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

Noah: Nobody’s Perfect

There are movies and books and stories that we allow to speak to our hearts. We fall in love with the characters and root for them, or want what’s coming to them to happen. The stories we seem to pay more attention to add to our notion that life is all about us.

One of the things I love about the Bible, and there are a lot of things, is how the scriptures are full of stories and people we can fall in love with, even dislike. But it doesn’t go there. When we take the time to read through the scriptures, we see the people are just like us. Humanity and human nature have not changed, though our culture and lifestyle may have changed. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow!

Noah and the flood is one of those stories many people love from the Bible. But, is there more to it than just Noah, his family, and the animals getting saved from the water?

As with any good story, we have to know and understand the back story:

Before there was anything, God was. The waters we read about in Genesis 1 represented chaos to the ancient people, so, God created order from the chaos. His Spirit was hovering and realigning the chaos to fit his plan, fit his design.

God created the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the plants and animals. His crowning moment of creation was humanity, his image-bearers whom he hand crafted and placed in paradise to care for, till, and even extend paradise to the rest of the earth.

God is the God of goodness, perfection (holiness), and order—there is nothing he is not part of.

Then, the trip into what became the fall of humanity took place. We talked about this last week—Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree they were supposed to steer clear from. They got banished from paradise, yet still allowed to live (that’s grace).

What happens next is horrific. When we allow sin into our lives (in any shape or form) things go bad really quickly. Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, kills his brother Abel because he was jealous. Things got worse from there.

One of the worst parts of the Bible is when God says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5 NIV)

And then the worst part, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6 NIV)

But remember, there is always grace in the pages of scripture. Genesis 6:8 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” This is hopeful. There is someone willing to listen and obey God, even in the midst of all the selfishness, greed, murder, crime, sin, Noah was willing to stand out and follow God.

When a person decides to follow God, they will most certainly stand out and be noticed, even if they are not drawing attention to themselves. So, a question right off the bat is “will you live the kind of life that is completely different from everyone else, for God? Or will we continue to cater to our own comfort and preferences?”

One thing we have to remember is fewer people than we realize live the kind of life they say they live. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV)

Even when everyone else was trying to get Noah to do what they wanted, or do the things they wanted, Noah stood out and found “favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Side Note: People will do anything to make you look bad, make you look evil, lazy, etc. when you’re following Christ. Don’t give in to it, take the road that leads to life, always.

Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (NIV) This is a pretty cool picture of God’s grace shining through. Even though no one else was not following God, Noah did, and he did so in a way that people saw there was something about him different from them. The truth is, it is only by the grace of God we are able to live this life and follow God. Without God’s grace we cannot and we will be lost. Noah lived his life in the grace of God.

Now, the life we live for God will look odd to the rest of the people. The text doesn’t say this, but Noah was really an evangelist trying to teach and show the people what will happen if they don’t turn from their way of life. How do I know this? Noah faithfully kept building ark.

This would have been a huge undertaking and hard to miss. People would have been making fun of Noah for doing this, but he kept building away. He kept being faithful to what God laid out before him instead of giving in to the taunting and desires of the people around him.

The people were probably taunting him and trying to get him to stop what God called him to do because they did not understand. They must have thought because he was not living up to their expectations that he was in the wrong. But Noah kept building away.

Imagine the heartache Noah felt during this time.

Then, the rains came. This was something the people had never experienced before. When the rains came, and did not stop, I’m sure the people began to panic. But God chose to close Noah, his family, and the animals in the safety and security of the ark.

One of the things we don’t really hear much about in this story, except when non-Christians bring it up, is the death toll surrounding Noah and his family. Realize that only Noah and his family were saved from the destruction. Everyone else perished. This is not a children’s fairy tale story.

But Noah stayed the course and trusted God to guide and direct the ark during this time. Noah and his family cared for what they were entrusted with on the ark and kept their trust in God through the storm.

The waters and damage from the rains and flooding did not quickly go away. The rains came for 40 days, but the waters stayed, Noah and his family stayed on the ark for over a year. Imagine the patience and trust, in God, that was required to sustain their faith. Noah faithfully trusted God, especially in the storm, and the recovery period.

