Growing Up Spiritually In Community

The Greatest Commandment?

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self.” But, God, in the Scriptures, directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Love God supremely; and love others in the same way that you love yourself! That means looking out for their best interests in the same way we look out for our best interests.

“Self-Centeredness” In Our Churches

Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” For many modern believers, here in the West, being part of a church or a “community of faith” is seen as “supplemental”, and not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.  God uses our local church— our faith community— to grow us at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.

Build Up The Body

Paul often reminded the local churches (as he did the Church of Ephesus in ch.4:11-16) that they were to function as a “body” functions; not as a group of self-centered, self-absorbed individuals! The “work of the ministry” is to “build up the BODY”, he said. The spiritual growth God intends to accomplish in us individually happens in the context of the local church body. It’s NOT that we don’t grow as “individuals”; we do! But that growth comes, in part, through our interaction with others! God uses our fellowship & even our fights to sanctify us! He teaches us humility, forgiveness, and how to resolve conflicts. When we live an isolated life outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous!

Only God Is Autonomous

Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He alone answers to no one! We must give an account of our lives to God; and, He has devised the church body to keep us accountable! It’s His plan that by holding ourselves accountable to other believers we will be stretched & matured so that we might hear a “well done good & faithful servant” when we stand before Him! We are called to “bear one another’s burdens”; and, those burdens come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we are burdened by sin. At other times, our burden is physical or emotional; and, God intends to use our brothers & sisters, in Christ, to help mature us!

Why Are We Here?

Since making disciples is the main reason why a church exists, everything in the corporate body of the local church needs to be aligned in a way that funnels people toward these discipleship environments, the most notable of which is the relational small group”—from the chapter titled “Rethinking Our Practices” p.171 in Jim Putnam’s excellent book,  DiscipleShift.  Depending on the English translation of the Scriptures that you use, there are between 60-65 “each other” or “one another” admonitions in the New Testament. All of them relate to the interaction of believers in the body of a local church! I would conclude that it’s not even possible to obey those “each other” or “one another” commands unless we are part of a local community of faith! God uses even our “bad experiences” in the church to sanctify & grow each member!

How Important Should Politics Be?

-The Reaping & Sowing Principle

In my last post I talked about the Church’s well-intended; but, disastrous decision, to exchange Jesus’ commission to “make disciples” in the hope that their political clout— as a “Moral Majority”— could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office & through legislation.  Five decades later, we’ve discovered the accuracy of God’s word in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” It’s the reaping & sowing principle!

-A Biblical Theology Of Politics

The Church has severely shrunk in size; and, for the most part, the strategy of the “Moral Majority” of the 1970s and 80s, has failed to elect God-Honoring public servants or pass God-Honoring legislation. However, let us NOT get back on the pendulum; and, swing it to the other extreme, making government & politics of no importance! That’s reactionary, and it’s not a Biblically acceptable response either! What we need is a Biblical Theology of the “Christian & Politics.” Our Theology; and our Doctrine always have to begin with God! He’s the starting place for everything.

-Government Was God’s Idea

The earth is the LORD’S and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” Psalm 24:1.  “For the earth is the Lord’s, and everything that is in it” 1 Cor. 10:26.  Government was God’s idea! He created it—  “Submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God…the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves” Rom 13:1,2.  The principle in Scripture is that God is Sovereign over human governments; and, uses them to advance His ultimate plans (Prov. 21:1;  Dan. 2:21; 2 Chron. 20:6).  At the same time, God blesses the nation that chooses Him (Psa. 9:17; 33:12; Isa. 60:12; Prov. 14:34).  There’s an element of man’s free will involved.

-Personal Responsibility Required

He’s made us a free moral agent; and so, people often get the government they’ve “chosen.” There seems to be some personal responsibility required; especially, if we have the freedom to choose our public officials as we do here in the United States of America. If we’re given the opportunity to choose good governments that exalt God, that’s what we’re called to do! Paul told Timothy to pray for good governments— “…for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity that provide a peaceful atmosphere for us to do the Lord’s work…” (1 Tim. 2:1,2).

-Balancing The Tension

In Philippians 3:20, Paul puts government & politics in its proper perspective—“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter says to “…conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence here” 1 Pet. 1:17. It’s ultimately a matter of “identity.” I must view my identity as a “citizen of heaven” and a “temporary resident” of this world and my home country!  The moment I lose sight of that I’ve made my nation an “idol”! As one whose identity is “in Christ”, my goal must always be to pursue Christ as the prize! At the same time, we’ve been blessed with the privilege and responsibility to vote! And we must vote our conscience, based on our understanding of Scripture! But, then we leave it there! We leave the results in the hands of our Sovereign God! No anger or rudeness toward leaders that God has installed for His eternal purpose! Now we pray for those leaders!

