Vitality of the Christian Faith

On July 2, 1789, John Wesley wrote a sermon called, “Causes Of The Inefficacy Of Christianity”. Click here for the full sermon.

This is a powerful, convicting, sermon on how Christianity can be more transformative in our world. Here is a summary and application for this important sermon:

Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity

Jeremiah 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead: is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?”

​“Why has Christianity done so little good in the world?” Why does John Wesley begin this way? He notices a “failing” of the people who call themselves Christians to bring about real and lasting change in the world. One of the biggest reasons for this is because of the deep corruption of human nature. Humanity is flawed and fallen, so this means there is a vast amount of work to do in the world.

Even with the reality of so much brokenness, all around us, Wesley says Christianity was supposed to be the remedy from our Creator. But he also laments because it is not known well and the Christian faith cannot do good where it is not known. He can say this because of the vast amount of Christians who do not seem to be doing their part to be part of the transformation of the world. The lack of “action”, to Wesley, is an indicator that few Christians know what Christianity means and are ignorant of how they are supposed to live out their faith.

But Wesley also notes there are some people who understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They have laid their lives down to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus” This is the key, according to Wesley. Followers of Jesus Christ should pay attention to how their lives are lived so the glory of God will be demonstrated and revealed in the world.

All parts of our life, especially what we do with our money, should serve the kingdom of God. Wesley emphasizes how Christians should be gathered, in community, for worship. He also said how important it is to practice and deepen their faith through prayer and fasting. This, for Wesley, is what it means to be a Bible Christian.

Relevancy For Today

Now we get to the question, “Has Christianity done good in the world today? In some areas, yes. But there are still many issues all around us. According to Wesley, if all Christians lived out their faith, as it says in scripture, we would be able to see and live in a more peaceful place where there are no poor, or problems.

As in Wesley’s time, there seems to be a disconnect between faith and practice. Christianity is more than a status symbol, it is about life transformation. The transformation of one’s life happens when we deny ourselves, meaning we think of other’s interests above our own and we put the work of God ahead of everything else. Even in our day to day jobs, we still do everything for the glory of Christ by doing our best in all we do.

What’s interesting is that the same things Wesley says were the “failures” of Christians as well as how Christians should live, is the same principle that applies today. It seems as if we still have to guard against the notion of Christian being a status symbol to get a certain position. Instead, we should view our lives as humble, obedient servants willing to do everything necessary to be a sigh of relief to a hurting and broken world in separate need of God’s forgiving and healing touch. Christians would need to know this personal presence of God, on a deeper level so we can be his instruments in the world.

Yes, God is big enough (and smart enough) to find ways for his work to go on in the world; but there is so much that we Christians can miss out on by living solely for ourselves, or solely for what “rewards” we’ll receive “in the end.” There is great joy, hope, peace, and love we can experience here and now because of the presence of God working in us and through us. We can bring the healing and the presence of the kingdom of God wherever we go and in whatever we do. But it all begins with taking heed to the commands and guidance of Jesus.

So what should we do today? We should not neglect meeting together for worship. We should be involved in prayer and fasting. We should “earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can” so we do not allow money to become a god in our life. Above all, we should practice what we preach. Then we just might see a change in this world.

Revival Can Come

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” ~2 Chronicles 7:14 NRSV

I see this Bible verse posted on yard signs, in windows, I hear it from the mouths of adults. Generally when I hear this verse, it is about America needing to repent so that God will heal this land from all diseases and troubles.

But I think we are missing something. I believe we have missed how revival and awakening happens. Revival, and spiritual awakenings, do not usually begin in a country, or large group setting. I know, through the grace of God, people groups and nations can turn to God all at once; but generally revival begins with the individual person and it spreads out like a ripple effect.

What is a revival? An event, time period, condition of the heart where people’s lives turn to God. It is a time of realigning our lives to God in the instant we experience his love and grace and begin to trust him completely for his provision and for his presence. This is a pretty cool thing to experience. When the Holy Spirit is palpable and tangible, the atmosphere changes and you can literally taste and see the goodness of the God who created you and who is pursing you all the days of your life.

I love the story of a young pastor who visits his mentor. The young pastor begins to say he is praying for revival and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so the community changes. The mentor quietly listens as the young pastor continues to say everything that is wrong all around him. Quietly, the older mentor gets up and walks to his desk and comes back with a piece of chalk. While the young pastor is continuing to speak, the mentor begins to draw a circle, with the chalk, on the floor around the young pastor. The young pastor stops talking and is watching what’s going on. Finally, the older mentor sits back down and says, “If you want a revival in your community, it begins right here, in this circle, with you on your knees, confessing, repenting, and calling on the Name of the Lord to do his work in and through you.”

This is the part of the verse, above, I think we miss. What’s interesting is how literal we take some parts of the Bible and metaphorical we take take others. Yes 2 Chronicles 7:14 was address to the people/nation of Israel. Yes God is speaking of literally healing the land and protecting it, if the people call on God. But what if there is a deeper level here? What if God is continuing to speak through this passage to teach us something today?

