Get Jonah Off Your Ship!

jonahThe story of Jonah in the Bible is an interesting story. The sailors that Jonah was sailing with found themselves in a storm only because Jonah was on board! They were caught up in the middle of a bad situation that they really had nothing to do with! The Bible indicates that the only reason they were going through the storm was because Jonah was on board!

Could it be that some of the turmoil in our lives might be caused by the Jonah’s we’ve allowed to be on board our ships (Friendships, relationships, and fellowships)? Now, this is by no means an attempt to legitimize blaming other people for the situations in our lives. But it is merely to point out the fact that many of those situations exist only because of the presence of certain people in our lives. We can’t legitimately blame other people for the situations in our lives because we allow their presence in our lives! We are the ones who gave them the boarding pass (permission) to be in our lives!

So, if there is turmoil in your life, it might be a good idea to take inventory of the people you have allowed in your life to see if they are Jonah. How can you tell if they are Jonah? Let’s go back to the biblical story and see if there are some hints.

Note the biblical text reveals that the ship was going in the opposite direction from which Jonah was supposed to be going. The Jonah’s in your life are the people who didn’t really intend to go in your direction; but they are just with you for the ride. They make no real contribution and before you allowed them on board, they weren’t even going in your direction! The Jonah’s in your life are the people who don’t quite fit, but they make superficial adjustments just to be on board.

Jonah paid the fare and immediately went down into the hull of the ship! The Jonah’s in your life are the silent, non-participating, and non-revealing people in your life. They know something about you; but you really don’t know much about them! They are the ones who are always “taking” from the relationship while never making a meaningful contribution.

Jonah went down into the ship and went to sleep! He even slept through the storm! The Jonah’s in your life are the people who sleep through your storms! When you are going through whatever you’re going through, they are mostly detached, uninterested or otherwise unavailable.

And then finally, it was Jonah himself who was the cause of the storm! Because Jonah was attempting to flee from the presence of the Lord, he put innocence people at risk because of his presence on their boat! Beware of letting people into your life and then getting caught up in their drama, which really has nothing to do with you! The cemetery is full of people who are filling an early grave because they allowed certain people into their lives and they got caught up in Jonah’s storm! Many jails are populated with people who made the mistake of letting Jonah get on board and then they got caught up in Jonah’s storm! Whoever you allow in your life; remember their baggage comes with them! Be careful that you don’t suffer the collateral damage of getting caught up in their storms!

When I was a teenager, whenever I would tell my parents about meeting a new friend, the first thing they would ask me was: “Who are their people?” Knowing their folks was a good indication of their character! Every now and then, I would meet someone and my mother would tell me that I didn’t need to associate or be friends with that person because my mother knew that person was a Jonah! We all would do well to check the passenger lists of our various ships to see if we have a Jonah on board. And if we do, it would be wise to get Jonah off the ship!

He Lives! But How?

Empty TombWe have just finished celebrating the Resurrection! The message is: Jesus has been raised from the dead! He is risen! But the question that lingers in the back of my mind is: How is he risen? Now, I don’t mean to question the particular mechanics of the event, such as the exact manner of how God did it, but rather the question seeks to address his present place in our thinking in light of the resurrection.

Many confess the resurrection, but the question on the table for this discussion is: What does that resurrection look like? Allow me to explain! There are many people who will acknowledge the resurrection, but they think of Jesus as merely a historical figure who was raised from the dead who has no bearing on their present everyday lives. To them, the resurrection is merely a historical fact with no contemporary relevance. Jesus was raised from the dead and he lives, but he only lives in history!

And then, there are those who will acknowledge the resurrection, but the Jesus who lives, lives only within the pages of their Bibles! To them, Jesus is alive, but he lives only as a literary figure; much the same way as Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes. The question of the actual historicity of Jesus is not central in their thinking. Jesus lives in their minds as merely a literary character in a book!

And then, there are those for whom Jesus lives only as a mythological figure, on the same plan as Zeus, Thor, and Santa Claus! They have doubts about an actual historical Jesus and are satisfied with the idea of the resurrection being a mere religious myth. In the same vein, there are those who acknowledge a historical Jesus, but view the resurrection only as a religious myth. Many of these same people will acknowledge Jesus as a great moral teacher on the same plane as Confucius, Aristotle and Plato.

