Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 3)

RELENTLESS PURSUIT

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give to you.” ~Jonah 3:2 NIV

One of the things I hope we are understanding in this book of Jonah is that God never gives up on you. God is relentlessly pursuing you. God is relentlessly pursuing his people. God is relentlessly pursuing the world in so many ways. The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “[God] wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”[1]

Cory Asbury, a contemporary Christian artist has a song out called Reckless Love.” I love the lyrics. The chorus goes like this:

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Oh, it chases me down fights til I’m found leaves the ninety-nine

And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Now that really sums it up, doesn’t it? I think people can get concerned about saying God’s love is reckless; so we’re using we’re saying that God’s love is relentless. This means he never gives up. One of the verses for the song says:

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me 

You have been so, so good to me

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

You have been so, so kind to me 

Isn’t this a picture of God in the Book of Jonah. Think about it. Jonah has been running away. He’s been trying to escape God. He’s been trying to go where God is not; or he thinks that God is not. He knows, because he is a Hebrew prophet that God is everywhere. That part of God’s nature is that God is omnipresent. God is also all-powerful (omniscient) because God knows what Jonah will do; yet calls Jonah anyway for this mission.

But when Jonah was his foe God fought for Jonah to do the mission that God wanted Jonah to do. The mission was to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the word of the Lord that he was given in the first chapter. God told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before him.[2]

We have been looking at how we can see and experience and appreciate the nature of God by finding out more who of God is through this short book of Jonah. As we continue our journey through this prophetic book, we have to understand is this is act 2 of the story. Act 1 of the story was God speaking to Jonah, Jonah running away, Jonah getting swallowed by a fish and then God speaking to the fish.

The book ends of act 1 for Jonah shows a word coming from God first to the person of Jonah and second to the fish who spews, vomits, disgorges Jonah from its belly because it is sick of Jonah being there.

In Act One, the very first thing we learn is how God is persistent God is. How relentlessly he desires his word to be to go to the city of Nineveh and he wants no other person besides Jonah to deliver this message.

Beginning Act Two, chapter three, verse 1 says, “then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” [3]Not only is God persistent, God is gracious in giving second chances. 

I bet there are people reading this here and now that may need to go back to remember, a main point from last chapter is that God is not done with you. God is a God of second chances and he’s constantly working in us and through us so we become the people that he has called us to be. All so we can reach the people that he has called us to reach. Remember Paul’s words in Romans 10:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[4]

This is something very important, God is a God of second chances. Now you may not have done everything right the first time around, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the 50th time around. God is patient. God is relentlessly pursuing you and I so that we are going after the people that he is pursuing. The people he desires to know his salvation which is his eternal life, his presence here and now, and in the life to come. That is one of the beautiful aspects about the Christian faith, that we can have assurance of knowing that we are going to be in God’s presence. We know that this life is not the end of the story. God is saving up for us to be with him in all eternity. Not only that but God is desiring to use our lives to be part of the redemptive story of the world’s transformation. 

God says go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message he gave to Jonah. The very next verse says Jonah obeyed, this time. The New Testament, in Matthew 21, has a parable of Jesus about a father and his two sons.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.[5]

Jesus explaining the first son is the one who obeyed God because he did what God desired. This time Jonah obeyed. So he went out, he was probably reluctant as we have seen through Jonah’s character so far. 

The text says that Nineveh was a very large city, and it would take three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”[6]

What we see here is a picture of a reluctant prophet, reluctantly doing what God has called him to do. He’s not even halfway in the city. He waits until he is about a third of the way in (about a day’s journey), and according to the text, he proclaimed the Lord’s proclamation once. This means Jonah did not go through the entire city. Jonah stopped after just one day, after only going a third of the way in. That is when he proclaims the single message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He doesn’t even say this is God’s declaration for them. It is almost as if that Jonah is not wanting to tell the Ninevites the whole story. But the very next verse says the Ninevites believed God.

