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

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

~Colossians 1:9-10

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

~Romans 12:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

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

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

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

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

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

Our lives are a work in progress.

William Shakepeare says it like this, 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

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

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

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

But hold on because

GOD DOES HAVE A PLAN

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

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

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

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

God desires for you and I to know him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all of this, always remember:

GOD IS USING YOU AND SHAPING YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GOD-INCIDENTS” INSTEAD OF CO-INCIDENCES

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

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

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

Did I mention I am a very patient man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] “Back to the Future” Part 3 movie

[3] Matthew 22:37-39

[4] Colossians 3:17

[5] Romans 5:2b-5 NIV

Knowing Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem of Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can “Baby Shark” Teach Us?

It has taken the toddler country by storm. My toddler is obsessed with “Baby Shark.” Actually, obsessed may be too nice of a word. She has the toy shark that swims and sings in the bathtub. The phone that plays the song. A book. A Baby Shark puppet. She wears herself out dancing to the song! (If we need to keep her awake a little longer or get her to cooperate, we play the song. So this may be our fault. 😂)


Then it happened.


One day I was listening to the song and I realized there is a lesson we could learn. (Maybe I was hallucinating after hearing it like 5,000 times that day.)
If you feel brave, listen to the song now.

What do you hear? What do you think? It is very repetitive and repetition is good to learn.
The part that caught my attention was the end, (run away… Safe at last). That is the end of the song. This is really what we long for in life; to be safe at last.


We have all sorts of things coming at us. Little, or “baby“, things that want to try to take us down. There are bigger things that want to try to take us down. There’s old things that want to try to take us down. All of these “enemies“ want to cause us to live in fear. But the end says we are safe at last.


Now, apply this to your life. You have many things coming against you. Things that seem small. Things that seem big. Stuff from your past. All of it is trying to take you down. But take this time to trust in Christ to be with you always. To protect you. To guide you on the path to safety.


Now, before we take this to mean just individual level of protection, we need to realize this is bigger than us, then just us alone. Whenever fish are swimming away from sharks or their predators, they typically swim with other fish, so they are in a community. We are part of a community, and as the light of Christ, we get to play a part in protecting those around us because that’s what Christ calls us to do. We get to lead people to the safety found in Christ.

Now, before we take this to mean just individual level of protection, we need to realize this is bigger than us, then just us alone. Whenever fish are swimming away from sharks or their predators, they typically swim with other fish, so they are in a community. We are part of a community, and as the light of Christ, we get to play a part in protecting those around us because that’s what Christ calls us to do. We get to lead people to safety because that’s where Christ is.


So we have a call. To stay in the safety of Christ and to bring others to this place of safety.


This may be a little far fetched, but this is a lesson I think we can, and should, learn from “Baby Shark.”


(You’re welcome for it being stuck in your head now 😂. )

Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 4)

THE BIGGER PICTURE

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

What do you see in these pictures?

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

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

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

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

REVIEW WHAT WE KNOW OF GOD THROUGH JONAH, SO FAR

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

Jonah 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen


[1] Jonah 1:2b NIV

[2] Jonah 4:2b NIV

[3] Matthew 5:48 CEB

[4] John 1:39a, 43b

[5] Ephesians 2:4-10

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

[7] Matthew 15:17-20a NIV

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

[9] Galatians 5:18-21 CEB

[10] Titus 3:1-2 CEB

[11] Jonah 4:8a NIV

[12] Jonah 4:11 NIV

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

A Whole New World

How would you describe the state of our world? Would you say there is hope left? Why or why not?

What is interesting about these questions is, it all depends on how you and I view life. What do you notice about this picture:

Do you the the glass as half filled? Half empty? Or do you notice there is water in it that can be used for something good?

The point of this is, I believe, there is always hope in the world. The difference comes in with what we allow our minds and hearts be filled with. Do we pay more attention to the negativity, spread gossip, take part in slandering another person simply because they have a different viewpoint than you? These are all questions we need to consider.

I, as I have said, believe there is hope in this world still. There has to be. If this was only as good as it will get, then we are missing out on something greater than ourselves. Part of the issue is that we tend to focus on the viewpoint of our own perspective (which is clouded by our upbringing, our own culture, our race, our position in society, etc.). We can easily miss out on what God is doing if we only view the world through our own mindset. God is still working and he is also asking us can we look at the entirety of creation and see his plan of redemption at work now.

This is hard to do because we see so much that is wrong. Illnesses, crime, shootings, families torn apart, and so much more fill our TVs, newspapers, facebook walls, twitter feeds, etc. When this is what we pay attention to, this is what we will think the world is like.

I have hope for the future because there is always a glimmer of hope because God is always working. I also have this hope because I believe Scripture when it says everything will be made new (Isaiah 65, Revelation 21/22). This is also the message of Jesus, “the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand.”

