Discovering God through the book of Jonah (Part 2)

HEAR OUR PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Romans 1:20a NIV

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

[3] Matthew 7:7-11 NIV

[4] James 5:16 NIV

[5] 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

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

[7] Romans 8:26-27 NIV

Leaders Are Learners

We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?

I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”

What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”

Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.

So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.

How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.

I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?

If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?

I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.

Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.

Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.

Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?

If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.

The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.

Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.

Ascended & Reigns Forever

Jesus is…

God in flesh, free from temptation, healer and restorer, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, and he is Risen and lives forever!

This is what we have been thinking about for the last seven weeks. Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do incredible things in our midst and in our world. Are we paying attention?

Now we go to the event Jesus was preparing his followers for – his departure.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says something interesting to his disciples. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your own good that I am going away.”[1]Why would he say this? Think about it. If Jesus was still here in the physical body form, as we are, then he would only be able to be in one particular place at one particular time. We would have to go to him to hear him and so we could be in his presence. We might say we want Jesus in the physical flesh now, but then we would have to be the ones who go to him.

But, because Jesus ascended into heaven, we do not have to go to him because he is already with us. It really is better for us that he ascended into heaven, otherwise he would not have sent the promised Holy Spirit (see John 16:7).

So now, let’s take time to read the passage, from Luke 24:

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God

The ascension event is found in all four Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts. All of them differ to some degree.

Matthew’s gospel concludes with Jesus telling the disciples he has all authority in heaven and on earth and then gives them, what we call, the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations…”

Mark’s (longer ending) gospel says something similar, but then adds, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat down at the right hand of God.”[2]

Luke’s gospel is above.

John’s gospel shows Jesus alluding to his ascension when he speaks with Mary Magdelene after he rose from the grave. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[3]

The book of Acts says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”[4]

I used to picture the ascension like most people, Jesus floating off in the clouds and disappearing into the sky as he was on his way to heaven – a far-off location. But, as I have paid closer attention to the scripture, I now realize this was written in a similar form as when Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from God. Moses “ascended” the mountain and went into the clouds. This means Moses walked up the mountain to where the clouds were, and he was not seen for 40 days.

This is what I now picture. Jesus goes up the mountain and the clouds come down upon him and he disappears. Why clouds? What do they mean?

Clouds throughout scripture represented the fullness, the glory of God. When Moses was in the clouds, he was in the full glory of God. Jesus, when the clouds surrounded him, entered into the realm of heaven to be where he could reign forever.

All of the written accounts of Jesus’ departure (his ascension) point to his authority over all. This event also shows us he is King now. Jesus will not be crowned King when he returns. He is King now. He has full authority over all humanity and creation. The New Testament writers believed this too.

Do you know what the most quoted Old Testament scripture is? It may surprise you to know it is actually in the book of Psalms. Can you guess it? This scripture is quoted 23 times in the New Testament. Ready to find out what it is?

It is Psalm 110:1. That may seem like a strange scripture. But, it shows the authority and Kingship of Jesus here and now. The New Testament authors wanted to show Jesus’s authority to the believers so they could have the assurance Jesus is not in a far away place, but ruling now.

Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (NIV)

HUMANITY EXAULTED

Jesus sits down at the right hand of God. Why? The right side has always been referenced to as the strong side, the highest honor, the position of authority. Jesus sits down meaning his work has been done.

Hebrews 1:3 points again to the placement of Jesus’ position in heaven. “[H]e sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(NIV)

What all of this is showing is that because Jesus has ascended into heaven, humanity now has a position and place in heaven! Why? Remember it was not the Spirit of Jesus that went into heaven. Jesus did not shed himself of his physical body to enter heaven. His body was made perfect before ascending. It was Jesus, in human bodily form, that entered into the realm of Heaven.

This means there is a human (Jesus) ruling in Heaven. Now, this is not diminishing Jesus in any way. Remember, in Heaven, humans are higher than the angels. Jesus is still fully God. He is also fully human. As Steve Seamands writes, “Because Jesus ascended, humanity has been exalted and brought into the life of God.”[5]

See, it is not the resurrection that gives us life everlasting with God in Heaven. It is the ascension. Because Jesus is there, humanity has the place in Heaven now.

The ascension is so much more important for our life with God than we realize. The importance of this event has slipped from our minds, but this doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus did.

Jesus’ ascension is so important that, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are only six mandatory days to attend Mass. The Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Day) is one of them.[6]Is this event as important to you? I hope the importance of this event is more real now and we can come to celebrate Jesus’ ascension more prominently.

WHERE IS HEAVEN?

