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

When Love Came Down

Since Christmas Day has come and gone, do you feel any different? Or do you feel the weight of cleaning everything, paying bills, or having to pack the gifts to come back home?

The time after Christmas can be really stressful for many people. The logistics of how everything will get done can be very complicated and frustrating. But, is this how we are supposed to live our lives, even after we practice being kind, loving, compassionate, even if for just a few days?

Something else gets to be stressful. The new year is quickly approaching. So, what new year resolutions are you going to make? How many are you actually going to be able to keep? How many are actually going to be beneficial for your life?

I have started to notice something at the holiday time frames, and at the start of something new – we always seem to over commit ourselves, which means we sacrifice something we all desperately need – TIME.

Does this seem like you?

As I was preparing for the Christmas season and studying the scriptures to preach, I noticed something I have never noticed before: the greatest gift God has given us.

Yes, God did give us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, people are healed, fed, hopeful, peaceful. These are all incredible gifts God has given us. But I think we are missing something when we think about what God has given us.

God has given us the gift of His time. That’s something awesome and I am astonished at how I have missed this before.

We always talk about how spending time with the people we love is important. We also talk about how spending time with people changes their outlook and helps to put them on the right track. This is what I noticed God has done for us, in the gift, the person of Jesus Christ.

He has shown us what it means to give up the time we desire, to spend with the people who need our time the most. Jesus was always spending his time with other people who needed food, healing, miracles, teaching, love, grace. I wonder how many of us get worn out because we would rather be doing something else so we miss out on the joy that comes when we truly share the time we’ve been given with others?

Since God has come down to earth, the greatest power in the universe, Love, has been instilled in the people. God is still spending time with his people through the power of his Holy Spirit.

As we wind down from all of the festivities and activities and gift giving of Christmas, let us always remember to praise and thank God for the gift of his time he spends with us. Let us always look for ways to joyfully spend the time we have been given with others to help them experience the greatest force in the world.

If we really want to experience and witness real change in the world, pay attention to how much time you have been given and how the time is spent. Carefully, and prayfully using the time we’ve been given, wisely, will cause us to utilize God’s gift of time for the transformation of the world.

When Love came down, we learn how much God thinks about his people and creation. I pray we can all have eyes to see the world as he sees it and have the heart for the world as he has. May we use the gift of time we have been given to share his love with all we can. That is, after all, what God has done for us.

Betrayed, Denied, Tried, Crucified

In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.

As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.

Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.

Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

READ LUKE 23:1-3

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”[1]

This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.

Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.

To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.

We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).

BETRAYAL

Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[2]

Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”[3]

Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person[4].” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.

Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[5]we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.

Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”

DENIAL

The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”[6]Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”[7]

Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.

Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.

Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”

Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.

When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.

TRIALS

Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.

During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[8]

CRUCIFIED

The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”[9]

It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.

Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”[10]

Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.

Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.[11]

The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.

Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.

Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.

Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..

We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[2]John 12:6 NIV

[3]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[4]John 2:25 NIV

[5]Luke 23:34 NIV

[6]Luke 22:34 NIV

[7]Mark 14:31

[8]Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

[9]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57

[10]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55

[11]Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5

Why Are You Worrying?

READ SCRIPTURE: Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Today, we are beginning a 3-week series on stewardship. This is an important topic for us to focus on because everything we have is because of God and is God’s. We are really just stewards of the resources we have been given.

When we talk about stewardship, we are talking about the wise utilization of the resources that God has given us.

Many times, people hear stewardship, in the church, and automatically think about money. This is a good part of stewardship. But we also can easily neglect the other aspects of what it means to be a good steward. We ask the question of how we spend our money; but we also ask, where does our time gets spent, how is our energy spent, how do we use our talents God gave us.

Stewardship is much more than just money. It is also about the talents and energy God has given us. It is about the physical materials God has given us. It is about God’s creation we care for.

The truth is, when we talk about stewardship, people tend to get antsy and edgy because the thought is this, “You can’t tell me how to spend my [money, time, talents, etc]!” Why do we tend to default to this kind of thinking? I think some of this feeling is because we are worried that God is not happy with our lives, or other people would not be happy if they found out what we did with the resources God has given us.