What’s interesting about that is Jonah, as we have said, did not say anything about God in the proclamation, but the Ninevites, the text says, believed God and all of a sudden a fast was

Proclaimed. All of them, from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth and the message even went up to the king who gave a decree that went out to all the people. Now what does this mean?

Think about what this is saying for who God is in our world. Number one, as we have seen in Chapter 1, it says that Nineveh’s wickedness has come up before God. This is saying that God is concerned about holiness. God is concerned about us being holy. His people, really the not just his people but the entire world being holy, being recast into his image, being perfect, being just like him. In New Testament terms this means being like Christ.

God is concerned about our holiness. Here’s the deal with that. None of us can measure up to this standard. None of us, as it says in Romans chapter 3, have lived up to the glory of God

because it says it all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. 

The other thing that we see is that Jonah went a day’s walk, about a third of the way, into the city. He did kind of this half-hearted proclamation, but what we see is that when he proclaimed the Word of God, when we proclaim God’s truth, God’s Spirit works incredible wonders amid our timidity, in spite of our prejudices, in spite of our reluctedness to go.

Remember, as it says in Hebrews four, “the Word of God is sharper and active than any double-edged sword.” God’s Word works incredible wonders. Now, what happened? 

In Jonah’s message, he doesn’t say “repent” but the people hoped that if they repented, God would relent from the destruction of their city being overthrown.

Let’s talk about repentance for a moment. Repentance is one of those words, Church Words, that we like to say; but here’s the thing about repentance, repentance means doing a 180 in our actions, in our words, and in our thoughts so we are not going on our own path anymore. The path we are turning around to, is God’s direction.

Repentance means that we are going to have to make a change in our heart and life. That’s what repentance means. In Greek, the word is metanoia, which is a change of mind, a change of heart which means that all of us are going to change and be given over to God’s will. We like to say “repent” because we don’t like to hear change, that we have to change in order to become holy in order for Christ to shine in and through us. That’s a challenge for us; but see the incredible thing about grace is that God works in spite of us. We are all called to repent.

Jesus’ very first sermon was, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” which means change your heart and life because God’s eternal presence is here. His kingdom of heaven is already here. Change your heart and life so that you are able to live in and experience this incredible place called heaven.

Verse 10 says, “when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” God desires holiness but God is about forgiveness.

We have an incredible picture of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When he was on the cross, his arms were stretched out wide. He looked down and in the crowd. It was as if he looked through time past, present, and future. He said these incredible words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Think about that. What he was doing was looking at you and I because we do not know what we are doing because our desire is to follow our own heart. Our desire is to do things our way, our desire is to be in control of our lives. Our desire even, if we profess Christ, is most of the time to do things our own way. God desires to forgive. 

One of the attributes of God is found in the book of Exodus chapter 33 verse 19. I love this verse because it’s repeated multiple times throughout the scriptures. God is speaking to Moses and he says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

What we have not said up to this point is that Jonah, a Hebrew, is going to the pagans, the Gentiles, in Nineveh. Now, Nineveh is in the area of Babylon place that had many gods and worship the king. Jonah was going there to a place that the Hebrews did not like. In fact this was an area that captured the Hebrews and put them in captivity in exile.

Jonah was called to go there to tell Nineveh it’s wickedness has come up before God. Why should Jonah care about this city? Because God cares about our enemies. When we read Joshua chapter 5, we see the commander of the Lord’s army appearing before Joshua. Joshua bows down and asks, “are you on our side or you for the other side?” The commander the lord’s army says, “neither I’m for God.”

That’s one of the things that we have to understand and remember as Christians. When Jesus says pray for your enemies he means, “don’t let anything come between you and other people. Find a way to make it work.”

God desires forgiveness. God desires holiness. God’s Word works wonders in the world. When we live by God’s Word we see how our enemies are overthrown. We’ll talk about that next week.

