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

Seeking & Saving the Lost

Jesus is so much more than we realize he is. Even those of us who profess his name and seek to follow him still do not get or give a full picture of who he is.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about various aspects of who Jesus is:

Jesus is God in flesh. This is so much more than a story we need to hear just at Christmas time. God coming to earth shows how personal he is and how great his love for the world is.

He has been tempted in all ways we are. This shows us he knows what we are going through and he is the One who is constantly with us reminding us of the life and light that is available to ALL people. We do not have to live with the guilt and shame of giving into sin anymore because Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death. NOTE: This not does not give us the freedom to live however we want. This does give us opportunities for repentance and experiencing grace.

Jesus brings healing and hope. Through this, he also brings forgiveness of sins. His mission is to bring people into the life of God by working to make the people whole again.

Today, we’re focusing on Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost.” [1]

How am I defining “lost”?

Lost as we’re going to talk about today deals with two types of people:

  • Those who do not know or have never met Jesus Christ. Those who are living a life far away from Christ.
  • Those who profess Christ with their lips but do not live as Christ desires them to live (i.e. purposefully gives into sin with no regret, guilt, shame, etc.) So, a person who acts as part of a church family but not following Christ.

Before we go much further, we have to understand a few things:

  • All people were created in the image of God. Some live into this image while others repress it so much they do not resemble any part of the image of God. Some people do not know the image within them and just need it to come forth.
  • Everyone needs grace. All people are welcomed to experience the grace of God in their lives.
  • We are put on this earth, given this life we have, for “such a time as this” [2]to share and show the love of God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit for ALL people. We get to live out and work with God in his desire “ALL people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”[3]

This is the mission of Christ: to proclaim the Kingdom of God that is at hand by living his life to “seek AND save the lost.” We’ll talk about what it means to be saved in a little bit.

READ SCRIPTURE LUKE 15:1-2 (back up to 14:35b)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When we read those verses, what stands out to you? Take just a moment and write down what you heard.

 

LET THOSE WITH EARS, HEAR

This was something that was piercing my heart and soul as I kept reading the scripture.

Listening is important. Listening gives people value. Listen helps us understand what is going on.

Many times, we’ll come to people with our own assumptions as to why they are the way they are and do not take the time to really get to know them. We’ll already know what people need and seek to give that to them without really finding out the cause of their situation.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he is talking about listing beyond the words he is saying and allow the Spirit of God to speak to you. Jesus is talking about truly hearing what is being said and allow the truths he is bringing to impact and transform your life.

Jesus wants us to be so in tune with his voice, that is still speaking, in the world that we will truly hear and follow him. That is why I do my best to cling tight to Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now, Jesus is also saying, that only those willing to hear his message and allow the words to change lives are the one who will do what he desires. Only the people who truly desire to hear him will be the ones who actually do. Everyone else is going to do what they want to do and makes them feel good.

Which of these groups of people are you?

Before you say you are in the group that really hears the message of Christ and live according to what he says, think about how you and I treat those around us. Do we ever feel like we are better than other people? Do we ever feel like people deserve what they got and do our best to help teach them a lesson? Do we feel like we’ve already tried to help people and they just don’t get it so we stopped seeking to help?

Jesus wants us to hear him, to have the ears to hear the souls and hearts of the people around us and always seek to be in mission with him at our homes, our community, state/nation, and around the world.

Jesus’ heart is for those who do not try to hide behind a religious lifestyle. Jesus’ heart is for those who do not know God and those who have gone astray from following him.

How many people do you know that are not Christian? It is so easy for us to remain in our Holy Huddles and keep those different than us at arm length and not get to know them. After all, those people are the demise of society, right? No. It is the spirit in the person. Whatever we choose to worship (give precedence to) will become our master. This is where the problems arise.

So how many people do you know that are not Christian? If we say, “no one,” then we really need to expand our circle of influence and love. We also need to remember that even though people profess to be a believer in Christ and profess to be a Christian, doesn’t mean they actually are.

We can think about the lost in terms of being poor.

Someone who is financially poor seems to be the easiest type of person we can help because we can do something for them. This type of person may not know Christ because of many different reasons. They may be in it for the handouts. They are most likely seeking something more: people to show them they still have value and worth in the sight of God. Yet, the financially poor may know Christ deeply because they find themselves truly dependent on him.

Another type of poor is spiritually speaking. There could be people who have everything they want materially but are living so far from Christ it’s not even funny. How can you help this kind of person?

