Honoring our Father

Malachi

In the opening part of Malachi God starts with love, he establishes that the most loving thing he has done for his people is make them his people.  He is their adoptive father, who chose them and in choosing them made them a great nation.  I think it’s important to dig into what God means by great because often we think of God’s blessing or the term great on more of a prosperity level.  In this text also this seems to be the reason the Israelites are not taking their faith seriously.  Their nation has lost its grandeur and power, they have rebuilt the walls and temple but are still suffering.  Bottom line, they don’t feel great.  They are measuring God’s love in a tangible worldly perspective.

In Jeremiah 9:23-24 God defines greatness not through the worldview of man but in knowing and understanding who God is.

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jer 9:23-24 ESV

Combine how God defines greatness with his establishment in Malachi 1:2 that he has shown his love by making them his people and we get a new perspective on blessing and what it means to be God’s people.  Being his does not mean life will be easy or we will find success in the way the world defines it.  We are not even given potential for greatness when chosen by God, but the mere fact that God reveals himself to us and allows us to know him is what makes us great.  In making us great we are able to live out our faith in a way that brings glory to who God is, and he continues to reveal himself to others through us.  That is an amazing opportunity!  To be chosen for a purpose to bless the world with the knowledge of who God is.

Yet as we will see in this passage these people do not appreciate their position as his chosen people.  They were taking him for granted and merely going through the motions of fulfilling their duties, rather than living out their faith in love for their father.

‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you” Malachi 1:6a NASB

He has told them he is their father, and in a father child relationship especially at this time a father would receive honor.  This society was patriarchal, the father was the head of the family, and was revered.  He both cared for and led the family.  Here God is saying I am your father, why do you not treat me as such?

He then goes on to explain the offense, how they are dishonoring and disrespecting him.  They were taking the sacrificial system lightly.  In fact they were completely making a mockery of it.  They were offering unworthy animals as atonement for their sins.

O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?  Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. ”  Malachi 1:6b-8 NASB

God created this system out of grace to provide atonement for their sins.  When he gave them the law, the ten commandments, he gave it to point out their sin, so they would understand their separation from God.  Then he gave them this system so that by his grace they could act in faith in performing these sacrifices to pay the debt for their sin by the blood of a worthy sacrifice.  To profane this system was to spit in the very face of God.

For us today as Christians this looks like saying your a Christian, saying that you’re sins are covered but not applying that truth to your life.  They still called themselves the chosen people of God, but didn’t live it out.  We do the same thing today.  We are glad to accept the idea we are going to heaven but we don’t study his word, serve the needy, or spread his redemptive message.  Even worse we take our faith for granted and live lives that resemble our culture more than our family.  A sign of a true relationship with God is a life that proclaims God’s redemptive love in both word and deed.

Then God drives the point home.  They take the worship of God lightly, but then when they need him they expect grace and favor.  We do this too right?  We don’t take our faith seriously, we aren’t really living it then we ask of God, or pray to him when we need him.  All of a sudden when we need something we call out father father and expect him to serve us.

But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you. “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.  But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.”  Malachi 1:9-12 NASB

Here God is basically saying when you serve me halfheartedly you profane my name, and it would be better you didn’t serve me at all.  A person that calls them self a Christian but doesn’t live it just makes God look bad.  It would be better they didn’t label themselves as such so people wouldn’t attribute their actions with his holy name.  This is brutally tough but true.  As God’s children we represent him in the world.  Now this is not saying you have to be perfect, because we can’t be, that was why he gave them the sacrificial system, and at our present point in redemptive history he gave us the person of Jesus.  Our lives don’t have to be perfect to reflect God, we just need to be genuine in our faith.  We need to mourn our sin, and continue to struggle with our flesh.  This heart attitude flows out of a love for our father.

The statement God is making here in the text resembles Gods word in Revelation 3:

“‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Rev3:15-16 NASB

Again God’s instruction is “don’t be a faker!”  Be or don’t be, do or don’t do, but you can’t sit in the middle, you can’t have it both ways.  You’re either all in or all out.  Again this is not a matter of works but a matter of the heart.

He then closes chapter one with a warning against lying to God in the giving of offerings.

You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD. But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.” Malachi 1:13-14 NASB

Here the people were complaining about how hard the sacrificial system is to follow, and are annoyed at having to go through this process.  Again their heart is not in the right place, and their offerings mean nothing to God.  He then goes further to bring about a curse.  It’s bad enough to offer junk to God and for their heart to be in the wrong place, but he addresses those who would pass themselves off as righteous, try to make it look like they are doing right but deceitfully and purposefully hide their sinful acts.  These people were making a vow that they were observing the system in the right way, then when the time came to give the offering they gave a lesser animal and kept what they promised to God for themselves.

This brought to mind the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5.  In the end of chapter 4 the people were selling their property and giving the proceeds to the disciples to distribute to those in need.  Then Ananias sold his property and kept some money back before offering a lesser amount to the disciples.  The fact he gave less than all he had was not the problem as Peter states the property was his before he sold it, and the money was his before giving it.  The problem was he lied and stated that the amount he gave was the full sum.  His intention was to look good in the eyes of man, not to give an offering to the Lord.  Just as God cursed the swindler in Malachi, he struck Ananias dead on the spot when caught in this lie.

Over and over in this text God is addressing the heart.  If we love him as our father we will honor him.  That love will overflow into all areas of our lives, and our worship will be real.  A loving relationship with our heavenly father results in an attitude of desiring to serve him.  For me this is a very convicting text.  Often I give God the leftovers rather than the first fruits.  This is true of my time, money, and heart.  My application is to evaluate my actions and how I live out my faith.  I desire to live in a way that brings God glory, not just for the eyes of man, but from the heart.

 

A Father’s Love

Malachi

Often we tend to allow the circumstances of our life to dictate our relationship with God.  I don’t necessarily mean that we give him praise when things are going well because truth be told we often forget about him in those times because we don’t “need” him.  However when times are tough we tend to blame him for not loving us, for not being fair or just.  When life doesn’t go our way we get upset with God rather than continuing to worship him.  If we only worship him if we are getting what we want is it him we are really worshiping in the first place, or is it ourselves we are worshiping?

