Who is YHWH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

God’s Story, Your Story: The Old Testament

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

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

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

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

Act 1: Creation, Fall, Israel

Act 2: Jesus, Church, New Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything was all well and good, until…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This teaches us how patient God is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalms are beautiful cries and expressions to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Love

Click here to read Matthew 28:1-10

What would it have been like that first Easter Sunday? We have gotten into the tradition of going into Easter with pomp and circumstance. We should, after all be celebratory and joyful everyday because Christ has risen from the dead.

But, what if, we miss the point of Easter going straight to the celebration. Do we come with wonder anymore? Has the story become too familiar that we don’t give it the attention it deserves?

Put yourself in the women’s shoes as they travelled to the tomb. They still could not believe Jesus was dead. They were still in shock he was treated the way he was on, what we call, Good Friday. How could he, a non-criminal, really be put to death like that?

Not only that, but there must have been some anxiety because they could not anoint Jesus’ body when he was placed in the tomb, or even during the next day because it was the Passover meal festival and the next day was the Sabbath, and nothing like anointing could have been done since it was considered as work. Can you imagine the stress that would have placed on them?

Fast forward to today. We love to celebrate, we love it when things go right. We love to be able to find ways to party and have fun. But what if, we are not supposed to think of Easter as a “normal” celebration we hold each year. What if Easter is supposed to be something more? What if God uses this time of quarantine, social/physical distancing, staying home to teach us what really matters in this life?

I know many people are disappointed we are not able to gather together for Easter worship this year. But, maybe we have the opportunity to live out the resurrection story in a brand new way, a way that is not traditional nor the status quo.

So, how have you traditionally celebrated Easter Sunday? If you’re like most people, we celebrate Easter just on the Sunday and we go back to “normal” life the next day.

If anything, this year should teach us we cannot go back to living “normally.” Why would we really want to go back to normal anyway?
After the guards left the tomb, they were different. After the women left the tomb, they were different. After the disciples left the tomb, they were different. Not only were they different, but they never went back to the way they lived before they encountered the empty tomb. Once they interacted with the Resurrected Christ, everything was changed.
Notice some of the things that changed. First of all, this happened on the first day of the week, symbolizing the start of something NEW.

Maybe we can use this time right now to reset our priorities and have God reset our hearts and lives toward him.

Matthew’s account of the resurrection says a “violent earthquake” occurred because and angel of the Lord came down from heaven. Remember, we can experience God in the quietness, like being in nature, but what if God is speaking to us when everything is shaken up? One of the C.S. Lewis quotes I love is “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The world had just put Jesus, the Son of God, to death. The world was not listening to God. Sometimes there has to be something dramatic to shake things up and open ears to hear God speaking and calling out to us.

What if, we use this time, this unique time, to call out to God. Maybe God is speaking to us here and now. What is he saying?
The angel of the Lord told the women (the first apostles and evangelists) Jesus is not here (in the tomb) because he is risen! The angel also said do not be afraid.

Yes, the angel allows the women to look inside to verify Jesus was not there. But this is a reminder to us, even today, nothing is ever going back to normal. At the same time, we have nothing to fear.

When they went to the tomb, they were expecting Jesus to be right there, to be where they left him. Then they expected to go back to their normal lives and go on living, with grief yes, but living just as before.
One of my fears today is that we go back to living as “normal” when clearly we, as the church, should be seen more in the world and demonstrate the presence of God with us because CHRIST IS RISEN!

There is a great urgency to be the people who follow Christ. Why? Because there is a lot to do? Nope. Because Christ is alive and has called us to be in mission with him. Our lives are no longer lived for us, but for him. It really doesn’t matter what we think we like because Christ is alive and we are being transformed into his image and likeness. God is giving us the “mind of Christ”, if we let him.

The part about Easter that I love, and it means so much more to me now, is how NOTHING will ever be the same. Christ did not die so we could observe the empty tomb and throw a party at the empty tomb once a year. Christ is alive and that means we can celebrate wherever we are in the world because Christ is there.

