God Sees

Click here to read 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

How good a judge are you of someone’s character? How well do you have the ability to choose/pick who the next leader should be? Has it worked out for you in the past? These are questions that we should be thinking about when we read the passage today.

One of our challenges we face, today, is an opinion overload. What I mean is that everyone has their opinion and it can be tough to sort through the opinions to find the truth. But this is what we must do. We must not let our opinions, our preferences, rise above the standards and vision God has in this world.

Now before we say we can do all of this, listen to this fictional letter about the resumes of the 12 disciples. Based upon leadership standards today, and assessments, this is quite possibly how this would go down.

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

(Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195)

Unfortunately, with the standards we have set in place today, and the types of qualifications we end up looking for in leadership, this is something that most likely would happen.

But when we read a passage like 1 Samuel 16, we see something different. What we see is faith being lived out in spite of fear and we also see God has a different vision for leadership and what really matters than we do. What we are seeing, in this passage, is a direct contrast with how the people chose to have a king and Saul was chosen versus how God chooses David as the next king, the king who will be the lineage of the King of kings, Jesus the Christ. So this is an important decision.

So, what’s happened? Saul was the answer for the people, but the position of power went to his head and he began to focus on what he wanted to do rather than what was in the best interest of the people, of the nation, of the decrees of God. After the decision to not finish the battle as Samuel directed Saul (1 Samuel 15), Saul lost his anointing from God and became tormented with an evil spirit.

Demons and evil spirit aside, what we are seeing is God’s favor has been removed from Saul. Can you imagine the torment and torture that would take place with God’s favor removed from you? Praise God for his grace. Praise God for Jesus’ words and promise that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Because of this situation, Samuel was grieved for Saul, and he went back to his home in Ramah never to see Saul again.

Saul’s actions and attitude does not stop the movement and working of God. God makes Samuel leave his town and head to Bethlehem to the family of Jessie, for the purpose of anointing the next king of Israel.

Now, Samuel would have been terrified because it would have been against the law, against the king to anoint a new king while the king was still living! But Samuel knew he’d better obey God, so he went.

When the people of Bethlehem saw Samuel, they knew who he was, what he was capable of, and what his job, as a prophet, was. The people were afraid because they knew what the sacrifice was about and why he came. They knew how Saul would react if “public enemy #1”, Samuel was known to be doing these actions.

But Samuel trusted God and knew God knows things we don’t. So he continued the journey to complete the task at hand.

When Samuel gets to Jessie’s house, he asked to see his sons, and they prepare for the sacrifice. Jessie’s sons come forward to meet Samuel and he thinks “Surely the Lord’s anointed (Messiah, savior, king) is among these brothers.” But who would God choose? What is God looking for?

Samuel looked the brothers over and was told over and over again (paraphrased), “Stop it! You’re looking at the wrong things. I don’t care how these men look. What matters is their heart, their motivations, their character. I want someone who will be a man after my heart and follow my ways, which is what is needed.” So Samuel waited (patiently?) for the Lord to reveal who the next king would be.

Patience is something that is lacking in our world, in our culture, today. We all want what we want when we want it. But when we read the scriptures, we find patience (waiting on God) is the right thing to do. It’s the best way to find out what is best.

None of the brothers fit the mold for the next king God had in mind and Samuel asked if there were any more brothers? In other words, “Jessie, are you hiding anyone from bring here today?” I’d have to think Jessie hesitantly admitted the youngest one was out in the field doing the work. After all, why would the youngest one be the one God would choose?

Throughout the scriptures, we see God choosing the younger over the older several times, especially when it comes to his covenant and his relationship with his people. Again, God chooses who God wants and sees things in people we may not always see.

The youngest brother comes in and God tells Samuel, “That’s him! Anoint him!” Samuel, once again, obeys. And in a secret ceremony, Samuel pours the oil over David’s head to anoint him the next king of Israel. After this episode, Samuel leaves and heads back home to Ramah.

I have to ask you this question, have you asked God for the same eyes, as he has, to see the world and his people? Have you asked God for his vision? Or are we content with knowing what we know and only seeing what we see?

If we are, then we continue to seek after the things and ways that we think are what’s needed. We’ll continue to operate under the mentality the ends justify the means and seek after our own comfort and preferences. This may mean that we keep making mistake after mistake and veer off the course and path God intended.

Remember, God calls his people, God responds to his people. Now we know God sees his people and who they really are and what they’re capable of doing. Yes, David will mess up and do things that satisfy his desires for the moment, but he is still considered a “man after God’s own heart.” Why? Because David consistently sought the movement, presence, working, and will of God, especially when David sinned and messed up.

Waiting on God and seeing what it is God has in store for his people is important.

An example fo this. I was 34 years old before I got married. I always felt like I would just “see” something in the girl I would marry. There would be some sort of spark, in her eyes. I did date a few people, yet I never really found anyone I wanted to spend my life with. No one seemed right. Until…

This beautiful girl and I began talking. When we met up for a cup of coffee, at a Starbucks, I opened the door for her, saw her, and said “Wow!” From that point on, I sought after her. We even married 5 months later. Best decision ever! Patience paid off. Waiting to see what God sees paid off.

I challenge each of us to wait patiently for whatever it is you are asking God to reveal to you. It is easy to jump the gun and seek after the best, the brightest, the biggest. But are we patient enough to try and see what God sees? That’s a question we should ask daily. Why? Because if we can find peace, trusting God has the right answers, then we’ll have peace we are living in the manner God desires. We can be people after God’s own heart.

Let me tell you this, that’s the kind of life I desire to live. I hope you do too.

Made in the Image of God

Created in the Image of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[1] The imago Dei has been a doctrine of debate for many years. “Theological anthropological claims were derived by applying the general account of creatureliness to human creatures in particular, qualified by the claim that what distinguishes them as specifically human is that God creates them into the image of God.”[2] Throughout the centuries, people have been in many discussions and studies about what it means to be made in God’s image. There are many theories from being made in the image of love, to being a good and moral person, to having the creative ability to steward and care for the earth, to…I’m sure many other ideas. All of which point to the character and personhood of God. Just what is the image of God? What does this mean for humankind and its identity? What are the implications for salvation and life everlasting?

For a while, I have fallen into the camp of saying God is love and we are created in the image of love, but I have come to better understand this is true, yet not a complete understanding. Why? Because of the way love is defined in our current culture—more dealing with feelings than as a way of life. Another way I have understood the image of God is we have morality within us. It is true humanity has the moral law written on our hearts. This is why we can determine what is right and what is wrong. Duane Stephen Long writes, “The moral life has its origin in our creation in the image of God and its end in our restoration and return to that image.”[3] But I have some reservations about this. Is the imago Dei “just” about morality? Are we not considered “moral” when we move on from this life? Or does “morality” take on a new meaning, or dimension, when we transition into the next life?

Now we come to, what I think is, the real issue—who is God and what is God like? I also believe how we live out our life shows what we believe about the nature and person of God within us. When we take the time to study, reflect on, and pray about who and what we are, we can begin to understand our purpose in this world because we understand there is a deep level to goodness there is within the world, and within the nature and character of God. “The triune God is complete goodness…the triune God is the perfect fullness of being…God loves his own goodness such that he seeks to share it. This occurs through the second person of the Trinity, who is the image of God.”[4] Our entire life should point and be directed to the Son, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ to best understand the image of God.

