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 guide them in the right direction.  They way in which he carries out God’s command to speak to these people looks very different than how he would have spoke to his people.  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 the rolled theirs 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, but not more.  I’ll tell them your message but I don’t have to like it.  He was obeying God’s instructions but his heart was still to see his enemies suffer.

Lets 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.  However the text gives us the specifics of the size 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 in, 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 of 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 being 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 in 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 was ordered to wear sackcloth.  Most important here is the fact 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.  Also 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 also 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 them selves, 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.

There are great applications to take from this passage, both from Jonah and from the people of Nineveh.  First 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 the same God who inspired scripture 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, and through the great commission he has called me to take his word to my neighbors, my city, and the ends of the earth.  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.  Unlike Jonah 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, no where 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 decide 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 confesses.  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, 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 went 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 has done, where he has been, and what God has done in him up to this point.  He had turned and ran from God resulting in death, that is separation from God, 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.” “The 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.  Neverthless 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 pitt.” 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 judgement 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.  Also 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.

 

This Fall has been Fruitful

This fall has been fruitful! God is moving and lives are being changed. I have never enjoyed work so much in my life as I am now. I have been able to use my talents while doing what I am passionate about. I am using my skills in management while serving people and being able to go deep in relationships. On a logistical side I have been able to help organize the lobby and implement actions to better utilize our space and help the flow of services based on feedback from consultants Pastor Steve brought in. On a personal level we have been blessed to connect over 60 new people to life groups this fall, and have performed 13 baptisms in the past two months, two of which were men from my men’s group.

This last weekend characterizes my work at Calvary really well. As Director of Operations for Sunday services it was my job to organize and prepare for baptisms this week. We meet in a theatre so there is no baptismal. Tim and I brought a large watering trough to the theatre on Saturday and filled it with water. On Sunday I set up the lobby, checked on various volunteers from lights and sound to kids connection. Then during the service I helped Baptize Tim a member of my men’s group. I thought it would be great to let you hear about Tim in his own words:

 

My name is Tim Palmer and I and God has radically changed me from the man I was to the man I am today. I grew up in a Christian home and knew in my head all the things of God but I never really knew God. My dad was a preacher and I just played along with church when deep down I wanted nothing to do with it ! In 2010 I graduated high school and started rodeoing and training horses full time. God was the last thing on my mind and I took every opportunity I had to live that crazy cowboy life. Amazingly God allowed me to be very successful in rodeo and I went pro in 2012 and made it all the way to the national circuit finals my first year in the bareback bronco riding! I continued to think I was all that and party away my life! In 2013 I was doing great till I got kicked and compound fractured my left tibia ” shin bone” that stopped everything! I lost my job, my career, everything! But still God never gave up on me! I looked back at my life and I realized I had nothing in myself! I had won thousands of dollars, had story’s and trophy buckles but I was lost in my self! Through a series of events I came to visit Calvary not even knowing why I was there but God showed up! I went to visit a Jordan’s small group and God tore me apart and showed me he is all I need! I gave my life to Him and I’m a changed man!! There is no gold buckle or party that had given me the peace and joy and love that God has! I can’t even describe the difference other then life changing! I’m set free from my past, I’m a Son of God and now I Ride 4 Him!!!”

Tim baptism hug

It is such a joy to be a part of God’s work here in State College while preparing for future work in ministry. Based on my performance in my two classes this semester I am taking on a full load in the spring semester so that I can finish seminary in two years. Part of those classes is a Perspectives in World Ministry class that I am taking locally that also acts as part of missionary training. I am planning on going on a missions trip to Honduras with my mentor Johnny Pons, and am scheduled to take part in the Collaborative Church planting conference in Oakland CA with Pastor Lutz. My goal for the Men’s group is to plant a second group by summer so we can reach more men.

 

Tim and I baptism

Ministry Needs:

Real differences are being made especially in the lives of the people I work with. It is the generosity of people like you that allows me to carry on this work.

As the calendar year comes to a close, will you consider investing in this ministry by either giving a year-end gift, a pledge for 2015, or by supporting this ministry on a monthly basis? I am trusting God to close a funding gap of $2000/month for the new year. Your support is truly appreciated.

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT OUR WORK!

Thank you for prayerfully considering this opportunity. With your help, I can continue my work with men in my area, my Internship at Calvary Church, as well as my training in Seminary.

        

 

 

Christmas Season

This Christmas season I have found a renewed joy to the season.  I was one of those people!  The kids and I had the tree and decorations up before thanksgiving, and I find my self almost giddy about celebrating.

In the past our family made a huge deal about this season.  I so wanted to be intentional about teaching the kids the true meaning of Christmas, and focusing purely on Christ and what his birth means to us.  Last Christmas was our first that we faced as a new family, and honestly it took every bit of inner strength I had to put up the tree and decorate the house.  The season brought pain because of the memories and realization that life was different.  It was a year of firsts…

However this year is different.  This year I realize it is a joyous season not because of who surrounds us, or where we are, but who it is all about.  Also an awesome thing I appreciate is everywhere I go people are decorating, and playing music, excited to celebrate this wonderful holiday.  It’s true many have no idea what it is they are celebrating, but the revelation of God is being proclaimed and opportunities are wide open.  Guards are down.  While people are shopping, in the background music is being played announcing the Christ, nativity scenes cover the landscape, and people that never think to visit church come.