This book was written to the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, and God was correcting matters of their heart to prepare them for four hundred years of silence before the coming of the Messiah.  The book of Malachi is a message sent out of love.  God the loving father spoke to his children, the people of Israel.  It was written after the people had returned from exile and had rebuilt the temple.  The people had been home for over one hundred years and were worshiping their one true God again, but their love for him had waned.  However God was still pursuing them, and in this instance love was addressing where they were messing up.

The very first verse of the book is key, and very important for us to take note of as we interpret scripture as a whole.

“The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi”Malachi 1:1 NASB 

This is God’s word not Malachi’s.  Again and again in scripture we are told that the whole of the bible is God’s word, and as it was his word he had an intended recipient for his message and an intended result of them hearing it.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17 NASB

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  2 Pet 1:20-2 NASB

His intended recipient here was his chosen people, his children, then the people of Israel.  Today we can find application for all believers.  As his children he starts with a kind word of love.  “I have loved you.”  The response from his children is “How have You loved us?”  For his answer God goes way back in their genealogy to Jacob and Esau.

I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob;but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Malachi 1:2-3

His answer is that he loved them by choosing them to be his people.  Even while these two boys were still in their mothers stomach God chose one over the other:

But the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it is so, why then am I this way?”  So she went to inquire of the Lord.  The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.” Genesis 25:22-23

God’s point here is his love is shown by the mere fact that they are his people.  He could have chosen anyone, but he chose them and they knew their history.  They knew even before Jacob they descended from Abraham who God also chose, not based on his own merit.  He came from the country of Ur and a people of idol worshipers, but God chose him and he followed God in faith because of God’s love for him.  All of scripture is a story of God choosing people through whom he would work out his redemptive plan for all mankind.

He chose them, he taught them by giving them his commandments and a sacrificial system to pay atonement for their sins.  In this system they received God’s grace through faith covered in blood.  In Egypt he instructed them to kill an unblemished lamb and paint its blood on their doorways and they would be saved from the plague of death on their first born sons.  He offered them this gift and instructed them on how to carry it out.  In doing so they acted in faith because of the grace he gave them.  Then he set up an ongoing system of sacrifices, which would act as a temporary atonement for sin until Christ’s final sacrifice which would cover all sins forever.

For us today, by the grace of our place in redemptive history we can look back on the fulfillment of the promise he made to these people.  We have the knowledge that the messiah did come and he was the perfect sinless sacrifice that paid the debt for our sin, and that as he said he rose again conquering death for good.

Paul also speaks into what God is saying here also using Jacob and Esau as an example in Romans 9:10-16:

When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, “the older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  What shall we say then?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Here Paul makes the same exertion as is made in Malachi but he brings it forward to include gentiles.  All which God calls, elects, chooses become his children, the mere fact we are his children shows his love for us.  And it is out of love that he sent this hard and good message to Israel then, and to us now so that we may receive instruction on how to live out this relationship with our heavenly father.

Continuing on in Malachi verse 4 to say:

Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.” Malachi 1:4

It seems to me the pronoun “we” is key in this verse.  God is in control, not man.  The called had just as much control over their situation as the uncalled, and no one can change their position outside of the will of God.  The people of Edom could not rebuild on their own regaurd, they needed God’s favor, his mercy.  This brings to mind the people of Nineveh.  They did not receive blessing because they made better choices but because God chose to have compassion on them, and through his compassion they were able to act in faith.   Faith that if they repented he would relent and show them mercy, but just like Jacobs path started with God choosing him, Nineveh’s the same way.  Paul sums this up well in Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph 2:8-9 ESV

We are saved by grace through faith, and it is not of our doing but his.

For Israel at this point in the message the application is no matter what your current life circumstance is, the fact that you are my people shows I have loved you.  Whether you suffer famine, drought, disease, or persecution, anything short of damnation is a gift and the fact you are mine is a sign of my love.  God never promised them life would be easy but he did promise they would be his people and he would be with them, and that should be enough.

For us the point is the same.  The fact that God has chosen you, that he sent his son to pay the price for your sin on the cross, making you a co-heir of the kingdom of God shows the father’s love for you.  Because of this truth you should have joy in your life despite any circumstance you encounter.  Also because of this mercy and love that you have been given love should be your response for your father.  Love that pours out for him in every area of your life, not out of obligation but out of thanksgiving and appreciation for the relationship he has bestowed on you as a child of God.

This section ends in verse five:

Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!

In this verse he was referring to his handling of Edom, their inability to thrive without God.  For Israel his handling of these people was a reminder of their need for God, and that he is ultimately in control.  Like their father Jacob they should continue to seek after God’s blessing regardless of their circumstances.

For us it seems to me this is a reminder there are no self made men.  We cannot “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.”  We may make progress by the world’s standards but we will never truly find fulfillment outside of the blessing of God.  This blessing is a big picture blessing.  It gives us a purpose in the here and now with a vision of the future.  We are not simply blessed to be his people, but to be a blessing to the world, and part of that is living as his children so that others would see evidence of our father in us.

Honduras Trip

Honduras palms    This March I am traveling to Honduras with my Mentor Johnny Pons. We will be visiting the village of La Acequia where Johnny has formed relationships 13 years ago and been visiting and working with the church and men there continually. We are looking for opportunities to serve the village more and learn from Johnny in how he has formed and continued this relational ministry internationally. You can check out some of what Johnny has going on already on the Hope For Honduras page. One need they have now is for lap tops and English learning software as well as Microsoft Office software. Knowing English and a rudimentary understanding of Office dramatically increases the job opportunities for locals there at companies such as Chiquita Banana and textile companies.