To this end, I am concluding the image of God is about relationship. To be made in God’s image shows we can have a deep relationship with the creator, other people, ourselves, and creation. One of the things to understand is God is in relationship with Godself through the Trinity. The Trinity, the relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, show us it is possible to live in perfect harmony and peace with others. I believe this is God’s intent—we live, with the Spirit of God dwelling with us, in perfect harmony and peace with everyone and everything around us while we take care of and tend to the created order, as God would do here since we are the image-bearers of God and God’s representatives here on earth. As Stephen Fowl writes, “In creation God freely wills not simply the existence of humans created in the image of God, but God also desires fellowship with humans, offering them a share in the divine life. This is both the intention with which God created and the end for which God created.”[5] And everything was all well, and good, until, free will got the best of humans and the divine image within humanity became marred through the entry of sin and evil in our world.

Image of God Broken Within Us

Humanity was created to be God’s image-bearers on earth and take care of the created order. “The issue at stake, rather, is the theological account of the specific relationship of two causalities to each other—the triune God, creator and redeemer, and the human being, created in the image of God and existing under the condition of sin.”[6] Now that we understand this concept, we have to take responsibility and respond to God. We can either accept gratefully this image and task, or we can reject it. When we reject God, this response, “may take the form of efforts ‘to be self-constituting and isolated being’, i.e. the form of sin that distorts the image of God vertically and horizontally.”[7]

Because of sin, we easily lose our divine purpose, within us, and end up making ourselves made into the image of anything else that makes us happy. Thus, idolatry, greed, murder, thievery, adultery, etc. become the “gods” we seek after to fulfill us and we have allowed these other “gods” to lead us to live a life for us rather than the life God created for us. We continue to mar the image of God within us by reshaping our lives by the relationship(s) we have with other entities we feel are more valuable than the life of God within us. We miss out on living out the divine relationship of the Trinity in which we have been created. Why? “Sin obtains, with the consequence that the entire relations that constitute persons is distorted or ‘fallen’”[8] meaning we have lost our way, our purpose, and our identity. Unfortunately, because the reality of sin and evil, has entered into our world, and every human, there is nothing we can do, on our own, to change our relationship with God and restore us to the divine image.

What happens next is humanity will begin to seek after other things, people, statuses to believe they have found who they are and what their purpose is for life. Idols and idolatry now come into view, which distorts the vision humans have of themselves and the created order even more. We think we can “fix” this problem on our own, so we will do everything possible to try to “earn” God’s favor and acceptance, but we can end up making things worse because our focus is not on God but on ourselves and how we want God to fix us so our lives are better. It is too easy to treat God as our magic genie, who works for us, and expect God to do our bidding, thus attempting to make God an idol who works for us. We need the grace of God. We need God to do something, to intervene in our lives to make this change for us. We need God to remind us who we are and replace the image of ourselves once again with the divine image to restore all relationships in this world.

God Reveals Himself

Due to the fall (sin and evil becoming attached to human life and existence), humanity had lost so much of its identity concerning how to be in relationship with God, others, self, and creation, that is it impossible for us to restore the relationship status we were created in without any assistance. Therefore, God sent the Son, Jesus the Christ, as the one who would save and atone for the sins of the world. What this means is God descended from heaven to show the people of Israel (eventually the world) what it means to be human and live into the divine image. To best reveal himself to the world, God sent Jesus, the human revelation of God in flesh. Jesus is the way we can experience a restored relationship with God, others, self, and creation.

Before Jesus came, humanity did not have a full revelation about who God is and what God’s nature is like because God revealed small amounts of the divine character at different points in history (see Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets). Humanity was not able to grasp the richness and deepness of God, so God needed to send a full representation of himself to show the world who he is and what his character is like. Jesus is this revelation for humanity. In Colossians 1:15, the Apostle writes out a hymn and confession of faith that was taught to teach about who Jesus is. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”[9] The revelation of God has been made known through Jesus the Christ. Without Jesus, God would still be unknowable, in the manner we can know God today. Therefore, humanity would not know the divine image given to humanity at creation. It is also through the Holy Spirit, within us, we can more fully understand who we are because of the image of God by leading us to Jesus Christ. “The gift of the Holy Spirit invites us to participate in the life of God by drawing us into the life of the Son.”[10]

Made in the Image of Christ

“As a human person who is the image of the invisible God, Jesus Christ is not merely a spirit or soul but an embodied human being.”[11] Jesus is the way humanity can personally know God—who God is, what the character of God is like, and thus who we are, as people. “To know who God is, the theological virtue of faith is necessary.”[12] To be restored to the image of God, God allowed humanity to have faith in God’s Son, Jesus the Christ. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…”[13] Jesus tells his disciple, Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”[14] To know Jesus is to know God. To know God is to know who God is. To know who God is reveals who we are. To know who we are reveals the divine nature within us. To know the divine nature within us reveals how we should live, in relationship with God, other people, ourselves, even the created order.

Jesus has been made known to the world, and now humanity can know what it means to be made into the image of God by being recreated, reformed into the image of Christ because of God’s grace through our faith we direct back to God through Jesus the Christ. The image of Christ does everything possible to proclaim and connect the world with the already yet coming kingdom of God. We can see how this is carried out within the pages of the New Testament.

“In the New Testament the imago is identified with Jesus…the imago was not fulfilled at creation but rather is a divinely given eschatological destiny. This destiny is fulfilled by the eschatological Spirit, who, transforming human beings by incorporating them ‘in Christ’…drawing them into participation in the divine life.”[15] One of the ways we can see this lived out and practiced is in the letters of Paul to the people at Corinth. He writes, “Follow [imitate me] my example, as I follow [imitate] the example of Christ.”[16] To fully live into the divine image, we (humanity) need to follow the example of and imitate the life of Jesus. It is in Jesus Christ the image of God is fully lived out. We, humanity, now have the chance to display and live into love, morality, joy, peaceful relationships, etc. because this is all part of the divine image, the imago Dei. This is all possible by placing and grounding our faith in Jesus Christ.

Faith, in Christ, is where this transformation begins. “Persons are re-created, the image of God restored, when they are conformed to Christ.”[17] “The theological virtues, gifts, and beatitudes restore us into the image of God, Christ, whose life is the foundation for this restoration. Through his incarnation and its meditation through the church in word and sacrament, we participate in his righteousness.”[18] This kind of life leads us to the gift of salvation and understanding how we should live, in this life, and in the life to come.

Salvation and the Goal of Salvation

For people to fully realize a life lived in and with the imago Dei, humanity needs to be recreated into the original image God intended. Nothing will be set right, no relationship will ever be peaceful or just until the imago Dei is fully restored in the life of the follower of Christ. This begins a process of being recreated, being made new in Christ. In the process of being made new, being recreated, this does not take away our uniqueness, it simply means the essence of who we are (our motives and focus in this world) will be recreated and re-centered around the God who created us. “Re-created persons truly image God. Thus personhood is inherently centered outside itself. Since, as created, personhood is already intrinsically related to God, God’s relating to re-create does not threaten person’s autonomy and subjectivity.”[19] All of this is made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul reminded the people of Corinth, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone, the new is here!”[20] Humanity can, and will be recreated into something new, something that God intends, something that will allow humanity to dwell and live with God in life everlasting, or as N.T. Wright says, “life after life.” This is the goal of salvation–theosis.

Theosis (divinization) is not, of course, a ‘becoming God’, but being made into the ‘likeness’ of God, which means being drawn much more deeply into the relationships in which God exists as a Trinity of love…salvation is a ‘coming closer to God’ or an ‘ever intensifying relationship.’”[21] What this means is humanity moves closer and closer to the original design of perfect relationships whole, at the same time, moving away from the relationship and damage of a life guided and lived under the curse of sin.

