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.

Discovering God through the book of Jonah (Part 2)

HEAR OUR PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Romans 1:20a NIV

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

[3] Matthew 7:7-11 NIV

[4] James 5:16 NIV

[5] 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

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

[7] Romans 8:26-27 NIV

Healing and Restoring

Luke 8:26-39

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as witnessed in the Gospel of Luke. Why would we take the time to go through a specific series on the life of Christ? For one thing, we have made Jesus into an impersonal being that we seek to help us out only when we are in trouble or in need of assistance. We have also undervalued Jesus’ humanity to the point he doesn’t even resemble humanity anymore. Remember, Jesus was human. He was/is God in flesh. Not only is Jesus human, but he is also the epitome of how humanity should live with each other and with God.

At the same time, we remember that Jesus is also fully God. So, he is fully human AND fully divine. The second person in the Trinity brings us closer into the relationship of God, the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. We learn more about the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s work in this world. This was/is part of his mission.

One of Jesus’ first sermons was actually a reading of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”[1]

Jesus said a lot by reading this passage in front of his hometown. Proclaiming the good news to the poor brings healing of the spirit, proclaim freedom for prisoners brings healing to societal status. Recovery of sight for the blind, setting the oppressed free brings healing to eyesight and to bring healing to those who have been held captive.

Wherever Jesus is, there is healing. When we encounter Jesus Christ, you and I experience some form of healing. Because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus brings healing.

In the passage we read out of Luke 8, we witness an exciting scene. Jesus has just come from a situation where he calmed with wind and the sea. His disciples were witnesses to this and they still questions who he was and what he could do. The thing we need to remember and see is that Jesus does not leave things in a state of chaos.

JESUS ALWAYS BRINGS PEACE AMONG THE CHAOS.

This is what he does. We can see evidence of this all the way back to the beginning of creation. The waters of the earth were chaotic, then God comes in and brings order. He brings his peace.

The presence of Christ channels the chaos and brings order and new life to the situation.

The demoniac.

This man had been tortured in his soul causing him to act in ways that the people took notice of him. He lived in the tombs and did not wear any clothes. Now I don’t know about you, but living in tombs would most likely change me also.

Side note about demons: I am often asked if I believe there are demons, and there is spiritual warfare going on. My answer is, “I don’t think we take the spiritual realm serious enough whether a person believes in demons/spiritual warfare or not.” I do know that Jesus took people being possessed by demons seriously. Jesus took the spiritual realm seriously.

This man saw Jesus coming, fell to his feet, and made a scene by shouting, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

This man is making a statement that he knows who Jesus is and is…well…mocking Jesus in some way. He knows Jesus has the power to free him from the demons. There is an excellent point here. We often say we believe in Jesus. Well, remember what James writes, “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe and shudder.”[2]

So, I do believe in the spiritual realm and believe there is stuff going on we cannot imagine. This is why trusting that Jesus will give and bring peace to our lives, to the world is important.

See, we often say we “believe” in Jesus, but we do not really take it much further than that. Yes, believing in Jesus is essential; but if we do not allow this belief to come into our heart and transform our lives, then we will let other forces to take over our lives:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Bitterness
  • Anger
  • Sex
  • Lust
  • Hatred
  • Selfishness
  • Indifference to any suffering around our community and the world.
  • This list can and does go on and on.

All of this will consumer our lives and cause us to act out in ways God did not intend for us to act. The power of Sin in our world, and in our lives, is stronger than we realize. Sin has already possessed the world, and without Jesus, there is no freedom. Everything is in chaos:

  • Our inner selves
  • Our mental being
  • Our emotional being
  • Our relationships

We like to think, here in America that we are above being demon possessed, but also remember what we do allow to control our lives, that is not God.

We all have different voices in our heads, trying to lead us, voices of darkness, and voices of light and life. When we listen to the voice of darkness, we can see evidence of chaos, yet we are unable to break free from this chaos because it has tormented our life so much that we become enslaved to it.