There is also, what I would call, the nominal Christians. These people celebrate the resurrection, but in reality Jesus is alive only in their hearts! He is an internal source of comfort and inspiration for them, but that is the extent of his present life as far as they are concerned.

But what is the truth of the resurrection? Well, according to the Bible, Jesus is alive and well and even now sits at the right hand of power! He is not a mere influence or memory, but rather he is the Living Lord who is directing and guiding the people of his Kingdom! He was raised early that 3rd-day morning and is alive forever more! And one day, that same Jesus that was raised from the tomb, will come back to this earth again in the consummation of history as we know it!

It short, his “aliveness” is not restricted to the pages of history, mythology, memory, or even the hearts of those who believe in him. His life is independent of all those factors for he has life within himself! Yes! He lives! Independent of our thoughts or opinions! He lives as Lord! Paul put it so eloquently when he wrote: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phi 2:6-11 KJV)

Honoring Our Word

word

There is a refrain repeated over and over again in the first chapter of Genesis: “And God said, let there be. . .” I don’t think the author was just repeating this for merely stylistic reasons. The authors wanted to emphasize the fact that this physical world was brought into existence via the power of God’s spoken word! The Bible says: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV) Even now, the world as we know it is sustained by the power of God’s word!

But the purpose of this post is not so much to talk about the power of God’s word, but rather the power of our word! Let me show you what I’m talking about. The same record that tells us that this world was created by the spoken word of God, also tells us that we (mankind) were created in the image and likeness of God and given dominion over the earth. Now anything that is created in the image and likeness of something or someone, also shares the characteristics and traits of the someone or something that created it! Hence, just as God has creative power in his word, we also have limited creative (or re-creative) power in our word! Therefore just as God honors and respects his word we should honor and respect of our word! Jesus said: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Mat 12:36 KJV) In that text, the Greek word that is translated as “idle” has the connotation of “non-working, empty or vain.” The point is that we should make every word we speak work for us and not against us! We should not talk just to hear ourselves talking, but rather we should be thoughtful and intentional with the words we speak. We should honor and respect our word in the same manner that God honors and respects his word.

Well, how do we do this? Here are just a few practical steps to help us become more intentional in making our word work for us to our advantage:

  1. Speak only the truth and do not lie! Lying is so detrimental to the integrity of our word because our words were designed to disclose the content of our hearts and to relay the intentions of our wills. Lying causes confusion and is an improper use of our words! And besides that, lying puts us on God’s hate list (See Proverbs 6: 16-19). In addition, lying makes us more like the devil, who is described in the Bible as the “Father of lies!”
  2. Say what you mean and mean what you say! Don’t use your word to deliberately mislead; be intentional in using your word to convey your will and intention because that’s how God employs his word! Speak intentionally and deliberately: Don’t just talk to hear yourself talking or just to be saying something!
  3. Use your word to build up; not to tear down! The ole nursery rhyme that said: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” was not accurate! Words can wound the spirit and break the will! Words can inspire, they can also discourage! Words can build up and they can also tear down!
  4. Speak what you want; don’t speak what you don’t want! Jesus said in Mark 11:23: “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. (Mar 11:23 KJV). It’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to speak to God about the mountain; he told his disciples to talk to the mountain (about God?). It could very well be the reason many times our situations don’t get any better is because we keep talking to God about the problem, rather than speaking to the problem.
  5. Your word is too important and powerful for jesting and foolish talking! Keep joking to a minimum! Honor the intentional power of your word!

Don Miguel Ruiz writes, in his work: “The Four Agreements,” “The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word . . . Why your word? Your word is the power you have to create. Your word is the gift that comes directly from God….Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything.” The Bible says: “In the beginning was the word. . .” Of course the scripture reference is the Word Incarnate: Jesus of Nazareth. But it also expresses a principle of life: Everything in our lives begins with a word, therefore, we should not only honor the word of God, but we should also honor the word of the creatures made in the image and likeness of God! We should honor our word!

