God Leads

Click here to read 1 Samuel 17.

These are the stories that capture our imagination and restore hope. Rudy, The Karate Kid, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby…these are all stories where the “wrong person” wins. But these stories stick with us. Why? Because of who wins! We love for the underdog to win. Why? I think it’s because we get tired of the powerful winning and we want to see some justice and order back in our world.

That is what happens in our passage today. David is the ultimate underdog. So, here’s the line up and flow for this event:

In one corner, we have Goliath. A huge, beast of a man with so much armor that he had to have an armor bearer carry his shield.

In the other corner is scrawny David, a measly shepherd boy who had been told a few months earlier he was going to be the next king after Saul. He had no armor, no sword.

The scene.

The armies are lined up on each side of the battlefield. The Philistines (sea people) had travelled for many miles and needed a way to cut through so they could trade their goods. But Israel stood in their way. Israel knew the Philistines would attempt to capture and subdue them, so Israel decided to fight. This was a battle that had been going on for years.

The Philistines had the biggest and strongest people. They also knew their “god” was leading them to victory. In fact, what we are witnessing is something that was common in the ancient world—the battle of the champions. What is this?

The battle of the champions was a military strategy, that many armies used. They believed their “gods” were fighting the battle for them, so all was needed was on person from each camp to fight. This would determine the winner for that battle. Sending Goliath out was the Philistine’s attempt at their chance for victory against the small Israel.

For 40 days Goliath taunted the Israelites. For 40 days he instilled fear into them. For 40 days, Goliath mocked and ridiculed the God of Israel.

David, the shepherd soon-to-be-king boy, came to bring his brothers some lunch. That’s when everything changed. David heard the taunts from Goliath. He saw the fear in his brother’s eyes, in the other men, especially King Saul (who was supposed to be the one to lead to victory). David couldn’t stand it anymore.

He found out Saul’s wage for whoever wins against Goliath—no taxes ever, his daughter in marriage. Now that’s a pretty cool “payment” for victory. And after trying on King Saul’s armor and sword, David decided it was too big so he began walking to the center of the battlefield with nothing. Though he did find five smooth rocks along his way.

Running through David’s head must have been the victories he had against lions and bears just so he could protect his sheep. What was also interesting is Goliath didn’t say anything when David began walking toward him. It wasn’t until David got close to Goliath that Goliath even seemed to notice David’s presence.

From a distance, Goliath appeared to be this massive, experienced, strong, tough warrior. But when David got closer, he saw something different. David noticed that Goliath couldn’t focus on him so David was able to out maneuver Goliath with his sling and stone.

Have we ever wondered why David won so quickly?

It’s because Goliath wasn’t the warrior he was presented to be. But that’s not the point of this story, this event.

For many years, we have told people to “be like David, defeat your giants.” But this puts a bunch of undue pressure on us. The reality is, the giants we face (fear, addiction, anger, etc.) cannot be “defeated” with human standards. Oh, we can suppress the urges, which gives a false notion of victory; but we cannot ultimately defeat and conquer our enemies/giants on our own.

Here’s something we have to get out of our heads. We are not David. It is not us who steps on to the battlefield. It is not anything we can do. The reality is, we are the Israelite army who is sitting in fear because the giant is too much for us.

We are not David. Jesus Christ is.

Right there, we should have a sigh of relief. Why? It is not up to us to win over the giants we face. This victory is only done with the power and presence of Jesus Christ. We do not need to add anything else to cause us anxiety, guilt, shame, worry, fear. Just witness and receive the grace of God who is working in us to remove everything that stands in the way of us fully worshipping him.

God comes in to wipe away sadness, anxiety, fear, anything we’re dealing with. He doesn’t sweep these under the rug and pretend they weren’t there. No. When God does a work in our lives, it is a healing work meaning we can live as free people who are no longer controlled by those emotions and situations.

Yes, the memories will always be there, but the memories become the battlefields of God’s victories so we can see how we have been led, by God, to the place of victory God brings us.

King Saul, the human leader, was not capable or strong enough (emotionally) to defeat Goliath. His eyes and perception got the best of him. But, as we talked about last week, God sees through even the toughest armor and sees right to the heart—God sees the enemy as the enemy is…weak and not deserving to be in or around God’s people.

So what does God do? God leads his people to victory through his power. Yes, it was the human David to kill and behead Goliath, but this is because the Spirit of the Lord was powerfully upon David (1 Samuel 16:13). Because of God’s Spirit in and working through David, God ultimately gets the victory.

What seems like an impossible victory, God shows he can win and be victorious.

We all need victories in our life. We all need to see the world is not going to crush us. We all need to see there is purpose and hope. We all need to see proof of the Living God in and among us.

That is what the historical narrative of David and Goliath teaches. It teaches, when we allow God to lead and guide, there is nothing that can stop us. There is no group too small, no army/enemy too big, no amount of armor or weapons too powerful to defeat the living God.

Through God’s Spirit, he leads his people to places they would not normally go. He leads his people to be in the dark places of this world. Why does he do this? Because his people are the bearers of his light in this world.

God’s people shine bright because God is leading them. God’s people know who and where their “power” comes from. God’s people use the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) with them always because the sword (the Word of God) is sharper and more powerful than anything we can come up with (Hebrews 4:12).

Church, this week, pay attention to the Lord’s leading. Watch as God is walking on the battlefield in your soul and pay attention to his presence that is making all enemies, all dark forces to leave. Trust in his might and his strength. Without God, we cannot do anything.

But with the presence of God, we are unstoppable to accomplish his mission.

Praise be to God who leads his people on to victory.

Mighty Acts of God

Acts 2:1-21

The scene. 

120 of Jesus’ followers were gathered in the Upper Room. What were they doing? Exactly what Jesus told them to do. Wait. But this was not a sit still, do nothing, kind of waiting. No. They were actively praising and worshipping God through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they knew the power of God from Jesus being raised from the grave.

Imagine the scene. Imagine the joy. Imagine the confusion? Confusion because they were told to wait for the coming of the power, of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses of Jesus in all the world. What were they looking for? Anything special? How would they know when the power came in them?

I think this is a question many people ask today: how do you know when you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do you know when you are supposed to do and go? Will you be any different? Or do you just go by faith? The answer, of course, is yes.

Here’s what happened.

50 days after the Passover, the Jewish custom was to have the Feast of Weeks. This was the day the Jews thanked God for the grain harvest AND to remember God giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20 – the end of the book). We know this festival as Pentecost (Penta – 50). So there would have been thousands upon thousands of Jews (and converts to Judaism) in Jerusalem.

