Recalculating: When You Don’t Change Direction!

When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings

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We are looking at the process of discovering God’s vision for you and this church, to discover God’s purpose for this place.  To do this, I want us to look at a couple of examples we need to learn from:  Jonah and Esther.  Today, let’s look at Jonah 1:1-5

 1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh.  Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish.  He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.  But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings.

When God gives us a Recalculating Moment, He does so to transform us into what can only be described as Becoming Peculiar People.  In other words—to stand out from everything else.  Always to be different from the world.  But sometimes God’s Recalculating Moment is for us to be different from the Religious Culture.

Don’t you want to be a peculiar people?  The phrase is Peter’s, from the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a Peculiar People; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

In Greek, the phrase A Peculiar People means “a purchased possession”—something that uniquely belongs to God, acquired at great cost.  We are to be Holy Oddities—Sacred Misfits. You can’t make heads or tails of us unless you bring God into the equation.   But we’re going to look at one way to not be peculiar.

It’s the story of Jonah.  When I was a child in Sunday School, I heard the story of Jonah from the perspective that here is a hero of the faith.  At first, he didn’t want to go—in fact he would rather die than go.  But God showed grace in the form of this big fish.

Jonah changed his mind and would go.  The Hero, right?  Wrong.  Jonah refused God’s Recalculating Moment at first.  Eventually he followed God’s Recalculating Moment, but he did so without The Heart Of God.  Jonah shows us that it’s not enough to simply change direction.  Here’s the Lessons he teaches:

1.  Jonah Was A Prophet Who Wanted Nothing To Do With God.

Jonah—his name means dove.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Jonah’s name doesn’t fit his heart nor his attitude.  Biblically, the dove was a sign of hope and peace.  In the Old Testament, Doves represented hope, renewal, grace, beauty, innocence, swiftness, sacrifice, peace and good news.  In the New Testament, the dove is one of the principal symbols of the Holy Spirit—a sign from Heaven.  Jesus instructed his followers to be “harmless as doves.”  

Hope.  Renewal.  Grace.  Beauty.  Innocence.  Spirit.  Swiftness.  Sacrifice.  Good News.  Peace.  Jonah is none of this.  Jonah’s no dove!  He’s a hawk, a vulture.  Jonah’s a harbinger of judgment, a conjurer of despair, and a herald of bad news.  He’s a scrappy, noisy, crow!  And that’s the point.  Jonah is a prophet that wants nothing to do with God.  He’s an evangelist who wants nothing to do with the lost—except to see them punished and banished. Jonah Is A Portrait Of Those Who Were A People Of God But Who Have Lost The Heart Of God.  

He’s a picture of a person who is Christian in name only—not in character, conduct, or conviction.  He is an example of what happens to many Christians and many churches—we get turned in on ourselves, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and happy to let the world go to hell.  Jonah avoids sinners.  When that’s no longer possible, he crusades against them, picketing their towns.  

He first tries to ignore their existence, then he protests against them, and then he seeks to annihilate them altogether.  If I had to identify the primary question that drives the Book of Jonah, it’s this:  Will Jonah Ever Learn To Be A Dove, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart?  And that’s the question the church must continually wrestle with: Will We Ever Learn To Be Christian, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart? This is Lesson 1 from Jonah.

2.  Jonah Rejects God’s Word.

The Book of Jonah begins with a miracle—God speaks to Jonah.  But Jonah resents and resists the word of the Lord, finding it to be a mighty inconvenience.  It doesn’t fit into his plan.  It doesn’t meet his expectations.  It doesn’t agree with his beliefs.  But the word comes anyway.  

The miracle is that the word of the Lord still breaks in on those who have long given up listening for it or attending to it; it still comes to those who have not hungered and thirsted for it for years—if ever! 

The word that comes to Jonah is firm and fixed:  Go. Jonah is to proclaim the Word of the Lord to Nineveh.   Nineveh was the capital of the blood thirsty Assyrians.  They are the enemy.  Jonah is called to go to the enemy.  But the crucial thing is how God sees this enemy.  