Notice what the demon-possessed man says, “I beg you, don’t torture me!” The demons inside him have the man convinced that Jesus is there to torture him. When the darkness fills our life so much, it is challenging to believe that Jesus brings anything other than torture because this means we have to change. And change to many people is torture.

The point of all of this is…evil is real in our world and within ourselves. But evil never has the final say. Jesus does.

Jesus gives permission for the demons (evil) to speak just a bit, but then it is his power that drives them out and sends the demons always to where they will be tortured and break free their control over the people.

What are you struggling with today that has a tight grip on you and is not letting you live into the life that Jesus Christ offers? What are you holding on to that is preventing you from fully loving God, loving people, AND trusting in God completely? Name it. Claim the power of Christ over it, then confess to other people.

We must go to others, confess our sins and articulate how Jesus is breaking us free from the powers of darkness. If we do not, then we are still living with selfishness and our own ability to get through life, which will wear us down. We are to have a group of people (whatever size) to help us and walk with us as we are stepping out to follow Jesus, we will fall down, but there are people to help pick us up.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

I personally have a core group of friends that I can be genuine with. These friends have been by my side for years, and I’ve been by their side for years. Together, we hold each other accountable to live into the light and not pick the chains of enslavement up to sin again.

There are times this may seem to bring chaos and torture into our lives, because we don’t want anyone to think less of us or see us as anything than perfect; but the truth is, when we tell confess to other people, the light is shining on our sin, it is brought into the open, and peace can finally enter in.

Jesus brings this peace. Whenever and whoever Jesus heals, peace has come into the picture. Do you feel like you live in peace? Then come face down to the feet of Jesus and cry out to him, “Lord, save me! Free me! I want to only live for you!”

Right after this scene, Jesus and his disciples were traveling, and we see two more healings: one of the raising of a dead girl and the other is cured of the issue of blood.

There are a couple things that are happening here.

One is Jesus brings life wherever he goes. When he proclaims the Kingdom of God is at hand, this is where real life is experienced. It is living in the full presence of God here and now, AND in the life to come. Because of Jesus,

WE EXPERIENCE NEW LIFE

The other thing that we see is someone who was outcasted in society, someone who was told they had to stay away from everyone. We have people like this today. All we have to do is drive down 7th street downtown, and we see the people the rest of society has cast out for one reason or another.

When have you experienced shame for a condition you have? When have you experienced rejection from people just because you were not like everyone else? When have you been told you weren’t good enough, so people withdrew themselves from you.

Something incredible about Jesus is, he did not just heal the condition of the person, he healed the state of their social status as well. Jesus’ healing was not only so the physical aspects of the person would be healed and whole, but Jesus also healed so people could experience wholeness as part of a community. He restored them to be able to be with society and not live on the fringes anymore.

JESUS BRINGS HEALING, WHOLENESS, AND RESTORATION TO MIND, BODY, AND RELATIONSHIPS.

Have you taken the time to seek Jesus, not just to fix our physical illnesses or injuries, but to restore our relationship with other people? So often, we get focused on praying about fixing and healing our bodies that we forget that Jesus is working to fix all of us and make us whole.

He is working to heal our physical bodies, our mental self, emotional self, and relationships. Jesus is concerned with the entire person. So, when we talk with people about praying for healing, let’s remember what Jesus did and focus on the bigger picture.

The physical healing is more about making us able to be part of society once again. Jesus is working in and through us to make us whole people, not just putting band-aids on injuries but healing us so we can be healed mentally, emotionally, and relationally with ourselves, others and HIM.

Notice another aspect of Jesus’ healing ministry that we need to pay attention to:

JESUS OFFERS FORGIVENESS

Remember that we are so messed up by sin and the enslavement to the power of sin and temptations that we need to hear and understand GOD FORGIVES YOU.

God is not in the business of making us feel guilty about anything we have done wrong. He is not interested in continually reminding us of our failures. God is interested in healing us from the inside out with the power of forgiveness driven by his great love for you…and me.