When they were finally able to exit the ark, Noah was given the command God gave Adam and Eve, to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. The people of God were starting over in a small number. But Noah faithfully trusted in and followed God.

Then when it was time to plant the seeds for a new beginning, Noah planted and grew grapes. The grapes he grew became fermented and he drank the liquid and became drunk and passed out. Know this, too much of anything puts us in a place of vulnerability and susceptible to sin.

Sin creeps in, and is more tempting, when we are at our weaker points (hungry, hurt, tired, lonely, etc.). This is why the devil came to tempt and to test Jesus after Jesus had fated for 40 days and nights.

Noah’s son found him and basically made fun of him to the other brothers. The scripture could imply other things, but basically Ham did not honor or respect his father. Because of this, Noah’s anger burned and said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” (Gen 9:25 NIV)

Noah allowed his vulnerability, he placed himself him, to cause himself emotional hurt and embarrassment from what Ham did, and then came out in anger.

We’ve said it before: anger is always a secondary emotion. If our needs are not met (whether we say what they are or not), if we get embarrassed, jealous, hungry, lonely, tired, etc., then anger is what is manifested. Not only that, anger is manifested outward instead of inward where the work needs to begin.

At first, Noah found favor in the eyes of God. At the end, Noah still found favor in the eyes of God because of his faithfulness. The covenant, promise, blessing, sign of the rainbow was given to Noah simply because he found the way to faith.

Church, the way to faith is not in anything we can find on our own. It is not something or anything we can do. It is not trying to please people or do things to try and please God. The way to faith is a person. The way to faith, and true salvation (here and now) is in the person of Jesus Christ. John 14:6 reminds us of this truth, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV)

Jesus also said that he is the gate (John 10:7). Not only is he the way, he is also the door to enter into the salvation promised by God, the rest that God promises.

Church, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, trying to make sense of the world and events happening. Stop trying to please people, yourself, God. Seek the person and presence of Jesus Christ because he has already found you and is working to give you peace.

Nobody is perfect. We will all make mistakes and will fail others constantly. But God is faithful when we are not and that’s who’s working in us and through us to reach a world hurting to know God.

He has given you a task, an ark to build. Are you building for the Kingdom glory?

Let’s pray…

Gracious God, so often we seek to find our security in people and we miss out on the opportunities you provide all around us. Lead us to complete fulfillment. Guide us to the person and presence of Jesus Christ. We know we cannot live this life without your grace. Thank you for pouring your grace out upon us. Now, O God, we need your strength and courage to live out this life you have called us to live. This, and so much more, we pray in the powerful name of Jesus Christ. 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.

People Like Us: Adam

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, but the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Right here we get a picture of God who seeks to be intimately connected with his creation by remaining close. For God it was, and still is, all about relationships and being involved personally with the created order.

Unlike the gods of other faiths, YHWH is the God who “comes down” and is personally involved with creation out of love, not anger or a war, but to create something his image bearers, humanity, would be able to live in and enjoy. This is the picture of God we have right at the beginning of the scriptures, and also why the book of Genesis begins the way it does.

Genesis 1 sets the stage and shows how God has so much concern for what he creates that he sets everything up before he fills it. God made sure everything was needed for humanity and the plants/animals to survive and thrive in this world.

Genesis 2 shows the personal relationship between God and humanity. God not only created humanity but was personally involved in “hand forming” them. As a divine potter, God carefully and meticulously crafts and shapes the human and gives his breath, his life for the human to be able to live.

Remember last week, we began a series called “People Like Us.” We began with the question of “who are we trying to reach?” and also asked if we would be willing to worship with them in the same building. Today, we begin to look into the scriptures to give a snapshot of 5 people, who are just like us. The point and purpose of this series is to show us how humanity is all connected and more similar than we may want to admit. But, we never just end by talking about what people are capable of. Why? Because the point of the Bible is to show and tell who God is and what God’s purpose for humanity and all of creation is. So, we mainly focus on the hero of the Bible, God in flesh, Jesus Christ himself.