I can’t wait for this opportunity to travel with an experienced minister and missionary in Latin America, as this is a huge passion of mine.  Not only will we be working in the village but we will have an opportunity to spend time with a men’s group Johnny has started there with local men who are investing in their families and their community.  This will be a great opportunity for me to learn and serve in a way that combines my passion for missions, Latin America, and investing in men.  A need I have for this trip is prayer and financial support for this week long trip from March 5th-12th. The whole trip is only $1000 per person. If you feel led to partner with me in this trip or my continued ministry you can give at this link https://www.globalservicenet.org/giving/50714002.

kids from la acequia

Everyone Needs Compassion

JonahAndTheCitybogpost

This is the final post in the series on Jonah. I appreciate studying through scripture in the context of whole books of the bible because it allows me to understand and interpret Gods message in the context that he inspired it. It is my desire to be mastered by his word rather than seeking to master the word and use it to give a message I come up with. I find that by working through pieces of scripture in context I am better able to receive and communicate the heart of God that he has revealed to us through his word. All that God has inspired in his word is true. Some of the truths are easy, and some are hard, but all are true and by working through it in order it keeps me from navigating around the harder truths while presenting these truths in proper context.

In the story of Jonah we observe God passionately pursuing the redemption of man to himself. God gave his messenger the mission to reach the evil people of Nineveh. In doing so God wasn’t only pursuing Nineveh but was working on the heart of his messenger.

In this story God didn’t merely willingly forgive those who chose to repent, but pursued them before they even had the thought to repent. We observe God pursue sinful people and bring about heart change through tough life experiences. In the case of Jonah, while he was choosing to disobey, God sent a storm, then provided salvation in the form of a three-night stay in the belly of a fish. Later he got very specific using a plant and directly explaining his heart for the lost people of Nineveh. For the pagan sailors it was the storm that threatened their lives then the miraculous ceasing of the storm when they obeyed the words of Jonah to throw him overboard to appease his God. Finally for the people of Nineveh God used the threat of destruction given by a man who was their enemy, and I can only imagine what Jonah looked like after three days in the belly of a fish and a trek from the ocean to the gates of Nineveh. Nevertheless it took the impending threat of destruction to cause these people to repent and humble themselves in submission to the one true God.

Lets look at the text of chapter 4:

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?””  ESV

In the beginning of chapter four Jonah had a conversation with God. The prayer found here is in stark contrast to the prayer we find back in chapter two. Going into this prayer the Ninevites were in harmony with God while Jonah was against God. In verse two the very character of God we normally take refuge in Jonah is angry with; “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” 4:2 NASB It’s one thing for God to be gracious and merciful to those Jonah believes deserve it, but the idea God would extend this to Jonah’s enemies made him furious. He would rather sin against God than see God bless his enemies. Continuing into verse three his words mirror his prayer in chapter two where he was grateful his life was brought up from the pit and his fainting soul was revived, however in this prayer he would rather die than see God extend the same mercy to Nineveh.

Jonah’s description of God of being gracious and compassionate comes right out of Exodus 34:6-7 when God described himself: “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” NASB  Jonah knew this, he knew God and yet in this area of Jonahs life he refused to submit to God.  At the close of this prayer God interacts with Jonah and asked the rhetorical question “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

The writer intended you to read this account in the context of the whole story. Having already read the previous accounts of Jonah we know that Jonah has sinned against God and God pursued him and had mercy on him. In Jonah’s previous prayer he thanked God for this and came to the conclusion that Salvation comes from God alone. If salvation comes from God it is Gods to give not ours. We also need to understand that Israel was God’s chosen people, but not for the purpose of just being his, but to be his blessing to others. His intention was to use his people to carry out his redemptive plan as seen in Genesis 12:2-3; “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  It wasn’t enough for Jonah to just preach Gods message to his chosen people of Israel, God also wanted to use Jonah to reach the people of Nineveh.  God’s chosen people (Israelites) were blessed to be a blessing, not just to be blessed, and through them all the families of the earth were to be blessed, ALL, including Nineveh.

Today this has application for us. Just as God chose Israel to bless the people of the world he chose us to do the same. Just as Jonah was called to go outside of the borders of Israel, we are called to go outside the walls of our churches. In the great commission (Acts 1:8) Jesus commanded us to take his message to our neighborhoods and extend it out to the rest of the world. We cannot decide who deserves to hear God’s message, we must pursue everyone for the purpose of them being restored to God.

Next in the text God gave Jonah a lesson about compassion through a plant:

“Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?””

In verse five Jonah went out to see what would happen, which leads us to believe he still hoped God would destroy the city. While sitting in his small structure God again showed his control over nature in causing a plant to grow up for the comfort of Jonah, to shade him from the sun as he rested there. Jonah took great joy in this plant and the comfort it provided him. Next God appointed a worm to attack the plant the very next day causing it to wither away leaving him exposed to the sun, then God appointed a scorching east wind causing Jonah to feel faint.

Here God provided a physical lesson first, then spoke to Jonah explaining the lesson. God asked Jonah if he did well to be angry over the plant, and Jonah affirmed his position. He then explained that Jonah was angry about the death of a plant that God caused to grow and that lived for a mere day, then compared the simple plant to the city full of people. He used an idiom here: “persons who do not know their right hand from their left,” which meant people who were morally and spiritually unaware. If Jonah would pity the plant should God not be show pity for these people? Also, in driving his point home to Jonah God adds in there were also many cattle in the city. If Jonah had pity on a plant, maybe he would take pity on the livestock that were spared from destruction as well.

God was teaching Jonah a lesson in compassion. Like the plant we are his creation, but is man not more important than a mere plant? In Genesis two we can read the account of the creation of man. We were made to work the land, and given the task maintaining God’s creation. In fact man was made in the very image of God. How is it that we can easily show pity for God’s other parts of creation and yet have a hard time showing pity on man? The most important cause God has given us is to further his mission of restoring man to a relationship with their creator God. He doesn’t need us to complete this mission but he desires to use us. He wants for us to have a heart for the morally and spiritually unaware, and tasks us with making them aware by proclaiming the good news of the final work of Christ which redeems us to God through faith by grace covered in his blood.

