30daysofpraise, Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, christian parenting, christian podcast, Christian women, Faith, Jesus, Jesus Follower, politics, prayer, religion, Uncategorized

Where Our Loyalty Lies

"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness."  Psalms 115:1

“Heavenly Father, when I enter into worship with you help me not be distracted by worldly pursuits.  I want to praise you with all my heart and mind – not as a divided servant.  In my busy day I carve out time to give you glory of which you are deserving of so much more.  So LORD, especially while I am in your house of worship I lift all glory, honor and praise to you and you alone.  Amen”

About a year ago I tried out a new church.  The people were very friendly and the staff welcoming.  We were asked to rise at the beginning of the service and the doors to the worship center opened.  As a color guard entered the room with the United States flag the small band played a patriotic song.  And I thought, “I love this place already.”  

We sang songs calling us to action and freedom and my heart swelled.  When the pastor began his sermon, he was riled up!  He launched into a religious-political speech like no other I’d heard before.  Now, granted many of the churches in my area were shutdown.  This church was in defiance of that action – something I was looking for.  And this pastor was fervent about pushing back against the oppressive state.

I left electrified and full of thoughts of civil disobedience.  It was all right up my alley.  Until I went to my current church’s life group meeting that next week.

I hadn’t even brought up the topic and yet God wanted to speak to me about “church” and where my loyalty lies. He did so through another member.  She, seemingly out of the blue, started talking about her past church searches.  And she said this, “I want to go to a church where the sole focus is on worship and learning about God.  Not about praising a country.”  Whoops.  Now I know some of you may take issue with this.  But notice she didn’t say she’s not a patriot.  She didn’t say praising a country is wrong.  She said she wants what goes on in the House of God to be about….God.

"Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

This simple statement by this woman suddenly shifted my perspective on who and what I was worshipping.  I was placing country first then God somewhere down the line.  

I recently heard a rumor that the church I am attending doesn’t have an American flag on the worship platform because the pastor worries it would be offensive to black Christians.  It sounded a bit odd so I shot off an email to a staff member seeking clarification.  One of the pastors replied with this:

“The reasons we do not fly a flag on our platform have nothing whatsoever to do with the pastors or elders feeling it might be offensive to black Christians (who I think would find it offensive that people would think they would find it offensive).  Our general philosophy for worship services is that we do not want to have anything on the platform that wouldn’t be on the platform in heaven, if you will. Second, we try to only sing songs that we would also sing in heaven. We have no problem with patriotic songs or the American flag, but we do not feel they have a place in a worship service where we have gathered to worship God.”

Friends, I’ve come to realize having a country flag is not the issue (would we be annoyed if we didn’t see a French flag on the church podium in France?).  It’s always about where our attention is focused.  It’s always about turning our hearts and minds completely over to giving glory to God – especially during set aside times of worship.  Having a country flag in our churches isn’t wrong but if there isn’t one, should we really care if the reason is to put our laser-like focus only on God?

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, christian parenting, christian podcast, Christian women, Faith, Jesus, Jesus Follower, podcast, politics, Uncategorized

The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3