First of all, He sees they are wicked. In fact, their wickedness has come up before God and reached a tipping point in heaven.  God’s had enough; He’s going to act.  

But notice the second thing God sees in Nineveh—she is a great city.  Her greatness is not just in sheer physical size.  The Hebrew word used in the text means more than magnitude.  It speaks of importance and weightiness.  Nineveh’s greatness is her potential—if only she turned from her wickedness. 

Unless We See People, Towns, Cities, Cultures, Civilizations, Neighbors, And Strangers As God Sees Them, We Will Never Experience God’s Heart For Them.  If all we miss seeing their greatness, we’ll miss their potential, and the dreams God has for them.

3.  Jonah Runs Away From God.

Jonah only sees Nineveh’s wickedness and refuses to see her potential for greatness, so he runs away.  He is called to something too hard, so he flees.  This is where the story gets interesting.  Jonah doesn’t just flee the call of God or sidestep his assignment; he tries to escape God’s presence. Verse 3: Jonah…went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  

Jonah is more than disobedient—he’s practically an atheist!  Jonah wants to live as though God does not exist—or at least as if God has no claim on him.  Those Who Have A Jonah Heart Want God’s Blessing But Want Nothing To Do With Either God’s Purposes Or Presence.  Jonah is not a worshiper—he avoids God’s presence.  He’s not a follower—he avoids God’s call,.  Jonah is a Consumer Of Blessings.

This Jonah heart is in each of us.  We all face a constant temptation to demand God’s blessing but avoid obedience and service.  Entire church communities can have a desire to seek God’s blessing, but not His Face or His Kingdom. Entire churches are sometimes preoccupied only with What’s In It For Me.  

Entire churches are tempted to be consumers but not worshipers or followers.  When that happens, everyone is impoverished. The church—which is to be the very body of Christ in the world, becomes just another country club—bored, snobbish and flabby.  The world that so desperately needs the gospel of Christ is left to stew in its own juices.  When A Church Craves God’s Blessing But Shuns His Presence And Avoids His Purpose—It Has Lost Its Heart For God.

Let’s finish the story, and see why Jonah isn’t a hero. Jonah flees, but he doesn’t get every far.  He books passage on a ship bound for Tarshish—a city at the edge of the known world.  Here’s something I learned just this week about the name Tarshish.  According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Tarshish is a Phoenician word from the Akkadian meaning Smelting Plant Or Refinery.  In biblical times, metals were obtained from the ore by fire.  He’s trying his best to get as far away as he possibly can. 

But Jonah jumps out of the pan and into the fire.  God Pursues Jonah Through A Storm, Still Wanting Jonah’s Heart The sailors on the boat force Jonah to confess his identity, and they discover that he’s the source of the trouble.  

At Jonah’s request, they throw him into the sea.  Jonah is suicidal.  God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah whole.  Three days later, the large fish spews him up on the shore.  Jonah, duly chastised, heads to Nineveh and does his duty.  He only does it because the pain of God’s chastisement is greater that his desire to run away.  

He preaches fire and brimstone and then goes and camps on the outskirts of Nineveh, waiting for God’s fireworks to fall on the city and its people.  But something strange takes place.  The king of Nineveh hears Jonah’s message, and he’s broken in his heart.  He puts on sackcloth and ashes and calls on the city to fast, pray, repent, and trust God’s mercy.  The entire city turns to God, and God shows mercy.  And Jonah couldn’t be more miserable.  

Jonah is a representative of a class of people we meet in the pages of Scripture, in the drama of life, and in the pews of our churches.  He is a Refuser Of Festivities.  He misses the grace of God and lets bitterness take root.  Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he won’t join the party; he won’t live in grace.  

God is involved in an extravagant, surprising, mercy-drenched business—seeking and saving those who are lost, throwing feasts once they’re found—but Jonah and his ilk sit on the sidelines and sulk about how hard God is on them and how soft he is on everyone else.  They stew about things taken away from them, and things they never wanted others to have that God has given to them without measure. 