An application I draw from this portion of scripture is God’s heart for the lost, and his call for us to proclaim his good news to all people. For me specifically I feel God pointing out the people on the fringe, those who we in the church family might look down upon, or easily dismiss because they don’t come to us. For me this is a reminder that God calls us to go to them, to love on those we find tough to love, to pursue those we don’t think deserve Gods grace and mercy. The truth is none of us deserve God’s mercy and grace. We are all broken and all fall short, yet God has called us to go to everyone, even Nineveh!

Reluctant Obedience

JonahAndTheCitybogpost

In the third chapter of Jonah we see a picture of reluctant obedience.  Jonah finally submits and obeys God’s command to go to Nineveh and speak out against them, however his heart is still not in the right place.  He didn’t go with the intent of helping them; or guiding them in the right direction.  The way in which he carries out God’s command to speak to these people looks very different than how he would have spoken to his people(Israel).  Reading this chapter brought to mind how a child would obey a parent when directed to do something they have to do but don’t want to do.  Many a times I have found myself telling one of my children to apologize to their siblings then watched as they rolled their eyes, mumbled I’m sorry and weakly hugged them.  They weren’t approaching my directive with the heart to restore their relationship but out of obligation.  They knew if they didn’t obey me there would be a consequence. At these times I find myself having to say you missed the whole point.  Yes they obeyed the words of my instructions but not the heart of what I was asking.  My desire was for a restoration of the relationship not mere obedience.   With Jonah it seems to me God was trying to teach him a lesson in loving his neighbor, and doing the work of God.

Jonah had been asked originally to speak out to the people of Nineveh and disobeyed by running from God as we found in chapter one.  He quickly found he couldn’t escape God’s calling for him as he found himself in a storm then the belly of a fish.  Because of his relationship with God and God’s pursuit of him he confessed his sin, and repented for his disobedience as we found in chapter two.  In chapter three we are faced with a messenger of God who takes no pleasure in speaking God’s message.  He did as instructed and no more.  In context of the book the picture we have is Jonah saying fine, I was wrong to disobey.  Here I will go and do just as you asked, because I have to.  He was obeying God’s instructions but his heart was still to see his enemies suffer.

Let’s look at the text in chapter three:

Jonah Goes to Nineveh

3: 1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:1-4 ESV)

In verses one through three we see God command Jonah a second time and Jonah obeys.  Then some details are given in the end of three and verse four.  God tells us the specifics of the size of Nineveh.  This great city is a three days journey in breadth.  That’s a huge city with a vast population.  Now to be clear historical data shows the measurements of the city were not a three days walk from side to side.  It is thought to either mean the greater area including surrounding villages or that it would take three days to reach all of the people included in the city.  However the text tells us this then says “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  According to the text Jonah walks one days journey into this great city then he gave his message.  He went a third of the way necessary, and it doesn’t say he was giving the message along the way, in fact it says he walked a specific distance, period.  The word “then” was used in the NASB or here in the ESV they use “and.”  This is important because the words and syntax used are the “word” of God, which he inspired the writer to use, and here following the words and structure I believe the heart of Jonah is conveyed.  He walked in a third of the way and proclaimed God’s message.  Then that’s the last we hear of Jonah in the whole chapter.  Chapter four tells us that he was still in the city, however there is no more account of him doing anything other than observing.  

The amazing thing about this chapter is we get to see God do an amazing miraculous work through a reluctant messenger.  God works through Jonah in spite of Jonah.  God didn’t need Jonah to do this work, he wanted Jonah to be apart of it, and wanted to teach Jonah through it.

At this time we shift from our focus on Jonah to the people of Nineveh.  He gave his message and the people responded:   

5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.(Jonah 3:5 ESV)

This is a great example of true repentance.  Believing God was the first step.  They didn’t just believe him, they took action based on the message, and their action was that of submission.  They fasted and put on sackcloth.  The wearing of sackcloth was a cultural practice done out of mourning and humiliation.  All of the people “from the greatest… to the least” did this.  That is an epic revival, especially considering these people!  These people were renowned for their cruelty and evil.  Apart from the grace of God it’s likely people like this would have laughed at Jonah and slaughtered him for his very words.  Yet they were driven to humility and submission by their believing God’s word.

Next we encountered another character in the story, the King of Nineveh.  This man was the ruler of this great and terrible city; however when the “word” of God reached him his response was immediate.  He arose from his thrown and removed his symbol of leadership, humbled himself and took action to save his people.  Here is the account of the King:

The People of Nineveh Repent

“6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

Not only did the King remove his robe which was a sign of prestige, and remove himself from the thrown which was a sign of power, where he ruled from, but he put on sack cloth which was a sign of humility and mourning, and he sat in ashes.  Here we see the King do the exact opposite of Jonah.  Jonah who was a messenger of God responded to God’s word first by disobedience, then by reluctant obedience and doing just enough to have technically obeyed God.  The King who was not even one of God’s chosen people(the people of Israel) responded immediately, and he wasn’t given any instruction yet he was moved to action.  The King not only personally repented but his heart was for his people. He issued a proclamation that his people would humble themselves and be in a state of mourning.  No person or beast was allowed to eat or drink, and all were ordered to wear sackcloth.  Most important here is the fact that he encouraged his people to call out to God, and turn from their evil ways.  So his proclamation was that his people would humble themselves, call out to God and repent.  The text said that he did this out of hope.  Hope that if they were repentant God might have mercy.  This gentile got the point, his heart was changed, and he understood what it was to serve his people.

The text then gave God’s response to the people of Nineveh:

“10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10 ESV)

The people of Nineveh were saved by God’s grace, through faith.  An interesting point here is that God chose these people.  He chose this city of wicked people for Jonah to take this message to.  He could have chosen to save anyone, and indeed there were many other neighboring cities to Israel that he didn’t chose, and who didn’t repent and come to God, but by his grace he chose this one.  The fact he did chose the city was the reason they repented.  Had he not sent Jonah there the people wouldn’t have heard the message, and the circumstances wouldn’t have occurred in which he worked in their hearts to repent from their ways and follow him.  It seems to me that this is an example of God’s sovereignty.  The people of Nineveh couldn’t save themselves, God provided salvation.  This echoes Jonah’s prayer in chapter 3:9 “Salvation is from the Lord” not from man, not from Jonah.