Maybe our enemies are not overthrown in the manner in which we want but in the manner in which we may lead them to God.

God is relentlessly pursuing you and I to do the mission we are called to. Are you ready for this work? It will not only change your life, but will change the world!


[1] ! Timothy 2:4 NIV

[2] Jonah 1:2

[3] Jonah 3:1 NIV

[4] Romans 10:14-15 NIV

[5] Matthew 21:28-31a NIV

[6] Jonah 3:4a

Discovering God through the book of Jonah (Part 2)

HEAR OUR PRAYER

“From inside the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” (Jonah 2:1 NIV

Many of us attend worship each week with hidden concerns, hidden feelings, harboring resentment, coming with doubts about your faith. The challenging thing is how do we allow the message of God to shape us into who God is making us to be?

One of the biggest doubts we seem to face is whether or not we believe God is done with us. Now, this can take on a variety of characteristics. One can become controlling to try and make sure things get done in the order and manner you want. One may stop trying to do anything new. One may begin to pray only at meal times, because this is when we are supposed to pray.

If we fall into these, or any other similar categories, it becomes harder to go to scripture. Why is this? I have learned that when we go to scripture, we tend to focus on what we know (or think we know) and disregard the rest. It is easy to go to verses that give us the good feels like Philippians 4:13, John 3:16, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, etc. I bet you even know what these (or most) verses are.

The point is, we like to have the Bible tell us what we want. We’ll even read our own ideas, our own culture into the scriptures. As we said last chapter, remember the point of the scripture is to teach us who God is and who we are now, and who we will become.

I can hear it now, I learn most of what I know about God through nature. That is true. The Apostle Paul writes to the people in Rome, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what was made.”[1] The issue with this thinking is that we believe we learn about God just through nature (or other people) and the Bible is our manual for how to get into heaven.

As we dive into the scriptures we can see the main point is not for us to go to heaven. The main point is to love God and love people which brings heaven to us. This means, as we read, study, and pray the scriptures, we learn God is telling us so much about who he is so we can learn more and more about our own character.

One of the fascinating things about scripture that I love is how we can see something new each and every time we read and meditate on the passages. The same thing is true for the book of Jonah. 

Maybe viewing the purpose of the book of Jonah is to tell us about the nature of God is a new or different concept than you have been taught before. That is good. The more we study scripture, the more layers we find. This reminds me of the movie Shrek. The donkey and the ogre are on their to rescue Princess Fiona from the dragon. Donkey is upset Shrek did not do more damage to Lord Farquaad’s castle and knights.

Shrek is telling Donkey how there is more to ogres than people realize. He gives the illustration that ogres are like onions. There are many layers to peel back before you can understand what an ogre is about. We also have to remember that scripture is the same way. 

Scripture has many layers, the more we read, the more we study, the more we hear God’s voice speaking, the more we begin to understand about what the text is teaching us about humanity, what we should learn, but also what we should learn and know about God.

The book of Jonah is no different. Take some time, right now, to write down anything you have learned about God so far in this short book of the Bible.

In the last chapter, we left Jonah in the belly of the fish. He has been in the fish for three days and three nights. Remember we said this was actually grace because God did provide a way for Jonah to live. 

You are probably going through something right now that makes it seem as if you are in the belly of a fish. The circumstances and situation you are in are not what you expected them to be. You are living with a diagnosis. Maybe you have gotten away from an abusive situation. Maybe you are running to find out who you are. Maybe, just maybe, you are in a situation you believe you don’t deserve to be in and are angry about it. It is in moments like this we find people may not be as open as they say they are, or we find it difficult to know where to turn.

One thing I can promise is this: God has not forgotten you. God still is with you and is doing a great work in, and hopefully, through you. It may seem as if you are all alone, but God has not left you. 

Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights before the fish ejected him onto the dry land. I’m sure there were times he felt as if his prayers did not get past the scales. There are many times I pray I feel as if the words, or thoughts, do not get past the shingles. But, as we read Jonah chapter two, we learn something about God.

GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS

This is huge. God will give an answer to our prayers. Sometimes the answer is “yes”. Sometimes “no”. Sometimes “not yet”. Sometimes it’s a combination of “not yet because you haven’t done what I’ve already told you to do.” God will answer prayers. The question now is, are we ready to pay attention for the answer.

Back to Jonah. He has been in the fish for three days and three nights. The scripture does not say when this prayer was prayed, just that he prayed. What is interesting is what it was Jonah prayed: 

“In my distress, I called to the Lord…” (v 2)   Did he really?

“yet I will look again to your holy temple.” (v 4b)   Has he done this already?

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord,” (v 7a)   Interesting…

“But I, with shouts of grateful praise…” (v 9a)    Has he done this before?

“What I have vowed, I will make good.” (v 9b)   What did he vow?

“I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (v 9c)  Has he said this before?

The reason we should look closely at the prayer Jonah “prayed” is that it doesn’t seem consistent with what we have read so far about this prophet of God. It almost seems as if he is praying the prayer from memory because he has not lived the life the prayer suggests.

Besides looking at the life of Jonah to get the clues as to whether or not he believed this prayer, we can look at verse 10: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” 

Notice the word vomit. “The verb vomit, which returns him to dry land…evokes negative connotations. Rather than using a delicate word for ejection, the narrator uses a distasteful image. The fish does not stomach Jonah.”[2] Based upon this, and of course Jonah’s past actions, according to the text, even the fish cannot handle Jonah’s behavior and sarcastic prayer.

As we have seen, Jonah was not having his attitude adjusted. He was most likely mulling around in the fish’s stomach upset because he did not get his way. What does he do? He “prays” this prayer, maybe trying to get God to do what Jonah wants to do—run away from doing what God wants.

The interesting thing is that, maybe Jonah though his life was over in the fish and his prayers did not go past the scales, but God delivered Jonah by having the fish dump him on the dry land.

Yes, Jonah’s prayer may not have been sincere for him; but this teaches us God cares enough for his people that God will answer our prayers, even when our heart is not tuned toward God. Look at what Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him![3]

As we learn about the nature of God, we also learn more about the condition of humanity. Jonah is trying to make himself look good by “praying” to God and saying the “right” things in the prayer. This is something we all try to do. 

We know that we cannot make God do anything by saying the right words in the prayers we pray, but we also try to keep ourselves looking good in the presence of God. Jonah is still trying to hide who he really is by praying this Prayer of Thanksgiving. It is possible that he is recalling the only prayer he could think of in that moment.

From Jonah we learn that humanity tries to cover sin up by attempting to make ourselves look good in the presence of God. It is difficult to reveal our true nature because we do not like it when people look down on us, especially God. But remember the words in the book of James:

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” [4]

And also hear the Apostle Peter’s words: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”[5]

What we have to understand is God knows who we really are on the inside (see chapter 1). God knows the condition and state of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7, John 2:25) So we should be completely open and honest with God. This vulnerability reminds us of God’s unconditional love for you and I. We also remember that God never expects us to be perfect, humanity is not perfect; therefore, we come to God as we are.

There are times we will try to hide who were really are because we do not want to face the reality of God humbling us. But we also try to hide who we are by pretending everything is okay with our lives, even though we do not believe everything is right.

Through all of this, no matter what situation or life circumstance we find ourselves in, part of the nature of God we see in Jonah is: providing an answer to prayer.

When a mother has a sick child, it is marvelous how quick her ears become while attending it. Good woman, we wonder she does not fall asleep. If you hired a nurse, it is ten to one she would. But the dear child in the middle of the night does not need to cry for water, or even speak; there is a little quick breathing—who will hear it? No one would except the mother; but her ears are quick, for they are in her child’s heart. Even so, if there is a heart in the world that longs for the things of God, God’s ear is already in that poor sinner’s heart. He will hear it. There is not a good desire on earth but the Lord has heard it.[6]

Jonah’s prayer was trying to get him out of that situation, whether he meant the words he was praying or not, God still heard the prayer.