This is one of the areas of our life we will try to “earn” God’s favor and the favor of people. We can focus on showing what we are doing because we like to appear generous. The point of all of this is to break free from the worry of how other people view us. The point is to keep striving for the Kingdom of God.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is Jesus giving a long sermon about how people live in the Kingdom of God. What it means to break free from the kind of life the world around us offers and live as free, joyful, peaceful people in God’s Kingdom, God’s eternal presence.

The passage on not worrying is good for us to look at and remember this aspect of living so our minds are not clouded and jaded toward the world we live in. If we stay in the mindset of worry, it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophesy: we will see what we are worrying about come to pass.

When we read the word “worry”, in the passage from Matthew 6, it is the Greek word merimnao. This word is much more than just every day, little worries such as. This Greek word talks about being anxious, to brood over the situation.

This is why the passage in Matthew 6 about not worrying is so important. If we can break free from anxiety and brooding over things we don’t really have control over and focus solely on what it is God wants us to do with the resources we have been entrusted with, then

we can be free to be the people God has created us to be.

What do you get anxious about?

Why do you think you get anxious about it?

There are many things I worry, get anxious about. SOME of them are:

  • Not saying what I need to say in the right way
  • Offending people
  • Am I doing enough for my family
  • Not having enough financially to provide for my family

There are always things that get us worked up with worry and anxiety. The key is to always keep in focus the Kingdom of God and the reason behind why we share the faith of Christianity in the world.

God never promises us an easy life, but he does promise to give us everything we need. When we worry, we tend to have our mind clouded with negativity. This can cause our thoughts to go “rogue” on us and begin to think negatively. Then the thoughts we have tend to control how we act.

Think about that. What we watch. What we read. Everything we take in through our senses can cause us to be filled with joy, happiness, life, negativity, despair, worry, etc. So, when we have thoughts that bring worry to our lives, I like to remember specific verses in scripture:

2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV, “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 Galatians 2:20 NIV, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

John 1:5 NIV, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 119:105 NIV, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.”

These are some of the verses I call to mind when I am facing worry or anxiety. They help, me personally, remember the grace that God has bestowed up me, upon the world. Sometimes it takes times for the negativity to leave my mind; but when it does, the light of Christ shines through.

Over the course of these next three weeks, I’m going to challenge us to rethink how we spend the resources we have. We’ll bring up the challenge to fully tithe (giving 10% to the glory of God). Let’s talk about this briefly.

Financial tithing is important. But many people say they cannot give 10% of their income because that is too much. The reality is, I think most people give away 20% or more of their income and not really think about it. So, we do tithe. Just not in the places that will bring about eternal transformation. We instead focus on things that will last only a week or so before it has to be restored, rebuilt, torn down.

Why is tithing important? First of all, we remember that everything we have is because of God. Everything we have is God’s. Psalm 24:1 says “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” The truth? We are really giving back to God what is already God’s.

Tithing (giving God 10%) is also an act of worship and devotion to God. My wife, Amanda, had a great point the other day. We were talking about tithing (which we do) and she said, “The whole point of tithing is to prove money does not control us. It’s about giving to God without reservation and then fully trusting that what remains is enough to provide for your family.”

How many of us go through the month and not worry about money?

What are some other things we tend to worry about?

I have noticed people worry about:

  • Whether they are liked
  • Whether they are getting what they “deserve”
  • Whether they really have what they need
  • How we are going to get to do what we want
  • How we’re going to pay for colleges/weddings
  • We worry our money/time/talents will be spent on things we do not believe so we hold back and try to control where the money goes.

Notice what all of these “worries” point to – SELF!

Behind all of this is a sense of anxiety because we know we are not doing what we need to be doing. But we have to be careful because it is not about “checking the box” to get things done. It is really about Christ coming into our lives and transforming us from the inside out.

What causes us to “worry”?

The underlying cause can be several things: feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, pride.

But the truth is

THERE REALLY IS NO NEED TO WORRY.

Jesus tells his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, “do not worry…but seek first his kingdom and righteousness.”(Matthew 6:25,33b NIV)

Christ calls us to continually seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. We are given the word to seek after Christ, to seek after his Kingdom. Not only is Kingdom; but his righteousness as well. Some of the ways we seek the Kingdom is to call to mind scripture, find the good around us and in us, be kind when we don’t feel like it, thank God for everything (even the hard times because he is with us).

The beauty of it is, it is not us who earns righteousness, or even life everlasting. It is Christ who freely gives. It is by the grace of God that we do not have to let anything, except the Kingdom of Heaven, fill our minds and hearts.