Just as God provided Jonah with a fish, he provided Nineveh with Jonah, and he ultimately provided everyone with the person of Jesus.  Just as God relented and had mercy on Nineveh, he has mercy on those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus, who paid the price for our sin by his death on the cross and conquered death by his resurrection three days later.

I just want to say I have personally found studying Jonah to be both enlightening and convicting.  My Seminary professor  Todd Miles told us last semester that we should approach the word of God with expectation.  We should expect to hear from God as we read the text and study his word.  We can expect this because just as God inspired the writing of scripture he also helps us to interpret it. 

The first couple times I read through Jonah I found myself thinking Jonah was ridiculous.  How could someone who God spoke to not obey?  How could he be so indignant and run from God because he didn’t like the people of Nineveh?  However the more I read it I considered how I respond to God’s word.  Do I always obey?  Similar to God’s call for Jonah  to preach to Nineveh, he has called me to love my neighbors(Lev 19:18, Mat 22:39), and through the great commission(Acts1:8) he has called me to take his word to my neighbors, my city, and the ends of the earth.  These are but two examples, because of our grace of place in history we have the whole of God’s word in the Bible and I am sure I could come up with many more examples of me not obeying and even reluctantly obeying.  I certainly have my own Nineveh’s, and I even have people I love who I haven’t spoke God’s word to.  I am no better than Jonah, and reading his account has been a rich time of reflecting on how God has called me, and my own need for obedience.  I pray my obedience would be out of love for God and the people he has called me to, not just to obey but to have heart transformation along the journey.

 

Salvation Belongs to the Lord!

JonahAndTheCitybogpost

Have you ever found yourself in an utter mess and known it was your fault?  You were caught dead in your tracks, nowhere to run, and no denying it.  This is where Jonah found himself in the end of chapter one.  Jonah had been asked by God to do a task and he ran from his presence.  Not long into his journey God sent a storm after Jonah.  When asked to pray to his God by the sailors it doesn’t give account of him saying anything to them.  Maybe he thought he could still sit this out.  Then the sailors decided to cast lots to find out whose fault this terrible storm was.  When the lot fell on Jonah he finally caved.  They asked him for his whole story and he confessed.  He had already told them he was running from God, now he confessed to be a Hebrew, to be one of the people of the God he was running from, and his God is the creator.  When asked what they should do to appease his God Jonah offered himself, and in doing so he took the blame for the wrong he did in running from God.  In doing this Jonah offered himself as the sacrifice for his sin, and God accepted the sacrifice and calmed the storm, but he also provided a great fish to save Jonah.

I have gone back into chapter one to set the stage for chapter two of this story.  In chapter two we find a prayer from Jonah from within the belly of the fish.  Because this book is a narrative of the account of Jonah we can’t look at any piece as an individual, but as a part of the whole story.  Jonah’s prayer is reflective of what he had done, where he had been, and what God had done in him up to this point.  He had turned and run from God which almost resulted in death, but at the last minute God had grace on him and provided salvation.  Salvation in this case was inside the belly of a large fish.  If we look at the text it goes from Jonah being swallowed by a large fish in chapter one:

“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”, to the opening of chapter two starting with the word “then.” “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish,

Even after being caught, and confessing what he had done, and offering himself to pay the penalty for his sin it took him three days in the belly of the fish to pray to God.  Jonah had to sit in his situation for a while and stew on it.  He had confessed, but he had not repented yet.

An application I believe we can take from this story is that both are needed, confession and repentance.  Jonah had to confess who he was and what he had done not only to God, but to the people his sin had affected.  Then he had to change, he had to get right with God, and this prayer is where we see Jonah do that work.

His prayer begins with his reasoning for why he prays and state he is in at the time:

“2 I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of sheol(death) I cried, and you heard my voice.”

In his prayer he had hit bottom, he was praying out of desperation, and almost the point of death, and even from there God heard him.  It seems to me he finally realized he could not run from God, and that’s a good thing.  God is always there.

Throughout his prayer Jonah showed his knowledge of Gods word.  In his prayer he quoted scripture.  In doing so he was gospelling himself, and this is a great example of how having God’s word in our heart has real life application.  He couldn’t look up applicable scripture while residing in the belly of the fish, he had to know what God’s word said in order to apply it to the circumstance he found himself in.  In verses two, three, and four he reflects on Psalms:

“I called out of my distress to the Lord, And he answered me.  I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice” Jonah 2:2

– “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple” Psalm 18:6

“For you had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me.  All your breakers and billows passed over me.” Jonah 2:3

– “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me” Psalm 42:7

“So I said, I have been expelled from your sight.  Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.” Jonah 2:4

For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You Psalm 31:22

In his prayer he quotes scripture and reflects on how it directly connects with where he finds himself in life.  Next in verse six Jonah will use the imagery of bars closing in on him to symbolize death, separation from God, and God rescuing him from death:

“at the roots of the mountains.  I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit.” Jonah 2:6

You can also find references to this in:  Job 17:16; 38:17; Ps. 9:13; and Isa 38:10

Jonah sums it up in nine.  He has expressed thoroughly how God has saved him and then he finally submits to God and claims God as being in complete control.

“But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” Jonah 2:9

He had nothing left, all he had was his voice, and he was thankful for the Lord, knowing his prayers have been heard.  Life comes from the presence of God, and he was confident, “thankful” for that.

At the end of the prayer Jonah’s relationship to God had been restored, however God’s work in his heart was not finished.  If so the story would have finished there with Jonah agreeing to go to Nineveh.

It’s not the purpose to just receive God’s blessing of grace.  His purpose is for us to receive his blessings and not allow them to terminate on us, but to be his blessing for others.  We are blessed to be a blessing, we have been given a purpose.  Jonah had been saved to go speak God’s word for Nineveh, so that they would be saved.  He was given life so that he could offer life from God.

I love how God works in his scriptures.  Here in a Narrative of the life of a man we can see evidence of how God worked in Jonah’s life, find real life application for our lives, and see imagery in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus in the New.