It reminds me of Gods general revelation.  His creation proclaims who he is, and yet people don’t notice.  The same is true of this season.  Jesus birth is being proclaimed everywhere, and yet people miss it.  I have missed it in the past as well.  I was celebrating him but I wasn’t appreciating the opportunity this season presents us to proclaim him to others.  To make the most of opportunities to celebrate and invite friends, family, and neighbors to celebrate with me.  Christians we should be having the best parties because we have the most to celebrate!  This is when we celebrate the entirety of the Old Testament coming to fruition.  The prophecies came true, Hope would have a reason, finally the relationship with creator father would be redeemed in the person of the Messiah, the Christ Child.

I never appreciated the secular part of the season until now.  The fact that so many celebrate even though they are not observing the religious aspect can be a win for us.  The holiday itself acts as a common ground culturally.  Friends that may not normally come to church with us will feast with us, and some may come to a Christmas eve service.  It’s also an opportunity to love on people who are hurting, or struggling.  Like Christ entered the darkness in a poor stable, under threat of an oppressing government, we can reach in to brokenness or loneliness and live our faith.

This year I want to make the most of the opportunities, get out of my comfort zone, and pursue new relationships with the purpose of sharing the greatest gift.  Gods love.  Merry Christmas!!

Thankful

Today I find myself thinking differently about what I am thankful for.

I took all four of my kids across the mountains to visit family and enjoy a meal along with great quality time with them.  Cousins played while adults talked, prepared food, and played as well.  I enjoyed everything about this time together, and when we arrived back home and I tucked them in late, and started to pray I thought of where we’ve come.

It’s natural and normal to be thankful for the good in our lives and what hasn’t went wrong, but tonight I found myself thankful for the course through which life has brought me.  I am also thankful for the struggles, and pain.  These times have shaped me, have revealed my calling, and brought so much good that I don’t think would have been possible without them.  While I never would have considered being a single dad, starting over completely to be a blessing, I consider where God is leading me now and how he has used these times to shape me, humble me, and teach me.

I’m thankful for my family that has loved and supported me every step of the journey.  I’m thankful for friends that are just as close as family.  They have truly shown me what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Christ.  I’m thankful for a Church that has and is helping me find my calling as a pastor through an internship while also referring me to seminary.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to receive training and an education online so I can juggle being a father, working in ministry, and seminary simultaneously.  I am so grateful for three great mentors speaking in to my life and allowing God to use their advice and guidance to help mold me into the man God intends.  I’m thankful for housing options that allow people in my position an opportunity to afford a safe place for my kids.  I’m thankful for the current missions field I find myself in, while training for a future in missions abroad.  I’m also thankful for friends, family, and even some strangers who support me financially so that I can minister to the men and women in the church I serve in, life groups I lead, and future ministry I am preparing for.

I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be thankful for so much if life was never challenging.  I marvel at his creativity, his ability to use a broken world, and tough circumstances to bring about good, and ultimately glorify him.  We brought sin in to his creation and seemingly ruined it, but he continues to create in our mess, redirecting our sin at times to bring about his eventual good.  To fulfill his ultimate plan of a creation redeemed, restored, and renewed.

Most of all I’m thankful God is in control and not me, and that by his grace I am his child.

 

 

Christ in Community

This last Sunday I had the privilege to talk to our congregation about the importance of life groups in our walk with Christ. I shared my personal story of why I started a group in my home, and how it has blessed me and others.  

My life group has become my nuclear family. These guys are the first people I call in times of need and when I want to share good news. I didn’t always have people like this in my life though. A little over a year ago I felt like I had no one. I knew Christ, and had an internal call to ministry but with no one speaking into my life, I didn’t have external affirmation about this. I had no one to encourage me, or challenge me. I had also just been through a very rough time in my life emotionally, and had no one local to help me through that or counsel me.

I started a group out of loneliness and out of a realization that if I felt this way, there were other guys out there that felt this way as well. I felt like I had slipped through the cracks and I wanted to be there for other guys and wanted other people in my life.

It’s one thing to read about stories of struggle or praise of what God has done, and it’s another to live through these experiences with others. You sharing your life with others acts as a blessing to both them and you, and being in community gives you and others the opportunity to speak truth in to these experiences. You need someone to struggle with!

Being in community wasn’t the end result, it has purpose.

Being in a life group has been a great opportunity for me to grow in my relationship with Christ. You can certainly gain knowledge on your own, attending Sunday services, reading the bible, listening to pod casts, reading books, but I’ve noticed when you study God’s word with others, and share intimate details about your life with that group you gain an opportunity to gain so much wisdom and real life application. It’s an opportunity for discussion. This dialog with others is an important part of your spiritual growth that can’t happen sitting in a service, or reading a book.

As we grow in Christ we are called to respond to our faith, he has a mission for us.

The guys in my life group and close friends from church have acted as an external calling in my life in to ministry. Spending time with guys in the word, disciplining them, and living life with these guys has given me an opportunity to live out my calling. Also because I am in community with them, it gives me the opportunity for others to speak into my life, they have affirmed strengths I didn’t know I had, and helped me develop those, and encouraged me to take the next steps in my calling such as going to seminary, and going on staff with Calvary Church. Many of them are actually financially supporting the work I am doing.

The purpose for our life group is to connect with a community of believers for the purpose of knowing Christ more, and living out our calling together.

Along with sharing my story we invited others to get connected to a life group and had inserts in the bulletin so people could request to be connected to a group, and by God’s grace almost 40 people responded.

Please be praying that we will be able to make good matches for these people and that we would be effective in training new leaders to meet the need of more groups in our church.

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