Yes, this year has been different. We have been told we need to stay “sheltered” inside our homes. We need to practice “social distancing.” This is all well and good because we do not want the virus to spread. But, at the same time, maybe we get a little taste of what the early disciples experienced. Maybe we get a little nervous (the disciples were afraid because they could be put to death) about going outside and in the stores.

Maybe we get to take the intimate settings we practiced, observed, and worshipped this past Holy Week and allow the Easter story to be born anew into us.

The reality is, the world tried to shut Jesus up by killing him.

The world tries to shut the doors of churches so we can’t gather together. But here’s the deal. Church buildings may be empty this year but so is the tomb.

The world thought it could stop the presence of God through Jesus Christ from going further into the world with the message of Heaven and God’s love for the world. The world closed the tomb to try and keep Christ buried and hidden. But always remember this, Church: there ain’t no stoppin’ love!

Let your cries in the world be CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELULIA! Christ is risen, the tomb is empty but our lives are full.

Christ lives. Nothing is the same now nor anything will ever be the same again.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Amen.

RESPOND TO CHRIST
Christ is alive and is speaking to you today. Maybe you haven’t taken the time to notice. Maybe you couldn’t hear because you’ve had so much thrown at you by the rest of the world. Maybe you sense something stirring in your heart and want to acknowledge Christ is speaking to you, yes you to give your life and complete devotion only to him.

Maybe today is the day you finally say YES to Christ. Maybe today is the day you say YES again to Christ.

However you respond today, I implore you to listen to the Spirit’s words and see the beauty and power of the Risen Christ who came for you.

What Can “Baby Shark” Teach Us?

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


Then it happened.


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Seeking & Saving the Lost

Jesus is so much more than we realize he is. Even those of us who profess his name and seek to follow him still do not get or give a full picture of who he is.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about various aspects of who Jesus is:

Jesus is God in flesh. This is so much more than a story we need to hear just at Christmas time. God coming to earth shows how personal he is and how great his love for the world is.

He has been tempted in all ways we are. This shows us he knows what we are going through and he is the One who is constantly with us reminding us of the life and light that is available to ALL people. We do not have to live with the guilt and shame of giving into sin anymore because Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death. NOTE: This not does not give us the freedom to live however we want. This does give us opportunities for repentance and experiencing grace.

Jesus brings healing and hope. Through this, he also brings forgiveness of sins. His mission is to bring people into the life of God by working to make the people whole again.

Today, we’re focusing on Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost.” [1]

How am I defining “lost”?

Lost as we’re going to talk about today deals with two types of people:

  • Those who do not know or have never met Jesus Christ. Those who are living a life far away from Christ.
  • Those who profess Christ with their lips but do not live as Christ desires them to live (i.e. purposefully gives into sin with no regret, guilt, shame, etc.) So, a person who acts as part of a church family but not following Christ.

Before we go much further, we have to understand a few things:

  • All people were created in the image of God. Some live into this image while others repress it so much they do not resemble any part of the image of God. Some people do not know the image within them and just need it to come forth.
  • Everyone needs grace. All people are welcomed to experience the grace of God in their lives.
  • We are put on this earth, given this life we have, for “such a time as this” [2]to share and show the love of God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit for ALL people. We get to live out and work with God in his desire “ALL people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”[3]

This is the mission of Christ: to proclaim the Kingdom of God that is at hand by living his life to “seek AND save the lost.” We’ll talk about what it means to be saved in a little bit.

READ SCRIPTURE LUKE 15:1-2 (back up to 14:35b)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When we read those verses, what stands out to you? Take just a moment and write down what you heard.

 

LET THOSE WITH EARS, HEAR

This was something that was piercing my heart and soul as I kept reading the scripture.

Listening is important. Listening gives people value. Listen helps us understand what is going on.

Many times, we’ll come to people with our own assumptions as to why they are the way they are and do not take the time to really get to know them. We’ll already know what people need and seek to give that to them without really finding out the cause of their situation.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he is talking about listing beyond the words he is saying and allow the Spirit of God to speak to you. Jesus is talking about truly hearing what is being said and allow the truths he is bringing to impact and transform your life.