One of the beautiful aspects of salvation is the past, present, and future aspects of the working of God in our lives. We have been saved. We are saved. We will be saved. God’s act of salvation is constantly moving us closer and closer to the divine and deeper and deeper into the divine relationship. With each act of God, we realize more and more of the divine image within us and we can see how God, because of the work of Jesus Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit, is moving us to live into more of the divine image. Forgiveness of the sin nature within us is transforming the marred part of us and transforming the sin nature back into the imago Dei.

What Does This Mean?

Restoring the divine image within us, transforming us into the image of Christ, means God is making us whole. We will not have to think there is something we’re missing out on because we find our completeness in the presence of God. After all, we will find God’s image within us and working through us. It is our relationship with God that makes us whole. Being whole means we see how we are set apart—made holy. This is the goal of reclaiming the imago Dei in us. We become a set-apart people shining forth God’s light, love, and character into the world. We live into the Great Commission (going, teaching, baptizing, making disciples) because this is who we were created to be and because we have a deep longing for others to know, realize, and live into the divine image within themselves too. How cool is it, God gave us the Holy Spirit to know God personally and to know God is guiding, directing, encouraging us each step of the way to not forsake or quench the Spirit within us, but to become more and more into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ? This is the image the world needs today and what the world needs to see so transformation can take place and we can visibly witness the kingdom of God reigning and ruling in this world. We become, by the grace of God, new creatures, transformed into whole and holy people doing the work, and living the life, God originally intended for God’s people.


[1] Genesis 1:1a; 26a, 27 New International Version

[2] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 122

[3] Ibid, 460

[4] Ibid, 460

[5] Ibid, 348

[6] Ibid, 291

[7] Ibid, 132

[8] Ibid, 132

[9] New International Version

[10] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 460

[11] Ibid, 75

[12] Ibid, 460

[13] 1 John 5:1 New International Version

[14] John 14:9 New International Version

[15] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 129

[16] 1 Corinthians 11:1 New International Version (my addition of imitate)

[17] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 132

[18] Ibid, 461

[19] Ibid, 132

[20] 2 Corinthians 5:17 New International Version

[21] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 176

Mighty Acts of God

Acts 2:1-21

The scene. 

120 of Jesus’ followers were gathered in the Upper Room. What were they doing? Exactly what Jesus told them to do. Wait. But this was not a sit still, do nothing, kind of waiting. No. They were actively praising and worshipping God through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they knew the power of God from Jesus being raised from the grave.

Imagine the scene. Imagine the joy. Imagine the confusion? Confusion because they were told to wait for the coming of the power, of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses of Jesus in all the world. What were they looking for? Anything special? How would they know when the power came in them?

I think this is a question many people ask today: how do you know when you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do you know when you are supposed to do and go? Will you be any different? Or do you just go by faith? The answer, of course, is yes.

Here’s what happened.

50 days after the Passover, the Jewish custom was to have the Feast of Weeks. This was the day the Jews thanked God for the grain harvest AND to remember God giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20 – the end of the book). We know this festival as Pentecost (Penta – 50). So there would have been thousands upon thousands of Jews (and converts to Judaism) in Jerusalem.

Suddenly, the house where the Jesus followers were was filled with the sound of a violent wind and, what looked like, tongues of fire that rested upon each head. Every person, in the room, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages.

Now that would have been a pretty cool scene to witness. Just imagine a loud, violent, sound going through your house, not knowing where it came from or how long it’ll be there. Then, imagine seeing fire inside your house. What would you do? What would your reaction be?

Now, imagine you were on the outside of the house and heard a commotion. You see these people begin acting crazy. Do you call the police? Do you find the nearest mental hospital? What do you do?

You do like people today do. You pull out your phone and video the scene so you can publish it to social media and hope your video of these crazy people goes viral and around the world. Everyone needs to know how out of their mind these Jesus people are. They need to see why following this Jesus makes you act in a weird way.

The crowd stayed. The 120 followers began to speak. Jews, from all over the known world, were present in Jerusalem specifically for this Pentecost festival. Not all of them would be speaking the same language. But when they got the video footage on their phones, and heard about the commotion, they just had to come see for themselves what was going on. Suddenly, an Egyptian yelled out in the crowd, “Quiet! Their speaking Egyptian!” Then Romans here them speak Latin. Then all of the other 13 countries heard their own language. What was going on? What does all of this mean?

Like a good human, people began to make fun of the disciples because the scene wasn’t understood. So some began to say “they’ve been drinking too much wine!” It seems as if some in the crowd thought the disciples were worshipping with wine (as other pagan customs would do).

From out of the observed chaos, this guy comes center stage and begins to speak. We don’t know if he spoke in different languages, or if he spoke in Aramaic. But we do know when Peter spoke that day, all the people heard and understood the message.

So what was Peter saying? He was declaring the mighty acts of God! 

We can sit back, today, and go, “okay? So Peter was telling a large crowd about Jesus. What does that have to do with me today? You’re not asking me to go out in front of people and begin to speak about Jesus. We don’t do that today. It’s impolite and offensive to ‘force’ Jesus’ name down people’s throats.”

I know that sounds a little facetious, but there is truth in that last statement.

So, what does Pentecost have to do with us today?

Remember this was the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Another term for this is being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind when your life belongs to Christ, the Holy Spirit fills your being. So, the Pentecost event (in some shape or form) is still happening today. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit, their entire life focus changes and there is something visibly different about their life. The person is changed and transformed completely, from the inside out.

On that first Pentecost Day, the crowd would have seen something different about the Jesus people. They, especially, would have noticed these unlearned people, who have probably never left their home region, began to speak in different languages. Now, Rosetta Stone software, would not have been that good yet, so this would have been impossible to learn a new language, especially that quickly.

When the Holy Spirit fills us, our communication changes. In Matthew 10, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit gives his people the words to speak when they’re needed. Throughout the historical narrative of Acts, the Holy Spirit empowers the people to speak to the crowds and groups. So what it is the Holy Spirit empowers his people to speak?

The wonderful acts of God. The mighty acts of God.

The Holy Spirit enables his people to speak about and point toward Jesus. That is his mission. So now we have to ask: “what are the wonderful or mighty acts of God?”

We have to be careful of thinking we have to witness something big, we have to see or do something big. So often we stop because we believe our excuses. Know this, “excuses only satisfy the ones who make them.” When this happens, when we think that way, we end of thinking we have to wait to have everything in order and perfect before we can step out “in faith.” But the reality is we have already been give the power (Greek dynamos) which simply means “the ability to do.”

God has given us himself, which means we have the ability to do the works he has given us. The reality is we do not need more machines, more technology, more programs, more or better anything. What is needed are groups of people to step out in faith, people not afraid to pray, people who live fearlessly into their giftedness and do the work of God in this world. The world needs people of faith to trust the abilities God has given them to do things the world thinks is impossible.

There is a sign in the library of Asbury Seminary in Florida that says something I can’t get out of my head: “Attempt something so big that, unless God intervenes, it is bound to fail.” Now that’s a statement. Can you imagine the people of Godattempting anything even though there is a chance of failure? Would you try anything today is there was a greater chance of failure than there was of success?

But that is what happened on that Pentecost Day. Peter, with the great chance of failure, began to speak to the crowd of thousands. Peter had a chance of getting stoned, humiliated, thrown of out town. His reputation, as a laughing stock, wouldhave been sealed that day. Oprah could have done a sob story on Peter.