God has not forgotten you. God will answer your prayer. The answer may not be what we are expecting, or coming from where we want, but God answers every prayer offered to him. 

No where, in the text, has Jonah proved he has done or said anything he has prayed. He was running away from God. The sailors had to ask Jonah to call on his God to help them (Jonah 1:6) but Jonah still sent to sleep instead of being concerned about the safety of the other sailors.

Now, let’s look at our own prayer lives.

I find it interesting the only thing Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them was how to pray (Matthew 6:5-14, Luke 11:1-13). When was the last time you or I asked another person, or Jesus for that matter, how we should pray.

Yes, there are many formulations on the best type of prayer. We can pray spontaneously, read prayers from the past, pray the Psalms, and more. But God is more interested in what is the state of our heart.

There are times we do not know what we should pray, and God has this covered as well. The Apostle Paul writes, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our own hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” [7]

It is because of God’s grace the Spirit he has given us prays to him. Too often we can neglect our prayer life and try to do things our own way. We try to do things on our own because, as I have heard many people say through the years, “I don’t want to bother God with this small situation.”

See, it is in the midst of difficulty that we learn how deep our prayers can be. We learn if we’re just focusing on ourselves and our own situation, or if we are truly trying to seek out and accept the will of God for our own lives. 

Jonah stays inside the belly of the fish for three days. You and I may in the situation we’re in longer than we want, but there will come a time when we will be set free.

Every request we make to God is heard and answered. God had the fish spew Jonah onto the dry land. This signifies Jonah given the chance to begin anew.

Maybe you and I are given a chance to renew our commitment to Jesus, or even begin our calling, our mission, our life with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit anew this day.

Think about that, we are given a new opportunity to do what God has called us to do. Live with that grace, accept this incredible gift from God, called life (here and now and in the life to come). 

You have been given this incredible gift of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit within you. God has not forgotten nor abandoned you just like God never abandoned Jonah.

Let our cry to God, each day, simply be “Lord, hear our prayer.” Then, look earnestly for the answers that will come.


[1] Romans 1:20a NIV

[2] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 504

[3] Matthew 7:7-11 NIV

[4] James 5:16 NIV

[5] 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

[6] Flashes of Thought: 1000 Choice Extracts from the Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Charles Spurgeon

[7] Romans 8:26-27 NIV

Victory Over Goliath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

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

Free From the Power of Temptations

Knowing who Jesus Christ is, this is the core of who we are becoming. A couple of weeks ago, we began a series on the life of Christ. We started with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Why would we start with that? How we answer that question determines how we view the life we have been given and how we’ll live our life.

Last week, we discussed Jesus is “God in flesh.” Remember, his birth and incarnation (becoming a real human being) are much more than a story we need to hear at Christmas. This is much more than the cute plays we watch. God coming down to earth is HUGE and changes everything. God, himself, is showing he is willing to do what it takes to bring people into a place of salvation, the place of being in his presence here and now AND in the life to come. God coming down to earth is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (for us Second Coming of Christ) where everything will be set straight, and earth, as well as humanity,  will return to the paradise state of Eden.

What we want to look at today are the temptations Jesus experienced.

First of all, let us remember what the writer of the book of Hebrews said,“we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”[1]

This really should be all we would need to say, but the truth is (especially for our culture and mindsets today) we need to unpack the meaning of that verse. It is challenging for many people (believers and non-believers) to fully believe Jesus did not sin, let alone be tempted in “every” way we are. Yes, Jesus did live in a different culture and time period from us, but we should always remember human nature, desires, and temptations are still the same. How they manifest themselves may look different than what people experienced, even 100 years ago, but we all live through these same temptations even today.

