Who Is The Real Enemy?

Photo by Aurelio Arias is registered under a Creative Commons License.

Photo by Aurelio Arias is registered under a Creative Commons License.

Not too long ago, I preached through the book of Jonah at Redeeming Life Church.  (You can listen to those sermons here.) As most pastors do, I broke it into four sermons, one chapter per week.  At this point, I'm not so sure that's the best way to break it up, but it works.  

When most of us think of Jonah we think of a great fish.  Some of us start debating the possibility of a big fish before we even try to comprehend the God who created and appointed that fish.  And we often forget that God also appointed a tempest, a plant, a wind, a worm, and most importantly -- a man to go proclaim God's message.  

I'm still struck by how reluctant Jonah was.  He was afraid, yes; but he was also unwilling.  He was unwilling to see or be a part of God mission to forgive and save Jonah's perceived enemies.  But who was the real enemy? 

It's hard to avoid the complexities in our world today.  We wrestle with issues of gay marriage, abortion, other religions and cults, politics, drug dealers, pornographers, and so much more.  Watching many Christians, I wonder if they have the same heart as Jonah?  Would they rather see God destroy their 'enemies' rather than save and redeem them?  Have we become a church of Jonahs?  I hope not. I pray not. 

At the heart is a grave misunderstanding.  It seems we've forgotten who the real enemy is.  The enemy is not Planned Parenthood.  The enemy is not the LGBT community.  Society is not the enemy.  The hard life of the street is not the enemy.  Our neighbor... not the enemy.  Hollywood?  Nope.  The government?  No.  The local church? Wrong! 

1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  I wonder what would happen if a zookeeper let a lion free in your workplace?  Would you just go about your business as normal?  How about if there was a lion in your neighborhood?  I suspect you wouldn't be out mowing your lawn if there were a lion sitting on your front step stalking you. We'd be making phone calls.  We'd be going for guns.  The news media would be there.  And we probably won't be too concerned with the little things. 

We do have a real enemy.  There is a lion prowling around.  Ephesians 6:10:-20 tells us what to do: 

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." 

Let us not forget who the real enemy is, and let us be ready when the lion comes to u

Behind the Man, Jonah

Jonah is an interesting book.  While it's probably the most well known, it's not likely the most contemplated of the Old Testament prophets.  Most people know the story because of the great fish.  They've either rejected the narrative on account that they simply won't accept that God is a God of miracles, or they love the story because of the fish.  But Johan is not a story about a fish.  It's a story about a prophet of God and a great number of people who do not know God.  Jonah is a story about a complex man who struggles with his service to God, especially as it relates to his enemies.  At times Jonah is angry and in rebellion.  At other times he praises the God of his salvation.  He struggles to serve God who desires to save Israel's enemies.  Jonah, it seems, has forgotten that all the world will be blessed through God's people. (Genesis 12:1-3).  

Take a few moments and read the four chapters of the Book of Jonah.  Here are some points to consider.  

1.  Many people argue whether Jonah was a real guy.  They see this as a fictional narrative.  Maybe it's the story of the fish or maybe it's due to the literary quality.  In any case, we do find biblical evidence to believe that Jonah was a real guy and this was a real account.  We see that Jonah was serving as God's mouthpiece in the land of Israel (2 Kings 14:25).  Unlike the other prophets in the Bible, we don't have those sermons recorded.  The only sermon we have was preached in Nineveh.  Jonah said, "yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"  We also find that Jesus treated the story and the sign of Jonah has a real thing.  (See Matthew 12, Matthew 16, and Luke 11).  In fairness, some argue that Jesus could be arguing the point of a parable like we might say a person is a prodigal son.  However, I don't agree with this argument given the context in which Jesus uses the sign of Jonah.  

2.  There is a remarkable literary quality found within the book of Jonah.  Look how word "arise" is used throughout the narrative. (Sometimes it's only translated as go, but notice the "get up and take action" feel.  Even as the sailors yell at Jonah, we are reminded of Jonah's initial call.).  Look at the places were God "appointed" a storm and a fish.  Look at the word "great."  A great city, a great storm, a great fish, but God is greater than these great things.  How about "to provide"?  That proves interesting too.  Or notice how Jonah "went down" into the belly of the boat before being carried back to his mission in the belly of a great fish.  This is a rich book with a tremendous literary quality.  

3.  Also amazing is the complexity of Jonah. He is filled with a range of emotions.  He flees.  He's angry.  He's thankful God saved him from drowning.  Jonah says he'll be faithful in chapter 2 only to be reluctant and a grumbler in chapter 3.  Then he's downright angry in chapter 4.  He is a complex man. 