How many are drowning in their lives because of hurt? How many have broken relationships, crippled by diseases, grieving significant losses? The point is, land for us today is about our lives. Think about it. If your financially insecure, there is incredible stress. What brought you to the instability? Living above your means and living for yourself. Many diseases we face are brought on by ourselves, through not doing what’s necessary to protect ourselves or acting in a manner of sin that brings the disease on. There is so much brokenness in our world, and in our lives, that we can forget that God really is about healing, restoration, and redemption.

So here’s the deal. What if we took the time to call on God and confessed how we have lived as if he was not enough? What if we called on God and confessed how we don’t completely believe in who he says he is or how he says he is with us or will provide for us? (The root of all sin is unbelief because we begin to act in the place of God because we believe we can do better in some way.)

I am coming to realize how so much pain and brokenness in our lives is because we put we above he. The first step in a revival is realizing what we don’t believe about God, even if we cry out, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Then we become so full of the Holy Spirit and our land (relationships, emotional well-being, mental well-being, physical self, etc. begin the process of being made healed and whole.

I know many people are broken-hearted about the state of the world. But what if we took the time to be broken-hearted about the state of ourselves? God may not instantly heal everything “wrong” or broken in our lives, but our heart (and focus) is directed toward him and the process of being remade into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ begins to heal us, which works through us to share and show the healing presence of God to all we encounter.

How many of you are ready for a true and lasting revival? How many of you are tired of feeling like your life is broken? How many of you are tired of trying to do everything OT figure everything out on your own? Run to the cross of Christ! Find healing and peace when we die to ourselves. In this process, real joy and peace is found and we can live with the hope that is found in the promises of God.

Asking the Right Question

We have all been at crossroads and have to figure out which path to take that will be the best for your life. Some of the questions we ask are, “Which way does God want me to go?”, “How do I know if I make the right choice?”, “What is the best option for me right now and what if this is not the best option in the future?” If you’re not a believer, the question of what God thinks would not enter your thought process.

But here’s the deal. I think we are asking the wrong questions.

Recently, I have come to a crossroads where I feel like I need to make a decision. It has been weighing on me because I keep trying to think about every possible angle or outcome that could come along. In this process, I felt God just say stop and look. So I looked down and saw four different paths I could take while on this trail.

So what did I do? I studied where the paths went. Of course I could have just went back the way I came (the fourth path). But then it was a surreal moment. It was as if a light bulb went off in my head and then a wave of peace came over me. It was nice. What was it that happened? It suddenly dawned on me that no matter what path I decide, God will be there working in and through me.

That’s when it hit me! We end up asking the wrong questions. We often wonder “what path I should go?” but we really should be asking what kind of person will I be/do I want to be in whatever decision I make?

This is really an important question. God will move and work wherever we are and in whatever we decide. When we consider what decision will feed our souls and help us become the person we desire to be/are meant to be by the grace of God, that is the path we should take.

So, as the Crusader tells Indiana Jones when trying to choose the chalice, be sure to choose wisely.

Reaching Our Cities for Christ

Christopher Wright said it well, “We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness.” (Wright, 534) Alongside this line of thinking, another way to look at this is “I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.” (Wright, 534) To find any “success” in ministry, that thought is very important. To be effective, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape, mold, and transform us into the instruments and vessels he wants us to be. Otherwise, we are doing ministry for our sake instead of for the sake of the Kingdom of God. When looking at cross-cultural urban ministry, Wright’s questions help us put into, better, context what the Apostle Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV)

So what does this look like? Is there a way to be effective in the way Paul was? Yes. Whenever Paul went to a new area, he made sure he went to the city centers. “[Paul] concentrates on the district or provincial capitals, each of which stands for a whole region…These ‘metropolises’ are the main centers as far as communication, culture, commerce, politics, and religion are concerned…Paul thinks regionally, not ethnically; he chooses cities that have a representative character.” (Bosch, loc. 3259-3274) Why did he do this? Because this is where Paul knew the most effective way to communicate to the regions was located. When he did this, he was able to “shift” his speeches and explanations of Christ to show the people he understood them and was willing to do life with them and guide them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew how to be the kind of person the people needed, without giving up on who God created him to be. All of this helped to equip the people to carry on the ministry after Paul left and continued on his missionary trek. 

At the same time, Paul knew he was not doing his own work but, rather, the work of Jesus Christ in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. He practiced incarnational ministry and did it well. “The significance of incarnational ministry is that ministry belongs to God and His work, first and foremost.” (Buckman, 181-82) This is one of the reasons Paul was successful, he knew he was doing the work begun and continued by the Holy Spirit. He was confident in his calling and did not waiver in the message he proclaimed. So it should be with us. Do we know and have the confidence Christ has called us and given us purpose in this life? It is because of this confidence that we can handle what we go through. “The pastor…who enters a new culture, no matter how hard he or she tries to identify with the people, must expect to suffer, both out of longing for what is left behind and because of resistance to what the people are being called to accept or become.” (Wingeier, 38)

One of the interesting things about cross-cultural ministry is the opportunity to learn more about another culture. “Since most multicultural communities in the United States consist of the dominant (powerful) culture plus at least one other less-powerful culture, justice issues need to be paramount in any cross-cultural ministry, not relief, not charity, but what the New Testament calls righteousness.” (McConnell, 592) This means that opportunities are available if we take the time to learn about different cultures and how people live. “Henri Nouwen teaches us that a powerful ministry occurs with people of a powerless culture when we demonstrate a capacity to learn from them and a willingness to show our gratitude for the gift they thus offer.”( McConnell, 593) The gratitude we experience comes from the knowledge of the blessings God has bestowed upon us. As the cliché goes, “we are blessed to be a blessing.” “’Be a blessing’ thus entails a purpose and goal that stretches into the future. It is, in short, missional.” (Wright, 211) This brings us to contextualization.