To understand why Jesus was tempted, we have to first begin with his baptism. Luke does not say much about the baptism of Jesus, but what is said is very important to what happens later, and how Jesus lives his life and does his ministry. Here is what Luke says:

LUKE 3:21-22 NIV

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

One of the important things we can often miss when we get into the story of Jesus’ baptism is the Trinity is at work and is noticeably visible. Jesus, the Son, goes into the water. As he comes up, the Holy Spirit comes in bodily form. Then we hear the voice of God the Father.

This is crucial to understanding what happens when we are baptized. It is not a saving act, but rather a relational act. Through baptism, we are acknowledging the work God has been doing within us, and we are publically declaring we now know we are part of the family of God. Baptism brings us into God’s family, and we are living in a new relationship. Just as the Trinity is the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the world, when we are baptized we witness the relational work of the Trinity within our own lives.

We go to the waters, as Jesus (who is with us), as we are baptized, the Holy Spirit seals and anoints you to a position in the Kingdom of Heaven and makes you a prince or princess. Can you sense the Father’s voice speaking to you saying, “You are mine. With you I am pleased.”?

THROUGH BAPTISM WE ARE BROUGHT INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD

But this also means we are brought into the mission of God here on earth. Jesus’ ministry began at his baptism, the public declaration of his mission and purpose. The same is true for us.

Jesus understands all that we go through in this life. He was/is God in flesh, Emmanuel, God with us; but he is also fully human (Jesus was fully divine AND fully human at the same time). He has a deep understanding that he does not live or work without the relationship of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He does not do everything himself.

Do we feel like we need to do everything, at times? Yes. Especially when beginning a new business or mission venture. But the truth is, the mission and business we are in are not ours. It is Christ’s, and we are his people, his representatives in the world. Everything we do in the mission and business has the great possibility to bring people to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is setting the example of what it means to be in a relationship with God, the Father. He is also setting the standard for not working on his own but in conjunction with what the Father is doing through the Holy Spirit. It is all about relationships. The relationship with God, his people, and his creation.

Jesus knows we have a need to be in a relationship with others. But he knows we have a deeper need to be understood, loved, and have a relationship with God, the Father, the Creator of the universe.

Here’s something we can miss. Just because we have entered into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, does not mean everything will be perfect in our lives. Remember Jesus came to our world, this world. Why do we insist on our own comfort and safety, all the time, when Jesus was homeless and was humiliated, mocked, beaten, even crucified? Jesus knows that for our relationship with God to be strong, we will be going through trials and temptations that test our resolve to follow God and his word.

After his baptism, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by Satan, the devil purposefully. Why is this important?

JESUS RELEASES US FROM THE POWER OF TEMPTATION AND SIN

Let’s read the temptations and hear what they might say to us today.

READ LUKE 4:1-12

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was temptedby the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Notice what happens here. Satan comes to Jesus after Jesus had fasted (not eaten anything) for 40 days. Why didn’t the temptations come right after the baptism?

WE ARE TEMPTED/TESTED WHEN WE ARE AT OUR WEAKEST MOMENTS

Have you ever been around anyone who needs to eat, but hasn’t eaten? Have you met or encountered people who get “hangry” (the emotion of anger when you are hungry)?

Of course, we all have! This is why the snickers commercials are so appealing because they show us what happens if we do not get fed physically. Truthfully, if I forget to eat, or do not eat enough, I will get the same way.

If we have not gotten the proper nourishment for an extended period of time (food, love, affection, attention), we find we become “hangry.” In those moments, we are likely to do things we would not normally do or say things we would not normally say. It is in these times when we will be tempted the most to take charge and forget (not live into) God’s presence and Word that is with us always. The promise of Jeremiah is true, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”[2] There comes a time when we know (with our mind) that we belong to God; but when the physical, emotional, mental, relational needs are not met, then a new ruler of our hearts tries to take the throne and rule our lives in place of God.