Guilt and shame weigh us down. When we do wrong, we remember, and our minds are tortured because we relive the tapes of our sin over and over again. We do this with other people. Just look at the news, newspaper, Facebook, or any other social media. We love to remind people of the ways they have messed up constantly, yet we don’t like it when people point our sin out.

Jesus brings forgiveness, which brings peace to our lives so we can share this peace, grace, and mercy to others. We get to be part of building the Kingdom of Heaven with every step we take, every word we speak and every time we encounter another person, in person or online.

As forgiven people, we have not right to hold anyone’s sin against them. If God can forgive you and me, then we have the responsibility and mandate to bring the forgiveness of Christ with us wherever we are. We can do this with those people we hold dear to our hearts. Can we do this with those who have made us enemies have done something so wrong to us that it destroyed the relationship? Can we offer forgiveness to all people?

Jesus was constantly proclaiming the “year of the Lord’s favor” by announcing the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the year when ALL people would be free from their sin. We are the people God has called, is transforming, and has sealed us to go into the world and be with people to help release them from the power of sin and temptations in their life.

He has an incredible way of bringing peace with him wherever he is. Since we are the body of Christ in the world, let us do what we can to bring his peace and grace, and not cause others to feel guilt and shame anymore.

Forgiveness is a powerful healer. It can mend relationships, even while on a deathbed. Forgiveness heals, restores, and brings wholeness.

Remember, Jesus is the Great Healer who comes to forgive, heal, AND restore our standing with God and people.

Come, all you who are worn down by sin. Come, all you who are sick. Come, all who need to experience peace and joy in your life. Come to the throne of grace where Christ will set you free, heal you from the inside out, and bring you into a close relationship with God and other people. Come, be builders of the Kingdom of Heaven with our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 4:18-21 (reference Isaiah 61:1-2)

[2]James 2:19 NIV

BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves

I am excited to announce this NEW daily devotional:

BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves

You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world.
As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great kopportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.
This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.

Finding God Series: Part 1

Finding God at Walmart

Many people can find their “god” at a place like Walmart in the form of deals, money savers, etc. But I think, if we look close enough, we can find evidence of God wherever we are.

EDA5EEE0-F6AF-481A-9F92-35D214DC184AWhen I went to Walmart a few days ago, I went for groceries and other items; but I also went on a search to see if I could see God there. I left disappointed because the consumerism, rushed shoppers, and items all over the place were too much for me to see beyond. At that time, it looked like a bunch of people (I was in the crowd) just focusing on themselves and getting what they only wanted.

I found myself feeling discouraged especially when I was in the parking lot and saw a person asking other people for money. I left that day feeling disappointed because it seemed like the consumerism was too powerful.

But I couldn’t let it just stop with that feeling. I was determined to see how we can find God at Walmart. So, I began looking at pictures of Walmart online and began to see pictures of many, many people. My mind started thinking about the memes and videos of the “people of Walmart.”

That’s when it hit me. We can see God at Walmart simply by looking at the people!
“God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”
(Genesis 1:27 CEB)

There is always an abundance of people, of diverse people, shopping at Walmart, even at 3:00am. The people are all different, in there own way. This is what I think we can think about to find God at Walmart.

4CFDC740-8956-4390-9E93-3C0B8DFCB7ECNow, are there people only interested in themselves and not interested in God? Yes. Are there people at Walmart who are not as kept as others? Yes. But this doesn’t mean that anyone there does not have the attention of God.

I am finding out one of the best places to have a Spiritual conversation is at Walmart. No, not in a creepy, dorky, or even weird way. When we have chances to be around people, do our lives reflect the light of Christ?

D1CC4349-AD66-42B7-ACE6-83AB334127CAThere are people at Walmart, people created by God, that need to hear there is hope. That need to hear they have a purpose. That need to hear God’s love and desire for them.

So the next time you’re in Walmart, I invite you to pay attention to the people. You’ll see a vast array of emotions, especially people hurting.