Contextualizing the Gospel message to any culture is important. “Contextualization begins in those areas where the biblical context overlaps with the contemporary cultural context. One often talks about certain parts of culture in abstract terms like ‘collectivism,’ ‘honor/shame,’ ‘patronage,’ or cyclical vs. linear views of time. After all, no one today existed in the time Scripture was written. That distance creates an unavoidable degree of abstraction. The critical point at this stage becomes finding how we move from abstract categories to their concrete modern expressions.” (Wu, loc. 1686) There are ways of communicating, here in the United States, that would not fly overseas, like and area such as Saudi Arabia. What is the goal of the missionary? “We desire for people to see all that is good in the gospel. However, this takes time. Thus, we must take steps so that people can see, as much as is possible, what is good in this news. By drawing from the entire Bible, not simply our favorite texts, we gain a balanced perspective on salvation. By not developing a ‘canon within a canon,’ one identifies the major themes or motifs that God uses to explain salvation.” (Wu, loc. 1530) When we do this we communicate the full scope of the Gospel. Jackson Wu says it well, “In a word, the gospel is the message by which sinners are saved. Naturally, evangelism in its fullest sense requires we talk about sin in some form or fashion. This story is not complete without making clear God’s reaction to sin.” (Wu, loc. 1514) He also reminds us “judgment has a positive side. In judging his enemies, God brings salvation to his people and righteousness to the earth.” (Wu, loc. 1522) What about the cities?

Cities, urban areas, are very important. As we have seen, the Apostle Paul utilized the cities to spread the Christian message of Jesus Christ to the outlying areas. He was strategic in where he went and who he spoke to. We should do the same and realize how quickly the landscape is changing within the cities. “The rapid growth of urban populations is well known and has been well documented. In 1800, for example, less than three percent of the world’s population lived in towns of more than 5,000 people. By the year 2000, half of the world’s population lived in cities of more than 100,000 people. As cities have grown, they have become more diverse with respect to culture and class, as well as professional and residential differences, and almost endlessly multifaceted.” (Buckman, 183) Allan Buckman goes on to say, “Moreover, the City has enjoyed a reputation for being welcoming and hospitable toward immigrants and refugees…In other words, the considerable flow of New Americans into the City will almost certainly continue into the foreseeable future.” (Buckman, 183) What does this have to do with contextualization? For starters, this means there is a diverse group of people all in one place. 

Different groups (cultures) may live in certain pockets within the city limits, but they are still gathered and lives intersect with others. As Jesus says, “the harvest is plentiful…” (Matthew 9:37 NIV) so there is an incredible opportunity to reach different people. “In the city can be found pockets of small village-like communities where people live as much as they did before they migrated to the city. Within that community they shop at family-owned stores where personal ties are important. They discussed choices with their neighbors. Outside the neighborhood, however, they learn to make decisions as city folk do, and this begins to change their community.“ (Hiebert, 179) This makes strategic movements within the city very important. We cannot just go in and start something new, we have to take time and follow any “chain of command” there is, whether it is stated or not. “When attempting to develop a ministry or program among members of these communities, one must always receive some kind of approval of one or more of the community leaders. If a ministry is to be developed in a manner meaningful to the ethnic community you are trying to reach, it is obligatory.” (Buckman, 186)

One of the challenges with cities we should be aware of is migration. People come from all over the area just to live in the city, but refugees also come from other countries to live in the cities. As ministers/missionaries we have opportunities to reach these people as well. “According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are 214 million displaced people in the world, which is 3% of the total population.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 19) How we live our life affects this group of people also. We may even have to step out of our comfort zone to aid and support and minister to any person that is displaced. “Jesus has crossed geographic, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, gender, religious, and socio-economic borders.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 30) To illustrate this point further, Philip Wingeier-Rayo goes on to say, “[Jesus] left his comfort zone in Galilee…He identifies with the people of his region and shows solidarity with them…” (Wingeier-Rayo, 31) Ready to leave the comfort zone? To do this, we need to make sure we are sensitive to the culture and background of the people. Urban areas provide opportunities to come in contact with a diverse group of people. “This increased cultural and ethnic diversity demands that we attend to and respect the gifts of the various groups now represented in our society, church, and institutions. It also requires us to develop intercultural sensitivity and skill. Most importantly, it asks us to reexamine our understanding of ministry, which can be seen as a way of bridging different ‘cultures.’” (Wingeier, 35) How we communicate the Gospel matters.