As I have said, I do not picture Jesus going off into the sky on his way to heaven. Too often, we tend to think of heaven as some far off place that we go to after we die. Remember Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is at hand. He was proclaiming God’s Kingdom here on earth. He was not proclaiming a place far away from earth. Neither was he saying we “go to heaven.” Jesus was proclaiming heaven on earth.

Steve Seamands reminds us of how NT Wright teaches about the realm of Heaven. This is what Jesus seems to be proclaiming while on the physical earth. “As NT Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same special continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creations. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the one who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. ‘The Ascension, therefore, means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.”[7]

Heaven is not some place we go after we die. Heaven is the reality of the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come. Heaven, therefore, is already here. We just do not have the eyes to see it fully nor live into it because Jesus has not come back.

Heaven is here among us. We see glimpses of heaven each and every day. One day, the fullness and glory of heaven will take over the earth once again. Heaven and earth will become one, just as in the Garden of Eden. This earth will not be destroyed, but it will be transformed and redeemed. This is why we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our prayer. That earth will be just like heaven.

JESUS IS STILL HERE

Since heaven is here on earth, as another dimension of the reality we live in, Jesus is still here. And, we are with Jesus in heaven.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that we are in Christ. We are really with him in heaven at the same time we are here on earth. Heaven can be, and is, experienced here on earth because, as Paul says, we have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. Because we are in Christ, we also get to be with him in heaven too! The reality of Jesus is here. We are also with him.

Seamands reminds us “Jesus is always with us in actual presence. Because we are with him in heaven and he’s with us on earth, that means we can live every moment in the holy of holies presence of God.”[8]

Remember in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle , nd the Temple? There was a room, separated by a thick curtain called the “Holy of Holies.” This was the space that only the High Priest could enter. This was the most sacred space on earth, the place where God resides.

When Jesus was crucified on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, symbolizing there was nothing separating God from the people anymore. God has broke the barriers created by Sin and has allowed humanity to enter into his presence anytime we want. We get to live in the presence of God here and now and we do not have to go through a mediator.

We can live, knowing the reality of Jesus is with us always. Look at Psalm 16:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
[9]

STAY HEAVENLY MINDED AND EARTHLY FOCUSED

I’m sure you may have heard the phrase, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Well, we really need to scratch that phrase so we do not use it again. We really do need to remain heavenly minded, because we, who are in Christ, are with Christ in heaven here and now. This is the reality we know will come to fruition at the right time.

We need to remember that we are called to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we are and wherever we go in whatever we do. Our focus should always remain on Jesus Christ because it is his image we are being molded and transformed to.

Jesus is on the throne and this has an incredible impact for how we live our life. Because Jesus is on the throne, we can approach with confidence the Throne of Grace. (Hebrews 4:16)

We exalt Jesus as the rightful King of the world (really universe) because if we do not, something or someone else will be exalted in our own lives and we will miss out on living in and experiencing heaven on earth here and now.

Jesus gives himself for the mission he called us to and he does not leave us on our own. Nor, do we go into the mission field in our own strength and power. Jesus guides and gives us all power and everything else we need. He does this through the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we love God by loving people and we love people by loving God, we are doing what we were created for. This is what we are called to do.

So, who is Jesus? Jesus is….

God in flesh, free from the power of temptations, healing and restoring, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, risen and lives forever, ascended and reigns forever.

That’s who Jesus is. Now the question becomes, “What would Jesus say about you?”

Works Cited:

[1]John 16:7a NIV

[2]Mark 16:19 NIV

[3]John 20:17 NIV

[4]Acts 1:9 NIV

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Unseen Real”

[6]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[7]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[8]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[9]Psalm 16:8-9,11 NIV

The Most Important​ Question

Today, we begin a new six-week series on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, we preach, teach, talk about Jesus all year long, but we have to be careful that we are not just filling our heads with knowledge. Our goal will be to answer this question with confidence, “WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

Too often we come to hear a sermon and we are seeking information. We like to know things. We like to learn new things. We all can and should keep growing in our knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

But we cannot stop at simply “knowing” Jesus, or knowing about Jesus.

Do you know what two objects have the furthest distance? It’s not the 5,500.3 miles of the Great Wall of China. It’s not the 9,175 miles from Texas to Australia. Not even the 238,900 miles from the earth to the moon or the 92.96 million miles from the earth to the sun.

THE GREATEST DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO OBJECTS IS BETWEEN OUR HEAD TO OUR HEART.

