Overcoming Habitual Sin!

-Taking Some Vacation Time: Next Post July 6th-

-Some Used To Live In Habitual Sin!

In Paul’s first letter to the Church of Corinth, he informed them that all habitual sin can be overcome by God’s Spirit. Look at this! He wrote of them: “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” (ch.6:11). He says that some, in the church, used to live their life a certain way. But, they’ve been washed, sanctified & justified by Jesus Christ and God’s Spirit. So, what kind of lifestyle was he referring to? Look at the previous verses: “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” (v.9-10).

-Some Used To Practice A Sinful Lifestyle!

In context, Paul is reminding some of them that they used to “practice” a habitual lifestyle of sin! Some used to practice a “homosexual” lifestyle! Some used to be “adulterers.” Some used to be “idolaters”, “drunkards”, “thieves”, “verbal abusers” and “swindlers.” But, that’s no longer their way of life.  Jesus has set them free from their habitual sin. Later, Paul also wrote this same church: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). There is the hope of freedom from all these debilitating sins. There is hope for anyone in the homosexual community. Don’t ever give up on any friend or loved one practicing a homosexual lifestyle, or on anyone caught up in a habitually sinful lifestyle. Never quit praying for them! Love them well! Love them like Jesus loves them!

-Don’t Demonize Those Caught In Certain Sins!

It’s alarming that many in the church have demonized individuals caught up in homosexuality as being more deviant, in nature, than the sins of others. It’s just not true! This text absolutely levels the playing field on sin. God’s word informs us that believers must humbly see themselves as equally depraved. Here’s a quick word to anyone who struggles with a special antagonism & judgment toward those in the LGBTQ+ community. Look at all the deadly sins that God condemns on an equal par with homosexuality in this Scripture. “Sexual immorality”— that includes all heterosexual sin! “Idolaters”— who has never been guilty of loving something more than God at one time or another? “Adulterers”—for those who’ve never actually slept with someone you weren’t married to, have you ever lusted after someone? Busted! Your sin is on this list! “Thieves”— ever stolen anything? Even a cookie from mom’s cookie jar? “Greedy”— you lie if you say you’ve never been greedy!

-The List Of Deadly Sins Continues!

Have you ever been “drunk”; or “verbally abusive” or “swindled” anyone? If you’ve ever lied to the boss about the hours you worked; or withheld information about a car or something else you were trying to sell, you’re a swindler. That’s swindling. We’re all on this list! Every one of us! You’re acting like the Pharisees if you judge anyone, on this list, as more deserving of hell & God’s judgment than are you! Let me challenge you with a new response on this subject if you need it. I once held animosity toward anyone living a homosexual lifestyle as though I were above them! What’s helped me overcome those feelings is to rehearse often— with God in prayer— how equally repulsive God found all my particular sins.  Even though homosexual sin was not one of my sins, I am equally as depraved and broken! I can take no delight that my sins were somehow less offensive to God! I am totally depraved  & in need of Jesus!

Why We Preach The Gospel!

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Nations!

Over the last couple of posts we’ve mentioned that only as the church returns to the mission that Jesus gave her— to preach the Gospel & make disciples; only then will the church become relevant in the world once again! According to the Apostle Paul’s 1st chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome, we note several reasons why it’s necessary to preach the Gospel. First, because it remedies the needs of every nation: “We have received grace and apostleship through Him (Jesus),” Paul writes, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name” (1:5).  All the ills of every nation are healed by the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Through Jesus, we receive grace to take the Gospel to the nations.

-We Have Supernatural Support!

In context, Paul is saying that grace is the supernatural “support” that Jesus gives us to carry out the commission that He’s given us. Grace is not just supernatural in the way that a totally depraved soul comes to salvation. Grace is also God’s supernatural “gift” of support that He gives us to do the ministry He’s called us to do. The biggest need of our nation is not to place the 10 Commandments in front of every courthouse. It’s not to overturn Roe v. Wade (although we pray that it would be overturned). Those types of issues are just symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Our nation needs to obey the Gospel! Our nation needs to repent of our sin & come to Jesus for salvation. That’s why we must preach the Gospel. That’s how we see our nation change—by making 1 disciple at a time! 

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Godless!

And then, we preach the Gospel not only because it remedies the needs of every nation; but because it remedies the needs of the godless. Have you ever assumed that the lost are perfectly content & happy in their sin? That they wouldn’t be interested in the Gospel if we shared it with them; because they love their sin too much? I have! It’s a mistake to make that assumption! Oh, they may have initially been tempted by the fun sin promised. But, sin turns into a cruel slave master. It enslaves our friends and loved ones! The sin that started as fun becomes an addiction; and, they turn to treatment centers & counseling because their lives & their families are ruined! The Gospel of Jesus Christ remedies that.