Suddenly, the house where the Jesus followers were was filled with the sound of a violent wind and, what looked like, tongues of fire that rested upon each head. Every person, in the room, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages.

Now that would have been a pretty cool scene to witness. Just imagine a loud, violent, sound going through your house, not knowing where it came from or how long it’ll be there. Then, imagine seeing fire inside your house. What would you do? What would your reaction be?

Now, imagine you were on the outside of the house and heard a commotion. You see these people begin acting crazy. Do you call the police? Do you find the nearest mental hospital? What do you do?

You do like people today do. You pull out your phone and video the scene so you can publish it to social media and hope your video of these crazy people goes viral and around the world. Everyone needs to know how out of their mind these Jesus people are. They need to see why following this Jesus makes you act in a weird way.

The crowd stayed. The 120 followers began to speak. Jews, from all over the known world, were present in Jerusalem specifically for this Pentecost festival. Not all of them would be speaking the same language. But when they got the video footage on their phones, and heard about the commotion, they just had to come see for themselves what was going on. Suddenly, an Egyptian yelled out in the crowd, “Quiet! Their speaking Egyptian!” Then Romans here them speak Latin. Then all of the other 13 countries heard their own language. What was going on? What does all of this mean?

Like a good human, people began to make fun of the disciples because the scene wasn’t understood. So some began to say “they’ve been drinking too much wine!” It seems as if some in the crowd thought the disciples were worshipping with wine (as other pagan customs would do).

From out of the observed chaos, this guy comes center stage and begins to speak. We don’t know if he spoke in different languages, or if he spoke in Aramaic. But we do know when Peter spoke that day, all the people heard and understood the message.

So what was Peter saying? He was declaring the mighty acts of God! 

We can sit back, today, and go, “okay? So Peter was telling a large crowd about Jesus. What does that have to do with me today? You’re not asking me to go out in front of people and begin to speak about Jesus. We don’t do that today. It’s impolite and offensive to ‘force’ Jesus’ name down people’s throats.”

I know that sounds a little facetious, but there is truth in that last statement.

So, what does Pentecost have to do with us today?

Remember this was the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Another term for this is being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind when your life belongs to Christ, the Holy Spirit fills your being. So, the Pentecost event (in some shape or form) is still happening today. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit, their entire life focus changes and there is something visibly different about their life. The person is changed and transformed completely, from the inside out.

On that first Pentecost Day, the crowd would have seen something different about the Jesus people. They, especially, would have noticed these unlearned people, who have probably never left their home region, began to speak in different languages. Now, Rosetta Stone software, would not have been that good yet, so this would have been impossible to learn a new language, especially that quickly.

When the Holy Spirit fills us, our communication changes. In Matthew 10, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit gives his people the words to speak when they’re needed. Throughout the historical narrative of Acts, the Holy Spirit empowers the people to speak to the crowds and groups. So what it is the Holy Spirit empowers his people to speak?

The wonderful acts of God. The mighty acts of God.

The Holy Spirit enables his people to speak about and point toward Jesus. That is his mission. So now we have to ask: “what are the wonderful or mighty acts of God?”

We have to be careful of thinking we have to witness something big, we have to see or do something big. So often we stop because we believe our excuses. Know this, “excuses only satisfy the ones who make them.” When this happens, when we think that way, we end of thinking we have to wait to have everything in order and perfect before we can step out “in faith.” But the reality is we have already been give the power (Greek dynamos) which simply means “the ability to do.”

God has given us himself, which means we have the ability to do the works he has given us. The reality is we do not need more machines, more technology, more programs, more or better anything. What is needed are groups of people to step out in faith, people not afraid to pray, people who live fearlessly into their giftedness and do the work of God in this world. The world needs people of faith to trust the abilities God has given them to do things the world thinks is impossible.

There is a sign in the library of Asbury Seminary in Florida that says something I can’t get out of my head: “Attempt something so big that, unless God intervenes, it is bound to fail.” Now that’s a statement. Can you imagine the people of Godattempting anything even though there is a chance of failure? Would you try anything today is there was a greater chance of failure than there was of success?

But that is what happened on that Pentecost Day. Peter, with the great chance of failure, began to speak to the crowd of thousands. Peter had a chance of getting stoned, humiliated, thrown of out town. His reputation, as a laughing stock, wouldhave been sealed that day. Oprah could have done a sob story on Peter.

But Peter had been given the ability to speak to the crowd and he sensed it was the right time, so he just did it. Sweaty palms, mind racing, his notes getting out of order. Peter does the only thing he can think of—he speaks about Jesus. That is a sign of the Spirit. 

The Spirit gives signs of his presence.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the signs of wind(the presence of God, see Genesis 1 as an example), and tongues of fire (fire represents covenant and God’s promises kept (see Abraham covenant Genesis 15).

The point? God uses ordinary things to show his extraordinarypower and presence. If God can use ordinary objects to reveal his presence and his power, imagine what God can do through ordinary, seemingly insignificant, nobodies!

At the end of Peter’s “sermon” that day, 3,000 people accepted faith in Jesus Christ. That means the crowd was large! But there is a number specified as to how many responded. Every time we speak about Jesus, there are always people who do not respond favorably. With this logic, how many people turned down the message of Jesus and just walked away? Think about it.

The mighty acts of God were proclaimed and people still turned it down. What are the mighty acts of God? Life changes and world changers. 

Even when people see this first hand, it is still difficult to believe. But the Holy Spirit still empowers his people to proclaim Christ. We, as his people, just have to be careful not to quench, or put out the fire of the Spirit.

The power that was demonstrated on that first Pentecost is still available today. The Holy Spirit still speaks and empowers his people to do and say the message of Jesus. You have been gifted and empowered with that ability.

What wonderful/mighty acts of God can you communicate today?

Rahab: The Past Does Note Define You

How would you describe yourself before coming to faith in Jesus Christ? How is that different from your life now? What do other people think about you? Do your family and friends see something different and new in you since you began to follow Christ? Even if you have be “in church” your whole life, was there a time when you realized that you truly had nothing without the presence of Christ in your life?

Now, there are those people hearing this today and thinking when I’m going to get to the sermon. There are some hearing this that are bored. There are some hearing these questions today thinking, “of course I follow Jesus. Always have. Always will.” But we do have to ask, “do you really follow Jesus? What does that look like for you?” (Don’t think in terms of what you do or how you perceive yourself to be better than anyone else.)

Still others hearing these questions today are having tears well up in their eyes because they know the 180 their life has taken since following Jesus.

Here is the point of the sermon today—Your past does NOT define you. Jesus defines who you are.