But Peter had been given the ability to speak to the crowd and he sensed it was the right time, so he just did it. Sweaty palms, mind racing, his notes getting out of order. Peter does the only thing he can think of—he speaks about Jesus. That is a sign of the Spirit. 

The Spirit gives signs of his presence.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the signs of wind(the presence of God, see Genesis 1 as an example), and tongues of fire (fire represents covenant and God’s promises kept (see Abraham covenant Genesis 15).

The point? God uses ordinary things to show his extraordinarypower and presence. If God can use ordinary objects to reveal his presence and his power, imagine what God can do through ordinary, seemingly insignificant, nobodies!

At the end of Peter’s “sermon” that day, 3,000 people accepted faith in Jesus Christ. That means the crowd was large! But there is a number specified as to how many responded. Every time we speak about Jesus, there are always people who do not respond favorably. With this logic, how many people turned down the message of Jesus and just walked away? Think about it.

The mighty acts of God were proclaimed and people still turned it down. What are the mighty acts of God? Life changes and world changers. 

Even when people see this first hand, it is still difficult to believe. But the Holy Spirit still empowers his people to proclaim Christ. We, as his people, just have to be careful not to quench, or put out the fire of the Spirit.

The power that was demonstrated on that first Pentecost is still available today. The Holy Spirit still speaks and empowers his people to do and say the message of Jesus. You have been gifted and empowered with that ability.

What wonderful/mighty acts of God can you communicate today?

Transformed Thinking

I realize it has been some time since I last posted here. Recently I finished reading the book “Winning the War in Your Mind” by Craig Groeschel. I found this to be a great book, especially for this time in my life.

One of the things I have noticed, lately, is how we keep our focus on the negative, and our hope in things people do/create. We all know how challenging 2020 was, for many, and 2021 has shaped up to be 2020 2.0 for many as well. Through all of this, it has been heartbreaking to witness people, especially Christians, go down the trap of living into the negativity.

Yes, there is so much going on in the world. There is so much we do need to be concerned about, but what should we focus on?
Now I am not suggesting that we think positive about every situation to try and make it better. I am suggesting that we focus on the One who gives us the hope. The reality is, when we focus on God, we are more able to see what God is doing and how God is inviting us to participate and be part of the solution. This means we “discipline” our minds to focus on the reality of the ultimate hope and joy. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. So what does this kind of thinking do?

For one thing, we keep our focus and attention on the author of life rather than the life we see and experience with limited vision. Our limited vision and understanding of the world, gives us a skewed version of reality and we end up forming opinions and mindsets without trying to seek the bigger picture.

One of the challenges we face today is we are bombarded with all sorts of media, each one telling a slightly different version of the story. What this is doing is causing us to be numb to the amount of information readily available, and we become more and more cynical which leads us to a place of despair thinking things will not get any better.

But, when we focus our attention on Jesus Christ, we begin to see the incredible goodness and glory of God working all around us, through us, in us, even through those people we do not like. As we keep our minds open to the workings of God going on, we can see our hearts beginning to be reformed and becoming softer and more loving to those we are around. Our conversations with people become more and more loving. Our lives are lived out with more joy, all because the glory and working of God is shining in and through our lives because our focus is on God.

Back to the book I mentioned above. Craig speaks about how we can focus our attention and eyes on God each day. It does take discipline on our part, but with the help of God through Jesus Christ who empowers us with the Holy Spirit, our lives will be transformed and we will be able to live into and live out the mind of Christ.

All this really takes is a transformed paradigm that says, “the world is messed up, people are broken…but GOD is working and is doing incredible work.” Take time to think about how this would change our lives if we focused on Christ rather than what’s wrong.

Remember these words from the Apostle Paul from Philippians chapter 4:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”‭‭ (Philippians‬ ‭4:4-9‬ ‭NIV)‬‬

Vitality of the Christian Faith

On July 2, 1789, John Wesley wrote a sermon called, “Causes Of The Inefficacy Of Christianity”. Click here for the full sermon.

This is a powerful, convicting, sermon on how Christianity can be more transformative in our world. Here is a summary and application for this important sermon:

Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity

Jeremiah 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead: is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?”

​“Why has Christianity done so little good in the world?” Why does John Wesley begin this way? He notices a “failing” of the people who call themselves Christians to bring about real and lasting change in the world. One of the biggest reasons for this is because of the deep corruption of human nature. Humanity is flawed and fallen, so this means there is a vast amount of work to do in the world.

Even with the reality of so much brokenness, all around us, Wesley says Christianity was supposed to be the remedy from our Creator. But he also laments because it is not known well and the Christian faith cannot do good where it is not known. He can say this because of the vast amount of Christians who do not seem to be doing their part to be part of the transformation of the world. The lack of “action”, to Wesley, is an indicator that few Christians know what Christianity means and are ignorant of how they are supposed to live out their faith.

But Wesley also notes there are some people who understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They have laid their lives down to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus” This is the key, according to Wesley. Followers of Jesus Christ should pay attention to how their lives are lived so the glory of God will be demonstrated and revealed in the world.

All parts of our life, especially what we do with our money, should serve the kingdom of God. Wesley emphasizes how Christians should be gathered, in community, for worship. He also said how important it is to practice and deepen their faith through prayer and fasting. This, for Wesley, is what it means to be a Bible Christian.

Relevancy For Today

Now we get to the question, “Has Christianity done good in the world today? In some areas, yes. But there are still many issues all around us. According to Wesley, if all Christians lived out their faith, as it says in scripture, we would be able to see and live in a more peaceful place where there are no poor, or problems.

As in Wesley’s time, there seems to be a disconnect between faith and practice. Christianity is more than a status symbol, it is about life transformation. The transformation of one’s life happens when we deny ourselves, meaning we think of other’s interests above our own and we put the work of God ahead of everything else. Even in our day to day jobs, we still do everything for the glory of Christ by doing our best in all we do.

What’s interesting is that the same things Wesley says were the “failures” of Christians as well as how Christians should live, is the same principle that applies today. It seems as if we still have to guard against the notion of Christian being a status symbol to get a certain position. Instead, we should view our lives as humble, obedient servants willing to do everything necessary to be a sigh of relief to a hurting and broken world in separate need of God’s forgiving and healing touch. Christians would need to know this personal presence of God, on a deeper level so we can be his instruments in the world.

Yes, God is big enough (and smart enough) to find ways for his work to go on in the world; but there is so much that we Christians can miss out on by living solely for ourselves, or solely for what “rewards” we’ll receive “in the end.” There is great joy, hope, peace, and love we can experience here and now because of the presence of God working in us and through us. We can bring the healing and the presence of the kingdom of God wherever we go and in whatever we do. But it all begins with taking heed to the commands and guidance of Jesus.

So what should we do today? We should not neglect meeting together for worship. We should be involved in prayer and fasting. We should “earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can” so we do not allow money to become a god in our life. Above all, we should practice what we preach. Then we just might see a change in this world.

Asking the Right Question

We have all been at crossroads and have to figure out which path to take that will be the best for your life. Some of the questions we ask are, “Which way does God want me to go?”, “How do I know if I make the right choice?”, “What is the best option for me right now and what if this is not the best option in the future?” If you’re not a believer, the question of what God thinks would not enter your thought process.

But here’s the deal. I think we are asking the wrong questions.

