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.

God Sees

Click here to read 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

How good a judge are you of someone’s character? How well do you have the ability to choose/pick who the next leader should be? Has it worked out for you in the past? These are questions that we should be thinking about when we read the passage today.

One of our challenges we face, today, is an opinion overload. What I mean is that everyone has their opinion and it can be tough to sort through the opinions to find the truth. But this is what we must do. We must not let our opinions, our preferences, rise above the standards and vision God has in this world.

Now before we say we can do all of this, listen to this fictional letter about the resumes of the 12 disciples. Based upon leadership standards today, and assessments, this is quite possibly how this would go down.

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

(Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195)

Unfortunately, with the standards we have set in place today, and the types of qualifications we end up looking for in leadership, this is something that most likely would happen.

But when we read a passage like 1 Samuel 16, we see something different. What we see is faith being lived out in spite of fear and we also see God has a different vision for leadership and what really matters than we do. What we are seeing, in this passage, is a direct contrast with how the people chose to have a king and Saul was chosen versus how God chooses David as the next king, the king who will be the lineage of the King of kings, Jesus the Christ. So this is an important decision.

So, what’s happened? Saul was the answer for the people, but the position of power went to his head and he began to focus on what he wanted to do rather than what was in the best interest of the people, of the nation, of the decrees of God. After the decision to not finish the battle as Samuel directed Saul (1 Samuel 15), Saul lost his anointing from God and became tormented with an evil spirit.

Demons and evil spirit aside, what we are seeing is God’s favor has been removed from Saul. Can you imagine the torment and torture that would take place with God’s favor removed from you? Praise God for his grace. Praise God for Jesus’ words and promise that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Because of this situation, Samuel was grieved for Saul, and he went back to his home in Ramah never to see Saul again.

Saul’s actions and attitude does not stop the movement and working of God. God makes Samuel leave his town and head to Bethlehem to the family of Jessie, for the purpose of anointing the next king of Israel.

Now, Samuel would have been terrified because it would have been against the law, against the king to anoint a new king while the king was still living! But Samuel knew he’d better obey God, so he went.

When the people of Bethlehem saw Samuel, they knew who he was, what he was capable of, and what his job, as a prophet, was. The people were afraid because they knew what the sacrifice was about and why he came. They knew how Saul would react if “public enemy #1”, Samuel was known to be doing these actions.

But Samuel trusted God and knew God knows things we don’t. So he continued the journey to complete the task at hand.

When Samuel gets to Jessie’s house, he asked to see his sons, and they prepare for the sacrifice. Jessie’s sons come forward to meet Samuel and he thinks “Surely the Lord’s anointed (Messiah, savior, king) is among these brothers.” But who would God choose? What is God looking for?

Samuel looked the brothers over and was told over and over again (paraphrased), “Stop it! You’re looking at the wrong things. I don’t care how these men look. What matters is their heart, their motivations, their character. I want someone who will be a man after my heart and follow my ways, which is what is needed.” So Samuel waited (patiently?) for the Lord to reveal who the next king would be.

Patience is something that is lacking in our world, in our culture, today. We all want what we want when we want it. But when we read the scriptures, we find patience (waiting on God) is the right thing to do. It’s the best way to find out what is best.

None of the brothers fit the mold for the next king God had in mind and Samuel asked if there were any more brothers? In other words, “Jessie, are you hiding anyone from bring here today?” I’d have to think Jessie hesitantly admitted the youngest one was out in the field doing the work. After all, why would the youngest one be the one God would choose?

Throughout the scriptures, we see God choosing the younger over the older several times, especially when it comes to his covenant and his relationship with his people. Again, God chooses who God wants and sees things in people we may not always see.

The youngest brother comes in and God tells Samuel, “That’s him! Anoint him!” Samuel, once again, obeys. And in a secret ceremony, Samuel pours the oil over David’s head to anoint him the next king of Israel. After this episode, Samuel leaves and heads back home to Ramah.

I have to ask you this question, have you asked God for the same eyes, as he has, to see the world and his people? Have you asked God for his vision? Or are we content with knowing what we know and only seeing what we see?