We continue with the scripture today:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.“

What we’re going to see is

HEAVEN REJOICES OVER SINNERS WHO REPENT

Have you ever been to a worship service where there were lower classes (socially speaking) of people than you? How about a different ethnic group? There is something incredible that happens when all different types and groups of people come to hear and experience Jesus Christ.

I have learned more and have experienced God’s grace and mercy so much more powerfully when I have taken the time to worship with people different than me. I love to be part of the congregation and hear desperate calls for God in their lives. The people were part of the worship experience rather than being simply an audience and just trying to listen. Jesus is seeking to be with the people who desire to be part of his mission rather than those who sit on the sidelines.

Not only that, but he “rejoices over the salvation of every lost person”.[4]When someone repents (changes their mind and heart toward God) and turns their life over to Christ, there is so much rejoicing and partying in heaven.

Jesus sits with the people who need grace. This is why I asked, how many non-Christians do you know? Would you be willing to be seen with the “worst” people in our society? Would you be willing to be seen with people who could ruin your reputation?

This past week, I was in the Rocky Mountains for a spiritual sabbath retreat with 13 other pastors and friends. We had a great time. We spent time hiking, talking theology, praying, goofing off. It was a great time of renewal for me spiritually.

Tuesday we went on an eleven-mile hike up a mountain. As we were hiking up, there were many people who passed us. One of the reasons I love going to the mountains in Colorado is all the different types of people, nationalities, accents that are present. We have the opportunity to talk with many different types of people.

But I did have the thoughts of how many of the people we came in contact with knew Christ, how many of them lived a lifestyle that was far from Christ? Would I be willing to sit down, have dinner with them and listen?

I think many of us, and I battle this at times, do not welcome the outcasts of society into our homes because we do not want to be associated with them. We don’t want to ruin our reputation. This made me think of a quote from a guy named Joshua Harris, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough times with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER, GOD’S HEART IS FOR THE WORLD

Jesus was “ruining” his reputation with the Pharisees. This group of leaders had to be careful not interact with people beneath them. Pharisee means “set apart” meaning that they were not supposed to do anything that would tarnish their reputation with the people. They had to live in such a way as to be the “perfect” example of what it meant to follow God’s law. Never mind many of them had been corrupted in the heart because they felt they were better than others, enjoyed the money, fame, attention, etc.

So which group would we be better to associate with? The leaders who were corrupt, or the people Jesus came for? I think the answer is both. Remember, everyone needs to experience God through Jesus Christ no matter the lifestyle.

A couple weeks ago we talked about asking God to give you his heart for the people around you, for the world. How do you respond when someone comes along who is different than you? How do you respond when people are constantly trying to get stuff from you? I know my heart is not as soft as I hope it would be. I am not always compassionately patient, but God is constantly working on me daily. He gives me chance after chance because I keep getting to be around people who are different than me and have a different lifestyle than me.

God’s heart for the last, the least, and the lost is incredible. Just take time to read through the scriptures and see what is said. Even read the verses and passages that you do not want to or like to read because it goes against what you think should be done. (You’d find these types of passages all the way through and you would know what they are by how they cause uneasiness to your spirit when you read them.)

GOD DOES WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO SEEK OUT AND FIND THE LOST:

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and find them.”

Ezekiel 34:16

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

Luke 19:10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 18:12

The parable of the lost sheep.

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

And many more..

This is what God does. Jesus sought after the people who were far away from God, especially those who had been cast out by the people of God.

God would do anything it takes to bring people into his light and grace.

A friend of mine told me a story of when he was on a vacation several years ago, he and his family (including a toddler and an infant) were going to the beach. The sand was hot and they were looking for a place to play when the toddler needed to go to the bathroom, so the mom took her. My friend was waiting for his wife and daughter to come back from the restroom. When his wife came back by herself, he asked where their toddler daughter was. She said she sent her back to him (he was within sight of the restroom).

The daughter could not be found. For forty minutes the family was searching. They sought assistance from the police, lifeguards, you name it. Finally, they did find her, sitting in the sand playing.

God uses every method possible to seek the lost, find them and bring them into his grace. How do I know? God used all of heaven’s resources to find you and me. He sent us Jesus Christ.

HOW DO YOU VIEW PEOPLE?

Do you “see” the people around you? Don’t assume that if it seems they have their life together they actually do. Do you really see them, the hurts, struggles, sin?

How far would you go to rescue someone from the clutches of sin to bring them to the throne of grace and love?

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Save them from a life of not having knowledge of the love of God and save them from living in a hell. His mission is to bring the true light of the world to all people.