Dr. Hiebert writes, “Communication of the gospel across the chasms of cultural differences rests upon the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries and the people they serve.” (Hiebert, 147) As we communicate, we have to know how to speak to the people. This is where it is important to live a life free of reproach so the message we proclaim is heard from words and actions. “[T]he mission in the church, according to Peter, includes both vertical proclamation and ethical living, and the impact of his tight argument is that both are utterly essential.” (Wright, 390) The context in which people live is important. Context really is king, especially when proclaiming the gospel. “We face a very practical question. When it comes to preaching the gospel, which context is king? The ancient biblical world? Literary context? The interpreter’s culture (or subculture)? How about the cultural context of our listeners? If we are honest, finding an answer is far more difficult and sobering than one might expect.” (Wu, loc. 266) Taking time to understand the meaning of the scriptures and how to communicate them, in any setting is essential. This creates a unique challenge within urban settings. You have to know who you are talking with, and at least some of their background, to be able to understand how to communicate with them the core of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is King. Proclaiming this fact can be done in any setting. “Contextualization, if done well, keeps in perspective for us the fact that Jesus is King of every context.” (Wu, loc. 671)

Before continuing, we have to realize we may not be called, by God to try and reach “everyone.” But we are called to go to different people. It is these people, and this culture, we can immerse ourselves in and learn how God is speaking to them today. This will help us to be flexible in the manner in which we proclaim the Gospel yet remain firm in the core message. “Christians need a contextualization method that has both flexibility and firmness…The gospel does not change. On the other hand, biblical writers clearly present the gospel in contrasting ways. Even within the Bible, there is no single prescribed way of preaching the gospel. In addition, the world’s cultures are diverse and ever changing.” (Wu, loc, 1363) For example, a person in China is more likely to respond to communication about honor and shame versus guilt and punishment. “A person in America may not use words like gaining or losing ‘face,’ but they might talk about ‘people pleasing’ or ‘trying to look good in front of others.’” (Wu, loc. 1391)

Now no matter what context we serve, there will always be the truth God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) In urban areas, there are multiple places and venues and ways to find “a truth” that fits the individuals, even what will fulfill the desires each person faces. This raises the reality of other “false gospels” that people will buy into to be justified in the lifestyle they have chosen. “A culture’s false gospels also answer the four questions mentioned above. Thus, we first could ask, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king in the culture?’ Personally, one asks, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king figure in my life?’ Second, ‘What has this savior-king done in the past?’ Again, the answer to this second question clarifies both what kind of a person the “savior” is as well as his significance. Therefore, it matters that one knows about this savior-king’s character and power.” (Wu, loc. 2944) In Acts 2, Peter was speaking to a large crowd. They were in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. It is possible some people were searching for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, when Peter got up to speak, they found what they’ve been looking for, in the mighty works of God through Jesus Christ Peter spoke about. The same is true today. To help people see why God is vital and is enough, we speak about what he has done. We do not have to be fancy with the language we use, we just speak about God. “When talking about God, we need to highlight his works in history in order to explain what God is like. We do not merely want to say he is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This is how systematic theology describes God. Rather, we seek to emphasize how God demonstrates his character and attributes.” (Wu, loc. 1245) This is a great undertaking but well worth it. The works of God include the person of Jesus Christ and his atonement for the sin of the world, as well as the personal sin of the individual.

When we present the Gospel, especially to people who can find their pleasures fulfilled on a whim and find purpose in their jobs and people they hang around, there are going to be some questions that will need to be answered when giving a Gospel presentation. “The biblical gospel answers four key questions. I’ll review them briefly. There is a clear logic to the order of the questions. (1) ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’…(2) ‘What has Christ done?’ This question aims to show what kind of a person he is. (3) ‘Why does Christ matter?’ In other words, why is Jesus significant to us? This point largely deals with salvation. Traditionally, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress on this aspect of the gospel message. (4) ‘How should we respond?’” (Wu, loc. 2925)

Now, the challenge will be avoiding syncretism, especially when a concept sounds close to one the person has known before. In the urban areas, even cross-cultural settings, it is possible to keep certain traditions, customs, and way of life and still think they are living as a Christian. One of the ways to combat this is to fully immerse ourselves in the setting. Many call this “incarnational” ministry. The point is to become involved enough in the culture and community to gain the respect of the people. Relationships matter. “If the success of missions depends largely upon the quality of the relationships between missionaries and the people to whom they go, the parent/child relationship model is not biblical. The biblical model is that of incarnation. To bridge the cultural gap between heaven and sinful earth, God became human and dwelt among us, eating our food, speaking our language, and suffering our sorrows, yet without giving up his divine nature. Incarnation is identification, but it does not deny who we originally are. It is, in fact, a bicultural or by personal state. Just as God became one with us in order to save us, we must become one with the people to whom we go in order to bring them to message of salvation.” (Hiebert, 158) Only when living life, on some level, with the people will trust begins to develop and the mission and proclamation of Jesus Christ will be heard and lived out by the people we serve.

This is truly only possible with the presence and person of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides as he did for the Apostle Paul by sending him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Following the leading and guidance of the Spirit prevents us from proclaiming our own culture and ideas. The Spirit helps us proclaim the full gospel. This is what is important in urban centers and any kind of cross-cultural ministry.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. (2014). God Dwells Among Us : Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth: Vol. North American Edition. IVP Books.

