Your story mark

I’m an empty page
I’m an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

 These words are from Francesca Battistelli’s song “Write Your Story[1].  It is a powerful song that recognizes that there is One who is the ‘Author of my hope’ and ‘maker of the stars’.  However, it’s the thought ‘Come on and make Your mark’ that has grabbed my attention for this blog.

Recently I have been referencing Jonah’s story.  How is it that a prophet of God runs away from God?  How is it that God’s man for the job is upset at what God does?  How is it that Jonah was able to even fulfill what God asked him to do?  I do not pretend to have all the answers for these questions and others that arise from Jonah’s story.  However, if we allow God to ‘make Your mark’ within our hearts, perhaps we too can be an open page for Him to write His redemptive story in.

Not for one minute do I believe that Jonah knew all the details of God’s ultimate plan that involved him.  We know that Jonah struggled with God’s ‘relenting’ from sending disaster upon the wicked citizens of Nineveh (4:2).  But to use a great fish?  Really God?  Well, after-all this is a big first for Israel in that a prophet of Israel is being sent to those outside Israel.  Seeing as how this is a first big-time event, why not use a big fish too?  With all kidding aside, Jonah learned just who the Author of his story is.  He is ‘Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land’ (1:9).  It is the same God who appointed a great fish that marked Jonah.

Most scholars agree that Jonah’s appearance would have been altered because of the digestive juices contained within the stomach of the fish.  Jonah’s skin, and hair would have been damaged, and potentially never the same again.  Jonah’s life would bear the ‘marks’ of his story.  Jonah’s life visibly demonstrated his disobedience and rebellion.  However, it also was evidence of God’s authorship, purpose, grace, power and message.  In fact, this time when Jonah is sent to Nineveh, he was not just communicating God’s message, Jonah himself was the message.

Having said that, I know that this world, evil people, and demonic powers leave cruel and malicious marks on humanity that grieve the heart of God.  I am not advocating God to be the author of such things.  In fact, a biblical worldview understands that evil powers can affect the physical lives of humanity.  The woman with the issue of blood whom Jesus cured was one such individual.  When referring to her story, Mark uses the Greek word mastix to describe her affliction (5:29,34).  The concept behind mastix is the picture of someone who is exhibiting a wound, marks, or affliction because of the whippings received at the hands of a slave driver, or Roman soldier.  It was as if this woman was bearing the physical marks of the devil’s affliction.  For twelve years she suffered and spent all that she had with no hope of relief.  However, the power of God combined with her faith, brought freedom and healing from her tormenting wounds.

Brett Ullman shares his story in a video documentary entitled ‘The Walking Wounded’.  Our church is bringing in Dr. Grant Mullen for a Transformation Weekend that will deal with emotional pain, mood swings and anxiety issues.  The point is this:  We all have marks. God desires to redeem them.

Knowing what we know about Jonah and the woman who suffered for twelve years; knowing that there is One who is the Author of Hope, I encourage you to bring all your marks before Almighty God and say:

I want my history to be Your legacy
Go ahead and show this world
What You’ve done in me
And when the music fades
I want my life to say, 
I let You write Your story

 

Maranatha!

 

 

 

[1] Songwriters: Francesca Battistelli / David Garcia / Benjamin Michael Glover, Write Your Story lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

The God who saves

1 John 5:19 tells us that the ‘whole world is under the sway of the evil one’. Without getting into a lot of Biblical history and theology, I believe we can agree that this statement still applies today. Furthermore, John’s worldview and attitude about this was not an apathetic one. John encouraged believers to make a stand in their worship, walk and work for God. Such a stand would obviously separate the follower of Christ from those who follow other idols.

Our world and culture today is still very idolatrous. Humanity continues to not only struggle with idolatry, but is in fact bound by its power. Idols are empowered by worship, and humanity empowers many of them.

In the Ancient world, pantheism, and idol worship had become the established norm for the people of earth. Babylon (Mesopotamia) was a hotbed of such. The Tower of Babylon event (Genesis 11) indicates that fallen humanity had come together to accomplish some divine things. They sought to elevate themselves into the realm of the ‘gods’ to potentially become divine themselves, or to connect them with supernatural power. The hunger and thirst for spiritual encounters lead people to embrace a pantheon of divine beings. Into this spiritual soup God selected one man (Abraham) to start and embrace a new way of doing things for Yahweh.

I understand that I am oversimplifying much of what The Bible teaches and says, however, I use this brief explanation as a backdrop for this thought: The God of The Bible seeks to call humanity out of a fallen culture, to create a new one. This ‘new one’ is rooted in and established in a personal, covenantal relationship. This is how it was for Abraham; this is how it is for us today.

A question for the follower of God today is this: How are we communicating this personal, covenantal relationship (with Yahweh) to those who are ‘under the sway of the evil one’?

