasions. My wife says this is one of the reasons we are married. J

I do not believe there are impossible situations. There is always a way out and people who can and will be there when needed. Because of this, I was able to get the yard mowed before rain started the next morning. Every time I drive up to the house, I am thrilled to see the yard mowed! Mission accomplished, this time.

Now many people, including me at times, when faced with a seemingly impossible situation, will try to run and hide until the problem goes away. We see this all the time. People will run to drugs, alcohol, the arms of someone who is not their spouse, and more, just to try and run away from the situation for the moment and not think about it. 

It really is amazing what people will do to get out of doing something or face a situation or issue without really dealing with it. Most of the time, when the situation is faced and worked on, it turns out better.

As I study the scriptures and get older, I am understanding more and more how important it is to know who God is and what God’s nature is like. If we do not understand this, we do not clearly or fully understand who we really are. (I’m not talking about who we think we are. I am talking about who God created us to be.)

Now we get to the biblical book of Jonah.

There was something my Old Testament professor, in seminary, said. Think about this. “If you only had the book (or passage) of __________ from the Bible, what could you tell people about God from the text?” This is essentially what we get to do and experience from the Bible. We get to learn more about the nature of God. Yes, we learn about human nature, but as we learn about human nature, we also learn about who God is and how God interacts in this world and with flawed humanity. The book of Jonah is no different. 

As we take this time to study this short book in the minor prophets, take time to go to a new level of looking at the Biblical text. Take the time to see what the text is saying about who God is and what God’s nature is. This is something important for us to do because we can miss out on knowing God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit if we’re only looking for what peaks our interest or what makes us feel good.

Enter Jonah.

The prophet. The whale. The story many have heard from childhood. This is a book that has captured the minds and hearts of many throughout the centuries. So much so that many stories and movies have used something from this short book of the prophets. In 48 verses, Jonah gives us a good picture of what happens when we try to run from God and how persistent God is to get us to do what he wants.

The story, we know, goes like this: Jonah hears from God to go to Nineveh to get them to repent. Jonah says no and decides to get on a boat to try and run from God. A storm hits the sea and the sailors are scared. When they figure out Jonah is the cause of the storm, they throw him overboard and he gets swallowed by a whale (though the text just says big fish we tend to still think whale). He spends three days in the belly of the fish and then gets spewed out on the land. Jonah hears God again and this time he goes to Nineveh. While he is walking through the city, Jonah proclaims the message of the Lord and the people are scared so everyone, including the animals, put on sackcloth as a sign of repentance. God does not destroy the city. Jonah throws a fit. The end.

That pretty much sums it up, right? But, since this is one of the books in the Bible, we have to understand there is always something beneath the surface. There is something God wants us to know through this inspired story, this inspired word. 

This really is a fantastic story. It is easy to try and say this book is about how we should not try to run from God. It is easy to say this book is about God’s compassion for the people. It is easy to say this book teaches us about the human condition. But, if we take time to read and understand this story, we can see this book, like the rest of the Bible, is teaching us about the nature of God.

Our task, over the next four chapters is to see how, if we only had the book of Jonah, we could still teach about the incredible nature of the God who created the universe, including each individual person.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.

Before we go any further into this story, we have to pause and think about who Jonah is. The only other time we learn of a prophet named Jonah is in 2 Kings 14:25, which says, “[Jeroboam, king of Israel (Northern Kingdom)] was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea,[a] in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” (NIV) There really is not much about this guy. Even though we do not have much information, we do know who Jonah was supposed to be, a prophet of YHWH. 

Look at his name. Have you ever thought about Jonah’s name before? Jonah son of Amittai. “The proper name means ‘Dove son of Truth (or Faithfulness).’”[1] Can you sense the irony and humor right off the bat? Jonah is supposed to be a faithful prophet of God, yet he does something very unfaithful and runs away from his assignment. We are not told why he does this in the first chapter, but he tries to run from God and hide.

When else have you heard about people who tried to hide from God, in the Bible? There are numerous accounts, but the one that stands out is Adam and Eve. This is the account you can read about in Genesis chapter 3.

Right after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”[2]

The story of the fall and trying to hide ourselves from God has saturated and become part of just about every story we know. It seems to be human nature to try and hide from people and/or God when we are ashamed or feel guilty.

When we tell about the beginning of the fall, when the fruit was eaten, notice how we tend to focus on the people’s actions and their sense of separation from God. Have we noticed the great care and grace God offers by “searching” for the man and women in the garden? God knows where they are located but God is asking where their heart is. The man tells God they were afraid. Their hearts were in fear, instead of peace.