Jesus wants us to be so in tune with his voice, that is still speaking, in the world that we will truly hear and follow him. That is why I do my best to cling tight to Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now, Jesus is also saying, that only those willing to hear his message and allow the words to change lives are the one who will do what he desires. Only the people who truly desire to hear him will be the ones who actually do. Everyone else is going to do what they want to do and makes them feel good.

Which of these groups of people are you?

Before you say you are in the group that really hears the message of Christ and live according to what he says, think about how you and I treat those around us. Do we ever feel like we are better than other people? Do we ever feel like people deserve what they got and do our best to help teach them a lesson? Do we feel like we’ve already tried to help people and they just don’t get it so we stopped seeking to help?

Jesus wants us to hear him, to have the ears to hear the souls and hearts of the people around us and always seek to be in mission with him at our homes, our community, state/nation, and around the world.

Jesus’ heart is for those who do not try to hide behind a religious lifestyle. Jesus’ heart is for those who do not know God and those who have gone astray from following him.

How many people do you know that are not Christian? It is so easy for us to remain in our Holy Huddles and keep those different than us at arm length and not get to know them. After all, those people are the demise of society, right? No. It is the spirit in the person. Whatever we choose to worship (give precedence to) will become our master. This is where the problems arise.

So how many people do you know that are not Christian? If we say, “no one,” then we really need to expand our circle of influence and love. We also need to remember that even though people profess to be a believer in Christ and profess to be a Christian, doesn’t mean they actually are.

We can think about the lost in terms of being poor.

Someone who is financially poor seems to be the easiest type of person we can help because we can do something for them. This type of person may not know Christ because of many different reasons. They may be in it for the handouts. They are most likely seeking something more: people to show them they still have value and worth in the sight of God. Yet, the financially poor may know Christ deeply because they find themselves truly dependent on him.

Another type of poor is spiritually speaking. There could be people who have everything they want materially but are living so far from Christ it’s not even funny. How can you help this kind of person?

We continue with the scripture today:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.“

What we’re going to see is

HEAVEN REJOICES OVER SINNERS WHO REPENT

Have you ever been to a worship service where there were lower classes (socially speaking) of people than you? How about a different ethnic group? There is something incredible that happens when all different types and groups of people come to hear and experience Jesus Christ.

I have learned more and have experienced God’s grace and mercy so much more powerfully when I have taken the time to worship with people different than me. I love to be part of the congregation and hear desperate calls for God in their lives. The people were part of the worship experience rather than being simply an audience and just trying to listen. Jesus is seeking to be with the people who desire to be part of his mission rather than those who sit on the sidelines.

Not only that, but he “rejoices over the salvation of every lost person”.[4]When someone repents (changes their mind and heart toward God) and turns their life over to Christ, there is so much rejoicing and partying in heaven.

Jesus sits with the people who need grace. This is why I asked, how many non-Christians do you know? Would you be willing to be seen with the “worst” people in our society? Would you be willing to be seen with people who could ruin your reputation?

This past week, I was in the Rocky Mountains for a spiritual sabbath retreat with 13 other pastors and friends. We had a great time. We spent time hiking, talking theology, praying, goofing off. It was a great time of renewal for me spiritually.

Tuesday we went on an eleven-mile hike up a mountain. As we were hiking up, there were many people who passed us. One of the reasons I love going to the mountains in Colorado is all the different types of people, nationalities, accents that are present. We have the opportunity to talk with many different types of people.

But I did have the thoughts of how many of the people we came in contact with knew Christ, how many of them lived a lifestyle that was far from Christ? Would I be willing to sit down, have dinner with them and listen?

I think many of us, and I battle this at times, do not welcome the outcasts of society into our homes because we do not want to be associated with them. We don’t want to ruin our reputation. This made me think of a quote from a guy named Joshua Harris, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough times with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER, GOD’S HEART IS FOR THE WORLD

Jesus was “ruining” his reputation with the Pharisees. This group of leaders had to be careful not interact with people beneath them. Pharisee means “set apart” meaning that they were not supposed to do anything that would tarnish their reputation with the people. They had to live in such a way as to be the “perfect” example of what it meant to follow God’s law. Never mind many of them had been corrupted in the heart because they felt they were better than others, enjoyed the money, fame, attention, etc.