-Jesus Is The Answer & The Solution!

Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution! Jesus is the solution to everyone’s sin problem. His sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God toward our sin. Look at what God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write next: “For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v.18). Sin has its own built-in wrath. It creates pain in people’s lives, and they often become open to the Gospel because of it.

-God Delivered Them Over!

We also preach the Gospel because it remedies the needs of the sexually impure. “Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity,” Paul continues, “so that their bodies were degraded among themselves… For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (1:24-27). If you’ve ever tried to help someone caught in the trap of sexual sin, it’s extremely painful to watch. Their lifestyle of sexual sin came about because they “…exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” We live in an incredibly confused world sexually speaking; and, the carnage is piling up! Only God has the answer for true sexual satisfaction because He created sex!

Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

The Indwelling Holy Spirit!

-He Lives Inside You!

In recent posts, we’ve talked about the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. Perhaps the greatest benefit we enjoy, as true disciples of Christ, is the Spirit’s indwelling. If you believe God; if you trust Jesus to be your Savior, the Holy Spirit moves inside you & takes up residence! He can’t possibly get any closer to you! He lives inside you! Jesus describe the Holy Spirit to His disciples like this: “He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). At the time Jesus shared this, He was speaking prophetically.

-Events About To Take Place!

He was foretelling the events that were about to take place. He told them He would be die; that He would be raised from the dead; He would ascend to the Father; and He would send the Holy Spirit as a gift, Who would indwell them. The Apostle Paul wrote, in his letter to the Church of Rome, that, “…the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:7-9). The Spirit of God “…lives in you…” Paul said; and you are “…in the Spirit…”

-He Is Our Internal Counselor!

The Holy Spirit is in you & you are in the Holy Spirit! And anyone who does not have the Spirit, Paul says, does not belong to Jesus. And, then, Jesus also taught His disciples that God, the Holy Spirit, is our internal Counselor. “I will not leave you as orphans” Jesus tells them at the end of John 14, v.18; and, then v.25, “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”  Two chapters later, in John 16, Jesus continues to teach His disciples about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in them: “…if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”

-He Is Our Internal Compass!

The Spirit is our internal spiritual compass! He “...convicts the world of sin, righteousness & judgment…” It is the Spirit’s ministry to bring us to the point of conviction over our sin; and our need for Jesus to be our Savior. Additionally, the Holy Spirit helps us pray: “…the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings…. He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

-Ask The Spirit’s Help To Pray!

If you struggle to pray, ask God to help you know how to pray; and with what to pray for! The Spirit intercedes for us in our prayer life. He works in us, from within! By the Holy Spirit’s work, God changes us; and produces spiritual fruit in our lives. Paul reminded the Church of Galatia of this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit “ (Galatians 5:22-25). That’s the fruit; or the evidence that the Holy Spirit indwells you! He will produce His fruit in you! And, remember that Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “…Spirit of Truth…” And, because Jesus also said, “…I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” that means the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ! Contrary to what the world says, there is absolute Truth in Jesus!

The Incarnation Of Jesus Christ!

-God Writing Himself Into The Story!

A while back I finished a 4-book series of novels in which the author admitted, in the end, that the main character, in the story, was someone very similar to himself as he was growing up. I can see how that could be tempting to a writer. It would be a way of transferring his thoughts, his feelings; and, his opinions into the story; and, expressing them through a character.  I came across a Bible study by Thomas Lancaster, called the Chronicles of the Messiah, in which he described Jesus’ entry into the world from the viewpoint of a writer. Let me read a portion to you: “An author is writing a novel. He creates the settings, situations, stories, and plotlines, and populates his novel with characters. He likes the characters he created so much that he wants to interact with them but he cannot because the novel is his creation. It’s just a story. The characters in the book cannot hear the author; they cannot see him; they cannot experience him because the author completely transcends the words written on a page. What does the author do? He writes himself into the novel as one of the characters, creating a written story-version of himself with which the characters can interact.” Is that not exactly what God has done? He’s written Himself into His story!

-The Word Dwelt Among Us!

The Word became flesh,” John, the Gospel writer was INSPIRED by God to write, “and, God (the Word) dwelt among us.” From the beginning of creation, God desired to be present with His people. The story begins in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, with God, Himself, walking in the Garden with Adam; and, then Eve, in community with them. And, the story ends in the book of Revelation, chapter 21, with God tabernacling with humanity for all eternity in the new heavens & the new earth. It says, “He (God) will pitch a tent and live among us.”  And, all of God’s interaction with people in between the start of His story; and, the end of the story reveals God’s great desire to be with us! But, never has God’s desire to interact with us been more indisputable than when He set aside His heavenly robes; and, wrapped Himself in flesh to enter the world He created as Jesus Christ!