Jesus’ mission is for people to be saved, set free, from the enslavement of sin and death. To know the great love of God. To live in the perfect relationship in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His plan for accomplishing this mission?

You and me.

Would you search for a lost person here and show them Christ?

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How about here?

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How about here?

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And finally, how about here?

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We never know who God is seeking and asking us to reach out to. As you leave this place today, remember you are being sent into the mission field. Ask God for the eyes to see those who are lost. Ask God for the ears to hear the cry of those who are in search of the God who is already pursuing them.

Remember, God pursued you and me. Let’s go into the world, with him, to seek the lost and walk with them to the throne of grace.

Do you ever feel lost or far from God and his incredible grace? God has never left or forgotten you. Come to know and remember God’s grace and heart for you. Come all you who are seeking life and hope. Jesus is here. He has never left you. Place your trust in him know you have never been lost from his sight.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 19:10

[2]Esther 4:4

[3]1 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine

[4]The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9, Page 295

REDEEMED: The Thief & The Garden

Holy week is about to be upon us. This is the final week of Jesus’ earthly life right before the cross on Good Friday. People seem to approach Holy Week in different ways. Some like to dwell in the darkness and focus solely on the gruesome cross. Others take the time to go through this week recounting the last days of Christ. Still others seem to skip or avoid Holy Week altogether and go straight to Easter Sunday and the celebration that Christ has risen.

Yes, the Christian faith is based upon the risen and living Christ. When we take the time to study and go through the final days of Jesus Christ, we remember the resurrection could not have happened without the crucifixion. Everything toward the end of the week is built on top of the events that happened at the end of the week. I invite you to take time to remember and go through Holy Week events, activities, worship services, etc. As you do, I hope the power of Christ’s resurrection means so much more than it may have before.

The scripture I would like you to look at this week is found in the Gospel of Luke. Click here to read Luke 23:32-43. Jesus is lifted up on the cross and is placed between two other criminals. This is an incredible passage that shows the hearts of the two criminals hanging there with Jesus.

(Brief side note: When you think about the cross, try not to image it as a tall structure. The cross would not have been as tall as we might try to think. Think of the cross as actually about eye level. Bystanders would have been able to see the agony and details in the faces of those hanging. Spoken words would have been heard easily.)

One of the criminals was taunting Jesus, right there with the crowd who made sure Jesus was crucified. The other was attempting to show mercy to Jesus, who had the same fate as the other two yet did nothing to deserve the cross.

When I read this I think about our daily conversations. How often do we avoid talking to Christ (through prayer) or about Christ when we are in mixed company because of the reactions people might have? One person boldly proclaiming Christ or praying to Christ in public will have a better chance of hearing from Jesus Christ then a person who refuses to speak. Now, this is not saying that we have to force conversations to happen. Instead, like the thief who spoke mercifully, we speak when it comes naturally in the conversation.

Because one thief heard God’s promises spoken to him before he died, he was able to die with his soul being at peace. We do not have anything in scripture that Christ spoke to the criminal who went with the jeering and taunting of the crowd. I believe the same is true for us today. When we take the time to talk mercifully to and about Jesus, we experience a peace in this life that doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. When the world is in turmoil, we can have a supernatural peace.

This peace reminds us we have been redeemed from the curse and slavery of Sin and death. Jesus speaks of bringing the criminal into paradise. The Greek word used for paradise is describing a garden. This could mean the Garden of Eden: God’s garden.

Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).

Jesus came to redeem the world. His life, death, and resurrection redeemed you. You and I are able to come into the presence of God and experience paradise in a broken world. Jesus came to redeem and to restore creation back to it’s original state of perfection.

One day the Kingdom of God will be known fully here on earth. For now, trust that Jesus Christ has redeemed (paid the cost for) the world, which includes you.

This is why it is important to go through Holy Week and allow yourself to experience and meditate on the events that lead up to the cross. Jesus Christ’s actions on the cross and his victorious resurrection are revealed to us in a more powerful way than when we skip the activities of Holy Week.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Don’t Turn Back

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Galatians 4:8-11 At the time, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved by things that aren’t gods by nature. But now, after knowing God (or rather, being known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless world system? Do you want to be slaves to it again? 10 You observe religious days and months and seasons and years. 11 I’m afraid for you! Perhaps my hard work for you has been for nothing. 

Paul is saying something here that I think we can’t overlook. After we have faith in Christ, it is easy to forget about the faith and go on living our old way of life.

