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)

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

Whose Side is God On?

There is so much that divides us, as people—politics, race, social economics, and so much more. We often try to get people to be on “our side.” One of the challenges we face is we often question who is God fo? Who’s side is God on?

This video is some of my thoughts on the question at hand, whose side is God on? Be sure to take and tackle the question at the end!

Let me know your thoughts.

No Perfect People Allowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Colossians 1:9-10

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

~Romans 12:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

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

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

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

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

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

Our lives are a work in progress.

William Shakepeare says it like this, 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

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

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

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

But hold on because

GOD DOES HAVE A PLAN

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

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

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

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

God desires for you and I to know him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all of this, always remember:

GOD IS USING YOU AND SHAPING YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GOD-INCIDENTS” INSTEAD OF CO-INCIDENCES

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

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

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

Did I mention I am a very patient man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] “Back to the Future” Part 3 movie

[3] Matthew 22:37-39

[4] Colossians 3:17

[5] Romans 5:2b-5 NIV

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 😂. )