The Worst and Most Successful Prophet Ever

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:10-11 NIV

DEVOTIONAL

The short little book of Jonah is one of the most skillful literary masterpieces of the entire Bible. Every word it seems is a glowing hyperlink to another Biblical text. The more you explore, the more funny and pointed the story of Jonah becomes.

Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh because he doesn’t think they deserve being saved. The funny thing is that God has already given undeserved grace to Israel under the reign of Jeroboam by extending Israel’s borders to the largest they ever were. And he sent that message through none other than Jonah son of Amittai! (2 Kings 14:23-25).

The least godly person in the entire story is the prophet of God: he sleeps when he should be praying, the offers thanksgiving for his “death” inside the great fish, he preaches the shortest and most pitiful sermon in all of history (only 5 words in Hebrew), has the greatest repentance of any missionary ever, and then is angered by the fact that the people are doing exactly what God hoped they would do!

He’s the most upside down prophet that ever lived, and the sad thing is I can see a lot of myself in Jonah. If we’re honest, those of us who claim to follow Christ often wind up being the least Christ-like person in the room because we start acting like Jonah. This short little story deserves much reflection by all who claim to represent Christ in this world.

Prayer

Father, forgive us when we value stuff more than human life. Especially in this heated political climate we tend to value our stuff, our comfort, our ideas, our way more than other humans made in your image. Please forgive us of this sin.

Help us remember that you care for all people, regardless of what they think of you. Lord forgive us for having the spirit of Jonah, where we think of ourselves as better and more deserving of your mercy that those we meet.

Help us see this world as you see it. Help us love our neighbors as ourselves, and please remove the hatred, bigotry, racism, and sectarianism from our hearts.

Lord, have mercy on us for we are sinners.

Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Peace and Quiet in the Chaos

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV

Paul writes Timothy in Ephesus who is ministering to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Men are fighting instead of praying. Women are one-upping each other in dress and allegiance. One woman is violently lashing out in some sort of teaching scenario. It’s chaotic to say the least.

Paul reminds everyone that we are to live “quiet” (ἡσύχιος) lives. Paul uses this word three times in this chapter alone. All throughout the chapter, as well as the chapters that follow, Paul advocates for peace and quiet in our lives…not silence…the Gospel is never silenced, but our attitudes towards others and towards the world is one of peacefulness and quietness in all godliness and holiness.

We don’t fight to get our way, we pray so Christ’s church can be an example of radical unity, and of godliness and holiness in the noisy and chaotic world around us.

Prayer

Father, our world is in turmoil and our nation is divided. Sadly, Father, our churches seem divided too. But Lord, you have called us to live peaceful and quiet lives, not lives of bickering and name calling. You have called us to be one as you are one.

So Father, teach us to pray for everyone in authority- our presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the leaders of other nations, our congress, our senate, our governors, our state representatives, our mayors, our city councils, our HOA boards…not so our will is done, but so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Help us not divide among party lines, but rather show the world a radical unity founded in our commitment to one another because of your son Jesus. And Father, when we live this way help us to reach those lost souls around us whom you want to be saved as well. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Unity in a Divided World

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:2-6 NIV

Devotional

Paul writes Ephesians to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Gentiles coming into the faith along with Jews makes for difficult church potlucks. Paul reminds us that no matter our background, ethnicity, social status, etc., we are all saved in the same way by the same Savior sent by the same God.

For three chapters Paul reminds his readers that all the barriers that once divided these two diverse groups have been destroyed through Jesus. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (2:14) Paul was adamant about this diverse group of believers being unified in Christ.

Today Christ’s church finds itself divided by politics, polity, worship practice, ethnicity, and a multitude of other issues. If Paul were writing to the church in the U.S. today (or any other nation for that matter), what would he say about our unity? I believe it would sound very much like Ephesians. May we seek a unity within the body of Christ that amazes the world around us and glorifies our Father in heaven.

Prayer

Father, our world is full of proud and boastful people. Our national leaders seem to do nothing but provoke division and slander one another. Lord, help us to remember that you have called us to be different. Your Spirit inside of us should unite us above and beyond whatever could divide us. I pray that your Church will truly be one body, divided only by physical location, but never divided in purpose, mission, and fellowship. May we base our unity as one body in the common Spirit, Lord, Faith, and Baptism we share. And may our unity be a witness of your salvation to the world around us. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Idolatry and the Church

Late Saturday afternoon I was paralyzed with a thought…a realization…an all consuming alarm going off in my head, and a knot in the pit of my stomach that just wouldn’t let go. This same thought had floated through my mind on and off over the course of the last 6 months, but today it hit me like a ton of bricks. And I can’t ignore it any more.