Through the fear in their hearts, God still comes to the man and woman and offers them a chance to live, even if it is not in perfect peace as they were used to. God does this because the state and condition of every heart is known by him. Remember what God told the prophet Samuel when he went to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul, “the Lord looks at the heart.”[3]

Back to Jonah. 

JONAH LEARNS HE CANNOT RUN OR HIDE FROM GOD

God knows what Jonah will do. God knows that Jonah will try to run and hide, but God still offers grace from the beginning by giving Jonah the chance to do what he is supposed to do.

Jonah does not surprise God when he flees. God knows everything about us.[4] Jonah thinks he can run away from God by running away from his assignment.

Notice how the text says Jonah “went down to Joppa,”[5] “gone below deck.”[6] Jonah kept going down. The author is showing how the condition of Jonah’s heart is going deeper and deeper away from the presence and calling of God.

What we learn from this is God is not a person we can run and hide from. God is omniscient, meaning God is everywhere. There is no place God is not. Here, we can remember the words of David from Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.[7]

So now we have to ask if there is anything you are hiding from God? Do you wish God was with you and answering your pleas? Rest easy, God is always with you. God has never left you. There is nowhere you can go God is not. The presence of God is always seeking to give your heart peace and vanquish any fear within.

God is everywhere. That is good news for us. This is not all this first chapter of Jonah teaches us about God.

GOD CREATED EVERYTHING

This might seem like a no-brainer but this is a reality and truth we have to understand, or at least believe. Jonah seems to know this, yet he does not seem thrilled about it.

When he gets on the ship, Jonah goes below the deck to take a nap. Suddenly, a great storm comes upon the sea and is threatening the boat and the crew on board. The sailors are terrified and are trying to figure out why they are having this bad luck. They want to know who “cursed” the boat by coming aboard.

After casting lots, which is similar to drawing straws, the sailors find it was Jonah who caused the storm. They rush to get him and bring him to the deck to question him. Now, they already knew why he was on the boat because he told them he was running away from God. This never sunk in until the storm hit.

The sailors questioned Jonah about who he is. 

It’s interesting they did not want to know who he was before, they only wanted to know his reason for going to Tarshish. 

Jonah begins to tell them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”[8] It is easy for us to hear Jonah with a confident, prophetic voice declaring who he is; but we have to keep in mind Jonah is running from God because he seems to be unhappy with the task he was called to do.

Instead of hearing a bold voice proclaim, “I am a Hebrew and worship the Lord…” Maybe we should instead hear Jonah speak with a snarky, disgusted tone because, yes he is a Hebrew, but he does not or has not shown he worships the Lord since he has run away. 

There are those who would try to make others feel guilty about running away, but pay attention to how Jonah is also showing us the human condition while teaching who God is. People run from God for many reasons. People will claim they worship God but live a life doing the opposite.

Jonah is telling the crew who he is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do. Maybe he has given up trying to pretend because at this point, Jonah is still trying to figure a way to get out of the assignment at hand, for unknown reasons at this point.

Yes, Jonah is a Hebrew. Yes, he is supposed to worship the Lord, but Jonah is unhappy with his lot in life. When the crew tries to decide what to do, Jonah steps in and says, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”[9] Jonah has thought about ending his life. He gets in his head that if he were gone, the lives of those around him would be better, would be safer.

But Jonah underestimates the image of God within humanity. He forgets that God desires people to live and to live in community with others.

What is remarkable is how the sailors try to avoid throwing Jonah overboard. They come up with every other idea. They even tried to row back to the land, back to safety. But the storm was too strong for them to row and they finally relented to Jonah’s plea.

GOD CAN BE SEEN IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PEOPLE

The sailors throw Jonah overboard. But before they completed that task, they cried out to Jonah’s God. “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”[10] The sailors began to plea to the Lord. They cried out to the Lord. What this means is they worshipped the Lord, in that moment.

We never know how our lives are going to touch those around us. Even if we are not living up to the life God set out for us, there is still his Spirit within us to touch the Spirit of another person. Pay attention to how people begin to act when you are around. You or I may not be the most perfect example of living for God, but maybe there is something about us that helps bring people to him. 

I cannot remember where I heard this quote, but it sticks with me: “Your fingerprints never leave the lives you touch.” Because of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit within us reaches out to another person and offers the grace of knowing the God in heaven, the Creator of the universe.