So which group would we be better to associate with? The leaders who were corrupt, or the people Jesus came for? I think the answer is both. Remember, everyone needs to experience God through Jesus Christ no matter the lifestyle.

A couple weeks ago we talked about asking God to give you his heart for the people around you, for the world. How do you respond when someone comes along who is different than you? How do you respond when people are constantly trying to get stuff from you? I know my heart is not as soft as I hope it would be. I am not always compassionately patient, but God is constantly working on me daily. He gives me chance after chance because I keep getting to be around people who are different than me and have a different lifestyle than me.

God’s heart for the last, the least, and the lost is incredible. Just take time to read through the scriptures and see what is said. Even read the verses and passages that you do not want to or like to read because it goes against what you think should be done. (You’d find these types of passages all the way through and you would know what they are by how they cause uneasiness to your spirit when you read them.)

GOD DOES WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO SEEK OUT AND FIND THE LOST:

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and find them.”

Ezekiel 34:16

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

Luke 19:10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 18:12

The parable of the lost sheep.

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

And many more..

This is what God does. Jesus sought after the people who were far away from God, especially those who had been cast out by the people of God.

God would do anything it takes to bring people into his light and grace.

A friend of mine told me a story of when he was on a vacation several years ago, he and his family (including a toddler and an infant) were going to the beach. The sand was hot and they were looking for a place to play when the toddler needed to go to the bathroom, so the mom took her. My friend was waiting for his wife and daughter to come back from the restroom. When his wife came back by herself, he asked where their toddler daughter was. She said she sent her back to him (he was within sight of the restroom).

The daughter could not be found. For forty minutes the family was searching. They sought assistance from the police, lifeguards, you name it. Finally, they did find her, sitting in the sand playing.

God uses every method possible to seek the lost, find them and bring them into his grace. How do I know? God used all of heaven’s resources to find you and me. He sent us Jesus Christ.

HOW DO YOU VIEW PEOPLE?

Do you “see” the people around you? Don’t assume that if it seems they have their life together they actually do. Do you really see them, the hurts, struggles, sin?

How far would you go to rescue someone from the clutches of sin to bring them to the throne of grace and love?

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Save them from a life of not having knowledge of the love of God and save them from living in a hell. His mission is to bring the true light of the world to all people.

Jesus’ mission is for people to be saved, set free, from the enslavement of sin and death. To know the great love of God. To live in the perfect relationship in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His plan for accomplishing this mission?

You and me.

Would you search for a lost person here and show them Christ?

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How about here?

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How about here?

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And finally, how about here?

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We never know who God is seeking and asking us to reach out to. As you leave this place today, remember you are being sent into the mission field. Ask God for the eyes to see those who are lost. Ask God for the ears to hear the cry of those who are in search of the God who is already pursuing them.

Remember, God pursued you and me. Let’s go into the world, with him, to seek the lost and walk with them to the throne of grace.

Do you ever feel lost or far from God and his incredible grace? God has never left or forgotten you. Come to know and remember God’s grace and heart for you. Come all you who are seeking life and hope. Jesus is here. He has never left you. Place your trust in him know you have never been lost from his sight.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 19:10

[2]Esther 4:4

[3]1 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine

[4]The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9, Page 295

Confidence in the Calling

Click here to read Acts 14:1-7.

It’s the same things that have happened to Paul and Barnabas before. People are undermining the truths they are speaking and are doing everything they can to discredit and remove the “threat” other leaders consider Paul to be. Have you experienced this kind of situation in your life?

Being a leader is difficult. It is a calling. It is a lifestyle. It is who God created the leader to be. Leadership is difficult and not for the faint hearted. Please don’t let this discourage you. Being a leader is also very rewarding. People in leadership, who exercise their gifts effectively, motivate and encourage others to reach toward a higher standard of living. When a leader answers the call of God in their lives, guiding people to see the work of the Living God all around is an incredible experience.