Bosch, D. J. (2011). Transforming mission : paradigm shifts in theology of mission (20th anniversary ed. / with a new concluding chapter by Darrel Guder and Martin Reppenhagen.). Orbis. Kindle Edition

Buckman, A. R. (2012). Contextualization in an urban setting. Missio Apostolica20(2), 181–189.

Martin, M. (2011). Cross-cultural perspectives on the call to ministry. Vision (Winnipeg, Man.)12(2), 70–78.

McConnell, T., & McConnell, J. (1991). Cross-cultural ministry with church and family: the final report of a research project. Religious Education86(4), 581–596.

Wingeier, D. E. (1992). Emptying-for-filling: an approach to cross-cultural ministry. Quarterly Review12(2), 33–56.

Wingeier-Rayo, P. (2015). Jesus as migrant: biblical understand of immigration as a cross-cultural model for ministry. Apuntes35(1), 19–32.

Wright, C. J. H. (2006). The mission of God : unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. InterVarsity Press.

Wu, J. (2015). One gospel for all nations : a practical approach to biblical contextualization. William Carey Library.

God’s Story, Your Story: The New Testament

If you could sum up the Bible in one word, what would it be?

This may be tricky for some. Some may be thinking we can’t sum up the Bible in one word.

I think we can sum up the Bible with the word, JESUS. After all, in Luke 24, Jesus tells the disciples on the way to Emmaus that all of scripture points to him. Paul, in Colossians, says that all things are held together in him. So as we read scripture, even the Old Testament, we should be able to see Jesus in everything.

As we take the time to talk through the New Testament, remember how the storyline of the Biblical narrative goes:

Act 1: Creation, Fall, Israel

Act 2: Jesus, Church, New Creation

Last week, we saw the 39 books of the Old Testament are divided up into categories:

Pentateuch (Torah), History, Writings/Poetry/Wisdom, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets

The New Testament is divided up into categories as well:

Gospels of Jesus, History (Acts), Paul’s letters (longest to shortest), General letters (longest to shortest), Apocalyptic

So the way to think about the layout of the New Testament is like this:

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension 

The spread of the message (Acts)

Living out the Christian life through the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit (the letters and Revelation)

Now, if the whole Bible could be summed up with JESUS, can we think of key passages that help explain the gospel and the way the Christian is supposed to live in the world?

Many know John 3:16 (For God so loved the world the he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.)

Unfortunately, this is where many people stop—at the point of gaining their own salvation. But the Christian life and faith is so much richer and deeper than simply personal salvation—it’s about being in community, sharing life together, and laying down our lives for the sake of others.

The second part of the gospel we need to hear, and live out, is 1 John 3:16 (This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.) This is why we follow the command, and example, of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him. We follow him even though we, as believers, will have challenges and suffering in this life. We follow him because he is the only source of hope and life.

So many people think the Christian life is just for them—it’s become what can Jesus do for me here and now? How can my life get better? But see how we miss out on the power of the gospel? The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives in community, when we seek to bring new people into the family of God (this is kingdom growth not just numerical growth). The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives for others instead of ourselves.

This is why there is so much emphasis on not judging, gossiping, slandering, anything that destroys or devalues another human life. The emphasis is on love—a word that has honestly lost it’s meaning because we over use it. (I love hamburgers, I love my spouse, I love (pick your favorite sports team).) Love in the Bible is not a feeling, or even how we feel in the moment. Love is the way of life. Love is at the core of who God designed us to be.

A little pastoral care moment: When we “speak truth in love” our goal is never to belittle the person but to build them up and encourage them. So often we attempt to speak, what we call, truth and end up having anger in our hearts towards the person. This is not the example of Jesus at all.

Christ followers are to emulate and imitate Jesus in their everyday lives. This is the point of the epistles (letters) from Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James, the author of Hebrews. What’s incredible is how the Spirit continues to speak through these words today—with the intention of building up the community and growing the kingdom of God (God’s rule and reign in the world).

Then we come to the book of Revelation. This is a book that has been misunderstood and misapplied for the last 200 or so years. We’ve said it before, the point of Revelation is to show how God’s people can and should stand firm in their faith even when everything is going to pot. 

The ancient readers would have understood this was a letter, written in code, so they could understand what’s happening in the world to them at that time. We do know that Christ will come again and set things right (true justice not revenge). That is why we can live in hope and joy—we know the end of the story.

This is the New Testament, in a brief nutshell. 

One more thing to consider. There really is nothing new in the New Testament that is not in the Old Testament. In fact, what we see is an expansion of the thoughts and teachings from the Old Testament. (Think Sermon on the Mount which we’ll begin next week.)

This is why it is so important to study and read through the Old Testament. There are many resources available to help us study to learn the history, traditions, and context of the Old Testament. When we better understand the OT, we will begin to see more of the beauty found in the New Testament.

Jesus is the point of the Bible. Jesus is the point of the Christian life. How we live, in this life, matters and it has eternal consequences. I challenge you to read through at least one Gospel, a few letters, and Revelation this week. Ask God to reveal himself to you. The best picture of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Then, ask God to mold you into the likeness and image of his Son and give you the grace to live out the Christian life in community and help you be a person to build people up and work with God to grow the kingdom of Heaven.