Recently, I have come to a crossroads where I feel like I need to make a decision. It has been weighing on me because I keep trying to think about every possible angle or outcome that could come along. In this process, I felt God just say stop and look. So I looked down and saw four different paths I could take while on this trail.

So what did I do? I studied where the paths went. Of course I could have just went back the way I came (the fourth path). But then it was a surreal moment. It was as if a light bulb went off in my head and then a wave of peace came over me. It was nice. What was it that happened? It suddenly dawned on me that no matter what path I decide, God will be there working in and through me.

That’s when it hit me! We end up asking the wrong questions. We often wonder “what path I should go?” but we really should be asking what kind of person will I be/do I want to be in whatever decision I make?

This is really an important question. God will move and work wherever we are and in whatever we decide. When we consider what decision will feed our souls and help us become the person we desire to be/are meant to be by the grace of God, that is the path we should take.

So, as the Crusader tells Indiana Jones when trying to choose the chalice, be sure to choose wisely.

Reaching Our Cities for Christ

Christopher Wright said it well, “We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness.” (Wright, 534) Alongside this line of thinking, another way to look at this is “I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.” (Wright, 534) To find any “success” in ministry, that thought is very important. To be effective, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape, mold, and transform us into the instruments and vessels he wants us to be. Otherwise, we are doing ministry for our sake instead of for the sake of the Kingdom of God. When looking at cross-cultural urban ministry, Wright’s questions help us put into, better, context what the Apostle Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV)

So what does this look like? Is there a way to be effective in the way Paul was? Yes. Whenever Paul went to a new area, he made sure he went to the city centers. “[Paul] concentrates on the district or provincial capitals, each of which stands for a whole region…These ‘metropolises’ are the main centers as far as communication, culture, commerce, politics, and religion are concerned…Paul thinks regionally, not ethnically; he chooses cities that have a representative character.” (Bosch, loc. 3259-3274) Why did he do this? Because this is where Paul knew the most effective way to communicate to the regions was located. When he did this, he was able to “shift” his speeches and explanations of Christ to show the people he understood them and was willing to do life with them and guide them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew how to be the kind of person the people needed, without giving up on who God created him to be. All of this helped to equip the people to carry on the ministry after Paul left and continued on his missionary trek. 

At the same time, Paul knew he was not doing his own work but, rather, the work of Jesus Christ in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. He practiced incarnational ministry and did it well. “The significance of incarnational ministry is that ministry belongs to God and His work, first and foremost.” (Buckman, 181-82) This is one of the reasons Paul was successful, he knew he was doing the work begun and continued by the Holy Spirit. He was confident in his calling and did not waiver in the message he proclaimed. So it should be with us. Do we know and have the confidence Christ has called us and given us purpose in this life? It is because of this confidence that we can handle what we go through. “The pastor…who enters a new culture, no matter how hard he or she tries to identify with the people, must expect to suffer, both out of longing for what is left behind and because of resistance to what the people are being called to accept or become.” (Wingeier, 38)

One of the interesting things about cross-cultural ministry is the opportunity to learn more about another culture. “Since most multicultural communities in the United States consist of the dominant (powerful) culture plus at least one other less-powerful culture, justice issues need to be paramount in any cross-cultural ministry, not relief, not charity, but what the New Testament calls righteousness.” (McConnell, 592) This means that opportunities are available if we take the time to learn about different cultures and how people live. “Henri Nouwen teaches us that a powerful ministry occurs with people of a powerless culture when we demonstrate a capacity to learn from them and a willingness to show our gratitude for the gift they thus offer.”( McConnell, 593) The gratitude we experience comes from the knowledge of the blessings God has bestowed upon us. As the cliché goes, “we are blessed to be a blessing.” “’Be a blessing’ thus entails a purpose and goal that stretches into the future. It is, in short, missional.” (Wright, 211) This brings us to contextualization.

Contextualizing the Gospel message to any culture is important. “Contextualization begins in those areas where the biblical context overlaps with the contemporary cultural context. One often talks about certain parts of culture in abstract terms like ‘collectivism,’ ‘honor/shame,’ ‘patronage,’ or cyclical vs. linear views of time. After all, no one today existed in the time Scripture was written. That distance creates an unavoidable degree of abstraction. The critical point at this stage becomes finding how we move from abstract categories to their concrete modern expressions.” (Wu, loc. 1686) There are ways of communicating, here in the United States, that would not fly overseas, like and area such as Saudi Arabia. What is the goal of the missionary? “We desire for people to see all that is good in the gospel. However, this takes time. Thus, we must take steps so that people can see, as much as is possible, what is good in this news. By drawing from the entire Bible, not simply our favorite texts, we gain a balanced perspective on salvation. By not developing a ‘canon within a canon,’ one identifies the major themes or motifs that God uses to explain salvation.” (Wu, loc. 1530) When we do this we communicate the full scope of the Gospel. Jackson Wu says it well, “In a word, the gospel is the message by which sinners are saved. Naturally, evangelism in its fullest sense requires we talk about sin in some form or fashion. This story is not complete without making clear God’s reaction to sin.” (Wu, loc. 1514) He also reminds us “judgment has a positive side. In judging his enemies, God brings salvation to his people and righteousness to the earth.” (Wu, loc. 1522) What about the cities?

Cities, urban areas, are very important. As we have seen, the Apostle Paul utilized the cities to spread the Christian message of Jesus Christ to the outlying areas. He was strategic in where he went and who he spoke to. We should do the same and realize how quickly the landscape is changing within the cities. “The rapid growth of urban populations is well known and has been well documented. In 1800, for example, less than three percent of the world’s population lived in towns of more than 5,000 people. By the year 2000, half of the world’s population lived in cities of more than 100,000 people. As cities have grown, they have become more diverse with respect to culture and class, as well as professional and residential differences, and almost endlessly multifaceted.” (Buckman, 183) Allan Buckman goes on to say, “Moreover, the City has enjoyed a reputation for being welcoming and hospitable toward immigrants and refugees…In other words, the considerable flow of New Americans into the City will almost certainly continue into the foreseeable future.” (Buckman, 183) What does this have to do with contextualization? For starters, this means there is a diverse group of people all in one place. 

Different groups (cultures) may live in certain pockets within the city limits, but they are still gathered and lives intersect with others. As Jesus says, “the harvest is plentiful…” (Matthew 9:37 NIV) so there is an incredible opportunity to reach different people. “In the city can be found pockets of small village-like communities where people live as much as they did before they migrated to the city. Within that community they shop at family-owned stores where personal ties are important. They discussed choices with their neighbors. Outside the neighborhood, however, they learn to make decisions as city folk do, and this begins to change their community.“ (Hiebert, 179) This makes strategic movements within the city very important. We cannot just go in and start something new, we have to take time and follow any “chain of command” there is, whether it is stated or not. “When attempting to develop a ministry or program among members of these communities, one must always receive some kind of approval of one or more of the community leaders. If a ministry is to be developed in a manner meaningful to the ethnic community you are trying to reach, it is obligatory.” (Buckman, 186)

One of the challenges with cities we should be aware of is migration. People come from all over the area just to live in the city, but refugees also come from other countries to live in the cities. As ministers/missionaries we have opportunities to reach these people as well. “According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are 214 million displaced people in the world, which is 3% of the total population.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 19) How we live our life affects this group of people also. We may even have to step out of our comfort zone to aid and support and minister to any person that is displaced. “Jesus has crossed geographic, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, gender, religious, and socio-economic borders.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 30) To illustrate this point further, Philip Wingeier-Rayo goes on to say, “[Jesus] left his comfort zone in Galilee…He identifies with the people of his region and shows solidarity with them…” (Wingeier-Rayo, 31) Ready to leave the comfort zone? To do this, we need to make sure we are sensitive to the culture and background of the people. Urban areas provide opportunities to come in contact with a diverse group of people. “This increased cultural and ethnic diversity demands that we attend to and respect the gifts of the various groups now represented in our society, church, and institutions. It also requires us to develop intercultural sensitivity and skill. Most importantly, it asks us to reexamine our understanding of ministry, which can be seen as a way of bridging different ‘cultures.’” (Wingeier, 35) How we communicate the Gospel matters.

