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Feature Friday (11/22/13)

church-clip-art-10This Sunday at our church we will have an installation service for our new pastor. It is at a time like this in the life of a church where I am reminded that each part (member) of the body is important and needed. God has placed each member in the body for the good of the body. This article shares more along this line. So I hope you are encouraged and challenged to fulfill the role God has given you in your local church body.

As always, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day!

Feature Friday (11/8/13)

radio-630x597“If you’re listening to Christian radio in search of new congregational music, we think you should look elsewhere. Here are three reasons why:” Stop listening for new worship songs on the radio!

As always, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day!

Feature Friday (10/18/13)

Live-stream-slide-for-GTYThis week I have been trying to catch as much of a controversial yet instructional conference. It is the Strange Fire Conference being held at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. This is a local church known best for its leading pastor, John MacArthur. The conference has been addressing the charismatic movement and theology. Feel free to check it out yourself and as always I would love to interact with you about it. If you missed any or all of it you can catch up over at Grace to You!

Be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day.

Special Feature Monday (10/14/13)

the_worlds_greatest_pastor_card-p137263073445483299tdn0_400In light of what was a very busy weekend and a busy start to the week enjoy this “guest” post. This question and the practicality of it seems to be more of an issue everyday given the capabilities the internet has given us. So…”who is your pastor…REALLY?”

Check back next Monday for another original post!

Observation is hard work…Is it worth it?

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Observe the two cards to the left. List all the observations you can think of in 1 minute. What do they have in common? What differences do they have?…Did you do it? Or did you just keep reading this post? If you are like most, you quickly glanced at the cards, but then moved on to continue reading. But go back and observe again, what differences and commonalities do you find in the cards? Do you see the difference in color? How about the different numbers in the top corners? You probably noticed the similar writing at the bottom of the card, and you may have even noticed the background picture was different. But did you observe long enough to see the difference in arch design in the cards? Or did you notice the way the 25s are circled, but the 40s have triangular shapes around them? If you did not observe all of these similarities or differences, why not? Is it because of time, energy, or effort? Let me ask the question this way…Why is observation so hard?

I have been mulling over that question recently, mostly because of a class I am currently taking on hermeneutics. Why does observation seem so difficult? And why does it seem so fruitless at times? But even more than that,  I am curious as to the contributing factors of poor observation in our culture, and specifically in the Bible study culture of the church. Why are people not observing the text of their Bibles very well? Here are a few reasons why observation is hard, why it is neglected in our culture, and some results of the lack of observation in Bible study.

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Observation is hard for numerous reasons. The primary reason observation is hard is that it takes time and effort (two things our culture devalues, but more on that later). Much time is required to sit down quietly with God’s Word before you and just soak in the text in order to observe well. The effort it requires does not come naturally for most. Secondly, observation is difficult because there are many aspects to it that require deeper thought and reflection. It is rare to really think through what parts of speech are being used and how they are being used when you just read a book. But when you sit down to observe God’s Word you must make more observations than merely what big point is. Observations come not in just looking at the forest, but by examining each tree. So observation is difficult because of the time and effort it requires along with the deeper analysis than we routinely make in our lives.

images (1)All of the aforementioned points really are also part of the reason it is neglected in our culture. However, I think the two largest contributing factors of poor observation in Bible study is the “me-centeredness” and instant gratification of our culture. Everything in today’s world is about “me”. If you look at all the marketing strategies for large companies and food chains you hear things like this: “Have it your way”, “I’m loving it”, “the customer is always right”, and the list goes on. But possibly more detrimental to good observation is our culture’s infatuation with having things and having them now. While observation takes time, people want results and answers now. If we can get something one of two ways, we will choose the fast way every time. These two issues are why Bible observation is so neglected in our culture.

The worse part is this attitude of “me” and “now” creeps into Bible study. If we can just go to a text and ask , “What does it mean to me?”, then why do we need to observe what is actually there? If we can just go to any text and jump right into application for living, why take all that time on observation? The “me-centeredness” of our culture causes us to miss observing what God is doing in the text and see only ourselves there. And in so doing we often rush through what God has actually said, to what we think God has said to me!