One of my favorite sayings goes something like this, “Christ meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us as we are.” I think this is a telling reminder of how the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives really can and does make all the difference. We are different people after an encounter with Jesus the Christ. Or something else can happen. We can be so zealous of the faith that we begin to follow a prescription for how to live for God and we can actually create a set of rules that make it difficult to be a Christian unless they are followed. Or the person is not worshipping Christ “correctly.”

To order our lives around a set of “rules and regulations” can enslave us again. Jesus Christ calls us and invites us to live in freedom. Here we do not focus on what we cannot do (or what we are against). We instead focus on what we can do (or what we are for). For us to be enslaved to the “world’s system” means that we will care more about what other people think or are doing than we think about God’s desires. It is easy to go with the crowd, but w should be careful not to have the crowd bind us into something we cannot be or know is not true.

We should also take time to pray for and encourage our leaders. They may not always get everything right, we are all human after all; but they have worked to bring us to a place in our faith that it would break their hearts to know we have fallen away. This is the tone in Paul’s voice and attitude toward the people of Galatia. He is heartbroken they are more easily swayed by the winds of something new and exciting, than to be firm in their faith and live in freedom.

Paul is asking the people to remember who they follow, Jesus Christ, and asking them to re-examine their lives and faith. I believe we should do this as well. It is important for us to stand firm in our faith in Jesus Christ, because his message is the only one that keeps us free.

Remember, we are FREE from trying to be like everyone else. We are FREE to be like Jesus Christ in all we say and in all we do.

#LiveFreeInChrist

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 4 of 4

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

I have heard it said it takes a people an average of 10 times to hear the gospel (good news) message of Jesus Christ before they decide to make any life change. Our job is just to be faithful to the Spirit’s leading and go when he says “go.”

So let’s look at the parable again with the lense of learning how to witness and share our faith:

  1. The shepherd know there is part of the flock that is missing.
    1. This means we should be open to hearing from God to see what the situation is (this applies to unbelievers as well as those who have strayed away for whatever reason)
    2. All this means is that we simply leave our place of comfort (being with those like us) and moving toward those God is leading us to.
  2. The Shepherd “goes for a walk.”
    1. We see the shepherd meets the sheep exactly where it is.
    2. For us, it is simply listening to the other person so they feel valued (people will not come to love and follow Jesus if we do not show compassion and love toward them)
  3. The shepherd does not judge or condemn.
    1. He just carefully pick up the sheep (our case: speaking God’s love to the person) and guides it back to the flock.
    2. The shepherd is constantly guiding and being the right example to point the sheep to the life that God can and does offer for ALL.

That is really how simple it is. In the midst of the conversations we have, at some point it may become spiritual. So I invite you to think about how you came to faith (your personal faith story). This is basically 3 things: How you came to faith, how you are different because of your faith, and why your faith continues to be important for you. The best part is, this can be done in 100 words or less (45 seconds to 1 minute). I would be happy to sit down and work with you on this.

An example testimony:

I was raised to think of and believe in God and Jesus Christ. In my teenage years, I drifted from the church but always felt a hole and a longing to return. My friends helped me see and experience God in studies, prayer, etc. When I look back, I see that God has pursued me and that I have sensed his presence throughout my life. Jesus Christ broke me out of the prisons of selfishness and pride so that I could experience this new life that only he can give.

After this we can share the good news (the gospel message).

Examples of what you might say:

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now I’m found;

was blind, but now I see.

John 3:16-17

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send the Son in the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

The important thing is that we speak of the Gospel in personal terms, however you might say it: God created everything. People strayed. Jesus Christ came, showed us how to live and rose from the dead so we would have eternal life and know God personally. It is by God’s grace we are saved.

God is actively seeking out those people who are far away from him. We have the opportunity to join with God in this endeavor.

There may be people thinking, “my faith story is not important enough or valid enough to share.”

Every story and person matters. I invite you to take a name tag. On it, I would like you to write your first name. Below your name write:

“I can share my faith story, it matters!”

Now, wear your name tag throughout worship and at least on your way home.

No one is too far from God. No story is invalid. Here is our challenge: this week, if we are open to is, God will place in our path someone we should talk to. I hope and pray we all take the time to see God working in us so that we can reach out to those people in need so they can enter the joy, rest and real life God through Jesus Christ offers to all people.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 3

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

For some reason, many of us, including me, are timid or afraid to witness our faith about Jesus Christ to another person.

  • They say 90% feel they have failed in witnessing attempts in the past.
  • They are biblically illiterate.
  • They leave it to the professionals.
  • We shouldn’t impose our faith on others.
  • My actions will speak for me so I don’t have to talk.