Why? It takes a lot of work, effort, and energy to allow the knowledge we gain to fully come into our lives to transform us and recreate us. We tend to like who we are and what we’re doing. We often do not like the idea of changing because we can think it is scary and the future is unknown.

But, when we fill our heads with the knowledge of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit works his way to the heart so we can fill our entire being with the love, grace, mercy of God who is working to recreate us into the likeness of his Son – Jesus Christ.

So, we are going to begin this series with the most important question we can ever answer:

“WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

This is the most important question we have to answer because who we say Jesus is shaping how we will live our lives. If we say Jesus is a good teacher, then we can still reject some of his teachings when they don’t correspond with how we want to live? If we say he is our healer, then how do we treat him when we are healthy? If we say he is our rock, then how do we treat him when our life is going well?

Answering the question “who do you say Jesus is” shows who we truly believe to be Lord and Ruler of our life: his will be done or my will be done.

Luke 9 tells the story of when Jesus asked the disciples who they said he was. If we have spent time reading our scriptures then we know Peter said “You are God’s Messiah” which means “you are the one who has come to save and redeem the world.

Let’s read and hear this passage from Luke. Pay attention and see if anything stands out to you:

READ LUKE 9:18-20

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

I love the translation the Common English Bible uses: “The Christ sent from God.” Peter was the one who was bold enough to speak the words the Holy Spirit gave him. Jesus, in Matthew 16, even tells Peter

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”[1]

Then, Jesus goes on to rename Simon to Peter saying, “on this rock I will build my church.”[2]

THE CHURCH’S FOUNDATION IS JESUS IS THE MESSIAH GOD SENT

This is why we exist. We are working with God to build and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on the strong foundation that JESUS IS THE MESSIAH SENT FROM GOD. Nothing else matters or is as strong as this truth. The church is still in existence today because of the reality of Jesus being the One God sent.

How does this impact us today? (This is where we can step on toes 🙂 )

Since the Church is built upon this truth, then we are also part of the mission Jesus came to earth to do. His earthly work was done on the cross and we all can experience grace, forgiveness, and eternal life (the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come). But his work in the world is still not complete. There is still redemptive work to be done, souls to know Jesus is the Christ.

Hate, violence, war, racism, you name it, still seems to be more powerful because this is what people love to talk about. Many people build their lives around trying to eradicate these injustices, and that is a good cause. But, if we go into the world knowing and living as Jesus is the true Ruler and Lord of the world, then everything we do works toward breaking down all injustices and seeks to help people see and live in the light of God’s presence and live in peace with one another. We make working with God to help people see the reality and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us a priority.

Too often, because of our fallen and sinful human nature, we end up putting everything else before and above Jesus and the mission we are about. We will focus more on decorations, our “traditions”, anything that brings us comfort, and there is so much more we place in front of Jesus.

Taking the time to answer who Jesus is really showing where our priorities lie. If we’re not careful, we can end up putting ourselves in the place of Jesus Christ and mold Jesus into who we are instead of being molded into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ – the image we were originally created to be.

If the truth about who Jesus is stays in our head and do not fully transform our lives, we have missed it. The information/knowledge about who Jesus is must dwell and live in our hearts because he desires to transform our lives.

OUR LIVES ARE TRANSFORMED BECAUSE OF GOD’S LOVE

Coming to worship, Bible study, praying, going on mission trips, etc. is so much more than simply making people be “good.” All of this is important because of how Jesus Christ works through these “tasks”, these opportunities and changes our lives because of his great love for us. Through the great love he has for us, we get to watch Jesus work through us to change the lives of the people we get to help, we get to serve, we get to listen to, we get to provide basic needs.

And how we answer “who do you say Jesus is” determines our approach and heart as we step out and serve in our community, in our world.

Over the next several weeks, we are going to dive into certain aspects of who Jesus is. I’m going to invite us all to be on this journey through prayer and careful consideration of who we say Jesus is. As we go through this series, continue to think about Jesus and all he has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the world, and also in our lives.

Now, I want you to take a brief moment and write down, who you say Jesus is. In other words, who is Jesus Christ to you?

We have just started Confirmation classes. I know some people have negative connotations with confirmation and think it’s a time to be preached at what we should believe, but there is so much more to it. It is about coming to a place where we can wrestle with ideas, questions, and answers so we can understand deeper what it is we say we believe. It is a time to help us come to a place of belief. My understanding of God and his work in the world is greatly enhanced when leading Confirmation. This is why we open it up to middle schoolers and adults. So we can all learn and grow with each other.