Jonah: Reaction is Flawed

ALEXANDER_TERRIBLE_HORRIBLEHave you ever read “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”? It is quite an interesting child’s story. Little Alexander just cannot seem to cut a break. Everything he hates seems to happen in one day. Everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. No matter what the circumstances, Alexander seems to have all the bad luck in the world in just one day. Ever feel like Alexander? It seems like if something could go wrong, it will and does. But how often do we get into a funk thinking everyday is like that, no matter what the circumstances? Often times we fail to see the blessings simply because of a few unexpected changes. This is the truth Jonah reveals to us in the final chapter of the story.

A man whose job (being the prophet that he was) depended on his obedience to God’s call and message, Jonah seemed to respond in all the wrong ways. God gives him a message to preach to Nineveh and what does he do? He runs the other way. He is given an opportunity to tell about the God of the universe and what does He do? He sleeps on the bottom of the boat. Over and over again, Jonah shows that Resistance is Futile. Two weeks ago we saw Jonah exemplify that God is still in the business of rescuing, even if the Rescue is Fishy! Last week we saw that with God Repentance is Favored! Today we will see that despite the positive results Jonah experiences (over 1/2 million people repent and believe in God), Jonah’s Reaction is Flawed! We will see this through Jonah’s Attitude and Jehovah’s Actions.

God’s plan for Jonah caused him to be quite possibly the greatest evangelist of all time (Jonah 3:10). Jonah spoke a mere five words and an estimated half million people repented of their sin and came to believe in God. So we would expect Jonah to have a joyful, worshipful attitude, but that is not the case. Instead of being full of joy and worship, Jonah’s attitude is full of bitterness and anger. He is displeased. Jonah sees what God has done, in relenting of disaster, as a great evil (4:1). Jonah thinks what God has done is wrong. He is showing the anger of a mortal man (James 1:19-20). It is here that Jonah reveals his heart attitude and why he is so angry. In a prayer to God, Jonah tells the reason why he originally ran from God…because he knew God’s character (4:2). Jonah knew God would be gracious, merciful, patient, loving, and forgiving to the Ninevehites, people who are Jonah’s sworn enemies. And the prophet does not like it. download

Jonah’s attitude is like mine was when I was a child at Christmas. I was so excited to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Christmas day. I knew there would be great gifts for me. When I got there I could not wait to open my gift. With all the family around, I sought mine out, began to tear it open and was thrilled to begin to play with it. However, my attitude quickly change a few minutes later, when I realized my cousin, who was only two months older than I, received a gift from Grandma and Grandpa as well. “What gives?” I thought. I believed that Christmas, and specifically Grandma and Grandpa giving gifts, was exclusive to me. I did not like it that my grandparents generosity and grace extended to anyone but myself.

That is the attitude of Jonah here. He cannot believe that God would be gracious, merciful, and forgiving to his enemy. Jonah wants God to be gracious, merciful, loving, and forgiving, but he does not want God to be that all the time to all people. Jonah throws a pity party similar to Elijah after he killed the prophets of Baal. Elijah questioned if God had done all He had through Elijah just to see him on his own, secluded, and lonely as a righteous prophet (1 Kings 19). But God reminds Elijah, as he will Jonah shortly, that His grace falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

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While Jonah’s attitude was misguided, it is through Jehovah’s actions that we will see Jonah’s Reaction is Flawed. Jonah because of his anger, self-pity, and selfishness, he goes out from the city (and away from God) to continue pouting (4:5). But even when the prophet “runs” from God a second time here, what does God do? He appoints a plant to relieve Jonah’s discomfort due to the heat (4:6). Jehovah is showing Jonah grace and mercy despite his sinful attitude (Psalm 103:10). But God does not stop there. Next He appoints a worm to eat the plant and an east wind to teach Jonah a lesson (4:8). God is showing Jonah that the prophet is more content with creature comforts than with the Creator’s control. And even at this point we see the prophet’s Reaction is still Flawed.