4.  And finally, notice how this book brings the reader in.  It's a story that demands the audience respond.  The twists and turns shock us.  Jonah is called to go to Nineveh and he gets up and runs.  The city repents after a call that doesn't even include the word 'repent' or God.  It's simply a fact that the city will be destroyed and the people respond in amazing ways.  And then Jonah is angry at God.  When the book leaves us hanging on a question, it is really a question for the reader.  At the time, that reader may have seen Nineveh as his or her mortal enemy.  Today, we probably ought to think about this question in that context.  When Jesus says "love your enemy" we should think about who that person is.  Then we should realize that God cares about this enemy and may call us to be his agent to take a message of salvation to said enemy. 

Jonah can be read in no time and should be read a few times.  It's rich and has a transformative quality it we take it to heart.  I highly encourage you read and enjoy the book of Jonah. 

Resolved to Read the Bible

January 7, 2014

We're a week into the new year and I've already spoke with a few people who have resolved to read the Bible more this year, which is great.  Surely on the last Sunday of December many pastors preached something to encourage people to read and know their Bibles.  And I wouldn't be surprised if the One-Year-Bibles go on sale at this time of year. 

Reading more of God's Word is a good resolution.  We should have a desire to read and know the Bible, especially considering that it's God's message to us.  Want to know God better?  One good place to start is in his Word.  But for those not too familiar with the Bible, this is a huge task.

Many people who are new to the Bible will start in Genesis and read page by page until they reach the end of Revelation.  This is a canonical reading, meaning that the Bible is read in the order of the arranged books of the cannon.  Reading this way is certainly not bad, but it can be confusing for someone who doesn't know the story of the Bible in chronological order. 

Most Bibles are arranged and bound like a big bookshelf.  One entire section is for the books of the Old Testament and one section is for books of the New Testament.  Bound together within the Old Testament section, you have five books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  Then you find 12 books of history (Joshua through Esther), followed by the poetry or artistic books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon).  The five books of the major prophets open the section on the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel), followed by the 12 books of the minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

In the New Testament section opens with the four gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) which all cover the earthly ministry of Jesus but from different perspectives.  Acts is the only book in the New Testament history section, followed by nine of Paul's letters to the churches (Romans through 2 Thessalonians).  Paul also wrote letters to individuals and they get a section (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).  Then there are nine general letters to the churches (Hebrews through Revelation).

If you're wanting to follow the historical time-line of God's redemptive history and get a good grasp of the biblical story, then you will actually do better to read in chronological order.  This will mean you'll be in the books of history, artistic books, and the prophets at the same time as you move through the Old Testament.  As you read Jonah for example, you'll have a better understanding of the context.  You'll know that the kingdom was divided, who the kings where, what political problems were playing out, and who the Ninevites were.  The narrative will be rich and far more informative.  In addition, this will make your reading more enjoyable.  The same will be true of the New Testament.

If you've never read the Bible in chronological order, I highly recommend it.  You can download an easy chronological reading plan here.

Another way to read is with a devotional plan.  These tend to have some reading in the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament.  There are many of these plans out there or you can simply put a book mark in each section.  You don't even need to start at the beginning.  Pick the books and start there.  Read 3 or 4 chapters from the Old Testament, a psalm, and a chapter or two from the New Testament.  The amazing thing about this kind of reading plan is how interconnected the Bible is and how much God will use each reading from these three sections to speak into your life.

Or maybe if you've already read the Bible cover to cover or in chronological order, you can jettison the idea of reading your entire Bible in a year and start reading smaller sections or single books more deeply.  For example, you could read one book of the Bible over and over again for a couple months.  Or read Titus or one of the minor prophets ever day for a month.  Or you could read a book with a commentary reading book club, which I also highly recommend.  (Here's more on that.)

No matter how you read, getting into God's Word is a good thing.  If you've resolved to reading more of the Bible this year, I can't help but believe it will be good for you.  Stick to it.  Enjoy it.  Savor it.  It's not about getting a task done in a year; but rather, hearing from God.

* Photo by Flickr.com user, Ryk Neethling is registered under a Creative Commons License.

You Will Be My Witnesses

December 4, 2012.

I am truly bless to serve on a church staff that provides me with so many opportunities to grow as a pastor.  We're presently in a sermon series titled, "As We Reach" because about a year ago we added the word 'Reach' to our mission and it's our hope that a lifestyle of evangelism becomes a part of our DNA in the coming years.  At Risen Life Church we seek to experience real life transformation and we do that through our mission: "connect, grow, serve, and reach."   This week I was able to step into the pulpit and preach a message titled "You Will Be My Witnesses." 