Friends we have access to the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here with us. As long as we pay attention to what’s wrong, we will miss out on what is right. We can easily miss out on the joy/love/hope/peace that is available to us here and now. God is asking us to be part of the solution. Yes, there is so much that needs to be done that we cannot (on our own) do everything, but we can do something.

What can we do?

Find ways to spread joy to those around you. Have a complaint? Seek out what the other person is going through before the complaint is made (seek first to understand then be understood). You never know what kind of connection/difference you can make in the life of the other person (yours too).

With this idea of spreading joy, there is something easy to do – plan random acts of kindness wherever you go. This may mean we go out of the way to do something nice (even if it is a simple smile), but we really never know how this will impact another person’s day, and how they will treat the next person all because you and I did something kind.

Be generous. Christians should tithe (giving at least 10% of our income) to the church. We do this because we fully trust God provides for us and when we give this much we live by the reality everything we have, God actually owns. Now, to do this, I think we have it backwards when we try to “step up” to this kind of living/giving. Jesus never says, “give what you can now and then do more in the future when you’re more comfortable.” No, Jesus says, “follow me…take up your cross.” This means we, at the beginning, place our full trust in him by going ahead and giving that much away.

I know I have just struck a cord with some people by saying to give to the church. There are many people who think the church doesn’t do enough and other community organizations are better equipped. But think about how much more the local church would/could do if all Christians gave 10% and gave it to the church.

Look at what you’re giving to. You may think 10%, at least, is too much, but my bet is you are already more generous than you may realize. How much do you give to civic places, students, clubs, sports equipment renovation, etc. The challenge is making sure what we give our money to will actually make a difference for eternity instead of breaking down and needing more money to fix back up.

What do you sense God leading you to do? If he calls you to it, you better believe he has, and will, equip and provide everything needed.

God is working in this world, through many people…even you! As we seek to love God more, we find we love people more and end up doing more to help build people up for the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven. This, after all, is what’s it’s all about anyway.

Living with this mindset is the only way we can experience a whole new world. Everything around us may not change, but the lens with which we view the world will change. Then, everything we do will help to make the world look like that.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear!

What is Christian Worship?

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” (Tozer 47) How we worship God during the week reflects how we worship God together at weekly gatherings. What is worship? Worship is more than something we do. It is more than something we attend. It is more than something we know the order of. Worship is a lifestyle. More importantly, worship is a response to the Living God who is here, who gave life, who continues to work and move in and through the believers.

If the people of God are to be living a life of worship, then the order of worship reflects how lives should be lived. In each worship setting, almost no matter what “style of worship” a person participates in, there is a four-fold movement to help the worshipper move closer to the throne of grace and experience the presence of the Living God. This movement appears in the book of Isaiah chapter 6. In a vision, Isaiah has found himself to be in the throne room of God. Here God is meeting with the heavenly beings, worshipping God, and talking about what should be done on earth. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV) Isaiah decides to be the one to respond and say, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8c NIV) After Isaiah responds, he receives the mission and the gifts to do what needs to be done. This shows the movement of worship (Gathering, Word, Table/Response, Sending Out), and describes our life with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Flow of Worship

Isaiah has been transported, in a vision, to the throne room of God. This is the first movement of worship called the Gathering. In this movement, people are finding themselves to be in the presence of God. This is where the people gather their hearts and spirits together to worship and begin to celebrate, as a community, all God has done, is doing, and will do. The Gathering is the time to center our hearts and our entire being on the reality of the presence of God. An example to help the worshippers understand the presence of God is among the worshipping community is to proclaim, “Welcome to God’s house where the Risen Christ is ready to receive our praises! I invite you to add your praise to those of your sister and brothers as we rejoice together in this day that God has made.” (Cherry 64) Many different components may be used in this movement. When the people wake up to the fact the presence of God is with them, and they are in the presence of God, the worship leader can offer a call to worship, song, opening prayers, prayers of confession and pardon and/or more. Isaiah has found himself to be in the presence of the Holy One and says, “Woe to me!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV) Isaiah understands where he is and whose presence he is in. He confesses and then one of the heavenly beings comes to cleanse Isaiah from his sin. Being in the presence of God changes lives. There is a need to be cleansed and receive forgiveness, so the people’s hearts are open and ready to fully worship and receive the blessings, peace, and most importantly, the presence of the Living God that is already among them. The point of the Gathering is to help the worshippers understand and appreciate the presence of the Holy Spirit inviting each person to participate in the worship of God Almighty that is already taking place in the heavens.

Since worship is a way of life, one way the worshippers could get ready for the community worship experience is to pray, sing, and read scripture. Psalms 120-134 are called songs of “ascent,” meaning these psalms help the reader, and person of prayer prepare their hearts, minds, the whole being for what is about to happen in the community worship event.