I’ll be preaching from Exodus Sunday morning from a text most people think they are familiar with. After God performs many signs and wonders against Egypt, after Israel crosses through the sea, and after God provides for them in the wilderness, the people arrive at Mount Sinai. A beautiful and powerful covenant ceremony takes place…a wedding if you will between God and the people of Israel. This is where we receive the 10 Commandments in the Exodus narrative. They begin like this:

20:1  God spoke all these words: 

20:2 “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 

20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 

20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below.20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me,20:6 and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

Ex 20:1–6 NET

After we read the 10 Commandments, we hear the voice of the nation of Israel speaking to Moses:

“You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.”

Ex 20:19 NET

Did you follow that? The first thing God wants them to do is recognize that He is the one who brought them out of Egypt. They should not worship any other deity, nor try to capture or constrain Him to some sort of created image. That’s what everyone else in their part of the world would do, but this is not what they are called to do. And their response is that they don’t want to hear directly from their Savior. The Creator of heaven and earth is willing to speak directly to them, and they don’t want to hear it.

After God finishes talking to Moses, the very next thing to happen after this wedding scene is sin. Aaron (co-leader of Israel along with Moses and Miriam, the priest who just finished dining in the very presence of God) makes a golden calf idol for the people to worship. But notice what the text tells us:

Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 

32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the LORD.” 32:6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play. 

Ex 32:4–6 NET

Do you hear the Garden of Eden narrative ringing in your ears within this story? The very first directive God gives Adam and Eve is to not eat this fruit. What’s the first thing they do? They eat the fruit.

The first directive God gives Israel is that He is the one who brought them out of Egypt, so don’t worship any other gods or make an image of him. What’s the first thing they do? In their own context, they eat the fruit. God wants his people to be a “kingdom of priests” who are different from the world around them in order to lead the world to God. But Israel chose to be just like the world.

Now fast forward to today. COVID plagued election season in America.

God has called his church to be a “priesthood” so that we might “proclaim the virtues” of Christ and lead the world to him. But just like Israel, the church has chosen to be just like the world. “Christians” are routinely bowing their knees to a golden donkey or elephant while proclaiming that this is the only hope our world has.

The church has bowed to a golden calf instead of humbly leading the world in worship of our Savior, Jesus the Messiah. Instead of pointing to the cross and the empty tomb, we’ve been pointing to our chosen candidate as if they were gods.

We are also good about pointing to ourselves saying “look what we have made!” When it comes to reaching the lost we focus on programs, and music, and skilled speaking, and comfortable buildings, and coffee bars, and awesome children’s wings, and flashy websites, and social media…the list goes on and on and on. And don’t hear me saying that those things are inherently bad. They are not! Very good things can come from all of them. But when we start thinking that the power to reach the lost comes from that list of things instead of the Holy Spirit’s work on the hearts of the lost bathed in the prayers of the saints, we have bowed our knee to the golden calf.

When did we stop trusting God? When did we stop believing in God’s active role in our world? When did we trade our mission of being the hands and feet of Christ for the cheap substitute of producing an entertaining show?

The last word that Jesus has for the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel is to “Go and make disciples.” And we are all too often comfortable with sitting inside of a nice church building and politely whispering “Ya’ll come!” And now that God has allowed our world to be upended, and our worship routines to be disrupted, our instinct has been to immediately return to the “Ya’ll come” comfort we had in February.

But instead of focusing on how we can get people back at the church building post-COVID, maybe we should focus on how we can get out membership out of our buildings and reach the lost in our communities. Perhaps one of the byproducts of us all dealing with this routine altering plague is that God is sick and tired of our routine!

Sisters and Brothers, it’s time that we stop being just like the world around us. Trusting in the trappings of this world in order to save the lost is worshiping the golden calf. We must be the people of God who get outside of the building and shine His light in the darkness of the world that surrounds us. It’s time that we obey our Savior’s voice and “Go and make disciples,” not stay and wait for the lost to show up. It’s time to stop putting our hope in routines and resources of our own making, and begin prayerfully pleading for the courage and wisdom to fulfill our mission to the lost.

Long story short: Stop bowing to the golden calf.

Prayer: What is it Good For?

Have you ever struggled with how to pray? Have you ever felt like you are supposed to say nice things and be thankful, but you really don’t know how to do that? You’re not alone.