Jonah responds to God’s blessing in the plant and discipline in the worm and wind by requesting to die one more time (4:8). However, Jehovah reveals His character once again by patiently dealing with Jonah. He simply asks Jonah a rhetorical question to get the prophet thinking (4:9). Then God drives home the lesson. He shows Jonah patience, love, forgiveness and grace, not by wiping the complaining prophet out, but by drawing the real life application from the real life illustration (4:10-11). God points out Jonah’s pity for the plant that he did nothing to create or sustain. Then God compares that to His own pity for Nineveh which He did everything to create and sustain. Jehovah’s point is this: Jonah cared more about a plant, than he did for people! Jehovah’s actions show mercy, grace, patience, love, and forgiveness unconditionally to all, both a disobedient prophet and a disobedient people.

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While Jonah’s Reaction is Flawed demonstrated by his attitude, Jehovah’s actions are perfect. His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness are all exhibited in His dealing with Jonah and Nineveh. And these attributes of God are exhibited perfectly years later on a hill called Calvary. It is at this hill and on a cross that God mostly clearly reveals His mercy, grace, love, patience, and forgiveness. And He does so not just for prophets and priests, but for the enemies of God (Romans 5:8). Have you recognized this love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness? More importantly, have you recognized yourself as the enemy of God in need of a great Savior who loves and forgives you? Or are you like Jonah, whose Reaction is Flawed? Are you grateful when God is gracious, merciful, and loving with you, but upset when He is with others? Do you realize the mercy God has shown for you a great sinner and desire for others to see that as well?

Thanks for joining us for this series on Jonah. In case you missed any part of this series you can find part 1: Resistance is Futile and part 2: Rescue is Fishy and part 3: Repentance is Favored by following the links. Thanks for reading! As always I love to read from my readers!

Feature Friday (9/27/13)

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Busyness! – It seems like every conversation I have these days, busyness comes into the mix. “How are you doing today?” Oh, man I am busy! “How are things going with you?” I am busy! Why is it that busyness seems like such a badge we wear proudly? Especially as Christians, we need time to stop, reflect, pray, spend time in the Word, and process what is happening in life. So how can we help each other in this endeavor? Here is a helpful article pleading, “Christians, Protect Each Other from Busyness“.

Enjoy! As always, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day!

Jonah: Repentance is Favored

252706361_wrong_xlargeEver been proven wrong? Well, if you are anything like me, this is more than a daily occurrence. Multiple times a day it seems as though I am told, shown, or it is brought to my attention that I was or am wrong. And truth be told…I hate it. Who likes to be told they are wrong? Who likes it to be brought to their attention that what they thought, said, or did was not right? Not many people enjoy being told they are wrong (if you are this type of person, yippee for you). However, it is not so much what we are wrong about that matters most in life, but how we respond to that revelation. And Jonah is the living example of this truth.

A man whose job (being the prophet that he was) depended on his obedience to God’s call and message, Jonah seemed to respond in all the wrong ways. God gave him a message to preach to Nineveh and what does he do? He runs the other way. He is given an opportunity to tell about the God of the universe and what does He do? Sleeps on the bottom of the boat. Over and over again Jonah showed that Resistance is Futile. But last week we saw Jonah exemplify that God is still in the business of rescuing, even if the Rescue is Fishy! Today we will see that while resisting God is futile and God’s ways of rescuing may be slightly abnormal, He still Favors Repentance. We will see this truth through a Recommissioning of God, a Repenting to God, and a Relenting God.