Within the story of Jonah there are some helpful insights and lessons that we can learn from. Jonah’s story is remarkable because for the first time in human history a prophet of Israel was sent to speak to people outside of Israel. God is communicating His care to those outside Israel. As Jonah continues to wrestle with God over this point and others, we begin to see some declining marks in the prophet’s lifestyle.

He first loses his God-conscious. When God brought the wickedness of Nineveh to Jonah’s attention, Jonah’s first reaction was to disobey the voice of God. God says to Jonah “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.”. (1:2) Instead of ‘getting up’ and addressing the evil, Jonah ‘got up to flee’ from God’s presence. In fact, the prophet ‘went down’ to Joppa to avoid God. It seems odd that the prophet of God is the odd-one-out in this whole obedience thing. The wind, storm, fish, plant and worm all heed God’s instruction. The man of God, not so much. Instead of addressing the evil that had confronted his God, Jonah chooses to avoid and ignores God’s request to address the great city of Nineveh.

Secondly, Jonah lost his God-caring. Jonah fails to stand with others in their moments of anxiety, fear and chaos. The pagan captain calls for Jonah to ‘Get up! Call to your God’. (1:6) Jonah, who had ‘gone down’ to stretch out in the lowest part of the ship, missed an opportunity to interceded for others. For the second time, Jonah is reminded to ‘Get up!’.

Thirdly, Jonah had abandoned his God-commission. Is it just me, or does it seem like Jonah has a peculiar outlook? Like Elijah, Jonah appears to have a death wish (1:12, 4:8,9). Not only that, Jonah ceased to operate in his commission to be God’s prophetic voice in the world. Even though Jonah made a statement of faith: “I am a Hebrew. I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (1:9), he failed to function prophetically on behalf of the One who desires to establish a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). Jonah knew the story of Moses and how God is merciful, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love (Ex. 34:6). Jonah quotes this reality himself (4:2). Jonah knows about God’s desires to establish a nation unto Himself who will serve as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, and ultimately be a light to the world. Jonah’s prophetic role was to function and aid in this divine mission. However, instead of embracing God’s mission and converting the pagan sailors, Jonah insists on being thrown overboard! Once again, Jonah desires to ‘go down’ instead of rising.

The first chapter of Jonah’s story ends with Jonah ‘going down’ once again and spending three days inside the belly of a great fish. Thankfully, we also know that these pagan sailors take it upon themselves to call out to Yahweh and make sacrifices to Him (1:14-15). I would like to think that Jonah realized his error and would have done things completely different, but I am not convinced of his hindsight being a divine 20/20. But let’s cut him slack, after all he did write about it.

However, the story of Jonah ends with us not ever really knowing if Jonah ever came to realize that he missed the boat in terms of God’s compassion and mission for a lost world. The dialogue between Jonah and God in chapter four is sobering and concerning. Jonah seems to care more about his life and comfort than the eternal destination of lost nations and those bound by idolatrous worship. In other words, Jonah seems to care more about himself than fulfilling the Mission of God.

Next week I will share more about how you can serve the Sovereign God prophetically with your story and how you can be the one to offer humanity a new covenant relationship with Yahweh: The God who saves.

The God who sends

What is it like to live with someone?  I guess that depends who you are living with.  If you are in a living relationship with someone there are bound to be moments when you are happy and joyous, and moments when you are confused and mad.  Ever been there? Sure you have. So have I.

Do you think that these ‘life moments’ are also normal in your walk with God?  Almost sounds sacrilegious to suggest that you can get angry with God. However, have you read any of the Old Testament?  

It’s been awhile since I have blogged, and I want to come back and share with you some thoughts about Living with The Living God.  At the church where I pastor I am talking to them about it as well.  

To get into this, I would like us to consider the prophet Jonah.  Most of us have a familiarity about Jonah. He’s the one who ran away from God, was swallowed by the whale, got spit out again and went on his merry way.  Quite a tale indeed, and there are some who believe that his story is fiction. I am not in that camp. I believe that Jonah was an OT prophet who knew God intimately, and his story illustrates this concept of living with a living God.

Here’s how.  

Jonah first comes onto the scene for us in 2 Kings 14.  God used him to deliver a favourable word over King Jeroboam (14:25).  Jewish tradition believes that Jonah was the son of the Zarephath widow whom Elijah restored to life (1 Kings 17:8-24).  Regardless, Jonah was successor to Elijah-Elisha and most likely knew them well.  Jonah functioned similarly to them as a prophet to Israel. However, all of that was about to change.  The Great I AM was about to do something radical. God speaks to Jonah and says, “Get up!  Go to the great city of Nineveh …”. This is a first.  For the first time in recorded Scripture, God sends a prophet of Israel outside the territory.  Why? The God of Israel cares about those outside Israel.