In your actions, words, and even thoughts, show the light of Christ to a world seeking healing and redemption. Who knows, you may be the person God uses to help others find God while at Walmart and help them become part of a community of faith.

Remember the words of Christ:
“I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”
(Matthew 25:40 CEB)

Journey to Revival Week 9

REVIVAL FREEDOM

1 Thessalonians 5:23 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We are on week 9 of a 12 week time of prayer and study for revival and awakening.

This week, our topic focuses on the freedom God has given us to be able to choose his power, his love his grace when we are seeking and experiencing revival.

Below the video link is a historical example of revival.

You are invited to go through this time of study and prayer either individually (i.e. journal), or gather a group together to pray and discuss each week’s topic. Our guide for this time will be the scriptures, prayer, and the book “Revival Rising.” You can get this book at http://www.seedbed.com

Feel free to share this video study with your friends.

Revival Experience from the book Revival Rising:

767BB87E-ACA7-4BF1-B211-74B806C1F7D0

The Journey Continues

Click here to read Acts 28.

Paul makes it to Rome.

His journey to Rome was full of turmoil, danger, unrest, and more. Yet through all of this, Paul kept his faith. That’s remarkable!

Paul believed God when He said Paul would make it to Rome. I wonder how many times Paul had to remind himself of that? After all, the shipwreck would have been enough for many to give up and lose hope. But Paul does not lose his faith. He keeps encouraging the soldiers to keep going. He keeps sharing about God every chance he gets. Paul is the one person who seems to be holding it all together.

Think about your life journey. How many hardships have you lived through? How many times did you consider giving up? It would be easy when things just got too hard for us; but we should keep pressing forward, especially if God has truly called us to do what we’re doing.

It would be so nice to be able to say that our life is going to be easy. But that would not be accurate. Our life will be filled with more hope, more peace, more joy, more love all because of Jesus Christ. Oh, we will falter at times; but He is always with us. Jesus guides us and we get to bring people to Him in every circumstance.

What I love about the book of Acts is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people who have answered the call of God on their lives and went out to do incredible things because of the power of the Holy Spirit within them.

Paul’s life is remarkable, to me, because he seems to keep his faith (most of the time) in all situations. His is a story that inspires me, not to be just like Paul but to be able to continue proclaiming Jesus Christ wherever I am and through whatever I’m doing.

This may be the end of the book of Acts, but the story is not complete. We get to carry on what the Holy Spirit began in us and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world. How will you live out the calling God has placed on your life?

Acts 1:8

Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

Filled With The Spirit

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:8-15 CEB.

Whenever you are out in public doing great things, doing great work, opposition will come. How we handle this opposition is important.

First of all, I would need to ask if we are bold enough to speak and do good works even when there is a chance for people to oppose or to speak ill? If we were honest, we would most likely not want that to happen because we would want to protect our reputation. So, then we need to ask, “what is more important? Our reputation or doing what God calls us to do?” Either way, we always have people watching whether or not we will stand our ground, or simply give up when the situation becomes challenging.

Now, this is not a license to say whatever we want or do whatever we want and claim God called us to do it. Instead, we learn that when God calls us to a specific task or vocation, it is always to build up the Kingdom of Heaven and will not do anything to cause division in this incredible Kingdom.

Stephen, from our scripture, was doing great works and signs in public and speaking grace. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and this caused an uproar with the religious leaders who were seeking to keep the status quo and their position. But God’s work in us will always come out in powerful and transforming ways which people will take notice of.

Look at what’s going on around you in your community. Where do you see God working? What do you notice? I hope the people of God will be revealed in such a way grace will be shown. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and was shown to be full of grace which caused his face to exude peace.

As you go out into the world, your daily life, pay attention to where God is working and join him in the task. Allow his Spirit to fill you so much that you will show how to handle opposition. The way to handle any opposition is to be filled with the Spirit of peace that comes from God. This is a peace that is beyond understanding; but comes out naturally when the Holy Spirit fill us.

Seek the face and peace of God in all you do and see what incredible works God will perform in and through you.