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We find Jonah on a beach off the Mediterranean Sea, still covered in big fish gastric juices. Having just been spewed out by a very large fish (2:10), God recommissions Jonah. God’s word comes to Jonah a second time (3:1). We see God show grace yet again, despite the prejudice of His prophet. God is giving Jonah a second chance. God is not in the business of a one and done relationship. He keeps coming back to the prophet over and over and over again, He is relentless in His pursuit of Jonah and thus His pursuit of the people of Nineveh. God informs Jonah, once again, to go to Nineveh and preach the message He will provide (3:2). And this time, Jonah wises up and goes to Nineveh (3:3). As much as we may easily point the finger at Jonah for trying to run from God, he at least learned his lesson (seemingly) after just one disobedient response. It is here we get a bit of a hint of why Jonah may have ran as well, he had an unpopular message to preach from God (3:4; Prov. 12:7; Gen. 19:23-29). So God was Recommissioning Jonah by giving him a second chance to proclaim severe judgment. But the question is how will the people of Nineveh respond to the Jewish prophet?

As he comes into Nineveh, Jonah is preaching his unpopular message of repentance or judgment from God (3:4). Now one would expect the Ninevites to repel God and his prophet, but instead we see a miraculous response…Repenting to God (3:5). The people of Nineveh respond not just in word to their captive (remember Israel was enslaved by Assyria, which Nineveh was the capital city of) preaching against them but in action (3:5). They put on sackcloth and ashes and it was trans-social economic in extent as well. We find in verses 6-9 that everyone from the king to cattle are repenting. However, it is the king of Nineveh which gives us an example to follow of true repentance. First, he is humbled (3:6). The king takes himself off the throne, removes his royal clothing, puts on mourners clothing, and sits in ashes. servant-leadershipAll of these actions symbolize the humble heart that recognizes its own sin (James 4:6-10). Secondly, the king proclaims repentance to others (3:7-8). He is distressed and humbled so much about his sin before God, not one area of his life goes unaffected, he is preaching repentance, bearing fruit in repentance, and showing repentance in his actions (Luke 3:3, 7-14). Finally, the king hopes in God’s goodness (3:9). The king recognizes that God has every right and ability to utterly destroy him and Nineveh from off the face of the earth, but that there is a change God in His goodness and grace may  relent from His judgment. So the Ninevites and their King all show Repentance toward God. But the question remains…what will God do?

It is in the very last verse of chapter 3 of Jonah that we see the Relenting of God. Here one sees God favor repentance and respond by relenting of His impending destruction of Nineveh. The Ninevites repented from their evil and God listened (Psalm 66:18-19). God reviewed the repentance and hearts of those in Nineveh and relented of His judgment. What God does here is give grace. Does this mean God does not follow through on His word? Is God not faithful to what He told Jonah? “Nineveh shall be overthrown”. Was that not God’s message for Jonah? Then how is Nineveh still permitted to remain? This dilemma is solved when investigating what God means by saying “overthrown”. Overthrown could mean destroyed or judged (which is how we have been dealing with it this entire time). But the word has an alternate meaning as well. “To overthrow” could mean that Nineveh would repent and turn from their sins to God. So God did overthrow Nineveh, but it happened to overthrowing their hearts, minds, and lives to see and appreciate His character and nature, shown through  His grace (Luke 15:18-24).

So we see that God is a God of second chances and He offered Jonah a second chance Recommissioning him. But Jonah was recommissioned for the purpose to see Nineveh Repenting to God. And it was in this recommissioning and repenting that we see God Relenting of judgment. If we are honest we know that God has given us all numerous “second chances” and is constantly gracious and patient with us. All He asks of us is to repent of our sin and turn to Him. But truth be told our repenting and God’s recommissioning of us would never come without His relenting of judgment toward us.

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But that relenting came at a great cost to God Himself, when He commissioned His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to come and take our sin and shame upon His body on the cross of Calvary (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). It is only through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that you, I, or anyone can be recommissioned by God and that comes only through our repentance of our sins and recognition of Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.

Jonah shows us that Repentance is Favored, have you repented of your sins and trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If not, don’t wait any longer. We are not promised tomorrow. In case you missed the beginning parts of this series you can find part 1: Resistance is Futile and part 2: Rescue is Fishy by following the links. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the fourth and final part of Jonah’s story next week.