Before we continue, we have to understand that it does matter what people think about and see in us because they will be the observers for the life change that Jesus brings us and can hold us accountable when we fall short.

Today we conclude our PEOPLE LIKE US series by looking at the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.

Joshua 2 is, to me, a fascinating story of redemption. Why? Because, like a lot of scripture, the most unlikely person, and their family, is saved from destruction.

If you have read this passage before, and even hearing it today, you know that Rahab was a prostitute. What you may not know is that she was an “inn keeper.” Because she was an “inn keeper,” she was a prostitute. Basically she was someone who ran a brothel, to put it bluntly.

Now, the spies that Joshua sent into Jericho came across Rahab. How they came across her, could be left to the imagination. But they quickly found out there is a stirring in the city gates about the Israelite army that is camped outside that is going to come in and defeat them.

Jericho was enclosed inside a wall. This is one of the first conquests of the promised land for Israel. If Israel could get past Jericho, then they could continue to march in and conquer the land promised to Abraham, by God.

So what happens? The Israelite spies tell Rahab, she and her family would be spared if she placed a red ribbon on her house. This was the Israelite army would know to “pass over” her house and keep her family safe. Notice something of a dejavu moment? On some level, this shows the Israelites have learned how God acted, in the Exodus plagues, and they are demonstrating the same kind of grace for the house that is marked inside the city of Jericho.

Understand this truth…God is NOT interested in anyone’s destruction. God desires ALL people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. God will do whatever means possible so people can know salvation (living in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come).

So when we look at a biblical character, like Rahab, we see a picture of a way of life that is detestable to God. Rahab did not try to say she was better than anyone else. She didn’t even give the qualifications as to why she and her family should be spared. Instead, she admitted she needed to be saved and could not do it on her own. She had to trust that what the Israelites said was the truth.

Fast forward to the thief on the cross in Luke 23. He was at the end of his life, literally, and simply asked Jesus to be saved. He had to trust that what Jesus said was the truth.

Now notice how we talk about these people today. We talk about them in transformative, changed way. We may mention their old way of life. We do this to be reminded of where they came from and how they were different afterwards.

But really, we focus on the incredible power of God to bring about this kind of change in a person’s life.

So how about your life? How is Jesus Christ changing your life here and now? If this may be a hard question to answer, may we should take time to talk with him about it.

When we know we have the Spirit of Christ within us, we can no longer treat anyone as a non-believer would. We can no longer try to live the life we did before knowing Christ. We can no longer attempt to satisfy ourselves with the things detestable to God. Instead, we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit each and every day so the presence of the Spirit is known and shown in and through our life.

There is always more to our story. The best days are always here and now and coming up. Rahab is proof of this. How?

No matter where you think  your life and legacy will end up, Jesus always has something really cool for your life and my life. Rahab is one of the few that are listed in the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11. Not only that, but Rahab is in the direct lineage of Jesus Christ.

You and I have had a past we are not proud of, but it is how we got where we are now. I’m praying we all trust in the presence and promise of Jesus Christ so our lives can be re-written and bring glory to God through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

All of this is possible because of the work of God in our lives and because of what God sees is possible because of his life lived through us. The only thing we do is not stop the hard work God does in and through us.

As you participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning, take time to praise God for the work he has already done and is continuing to do in your life. Take time to realize the incredible power of God working in your life. Take time to trust in Christ fully and allow his grace to shape you. Not by what you do or who you are. But because of who he is and who he says you are.

Remember, your past does not define you. Christ says who you are!

Let’s pray…

Gracious God, thank you for the work you have done, are doing, and will continue to do in our lives. May we NOT stop the work you’re doing or hinder your plan for us. Even though it may seem difficult, at times, we can trust that you are re-creating us and giving us what we need to thrive so we can share and show your Kingdom and all of your glory in the world. It is in Christ’s name, we pray. AMEN.

RESPONDING TO CHRIST AND THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT HERE AND NOW

NOW IF YOU have never said YES to Jesus by answering his call on you life, now is the time. I pray you get to live into the joy. If you say YES to Christ’s call, let us know and we can help you live your response out. If you say YES again, let us know and we can help equip you for God’s purpose in life.

Esther: “Wrong” Place, Right Time

We have been in this series where we have been looking into the lives of biblical characters to see how we can still see ourselves on the pages of scripture. As we said last week, our way of life, and society may have changed, but human nature really hasn’t changed. We still fall prey to the effects of the fall and original sin. No one is without fault.

But then, we also see a beautiful picture of a God of Holy Love who continually offers grace and works in and through his people for his work in the world. This has been a constant throughout history and is something that will never change. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

As we move through the Old Testament, we come, again, to, maybe, a familiar person—Esther.

The biggest verse, the most memorable verse, to many, in this book is chapter 4 verse 14b: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV)

This is something we do have to really think about for our lives, in general—maybe you are where you are “for such a time as this!”

Now here’s a tough question for you today, “are you happy with your life and what’s going on around you?”

Some will say, “YES!” Others will not.

One of the challenges we face is to realize we have been placed here, at this time, in this location for the purposes of God. If there is any unrest within us, we do need to ask if we are truly doing what God has called us to do. Remember, God’s calling has no expiration date. His work, in this world, is for people of all ages, ethnic groups, socio-economic status, education level, etc. If we ever get to a point that we don’t have to do the work God has called us to, because, “someone else should step up,” maybe God is calling us to do something even more grand than we ever imagined. Maybe God is calling each one of us to mentor and be part of raising up a new generation of believers and Christian leaders, outside our family.

Here’s the reality, not everyone around us, not everyone we come in contact with, not everyone we think about, communicate with will know and fully live into the life Jesus Christ offers. But, everyone is seeking Christ whether or not they realize it. Why? Because life is meaningless without any purpose. Life does not make sense without the grace of God acting in and through our life. Life is empty and hollow without the known presence of Christ. This is what we get to help people realize.

Maybe, you are here “for such a time as this.”

So what is Esther about? Here is a brief recap of the story:

“Esther lived in ancient Persia about 100 years after the Babylonian captivity. When Esther’s parents died, the orphaned child was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai.

One day the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes I, threw a lavish party. On the final day of the festivities, he called for his queen, Vashti, eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests. But the queen refused to appear before Xerxes. Filled with anger, he deposed Queen Vashti, and forever removed her from his presence.

To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

Soon Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai’s act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.

At this time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews, especially Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king agreed to his plan to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plot and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then, risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a request.