As the sailors were worshipping God, they threw Jonah overboard. All of a sudden, the storm ceased.

They realized the Lord is the One who created the heavens, the earth, and they sea. The Lord created everything. So, they continued to worship the Lord by offering sacrifices to him and made vows to him.[11]

Jonah is in the sea. He thinks his life is over, but notice this: God shows great compassion by allowing Jonah to live. God provides a huge fish, speaks to it, and the fish swallows Jonah. Jonah is kept safe in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Even though it is in the belly of a fish, God still desires his people to live and to experience real life, life in God’s presence here and now not just in the life to come.

What an interesting way to end this chapter. But here we are, in the belly of the fish, learning about the nature of God. Remember this, the circumstance you might be in now could be something God is using to keep you alive and trust in God. You may not be in the best situation, in your mind, but you may just be exactly where God is wanting you to be. You never know who God has placed in your life that has the tools to get you out of the ditch. It is in these situations we are becoming more and more transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Just look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast 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.[12]

So, if this were the only book of the Bible you had in your possession, how much could you teach about who God is and what his nature is?

So far, we have learned:

  1. Even though God knows our real heart, he still calls to us and speaks to us, giving us his mission.
  2. There is no place we can hide from God. This should give us great encouragement because God never leaves us.
  3. The Lord is the One who created everything.
  4. People come to see and know God by our lives.
  5. God offers grace and desires life for people

As we can see, this is who God is and what God is like. Fast forward to the New Testament, we can see all of this lived out in the person of Jesus Christ.

Bringing this chapter to a close, I am invited us to begin to memorize Hebrews 3:15, “today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your heart.” God’s word comes to us in many different ways. Do we have the ears and heart to hear?

Maybe someone needs to hear this word, as if it is from God:

“I know who you are and what you’re capable of, yet I still choose you for this life, for this calling, for this special mission I created you for. You can try to go as far from me as you want, but remember, I’m already there and I’m pursuing you with a love so great that I will do everything I can to keep you alive. I created this whole world. I created you! Because of you (whether it’s done perfectly or not) the most unlikely people will come to believe in me, know me, and worship me. You have a great role to play in expanding the Kingdom of Heaven.”


[1] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 493

[2] Genesis 3:8 NIV

[3] 1 Samuel 16:7c NIV

[4] Psalm 139:1-6

[5] Jonah 1:3 NIV

[6] Jonah 1:5 NIV

[7] Psalm 139:7-12 NIV

[8] Jonah 1:9 NIV

[9] Jonah 1:12 NIV

[10] Jonah 1:14 NIV

[11] Jonah 1:16

[12] Romans 5:1-5 NIV

Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

Victory Over Goliath

We all have “giants” in our life that attempt to hold us back from the life God has designed for us. Some of our giants include fear, anger, rejection, comfort, addiction. Join us for this 7-week sermon series as we understand some of the “giants” in our lives and how they can be overcome because of Jesus Christ.

This series takes us through an in-depth study of 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.

“Goliath Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

“Giant of Fear Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:1-11)

“Giant of Rejection Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:26-33)

“Giant of Comfort Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:16,25)

“Giant of Anger Will Fall” (1 Samuel 16:7, 17:28)

“Giant of Addiction Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:33-40)

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

SERMONS ON THE GO! Click here to listen to and subscribe to the weekly sermon on iTunes!

Grasshopper Syndrome

We have all felt as if the mission we were/are called to do is too big. How we handle our perceptions of the mission/task will be a big indicator of how it turns out.