Christ is saying to not let worry or anxiety fill our lives, but instead to allow the Kingdom of God to fill our lives. It is then we will realize everything God is giving us because of his love for us. Because of grace.

If we are worrying and allowing anxiety to rule our lives, we are really looking after ourselves. But, if we are seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, we see there is no need to worry because God is taking care of us.

Think about your life. Maybe you had an easy childhood, maybe now. Maybe things have gone well for you professionally. Maybe not. Maybe your life is exactly like you wanted. Maybe not.

But God has given us everything we need because he has given us talents/gifts to take care of ourselves and family and to work in the world for transformation.

God has given us encouragement through certain people he has placed in our lives.

God has given us wisdom to know how to handle situations and people.

God has given us himself because he loves us so much that he wants to dwell within us through the Holy Spirit.

All of this is because of grace. See, it is grace we have what we have. It is becasue of grace we can do incredible work in the world. It is grace that we are able to breathe.

We know all of this intellectually, but it is not easy to live fully.

The challenge I have for us all is to continually seek the Kingdom of God first in all areas of our life.

Let us all allow God to break us free from the worries/anxieties of earth and help us experience his kingdom more and more each day.

Psalm 51:6-9 NIV is a great starting prayer for us as we begin this journey over the next few weeks. “Yet you have desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me now, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity.”

It is challenging, but let’s let go of the feelings of worry and anxiety. God has given us all we need and is continually with you and me. God is doing great things.

 

Trouble Again?

Click here to read Acts 16:16-40.

“Paul and Silas in prison.” This is the heading for this passage in my Bible. With a heading like that, someone is bound to ask, “Wait, wasn’t Paul thrown in jail a couple chapters ago?” The answer would be yes!

In the book of Acts, there is a pattern: Paul goes to a town, Paul proclaims Jesus Christ, people get upset, Paul goes to jail/is stoned/thrown out of town. How would you like this kind of life with a pattern like this? The Christian life is supposed to be easy, right? After all, Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” But we miss the point if we think our life is going to be easy.

When we accept Jesus Christ and follow Him, we immediately are different from the world’s viewpoint. This means we get to be the people who bring the light of Jesus Christ with us, wherever we go, to shine light in peoples’ dark lives and to show sin the Holy Spirit is convicting people of.

Paul is on his way for prayer. He is on his way to spend time with Christ and allowing him to fill Paul’s spirit, mind, and heart for the task ahead. But he was interrupted. A fortune teller was there trying to tell everyone who Paul is, causing a disturbance. This happened day after day, after day. This had to be stopped. Paul commanded the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” Her “owners” did not like what happened. They lost their income.

Instead of being able to continue on with their mission, Paul and Silas were grabbed and taken before the city officials. Paul and Silas were being blamed for the disturbance within the city. We all have been through some kind of situation like this in our lives. The truth is it is so much easier to blame lack of business, or even turmoil, on another person rather than looking at the true source. (Look at Romans 2:1-11)

Even though it may seem as though you are cut off from the world, because of a situation, the joy of Christ can be so firmly and deeply rooted in your life that it can never be taken.

May the joy of Christ continue to shine in and through your life and become so contagious that the people around you are drawn to the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you.

Philippians 4:4-7

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Hey, Why Not?

Click here to read Acts 8:26-40.

I know you have been in this position. Suddenly you feel like you should go to a certain place, or go down a certain trail (road, path, aisle, etc.). You’re not sure why, it’s just a feeling. You go about your business to finish what you came to do when it seems like all of a sudden someone crosses your path and in some form or another seeks your attention.

Now when this happens to me, I know I have some choices. I can look directly at the person and greet them trying to let them know how busy I am. I can pretend not to see them and just move on. Or, I can stop what I’m doing and really notice them and begin to talk. Has my day been interrupted? Yes. Does my anxiety about not finishing what I need to creep in? Yes. In the end is it worth having my day interrupted especially when I find out that particular person needed to talk with me in that moment? Absolutely!

My guess is that happens to us more than we realize. We can get so wrapped up in our day to day tasks and to do lists that we can forget the most important task we should do is to love and serve God which leads us to love and serve other people.