Who is YHWH?

The Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) begins with a land that is fertile and ready for humanity and ends with the people of Israel on the cusp of moving into the land of promise. Beginning in Genesis 12 through Deuteronomy 34, the promise of land is a key theme for the people of Israel. This is what they continue to move toward and keep their minds on—home. This may be a common destination throughout these five books, but what holds the Pentateuch together is the nature and character of YHWH, the One God with any significance. The Pentateuch is answering the question, as Pharaoh asked Moses, “Who is [YHWH] that I should obey His voice…?” (Exodus 5:2b NASB) Not only this, the Pentateuch is also answering the, implied, question of how God’s people should act and live in this world and this life.

YHWH is the only God that is above all of creation. This is made clear, in Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2 NASB) This transcendence means that YHWH can be involved, but not necessarily impacted, by the actions of the people. He is able to act and move in the best interest of what needs to be done. The Pentateuch is making the case that YHWH is not made by humans so he is not manipulated by any spells or incantations other cultures and peoples might do to get the god(s) to do their bidding. YHWH stands alone above all the other gods. Holiness, love, just, true (promise keeper and fulfiller) are some of the attributes that the Pentateuch teaches about the nature and character of YHWH. Because YHWH is transcendent, he is able to be all of this, and more, and expect his people Israel to be holy as well. The Pentateuch is held together by the character of YHWH that the people are supposed to demonstrate to the world and live as.

The phrase “I am the LORD” (אני יהוה) is one of the recurrences that helps to make the case God is the only God with any significance and is above all others. This recurrence is used throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, especially when YHWH is making a statement about what he has done. Most of the time, “I am the LORD” (אני יהוה) is combined with his action of delivering the people of Israel from Egypt (הוֹצאתין מארץ מצרימ) “brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This recurrence comes at key points within the Pentateuch and serves as a reminder of who did the delivering for Israel. This is one of the major characteristics of YHWH—redeemer and deliverer. YHWH does not desire his people to be held captive by anyone or anything, except for his covenant. His name implies he is able to be and provide anything the people need. YHWH’s provision is shown through the storehouses of grain in Genesis when the famine struck the land, deliverance from Egypt, water from rocks, manna, quail, new life in the wilderness journey, guiding with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, giving of the covenant, and even bringing the people to the border of the promised land. YHWH is able

How can the people of Israel live up to the holiness YHWH requires? The covenant is what makes the people of Israel unique. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the people are constantly being called back to the covenant life taught in the Pentateuch. The people are called to be holy because YHWH is holy. The covenant is central to demonstrating the faithfulness of YHWH and how the people are supposed to live. This brings up a contrast in the way other people live versus the way YHWH expects his people to live. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine: and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6a NASB) If the people of Israel followed the guidance and kept the covenant of YHWH they would be set apart and be different from the rest of the nations and people groups. Because YHWH is transcendent, above all other gods, he is able to say he own everything and can set the people of Israel apart from everyone else. “There is only one being in the universe who can rightly be called ‘holy.’ Thus it becomes possible for the first time to describe ‘holy’ behavior: it is the behavior of the Holy One.” (Alexander, 850) This makes the covenant vital to the way of life for Israel.

Covenants were not new to Israel at YHWH’s revelation on Mount Sinai. Covenants have been part of the people of God from the very beginning. When YHWH makes covenants he is showing his faithfulness and love to and for his people. Other deities would have expected something from the subjects, YHWH gave himself (Genesis 17) and said Israel needed to follow him and they would be his own people (Exodus 19). This was done so YHWH could show his love for the world through the people of Israel. Not only this, but YHWH is demonstrating his loyalty to the people of Israel, something different from other cultures who worshipping other deities.

At the core of the character of YHWH is his hesed (חסד), his holy love, his unfailing love. YHWH’s hesed is highlighted over fourteen times in the Pentateuch (Gen 19:19, 24:12, 24:24, 24:27, 32:10, Ex 15:13, 20:6, 34:6, 34:7, Numb 14:18, 14:19, Deut 5:10, 7:9, 7:12) which shows that YHWH is acting out of his love and mercy for Israel, for the purpose of the nations knowing who YHWH is. “…the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 14:4c NASB) The biggest revelation about the hesed of YHWH is found in his own self-revelation in Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [hesed] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [hesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…” (NASB) This is a key verse that is found throughout the Old Testament and recurs in the Pentateuch (Ex 20:5,6, Numb 14:18, Deut 4:31, 5:10, 7:9) This is another example of contrast between YHWH and the other deities other people worship. However, this could also be a climax of the Pentateuch because this describes the nature of YHWH, by his own words, the people of Israel know how their God will be with them, treat them, even offer opportunities to forgive their sins against him and their fellow Israelites.