Imagine the scene. You have just come through an incredible experience. You just got the job. You have found your mate for life. You have just become a parent. You have just experienced God for the first time in your life and have just realized he has been pursuing you all your life. Everything is great. For a time.

The high from the excitement will wear off and the reality of this world, this life comes back into focus. We have not been seeing the world as the rest of the world sees themselves. Instead, we have had the rose-colored glasses on that God had given us. There comes a time when we stop putting the glasses on and experience a time of feeling down (after the high has worn off).

This is when you can begin to feel the grip of Satan, the accuser, the devil, grasp your shoulders and pull you in close. You can hear the words, “If you truly trust and believe in God, then __________.” (Basically “prove it” by doing ________.) This is what is happening. It happens to all people.

We may not see a slithering serpent (as in Genesis 3) trying to lead us astray. We may not be whisked off to a distant land, not able to eat anything, and physically see Satan. But I bet we all hear the sound of his voice whispering in our ears trying to lead us against what God is doing in our lives. We all battle which thoughts to go with. We all listen to our own voice over God’s.

Do not be fooled into thinking we can “master” the tempter, the temptations we face all the time. Temptations have more power than we understand. Unless our minds can meditate on God and his word, we will think we can handle this on our own. If anyone says, “I am not tempted anymore,” that person has either succumbed to the temptations and have become so numb they cannot see the power the temptations hold. Or that person is dead. Remember 1 John 1:8 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus knew he could not stand strong without God, the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He paid close attention to the words being twisted from scripture. He knew the only weapon to defeat the lies and temptations was to give truth through the scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at what he said:

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”(Luke 4:4)

“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8)

“It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12)

The temptations do not stop when we know and proclaim what the scripture says. We’ll keep hearing whispers of ideas that sound good, at first. But this is why we continue to rely on the power of God working in and through our lives.

A scripture that often gets misinterpreted is 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV translation)

Notice, the verse does NOT say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Rather the verse says that God will provide a way to endure the temptation. It says, “When you are tempted…”

Jesus knows we will all be tempted to be led astray from the movement of God in our lives. He knows that without the word of God, we cannot do the mission God has entrusted to us. Jesus knows how important relationships are for people and he desires us to live in the healthy relationships that will give us life, not suck the life or energy out of us.

We can be tempted to think that Jesus did not truly face the same temptations we face today. After all, it was a different time period. But the reality is, he did face the same temptations we face. We are just presented different manifestations of the temptations based on our context today.

We are always tempted to rely on our own hands, our own ability, our own work ethic, etc. to make things happen to make our life easier. This is what Jesus faced in the first temptation of hearing he could make stones turn into bread.

We all can be put in places and situations where we are going to have the desire to test God’s love for us. After all, IF he loves us, then he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us, right? Jesus faced this as a temptation.

Side note: We can be freed from the grip the temptations have on us, but this doesn’t mean the consequences of following through the temptations will not still be present. If we’re not careful, we will live with the consequences of the sin for the rest of our lives. Broken relationships, loss of job, loss of self-worth, illnesses that could have been prevented. All because we decided to put things into our own hands, and “test” the chances of anything happening.

Jesus also knows we have the temptation to be famous, to rule over things and people. The real ruler of the world is Jesus, himself. Fame, power, greed, prestige, all come with a cost if we are not giving glory to the One who has given us life. When we place ourselves above God, then we think and believe we are God. For us, this is dangerous and leads us to a way of life that actually causes destruction instead of building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth because we can become complacent and indifferent to the suffering world around us by trying to keep things as they are instead of working with God toward transformation and redemption.

What do we do when we succumb and give in to the temptations? Understand,

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE FOR GRACE, REDEMPTION, AND TRANSFORMATION.

Hebrews 4:16 NIV says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us out in our time of need.”