In C. S. Lewis’ story, The Silver Chair, a selfish little girl named Jill asks the great lion Aslan—the story’s Christ figure—if he eats girls.  Aslan responds, “I have swallowed boys and girls, men and women, kings and kingdoms.”  And here is an even more interesting question: Has He swallowed you? 

How are you handling God’s Recalculating Moments in your life?  With joy?  Or with the resentment of Jonah?

Your Next Steps:

  1.   Remember that to follow God’s directions, we have to change our direction.  And to change our direction, we need to bring along the right attitude.  What needs to change with your attitude?
  2.   It’s done by putting aside our fear of failing or the uncertainty of how it will happen.  Don’t wait for someone else to step up.  It’s time for you to step out.

Getting What We Ask For–But Didn’t Realize It Would Be THAT!

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PSALM 106:6-15 (NLT)

Like our ancestors, we have sinned.
    We have done wrong! We have acted wickedly!
Our ancestors in Egypt
    were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds.
They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them.
    Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.[a]
Even so, he saved them—
    to defend the honor of his name
    and to demonstrate his mighty power.
He commanded the Red Sea to dry up.
    He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert.
10 So he rescued them from their enemies
    and redeemed them from their foes.
11 Then the water returned and covered their enemies;
    not one of them survived.
12 Then his people believed his promises.
    Then they sang his praise.

13 Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done!
    They wouldn’t wait for his counsel!
14 In the wilderness their desires ran wild,
    testing God’s patience in that dry wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
    but he sent a plague along with it.

It’s amazing to me how anyone can think that The Bible is an outdated book, lacking current relevance.  Solomon was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun.  This passage is just one of many that backs up this jewel of wisdom.  In this one Psalm, we have the history of God’s ancient people, and God’s current people.

Here’s the flow:  God’s people, the Hebrews, called out to God for deliverance.  They were slaves, helpless at the hands of their oppressors.  God called Moses to lead this movement.  Pharoah refused; God spoke; Pharoah still refused; pattern repeats.  Until Pharoah finally agrees to let them go.  Then he changes his mind and sets out in pursuit of them.  THEY are at the Red Sea and no bridges or boats around.  They are scared they are about to die.  They whine at Moses, but God intervenes and gives a promise:  “You will get to the Promised Land, and you will never see these Egyptian soldiers again.”  God parts the water, they cross over.  The Egyptians follow and God closes the Sea and dead soldiers everywhere.

They head towards The Promise and God does 3 things:

  1. He provides for their physical needs
  2. He leads them all the way
  3. He assures them He is with them through the Pillar of Cloud during the day and a Pillar of Fire at night

These 3 things occur 24/7.  And how do they respond?  Here’s the Cliff Notes Version:

  1. They whine about fresh food from heaven that costs nothing and which they did nothing to produce it
  2. They can’t wait for Moses to return from consulting with God, so they make an idol they can see.
  3. They whine some more, a lot more
  4. They face some enemies threatening them but God promises Victory and it happens
  5. They get to the edge of the Promised Land, God still providing, leading, and assuring them of His Presence, and they give up without even trusting.
  6. They want a new leader and go back to Egypt–to slavery–but at least they would have garlic and onions–slavery for sure–but oh, those good old onions!

So what does God do?  God gives them what they asked for:  denying them entrance into The Promise.  They all die (except Joshua and Caleb)–in the wilderness.  They never tasted those wonderful onions in Egypt–the land of slavery and oppression.  But they got what they asked for–to turn away from The Promise.

Don’t be hard on those Hebrew children.  It’s happening in our culture today.  God offers us The Promise–The Promise of Life–Life that is full and meaningful–Life that happens through dying to self and self-interests.  Instead people choose to go back in the direction of slavery and oppression all to satisfy their selfish desires.

The Promise of God is that through giving we receive.  Through helping we are helped.  Through listening we are heard.  Through humility we are lifted up.  Through dying we begin to live, really live.  Instead, this Post-Christian culture has opted-in for selfishness, entitlement, fear, hate, blame, hate, and thousands of other destructive mindsets–all in the name of finding life.