After Isaiah pays attention that he is in the throne room of the Lord, the presence of God, he begins to listen. Through all of the praises going up, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV), Isaiah hears God speak. This is the next movement the worshipping community goes through, hearing the Word of God read, spoken, proclaimed. During this movement, the worship leader, lay reader, pastor, read the scripture passage(s) for the day and the people are ready to hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained. Since it is the Word of God heard, it is usually a good idea to ask God to open the hearts and lives of the people so the Word can be fully understood and transferred and the Word of God can come in people’s lives and do the work of transformation. This is usually done through prayer, such as a prayer of illumination which calls upon the Holy Spirit to speak to the people through the Word and the sermon of the day.

When the Word of God is read and proclaimed, it is always a good idea to focus on the entirety of the message of the whole Bible, specifically the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This can be done through several scripture passage readings (Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, Gospel readings) so the worshipper can keep the full message of scripture in their minds. One way to do this is to follow the Revised Common Lectionary readings which cover most of the Bible over three years. If the lectionary is not being used, it is important to still use more than one text or at least a more extended passage, so the full Word is heard in the context it was written.

God is always speaking. This is something the worshippers (all people) need to remember. So it is not just through the scripture reading(s) the worshippers hear from God; it is throughout the community worship event. When scripture is used throughout the service, the presence and Word of God is continually brought to the forefront of people’s minds and lives.

When God speaks, the only thing there is to do is respond. Isaiah’s response was “Here am I! Send me!” To respond to God means the people are ready and willing to do what God is asking. In the flow of worship, the response to God’s Word occurs in the sacraments (baptism and communion) or through song, prayer, or in the way the worshipping community decides. It is essential to give a response to the God who is present, active and speaking. The response “is an acknowledgment that we have truly listened to what God spoke to the community through the Scriptures and the sermon, and that as a result, we intend to offer back an appropriate affirmation.” (Cherry (99) Acts 2 demonstrates why the response is essential.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the 119 other disciples are gathered together. Suddenly the Holy Spirit comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire, and the people hear a loud gushing wind. Peter stands up to address the crowd witnessing these signs. He boldly proclaims Jesus is still alive and gives a sermon that God uses to “cut to the heart” of each person there. The Word of God is strong, “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV), that the people had to respond. As a result, three thousand people decided to follow Jesus Christ and the world began to witness the saving, powerful work of God through Jesus Christ guided by the movement of the Holy Spirit. The world was starting to change. Responding to God means the people are acknowledging the desire to be part of God mission and work in the world. As a result, God fills the people with the Holy Spirit and equips them to do the work they are called to do.

The beginning of the community worship event takes the worshippers into the presence of God. The people are taken to God’s presence. This would be an upward movement, primarily because God’s people are always being worked on to be holier each day, with each experience of God. Then the worshippers have the chance to hear from God. This is God’s Word coming down to the people. When the people respond, the praises, voices, and cries of the people are brought back up to God. The response of the people is essential because the spirit of the people is lifted to God. This is the time when the people have the chance to get “on the same page” like God who is working, moving, and inviting the people to participate in the work being done.

Isaiah has found himself to be in the presence of God. He has been cleansed. He has heard God speak. He has responded. Now, Isaiah is sent back to the people for the mission of God. In the flow of worship, this is called the Sending. What happens in the Sending is the people are sent back into the mission field. The mission field is not a place in another country. The mission field is home, work, the community, the store(s). Wherever the people go, God is working there and inviting the people to participate with the Spirit to work in the world. Robert Webber says “when God blesses us, God confers on us a power to fulfill our calling in righteousness and holiness in Jesus Christ. God’s blessing on us is a gift—an actual pouring out on us the Holy Spirit.” (Webber 184) This is what the Sending is, going back into the world, out of the safety of comfort with other believers, and living into the life and power of God wherever we are and whatever we do.

Liturgy – The Work of the People

Liturgy happens in all worship services. “’Liturgy’ comes from the Greek word leitourgia, translated as “work of the people.” It refers to the actions that worshippers undertake in order to do the work of worship.” (Cherry 39) Cherry goes on to say, “whatever worship acts we offer to God constitute our liturgy.” (Cherry 39)

In traditional worship services, the liturgy will be more formalized and corporate. This means there will be a specific way to pray, to recite, to sing, a particular order. More relaxed, contemporary worship services, still follow a liturgy; however, it may seem more relaxed, or not as obvious. Liturgy is more than what the people say in worship. It is something done in worship. The flow of worship is the liturgy. “Since all worshippers engage to some degree in the actions of worship, all worshippers engage in liturgy.” (Cherry 39)

Time

To help keep the focus on Jesus Christ all year long, the Christian calendar has been introduced and utilized. Time is something sacred. All time is God’s time. “In the tapestry of history, in which God is ever active even if often hidden, that central, brilliant blossom is Jesus Christ who enables us to see so many other evidences of God’s presence, and causes us to know that God is always with us, even when hidden from view.” (Stokey 24) It is through celebrating the Christian calendar, beginning with Advent and go through the year, we have the chance to celebrate the full life and presence of Jesus Christ with us always.