Just as Jonah was sent to save the evil people of Nineveh, Jesus was sent by God to save mankind.  Jesus pointed back to Jonah, and claimed him as a foreshadowing of himself. In Matthew 12:39-41 we read:

“But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

Jesus claimed Jonah as a sign resembling himself, and God’s provision.  Just as God provided the fish to save Jonah God provided Jesus to save his people, and just as Jonah rested in the belly of the fish for three days, Jesus would rest in the grave for three days then rise from the dead.  Both the account of Jonah and Jesus proclaim God’s provision of Salvation.

Our compassionate God who pursues us

JonahAndTheCitybogpost

The Story of Jonah much like the whole bible is not the story of a man, but the story of a compassionate God in pursuit of his people. This story in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the future Gospel Story of Jesus. But unlike the Jesus the prophet Jonah was an imperfect messiah being sent by God to save people from their sin.

Jonah was sent by God to call a sinful people to repent of their sins and in doing so they would be saved from destruction. He would willingly offer his life for the pagan sailors.  Jonah unlike Jesus was an imperfect sinner, offering his life in payment for his own sin, to calm the storm he brought in in their lives, while Jesus who was without sin offered his life as payment for our sin to restore our relationship to God.  Like Jesus in the grave, Jonah was in the belly of a fish in the depths for three days. Afterwards he would come back and preach a message of repentance, which God used to save the wicked people of Nineveh.  By our grace in place this side of the cross we can look back in the Old Testament and see this picture among others of Jesus and his atoning work in the New Testament, which helps us see how the Old and the New work together to tell the story of Gods work to restore the relationship with his children.

This is a very broad overview of the story of Jonah. Contained in the story we see the heart of God, desiring to save a people who do not deserve his grace. We also see God’s pursuit of his child that is actively working in his ministry.  God see’s the condition of Jonah’s heart, he has a lack of compassion for sinners.  God calls Jonah to give the message not only to save Nineveh but to minister to Jonah, to do a work in Jonah’s heart.  The beautiful thing about this story is God is the only hero, the man in ministry is just as messed up and broken as the people he ministers to. We don’t like to admit this, as the people following our religious leaders we put them on a pedestal and idolize them for their gifts of wisdom and teaching, but Pastors and leaders are just as broken as the people they serve, and just as in need of the grace they teach about.

In order to understand why Jonah did not want to offer a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh it’s important to know who they were. The Assyrians were enemies of Israel and were legendary for their brutality and cruelty. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and a powerhouse in the Middle East during the time of Jonah. While Jonah was prophesying however, they were in a weakened state, which obviously brought the people of Israel great joy as the relief from attack allowed Israel to grow in strength.

So while Assyria was waning in power God called Jonah to go preach a message of repentance. Now when I say God called him it’s not like the call we think of when someone says they are called into ministry or feel called to move to a certain place. In Verse one of Jonah it says:

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it”

God spoke to Jonah, he spoke and gave him a command. Remember Nineveh was a neighbor to Israel and one of their greatest enemies. And what does Jonah do in response to hearing the word of God? The bible is full of hero’s right? People to look up to and aspire to in our walk. Just for clarity sake that question was rhetorical.  The answer is No, the Bible is not full of heros, it’s full of broken people with messed up lives, but a loving God who pursues them, has mercy on them and extends grace.  He doesn’t always give them a cleaned up easy life in return, but he does offer them purpose and ultimately offer them eternal life.

Jonah doesn’t just refuse to do what God said, he ran in the opposite direction. Verse three talks very specifically about Jonah’s response.

“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the Presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid a fair and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”

He ran from God! When I was younger hearing about this story I thought Jonah ran because he was scared of these barbaric warriors but I am going to give you a spoiler here. Let’s look forward to Chapter four. Jonah does eventually go to Nineveh and they do repent and God spares them, and this is Jonah’s response:

“1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

Jonah didn’t want to go to these people because he didn’t want God to spare them; he didn’t believe they deserved God’s compassion. The truth is no one including Jonah deserves God’s compassion, but God is passionate about pursuing people who don’t deserve it.

At this point Jonah is worse than the Assyrians, because he has a relationship with God, and in disagreeing and running from God he was saying he knew better. He was actually idolizing himself over God. The words used here are important because they are inspired from God. It doesn’t just say he ran from God, but he ran from the presence of God, he separated himself from God. In doing this he was saying I don’t want to do your work, and I don’t even want to be near you.  Jonah ran to his death, both spiritually and metaphorically in the belly of a great fish. But God had mercy on Jonah and pursued Jonah, just as he intended to use Jonah to pursue the Assyrians in Nineveh and give them life.

What happened next is a great example of God not only using suffering to bring us back to him, but causing it in order to do so. God’s response to Jonah running from him was to cause a big storm at sea. Jonah’s sin didn’t just affect himself but the men on the boat with him. The text says the storm was so great that the ship threatened to break up. The lives of these unsuspecting mariners were affected as well. But God did a beautiful thing here with the mess Jonah caused. He used Jonah and the storm to reveal himself to these pagans. The mariners were afraid and cried out to their god’s to no avail. Then they looked for Jonah and found him asleep in the boat. They woke him up and ask him to cry out to his god, then they casted lots to try to figure out who was to blame. At this point Jonah couldn’t hide anymore, the lot landed on him and the men started to push him for information. Who’s fault is this? What do you do? Where are you from? And Jonah confessed he was a Hebrew and he served the one true God, the Creator, and they were afraid because he had told them he was running from God.   They knew then that this storm was caused by the one true God.

Jonah’s answer to the problem was to offer himself as a sacrifice. “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, “ he said “for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” Jonah 1:12. They tried to fight the storm a little more then they did as Jonah instructed, and when it worked they offered a sacrifice and made vows to the Lord. Had Jonah not disobeyed, and God not sent the storm this wouldn’t have happened.  In the words of Max Lucado “One man’s intentional evil God uses for eventual good.” Lucado was talking about Joseph and how God used his brothers sin in selling him off into slavery to ultimately save his people and the nation of Egypt from a great famine.  In this story God used Jonah’s disobedience and sin to reveal himself to these pagan mariners.