Our job is not to try and “convert” someone to the Christian faith. Our job is to continually point people to the faith by our actions AND our words. A simple definition of witnessing is “to see or hear or experience something and to testify to it’s occurrence.”

Another definition comes from Stuart Briscoe, “A witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible evidence of what he has seen and heard without being deterred by the consequences of his actions.”

Basically a question we should all answer is, “if we know and have possession of something or information that brings us joy, should we hesitate to share?”

We love to tell (share with) people about the restaurant, the movie, the new drink, the new friend, etc..

Evangelism is much easier than most people may think. It boils down to this: “just take a walk and begin a conversation with someone and see how the conversation naturally flows.

This is an aspect of our everyday lives. We have been studying and practicing this concept in our Saturday worship as well as in the youth group. Notice this also, evangelism can be done anywhere: at the store, in rush hour traffic, at home, in our neighborhood, school, work, etc.. The shepherd was at work.

“But,” you might say, “I’m not allowed to talk about Jesus at school or at work.” This is kind of true. Our actions, work habits and demeanor should lead people to ask questions like, “what makes you so different, joyful, peaceful, able to cope with this stress?”

At this point, we can share.

There is no secret to evangelism. There really are simple steps we all can take to point another person toward Jesus Christ. Think about this for a moment, who was it that brought you to faith? Parents, children, teens, pastor, friend, youth director–who?

So many people encounter those “zealous” Christians who want to constantly change someone’s mind about Christ and feel it is their job to get the person to “make a commitment” right then and there. We should speak the truth so that people will be open to hear the voice of God speaking to their lives. It is then people will be able to begin to change their lives and follow Christ.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 2

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

We all know the saying, “there is one in every crowd.” Well Jesus says this shepherd knows exactly how many sheep are in the flock. ALL of a sudden, when he was doing roll call and looking over past attendance, the shepherd notices one of the sheep is not there. There’s one in every crowd who always likes to do their own thing and not clue the others in or simply may not want to follow. The sheep stopped coming to prayer group, Sunday School, Bible Study, worship, etc… One just wanted to do it’s own thing!

Can you feel the tension and panic from the shepherd who unconditionally cares for each individual sheep? “One of the sheep under my watch and care has gone missing!”

Did you also catch that 99 stayed behind? Sheep usually do not go off alone. People don’t either unless something may be wrong. Maybe this one sheep felt abandoned. Maybe he saw a shiny object, or a squirrel, and gravitated toward it. Maybe the other sheep did not like him…they wouldn’t let him play in the sheep games. Maybe he did not feel welcome, even if the other sheep were the most welcoming and gracious people. Our imaginations could come up a many ideas why the sheep left the safety of the flock. The point is the sheep is missing!

Without thinking or hesitating, the shepherd goes off and searches for the missing sheep out in the wilderness and among any type of danger, ridicule, etc.. he might encounter.

The shepherd finds the sheep! What does the shepherd do when he finds the sheep?

He tries to convince it to return…no.

He begins to shame the sheep for wandering off…no.

He tells the sheep of the wonderful activities the rest of the flock is doing so he’ll be enticed to come back…no.

The only thing the shepherd is interested in is that the lost, confused, loner sheep has been found. So he bends down and gently picks up the sheep and carries it back on his shoulders ALL THE WAY back to the flock. Without complaining, without saying someone else will come get you, without plotting how the sheep will be blamed for making the shepherd go out of his way. The shepherd took the initiative and rejoiced the whole way back!

When he gets back with the rest of the flock, the shepherd throws a party–not for admiration of himself; but because the sheep is back! He throws the party for the sheep!

Imagine this: in all three of the parables there is an act of repentance. The sheep in this story could not repent of it’s own; but the very act of it allowing the shepherd to pick it up and carry it back to safety is a symbol of repentance because the sheep completely trusts the shepherd to care for it and lead it.

I’m sure sometime while the sheep was out, it thought (if sheep could think this way), “I’m lost and I am getting hungry and thirsty and I am all alone and scared. I don’t know the way back. I need help! Where is my guide? When the shepherd appears the sheep allows him to carry it. In essence, the sheep was saying, “I cannot do this on my own and I know now I should stay with you.”

God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “I myself will search for  my flock and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of cloud and thick darkness….I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12;16a)

God is working in us and through us. He is constantly inviting us to participate in bringing more people into his flock and back into the flock. This is why we witness and share our faith.