The rejection of God’s Truth, as revealed in the Bible, has given people just what they’ve asked for–the politics of hate and fear, and settling for lifestyles that are nothing but onions in the land of oppression.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love a good onion and garlic seasoning.  But here’s what I’m learning:  When we human beings decide what is good and not good, right and wrong, people are led back to oppression and bondage.

Why is our nation in the mess its in?  Simple, the majority are wanting onions and garlic rather than The Promise of God–a life that is rich in meaning and profoundly filled with purpose.  I just remembered an old Burger King® advertising campaign from years ago:  “Have it your way.”  From thinking they are entitled to whatever they want to sexual identities to ethics to morality and even to the definition of “right and wrong”, when we have it “our way” the result is…..well just watch the news…..onions, leeks, garlic for everyone–but also bondage and oppression….

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him! 

Spiritual Erosion

This morning a word came into my mind–yet another random thought–a condition with which I am afflicted.  I wonder, is some 12 Step program to help me with this?  It has served me well at times, so I guess I will allow this condition to continue.  Oh?  The word?  OK, it’s erosion.  One definition says:

the gradual destruction or diminution of something

In case you were wondering (I know I was) about that word diminution , here’s that definition:

a reduction in the size, extent, or importance of something.

The word “erosion” hit me this morning during the news.  Tropical Storm Gordon, flooding alerts, another teen shot in Birmingham, a mother arrested in Florida for the death of her 2-year-old child are just some of the stories that caused this word to invade my gray matter.  Most people think of erosion as something that happens to dirt and rocks.  But there is another type of erosion–spiritual erosion–that is far more dangerous and even more deadly.

I can’t remember exactly when I heard the term “Post-Christian Culture” but I am keenly aware that it exists.  My definition of “Post-Christian Culture” is as follows:

The loss or dismissing the values of  the Kingdom of God

Can you handle the truth?  Here it is:  The values and ethics of God’s Kingdom are no longer the dominant influence on our culture.  Over the years, as people who claimed allegiance to Jesus became passive, silent, or even worse–the consumers of what the church produces–it created an ethics and values vacuum.    Aristotle once hypothesized “horror vacui” which means Nature Abhors a Vacuum.  In other words, nature can’t stand for any space to be empty.  When lightning forms it creates a vacuum, so air rushes in to fill that vacuum, thus creating thunder.

It’s not just nature–but human beings also abhors a vacuum.  Way back in March 2009, Dr. Leon Seltzer wrote an article for Psychology Today titled “Human Nature Abhors A Vacuum”.  He wrote, “We humans crave stimulation, and on many different levels. To experience ourselves as fully alive, we all have various “arousal requirements”–“whether physical, mental, emotional, social, or spiritual.”  A little further into his article he makes this astute observation:

“…I’ve become acutely aware of how experiencing an inner vacuum can lead people to make poor life choices, especially in relationships.”

We are in a Post-Christian culture because the values of God’s Kingdom and Rule are noticeably absent in the American culture.  A vacuum of solid and proven values and ethics have left, creating the vacuum.  To fill that values/ethics vacuum, people are turning anywhere, everywhere to fill that void.  Entitlement, selfishness, disregard for consequences, blame, hate, distrust….and the list goes on to what has filled that values/ethics void created when people stopped being followers of Jesus and opted more for a fan or casual relationship.  “Jesus, I need just enough of you to avoid hell.  That’s all.”