Now this portion of scripture was a narrative, a story of what happened in history. This story was both a foreshadowing of Christ’s work and death for us, and a continuation of the story of God pursuing his people. In this story we can draw applications for us today.

One of the first things that came to mind as I was reflecting on Jonah being called to speak to Nineveh was Jesus command to love our neighbors in Matthew 5:43-47:

“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same.”

Also in Mark 12:30-31 we find:

 ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

God was calling Jonah to love his neighbor, specifically his enemy. He told him to minister to them, and used him to serve them. This revealed a heart issue in Jonah; he refused to love his neighbor and ran from God.

Like Jonah we are called to love. Not just those we think deserve to be loved and receive God’s mercy, but those who we think don’t deserve it, those who are hard to love. The point here is that what we think is not important, the truth is none of us deserve anything short of damnation, we are all hard to love, but God is pursuing us and commanding us to pursue and love everyone.  We can find these people in our families, in our neighborhoods, even in our churches. It is our calling, our responsibility to serve these people as well, and to be Christ in the flesh for everyone.

I believe this is true for two reasons:

First everyone is important to God. He is God and he chooses who will receive his grace and mercy not us. We are commanded to take his message to ALL people and ALL nations, and let him do the work in their souls.

Second our heart is important. He calls us to love the hard to love, which in reality is everyone including ourselves,  because that is the heart of God. God loved us when we were still in sin, and he pursued us; and paid the penalty for our sin in order to restore our relationship with God. The sign of a transformed heart is LOVE, and true love is not dependent on the one it is bestowed upon, but the one giving it. God wants a changed heart for his people.

The application I came away with specifically was that I don’t want to be like Jonah as I start my walk in ministry. As I grow in knowledge of the bible while studying in seminary I desire God to grow my heart and give me great compassion for all of his people. I want to pursue people on the fringe, as Jesus did. I pray that rather than condemning people living in sin I would have compassion on them and as a pastor I hope to seek relationships and love on people where they are much like Jesus did.  He went to the wells, and the shores, and the houses of tax collectors, chasing after the lost sheep rather than waiting for them to come to him, and passing judgment on them if they don’t.  Also, I realize I myself am broken like Jonah and in need of God’s grace as much as the people I minister to. I need to preach the Gospel, the story of Gods redemptive love, to myself as much as others need to hear it.

God’s Provision

This fall I have learned some great lessons in God’s provision.  In late summer I was accepted into Western Seminary, and offered an opportunity to start an internship at Calvary Church.  The internship is not paid and income is based on raising support.  I had no idea how I would raise the money, but could not continue my full time job and start seminary at the same time.  God’s calling was clear but stepping into full time ministry required a step of faith.
My dear friend Jeremiah advised me that faith is not waiting for the storm to calm but to step out among the crashing waves.  This fall has been great and tough, one of the richest seasons of my walk in faith.  Support did not come flooding in, but by Gods provision it has come in slowly and just as I needed it.
I had a day in November where I was unsure of how I would pay rent and the kids child care for the month of December. Then a one time support check came in for the exact amount.  I cried for joy.   This amount at this time was clearly of God because I hadn’t even asked this person specifically and they didn’t know my exact need, but God provided it exactly as I needed it.  One day I paid for gas in quarters.  Another day in December, the day I needed to pay my phone bill I got a check from Toyota for the exact amount.  A settlement from something I knew nothing about that happened with Toyota resulted in me getting a payout.   This was clearly not a coincidence, clearly this was God’s provision.  He has provided just enough each day so that I would know where the money was coming from.
With in the last few weeks multiple men from my Men’s Ministry have approached me about supporting me.  The men I am supposed to be ministering to are ministering to my needs and serving me in real tangible ways.
Support raising has been a humbling time, and has really stretched me but has taught me to trust in God more.  I love the work I am doing, and this ministry would not be possible without the support of others.  If you would like to hear from one of the men in the ministry listen to Tim talk about what God has done in his life this fall.


I am so thankful for this opportunity and for the support I am receiving.  I am also thankful that it hasn’t been easy because the process has grown my faith.
I do still need more support to become fully funded.  My goal for December 31st is to reach the half way mark in my funding so I can plan out my budget for 2015.  In order to hit this goal I have to raise an additional $4500 and I am trusting God to provide this money.  Would you consider allowing God to work through you and partner with me in doing his work?
If so click here to partner with me in my ministry.

Live It!

A common theme we find continually in the bible is purpose. God has a purpose for your life, blessings have purpose, and suffering has purpose. God even created us for the purpose of having a relationship with us. Then the rest of the Old Testament thru the New Testament tells of God’s pursuit of us and restoring the relationship with us he had originally intended.

The passage of scripture we will be studying today is found in Colossians 2:6-7. This passage is a command to live our lives according to Christ’s teaching. A foundational statement of our gift of Christ precedes the command. Then the command is followed by an explanation of how to live it out.

In order to understand the points in this passage it is important to know the context. The book of Colossians is a letter, so just as you wouldn’t pick up a letter and start reading from the middle and expect to understand what’s being said, it is assumed when reading verses six and seven of chapter two you have already read everything leading up to that point. The Apostle, Paul, wrote this letter to Christians living in the city of Colossae.   He was addressing the mixtures of beliefs with the Gospel, and bringing them back to the simplicity of it’s message. Then giving them application for their lives, how to live in light of the Gospel message.

Here is the Text we will study today. “6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”ESV

The overall message of this text is a command to live out our faith, “walk in him”, I love the way the message translates this text, “6…You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him.” Msg Live Christ, this brings to mind the idea of being his hands and feet, being Jesus in the flesh for those we come in contact with.