It’s been said that before I knew Christ the Church was about me, but now that I know Christ the Church is no longer about me.  When Jesus came out of the tomb and eventually made it to the Eleven, He wasn’t pleased with their attitude. In fact, He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of hearts (Mark 16:14). But then Jesus tells them to Go! (16:15).  C’mon Jesus, make us feel good at least and give me some warm fuzzies or something … Go!

Here’s a question:  When did the Living God ever say stop?    

See you next time as we talk more about Living with The Living God.  

Being made new

I have a confession to make. For the past couple of years I have come to realize that I have not been my true self. This past season in pastoral ministry has been very challenging. It has taken a toll physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. The rude awakening came for me this past October.

Our District sponsored a workshop where the speaker was addressing many things included burn-out. He presented a check list of ‘10 signs of burnout’. I checked off all 10. I laughed on the outside, but was dying on the inside.

This may come as a surprise to the ears of some folks around me. We can be good at wearing masks at time. However, there is one who knew all along … well maybe two. My wife, and Holy Spirit. (Those two are often close together it seems)

Feeling and hearing from my wife who challenged me to move past the past, and embrace what God desires to do was not always music to my ears. Yes, I wanted to move on; Yes, I desired to see breakthrough in and through the church … but was it even possible?

What I did not realize was this: It needed to start within me.

This past summer I had approached two men in the church to be my prayer partners. I asked them to pray for me specifically. They agreed gladly.

Next, we began to ask people in the church to specifically pray for the Presence of God to break in. People responded and a weekly prayer group was formed.

Within a couple months, we planned an all night prayer event at the church. People came. I remember asking God before this prayer event a question: Will you make me new again? I knew that I needed His Transforming Presence to come and touch my life. He did!

As a church leader, I have endeavored to do the Transformational Church thing. For the past five years I read the books, went to the conferences, implemented strategy, brought leaders with me, worked on small groups and attempted to address the permeating culture of the church. It was exhausting. I tried to lead from a position of knowing that this needs to be done in order for this local assembly to survive, thrive and grow.

However, with all of my efforts it seemed as though every step forward was greeted with five that went backwards. It was as though the walls were caving in all around me and the only one noticing or caring was me.

But that was part of the problem. The challenging years of criticism, negativity, doubt and conflict had left my spirit wounded. I needed to be made new. Thankfully, Jesus does this very thing; He makes all things new.

Within the Revelation of Jesus, John hears this coming from the Throne of God …

“Look! I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)

Greek experts tell us that the ‘making’ is something that was happening then, is happening now, and will be happening until we are re-united with God in eternity. Jesus is making all things new now! This includes me.

I do not write this for any other means, other than to simply give you a glimpse into my spirit journey over the past five years. Trust me, for a conservative Ottawa Valley boy, being transparent and vulnerable like this generally does not happen.

However, I am committed to taking all things, including myself, into the life changing Presence of Jesus who has promised to make all things new.

As a church family I can say with confidence that we have turned the page. The past is the past. We are on a course that will bring transformation, new life, and new growth to our faith family and community. I acknowledge that many things needed to be done to get us to this place. I am thankful for the journey … I think. However, I am more thankful that I will experience something truly supernatural here.

The course is now set. We are moving forward with the Presence of Almighty God who desires to and will make all things new for those who will allow it. Together, with The Spirit we call to our Lord and Savior to come and do only what He can do.

Raise your voice no matter where you are or what circumstance you are in. He will come. Jesus walks among His Church. He is The Light. His Face will break through any darkness. His voice is more powerful than any other on earth or in the spirit world. His is the Alpha and Omega. He is my beginning and my end. He is also yours.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Maranatha.

Moving past resolutions

I have never been a big New Year’s Resolution guy. For some reason it was not something I embraced. Nothing against those who make them and stick to them … however, for me, it was not normally part of my New Year routine. Having said that, allow me to embrace this idea as a way of launching the New Year together.

For many people, resolutions become a dedicated focus, emphasis, task and mission for the upcoming year. According to US News, 80% of New Years Resolutions fail by the second week of February[1]. That is a high failure rate. So why do so many people do it? Why do so many people fail? Perhaps it is because we are focusing on the wrong thing.

The book of Revelation gives us a glorious glimpse into who Jesus is, what He has done, what He is doing and will continue to do. One of the many things that John heard was this statement, “Look! I am making everything new.” (Rev. 21:5)

Flowing with the rhythm of hearing and seeing, John once again hears, turns and sees something that has been made new. It is a glorious picture of God’s people fully redeemed. The Bride who is now completely pure and flawless is re-united with her Groom. Hallelujah! As the people of God, we find tremendous joy in knowing that our final destination and dwelling is with Him! However, here is the challenge. There is another who desires humanity’s focus.