If we are, then we continue to seek after the things and ways that we think are what’s needed. We’ll continue to operate under the mentality the ends justify the means and seek after our own comfort and preferences. This may mean that we keep making mistake after mistake and veer off the course and path God intended.

Remember, God calls his people, God responds to his people. Now we know God sees his people and who they really are and what they’re capable of doing. Yes, David will mess up and do things that satisfy his desires for the moment, but he is still considered a “man after God’s own heart.” Why? Because David consistently sought the movement, presence, working, and will of God, especially when David sinned and messed up.

Waiting on God and seeing what it is God has in store for his people is important.

An example fo this. I was 34 years old before I got married. I always felt like I would just “see” something in the girl I would marry. There would be some sort of spark, in her eyes. I did date a few people, yet I never really found anyone I wanted to spend my life with. No one seemed right. Until…

This beautiful girl and I began talking. When we met up for a cup of coffee, at a Starbucks, I opened the door for her, saw her, and said “Wow!” From that point on, I sought after her. We even married 5 months later. Best decision ever! Patience paid off. Waiting to see what God sees paid off.

I challenge each of us to wait patiently for whatever it is you are asking God to reveal to you. It is easy to jump the gun and seek after the best, the brightest, the biggest. But are we patient enough to try and see what God sees? That’s a question we should ask daily. Why? Because if we can find peace, trusting God has the right answers, then we’ll have peace we are living in the manner God desires. We can be people after God’s own heart.

Let me tell you this, that’s the kind of life I desire to live. I hope you do too.

God Responds

Click here to read 1 Samuel 8.

Samuel is an interesting character. He is a mild-mannered prophet who has no problem removing the head of enemy kings. He is someone you can go to in order to hear from God, and also someone who will make sure the job gets done. (Stay with me this series). 

Samuel is the last of the judges in Israel. Remember the judges were raised up by God to order and administer justice in Israel and to help protect the people from their enemies. (Samson, Deborah, Gideon, are examples of the judges I’m sure you know their stories) Some of my favorite stories come from the book of Judges.

When we read the Bible, we have to understand there are different kinds of literature within this book. In fact, the Bible we have is actually a library of books. The Old Testament is broken up this way:

Torah (law)

History

Poetry

Wisdom

Major Prophets

Minor Prophets

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the historical writings. What this means is we get to see how the history of Israel pans out, even watching the beginnings of their monarchy unfold. Now, the period of the judges lasted around 200 years. 

It may seem as if the people of Israel did not have a set leader during this time, but the reality is, Israel was set up as a theocracy (meaning ruled by God), which was different than the rest of the nations. In fact, the entire way of life for Israel was set up to be different from the rest of the nations. They were to point the rest of the world to God because God had set them apart and made them holy (see Exodus 19).

This is the kind of life we, as followers of Jesus, are to live today.

But something begins to happen when we live a life different from everybody else. We can begin to think their way of life is better than ours because they can do things we can’t

(It’s always amazing to watch us think we’re missing out on doing things that are actually not good for us, isn’t it?) But this is what we do, and we’ll end up neglecting what we have just because we think something else is better.

So here’s the story.

Samuel was called by God, we talked about that last week. We also showed that God is always working even when we can’t see it. God always has a plan. Keep that in mind as we keep talking.

Samuel has been leading the people of Israel for several years, and gets to a point he knows his time is ending, so he makes his sons the new leaders after him. But his sons were not like Samuel and veered from the path of God. The people of Israel did not like that.

One day, some of the leaders (maybe not a representation of the entire nation of Israel), came to Samuel and said they do not like his sons and do not want to be led by them. Instead, the people of Israel wanted a king…so they could have what the other nations had.

Some things to consider: 1) Do we always know what it is really want or need? 2) Do we always know what it is we are really asking for?

It really does seem like what other people have is better than what we have. Why is this? Because we get insecure with the identity God has given us. This is why followers of Jesus Christ end up bending to the culture—so we don’t have to stand out from others and make statements of what is wrong. Insecurity does a huge disservice to us, to our life, to the life God has given us. Insecurity in our identity will lead us to become jealous and covet what we perceive others have.