No Sexually Immoral-Part III

-But You Were Washed

This is what you used to be like! Those are the words the Apostle Paul wrote in his 1st letter to the Church of Corinth:  “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.  And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) Make no mistake, God’s inspired Word condemns the homosexual lifestyle along with all other forms of sexual sin! But, don’t make it a bigger sin than God does!

-God Hasn’t Changed His Mind

Despite attempts to “explain away” this text, there is not one passage of Scripture anywhere that indicates that God has changed His mind about homosexual behavior.  Let’s talk about sin! Let’s define it!  Let me just expand on that a little bit—because He ALONE is God, He has the right to declare “sin” to be whatever He determines it to be. He alone is the divine lawgiver! If He declared it “sin” to drive a pink car then sin it is! If He declared it “sin” to be a football fan then sin it would be! God has created everything with divine order. Because of our sin & rebellion, in the garden, our natural bent from conception is self-will and rebellion (Psalm 51:5).  It’s futile to fight against Him (Psalm 2).

-Unconditional Surrender

We can try & play God with our life! We can rebel against Him by practicing a homosexual lifestyle, or, any of the other 8 sins mentioned here; but, we’re not gonna win! The only acceptable response to God is the “unconditional surrender” of our will & all our ways to Him— Not grudgingly! God is not the big “killjoy” in the sky! His commandments are for our good! He is benevolent & “well-intended” toward us! And, everyone who submits to His will & to His way finds the ultimate joy in their obedience— despite the difficulty of overcoming addictive behaviors!

-His Commands Are Not A Burden

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome”— 1 John 5:3.  The commandment is not burdensome, but that’s NOT to say that overcoming the former sins will be easy! Sins that have become “addictive behaviors” will require the ongoing support & encouragement of mature believers who “disciple” them in their faith! But, God’s indwelling Spirit can give them victory in the same way that He gave victory to many in the Church of Corinth.

-The Key Word

What is damning, according to this Scripture, is the “practice” of homosexual behavior! God does not eternally condemn a sexually immoral “act”. He’s not condemning to hell anyone who’s ever been guilty of idolatry, adultery, homosexual behavior; or, anyone who’s ever stolen, been greedy, drunk, or verbally abusive! Or, NONE of us could be saved! God not only removes the sin from our account when we confess it and trust Jesus to save us; but, He gives us His Holy Spirit to indwell us and slowly deliver us from the sin that once enslaved us! The condemnation is for “practicing” a “lifestyle” that God condemns! An unwillingness to confess it as sin— to agree with God about it—is what condemns a person. That’s the test! The person who loves God will give up their sin; including their sexual sin! To live a habitual life of rebellion is what confirms a person’s lost condition!

Divine Slavery

-A Slave Of Christ Jesus

The Apostle Paul introduces himself, in his letter to the Church of Rome, with these words, “Paul, a SLAVE of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1) I respect the editors of the Holman translation of Scripture for their decision to use the word “SLAVE”. Many translations have chosen to use “servant” or “bondservant” instead of “slave” out of respect for our human brothers and sisters that have been, and continue to be, subjected to the inhumane cruelty and bondage of human slavery.  But, here’s the fact – that word in the original Greek language is “doulos” and it means “slave”! So, if we believe the Scriptures are the inerrant, inspired Word of God (and I do!) then we’re left with the cold, hard truth that the Holy Spirit of God inspired Paul to use the word “slave”.

-Moved By The Holy Spirit

It was NOT Paul’s choice! He was moved by the Spirit of God to use that exact word – for a purpose! A “slave” – in the Roman world – was “owned”! A slave was purchased, “bought with a price”! They received no wages for their efforts; and, didn’t have any rights of their own. They were the personal property of the slave owner.  A “servant”, on the other hand, had rights – they were free to quit; and, they were compensated for their work. They belonged to no one! So, I was meditating on Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) While he doesn’t use the word “slave” (“doulos”) he does use descriptive phrases that define slavery – “you are not your own” “you were bought at a price.”