-The Absolute Uniqueness Of Jesus!

Never has our world seen anyone else like Jesus. No single person has ever impacted our world like Jesus has. And, because of Jesus’ absolute uniqueness, He is worthy of our love, our worship, our loyalty; and, our devotion. In all the stories of humanity, Jesus’ story is the most unique of all!  God has written Himself into the story of human history as Jesus, the 2nd member of the triune Godhead; and, He has severely & forever changed mankind’s trajectory from death & destruction to life & restoration. In pondering Jesus’ uniqueness, what words come to mind when you think of God as the Scriptures reveal Him in Jesus?

-God’s Character!

How would you describe His character? Do you remember when the disciples observed the way that Jesus prayed; and, they asked Him to teach them how to pray? And, He answered them, “When you pray, pray like this…” And, He went on to outline what we have called “The Lord’s Prayer”; though, He never intended that we would mindlessly repeat those words over & over like some kind of chant. He was giving them a pattern or the way to pray— pray LIKE THIS… And, in Luke ch.11, He says to begin by remembering who you’re talking to: “Father, Your name be honored as holy.” That’s how I begin my prayer time each day. I begin by remembering & praising God for who He is. In Scripture, God’s “name” refers to His character! He is love, mercy, grace, kindness, faithful, transcendent, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent! He’s benevolent, immutable, righteous & just! And, that was the character of God incarnate; or, Jesus in the flesh!

The Good News Of The Gospel!

-The Beginning Of Jesus’ Gospel!

At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer said:  “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about” (John 1:29-30).  The Biblical writer, Mark, opens his account of Jesus’ life like this:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel”; or, “euangelion” in the original Greek language, means “good news”; and, it’s found more than 100 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It’s used in the context of “justification”; or, becoming a born again believer; and, “sanctification”; or, spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus; and, even “glorification”; or, the completion of our salvation when we get a resurrected body like Jesus’ body.

-The Gospel In Everyday Life!

So, we need to ask by the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been limited, in many churches, to Easter Sunday sermons; and, to altar calls, as though it only applies to our getting saved; and, not to our growth or sanctification in Christ? If you ask most Christians, “How do you apply the Gospel to the everyday stuff of life?” they wouldn’t know how to answer! I submit to you that the Gospel has everything to do with every single thing you go through in your life. Here’s how we need to unpack the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  “Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution!” That’s not original with me; but, I have no recollection where I first heard it! But, I can’t think of a more complete; but, simple way to define the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

-We Never Graduate From Jesus!

What Jesus accomplished on the cross, for you, has everything to do with your family, your work; and, even the painful struggles of life. You need to grab hold of that truth if you’re a follower of Jesus; or, you will flounder greatly in your faith. The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, isn’t just for salvation; or, your justification! We never graduate from Jesus and His Gospel. Whatever you’re questioning in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer; and, whatever the problem you’re facing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution! One of the biggest flaws in the way that we have made disciples is we’ve taught them how to successfully navigate the Christian life; or, to grow in their sanctification, without Jesus! One of the biggest flaws, in our prayer life, is that we pray that God will change the circumstances! Rarely will God answer that prayer!

-The Prayer God Wants Us To Pray!

He wants us to pray, NOT for a change of circumstances; but, for a change of heart; and, that only happens as we apply the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is activated as you prepare the way for Him to enter your life. As Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer prepared the world for His arrival. We have to prepare the way, in our own private world, for Jesus to enter. I mean, by that, that we must give proper place to Him. We must denounce all other competing loves!

-Not Worthy Of Me!

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:37-39). To prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to enter your heart, you must see Him as the ultimate value! He is of greater value than all of our other loves! His worth is infinitely greater than even the great worth we attach to our mothers & our fathers & our children; and, to our own lives also! Jesus is the ultimate value of the universe; and, the good news of His Gospel tells us that as much meaning & enjoyment as we may experience in the pleasure of God’s created things around us, none of these will do for us what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will! And, so, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts & lives.

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Your Idols Exposed!

-Are You Aware Of Your Idols?

For the Prophet Jonah, it doesn’t appear that he was aware of his “idols” until God exposed them! He had been a faithful minister of God’s word to his people; and, to his family! But, when God’s Word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, his idols were exposed— his national pride, his family; and, even his present ministry was more important to him than obedience to God’s will! That’s the definition of an idol! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that— your idol has been exposed!

-What’s Your Idol?