We’ve all heard that phrase “the grass is greener on the other side.” What we don’t always know is the effort, work, sacrifice, certain lifestyle that was put into that work. After all, no matter what side of the fence the grass is on, it still needs to be watered and cut and cared for.

This is what Samuel is trying to tell the people of Israel when they asked for a king. He was telling them everything they will be getting into if they went that route and chose to live as everyone else

Remember Israel was set up as a theocracy, so their asking for a king, in reality, was not rejecting Samuel or his sons, it was a rejection of the sole reign and rule of God. This is why Samuel was upset and “sad” when the elders of Israel asked for a king to lead them.

As a parent, we know there are things that are not good for our kids, but they have to learn their lessons the hard way, sometimes. It is not easy to watch mistakes happen, but this is also part of the growing up process.

Yes, the people of Israel asked for this new way to be led, new way to live in this world. What does God do? He responds.

This is something to always know will happen. God will respond to the requests we make. You may be sitting here thinking “well yeah.” But when we think about how God responds, our society seems to think God will act out in some kind of vengeful way. But pay attention to how God responds.

God responds with grace.

He knows the people have chosen to live differently from their calling in this world. He knows they have a desire to be like everyone else. So in an act of grace, God gives them the request, but makes sure they know what it is they are asking for.

Before anyone here thinks I’m saying God will give us all of our requests, we have to understand that everything God does is an attempt to bring us back to himself. This is where it can get hard to hear. Sometimes God may allow things to happen to us for the purpose of leading us back into his fold and his way of living. The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, gives an example of this when he writes, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

We come to God with many requests, each day. We plead with God to act and to reveal himself. We may or may not see, or experience, our requests, but we can be assured God has and will respond to what we’re asking him for. The answer may be yes, no, or not yet (meaning do what we’ve been told to do before we get the next answer).

This event did not take God by surprise. God responded even before the people thought about making the request for a king. Here’s what I mean by God has responded. 

The people of Israel asked for a king because they wanted to be like everyone else. What they may have forgotten is God has already given provision for Israel to have a king. In Moses’ final sermon (Deuteronomy), God laid out for how the king and monarchy was supposed to run:

  • God chooses the king (must be from among the people of Israel)
  • Will not accumulate more stuff than needed (especially for military)
  • Must stay in the land the Lord provides
  • Must not have too many wives or too much money (or will be led astray)
  • The king writes his own copy of the law and read it daily
  • The king will not consider himself better than anyone else

God made these provisions, but the people still wanted to be like everyone else, so they entered into a new way of life, serving a human rather than solely God. Even though this was not God’s plan for his people, God still provided a way for them to live, and to return to knowing, loving, obeying, and worshipping him and him alone.

I know each one of you is going through something today. I know life is not always easy. But I also know that God has heard every one of your prayers and requests and has even worked out a plan for you to know the answer. Always find a way to praise God no matter the answer. Why? Because everything God does is to lead you into his graces and love and forgiveness.

The people of Israel, because of many circumstances, will have to face evil kings, bad enemies, exile, but they are still God’s people.

How do we know God responds to his people with grace today? Just look at Jesus the Christ. Jesus is how God has provided for us to come back to him. Following the true King, Jesus, will lead us to a life of promise, of hope, of love, of joy, of peace. That is the life God is calling us to.

Our life may or will not always be easy, but we can always count on the response of God – “Come to me, all who are weary.” The response of God is always calling his children home, so they know what a holy life is like.

God Calls

Click Here to Read 1 Samuel 3:1-10

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the Old Testament. Yeah, there are many things I still don’t understand, but I do know this, what we call the Old Testament takes up 66% of our Bible, so taking the time to understand the storyline is vital for our relationship with Christ. Why? Because the New Testament is a fulfillment (bringing a deeper meaning to) of the Old Testament.

If we look around, our world, and pay attention to the media, we can see one of the biggest questions is “how is God working today?” That is what we will be talking about in this series. Paying attention to how God works and the motives behind that work can help us see and understand how God is inviting us into the work he is doing.