She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows–the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. The people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, and the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.”**

There is something, seemingly, missing from the book of Esther…the name of God. Does this mean that God is absent? It is easy to believe that God is absent when things don’t get better, or when we’re confronted with challenges that life will bring. But the truth is, God is always present. God is always working. He is always reconciling, restoring, redeeming. God is always bringing people to faith in Christ. God is transforming whole communities through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

A major challenge we face today is that many people don’t really believe God can do all of this, or that God desires to use you and me. But know this, because of God there are no coincidences. It is not coincidence you meet the people you do. It is no coincidence you go in the places you go to. It is no coincidence you have the friends you do. Did God make you do all of this? I don’t believe so. But I do believe that God has been working behind the scenes, and prompting your spirit by the Holy Spirit to step out and follow this path.

I used to tell people that I would know I was following God’s plan when I had complete peace within me. I don’t believe that anymore. Why? Because I get to be in situations that are uncomfortable and unpleasant, simply because of what God has called me to. Imagine the unrest Esther experienced, yet was determined to do what she needed to do. The peace comes because I know I can trust God in all things. And because I trust God in all things, I can live a life of peace even when the world around me seems chaotic. What is God calling you to do? Who is God calling you to be?

I remember it, like yesterday. I was having a lunch Bible Study with one of my friends and his pastor and I remember when Jesus Christ became real to me. I was at a phase in life where I was searching for meaning and looking for who I was supposed to be. I loved these lunch Bible Studies with Bernie and my friend Micah. Micah will probably never know how much I appreciate him for this.

It wasn’t until several years later that I realized what I was supposed to do with my life. This came after 7-8 years of unrest within me. Things were going really well for me, for the most part, but I still was seeking meaning and purpose. My identity was wrapped up in what I did for a living. This is where it got challenging for me.

One day, because of Facebook, I was able to reconnect with one of my Kindergarten and elementary school best friends. I was excited. While on my way to visit some family, on the coast, I stopped to have lunch with her. When I left, I felt the need/desire to read the entire Bible. I had read much of it before that, but something inside me told me to read the whole thing. So what did I do?

I went to stay on the beach for a few days. About a week or so later, the feeling kept coming back, so I went and bought a brand new study bible…the King James Version. I found a plan to read the Bible over the course of a year. But I couldn’t get enough, so I began to read more each day. It still took about 3 months, but I read the Bible all the way through.

But, it was in the book of Genesis, the calling of Abraham that I began to sense God leading me to a life of ministry. I kept is quiet for a couple months, but something strange began to happen. Some of my close friends began to tell me they could tell I was in conflict about continuing martial arts as a job and said something to the effect that they could see me in ministry. A couple months later, I “retired” from martial arts and began this vocation of a life in full-time ministry with God.

Throughout this journey I have come across people I never dreamed up. I often felt, and still feel like sometimes, that I was in a different or “wrong” place than where I wanted to be. But I realized later that I got to connect with people that God needed me to. I got to marry Amanda and have an incredible family.

Because of this life, I have seen incredible things. I have also seen the face of evil. But most importantly, I can see the Kingdom of God and the presence of Jesus Christ all around us.

Church, this is a difficult time for ALL churches. It is easy to try to say we need someone to “fix” everything. The world is looking for people to “fix” whatever’s wrong. Often times we begin to work and fix things that are not the underlying issues.

But there is only one person that can fix the world, and he died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven. He is the carpenter that brings his tools with him wherever he goes and does some hard work in his people. He will begin the work to fix what really needs to be fixed/recentered/refocused/redeemed, and it may not be what we thing or with whom we think.

Jesus is where our eyes stay focused. Why? Because he is focused on you and what he has called you to. Jesus is going to call you to do things and be in situations/positions you are not qualified to be in. He knows what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at.

Jesus continually sees value in you and because of this says, “this is the one I am using here and now.”

Church, look around the world. Look at the media. God is calling you and I to be instruments and vessels to expand his grace and Kingdom. Trust that you are exactly where God needs you to be. You and I are put here for God’s purposes, at this right time and place.

**Taken from: https://www.learnreligions.com/book-of-esther-701112

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

Healing and Restoring

Luke 8:26-39

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as witnessed in the Gospel of Luke. Why would we take the time to go through a specific series on the life of Christ? For one thing, we have made Jesus into an impersonal being that we seek to help us out only when we are in trouble or in need of assistance. We have also undervalued Jesus’ humanity to the point he doesn’t even resemble humanity anymore. Remember, Jesus was human. He was/is God in flesh. Not only is Jesus human, but he is also the epitome of how humanity should live with each other and with God.

At the same time, we remember that Jesus is also fully God. So, he is fully human AND fully divine. The second person in the Trinity brings us closer into the relationship of God, the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. We learn more about the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s work in this world. This was/is part of his mission.

One of Jesus’ first sermons was actually a reading of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”[1]

Jesus said a lot by reading this passage in front of his hometown. Proclaiming the good news to the poor brings healing of the spirit, proclaim freedom for prisoners brings healing to societal status. Recovery of sight for the blind, setting the oppressed free brings healing to eyesight and to bring healing to those who have been held captive.

Wherever Jesus is, there is healing. When we encounter Jesus Christ, you and I experience some form of healing. Because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus brings healing.

In the passage we read out of Luke 8, we witness an exciting scene. Jesus has just come from a situation where he calmed with wind and the sea. His disciples were witnesses to this and they still questions who he was and what he could do. The thing we need to remember and see is that Jesus does not leave things in a state of chaos.

JESUS ALWAYS BRINGS PEACE AMONG THE CHAOS.

This is what he does. We can see evidence of this all the way back to the beginning of creation. The waters of the earth were chaotic, then God comes in and brings order. He brings his peace.

The presence of Christ channels the chaos and brings order and new life to the situation.

The demoniac.

This man had been tortured in his soul causing him to act in ways that the people took notice of him. He lived in the tombs and did not wear any clothes. Now I don’t know about you, but living in tombs would most likely change me also.

Side note about demons: I am often asked if I believe there are demons, and there is spiritual warfare going on. My answer is, “I don’t think we take the spiritual realm serious enough whether a person believes in demons/spiritual warfare or not.” I do know that Jesus took people being possessed by demons seriously. Jesus took the spiritual realm seriously.

This man saw Jesus coming, fell to his feet, and made a scene by shouting, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

This man is making a statement that he knows who Jesus is and is…well…mocking Jesus in some way. He knows Jesus has the power to free him from the demons. There is an excellent point here. We often say we believe in Jesus. Well, remember what James writes, “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe and shudder.”[2]

So, I do believe in the spiritual realm and believe there is stuff going on we cannot imagine. This is why trusting that Jesus will give and bring peace to our lives, to the world is important.