Is your job or your home or your kids or grandkids off limits to God? Are you unwilling to let God take them to a foreign field to share the gospel with a foreign people? In your heart, is God free to use your kids; or, grandkids, as He wills? Or, are you demanding that they stay close to home? Are you willing to let God change your job? Are you willing to let Him move you? What if it was God’s strategy to move some of us to a “lesser” part of town? Oh, we couldn’t do that—it’s not “SAFE”! There’s your idol: SAFETY! Or, perhaps, racism might be the underlying idol! There was some of that going on with Jonah. He saw his people (Israel) as better; or, more deserving than the Ninevites, to whom God wanted to send him!

-Fleeing From The Lord’s Presence!

And, so, it says that Jonah determined to “…flee from the Lord’s presence…” (1:3). And, he found a ship to take him! Listen, Satan will always have a “ship” waiting in the harbor, to take you away in the opposite direction from God’s will! But, for Jonah God used a big fish to intersect with His disobedient prophet; and, get him back on course to Ninevah where he preached God’s word; and, the Ninevites repented; and, turned to God. The 3rd chapter, of Jonah, ends with these words:  “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (v.10). 

-Merciful & Compassionate God!

So, Jonah responded to their spiritual revival by shouting praise to God, right? No! In fact, it says, “Jonah was greatly displeased & became furious. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful & compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love & One who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” 4:1-3. Really? That just doesn’t seem possible that a prophet, of God, would become furious with God for saving an entire city! Now, there was an underlying reason for Jonah’s anger! He was prejudiced!

-The Sin Of Prejudice!

For God to make us useful, for His kingdom purposes, He has to unmask all of our prejudices also. Jonah had swallowed some bad doctrine! He believed that God was “FOR” Israel; and, He was “AGAINST” everyone else! All the wicked people, of Ninevah, for example; whom, God intended to save by Jonah’s preaching of the gospel. It’s that scandal of grace! Our prideful flesh wants to believe that the gospel is for “good people”…. like us! Like our nation! Jonah was offended that God would extend grace to a wicked people like Assyria! He was prejudiced against them! We need to beware of the danger of national pride, church! I fear that many, in the American church, have been trekking down that slippery slope over the last 40-some years! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation; or, religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group! That’s our calling!

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!

An Impossible Situation!

-When There’s No Happy Ending!

The Prophet Daniel, in the Old Testament book named after him, shows us how to live faithfully; even when life doesn’t have a happy ending! His country overrun by the brutal King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon; and, his parents perhaps slain right before his eyes; Daniel, nonetheless, remained faithful! He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for it! The 1st chapter reveals that; after enduring a 3-year period of training intended to indoctrinate him in the ways of the Babylonians, “…no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom” (1:19-20). 

-Bad Dreams & Insomnia!

The 2nd chapter, of Daniel, opens with a bad dreams; and, a case of insomnia for King Nebuchadnezzar. In v.2, he calls together all his diviner-priests, mediums, and sorcerers; and, gives them an impossible situation— he demands not only the meaning of his dream; but, he also demands that they tell him what he dreamed! Not because he forgot; but, because he was testing them; and, when they couldn’t deliver, he sends an assassin to kill them all.  That’s when God shows us, through Daniel, how to respond to an impossible situation.

-With Tact & Discretion!

The text, v.14, says, “Then Daniel responded with tact and discretion…” as he spoke to the COMMANDER of the king’s guard. In v.16 it says, “…Daniel went and asked the king to give him some time, so that he could give the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, urging them to ask the God of heaven for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be killed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men.” Notice that he responded to this impossible situation by taking it to his “faith community”; and, then, praying together until God answered.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It says God, “…revealed the mystery to Daniel in a vision at night.” Daniel shows us how to respond to the impossible situations in life. He lived out his faith— that God was Sovereign! That He was in the details! That He is never surprised! That He’s actually choreographing the impossible situations in life, in time; and, in history for His ultimate purpose! God was revealing Himself to King Nebuchadnezzar! Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life; even, when the future looks bleak and scary! So, Daniel comes into the king’s presence; and, tells him that God had revealed to him, in his dream, things about the future!

-Give God The Glory!

And, I love Daniel’s humility! He takes no credit; but, he gives God the glory:  “…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has let King Nebuchadnezzar know what will happen in the last days. Your dream and the visions that came into your mind as you lay in bed were these: Your Majesty, while you were in your bed, thoughts came to your mind about what will happen in the future. The revealer of mysteries has let you know what will happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king & that you may understand the thoughts of your mind” (v.28-30). That’s awesome! “I don’t want you to think that I have the dream & interpretation because I’m smarter than everyone else. This is a God thing, King Nebuchadnezzar! The God of heaven crashed your dreams; and, He’s got big plans to share with you!