Dr. Hiebert writes, “Communication of the gospel across the chasms of cultural differences rests upon the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries and the people they serve.” (Hiebert, 147) As we communicate, we have to know how to speak to the people. This is where it is important to live a life free of reproach so the message we proclaim is heard from words and actions. “[T]he mission in the church, according to Peter, includes both vertical proclamation and ethical living, and the impact of his tight argument is that both are utterly essential.” (Wright, 390) The context in which people live is important. Context really is king, especially when proclaiming the gospel. “We face a very practical question. When it comes to preaching the gospel, which context is king? The ancient biblical world? Literary context? The interpreter’s culture (or subculture)? How about the cultural context of our listeners? If we are honest, finding an answer is far more difficult and sobering than one might expect.” (Wu, loc. 266) Taking time to understand the meaning of the scriptures and how to communicate them, in any setting is essential. This creates a unique challenge within urban settings. You have to know who you are talking with, and at least some of their background, to be able to understand how to communicate with them the core of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is King. Proclaiming this fact can be done in any setting. “Contextualization, if done well, keeps in perspective for us the fact that Jesus is King of every context.” (Wu, loc. 671)

Before continuing, we have to realize we may not be called, by God to try and reach “everyone.” But we are called to go to different people. It is these people, and this culture, we can immerse ourselves in and learn how God is speaking to them today. This will help us to be flexible in the manner in which we proclaim the Gospel yet remain firm in the core message. “Christians need a contextualization method that has both flexibility and firmness…The gospel does not change. On the other hand, biblical writers clearly present the gospel in contrasting ways. Even within the Bible, there is no single prescribed way of preaching the gospel. In addition, the world’s cultures are diverse and ever changing.” (Wu, loc, 1363) For example, a person in China is more likely to respond to communication about honor and shame versus guilt and punishment. “A person in America may not use words like gaining or losing ‘face,’ but they might talk about ‘people pleasing’ or ‘trying to look good in front of others.’” (Wu, loc. 1391)

Now no matter what context we serve, there will always be the truth God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) In urban areas, there are multiple places and venues and ways to find “a truth” that fits the individuals, even what will fulfill the desires each person faces. This raises the reality of other “false gospels” that people will buy into to be justified in the lifestyle they have chosen. “A culture’s false gospels also answer the four questions mentioned above. Thus, we first could ask, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king in the culture?’ Personally, one asks, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king figure in my life?’ Second, ‘What has this savior-king done in the past?’ Again, the answer to this second question clarifies both what kind of a person the “savior” is as well as his significance. Therefore, it matters that one knows about this savior-king’s character and power.” (Wu, loc. 2944) In Acts 2, Peter was speaking to a large crowd. They were in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. It is possible some people were searching for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, when Peter got up to speak, they found what they’ve been looking for, in the mighty works of God through Jesus Christ Peter spoke about. The same is true today. To help people see why God is vital and is enough, we speak about what he has done. We do not have to be fancy with the language we use, we just speak about God. “When talking about God, we need to highlight his works in history in order to explain what God is like. We do not merely want to say he is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This is how systematic theology describes God. Rather, we seek to emphasize how God demonstrates his character and attributes.” (Wu, loc. 1245) This is a great undertaking but well worth it. The works of God include the person of Jesus Christ and his atonement for the sin of the world, as well as the personal sin of the individual.

When we present the Gospel, especially to people who can find their pleasures fulfilled on a whim and find purpose in their jobs and people they hang around, there are going to be some questions that will need to be answered when giving a Gospel presentation. “The biblical gospel answers four key questions. I’ll review them briefly. There is a clear logic to the order of the questions. (1) ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’…(2) ‘What has Christ done?’ This question aims to show what kind of a person he is. (3) ‘Why does Christ matter?’ In other words, why is Jesus significant to us? This point largely deals with salvation. Traditionally, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress on this aspect of the gospel message. (4) ‘How should we respond?’” (Wu, loc. 2925)

Now, the challenge will be avoiding syncretism, especially when a concept sounds close to one the person has known before. In the urban areas, even cross-cultural settings, it is possible to keep certain traditions, customs, and way of life and still think they are living as a Christian. One of the ways to combat this is to fully immerse ourselves in the setting. Many call this “incarnational” ministry. The point is to become involved enough in the culture and community to gain the respect of the people. Relationships matter. “If the success of missions depends largely upon the quality of the relationships between missionaries and the people to whom they go, the parent/child relationship model is not biblical. The biblical model is that of incarnation. To bridge the cultural gap between heaven and sinful earth, God became human and dwelt among us, eating our food, speaking our language, and suffering our sorrows, yet without giving up his divine nature. Incarnation is identification, but it does not deny who we originally are. It is, in fact, a bicultural or by personal state. Just as God became one with us in order to save us, we must become one with the people to whom we go in order to bring them to message of salvation.” (Hiebert, 158) Only when living life, on some level, with the people will trust begins to develop and the mission and proclamation of Jesus Christ will be heard and lived out by the people we serve.

This is truly only possible with the presence and person of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides as he did for the Apostle Paul by sending him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Following the leading and guidance of the Spirit prevents us from proclaiming our own culture and ideas. The Spirit helps us proclaim the full gospel. This is what is important in urban centers and any kind of cross-cultural ministry.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. (2014). God Dwells Among Us : Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth: Vol. North American Edition. IVP Books.

Bosch, D. J. (2011). Transforming mission : paradigm shifts in theology of mission (20th anniversary ed. / with a new concluding chapter by Darrel Guder and Martin Reppenhagen.). Orbis. Kindle Edition

Buckman, A. R. (2012). Contextualization in an urban setting. Missio Apostolica20(2), 181–189.

Martin, M. (2011). Cross-cultural perspectives on the call to ministry. Vision (Winnipeg, Man.)12(2), 70–78.

McConnell, T., & McConnell, J. (1991). Cross-cultural ministry with church and family: the final report of a research project. Religious Education86(4), 581–596.

Wingeier, D. E. (1992). Emptying-for-filling: an approach to cross-cultural ministry. Quarterly Review12(2), 33–56.

Wingeier-Rayo, P. (2015). Jesus as migrant: biblical understand of immigration as a cross-cultural model for ministry. Apuntes35(1), 19–32.

Wright, C. J. H. (2006). The mission of God : unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. InterVarsity Press.

Wu, J. (2015). One gospel for all nations : a practical approach to biblical contextualization. William Carey Library.

God’s Story, Your Story: The New Testament

If you could sum up the Bible in one word, what would it be?

This may be tricky for some. Some may be thinking we can’t sum up the Bible in one word.

I think we can sum up the Bible with the word, JESUS. After all, in Luke 24, Jesus tells the disciples on the way to Emmaus that all of scripture points to him. Paul, in Colossians, says that all things are held together in him. So as we read scripture, even the Old Testament, we should be able to see Jesus in everything.