There is a great story, in the Bible, at the end of the book of Numbers chapter 13. Moses had sent some of his leaders to scope out the land they were about to enter. When the leaders came back, they said, “the land is beautiful!”
But then two other responses came out of their mouths. One was from the majority, “but the people there are too big and strong for us.” The other response was from the minority, “we can do what God is leading us to do.”
Now if you have read this story, you know what happens. If you haven’t, I would invite you to read Numbers 13 (click here for the link).
On the outside looking in, it can be easy to say, the leaders should have trusted God in what they were supposed to do. That is, after all, one of our reactions when people today respond out of fear. But a point we should consider is: what is God leading you to?
Everyone, in the Israelite camp, knew they were being led to go into the promised land. They were excited about it. They have even been wondering around the desert for 40 years and their journey was almost over. But even in the midst of the traveling, I wonder if some people just got used to their lifestyle and the “traditions” they had set up.
If we get to a place where we are comfortable with an easy life and everything going just right, we forget that we actually grow in our faith, grow in our character, through trials and difficult times.
Which group of leaders are you? Really try to be honest. Are you in the first group that sees what is wrong and the obstacles in the way? Are you in the second group that sees the potential for what God is doing and you see challenges that can be overcome?
Recently, I heard a great term: “Grasshopper Syndrome.” This refers to thinking we are too small, too insignificant to really do anything. The majority of the Israelite leaders said, “we are like grasshoppers to them (talking about the enemies).” Now, they were saying this because they allowed their fear, and discomfort about moving into something new, to stand in the forefront of their mind to prevent them from following God.
But then there was another group, a smaller group, led by Caleb that said, “we can do it. Yes, they are bigger and stronger than we are; but we have God on our side.” This is the group that Moses actually listened to. With these words, the Israelite people were able to overcome their initial fear and reactions and go into the land God had promised them.
So, here is my challenge for us this week: Pay attention to how you view your situation. See if you are more comfortable with staying where you are because it causes too much anxiety to go where you know you need to. Ask yourself if the “traditions” you are used to are holding you back from experiencing God even more through something new.
If you still sense the road ahead is too difficult, so the negative aspects can be seen more than the positive ones remember this:
We serve a God who deals with the impossible:
  • Abraham and Sarah had children when they were around 100
  • Moses murdered a man and claimed to have a stutter, yet God still used him
  • David was a boy with a few rocks who took down Goliath
  • Daniel sat in the lion’s den unharmed
  • Mary, a girl who had never “known” a man, gave birth to Jesus
  • Peter had his foot in his mouth constantly and Jesus built his church with Peter
  • Paul jailed and killed followers of Christ yet is still used by God
Just because something may seem impossible to us, doesn’t mean it is impossible to God. Refuse to focus solely on what we perceive is missing and instead focus on the God who provides.
The road ahead is difficult; but we have something great within us and working through us: the presence of God through his Holy Spirit.

Loving to Life Pt 3

SMALL GROUPS

One of the things I love about moving to a new area is getting to know the people. As we learn about the people, we learn their stories, their passions, their hopes and dreams for the future. We also have opportunities to learn more about who they are as a person, what their struggles are, and what’s going on in their life.

So far, we have talked about praying for God’s direction and work in the new area. This is important because we will be able to see and experience much more “success” because we are joining God in the work being done instead of coming in and doing what we want to. Then, we have talked about meeting people where they are and allowing them to be their real, true selves.

This is all “big picture” stuff, if we think about it. I do much better when I think about the bigger picture because I struggle at the detail level often; but this is where we are heading now.

I would recommend finding ways to be in a small group in your new area. This will do a few different things. 1) You will be able to spend more intentional time with a smaller amount of people and give them a chance to learn about you. 2) You will be able to focus more on relationship building. 3) Trust is developed more in smaller groups than always being on stage, or in larger venues.

In a church setting, we often talk about small groups as Bible study groups. These are all well and good; but I would challenge us to think about small groups a little differently. Instead of finding ways to impart “wisdom and knowledge” creating atmospheres where people can share, free of judgement, and build each other up is a key.

What are some ways we can do this? I’ll be talking about what we can do in a church setting; but feel free to modify these approaches for your own setting.

  • Bible Study groups are a way for people to get together and knowingly talk about the Bible, theology, and doctrine. These provide settings for people to tell what they have studied and believe about scripture.
  • Lunch after worship is a great way to connect and be with people in a public setting and enjoy a meal together.
  • Prayer groups.
  • Meet together at restaurants, bars, to share life together.
  • Groups for accountability.

There are many different ways we can connect together in small groups. This is vital because it is much easier to get to know a person in a smaller group setting.

I also want to be quick to note that using small groups to get to know people should not really be why we are doing them. We should be involved in small groups because we are genuinely interested in other people and their lives; because they would be interested in our life.

As we continue to learn about the area, pray for direction, meet people, and really begin to share our lives together, God will be working. It will be incredible to see what God will continue to do to help the church, organization, business, neighborhood, etc.

For a great book resource on starting small groups within a church that promote life transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, check out Kevin Watson’s book The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience.

Salvation From 30,000 Feet

Recently I was flying back home from a trip. When I fly, I like to sit by the window so I can see what is going on. (Also, I sit by the window because I am more relaxed in that seat.) Looking out the window, you can see beautiful clouds and designs in the earth below. People look like ants. Buildings look like children’s toys you can move around.