Jesus’ followers asked him to teach them how to pray. It was (and still is) very common in the Jewish world to have memorized prayers for different situations. There was a routine set of prayers that you used every day, and in every situation in which you find yourself. Acts shows us that the early church continued the practice of “the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, 3:1, etc.)

Because of this practice, it’s no wonder that Jesus’ followers wanted their Rabbi to teach them a prayer. Afterall, John had done that for his disciples. (Luke 11:1) And in Luke’s account, due to their request, Jesus gives them a prayer to recite.

 “When you pray, say: 

“ ‘Father, 

hallowed be your name, 

your kingdom come. 

Give us each day our daily bread. 

Forgive us our sins, 

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. g 

And lead us not into temptation.’ ” 

 Lk 11:2–4 NIV

Notice that it’s Jesus’ expectation that his disciples will pray these exact words. For some reason in my past that rote prayers became akin to vain repetitions, but Jesus doesn’t see it that way at all! He expects his disciples to repeat these words over and over again. “When you pray, say…” The Greek word for “when” is hotan, which means “whenever.” Jesus wanted his disciples to pray this prayer over and over and over again until it became second nature to them.

Why? Because in this prayer we find the heart of Jesus revealed. What he prayed for is of first importance to him and his mission, as it should be for us today when we recite this prayer. In his book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith talks about the habitual practices we all encounter every day. Even your morning routine, or work routine, or shopping routine, or school routine program and shape you into a product of the world, not a product of the Kingdom. We need reprogramming, and Spiritual habits like prayer do just that!

“If our loves can be disordered by secular [routines], it’s also true that our loves need to be reordered (recalibrated) by [counterroutines]–embodied, communal practices that are ‘loaded’ with the gospel and indexed to God and his kingdom.”

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith, pgs. 57-58

This is exactly what prayer, and specifically the Lord’s Prayer, is designed to do in our life. Prayer isn’t so much moving God into our will, but being shaped into the mission and will of the Father.

I hope you’ll join us Sunday morning at 9:30 CST as we talk about Prayer: Grasping the Heart of God.

Do not be afraid?

“Do not be afraid.”

That phrase appears 74 times in the NIV translation of the Bible. It’s one of the most common phrases in the entire Bible. But even more common than being told to not be afraid, the Bible tells us no fewer than 85 times that we should fear God, his Word, his actions, and his judgement.

God knew that we humans would struggle with fear. That’s why he told us so many times not to fear. But at the same time, there are things God wants us to fear.

Tim Archer shared with me a great illustration of fear. Every day we sit in rooms filled with electrical wiring, and devices. We even carry some of them around in our pockets. We have no fear of this. And yet at the same time we aren’t afraid of our environment or devices, we aren’t willing to stick a screwdriver into an electrical socket. We don’t live in fear of electricity, but we do realize there is a dangerous side.

We understand this when it comes to electricity, but often we don’t act in similar ways when it comes to other issues. We tend to live in the extremes when it comes to fear; either we fear everything, or fear nothing. Neither of these is what God wants.

Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes. – Ecclesiastes 7:18 NIV

On Sunday in the auditorium Bible class, we will begin a study on fear. What does Scripture say about fear, why did God create fear, and how are we to live as followers of Christ?

These lessons will be recorded for later access. You can also join us in person, or via livestream. Until then, I leave you with the words of Moses to God’s people reminding them of how they are to live.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? – Deuteronomy 10:12–13 NIV

Morning Prayer for 7/13/2020

God of peace, teach us to live according to your will. May we learn your wisdom so that we may reach those dying in sin around us. May we receive your strength to build your Kingdom while living as foreigners in this land. And may we hear your voice above the noise of this world so that we may go wherever you call. Through Christ, our brother, Lord, and Savior. Amen.

Finding Unity in Diversity

Most congregations don’t understand unity. We understand uniformity, but not unity. This is why we have so many church buildings, each full of people who are largely the same with very little difference. If you like this music, go to that church. If you like this translation of the Bible, go to that other church. Most congregations understand uniformity, but not unity.

The Apostle Paul sought unity in the church through diversity, a very different approach than we usually see today. Romans 14 speaks a great deal about how Christians find unity in their mission through Christ while still embracing different practices and beliefs! Though the setting is a bit different in Romans, the application is much needed in the American church today.

 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 

Romans 14:2–4 NIV

Notice that Paul does not attempt to get everyone to see things the same way. Rather he reminds them that they all belong to Christ and will all be judged by God. It is not your job, nor my job to judge others (v. 13). Instead, Paul reminds the believers that everything they do should be focused on peace and building each other up (v. 19). And to further clarify that Paul expects the practices of the church to be diverse, he reminds people that wrong to feel pressured into doing things against their beliefs.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. 