Because the hesed of YHWH is so prevalently known and shown (through the acts of deliverance, giving of the law/covenant, people of Israel growing and thriving, providing food in wilderness, not destroying the people when he had the chance) we can also get a glimpse of how just YHWH is. He is not a God who acts on a whim. YHWH acts for justice (setting things right) in the world. The plagues of Egypt were judgements on the gods of Egypt, the deaths of Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10, Moses and Aaron not able to enter the land, and many more examples happened because YHWH cannot allow sin to remain and go unpunished. This can also be one of the most loving things YHWH could do. He is not punishing for the sake of his own amusement or “just because”. The punishment comes into motion because of the effects of sin. Through the law/covenant, YHWH has already stipulated how to live. Moses, in Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” (NASB) This is an act of hesed, and the justness of YHWH because he gives the people a chance to choose life, to choose the way of life he is telling them to live, in order for them to thrive and live a long time in the land. 

In Exodus 32, the people of Israel were waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain after he had already been up there 40 days and 40 nights. The people became anxious and pleaded with Aaron to make them a golden idol so they could worship it. So Aaron made a golden calf from the gold the people took from Egypt when they left. This is where the hesed of YHWH is shown as well as justice. “In simple justice, God was obligated to destroy them. But in fact he invited Moses to intercede for them by saying that he would destroy them if Moses would ‘let me alone’ (Ex 32:10).” (Alexander, 851) Justice was still played out because the sin damage had been done so the Levites killed many people by the sword for bowing down to an idol. Justice needed to happen because of who YHWH is. YHWH always acts in consistently “right behavior” because of his holy character. (Alexander, 851)

Because YHWH does the right thing, all the time, he can be counted on to keep his promises. This is shown throughout the Pentateuch in the covenants he makes with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. YHWH also demonstrates he is trustworthy to Abraham and Sarah who received the child of promise, Isaac. He also tells Abraham his descendants will be slaves to another nation for four hundred years. This also comes to reality when the Exodus story begins. His promise of land to Abraham and the Israelites is mentioned many times throughout the Pentateuch. Ironically, this is the only promise that was not fulfilled in the course of these books. But we can be assured the people will receive the promise because of this important inclusio.

What is consistent throughout the Pentateuch is this is the same God who creates, who delivers, who guide, who provides for the people. The inclusion deals with the Spirit (רוחּ) of God. In the beginning, Genesis 1:1, the Spirit (רוחּ) of God is over the waters of creation. In Deuteronomy 34:9, Joshua son of Nun is filled with the Spirit (רוחּ) of wisdom to become the leader the people need to carry them into the promised land. It is the Spirit (רוחּ) of God that holds the people together, this is the presence of God that is with the people.

Even though the Pentateuch is made up of five individual books that tell the narrative history and story of the people of Israel and how YHWH redeemed and delivered them. The consistency of YHWH’s character throughout demonstrates he is the one God with any significance and he is the same. When Pharaoh asked, “Who is [YHWH]…?” He got displays of power and saw how fiercely loyal he is to Israel. The God of Israel desires to make himself know to the world through the people of Israel. Because YHWH is holy and just and loving in his character, the people of Israel know how they should live and act in the world to be living, tangible examples of the God who is above all.

Bibliography

Alexander, T. D., & Baker, D. W. (2003). Dictionary of the Old Testament : Pentateuch. InterVarsity Press.

Arnold, Bill T., and Choi, J.H. (2003). A guide to biblical Hebrew syntax. Cambridge University Press.

Dozeman, Thomas B. “Deuteronomy,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995 (pp 271-538)

God’s Story, Your Story: The Old Testament

How well do you know the biblical story? If we’re honest, we all should say we don’t know it as well as we want.

One of the most beautiful things about scripture is that it continually speaks, even today, the words of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

If I were to ask you how to easily explain the biblical storyline, how would you do it? Think about it.

If we look at the biblical story, we can look at it in 2 acts, each with 3 parts:

Act 1: Creation, Fall, Israel

Act 2: Jesus, Church, New Creation

What we have to realize is how each of these “parts” is really a representation of our life here: we’re created (born), we know we sin, we believe God is real and calling us apart, we meet and encounter Jesus, we become part of the family and movement of God, Jesus makes us into new creations. So, when we read the Bible, we’re really looking at a mirror of our lives, in many ways.

Today, we’re looking at the Old Testament storyline. This is how God (YHWH) has moved in, through, and with his people, Israel. Throughout these 39 books we see how Israel comes to God, follows God, gets excited about obeying God, decides to do her own thing and ends up going against God leaving her alone and exiled. See how the Old Testament is our story also? When is the last time you did everything right, and followed God to the perfect “T” you wanted to? For me it was in the split second I woke up today, before I had a chance to think or do anything.

Yes, I know the Old Testament is long, has a bunch of traditions we don’t practice today, has some strange names, and I’d downright confusing. But what we have to understand is the point of the scriptures. The point is to know who the God is Israel was/is supposed to know, follow, and reflect in the world.

One of the challenges we have today is that we live in a time when we tend to focus more on devotional thoughts, meditations, and books/teachings about  the Bible and we have missed out on reading and absorbing the actual words of scripture themselves.

Over the last 2 years, I have developed a love for the Old Testament because I have now realized that unless we take the time to read and study the Old Testament, the New Testament doesn’t make as much sense.

One of the things we have to understand is that what we call the Old Testament is what Jesus referenced. Why? Because there was no New Testament yet. Also, the Apostle Paul says that all scripture is God-breathed, know he is talking about the Old Testament.