Sacraments in Worship

One of the most significant aspects of Christian worship, for many people, is the participation in the action and practice of the sacraments. The Protestant Churches recognize two sacraments—Baptism and Holy Communion.

Holy Communion, sometimes called Eucharist or breaking of the bread or Lord’s Supper, is best placed within the worship service after the hearing and proclamation of the Word. This is a time of responding to Jesus Christ through the participation of joining him in this meal. When a person participates in this sacrament, sacred moment, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the participant joins in and celebrates the victory of Jesus Christ. “In the heavens, there is a constant and eternal historical recitation of Christ’s great victory over the power of evil and death.” (Webber 129)

The time of Communion helps the participants remember, celebrate, be part of the community, and join in the meal of heaven. During this act of worship, the worshipper is responding to the real presence of Jesus Christ by coming forward to receive the grace, life, and forgiveness Christ offers. This is not something the people go into lightly, nor haphazardly. The people have been building to this time throughout the whole worship service. Now, through the consecration of the elements, the bread and wine (juice) are used to demonstrate the presence of Jesus Christ going into and living through the worshipping community. “The purpose of the table is to engage in acts of worship that enact and celebrate the story of how God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, raised Christ from the dead, overcame the powers of evil, and offers to us the forgiveness, healing, love, and power for victorious living in community and in the world.” (Cherry 86)

Baptism is the second sacrament celebrated and practiced by Protestants. “Baptism, as it is known in the New Testament…is administered only once, at the point of initiation into the Christian community.” (Staples 120) This is an important thing to remember. A person is only baptized once because it is God doing the work, not the people. Baptized people do have opportunities, and should participate in, to remember their baptism by the symbol of water.

John Wesley, in his Treatise on Baptism, says, “The matter of this sacrament is water; which, as it has a natural power of cleansing, is more fit for this symbolic use.” (Wesley) Staples writes, “[Water] helps to create life, but it can destroy life. It nourishes life, yet it can drown it. It can be healing, yet it can be destructive. The Biblical writers knew this.” (Staples 126) Water is also used because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

In 1982, the World Council of Churches published a work called “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” In this document, baptism is described as having five purposes: to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection (by going in the water and coming out), outwardly demonstrate an inward working of the Spirit’s cleansing power, it is a gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, and baptism is a sign of the Kingdom. Just as circumcision was an outward sign for the Jewish people of their status as God’s chosen people, baptism is an inward sign that a person is marked, sealed and set apart as God’s person to live life in a covenant community sharing, showing, and expanding the Kingdom of Heaven wherever the believer is located.

There are many ways a person is baptized—sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. It does not matter how much water is used. The critical thing to pay attention to is how the Holy Spirit of God is working in and through the individual to be a vessel used for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Both Holy Communion and Baptism use symbols to represent the real presence of God through Jesus Christ as experienced by the Holy Spirit. The complete Triune God is present in the sacraments, and the people experience the saving grace of God through these acts of worship which are then transferred to everyday life.

Conclusion

Worship is a way of life. As the people of God gather together in God’s presence each week, they remember the saving act of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christian worship is centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and shapes the people of more into the likeness and image of Christ. When the people of God are transformed, by the Holy Spirit, the world will look more and more like the Kingdom of God here on earth. This happens when the people of God live out their worship each day. Alexander Schmemann sums this idea up beautifully:

“The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom—not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called ‘sacrament,’ but because first of all, she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the ‘world to come,’ to see and to ‘live’ it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of the world we discern that Christ has already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty.” (Schmemann 113)

The Church is the people of God, worshipping, celebrating, and doing the work of Christ in this world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Bibliography

Cherry, Constance M. (2010). The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Schmemann, Alexander. (1963). For the Life of the World. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition

Staples, Rob L. (1991). Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality. Kansas City, KS: Beacon Hill Press.

Stookey, Laurence Hull. (1996). Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1984.

Webber, R. E. (1998). Planning blended worship: The creative mixture of old and new. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life. New York: Harper

Moving Toward Victory

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

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

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

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ MARK 11:1-11

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

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

“Hosanna![a

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

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

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

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

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

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

HOPEFUL PROMISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ Jesus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray…

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


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

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

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

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

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

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

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

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11