Concerning Spiritual Gifts

spiritual gifts

Paul said to the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians 12:1, that he did not want them to be ignorant; that is unknowing and uninformed, about spiritual gifts. However, thousands of years later, it seems that there still remains a pervasive ignorance among the Body of Christ concerning the spiritual gifts. What is a spiritual gift? Simply put, a spiritual gift is ability or disposition given to the believer by the Holy Spirit when the believer is born of the Spirit. In other words, just as a person is born with certain abilities, gifts, and talents, when a person is “born again,” that person is given spiritual gifts and abilities by the Holy Spirit. Now, I’ve often heard church people say of people gifted with the ability to sing and do other things in worship and ministry, that the person is anointed or gifted by the Holy Spirit to do what they do. But according to the Bible, singing is not a spiritual gift; it is a natural gift and ability! (Of course when one is saved, God does enhance natural gifts and abilities as they are yielded to His control) A spiritual gift is that which is only given by the Holy Spirit to those who have been born again!

There is a non-exhaustive list of the spiritual gifts given in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and 1 Corinthian 12:28-31. We might take note that the gifts listed in the last reference (1 Cor. 12:28-31) are actually people! God gives us gifts and we are gifts ourselves! Now, I used the term “non-exhausted” to denote the fact that there are spiritual gifts given by God that are not on these lists.

After studying the spiritual gifts, I have discovered some principles that might help us in our understanding of how to operate the gifts. I call these the Spiritual Gifts Principles:

  1. Every believer has at least one spiritual gift
  2. No one believer has all of the gifts
  3. The gift is not for or about the one it is given to
  4. The gift is for others
  5. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts as He sees fit
  6. The gift cannot be earned or deserved
  7. The gift is to be used in ministry

There is so much more to be said about the subject of the spiritual gifts, but this was just a short introduction to shed a little light on the subject and to provide direction for more intensive study.

Contribution vs Commitment

chicken and pig

What is needed in the Christian world today is people who are willing to make a commitment! However, most of our churches are filled with people who are only willing to make a contribution! What is the difference between contribution and commitment? The answer is perfectly illustrated in a story I read recently in Tony Evans’ book: The Kingdom Agenda.” Evans writes: “I like the story of the chicken and the pig who were walking down the street one day when they came to a grocery store with a sign in the window that read: ‘Bacon and Eggs Desperately Needed.’ The chicken looked at the pig and said, ‘I’ll give them the eggs if you’ll give them the bacon.’ The pig stared at the chicken and replied, ‘No way!’ The chicken asked, ‘Why not!’ The pig replied, ‘Because for you it’s just a contribution, but for me it’s total commitment!”

That’s the way it is with many so-called Christians today! They willing to give God an “egg” here and there (church attendance and financial contributions) and they think they’ve given enough! But God is not seeking contributions; God wants total commitment! In Romans 12:1, the Apostle Paul wrote: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (KJV) From this verse it is obvious that God wants total commitment, not just token contribution! The term “living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. If something is alive; it is not a sacrifice because in the Jewish sacrificial system, there could be not sacrifice given unless a life was taken. Therefore a “living sacrifice” is a call to present God a living dead thing! A life that is dead to self, sin and the world, but alive to God, the Spirit, and the will of God! Jesus described total commitment this way: He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me daily!” In the days of Jesus, the cross was the instrument of death. Denying self and taking up one’s cross was a call to die! This call is echoed in one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book: “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer wrote: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him, come and die!”

So the question today is this: Are you willing to only make contributions to the cause of Christ or are you willing to make a total commitment with your life? I believe God wants total commitment! He did no less for us! The record says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Begotten Son!” The Son so loved that He gave his life! We ought to so love that we give our all in total commitment to Him! There are many Christians today who long for the power and peace that the Word promises, but their lives are filled with anxiety and fear! The reason for this lack of peace and power is the lack of commitment! The problem and the solution was well articulated by a song-writer of old:

You have longed for sweet peace,

And for faith to Increase

And have earnestly, fervently prayed;

But you cannot have rest,

Or be perfectly blest,

Until all on the altar is laid.

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?

Your heart does the Spirit control?

You can only be blest,

And have peace and sweet rest,

As you yield Him your body and soul!