As we take the time to talk through the New Testament, remember how the storyline of the Biblical narrative goes:

Act 1: Creation, Fall, Israel

Act 2: Jesus, Church, New Creation

Last week, we saw the 39 books of the Old Testament are divided up into categories:

Pentateuch (Torah), History, Writings/Poetry/Wisdom, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets

The New Testament is divided up into categories as well:

Gospels of Jesus, History (Acts), Paul’s letters (longest to shortest), General letters (longest to shortest), Apocalyptic

So the way to think about the layout of the New Testament is like this:

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension 

The spread of the message (Acts)

Living out the Christian life through the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit (the letters and Revelation)

Now, if the whole Bible could be summed up with JESUS, can we think of key passages that help explain the gospel and the way the Christian is supposed to live in the world?

Many know John 3:16 (For God so loved the world the he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.)

Unfortunately, this is where many people stop—at the point of gaining their own salvation. But the Christian life and faith is so much richer and deeper than simply personal salvation—it’s about being in community, sharing life together, and laying down our lives for the sake of others.

The second part of the gospel we need to hear, and live out, is 1 John 3:16 (This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.) This is why we follow the command, and example, of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him. We follow him even though we, as believers, will have challenges and suffering in this life. We follow him because he is the only source of hope and life.

So many people think the Christian life is just for them—it’s become what can Jesus do for me here and now? How can my life get better? But see how we miss out on the power of the gospel? The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives in community, when we seek to bring new people into the family of God (this is kingdom growth not just numerical growth). The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives for others instead of ourselves.

This is why there is so much emphasis on not judging, gossiping, slandering, anything that destroys or devalues another human life. The emphasis is on love—a word that has honestly lost it’s meaning because we over use it. (I love hamburgers, I love my spouse, I love (pick your favorite sports team).) Love in the Bible is not a feeling, or even how we feel in the moment. Love is the way of life. Love is at the core of who God designed us to be.

A little pastoral care moment: When we “speak truth in love” our goal is never to belittle the person but to build them up and encourage them. So often we attempt to speak, what we call, truth and end up having anger in our hearts towards the person. This is not the example of Jesus at all.

Christ followers are to emulate and imitate Jesus in their everyday lives. This is the point of the epistles (letters) from Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James, the author of Hebrews. What’s incredible is how the Spirit continues to speak through these words today—with the intention of building up the community and growing the kingdom of God (God’s rule and reign in the world).

Then we come to the book of Revelation. This is a book that has been misunderstood and misapplied for the last 200 or so years. We’ve said it before, the point of Revelation is to show how God’s people can and should stand firm in their faith even when everything is going to pot. 

The ancient readers would have understood this was a letter, written in code, so they could understand what’s happening in the world to them at that time. We do know that Christ will come again and set things right (true justice not revenge). That is why we can live in hope and joy—we know the end of the story.

This is the New Testament, in a brief nutshell. 

One more thing to consider. There really is nothing new in the New Testament that is not in the Old Testament. In fact, what we see is an expansion of the thoughts and teachings from the Old Testament. (Think Sermon on the Mount which we’ll begin next week.)

This is why it is so important to study and read through the Old Testament. There are many resources available to help us study to learn the history, traditions, and context of the Old Testament. When we better understand the OT, we will begin to see more of the beauty found in the New Testament.

Jesus is the point of the Bible. Jesus is the point of the Christian life. How we live, in this life, matters and it has eternal consequences. I challenge you to read through at least one Gospel, a few letters, and Revelation this week. Ask God to reveal himself to you. The best picture of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Then, ask God to mold you into the likeness and image of his Son and give you the grace to live out the Christian life in community and help you be a person to build people up and work with God to grow the kingdom of Heaven.

Rahab: The Past Does Note Define You

How would you describe yourself before coming to faith in Jesus Christ? How is that different from your life now? What do other people think about you? Do your family and friends see something different and new in you since you began to follow Christ? Even if you have be “in church” your whole life, was there a time when you realized that you truly had nothing without the presence of Christ in your life?

Now, there are those people hearing this today and thinking when I’m going to get to the sermon. There are some hearing this that are bored. There are some hearing these questions today thinking, “of course I follow Jesus. Always have. Always will.” But we do have to ask, “do you really follow Jesus? What does that look like for you?” (Don’t think in terms of what you do or how you perceive yourself to be better than anyone else.)

Still others hearing these questions today are having tears well up in their eyes because they know the 180 their life has taken since following Jesus.

Here is the point of the sermon today—Your past does NOT define you. Jesus defines who you are.

Before we continue, we have to understand that it does matter what people think about and see in us because they will be the observers for the life change that Jesus brings us and can hold us accountable when we fall short.

Today we conclude our PEOPLE LIKE US series by looking at the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.

Joshua 2 is, to me, a fascinating story of redemption. Why? Because, like a lot of scripture, the most unlikely person, and their family, is saved from destruction.

If you have read this passage before, and even hearing it today, you know that Rahab was a prostitute. What you may not know is that she was an “inn keeper.” Because she was an “inn keeper,” she was a prostitute. Basically she was someone who ran a brothel, to put it bluntly.

Now, the spies that Joshua sent into Jericho came across Rahab. How they came across her, could be left to the imagination. But they quickly found out there is a stirring in the city gates about the Israelite army that is camped outside that is going to come in and defeat them.

Jericho was enclosed inside a wall. This is one of the first conquests of the promised land for Israel. If Israel could get past Jericho, then they could continue to march in and conquer the land promised to Abraham, by God.

So what happens? The Israelite spies tell Rahab, she and her family would be spared if she placed a red ribbon on her house. This was the Israelite army would know to “pass over” her house and keep her family safe. Notice something of a dejavu moment? On some level, this shows the Israelites have learned how God acted, in the Exodus plagues, and they are demonstrating the same kind of grace for the house that is marked inside the city of Jericho.

Understand this truth…God is NOT interested in anyone’s destruction. God desires ALL people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. God will do whatever means possible so people can know salvation (living in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come).

So when we look at a biblical character, like Rahab, we see a picture of a way of life that is detestable to God. Rahab did not try to say she was better than anyone else. She didn’t even give the qualifications as to why she and her family should be spared. Instead, she admitted she needed to be saved and could not do it on her own. She had to trust that what the Israelites said was the truth.

Fast forward to the thief on the cross in Luke 23. He was at the end of his life, literally, and simply asked Jesus to be saved. He had to trust that what Jesus said was the truth.

Now notice how we talk about these people today. We talk about them in transformative, changed way. We may mention their old way of life. We do this to be reminded of where they came from and how they were different afterwards.

But really, we focus on the incredible power of God to bring about this kind of change in a person’s life.

So how about your life? How is Jesus Christ changing your life here and now? If this may be a hard question to answer, may we should take time to talk with him about it.

When we know we have the Spirit of Christ within us, we can no longer treat anyone as a non-believer would. We can no longer try to live the life we did before knowing Christ. We can no longer attempt to satisfy ourselves with the things detestable to God. Instead, we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit each and every day so the presence of the Spirit is known and shown in and through our life.

There is always more to our story. The best days are always here and now and coming up. Rahab is proof of this. How?

No matter where you think  your life and legacy will end up, Jesus always has something really cool for your life and my life. Rahab is one of the few that are listed in the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11. Not only that, but Rahab is in the direct lineage of Jesus Christ.

You and I have had a past we are not proud of, but it is how we got where we are now. I’m praying we all trust in the presence and promise of Jesus Christ so our lives can be re-written and bring glory to God through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

All of this is possible because of the work of God in our lives and because of what God sees is possible because of his life lived through us. The only thing we do is not stop the hard work God does in and through us.