We are never too far off from God that we cannot be restored and redeemed (made right). We will all give in to the temptations we face in this life, but we do not have to let them continue holding a tight grip on us. We can be truly free from the temptations we face, and God is the source of our freedom, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 4:7-8 (NIV) says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” We see Jesus do this in Matthew 4 when he said, “Away from me, Satan!”[3]

Jesus knows EVERYTHING we go through in this life. He has walked it. He has lived it. So “when we do succumb to temptation, ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy’ from the one who knew temptation.”

Allow God to remove the guilt from your life so we can learn of his great power and forgiveness. Stand firm in who God says you are, his “beloved with whom he is well pleased.” Live into this truth and always remember Jesus is with you because he knows what you go through, and is giving you everything, every power, you need to live this life.

All of this is so we can be part of the incredible mission God has for his family in the world.

Hear these words from the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, “For it is by faith you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[4]

 

Works Cited:

[1]Hebrews 4:15 NIV

[2]Jeremiah 31:33

[3]Matthew 4:10 NIV

[4]Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

Making An Eternal Impact

READ SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:13-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you thanked God for today?

Ask yourself these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always remember: WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Mark 1:15b NIV

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

[3]Luke 10:2a NIV

[4]Luke 9:23b-24 NIV

Loving to Life Pt 3

SMALL GROUPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loving to Life Pt 2

MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Last week we began a series to help us love people to life. When we go to a new place, it it easy to assume we know what people need to do. In many cases, we may be right.

The best thing to do is to pray, and listen, to see where God is working and how God is working in the new area we’re in. Go night to a new place and driving forward our plans, without seriously paying attention to the work of God already in progress, can create some issues. This is not saying God will not bring redemption through work we do;  but the work could actually take longer.

So, we’ve prayed and we believe we have listened carefully to God’s voice and have opened our eyes to see the work in progress. We must be careful not to give into the temptation to get to work right away. I know this seems odd to say. The truth is we would do so much better if we took our time.

Taking our time means we begin the process of getting to know the people. Plus, it gives us a chance to “meet people exactly where they are.”

Think about that for a minute. How did Jesus Christ begin working with your life? He met you, the person you were, in the exact situation you were in. I would also bet to say that when you realized Jesus was right there with you, he did not start off by saying, “I’m here to fix your life, so you need to do these steps right away!”

Instead, I believe Jesus first said to you, “I love you. Come and see what your  life can and will be like with me.” That’s basically what he said when he called the disciples in Matthew 4, Mark 1-2, Luke 5, John 1. He invited the disciples to join him, just as they were. That’s when the transformation begins.

Our number one priority in this life, aside from loving and worshipping God through Jesus Christ, is to love the people God created.

Now we have to ask the question, what does meeting people where they are look like?

This is really one of the hardest things we will ever do. This involves simply listening to their stories, what they say about other people, how they say they live their life, anything they want to tell you…without judgement. It involves us learning the area, past customs, past traditions, history of the area, learning what dreams people have. All of this is done at the same time we are praying for God’s wisdom, vision, for the area while we are there.

I have found that, most of the time, you will hear people begin to say things that are very similar to what God has been speaking to you. And, when we take time to get to know the person and witness their life, trust is formed through this relationship. Then, we can begin to see the work of Christ in their life. Afterall, this is how we would want other people to treat us.

We may have a grand vision, grand ideal, for an area, for the life of a person, or people group; but Jesus may be working on something deeper than what we can see and experience at the surface. This is why it is so important to meet with people where they are, as they are, so we can see how God is using us to work with him in that person’s life.

Here is something I have had to learn to consider in every situation: maybe it’s not just about working to make change in other people’s lives; maybe it is also about God’s redemptive and transformative work within our own life.

How is this sitting with you, right now? What did you know about this concept? What do you not agree with?

Additional questions to consider:

1) What do the people do/act like, that is hard for you to be around?

2) Do you think you have to patience to continue this work for getting to know people for months or even years without getting frustrated or impatient?

3) What do you sense God working on in your life, as you get to know new people and their stories?