-I Am Not My Own

Now, it’s not like I’ve never thought about this before! It’s not like I haven’t preached this passage before – probably numerous times! But, I grasped its meaning in a whole new way – I had an “epiphany”! I am God’s “slave”! I was “purchased” by the blood of Jesus Christ – “bought at a price”! I am not my own! Everything that I tend to see as “mine” is not mine! It all belongs to Jesus – because He bought me! If I live my life as an “owner” of my life then I’m NOT HIS! I can’t have it both ways – I’m either “free” to live as “owner” of my life & with the consequences of that decision! (Not really! Sin is the ultimate cruel taskmaster!) Or, I’m a “slave” to God!

-Does God Approve Of Human Slavery?

Let’s be real! God opposes every kind of sin against humanity. “Kidnapping” and “slavery” are condemned – “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16) “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7) ‘Nough said? I thought so! So, why does God inspire Paul to use the word “slave” to describe our relationship with Him? I don’t pretend to know all the reasons! But, clearly, God sets Himself apart from mankind that would enslave other humans! He is love! He is benevolent & well-intended toward us! To be a “slave” to Him is to enjoy the BEST LIFE we could ever have – He is not a “killjoy” in the sky trying to spoil our fun! All His commandments are perfect & for our good!

We Will See His Face

-There Will No Longer Be Any Curse

Some of the most exciting words in all of Scripture, for those who’ve accepted the Gospel & made Jesus their Savior, are found in the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation:  “There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.  They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3-5).  We will be in the very presence of God! And, He’s the reason heaven will be an incredible paradise! We will see His face, and His Name will be on our foreheads! That speaks of possession! We will be His! No longer will Satan be around to try and usurp “ownership” away from God! Oh, to be God’s possession forever!

-Have You Prepared Yourself?

So, I ask you, have you prepared yourself for that? Are you prepared for Jesus’ return? When you are, there’ll be changes happening in your life right here and right now! Looking for Jesus is what the Book of Revelation is all about! Back in chapter 1, in John the Apostle’s introduction:  “The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!” (1:3) That’s how John introduces this book; and Jesus repeats those words at the end of v.7, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” That phrase, “…to keep the words…”, means to consider them & to ponder them! To make personal applications 24/7. To “live” by them! To let them change your life!

-Enslaved To Jesus

In verses 6, and 9, we’re said to be enslaved to Jesus! To be in that place is to be in the best place we could ever hope to be! He bought us! He owns us! And, He is the benevolent, loving, gracious, merciful Sovereign over us! We could never provide for ourselves better than God can provide for us. I love how John puts it in 1 John, “…this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden.” I long to be enslaved to His word because I know His commands are best for me! I obey Him imperfectly in this life because of my flesh. I want to obey Him totally, completely! I prepare my heart every day to do that, in part, because I long for His return & my life’s goal is to hear Him say to me, “Well done! Good and faithful slave.”

-Preparing For Jesus’ Return

When you prepare yourself for Jesus’ return, there is no more logical decision that you can make.  John says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes…” in the blood of the lamb (22:14). That’s clearly what’s meant in the context of this book. And, that word “blessed” literally means to be “satisfied” or “happy.” Who doesn’t want a blessed, satisfied, happy life? That life belongs only to those who are obedient to His commands; to those who repent over their sin; who come to Him in “brokenness” asking Him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Now, you’re no longer ignorant! You’ve been exposed to the truth of God’s word! You have a responsibility to respond to His Gospel message that Jesus saves! That’s the only life that is blessed & the only life that satisfies & makes you happy! When you disobey His word it will always leave you further broken in a greater sense of despair. It’s only logical that you would come to Jesus!

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Acting Most Like Jesus!

-Responding With Grace & Truth!

When encountering anyone caught up in sexual sin, we act most like Jesus by showing them grace & truth. We are most like Jesus when we respond with grace & truth toward those caught up in a same-sex relationship or a same-sex attraction; or any kind of sexual sin! Jesus could never be accused of being mean-spirited. He responded, even to the woman caught in the act of adultery, with gentleness and respect; with grace and truth. He acknowledged her sin, but He did not condemn her. He told her to go and sin no more. The Apostle Peter, who sat under Jesus’ teaching for 3 1/2 years, wrote these words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit: “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness & respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

-Defending Truth With Gentleness & Respect!

Part of our “defense” is to respond with gentleness and respect. Last week we began to look at Paul’s warning to the Church of Corinth: “…Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom…” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It’s an important text on the subject of sexual sin, and helps us form a Gospel response toward anyone caught up in sexual sin. For example, this scripture informs us that all forms of sexual sin are condemned by God. Just look back at that text again. How many sins are listed that God says will cause an individual to miss heaven? There is 9 right? 9 sins that will receive God’s eternal judgment; and 3 are sexual. The “sexually immoral”—that’s a broad generalization condemning all sexual sin.  And, then he specifies “adulterers”—that’s sex between a man & a moan outside of marriage. And, then “anyone practicing homosexuality.”