Philip was prompted by the Spirit to go down a certain road to a certain place. Take some time to re-read the scripture above. How was he prompted? It doesn’t say. My personal experience is I have felt a nudging in my spirit to do something or go somewhere. I have also had people come up to me (more than one) and mention the same thing (without them knowing the others said it). I have also read scripture and have come across passages and sense God leading me to do something similar. This also happens when I read other books. The point is to always be open to, and discerning, what God is asking us to do on a daily basis.

While on the path, Philip notices an important official riding a chariot down the road and reading. He could have gave a polite greeting and went on his way; but Philip listened to what the Ethiopian was reading. In my mind, when Philip heard the Ethiopian reading he stopped in his tracks. This caused him to stop the chariot and begin the conversation with Philip.

This is a passage that comes into my mind and heart a lot. We just never know who we will run into or what God will lead us to that day; but we can go with the attitude, “hey, why not!” There are people in our paths that need our particular gifts, our particular past hurts we dealt with or are dealing with, our particular knowledge and skills to encourage, support, and build them up to become more of the person God created them to be. When our hearts are open to God, relationships become more important.

We are given opportunities to interact with other people. Sometimes we get to witness a life change. More often than not we get to people one of several people who help and we do not get to see the results.

If we are open to the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit, we will notice people and situations and go into them knowing that God is working there and is inviting us to be part of it. We just never know what the outcome will be.

Did Philip know how his chance encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch would turn out? No. But he still listened to the Spirit, stopped and listened to the Ethiopian, and professed Christ to him. Then, almost out of no where, baptism was talked about and they spotted water. The eunuch saw the water and basically said, “hey, why not?” He must have sensed that his life was changed because of what he had just heard and then decided the time was right to be baptized.

After baptizing him, Philip left. Did he get to see what happened next? No. Tradition says that the eunuch went back to Ethiopia and began to teach and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, starting and forming the Christian church in Ethiopia.

Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You just never know who you will cross paths with or what will change because you accepted God’s invitation to work with him.

The Rush

Click here to read Acts 2:1-41.

Chris LeDoux, a rock/country artist from the early 1990’s, sang a song called “Stampede.” It was about cowboy driving cattle from one place to another place. All was calm at night while they we trying to rest, until…

They heard something that sounded like thunder. But when they looked in the sky there were no clouds. The sound was getting stronger and they realized something was wrong. The cattle were stampeding! All of a sudden the cowboys jumped up and did the work they knew they needed to do to get the cows back in order.

As I think about the day of Pentecost this year, this is an image that comes to mind. Think about being the early apostles and hearing something strange and not really knowing what it was. And then all of a sudden, you would know they work you needed to do. How do you think you would react? I would hope all of us come with expectation to have such an encounter with Jesus Christ daily that we are filled with excitement and energy for the work and day ahead.

Before Jesus went into heaven, he told his followers the mission they were to be on, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). After hearing this, the disciples gathered in a room to wait as Jesus instructed. When they were waiting, they were praying and listening for Jesus to speak to them again.

This is how I believe revival comes into our world. When we take the time to wait on God, instead of trying to push our agenda and “make” people come to faith through fear or any other tactic we may have; we see the Spirit move and people make genuine professions of faith and truly confess and repent.

It starts with God who gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We have the opportunity to experience the grace of God living in us, changing us, making us more and more like His Son, and giving us a renewed sense of awe and joy for the work He calls us to in this life. Since God has come into our lives and awakened/revived our souls, we have the power and guidance to go into the world and work with God to bring His message so revival can take place. We get to work with God in incredible ways and watch the Holy Spirit do incredible work in and through us.

At the end of Peter’s message, we see that 3,000 people came to faith (through the conviction and working of the Holy Spirit) and were baptized. We can go into the world and expect similar responses. But, how many people turned away after hearing the sermon? How large was the crowd that day anyway? The point is that we should never be discouraged when we don’t get the results we want. We should always look to see where and how God is moving and working and praise Him.

I invite you to live in such a way that the work of the Holy Spirit in your life is shown and glorified in all you say, do, and think so that people around you will be able to see and love Jesus Christ. It is all by grace God has given us the Holy Spirit. Through this grace, and the life He calls us to, we get to experience a rush, a new kind of excitement and joy to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ with all we encounter.

To go further into the concept of revival and being a witness, I invite you to listen to this sermon called, “Our Witness Matters.” Click here for the sermon link.