Today, we begin with the first human, Adam.

In Genesis 2, we see how much God loved Adam and saw it was NOT good that Adam was all alone, that no suitable helper was available. Adam had been given the task of caring for Eden (paradise, this place of delight). So it was not like he had nothing to do. But Adam did not have anyone else to share life with. That is a point of life, to share life with others, especially God. In fact, scripture says that God would walk in the garden in the “cool of the day” with Adam and Eve (though her name comes at the end of Genesis 3).

One day, a serpent came and struck up a conversation with Eve. The essence of the questioning from the serpent (Early Christians and today say this is Satan) was to try and question God’s motives and care for the people. The serpent made it seem as if God was hiding something from them. Then he says Adam and Eve will not die. 

Side note: serpents in ancient literature were credited with a special knowledge of death because of their ability to produce venom and ability to renew themselves by shedding their skin.

Now, if you read Genesis 1-3, you can see what happens. You see that the woman, Eve ate the fruit (does not say apple) and gave it to her husband. For a long time women have been blamed for so much wrong in our world. But this is NOT what scripture teaches.

Adam and Eve were to be helpmates to each other and keep each other focused on the commands and presence of God. Notice the text says that Eve gave the fruit to her husband, “who was with her.” Adam failed to protect his wife and thus exhibited cowardly leadership.

Maybe he was scared of the serpent? Maybe he was tired? Maybe he was really hungry? Who knows. But the point we have to see is that Adam failed in his role as Eve’s helpmate. Because of this act, all of creation fell under a curse we still experience today.

Genesis 3 begins the “fall” and we see just how far people can go, without the presence of God actively guiding them, throughout Genesis 4-11. Then, in Genesis 12, we see the answer to creation and humanities redemption beginning to take place with the calling of Abraham.

What does all of this mean for us today?

Number One we have to make sure we are steeped in the Word of God and do not let anyone try to steer us away from scripture. I spend hours each week reading the scripture and paying close attention to the commentaries and articles I read to make sure everything is in line with the scriptures. There are times I could be wrong. This is why it is vital to take the time to study the scriptures each day.

But, even when we are at our best, the serpent still comes to challenge us and to bring doubt into our minds. Remember that doubt is not bad. But if the doubt turns to unbelief, the serpent wins. That’s what happens in Genesis 3.

The next thing we see is the blame game beginning. Eve blames the serpent. Adam blames Eve. For us to be the best version of who God created us to be, we cannot throw the blame anywhere else, we have to take responsibility for our actions.

But, our pride gets in the way and we still try to keep face by blaming others. After all, we cannot be to blame about anything, it’s always someone else’s fault, right? Nope. But unfortunately this is how we still live today. This is one reason why it is so important to take responsibility for our words and actions. Keep in mind we are 100% responsible for 50% of the relationship, meaning we are 100% responsible for the role we play in our relationships.

Here is some of what scripture says about taking responsibility:

Galatians 6:4-5 “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”

Romans 14:10, 12 “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

2 Corinthians 6:3 “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”

Proverbs 28:13 “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Here’s the deal. We are all like Adam in that we try to pin the blame on someone else as to why we are like we are or why we did what we did. We will all fail God. We will all fail our church. We will all fail our community. We will all fail our family and friends. We will all fail ourselves and not live up to who God says we are.

So where is God in all of this? God is the One who gives us the grace to continue living. He is the One who has given us, by his grace, the Holy Spirit within us. God has even come down, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, to teach us the ways of Heaven. Even after the blaming happened and God banished the humans from Eden, God gave Adam and Eve clothing so their shame would be covered. What an incredible display of grace! Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our shame is covered as well. We are made right with God.

Now, the Holy Spirit working in us and through us to be the people God created us to be. This is only possible because of his steadfast love and grace.

Taking responsibility means we trust that God continues to grant grace. Blaming others prevents us from experiencing the grace God has.

We are all like Adam. But the better news is that Jesus came so we can be like him! The question we all have to ask is, who do I want my life to resemble?