So, how do we change the current values and ethics environment we find our culture in?  May I suggest we do what Jesus did and continues to do.  Infuse the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, once again.  Here’s a list of ways we can do this, and if you have others ways, please share them in the comments section:

  1. Tip servers at 20%, or more
  2. Call the clerk, associate, cashier by their name if they are wearing a name tag
  3. Stop being a consumer of what the church does–be a producer
  4. Give up you place in the checkout line to the person behind you
  5. Put your cellphone on vibrate mode when in a waiting room and wait to call the person back
  6. Smile, smile a lot, especially in the presence of grumpy people
  7. Refuse to judge someone by their external features.  In fact, be friendly to them and get to know them
  8. Help someone do something
  9. Get acquainted with your neighbors
  10. Volunteer with some outreach program
  11. Accept and be glad that you are not entitled to anything
  12. Work hard for something you want
  13. Accept responsibility and even the blame when do something wrong
  14. Admit you’re not always right, and certainly not perfect
  15. Offer to take someone to lunch on Sunday, right after the Worship Service
  16. In church, sit next to someone you don’t know, and strike up a conversation
  17. When someone lashes out at you–respond with kindness and grace, not more heated words.
  18. Care about God’s creation by being a good steward of this earth
  19. Find common ground with others–hey, at the very least, we are all sinners.  That’s a great place to begin
  20. Simplify your lifestyle–don’t go into deep debt for the latest “toy”
  21. Do one random act of kindness a day–if someone sees your act of kindness, it doesn’t count–so keep doing it until no one notices
  22. Better yet, do random acts of kindness even if no one notices
  23. Read the Bible and ask: “What does this say to me?  About me?”
  24. Pray–not with churchy “King James” words, but as if you were talking with your best friend, because HE wants to be your best friend
  25. Allow someone to merge into traffic
  26. Freely forgive even if–especially when–they don’t deserve it
  27. At the fast food drive thru, pay for the person’s purchase behind you (I got this one from a Christian radio station)
  28. Excuse yourself from conversations that are rude, ugly or lewd
  29. Slow down and do something relaxing
  30. Love God with all your heart, mind and life
  31. Love others the way Jesus loves you
  32. Make sure all the glory and credit goes to God for everything good

I could go on, but what specific things can you do to change the Values and Ethics of our culture?  Please post in the comments….

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 6

So here we are, the next to the last class.  I hope you are learning something valuable here.  Yesterday we looked at the Rules Plan and its shortcomings.  Hopefully by now you know that God is not the Cosmic Warden, but that He sends The Good Shepherd to search for us.  Take really good notes as we now look at:

 

Now this plan acknowledges that we don’t always get it right.  But hey, it’s not our fault.  There’s always a reason and good excuse for whatever we do wrong.  For extra reading I encourage you to obtain the book Yes Lord I Have Sinned:  But I Have Several Excellent Excuse.   The best part of this plan is that it challenges our “creative” side to be able to justify our sins.  And if you come up with an excuse that sounds good to you–then you get into heaven.

Another bonus to this plan is that if we want to be lazy and not find an excellent excuse, then there’s someone else to blame.  It’s called “playing the victim” card.  This plan works off of a truth:  That Life Isn’t Fair.  But hey, life should be fair, am I right?  It’s about getting what we rightfully deserve, and usually without much if any effort.

Slide23In This Plan Consequences Are Inconsequential.  Either by justification (coming up with an excellent excuse) or by playing the victim card, surely God won’t keep us out of heaven.  It would not be reasonable of God to keep us out of heaven when there’s so much bad stuff out there.  It is His creation.  All He has to do is make life fair.  Yet because of the evil and unfairness in this world, God will not hole us responsible.  There are no consequences, so we get in.

Slide24But there are consequences to our choices and actions.  Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death.  It doesn’t say, Unless you have a good excuse.  That’s not how it works.  Sin is sin regardless of our intentions or beliefs.  Our intentions may have been good, our beliefs may have been sincere, but sin pays the same dividend every time—death!  So, this plan doesn’t work either.  This is perhaps, the riskiest plan of all.  I say this because deep down inside us, we know there are consequences.  It’s called shame, guilt or that nagging sense of personal failure.

Well, class, that’s the last plan.  Tomorrow we will look at the Plan, the ONLY plan that will work.  It tripped up Nicodemus, but maybe it won’t trip you up.  And remember….love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY God loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him!  By the way, don’t forget there will be a final exam.