The thing I see, in this passage today, is how Paul and Barnabas kept growing in their confidence of being God’s servants because they paid more attention to the results than to the hardships that were going on around them and to them. Did you notice that people kept responding to the grace of God? Even in the midst of hardship, the midst of tragedy, chaos, God’s shining light came through and people’s lives are changed because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Look around you, what do you see? Do you see more of the good or the bad around you? When you wake up each morning, what do you look forward to each day? I would encourage you to find ways to start each day with praising God for all the ways He is working in the world.

Now, this does not mean all we need to do is change our attitudes. This means we do change our minds, we change our hearts. Change happens with the work of the Holy Spirit is your life. It is not something we can do on our own. This change, this renewing of our hearts and minds happens when we are open to the Spirit working in us and allowing our eyes to see the incredible things that are really going on around us.

As you pay attention to the work of Jesus Christ, you have many chances to remember Who called you, and Who continues to work in and through you. I pray you grow in your confidence in Christ. Remember it is through Christ we get the power, direction, grace, and confidence to do the work He calls people to do.

Stay confident with Christ’s work in you and around you. As you stay confident in Christ’s work, I hope you can remain confident in the work Christ called you to do.

Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?

REDEEMED: The Prodigal Father

What is your first impression on the story of the “Prodigal Son”? Most of us have probably focused on the wayward son that came back home and the father welcoming him back with a big party. We probably also have focused on the attitude of the older son. Have you been counted among the “prodigals” and been told it’s time to come back home?

This season of lent, we are being challenged by two concepts. The main one is to practice lent as a spiritual discipline so when Easter comes it is experienced with more joy and rejoicing because Jesus the Christ has won the victory. Sin has been defeated and we are able to have our relationship with God, our Creator restored and reconciled. This is incredible news that we can miss if we do not take the time to allow everything that happened up to and including the cross to impact our hearts and lives.

The second concept we are challenged and invited to meditate on is the truth of what it means to be redeemed. Last week, we talked about God having an incredible love for us that He would pay any price to redeem us. This was done on the cross with the death of Jesus Christ. God redeemed us by paying the price for our sin and “buying” us back with His blood. What a gift this is! And we can miss how incredible this really is if we just go straight to the resurrection without the events, including the death, that lead up to the victorious resurrection.

Click here to read this week’s passage from Luke 15.  One of the first things we have to consider what prodigal means. The way most of us have heard about prodigal is as a wayward, lost person. When we look up prodigal in the dictionary, it means “extravagantly wasteful.” This makes complete sense when we think about the son who left and returned humble and remorseful. But, have you considered the father as prodigal?

In our society, it really does not make sense for the father to spend that much money or give that kind of reception for a child who squandered his part of the inheritance and was not smart with his money. It is customary to see people get left out of the family or treated in a way where the person has to learn a lesson from the school of hard knocks. This is the type of society we tend to live in.

The father in this passage is just like God. In fact, he is meant to point us to the ravishing love that God, our Father, has for us. It does not make sense; but God treats us in ways, and gives us things that we would consider wasteful. There is no reason that God should treat us this way; except for the truth that He loves us which such complete love that we cannot fully comprehend.

Don’t you find it amazing how God, the Creator of the universe sees us living lives that are so against what He designed us to live and still accepts us back when we return to Him? You and I are invited to experience grace in this way. We do not deserve all of what God desires to give us; but we still get to receive. We have the freedom to choose whether we’ll live a life without God; but He rejoices greatly when we choose to follow Him and choose His life. In Christ, we have real life and real freedom.

I invite you to meditate on, not just what wayward people we can be at times; but rather on the truth of how generous our God is. Even though it seems wasteful to us to throw an extravagant reception and to lavish true unconditional love on the lost and waywards (us), this is what God our Father does.

As we approach Easter and celebrating the resurrection, let’s take serious time to reflect on the incredible love of the Father and allow this to draw us close to the cross and the life of Jesus Christ. God has so much that He wants us to experience this side of eternity.

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”