 

 

The Land of the Living Dead!

living dead

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a horror and science fiction fan. Now, while some may see this as a conflict of interest in regard to my Christian faith, nevertheless, through the years I have found that being a viewer of Star Trek and horror movies has provided some good fodder for deep theological illustrations and insights and such is the case with this post.

I was reading the Epistles the other day when it suddenly dawn upon me that we are living in the land of the living dead! Let me show you what I’m talking about! In Ephesians 2:1, Paul informed the Ephesians that God had “quickened” (Old English word meaning; “made alive”) them who were once dead in their trespasses and sins. In Romans 6:2, Paul asked his readers: How could they who were; “dead to sin” live any longer in sin? Do you see that? According to Paul, the person who is not saved is “dead in sin” and in a sense “dead to God!” They are physically alive, but they are spiritually dead! On the other hand, the person who is saved is “dead to sin” and alive to God! The saved person is physically and spiritually alive, but is dead to sin! When we were lost, we were dead in sin! Once we are saved, we are dead to sin!

Therefore, everyone alive in the world today is, in a sense, a living dead person! The person who is not saved is alive to sin, but dead to God. The person who is saved is dead to sin, but alive to God! We are all, alive and dead at the same time! As a consequence, in this case, truth is stranger than fiction! Now, don’t go home and lock yourself in your closet! The zombies are not coming to get you! But, just know that every day you live; you are living in the land of the living dead!

The Source of Your Theology

theologySeveral years ago, I was invited to preach at a church where a friend and a fellow seminary classmate served as pastor. As we sat in his office, preparing to go out into the sanctuary for the worship experience, he informed me that he had a member present in the congregation that night who had some mental issues that might serve to be a distraction for me as I preached. He told me not to take anything the member said during the sermon personally or seriously because whatever the member said during my discourse would most likely be because of his mental issues. (It was a predominantly African-American congregation, therefore, it was OK and expected for the congregation to help the preacher preach! Can I get a witness?) Well, as I was preaching, sure enough, the member started blurting out in a disturbing manner. I don’t remember exactly what I was saying, but I will never forget what that member said! I had made, what I thought at the time was a profound statement, when that member loudly asked: “Where did you get those facts?” Now, because the pastor had fore-warned me, I was able to ignore the outburst and keep preaching without being taken aback. But, as I drove home that evening, that question wouldn’t go away and I found myself asking myself: “Where indeed did I get those facts?”

Many times we often say things we’ve heard other people say and we take them as gospel-truths when their validity may indeed be suspect. This is especially true when it comes to matters of faith and theology. We will often take the word of a preacher or a television evangelist as being a gospel-fact and not verify it for ourselves. When we do this, by default we adopt the theology of the speaker as our own and consequently neglect to exercise the due diligence to work out our own theology.

Now, you might be saying at this point; “That’s all well and good because I am not a theologian anyway!” You may not be a theologian by profession or training, but everyone engages in the theological process. The word “theology” literally means “god (theo)-study (logy)” Theology is the study of God. In its most primary definition, theology simply means; the study of “what you think about God.”

So, what do you think about God and what is the source of those thoughts? Do they come solely from your pastor or some other preacher? Do they come from what you heard your parents say, from your traditions or from common folk-lore? You’d be surprised, but there are many people today who form their theology from the gospel music they hear on the radio! A typical example of this is the belief that when praises go up; blessings come down! This notion didn’t come from scripture, but rather from a gospel song! Nevertheless, I have heard it preached by some preachers as gospel truth!

No matter where you get your ideas about God, the only true and real source is the Bible! However, even when the Bible is your source, you must be sure to correctly interpret and correctly apply what you read! We all would do well to engage ourselves in the task of rightly dividing (correctly interpreting and applying) the Word. Wherever and whenever we hear the word preached, taught, or otherwise discussed, we should adopt the attitude and practice of the believers who lived in Berea during the days of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17:11 we read:  “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” (NLT) Now this is not to suggest that we should become overly skeptical in regard to what we hear, but rather that we should learn to become critical (analytical) thinkers. When it comes to your spiritual well-being, don’t take any person’s word for it just because of who they are or what position they might have. Be like the Bereans. Listen eagerly and intently, then search and study the Scriptures for yourself to see if what they are saying is really the truth!