Jonah: Resistance is Futile

Winter Retreat Tshirt 2013Prejudice and Grace. When the former comes to mind, what do you think of? Maybe racism, the Civil War, city gangs, or other such cultural problems. On a larger scale, people like Hitler, murderers, and supremacists come to mind. But what about the latter? What about grace? Maybe forgiveness, love, or even God come to mind. All in all, positive traits come into play with grace. When we think of these two categories and consider which one we most display, the natural inclination is to answer quickly…”Grace, of course!” But the truth is that there was a man who, when faced with the same dilemma, answered the same way, but was quickly and repeatedly shown how wrong his self-evaluation was. That man’s name is Jonah! Jonah demonstrates the importance lesson that…Resisting God is Futile. And for the next few weeks we will examine the experience of Jonah and see Jonah’s prejudice, but God’s grace throughout.

Right from the get go in the book of Jonah we see two main characters: God and Jonah. Yet it is God that initiates action (Jonah 1:1)–he is the one who comes. God gives Jonah a message to proclaim and calls him to be His messenger to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and it was prophesied that she would conquer Israel (Hosea and Isaiah). Therefore, to Jonah, Nineveh was the last place he wanted to go. So instead of going to Nineveh as God commanded, Jonah ran the other direction to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). But Jonah was not trying to merely run from his enemies, he was trying to “flee from the presence of the Lord”. He was attempting to flee the omnipresent God (Psalm 139:7-12). How often do we do the very same thing? We run to money, job, success, relationships, drugs, alcohol,etc. Why? To flee from the very One who loves us most and desires to save us from our running.

But the story does not end there. In the midst of Jonah’s running we see God is the one who controls. God hurls a great storm on the sea on which Jonah’s ship sails (Jonah 1:4).  And this was no ordinary storm. The mariners who spent their lives on the sea are frightened so much they even cry out to false, nonexistent gods (vs. 5). But where is Jonah? He is in the bottom of the boat fast asleep. This illustrates a false teaching we often hear about God’s will–how is the will of God known…”I have a peace about it”. But here we see the prophet of God on the run from God and “at peace” in the midst of a terrible storm. (Lesson to learn: subjective internal peace is a terrible guide to finding and knowing the will of God.) But what is the purpose of the storm? To get Jonah’s attention and call Him back to the One whose presence he is trying to escape. But the problem Jonah forgets is that the God He is running from is the God who is sovereign over it all, including the very sea he is in (vs. 9, cf. Job 38:4-11). That God is the same God today. run

It is at this point in the story that Jonah finally clarifies. Surrounded by unbelieving sailors and confronted with his disobedience toward God, he fulfills his prophetic role and speaks the truth of God (vs. 9). It is ironic how God uses even a disobedient, wayward prophet to call others to Him. God uses a circumstance that was designed by man (Jonah) to thwart the plan of God (proclaiming His message) to actually accomplish the very thing He intended the man to do. Jonah is used by God, despite his stubborn spirit, to reveal the God he is trying to flee (Psalm 89:9). This illustrates a reality of our daily lives–God turns what was meant for evil into good. He makes disobedience still accomplish His ultimate purpose.

Finally, we see in the story of Jonah the ultimate irony. Some of the very people Jonah was meant to show the love of God to, actually turn and show him care. While the declaration has been made that Jonah must be thrown into the sea (vs. 12), the men do all they can to avoid what they see as Jonah’s death (vs. 13). Here we see that the one who should have cared most for them, was actually the one who was cared for more by them. Is this not what God does for us? He creates and provides for us, supplies and sustains us. And we should love and care for Him in return. But instead, it is we for whom God had to care by sending His one and only Son to take our place on the cross. It is He for whom we should care above all else, yet it is He who shows care for us above all else. It is the same caring God of Jonah, that has called you and me to care for others. How are we doing? Are we running from God and despising our enemies? Or are we running to our enemies and declaring our God?

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So as you sit and think about whether you are more prejudice or gracious, remember Jonah. That it was God who Came, God who Controls, God who calls us to Clarify, and God who calls us to Care for others. But He does this all only because He first Came for us, has Control, Clarified Himself to us, and Cared for us.

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