The people of Israel have been in their promised land for a few generations now, when we get to the books of Samuel. Yes. They are free from the land of Egypt, but they have entered into a new kind of servant hood…falling into the trap of, as the book of Judges ends, “doing as they saw fit.” This meant that everyone was looking out for themselves, rather than the benefit of the community. With this kind of attitude, God and God’s laws (and relationship) was put on the back burner. So life was more challenging, and more corrupt than God intended for his people.

The corruption had gone deep into the priesthood. What is sad is our passage today opens with the situation of the word of the Lord being rare. Can you imagine what kind of life the people were living without hearing the word of the Lord? People would go around believing they were doing right without taking the time to inquire of the will and directives of the Lord…even the priests.

I’m sure you can see why and how it would be challenging to hear from God when all of this corruption and chaos is going on. But we always have to remember that, even when we can’t see it, God is always working.

Yes. God is always working and has a plan. When people fail, God will be the One who brings redemption and control from the chaos. That should give us hope.

So, what does God do? He calls his people to step into the life he designed for them (see Ephesians 2:10)

Calling. Have you experienced a calling from God? How do you know? How do you know if you haven’t?

Keep in mind that callings (and prophesies for that matter) have to be confirmed by a community. My calling, as a pastor, is continually put to the test and has to be confirmed by the Church community. The reason this needs to happen is because anyone could say they were called by God to do something and, without the support of the community, end up messing up.

That is what happened with Eli, the priest’s, sons. They ended up up living for their own personal satisfaction and giving in to all sorts of temptation and evil that they corrupted the priesthood. Because of his sons, Eli was told the priesthood would be taken away from him and his family.

God is always working. Just because things may look bleak does not mean we should ever give in to negativity and thinking everything is done for. When things look their darkest, look for the person (or group) God is raising up to lead God’s people to the next phase of the redemptive process. That’s what’s happening here.

Samuel has been part of the story from the beginning of the book. His mom, Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1), prayed for her to have a son and God heard her prayer. See, this is one of the beautiful things about God, even before we seek him, he has already been working on the answer to the issue. God is always working to reshape, redeem, and restore his reign and rule in the world, in our lives.

When we come to a passage in the Bible, like this one, one of the first things we need to do is understand all of this background information, otherwise, we’ll take it to mean something else, we’ll individualize it.

Yes, God called an individual, but his calling was for the sake of the community.

Israel was in pretty bad shape. God had witnesses his people turn away again and again from following him. Pay attention to this point—GOD WAS ALWAYS THERE WORKING. We can see this is the way Hannah’s prayer was answered and Samuel was born. But there is more to the story.

Yes, God calls, but the people have to be able to discern the voice and words of the Living God. Why? Because we can end up following the wrong directives. What does this mean? Unless we take the time to understand 1) that God is calling and 2) it is God who is speaking.

Notice the passage. Samuel heard an audible voice, so he assumed it was Eli. Samuel had been ministering in the Temple, which means he was burning the incense, praying the prayers, and doing the required liturgy, yet he did not know the voice of the Lord. When the voice came, Samuel assumed it was Eli, his mentor, so he went to the older priest, whose eyes were failing (i.e. he was dying).

Samuel went to Eli, and was told to go back to sleep.

My kids will get up in the middle of the night, at random, and say they’re sick, or growing pains are keeping them awake. (My favorite is when my kids come to us and say they can’t sleep so we tell them to lay down because they’re not like horses who can sleep standing up.) But we end up making them go back to bed because that is where they need to be.

Same with Samuel.

And that’s what Eli did. He sent Samuel back to his room. Three times.

What’s interesting is how long it took Eli to realize it was the Lord calling out to Samuel. After the second time, it seems Eli would have thought something was up. But, keep in mind the scripture says the word of the Lord was rare. This means Eli had not heard the Lord’s voice, or it had been so long since he last heard it that he didn’t recognize the call.

How can we know for sure it is the Lord calling us? First of all, we have to have a relationship with God. This is done in several different ways. The biggest way we can have a relationship with God is through reading his word and by seeking to find him wherever we are and in whatever we’re doing. Find the good. Find the “coincidences.” Find the love, the peace. Find the forgiveness and new life. You’ll see God working in and through those around you and even in you.