Let’s pray…

God who created everything, and called it good. Speak to our hearts, once again, to remind us we live this life for you. We do not have to put on any shows, try to be people we aren’t, think higher of ourselves than we should. Guide us to be strong enough and courageous enough to do what we need to do. It is all about your Kingdom and being reconciled and transformed by Your. Nothing else matters. Holy God, we are yours. Thank you for personally creating us, calling us, and guiding us each step of this journey we call life. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

No Perfect People Allowed

Note: This was the sermon preached on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Today, we move into a series to see how God uses people no one else would expect to carry on his mission in the world. We‘ll take a few examples of people from the Bible so we can know God better through his people. Remember, the point of the Bible is to know God. We know God, through Jesus Christ, when we read his words in scripture and we open our ears and our hearts to the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Normally, the first Sunday in July I would do a “State of the Church” message and cast the vision for the next 12 months. The reality is, we can see the state of the Church all across America. It used to be that everyone around us would label themselves as Christian. But the reality is that in 2019, only 65% of Americans who were polled would identify as a Christian. This is down from 75% in 2015 and 84% in 1990. Protestantism is still considered the majority, however, this number is down to 35% in 2018 from 69% in 1948. People who identify themselves as atheist (do not believe in God) have risen from 2% in 2009 to 4% in 2019.

Something else, we also see that in 2019 more Americans identified as religiously unaffiliated, meaning they did not profess belief in any religion. The rise of the “dones” (those just “done” with church) is growing as well. What do all of these numbers tell us? 

For one thing, no longer can we assume everyone around us is Christian. I’ve said it before, if the only people we are around are Christians, we should expand who we interact with.

Secondly, it means this means there is plenty of opportunity to show the world true Christians and what a life converted to Jesus Christ looks like.

Thirdly, maybe we, as the Church, need to understand what it means to be the church in the world today.

Fourthly, realize the Bible is full of stories where the surrounding culture did not believe in YHWH (God) but were polytheistic (belief in many gods). Believe it, or not, this is the world we continue to live in. The only thing that has changed is the lifestyle of society.

Finally, it is more vital than ever to give Christ glory in all parts of life. This is true when reading the Bible. Christ is the hero, not us, in the scriptures. When we take the time to see Christ as the hero, we realize we aren’t, but we also see how God uses ordinary nobodies to be somebodies for His Kingdom work.

Now, how does this sit with you here and now?

Church, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe God is calling His people to rise up and show the world the Kingdom of Heaven like never before. There is so much trying to hold the Body of Christ from expanding that we, as Christians, need to walk in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and step out in faith, trusting that God will provide and show us what to do and who to reach.

So, now the question becomes, not what do we do, but who do we seek after? There are many people all around you and I who do not know Jesus Christ, some people you probably already know. Then the question becomes “are you willing to worship in the same building as ‘those’ people?”

What about if the person was a drug dealer? Porn addict? Stripper? Murderer? These are real people who need the grace and life changing power the Holy Spirit offers through the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Yes, I am saying we need more “imperfect” people in the church. We need people to know they are broken and incomplete without Jesus Christ. We need people to turn their lives completely over to Christ and witness a complete life change.

So, to be Christ’s church we constantly seek the people Jesus did. Luke 19:10 Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost.” We are sent, like the disciples in Matthew 10, Luke 10 to those around us. Genesis 12:1, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8 and many other passages send us out into the world, for the mission and purpose of God to be lived out—bringing people to the throne of grace so all people can be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

This will bring people in who can and will probably ruin our reputation if we are seen with them. But, in the church “no perfect people” are allowed. The only perfect person is the one who died on the cross for you and I, and the world, and he is the head of the church (Colossians 1:8).