The command “walk in him” asserts that we receive Christ for a purpose, not just so that we might have the knowledge of the Gospel but that the Gospel is meant to be transformational for our lives, that we would be changed, and that we have an obligation, a job to do as part of the Christian movement, “a purpose”. We are not called or commanded to know, we are called to do. We have a mission, God’s mission, the mission Jesus gave to us before ascending into heaven. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples they would receive the Holy Spirit, and would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. The word “witness” used in the original Greek here can be translated as a spectator, a legal witness who’s testimony would hold up in court, or a martyr; someone who had such faith they would be willing to lay down their life for their faith. This is our mission to Live Christ, and to do so throughout the world.  In order to be on mission, and to follow the command of living Christ we first need to have Christ. This leads us back to the text.

The beginning of verse six is the foundational statement of our having received Christ. Lets unpack what that means. In verses thirteen thru twenty-three of chapter one he both established the preeminence of Christ and clearly explains the gospel.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

We were in a state of sin, and actively seeking it, and the perfect person Jesus who was fully God took our place, paying our debt and moving us in to his kingdom.

I am thankful for the clarity of scripture. Paul lays everything out for us very plainly and in a way that is easy to understand. He tells us what it is that we receive in Christ, commands us to live according to this message, then in verse seven he tells us how. The NLT says “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Being rooted in him is having a firm foundation; in Matthew the parable of the house built on the rock depicts the need for a firm foundation:

Build Your House on the Rock Matthew 7:24-27

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Once you have a firm foundation of who God is and what Christ accomplished for us on the cross you can build your life on that knowledge. A faith that is strong bears fruit through actions, James 2:14-18 tells us:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

With this knowledge and life application we cannot help but live in a state of thankfulness. Understanding how our lives apply to the gospel message we can be thankful for both the easy and hard events in our lives.

Often in scripture we find repetition for both clarity and emphasis. This statement of how to walk is just that. Back In verses ten thru twelve of chapter one Paul describes four ways we are to walk in the Lord. He said we are to bear fruit, grow in knowledge, be strengthened, and give thanks to the Father.   In verse twenty-eight he gives the goal of his ministry; to proclaim Christ, preaching and teaching so people would mature in their faith. It seems to me this is speaking back to growing in knowledge and being strengthened. The goal is for people to be changed and continue to grow so that they can join the mission of spreading the gospel.

It all comes back to purpose. We receive Christ so we can walk in him, we walk in him so Christ will be proclaimed, and our lives can point to Christ leading others to Christ.

In my life I have seen God use both the good and the bad for his purpose of proclaiming himself. I was saved when I was a child, but still strayed in my walk as I grew older. As a teenager and even as an adult I struggled with lust, pornography, and being physically intimate before marriage, and I did all this after receiving Christ. My own sin reminds me I am in the process of redemption but while I am still in the flesh I will struggle with sin even though my heart is to serve God. I don’t still struggle with the same sins but I will continue to struggle with some form of temptation as long as I live just as even Paul struggled with sin.

Consider Romans 7:13-25 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

This scripture is a comfort to me because we see even Paul who was an Apostle of Christ still struggled with sin. Even though we receive Christ and are called to live Christ we are still imperfect and will stumble. But the command and call is still to strive to live according to the word, not to give in to our struggles.

I have also seen friends struggle through rejection and divorce yet their faith remained unwavering; in fact their faith grew. God used suffering and sin to draw his children back to him, and point out sin in their life, and cause their relationship with God to grow stronger than it had been before facing suffering and hard times.

We can also grow in good times if we are rooted in our faith. We can seen blessings as having come from God, and allow those blessings to be an opportunity to bless others. For instance economic blessings may be an opportunity to bless others. The blessing of a home may be an opportunity to extend the gift of hospitality to our neighbors and create opportunities to love on others through a meal, or a party.

The application to all of us is to understand what we have received in Christ, to understand the Gospel and to allow the truth of the Gospel to transform our lives. We receive Christ with a purpose, and by living Christ we accomplish that purpose. Go now and be his hands and feet. Continue to read scripture so you can understand the Gospel well enough to communicate it to others. Don’t just tell others the Gospel, but live the Gospel. Serve others, and form relationships with others so you can share the truth of the Gospel with them in the context of their lives.

Christmas is a Revolution!

Red-Christmas-christmas-28601520-1920-1200My Pastors most recent sermon on the unrivaled revolution of Christmas caused me to think of my ministry in the light of this holiday. The Christmas story sets the stage for an epic battle that unfolds in the sleepy town of Bethlehem. This unsuspecting baby was that which the temple of the Old Testament foreshadowed. The full deity of God that dwelt in the Holy of Holies was personified in flesh, and born to live amongst us, pursuing the restoration of the relationship we had lost in the garden.

The Messiah, Savior that would free his people from bondage as David had fought off Goliath, and armies. However his revolution would look different than people would expect. Instead of rallying an army to fight, he would touch peoples lives on an individual level, healing, teaching, forgiving, and calling people to a relationship with him and the father. Ultimately the blood that he would spill would be his own, fulfilling the full cost of our sin, then conquering death he rose. He finished his work by calling us to carry out His mission, and sent us his spirit, the spirit that dwelt in the temple, then in him, would reside in us.

This is the story of Christmas!  Our Lord chose to enter our presence in a mess.  He could have appeared as the angels did, he could have parted the skies and proclaimed himself causing everyone to bow down but he didn’t.  He chose a poor couple, and to be born in a stable, wrapped and lain in a feeding trough.  He chose to be part of a family we would overlook.  His birth was proclaimed that night but first to shepherds.  When wise men came looking for him and made his presence known to the King of the land, the result was the slaughtering of every male child two years old and under in the entire region of Bethlehem.  He was born in a mess, did ministry in that mess, and chose messy people to carry out his mission.  The God man chose fishermen, tax collectors, outcasts to spread his message of love.

So often we think we have to clean up our mess to be right with him, but the truth is he makes us right with him, and he cleans up the mess.  There’s no other message like it, the God who chose a relationship with his people, and did all the work required for us to have it.  This Christmas lets focus on the deeper meaning of the holiday as we celebrate with friends and family.  Lets be revolutionary, lets fight for our king by loving on his people.  Be a blessing to those in your community, forming relationships that allow you to share the messy message of Christ.

 

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