Romans 14:22–23 NIV

So how does this apply to today? As we come back together in our places of worship (as East Side has already done) we will have some that think we should have stayed open the entire time, and others that still don’t think it’s safe to meet in public. And Paul would say this is fine. And neither group should condemn or pressure the other. Wear a mask or not? Same answer. Join a peaceful protest? Same answer. Voting? Same answer.

There is room for difference of opinion in the Kingdom of God. There is room for difference of practice in the Church of Jesus. But there is no room for disunity, accusing, arguing, fighting, and disfellowshipping over these differences. Those don’t come from faith, but from sin (v.23).

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Romans 14:19 NIV

Faith or Fear?

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

Psalm 56:3 NIV

During these strange days of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to lose our discernment. We’re bombarded with information coming at us from all directions. 24 hour continuous TV coverage of sick people, or possible sick people, or the stock market falling, or the sky falling. It seems to never stop. And it’s enough to drive a person crazy!

So how do we know what information is helpful, and what information we should ignore? Simple. Ask this one question.

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

Pretty simple right? Much harder to apply though. We get sucked into the vortex of the news cycle. There’s always another case, there’s always another news report, there’s always another distraction. We want to be informed (and we should be informed), but be careful where you are getting your news from. Not everything on the news is beneficial. After all, CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, and any other member of the alphabet soup news media is ultimately trying to accomplish one thing: make money.

“If it bleeds, it leads” as the old expression goes. And if the most engaging news story is the Coronavirus, they will report on it non stop, even if there is nothing new to report. And this type of news builds our fear, not our faith.

So how do we build our faith instead of fear?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:17 NIV

If you want to build your faith instead of fear, turn off the news and open your Bible.

Every day we are trying to offer Christ-centered, Spiritually fulfilling content to build your faith, not your fear. Sunday morning livestream Bible studies, Monday blog posts, Tuesday videos, Wednesday morning Bible studies, Wednesday evening prayer time, Thursday afternoon Bible questions are answered, Friday blog posts, and Saturday we rest.

And we’re not the only ones pushing out Biblical content. It’s my opinion that the Gospel is being preached more in this time when we cannot meet than it has ever been preached. Virtually every congregation is trying to get the message of Christ broadcast wherever they can, which sadly is a brand new concept for some of them.

This is a wonderful time to grow in faith, but you have to say no to fear.

So this week before you click on the news story, or before you watch the news, or before you have that conversation with your friend who swears the sky is falling…ask yourself:

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

I look forward to opening God’s word with you on Sunday morning at 10:00am CST on Facebook, our church website, and on YouTube. Until then, build faith.

The Only Thing That Counts

For the next 6 weeks the attention of our bulletin articles will be to support our readings from Immerse: Messiah. If you haven’t decided to join us for Immerse yet, it’s not too late. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule.

Our readings for this week will take us through the 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. One of the things that has really stood out to me in Paul’s letters is how he calls us to love as Christ has loved us! Paul comes back to this theme in practically all his writings, but let’s just look at a few verses in Galatians.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:6 NIV

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14 NIV

Paul is writing to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who are wrestling with their identity in Christ. Apparently there was a particular group of Jewish Christians who were discouraging the Gentiles in Galatia by putting them down, specifically as it related to following the law of Moses. I can almost hear them saying, “Of course you know you aren’t real followers of the Messiah unless you are just like us and keep the entire law of Moses, circumcision and all!”

Paul writes this part of Galatians to encourage the believers. Their identity isn’t found in the law of Moses. Their identity isn’t found in circumcision or non-circumcision. Rather their identity is found in the way they love others as Jesus had loved them. Through humble service to each other, and loving those around them, they were fulfilling all the requirements of the law. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

I’ve been blessed to see some excellent examples of this in the lives of some of our East Side family members the last couple of weeks. I’ve seen people quietly and humbly tend to the needs of other church members. I’ve seen people abandon their own schedules in order to assist both members of our family, and people in our community we are trying to reach. I’ve seen people sacrifice time, money, and talents all in the name of loving others for the sake of Christ.

Jesus made it very clear. The world will know who his disciples are by the way we love.

So I ask you: How well are you loving your neighbors? How well are you loving the “others” in our community? When was the last time you went into the mess in order to lovingly bring someone else out of it?

Loving “others” is radical. Spending time with them, listening to them, praying with them, feeding them, caring for them…the Kingdom of God is made to do exactly this. Read Mark’s Gospel, and make note of what you see Jesus doing.

And then “go and do likewise.