The devil and his beasts stand in direct opposition to The Lamb of God and the people of God. Leading humanity astray, the beasts name and mark is given to those who worship it. A startling truth is unveiled: humanity resembles what it worships. The Apostle Paul understood this and encourages the people of God to not only know about, but to become like the One we worship; to become like Christ (Philippians 3:10-11).

That is why we as the people of God, need to move past resolutions and embrace a holistic worship of The Lamb that permeates mind, body and soul. This transformation hinges upon our worship of God and His Lamb who makes all things new. The present tense of the Greek work ‘make’ suggests that God is making all things new even now! [2].

So, make this year a year of being marked by the transforming presence of God. Make this year a year of holistic worship, a worship of God that permeates, renews, transforms and makes new our minds, bodies and spirits. Let us move past resolutions and embrace transformation!

Maranatha!

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12

[2] Chris Tomas, The Apocalypse: A literary and Theological Commentary, CPT Press: Cleveland, TN pg. 626.

Poking holes in the darkness

As a boy I remember asking my parents at bedtime to leave the light on in the hallway.  For some reason I felt more at peace and could go to sleep knowing that the light was on.

Fast forwarding now over 35 years, I find myself leaving a light on for my children either in their room, or in the hallway for them at bedtime.  Funny how that is.

John 1 tells us about Jesus, the ‘light of men’ coming into the world; a light that ‘shines in the darkness’.

At the turn of the Century there were people known as lamplighters who were employed to light and maintain street lights of their town.  Every night as evening approached lamplighters would embark on their scheduled task.  On one such evening a young lamplighter was strolling along rather happily.  A passerby noticed the joy on his face and asked him what made him so happy?  His response was simply, ‘because every night I get to poke holes in the darkness!’

At this time of year we celebrate The One who poked the ultimate hole in the darkness.  Jesus Christ, the Light of The World, pierced through the darkness to bring hope and light to lost humanity.  Death and darkness could not overcome this light.  Jesus, Mighty God had come!  His light now forever shines and will some day illuminate humanity and the world forever (Revelation 22:5).

However, until then, we are to be His lamplighters in a dark world; we are to be His light (Matthew 5:14).

Today I do not mind leaving the light on for my children.  It helps me to remember Jesus, God’s Son, The Light of the world.  It also reminds me of the task at hand to ignite His light in the world.  There are people around us who live in darkness everyday.  There are people searching for a true source of hope, life and happiness.  Jesus is all of that are more.

As a fellow lamplighter, I encourage you to let His light shine so that people around you will give Him glory (Matthew 5:16).  Doing so allows us to ‘poke holes in the darkness’ until He comes.

Maranatha!

Giving a cup of hope

This past Saturday I was part of an outreach event at my church where we simply gave away free hot chocolate.  We were given permission to set up a table inside the entrance of a local retail store and give away cups of hot chocolate to anyone who accepted.  10 gallons of hot chocolate later, we were done!

This simple exercise is a great way to be a blessing to you local community.  We were able to display our local church logo on the table, as well as put in as a sticker on each cup.  Many folks asked if we have any Bailey’s for it, but a few people took the time to notice our church logo and commented that how nice it was for a church to do this.  Our response was always, ‘we want to be a blessing.’

In our desire to live the resurrected life of Jesus in the here and now, I believe we need to find ways to bring a cup of hope to others.  When Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples, they most likely were having a Hebrew meal called a seder.  This Passover meal has four different cups that are drunk throughout the evening.  They are: the Cup of Sanctification, the Cup of Thanks, the Cup of Redemption, and the Cup of Acceptance.

Typically the third cup (Cup of Redemption) is drunk after supper.  This is precisely the cup that Luke says Jesus took and declared that from that moment on it would be the cup of the New Covenant.  Jesus took this third cup of the seder, the Cup of Redemption, and declared that this cup filled with wine would now represent the redeeming blood that He was about to shed[1].  As followers of Christ, we too are able to offer this same cup of Redemption to others.

Regardless if the cup you offer is filled with hot chocolate or wine, remember that we are here to bring hope to those who are hopeless.  Whether it be through baked goods, a kind word or a smile, find a way to bring hope to someone today.

Take a step forward in your journey with Christ.  He will open doors for you to be a blessing.  He will work through you in supernatural ways via Holy Spirit.  Jesus, who is your Hope, desires for you to bring Hope to your friends, family and community.

It is literally in our hands now.  May we find ways to bring the cup of Redeeming Hope to others.

Maranatha!

[1] Joe Amaral, Understanding Jesus, Faith Words Publishing: New York, NY. 2011. Pg. 149