In addition, we've had some video testimonies that open each sermon.  Nathan Sweet, a gifted photographer and film maker, has been helping us create these videos.  (They've been really great.  Here's a sample, and another, and even another.) However, we didn't have anybody lined up for this recent week so we didn't shoot an interview.  Nathan is a busy student so when Pastors Kevin and Robert asked if we could still have a video, I stepped up to the director/editor plate.  It's certainly not of the same quality as the videos Nathan produces for us and there's one really bad edit (oops!), but I feel like we were still able to tell a story, thanks to a willing participant, some construction lights, the help of Sean Patrick on the sound board in our worship center, and a couple video cameras (one of which uses video tapes--remember those!). Because of our sound limitations, we were also limited to the worship center backdrop.  Here's Tina Pelton in the video that ran just before I preached the message:

It's not often you find a pastor so willing to raise up future leaders and even share the pulpit.   I get to work with two!  We serve in a team ministry model so our senior pastor, Kevin, works closely with Pastor Robert and they rotate each week in the pulpit.  And even with this arrangement, they allow me and another pastor (Jared Jenkins) to preach from time to time--even more in 2013.

Like I said, I am blessed and couldn't ask for a better place to serve and learn after completing seminary! 

Teaching Kids About Prayer

The Sunday School teacher for the 3rd and 4th graders at my local church has had to take some time off this summer to deal with a medical issue.  While I wish she didn't have the medical difficulty, I'm finding tremendous joy substitute teaching the class.  We use a curriculum developed by Group. There's a pre-planed weekly lesson, a box of visual aids, and a bunch of matching NLT bibles. The material is okay, but I think my students are smarter than Group's target class.  Therefore, this week I added some additional information to the class and I think it went well.

Teaching this class has been good for me because I'm having to take the communication from a level I'm accustomed to in seminary down to a level that a 3rd grader can understand and find application.  That being said, I think this is the case even for teaching adults.

Here's my basic outline of last Sunday's class: 

The week's verse from the curriculum is "Never stop praying" --  1 Thessalonians 5:17

Illustration: "Who here has ever spoke to the President of the United States? How about any leader or king of any other country?  Well, I once met a former president and do you know what; I had to go through security, and I was assigned a time when I would meet him, and I could only talk with him for a second, and I probably won't every get to talk with him again.  What do you think it takes to get to talk to the President in the White House?  But did you know you can talk to the King of Kings, God?"

Bible chase game to find the scriptures that answer the following questions.

When should we (or can we) talk with God?
1. Psalm 5:3 (Morning)
2. Psalm 71:7-8 (All day)
3. Psalm 119:55 (Night)
4. Psalm 55:17 (Morning, Noon, and Night)
5. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (Always be praying)

How should we pray? 
1. (The previous week's lesson was to come boldly before God. Use this time to review last week's lesson than offer some more scriptures for the class to race to find.)
2. Matthew 6:9-13 (This is how he showed us to pray, discuss elements of prayer and remind the class that these are not requirements or rules, but Jesus teaching us.)
3. Colossians 4:2 (Alert mind and thankful heart)

How should we NOT pray?
1.  Matthew 6:5 (Is Jesus telling us that we shouldn't pray on street corners?  I opened our class in prayer and you saw me, is Jesus saying that I was wrong?  Maybe is Jesus talking about using prayer to show off and make it more about ourselves instead of talking with God?)

Where should we pray?
1. Daniel 6:10 (In our homes)
2. Matthew 6:6 (In private)
3. Acts 16:23-25 (In prison, hard times)
4. Jonah 2:1 (In the belly of a fish)

(Pause to explain the seriousness of stoning.  Give a background of Stephen's evangelism that got him into trouble.)
5. Acts 7:59-60 (Even when we are dying)
6. Luke 23:34 (Jesus prayed on the cross for the people putting him there)

When should we pray? How should we pray? (How should we not pray?) Where should we pray?

Prayer Walk
1. Explain what a prayer walk is and that prayer walking is not something that holds more or special power or anything like that because God hears us anytime, from wherever we are.  However, sometimes we are reminded to pray for people or things because we see them on our walk. And sometimes we'll even be able to pray with other people. (Also, this will reinforce the idea that we should always be praying and that we can pray anywhere.)
2. Go for a pray walk through the church building, stopping to pray as people feel led to do so.

Pray and Watch Reminder Cards
Hand out reminder cards and have the kids write 5 names of people they want to remember to pray for.  Tell them to put the card on the fridge or someplace they will see it often.  Every time they see the card, they should be reminded to pray for those five people. Then they should also watch for opportunities to serve those five people.

Give out weekly home fun and Bible memory verse handout.  Also give out coloring sheet with map and remind the kids that they can pray in all those places and anywhere, anytime.