See, we often say we “believe” in Jesus, but we do not really take it much further than that. Yes, believing in Jesus is essential; but if we do not allow this belief to come into our heart and transform our lives, then we will let other forces to take over our lives:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Bitterness
  • Anger
  • Sex
  • Lust
  • Hatred
  • Selfishness
  • Indifference to any suffering around our community and the world.
  • This list can and does go on and on.

All of this will consumer our lives and cause us to act out in ways God did not intend for us to act. The power of Sin in our world, and in our lives, is stronger than we realize. Sin has already possessed the world, and without Jesus, there is no freedom. Everything is in chaos:

  • Our inner selves
  • Our mental being
  • Our emotional being
  • Our relationships

We like to think, here in America that we are above being demon possessed, but also remember what we do allow to control our lives, that is not God.

We all have different voices in our heads, trying to lead us, voices of darkness, and voices of light and life. When we listen to the voice of darkness, we can see evidence of chaos, yet we are unable to break free from this chaos because it has tormented our life so much that we become enslaved to it.

Notice what the demon-possessed man says, “I beg you, don’t torture me!” The demons inside him have the man convinced that Jesus is there to torture him. When the darkness fills our life so much, it is challenging to believe that Jesus brings anything other than torture because this means we have to change. And change to many people is torture.

The point of all of this is…evil is real in our world and within ourselves. But evil never has the final say. Jesus does.

Jesus gives permission for the demons (evil) to speak just a bit, but then it is his power that drives them out and sends the demons always to where they will be tortured and break free their control over the people.

What are you struggling with today that has a tight grip on you and is not letting you live into the life that Jesus Christ offers? What are you holding on to that is preventing you from fully loving God, loving people, AND trusting in God completely? Name it. Claim the power of Christ over it, then confess to other people.

We must go to others, confess our sins and articulate how Jesus is breaking us free from the powers of darkness. If we do not, then we are still living with selfishness and our own ability to get through life, which will wear us down. We are to have a group of people (whatever size) to help us and walk with us as we are stepping out to follow Jesus, we will fall down, but there are people to help pick us up.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

I personally have a core group of friends that I can be genuine with. These friends have been by my side for years, and I’ve been by their side for years. Together, we hold each other accountable to live into the light and not pick the chains of enslavement up to sin again.

There are times this may seem to bring chaos and torture into our lives, because we don’t want anyone to think less of us or see us as anything than perfect; but the truth is, when we tell confess to other people, the light is shining on our sin, it is brought into the open, and peace can finally enter in.

Jesus brings this peace. Whenever and whoever Jesus heals, peace has come into the picture. Do you feel like you live in peace? Then come face down to the feet of Jesus and cry out to him, “Lord, save me! Free me! I want to only live for you!”

Right after this scene, Jesus and his disciples were traveling, and we see two more healings: one of the raising of a dead girl and the other is cured of the issue of blood.

There are a couple things that are happening here.

One is Jesus brings life wherever he goes. When he proclaims the Kingdom of God is at hand, this is where real life is experienced. It is living in the full presence of God here and now, AND in the life to come. Because of Jesus,

WE EXPERIENCE NEW LIFE

The other thing that we see is someone who was outcasted in society, someone who was told they had to stay away from everyone. We have people like this today. All we have to do is drive down 7th street downtown, and we see the people the rest of society has cast out for one reason or another.

When have you experienced shame for a condition you have? When have you experienced rejection from people just because you were not like everyone else? When have you been told you weren’t good enough, so people withdrew themselves from you.

Something incredible about Jesus is, he did not just heal the condition of the person, he healed the state of their social status as well. Jesus’ healing was not only so the physical aspects of the person would be healed and whole, but Jesus also healed so people could experience wholeness as part of a community. He restored them to be able to be with society and not live on the fringes anymore.

JESUS BRINGS HEALING, WHOLENESS, AND RESTORATION TO MIND, BODY, AND RELATIONSHIPS.

Have you taken the time to seek Jesus, not just to fix our physical illnesses or injuries, but to restore our relationship with other people? So often, we get focused on praying about fixing and healing our bodies that we forget that Jesus is working to fix all of us and make us whole.

He is working to heal our physical bodies, our mental self, emotional self, and relationships. Jesus is concerned with the entire person. So, when we talk with people about praying for healing, let’s remember what Jesus did and focus on the bigger picture.

The physical healing is more about making us able to be part of society once again. Jesus is working in and through us to make us whole people, not just putting band-aids on injuries but healing us so we can be healed mentally, emotionally, and relationally with ourselves, others and HIM.

Notice another aspect of Jesus’ healing ministry that we need to pay attention to:

JESUS OFFERS FORGIVENESS

Remember that we are so messed up by sin and the enslavement to the power of sin and temptations that we need to hear and understand GOD FORGIVES YOU.

God is not in the business of making us feel guilty about anything we have done wrong. He is not interested in continually reminding us of our failures. God is interested in healing us from the inside out with the power of forgiveness driven by his great love for you…and me.

Guilt and shame weigh us down. When we do wrong, we remember, and our minds are tortured because we relive the tapes of our sin over and over again. We do this with other people. Just look at the news, newspaper, Facebook, or any other social media. We love to remind people of the ways they have messed up constantly, yet we don’t like it when people point our sin out.

Jesus brings forgiveness, which brings peace to our lives so we can share this peace, grace, and mercy to others. We get to be part of building the Kingdom of Heaven with every step we take, every word we speak and every time we encounter another person, in person or online.

As forgiven people, we have not right to hold anyone’s sin against them. If God can forgive you and me, then we have the responsibility and mandate to bring the forgiveness of Christ with us wherever we are. We can do this with those people we hold dear to our hearts. Can we do this with those who have made us enemies have done something so wrong to us that it destroyed the relationship? Can we offer forgiveness to all people?

Jesus was constantly proclaiming the “year of the Lord’s favor” by announcing the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the year when ALL people would be free from their sin. We are the people God has called, is transforming, and has sealed us to go into the world and be with people to help release them from the power of sin and temptations in their life.

He has an incredible way of bringing peace with him wherever he is. Since we are the body of Christ in the world, let us do what we can to bring his peace and grace, and not cause others to feel guilt and shame anymore.

Forgiveness is a powerful healer. It can mend relationships, even while on a deathbed. Forgiveness heals, restores, and brings wholeness.

Remember, Jesus is the Great Healer who comes to forgive, heal, AND restore our standing with God and people.