Whenever I see pretty sights outside the window, I’ll take a picture. I was flying back at night when I was also reading NT Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope”, when I looked out the window and saw the dark earth illuminated by many tiny lights. Then, I had this thought about salvation, “salvation is so much more than we realize it is”.

I would ask people, what are they “saved” from and they would say, “sin”. This is true. Then I began talking more with the people and I finally realized, through Jesus Christ, I am saved from myself. Meaning it is the sinful desire within me to do wrong and Jesus redeems this and works within me.

After we talk, I’ll then ask people, “So, what are we saved for?” In the past few years, I have come to realize that salvation is not simply for the individual. It is not simply whether or not we will go to heaven after we die. Salvation is living in the presence of God.

The reality of being with God after this life is incredible. We can easily get swept up in the notion of “going to heaven” that we forget the line in the Lord’s Prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Take some time to think about this. What if we shifted our focus on salvation being some “place” we go to after we die? What if we stopped thinking about “going to heaven” and getting away from this life? What if heaven is not a place in the sky?
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Now, how would our lives look differently if we pictured salvation as this:
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How does this paint a picture of salvation? It is what Jesus did. Jesus came into the dark world and shined his light which changed people’s lives. See, salvation is not only for the individual. That is a very small glimpse of the work God is doing. Salvation, redemption, transformation is for the entire world.

When we begin to follow Jesus Christ and our lives are being transformed into his image, his likeness, the light he gives us begins to reflect.

When I looked out the window and saw the earth with the lights, I thought, this is what we are supposed to do: shine with others so the world can see the Light. As we live out our faith in community, we see more people added and more lights shining.

See, the point of salvation is not going to heaven after we die. The point of salvation is bringing heaven to earth. We do not have to wait to live in the presence of God, we can do that here and now. Everything good we experience here and now is a small picture of what it will be like when the earth is completely transformed and evil/sin is expelled for good.

Living in the Light of Christ, here and now, gives us the opportunity to live in true joy, true peace, true, hope, true love. We know this life is available because this is what Jesus Christ offered the world in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The presence of God working within us, through the Holy Spirit, guides to be the people we were created to be and show the world Christ.

So let your light shine. Be a beacon of light in a dark world. Allow the light and love of Jesus Christ to live in and reflect through you. Watch. We will see more and more of heaven here on earth.

Fully Devoted

Click here to read Acts 18.

There are times we can wonder if what we are doing is really making a difference. We can work so hard but still not see the results we desired to see. Or it can be another way, we can see incredible results but not see them continue.

People are funny in many ways. We like to see things change and improve; but when we see another person having “good fortune” we tend to leave them alone and let them work OR we can criticize them for the work they have done. It’s like we [think we] want the change to occur, but then do not follow up on helping to be part of it.

The people in today’s passage most likely did not want any change to happen in their community, in their city. Paul went anyway because the message of Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed. He was “fully devoted” to his mission and would go wherever he needed to go and do whatever he needed to do. Like we said last time, Paul would be who he needed to be in order to save some.

Something was different about Paul this time. It appears he couldn’t let the slander and the criticism go. He got angry. For an apostle who goes around proclaiming grace, he lost his temper this time. Paul is human and can only take so much. He tells the people he is innocent (he is not the person they are spreading rumors about), he has done what God has led him to do. It is the people who have to answer for their actions, for their lies and slander about Paul and the ministry he was doing.

One of the reasons I love reading the Bible is how the passages, the stories written thousands of years ago, still reflect the state of humanity. If we read carefully, we can see how our world, and human thoughts and actions, are really not different from Paul’s day and time. It is when we begin to think we are better than the people back then, or we try to please everyone just so conflict does not develop, that we come to a place of molding ourselves to the world instead of to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No matter where Paul went, the Holy Spirit was with him. We can see today the Lord speaking to Paul telling him not to be afraid and to speak boldly the message he carries. This is still true for us today.

The Holy Spirit is with you. The challenge is to be the person to stand up against the status quo and to proclaim God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Speak boldly, and confidently, about your faith. Fully devote your life to helping the people around you, wherever you are, to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. It’s not just what Jesus saves us from, it’s what he save us for. Jesus Christ saves us to be transformed, to be so full of his love and grace toward all people that we can’t help sharing his message of salvation and redemption.

There are people along the way to partner with you in this task. God is with you as you and I go out into the world proclaiming Jesus Christ. We get to be part of God’s plan for redemption and restoration in the world. How cool is that?

Are you up to the challenge?