So, what is the church? Theologian Thomas Oden talks partially about the church this way: The church is…

“ The Christian church is the community through whom the Holy Spirit administers redemption and distributes gifts, the means in and by which God makes the reconciling work of the Son vitally present to humanity. The church is the extension of the work of the Incarnate Lord as prophet, priest, and king. The church is called from the world to celebrate God’s own coming, and called to return to the world to proclaim the kingdom of God…. Pentecost was not an event in which the Spirit was poured out upon wholly separable isolated individuals. Rather it was a community already gathered for a liturgical event in whom the Spirit came to dwell. A community was created by the Spirit in which the embodiment of Christ’s mission continued corporately after his ascension, as a household, a family, a koinonia… The church is local in its universality, and universal in its locality. This means that wherever the church exists locally, it bears witness to the whole church. And wherever the church is said to exist universally, it is known to be such in its local manifestations… The reign of God is present wherever God’s will is done. There God rules… The church is the arena in which the coming kingdom is being proclaimed and actively expected. The church is the place in the world where the coming kingdom is already beginning to happen… The church is subject to the infirmities and temptations that accompany all finite existence. Yet it resists those impediments that appear as obstacles to the coming kingdom. The Spirit is given to cleanse these corruptions and guide the gathered community toward the fullness of truth.” (Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity)

The church is all about proclaiming and demonstrating the presence and works of God in the world. Think about the carefully. How has the church been doing at this mission lately, in the world?

The great news is that God still uses imperfect people to carry out his will and mission in the world. You and I are part of those imperfect people God uses and this means we get to walk in the world without condemning others because, as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

See, aren’t you glad God has paid the price for you and I to enter salvation here and now because of the work of Christ on the cross? We should not have been offered this grace of God, but we have been. Our lives are on a better trajectory because of Christ. Christ is the one who makes us into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Whatever we do, in this life, we always do for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17).

Just sitting in these seats today, means we realize we have been granted the grace and the freedom to worship God freely. God is doing great works in the world. All he asks us to do is join Him, imperfect as we are, so the world will know He is God and worthy of all praise.

It may seem as if the church is losing ground, but maybe God is waiting on HIs people to step out to join Him? After all, God is calling His imperfect people to reach imperfect people to extend the grace and mercy He freely gives.

Hope has always been here. God has never stopped working. There is a countless number of people who are primed and ready to hear and witness the life changing presence of Jesus Christ. As John 4:35 says, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”

What an incredible time we’re living in! Church, look around for the people God is working on and leading you to. Pay attention to the incredible Kingdom of Heaven all around us. Trust that Christ will continue to build his church and keep the faith he is calling you to be part of his work in the world, and in history.

*Statistics from: https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

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

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

~Colossians 1:9-10

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

~Romans 12:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

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

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

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

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

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

Our lives are a work in progress.

William Shakepeare says it like this, 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

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

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

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

But hold on because

GOD DOES HAVE A PLAN

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

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

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

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

God desires for you and I to know him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all of this, always remember:

GOD IS USING YOU AND SHAPING YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GOD-INCIDENTS” INSTEAD OF CO-INCIDENCES

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

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

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

Did I mention I am a very patient man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] “Back to the Future” Part 3 movie

[3] Matthew 22:37-39

[4] Colossians 3:17

[5] Romans 5:2b-5 NIV

Why do the Innocent Suffer?

GENESIS 1:27-28

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

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

LAMENTATIONS 3:1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Lamentations 3:1 NIV)

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

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

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

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

The Israelites spent 400 years oppressed by the Egyptians

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

King Saul spend years searching for young David to kill him

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

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

The disciples were martyred.

Paul was beaten and put in prison many times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything happens for a reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THINGS TO CONSIDER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have free will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dictators and tyrants abusing people

Men and women violating their marriage covenant

This results in people worshipping false gods (idols) of

Money

Sex

Power

Self 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE 

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

Israelites set free from slavery

David found deliverance from his affliction

And on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Psalm 73:26

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

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

[6] Genesis 1:27-28

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Philippians 4:13 CEB

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

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

Moving Toward Victory

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

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

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

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ MARK 11:1-11

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

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

“Hosanna![a

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

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

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

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

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

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

HOPEFUL PROMISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ Jesus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray…

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


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

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

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

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

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

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

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

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11