Come, all you who are worn down by sin. Come, all you who are sick. Come, all who need to experience peace and joy in your life. Come to the throne of grace where Christ will set you free, heal you from the inside out, and bring you into a close relationship with God and other people. Come, be builders of the Kingdom of Heaven with our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 4:18-21 (reference Isaiah 61:1-2)

[2]James 2:19 NIV

More Than A Christmas Story

Last week, we began a series on the life of Jesus Christ. We talked about how important it is how we answer the question, “who do you say Jesus is?”. This week, we talk about Jesus is God in flesh.

I’m sure most of us know the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the story we tell every year at Christmas time. But, God descending to earth in the form of Jesus Christ is more than a story to listen to one day a year. This is a reality that has huge implications for how we live our lives and how we realize God is working in our world.

What are some aspects of the Christmas story we like? Well, we like to see children dressed as angels, sheep, Mary, Joseph, and the whole realm of characters we read about. We like the cuteness and quietness the story provides. We like to hear God became flesh and that gives us a warm heart. We’ll even end by singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

But, on the night Jesus was born, I bet it was not a silent night. There would have been creatures calling in the middle of the night, the animals moving around, stirrings within the city, strangers coming to pay homage to the newborn baby. I bet Mary and Joseph did not get much sleep that night because of all that was going on, especially after giving birth.

Jesus’ birth is much more than a Christmas story. It is much more than the cute things we like to have portrayed so we have a warm, fuzzy feeling within our hearts. The noisy world Jesus entered is still as rough, dark, dangerous, as it was back then. The only difference is that Jesus is God in flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” This. Changes. Everything. Now, the world has glimpses of the true light, hope, peace, and joy of the world. All because God walked among us.

READ LUKE 1:26-33 and JOHN 1:1-5,14

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because God came down to earth to live as humans, one of the important things we need to hear is the same thing the angel told Mary:

BE NOT AFRAID.

This is something that is easier said than done. We live in a world that says to be afraid of many things. All we have to do is pay attention to what the media is telling us and we become afraid. We end up listening to the voice of fear more than the Voice of God who is speaking life, love, joy, grace into our lives, into our world.

What is something you’re afraid of? Me? I have a few fears. (I really don’t want to tell you because someone would make them happen, especially when I walk into my office one day J). But, we all have fears, things that make us anxious. Because of the falling, sinful, broken state of humanity we live in, fear drives us and fills our minds.

We are fearful of terrorism. We are fearful of child abductions. We are fearful of job security. There are so many things we are afraid of. On some level, fear helps us to live safely. If we allow the fear to consume us, we will find we will isolate ourselves so we can try to keep everything safe. But this doesn’t help because we lose the relational aspect of community we all crave.

365 times in scripture, God’s messengers, and God Himself say, “don’t be afraid.” We can think about this as one for every day of the year. Now, this is not saying to blow off concerns and live recklessly. Instead, “don’t be afraid” means to not allow the concern to stop us from hearing what God has to say or do what God would have us do.

We can live as courageous people because we worship and follow God, who knows what we go through in this life. God not only came down to be with His people, He lived the life we humans live. He knows, through Jesus Christ, exactly what it is like to be human. So, we do not need to be fearful to live our lives. Instead, we can live with courage, still be concerned, and offer the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. How? God is already working where we go.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ was not a one and done event. His presence, his life on earth continues and is with us today. This is why the promise of Jesus as he ascended is so important for us to remember:  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1] Because of this, we can live in hope!

Christianity is the only religion where God comes to dwell with His people. There are stories of gods who visit people, but not other world religion has their god live as a human and experience life as a human. No other religion can claim their god knows what humans experience.

Through the incarnation

GOD SHOWS HE’S WILLING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES

to bring people into salvation. Even if that means personally entering into this world…our world.

Through Jesus Christ, God came into a world that is His already. He came to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose humanity. “He came and lived in this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then as it is now.”[2]

I think this is something we all, no matter where we are in our walk of faith, need to be continually reminded of. God came down to this earth. God came down and lived in a dangerous place. He knows the kinds of things humans do to themselves, each other, and the environment. Why would God descend from his place in heaven to come to earth? Scripture says, “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool.”[3]

But this is what God did. He came to earth to be among the people and bring salvation with him. God could have come as a full-grown adult. He could have come as a member of a ruling, or rich, family to make change happen at the governmental level. He could have come as any person who has the credibility to make a change in the world. But he chose to experience the fullness of life we experience. God came to earth and started out as a human baby from a poor, unknown family.

J.I. Packer explains, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’; God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”[4]

Every time I think about this truth, I am amazed at the love God has for people who do everything they can to turn away from him. God’s love never fails. To me, this shows us what is really important in this life. It is not being the best at everything, earning the most money, achieving all of our goals. The most important thing in this life is relationships because without relationships everything else is wasted.

Jesus Christ, God in flesh, desires to be in a relationship with all people. His presence is, now, within grasp of all people; but many do not know, or even try to hear his voice and know him. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” It is about the relationship with God. This is how the world changes. When heaven enters in and fills the heart and life of a person, their world is changed forever. Then, the changed, heaven-filled, person goes out to share the love of God with another person and their world is changed. This creates a rippled effect and we can begin to slowing, yet fully, see the world being transformed to look and act more like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God is so into being in relationship with his people and being known and glorified throughout the world that he has done something incredible. Through Jesus Christ,

GOD HAS BROUGHT HEAVEN TO EARTH.

The Book of Revelation even paints the picture of the City of New Jerusalem coming down to earth so God can dwell with his people in life everlasting. C.S. Lewis describes it as the “lower reality being drawn into the higher reality and becomes part of it.”[5]The whole point of life is to witness the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us so we can see and experience what really matters, what really changes people’s lives.

Jesus walking on the earth changes everything. Now, we can experience the awesomeness that is heaven and seek to live into the light of the world. We also get to share and shine the light of Christ wherever we go and in whatever we do. Remember where we go, God is already working there.

For a few years, I was able to go with the University of Texas campus ministries to South Padre Island during Spring Break. If you ever want to see what 100,000 people on an island looks like, this is your chance. Traffic. Drinking. Drugs. Injuries. One-night stands. You name it. It seems as if there is nothing but darkness prevailing, especially at night.

But among the 100,000 people (mainly college-age people) on the island, there are around 500-1,200 other college students to present to share Christ. How do they do this? By giving free van rides to anywhere the people want to go so they don’t have to walk or get into a car drunk. By giving free pancakes for breakfast and free pancakes at midnight so the stomach has something to soak up whatever is in their system.