So let’s take this time and go over the Old Testament and see how this is our story as well.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. This is the foundational statement to show who (not how) the earth was created. We live in this world because God set everything in motion and spoke everything into existence for his people.

Everything was all well and good, until…

Imagine how it would be to live in paradise. Can you imagine everything in a state of perfection? Unfortunately, we can’t because we will always expect something bad to happen. Why? Because of the presence of the serpent in Genesis 3. The serpent planted the seeds of doubt into Adam and Eve. Now doubt, in and of itself, is not bad. When doubt turns to unbelief, we begin to not believe in God: who he is, what he says he’ll do. This is when we begin to take matters into our own hands and sin corrupts us.

The fall is found in Genesis 3-11. It’s amazing how quickly the later generations embraced the life of sin. It goes to show that “what one generation tolerates, the next generation embraces.” Genesis 3-11 is important to read because it shows the state of the world we’re still in. If we get upset about younger generations acting a certain way, or embracing certain values/opinions, we do have to ask what it is we tolerated in our life.

Now the Old Testament is about who God is. God is the God of hope and second chances. We see this in the flood narrative, and especially in the calling out of Abraham. This is where the storyline of the Old Testament moves from the universal scope of all of creation and begins to tell the story of a particular people group.

The people of Israel have begun. To see the family tree from Abraham, take time to read through Genesis.

The people would not last long on their own. They became (over time) slaves to Egypt and remained in that state for over 400 years. There was still the hope from the promises of God to Abraham the people held tight to. God may have seemed absent, but Exodus gives us the picture of a God who pays attention and knows what’s going on. God acts in a mighty way, and delivers the people of Israel by having Moses lead them. The Exodus is the foundational story for Jewish people—how they were brought from a life of slavery to freedom. This is also, in a sense, our story too since we were slaves of sin until Christ broke the curse of sin over humanity.

Something we have to take time to realize is that when Israel was freed from the slavery of Egypt, they really moved into a different kind of slavery—into the service of God. The paradox is that unless we live our lives as servants of God, then we really don’t know or understand freedom. True freedom if found in the expression of love that if only found in God.

When you live for God, you see his character is that of holiness—he means what he says and he says what he means…he should be feared/revered. The holiness of God is laid out in Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. This is where the people learn that there can be no sin in their presence, that sin will not be tolerated in the presence of God. There were some strict punishments for sin, but the people knew exactly what would happen. I do wonder if we took sin as seriously as the Bible does, how would the world look? How would the church look?

This is a very brief and basic look at the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Understanding these books is key to seeing where the rest of the story takes place.

Now we move into the history books (Joshua – Esther).

The first thing we see is God is a God who keeps his promises. His covenant with Abraham included land. Now the people of Israel were entering the land which was promised to them.

What we see, in these books, is what happens when the people live by their part of the covenant (which is following God and listening to him). We also see what happens when the people do not live up to their part of the covenant. Everything goes south.

The Israelites had incredible victories but soon became cocky and prideful and found themselves trying to be like other people, other nations. The kingdom of Israel was established with Saul and further expanded by David and Solomon. Now before we say Israel went against God and got their king after God said not to, that’s not true. God laid out specifications for how a king should be when the people asked for a king (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) But the reality is absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This teaches us how patient God is.

The history books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther all shows the ebb and flow of how the people yearned for God yet did their own thing. The cycle is what we still see today:

  • Revival happens and the people follow and decide to obey God
  • Life gets a little too comfortable and sin corrupts
  • The people do their own thing (and blame God for not providing)
  • Punishment – exiled
  • Repentance happens and the people return to their first love – God

See how this is our story today? What do you think we need to repent of as individuals? As a church? As a state? As a nation? As a people?

Moving from the historical books, we move into the Writing and Wisdom books. These are really the heart of the Biblical story (that’s why they’re in the middle 🙂 )

It is here we can see heartfelt prayers and wisdom that is needed to keep our hearts and minds open to the movement and presence of God.

Job reminds us God has not left us, even in the midst of tragedy.

The Psalms are beautiful cries and expressions to God.

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes tells how a person should think and live.

Song of Solomon (Songs) is a beautiful expression of God’s love and affection for his people.

Then we move into the Prophetic books. There are 2 groups (major and minor prophets). The “major” ones are only called so because they are longer, not because thy have more value. The “minor” prophets just have shorter books.

What do the prophets do? They warn of impending judgement and doom, if the people do no return to their part of the covenant and follow/obey/listen to God. That brings us back to the Pentateuch. The prophets are calling the people back to the way of life and loyalty the Pentateuch says.

In a nutshell, this is the basic storyline of the 39 books of the Old Testament. There is so much more we could say right now, but studying the scriptures is really a lifetime of God revealing himself to us.

To understand the Bible, understanding the first five books is essential. When you read it, see what the Bible is teaching about God and about who he says the people are.

I pray we can continually see how our story today, is the same story as the Israelites, which is played out in the story and life of God. Next week, we’ll dive into the New Testament and see how the New Testament reteaches covenant loyalty, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Rahab: The Past Does Note Define You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray…

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

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

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

Esther: “Wrong” Place, Right Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noah: Nobody’s Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine the heartache Noah felt during this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray…

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

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

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