Another way to have a relationship with God is through prayer and worship. These are some of what John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement calls the means of grace. That is, these are means by which we can experience the grace of God. We also experience this grace through the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.

Knowing the voice and calling of God begins with having and developing a relationship with him.

When Eli recognizes it is the Lord calling Samuel, he teaches Samuel how to listen and obey. Right here we see the value of the community. The community, the people that surround Samuel are all pointing him to the presence and graces of God. Without Eli, Samuel would not have known how to pay attention to the Lord’s leading.

So what does Eli say? He tells Samuel to simply say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Now, that’s a powerful statement. When we say that today, there is so much we’re saying. We’re asking God to speak.. We’re calling him our master, by saying we are servants. We are saying we are open to hearing his voice which means we are open to being obedient.

The reality is, God is seeking the obedience of the community. Obedience is the key. If we seek to obey God, then we are placing him above ourselves. Because of obedience, Samuel became one of Israel’s greatest prophets.

I invite you to read through 1 & 2 Samuel and pay attention to how God is calling, responding, leading, guiding. My hope is we all seek the face of God more and more. That we know God more intimately. That we are sit before God when he appears. That we can confidently say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

What will you do to be more open to the Lord’s leading in your life? In the life of this community of faith? In the life of this community?

Fear & God

What drives your actions and your attitude? Most people will say their determination, the family, their purpose. But below that there may be something else.

Look around when there’s a crisis and what do you see? People panicking and doing what they can so they survive. This is caused by fear.

Now, there is a healthy kind of fear and a fear that cripples our senses. We, as human beings, are driven more by the crippling fear than anything else. We work longer than we should because we are afraid the work won’t get done, we won’t get promoted, we’re scared we won’t have the money, we won’t have respect.

We scramble and buy things (like toilet paper, rice, etc) because we’re afraid we’ll run out. This puts us in crisis mode to get these “needed” items “in case” of a shortage, not realizing the “stocking up” is creating a shortage.

Now here’s something to pay attention to: it’s a lot of Christians with this mindset and demeanor out there doing these things and not being peaceful about it. (I know that stings for many people.)

But here’s the thing. We, as Christians, are not supposed to fear anything, except God. Think about this: whatever you fear is your god. This means whatever we give in to so it’s appeased (money in bank, extra food, people pleasing) is actually what we now down to and worship in our everyday life. But God says to fear ONLY him (no other gods before him). If we only fear God, that we do what he says and follow Christ. This actually brings us more peace because we live with the understanding this life is not our own and we should live to glorify God in all areas of our life with complete tru at in his provision.

In times of crisis, there is always the question, “where is this God you trust?” I’ll put this question on you. “How are you modeling Christ-like behavior while in public and in private? Where are you not acting like God desires?” As I write this, I know I’m convicted.

But this is what we should look for – ways to show the living God in us, through us, and among us. How can you be the light of Christ when people are clouded by the darkness of fear? What can you do to help protect the vulnerable in our community and world?

Remember, God is always working in our world and calling people to do his work with him. So, when someone asks you, “where is God?” can you ask them to follow you so you can show them the peace and joy you exude in the midst of chaos?

I hope and pray our lives are defined by faith in the living God and not fear from anything else the world round us says or shows.

What are your thoughts on this?

Knowing Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem of Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 4)

THE BIGGER PICTURE

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

What do you see in these pictures?

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

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

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

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

REVIEW WHAT WE KNOW OF GOD THROUGH JONAH, SO FAR

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

Jonah 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen


[1] Jonah 1:2b NIV

[2] Jonah 4:2b NIV

[3] Matthew 5:48 CEB

[4] John 1:39a, 43b

[5] Ephesians 2:4-10

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

[7] Matthew 15:17-20a NIV

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

[9] Galatians 5:18-21 CEB

[10] Titus 3:1-2 CEB

[11] Jonah 4:8a NIV

[12] Jonah 4:11 NIV