As you participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning, take time to praise God for the work he has already done and is continuing to do in your life. Take time to realize the incredible power of God working in your life. Take time to trust in Christ fully and allow his grace to shape you. Not by what you do or who you are. But because of who he is and who he says you are.

Remember, your past does not define you. Christ says who you are!

Let’s pray…

Gracious God, thank you for the work you have done, are doing, and will continue to do in our lives. May we NOT stop the work you’re doing or hinder your plan for us. Even though it may seem difficult, at times, we can trust that you are re-creating us and giving us what we need to thrive so we can share and show your Kingdom and all of your glory in the world. It is in Christ’s name, we pray. AMEN.

RESPONDING TO CHRIST AND THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT HERE AND NOW

NOW IF YOU have never said YES to Jesus by answering his call on you life, now is the time. I pray you get to live into the joy. If you say YES to Christ’s call, let us know and we can help you live your response out. If you say YES again, let us know and we can help equip you for God’s purpose in life.

Esther: “Wrong” Place, Right Time

We have been in this series where we have been looking into the lives of biblical characters to see how we can still see ourselves on the pages of scripture. As we said last week, our way of life, and society may have changed, but human nature really hasn’t changed. We still fall prey to the effects of the fall and original sin. No one is without fault.

But then, we also see a beautiful picture of a God of Holy Love who continually offers grace and works in and through his people for his work in the world. This has been a constant throughout history and is something that will never change. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

As we move through the Old Testament, we come, again, to, maybe, a familiar person—Esther.

The biggest verse, the most memorable verse, to many, in this book is chapter 4 verse 14b: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV)

This is something we do have to really think about for our lives, in general—maybe you are where you are “for such a time as this!”

Now here’s a tough question for you today, “are you happy with your life and what’s going on around you?”

Some will say, “YES!” Others will not.

One of the challenges we face is to realize we have been placed here, at this time, in this location for the purposes of God. If there is any unrest within us, we do need to ask if we are truly doing what God has called us to do. Remember, God’s calling has no expiration date. His work, in this world, is for people of all ages, ethnic groups, socio-economic status, education level, etc. If we ever get to a point that we don’t have to do the work God has called us to, because, “someone else should step up,” maybe God is calling us to do something even more grand than we ever imagined. Maybe God is calling each one of us to mentor and be part of raising up a new generation of believers and Christian leaders, outside our family.

Here’s the reality, not everyone around us, not everyone we come in contact with, not everyone we think about, communicate with will know and fully live into the life Jesus Christ offers. But, everyone is seeking Christ whether or not they realize it. Why? Because life is meaningless without any purpose. Life does not make sense without the grace of God acting in and through our life. Life is empty and hollow without the known presence of Christ. This is what we get to help people realize.

Maybe, you are here “for such a time as this.”

So what is Esther about? Here is a brief recap of the story:

“Esther lived in ancient Persia about 100 years after the Babylonian captivity. When Esther’s parents died, the orphaned child was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai.

One day the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes I, threw a lavish party. On the final day of the festivities, he called for his queen, Vashti, eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests. But the queen refused to appear before Xerxes. Filled with anger, he deposed Queen Vashti, and forever removed her from his presence.

To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

Soon Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai’s act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.

At this time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews, especially Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king agreed to his plan to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plot and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then, risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a request.

She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows–the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. The people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, and the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.”**

There is something, seemingly, missing from the book of Esther…the name of God. Does this mean that God is absent? It is easy to believe that God is absent when things don’t get better, or when we’re confronted with challenges that life will bring. But the truth is, God is always present. God is always working. He is always reconciling, restoring, redeeming. God is always bringing people to faith in Christ. God is transforming whole communities through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

A major challenge we face today is that many people don’t really believe God can do all of this, or that God desires to use you and me. But know this, because of God there are no coincidences. It is not coincidence you meet the people you do. It is no coincidence you go in the places you go to. It is no coincidence you have the friends you do. Did God make you do all of this? I don’t believe so. But I do believe that God has been working behind the scenes, and prompting your spirit by the Holy Spirit to step out and follow this path.

I used to tell people that I would know I was following God’s plan when I had complete peace within me. I don’t believe that anymore. Why? Because I get to be in situations that are uncomfortable and unpleasant, simply because of what God has called me to. Imagine the unrest Esther experienced, yet was determined to do what she needed to do. The peace comes because I know I can trust God in all things. And because I trust God in all things, I can live a life of peace even when the world around me seems chaotic. What is God calling you to do? Who is God calling you to be?

I remember it, like yesterday. I was having a lunch Bible Study with one of my friends and his pastor and I remember when Jesus Christ became real to me. I was at a phase in life where I was searching for meaning and looking for who I was supposed to be. I loved these lunch Bible Studies with Bernie and my friend Micah. Micah will probably never know how much I appreciate him for this.

It wasn’t until several years later that I realized what I was supposed to do with my life. This came after 7-8 years of unrest within me. Things were going really well for me, for the most part, but I still was seeking meaning and purpose. My identity was wrapped up in what I did for a living. This is where it got challenging for me.

One day, because of Facebook, I was able to reconnect with one of my Kindergarten and elementary school best friends. I was excited. While on my way to visit some family, on the coast, I stopped to have lunch with her. When I left, I felt the need/desire to read the entire Bible. I had read much of it before that, but something inside me told me to read the whole thing. So what did I do?

I went to stay on the beach for a few days. About a week or so later, the feeling kept coming back, so I went and bought a brand new study bible…the King James Version. I found a plan to read the Bible over the course of a year. But I couldn’t get enough, so I began to read more each day. It still took about 3 months, but I read the Bible all the way through.

But, it was in the book of Genesis, the calling of Abraham that I began to sense God leading me to a life of ministry. I kept is quiet for a couple months, but something strange began to happen. Some of my close friends began to tell me they could tell I was in conflict about continuing martial arts as a job and said something to the effect that they could see me in ministry. A couple months later, I “retired” from martial arts and began this vocation of a life in full-time ministry with God.

Throughout this journey I have come across people I never dreamed up. I often felt, and still feel like sometimes, that I was in a different or “wrong” place than where I wanted to be. But I realized later that I got to connect with people that God needed me to. I got to marry Amanda and have an incredible family.

Because of this life, I have seen incredible things. I have also seen the face of evil. But most importantly, I can see the Kingdom of God and the presence of Jesus Christ all around us.

Church, this is a difficult time for ALL churches. It is easy to try to say we need someone to “fix” everything. The world is looking for people to “fix” whatever’s wrong. Often times we begin to work and fix things that are not the underlying issues.

But there is only one person that can fix the world, and he died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven. He is the carpenter that brings his tools with him wherever he goes and does some hard work in his people. He will begin the work to fix what really needs to be fixed/recentered/refocused/redeemed, and it may not be what we thing or with whom we think.

Jesus is where our eyes stay focused. Why? Because he is focused on you and what he has called you to. Jesus is going to call you to do things and be in situations/positions you are not qualified to be in. He knows what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at.

Jesus continually sees value in you and because of this says, “this is the one I am using here and now.”

Church, look around the world. Look at the media. God is calling you and I to be instruments and vessels to expand his grace and Kingdom. Trust that you are exactly where God needs you to be. You and I are put here for God’s purposes, at this right time and place.

**Taken from: https://www.learnreligions.com/book-of-esther-701112