This is done, not to condone or say the behavior is okay. This is a time when people seeking to share Christ enter into the world of the life of partying and seek a relationship with people to help them see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Many conversations, prayers, lives transformed. All because the light was brought into the darkness and people had the opportunity to hear something other than, “drink this…buy this…do this…and THEN you’ll be somebody special.”

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back. 

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.[6]

We can easily think that we have to be the light of Christ to those on lower social scales than we are. But, how many times have we missed someone being the light of Christ to us and still looked down on the person because they were not in our class, not our race, not from our same country, not our gender?

Christ did not come into the world just so we can choose who we want to help or be in relationship with. Christ came into the world to “seek and to save the lost.”[7] Jesus gives his followers this same command to go into the world and make disciples and teach everything he taught.[8]

God in flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is still with us today. He is in the lives of those who seek to help. He is in the lives of those who need the help. He is working in and through medical personnel and caregivers. He is working in and through the lives of missionaries and truck drivers.

Every time we have an opportunity to share and show the love of God through our actions and words, we show people that Christ is still alive and working in this world. His promise is true! He has never left us nor forsaken us.

Because of the incarnation, we can know what God is like. We can know God on a personal level. And, we have many opportunities to walk with others, live life with the “lost” and show a God who is real, who is alive, who is still speaking and working in the world today.

This is much bigger than a simple story we hear at Christmas time.

 

Works Cited

[1]Matthew 28:20 NASB

[2]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[3]Isaiah 66:1 CEB

[4]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 53

[6]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html

[7]Luke 19:10

[8]Matthew 28:19-20

Making An Eternal Impact

READ SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

There was a pastor who was in the middle of a battle with the church’s worship leader. They would go at it in worship meetings. The worship leader would often try to outdo the pastor in worship. No one really knows why there was so much contention between them.

One week, the pastor was preaching about stewardship and the importance of tithing. He gave a great sermon and many people were feeling like they needed to move toward tithing. The worship leader was still upset with the pastor. Right after the sermon, for the closing song, the worship leader had the congregation sing, “Jesus Paid It All.”

What’s funny about this story is the closing song. What is sad about this story is how they both were so focused on themselves. Their pride, their egos, their ideas. It was truly all about who was going to be right and have their way be done.

How true this is for us today. We all like to be right and have everything work out for us. We all like people to know what we have done for ourselves, for our family. We all like ourselves and what we can do.

Jesus has been teaching, healing, and going from town to town proclaiming the message “the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”[1]

He has had crowds come just to hear what he had to say. Jesus would tell people things and concepts about God and heaven they never heard before. He spoke with incredible authority.

Even though Jesus would teach God is the source of all of our possessions, the source of our life, the source of our entire being. He still came across those who just wanted to be told they were living the right way, or have Jesus tell others how wrong that person is living. Does this sound familiar to anyone here today? How much do we judge other people and completely miss out on the blessings—the peace, joy, hope, love—God has in store for us. All because we hold on to this world more than we seek the Living God.

Jesus has to give hard messages, at times, to remind the people it is not about us getting into heaven, it is all about heaven getting into us. It’s all about joining in the mission of heaven here on earth.

That is the whole point of this stewardship series. If we continually seek and allow God to fill our heart, soul, mind, our whole being, with heaven, then we do not have to live with worry (anxiety). We realize there is nothing, in this world, that should hold us back from fully following God with everything we have and everything we are.

In our passage today, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man deciding he needs to make more room for his stuff. So, he builds bigger storage units to keep his stuff safe until he decides to go and retrieve it.

Did you know the storage industry is a $38 billion dollar a year industry with

  • 44,000-52,000 storage facilities (approximately)
  • 3 billion square feet of storage space
  • 06 square feet of storage space per person[2]

We are spending billions of dollars each year, as a country, for rented space that doesn’t belong to us, to store stuff we don’t have room for, and truthfully will not go back to get, or use in the future. We store stuff simply because we feel it has sentimental value and don’t release the hold it has on us

What do we save up for? Is it good to save? How much is too much? How will I take care of my kids after I’m gone? These are all great questions, and important for us to ask.

John Wesley taught about the use of money to the early Methodists. Wesley realized the people called Methodist were becoming so faithful to Christ that they were becoming prosperous. He knew that if the Methodists became too engulfed in their material goods and finances, they would lose the power of the Spirit of the faith they started out with.

In his sermon, On the Use of Money, Wesley coined the phrase, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

When Wesley preached this sermon and taught on money, he was doing so to make sure the people called Methodist were not wrapped up in what they had or what they could earn. Wesley’s heart was that the people called Methodists kept the focus on the main thing: advancing the Kingdom of God wherever they go.

We live in a time when it seems the church is dying. This really can be further from the truth. The church seems to have lost power in America but is thriving in many other parts of the world. What is the difference?

Here in America, we like our stuff. We like our homes. We like our vocations. We like our lives just like they are. The sad reality is many people live as practical atheists. They live in a way that they profess Christ on their lips and do what they can as if God was not even in the picture.

This is what Jesus was warning against in the parable of the rich man and the barns. Jesus was showing that God had provided a harvest so great, there was not enough room for it all to be stored.

Earlier, Jesus told his disciples, “the harvest is plentiful…”[3]See, whenever we realize God is involved, we pay attention to the incredible work that He is doing. There is so much work by the power of the Holy Spirit and we miss it because we get worried about how we’re going to take care of ourselves.

Jesus was teaching that when we do what we can to get our “needs” met, we miss out on the life God is offering. We miss out on the blessings God is providing each day. This is why Jesus taught, “take up [your] cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”[4]

Let us not live as practical atheists. Let’s be the people who give God thanks in all circumstances. Consider the life you have and how God is living in and through you to be a blessing to those around you and to the world.

What have you thanked God for today?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I held back by my possessions? In other words, do I have an unhealthy preoccupation with my possessions?
  • Do I have more security in what I can do versus what God is providing?
  • Do I try to earn more than I really need?
  • Am I focused on only enjoying the fun things in life?
  • Am I working toward and giving toward things that have an eternal impact?

Over the course of these past few weeks, we have talked about tithing. This is giving 10% back to God. Most of the time, as we have mentioned, we tend to think of tithing as only financial. I have also said, I believe people are, for the most part, more generous with their money than they might realize.

When we have talked about tithing, we have talked about that it is really in all areas of our life. (Money, gifts, talents, time). We remember that everything we have is from God and is God’s. When we give, especially to the Church, we are giving back to God what really belongs to God. We are showing that we trust God is and will provide what we need in order to survive.