This past week, the Confirmation class began by asking “Who is God?” and “What is God like?” So often, we do not realize we don’t know how to answer these questions, especially when other people ask us. If we really want to know who God is and what God is like, we have to look no further than Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul records a hymn in his letter to the Colossians about who Jesus is:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.[3]

Who we profess Jesus to be shapes how and why we do everything. We get to go into the world with greater purpose and greater power to see transformation really happen.

Professing Jesus as the Messiah, the One sent to save the world, reminds us of God’s great love for the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.[4]As we step out in faith, and profess Jesus as the Christ, the One who is Lord and Ruler of all the earth and universe, we allow him to come into our lives so we are transformed. Then we understand, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed by the faithfulness of God’s Son who loved me and gave himself for me.”[5] 

Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, lives is you and I because of his love for us.

Look, we all mess up. We all place other minor things above Christ which turn out to be other idols (lesser gods) we end up worshipping (finding more value in at times). But God loves you and me so much that we have Jesus Christ. We are loved so much that he has given us his power and heart to go into the world so others can know of his love for them and find their true value and worth.

This is so much more than simply knowing this, or coming forward to accept Jesus as our Savior, though that is very important for our lives. It is all about how Jesus is working within us, because of his love for us, to transform our lives into his likeness and image so we can be his agents, his vessels who go into the world to transform the world and bring the Kingdom of Heaven with us.

 

[1]Matthew 16:17 NIV

[2]Matthew 16:18 NIV

[3]Colossians 1:15-20 NIV

[4]John 3:16 (paraphrase)

[5]Galatians 2:20 CEB

Making An Eternal Impact

READ SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:13-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you thanked God for today?

Ask yourself these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always remember: WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Mark 1:15b NIV

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

[3]Luke 10:2a NIV

[4]Luke 9:23b-24 NIV

Loving to Life Pt 2

MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional questions to consider:

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

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

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

Salvation From 30,000 Feet

Recently I was flying back home from a trip. When I fly, I like to sit by the window so I can see what is going on. (Also, I sit by the window because I am more relaxed in that seat.) Looking out the window, you can see beautiful clouds and designs in the earth below. People look like ants. Buildings look like children’s toys you can move around.

Whenever I see pretty sights outside the window, I’ll take a picture. I was flying back at night when I was also reading NT Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope”, when I looked out the window and saw the dark earth illuminated by many tiny lights. Then, I had this thought about salvation, “salvation is so much more than we realize it is”.

I would ask people, what are they “saved” from and they would say, “sin”. This is true. Then I began talking more with the people and I finally realized, through Jesus Christ, I am saved from myself. Meaning it is the sinful desire within me to do wrong and Jesus redeems this and works within me.

After we talk, I’ll then ask people, “So, what are we saved for?” In the past few years, I have come to realize that salvation is not simply for the individual. It is not simply whether or not we will go to heaven after we die. Salvation is living in the presence of God.

The reality of being with God after this life is incredible. We can easily get swept up in the notion of “going to heaven” that we forget the line in the Lord’s Prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Take some time to think about this. What if we shifted our focus on salvation being some “place” we go to after we die? What if we stopped thinking about “going to heaven” and getting away from this life? What if heaven is not a place in the sky?
9AC54F53-EF4F-4478-8E8C-67EE1791E82A

Now, how would our lives look differently if we pictured salvation as this:
A01930D3-C58F-4211-81FC-001AD21A5C9A

How does this paint a picture of salvation? It is what Jesus did. Jesus came into the dark world and shined his light which changed people’s lives. See, salvation is not only for the individual. That is a very small glimpse of the work God is doing. Salvation, redemption, transformation is for the entire world.

When we begin to follow Jesus Christ and our lives are being transformed into his image, his likeness, the light he gives us begins to reflect.

When I looked out the window and saw the earth with the lights, I thought, this is what we are supposed to do: shine with others so the world can see the Light. As we live out our faith in community, we see more people added and more lights shining.

See, the point of salvation is not going to heaven after we die. The point of salvation is bringing heaven to earth. We do not have to wait to live in the presence of God, we can do that here and now. Everything good we experience here and now is a small picture of what it will be like when the earth is completely transformed and evil/sin is expelled for good.

Living in the Light of Christ, here and now, gives us the opportunity to live in true joy, true peace, true, hope, true love. We know this life is available because this is what Jesus Christ offered the world in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The presence of God working within us, through the Holy Spirit, guides to be the people we were created to be and show the world Christ.

So let your light shine. Be a beacon of light in a dark world. Allow the light and love of Jesus Christ to live in and reflect through you. Watch. We will see more and more of heaven here on earth.