-No Biblical Distinction Between Sexual Sins!

I want you to notice that God makes no distinction here. God lists no hierarchy of sin when it comes to sexual sin. God’s holiness is repulsed by all sexual sin. As far as God is concerned, sexual sin is sexual sin is sexual sin. God doesn’t have a separate list for those living a homosexual lifestyle from those living in heterosexual sin. So, from this text; and the rest of the Word of God, we derive that all sinful lifestyles are equally condemned by God. Perhaps the keyword is that word, “practicing.” What’s condemned here is practicing a lifestyle of sexual sin. And many Bible students believe that the word “practicing” was used to describe all 9 sins listed. So, what God eternally condemns here is NOT a sexually immoral “act”; or anyone that’s ever been guilty of idolatry, adultery, or homosexual “acts.”

-Some Of You Used To Be Like This!

The Apostle Paul is not condemning to hell anyone who’s ever stolen or been greedy or drunk or verbally abusive; or no one could ever be saved, right? Especially when Jesus expanded sexual sin to include adultery of the heart. No! The condemnation is for “practicing” a lifestyle of these sins. It’s when someone snubs their nose at God’s commandments & is determined to live a lifestyle of adultery or sexual immorality or homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or verbal abuse or a swindler. It’s an unwillingness to repent and call it sin! It’s an unwillingness to confess, or agree with God that it’s sin! That’s what is condemned! I love what comes next. Paul writes, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v.11). In other words, all habitual sin can be overcome by God’s Spirit! He can change every heart!

God, Jonah & A Big Fish Too!

-Trying To Run From God!

If you’re at all like me, you have a hard time passing up the story that is the book of Jonah. I find myself identifying with Jonah in several ways! Not in the most obvious, of course; I’m not a prophet in the Jonah sense of the word! I’ve never received an oracle from the Lord! I’ve never been thrown into the sea by a bunch of sailors; or, swallowed by a big fish! But, I have tried to run from God! I have been reluctant to go to a new place of ministry!

-Leaving The Deep Roots!

Sara & I were almost newlyweds when we moved across the country to do ministry in Denver, CO. We started our family there; and, for the next 20 years we did youth ministry, adult ministry; and, we owned 2 different businesses! But, the Spirit of God began to stir a desire in my heart to sell the business and become a lead Pastor at a local church somewhere. So, we began to pray about where IN DENVER the Lord would have me to pastor; because, I was very reluctant to leave Colorado! After all those years we’d developed some deep roots. I loved Colorado— I still do— but, God had a way of preparing us to go where He was leading! Once He depleted our savings, God broke my will; and, moved us here, to Sioux City, IA.

-Feeling Too Comfortable!

So, in a small way, I get Jonah’s response, in v.3, of the opening chapter:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.’ However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence”.  In Jonah’s mind, there was nothing great about the city of Ninevah for many reasons! He was comfortable where he was; and, clearly, he wasn’t on the same page with God on this one! God would have some work to do in Jonah to change him. We need the message of Jonah; because, if we’re all being honest, we all look a lot like Jonah! And, the same kind of “spiritual surgery” that Jonah needed, we need!

-God’s Sovereign Directive!

Jonah’s story reveals how God includes us in His disciple-making work; and, then prepares us for it! Until we submit to God’s Sovereign directive, for our lives, we’re going just keep getting swallowed up by one big fish after another, like Jonah. So, let’s talk about God’s Sovereign will & plans for you. The greatest fulfillment you will ever realize, in your life, comes only from obeying Him! We tend to operate life with this weird idea that God’s plans for us just aren’t going to be as satisfying as our plans are; like, obeying Jesus and sacrificing everything for Him will be a drag & a burden to us.

-His Commands Are Not A Burden!

The Apostle John addressed that sentiment:  “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commandments. Now His commands are not a burden” 1 John 5:3. It’s no burden to love God & obey His will for your life. God has created you! He has downloaded the best path for your life into your heart by His indwelling Holy Spirit; and, your plans will never offer you the meaning in life that you long for! The best path for Jonah was the road to Ninevah; NOT, the boat ride to Tarshish that he chose for himself! And, because he rebelled, God would need to apply some pressure to get him back to the best place possible for his life; which, was the center of God’s will. Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples; and, we’re living in disobedience if we’re not doing it! And, the blessed life you’re looking for is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of your life in God’s work in other people! We’ll talk more about Jonah next post!

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.