It is challenging for us to realize God is the one who provides for our food, and everything else we need. After all, we can go to the store and get bread and any food or drink we want. We do not have to worry if there is going to be enough food to feed our family because we can just drive to the store. But remember that it is God who gave you the gifts/talents in order to do your work so you can have the income needed to provide the food. It is God who worked through the farmers and ranchers to makes sure the crops were what they needed to be. It is God who created all the plant and animal life. It truly is God who provides for our needs. So, we give back to God what is really His to begin with, trusting we have enough to live off of after we give.

We talk about the concept of tithing in all areas of our life. Do we think much about our time? Every day we wake up, remember it is God who has given us air to breathe. We are alive because of the grace of God who gives us breath each day. This means that the time we have is all because of God. Yes, even our time belongs to God.

So, here is a convicting question, “How much of our daily time is devoted back to God?”

If we have 24 hours a day, and we tithe off of that, this would mean 2.4 hours a day devoted to God. Do we think we could do this?

Now, this does not mean that we pray for 2.4 hours, or read scripture for 2.4 hours, or serve on mission/outreach for 2.4 hours, or talk with people about Jesus for 2.4 hours a day. It is all about devoting what we do to God and God alone. Praise God in all situations because God is with us always. There should not be any difference in our life with God and our life with people.

If we shift the focus off of what we’re giving to God and, instead, focus on what God is giving to us and through us, we can experience more freedom from the power money, possessions, fame, greed, etc. have on us. We can live as the people God called us to be. In all we do, we work with God to make an impact that will last beyond this week, beyond our life.

If we have read the book of Revelation, or paid attention to people preaching on the street corners or in the church, we have probably heard of the door in Revelation 3, where Christ is standing at the door and knocking to come in. But there is another door we should pay attention to. It is in Revelation 4:1 where Christ is standing in an open door and inviting us to join his world and his mission.

The mission of the Church throughout history has been focused on transforming the world and making disciples so everyone can experience and live in the Kingdom of Heaven here and now AND in the life to come. This is how we can make an eternal (never-ending) impact in the world, and in the lives of people.

Making an eternal impact means we give so that people have the opportunity to live. We share our faith in God through Jesus Christ because we know this is the true source of our joy, peace, hope, love. We share the life God has given us with the world because we are not in this by ourselves. We are in relationship with other people because of the relationship God has with us and we have with God.

So, what do we do?

Look at where your money is being spent. Is it being spent on things that will be here for a long time? Or do we spend our money on things that will be broken tomorrow, or even a few years from now? How much do we give to the church? If we increased our giving to the church, could we see more ministry and mission happening?

Look at how you use your gifts/talents God has given you. Are they being used to further yourself, your “brand”, your life? Or are they being used to build others up so they can be encouraged to live a life that God has for them?

Also, look at your time. How is your time spent? Is it focused on yourself and your life (including focusing solely on your family)? Or is it spent to help people know their value in Christ and help others understand their worth to us? Is what we do with our time glorifying to God all the time?

I love the stories I hear from people about how heaven is being shared in everyday life. Especially in times of illness or heartache.

There are many ways the Holy Spirit is working through people to make an impact in the world.

God has invited us to join him in the work he is doing here and around the world.

Yes, it always seems like a lot to do. It always seems like we’re asked to add more to our lives. It is true the mission is a lot, but we do not do this alone. We participate in God’s mission (because he’s already working where we are) with God and with other people. When we give our financial tithe to the church, give joyfully because Heaven will be experienced through the work being done in and through the church body.

It is false that we are asked to add more to our lives. The goal of talking about the spiritual discipline of stewardship is to realign, not just our finances, but our entire lives to the mission and life that Jesus Christ offers.

The Holy Spirit sustains us and gives us all we need to do the work he is doing.

So, give the worry over to Christ. Take not the burdens of the work and people upon yourself. Give them to Christ because his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We are not really doing our mission anyway. We are actually participating and joining in Christ’s work that he is already doing.

The generous life is more than us giving stuff and money away. The generous life is joining Christ is his mission to our community and to the world.

Always remember: WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Mark 1:15b NIV

[2]https://www.sparefoot.com/self-storage/news/1432-self-storage-industry-statistics/

[3]Luke 10:2a NIV

[4]Luke 9:23b-24 NIV

Loving to Life Pt 5

SHOW GOD’S LOVE DAILY

As we continue in loving people and organizations to life, we remember we have been praying and seeking God’s direction, we have been allowing the people to be their real selves without judgement, we have been meeting with people in small groups, and we have begun a visioning process for the future of the church/person/organization.

This may all seem like a simple, easy-to-do process (it really is); but it will take time. It can take as long as God is needing. We have to be patient when things are not going as well as we would like right at first.

With this in mind, the saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is very true. When we are in a new area, the temptation is to go ahead and begin new steps, new vision, new processes without really taking the time to learn the history, the passions of the people, or really loving the people.

Our mission is to show people the value and worth they have in God through Jesus Christ. Because the people have value in the eyes of God, they also should have value in our eyes.

I have dared congregations and people to pray a very dangerous prayer: to ask God to break our hearts as his heart breaks. Why is this a dangerous prayer? Because, if we begin to see the world, the redemptive potential of the people and the world, we will find ourselves being more compassionate, and therefore, more loving. This goes against the flow and MO of the world.

We hear messages all the time of how evil people are, how many times people do bad things, how we should distance ourselves from those unlike us. The only issue with this is Jesus never did such thing. He was always with the people no one liked, or who were outcasts, and made them experience and live into the worth God has placed in them.

Helping people moving from a place of being stagnant means we have to make sure we love the people and then we show people love through acts and words of grace.

What are some ideas for this?

Number one is to simply spend time with the people and continue to listen to their stories. This is very important because you can simple be present with the people. We all love to know other people have interest in our lives. Now, we may not be able to get to everyone, at first, but this is okay. There are still many ways to try and interact with as many people as possible (many of which we have already talked about in the past few weeks.

Some other things we could do are:

  • Personal, handwritten notes: Have you noticed how many handwritten notes come through the mail now? When you get one, how do you feel?
  • Phone calls or texts just to check on the people
  • Visiting when sick, or at least calling
  • Showing up to important events with them
  • Thank you notes
  • Words of encouragement
  • Of course praying with and for people

These may all seem like small things, and they are; but they have a huge impact on the lives of the people we are around. As we continue to work through a process of loving people to life, keep in mind the great love God has for the world, for the people.

Ask God for help to love the people as he loves them. Seek to do everything, within reason, to show people God’s love through you. Show and remind them of their value in the eyes of Christ. Help them remember the worth they have because they are created in the image of God.

Then, watch God’s love begin to take over in you and see how much you care for the people you are working with and living around.