Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God

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Pandemic Perspective – Part 136 Consider the Cost and Consequence of Disobedience – Part 1

Jonah 1:1-3 

“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.” 3 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.

Have you ever just wanted to run away? Well you are not alone because we have probably all felt like trying to escape from our circumstances at some point in our lives. As I visit with those in the ministry, especially pastors they will often say, “sometimes I just want to run away.” Partly because it is hard trying to please so many and the weight one can carry trying to care for them along with the feeling of responsible that comes with so many lives. Sometimes even preachers want to run away from the pressure. When you consider all the jokes about how little pastors work, it’s funny to consider what many preacher’s actually day dream about, having 9 to 5, five days a week job. The point is that we all entertain the thought of escaping at some time in our lives. In the book of Jonah we find such a man, one who didn’t just dream about running away he actually did. Jonah ran from responsibility, and the revealed Word of God. This is a story about someone very much like us; it’s a story of struggle between the Fathers clear call and Jonah’s callous feelings. It is here that we see Jonah wrestling over the Will of God, his deliberate disobedience, and the reckless rejection of his calling. It involves problems, pouting, pursuit and prayer, but most of all it’s a story about second chances. Now before we jump in we need to note that there are some who interpret the book of Jonah as an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning. But I am convinced that it is an accurate portrayal of literal events, a story that we can both believe and accept as accurate. Why do I believe this, because when the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to prove that what he said was true, Jesus replied in Matt 12:39-40, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” It is here that Jesus used the story of Jonah as a historical illustration of his own literal resurrection. So if we reject a literal interpretation of Jonah we also have to question the legitimacy of the Lord. It is in this passage that we see several important lessons, first:

  • God still speaks and invites us to join Him in His work

Verse one says “The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai” Now we don’t know the specifics on how God spoke, it may have been an audibly voice, like with Adam and Abraham or it could have been in a vision as He did with Ezekiel, or He could have spoken to him in a dream like He did with Joseph. We don’t know how God chose to speak to Jonah but we know that He did. The point is that God’s call is personal and it’s what gives us purpose. The second thing that we see is that when God speaks:  

  • Sometimes we dislike what we hear 

“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” God’s call is clear; there is no guessing at what God wants. God was calling Jonah to take His message of judgment to Nineveh. Yet this is the last place on earth that Jonah thought God would send him and the last place he wanted to go. Nineveh was not a nice place, it had a reputation for corruption and cruelty. It was the Assyrian policy to never keep their prisoners of war alive, if fact they took pleasure in others pain and often skinned their victims alive. God was sending Jonah to preach to his enemies. Sometimes God tells us to do things that we don’t want to do and often our reaction is one of wanting to rebel and run away. Instead of responding in obedience we feel like turning around and running in the opposite direction as fast as we can. Is God calling you to care about those you tend to see as something of a challenge? Maybe it’s that person at work who is having problems and God is laying it on your heart to talk to them, yet your first response is “Lord, I absolutely positively don’t want to do this. First of all, who am I to tell anyone how to live their life, I mean it’s really none of my business, and secondly why should I have to deal with this mess, it’s not really my problem. Besides they will probably just get defensive and mad at me and I don’t want to waste my time, so why don’t I just pray form a safe distance? Maybe it’s that person you know who has no friends, you see them every day and God is calling you to befriend them. But you’re thinking, “Lord, there’s a reason why they don’t have any friends, why can’t you just send someone else!” Maybe it’s that person who’s a little rough around the edges and God’s been putting them on your heart but you’re thinking, “What do I have in common with them, they are probably not interested in Jesus. What if they just drag me down spiritually into their mess, I really don’t want or need their garbage in my life.” You need to come to grips with the fact that you may not like God’s call. But when we read that Jonah was commissioned by God to go to Nineveh, it ought to remind us of our call to take the gospel to the godless. How obedient are you to the great commission? Many of us are more like Jonah, we want to defy God when He calls us to go and we want to say no. 

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Pandemic Perspective – Part 135 Grace Grumblers – Part 2

Matthew 20: 1-16

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. 3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ 7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ 8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ 16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

The parable begins with God’s generosity but despite God’s goodness and grace next we see the:

  • Grumblers 

Instead of being grateful for God’s grace these people grumbled. When the day drew to a close and it came time to pay the workers Jesus began with the ones most recently hired, paying them what one would usually get for a full day’s work. This created not just an excitement but an expectation for the ones who had worked all day. They thought that if he paid the late ones that much he would obviously pay them even more for all their hard work. Their excitement was short lived; in fact, they were pretty upset when they got the same pay working all day as those who had only worked one hour. Despite His gracious provision they chose to complain because they suffered from jealousy and spiritual narrow mindedness. Jesus directed this parable at Peter and the disciples who thought that since they had come in at the very beginning, at the ground floor so to speak, that they should receive greater benefits. Verse 10 tells us that when “those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more” There is a word for this it’s called entitlement and it will mess us up every time. We too will get messed up when we believe that we deserve the blessings based on our good work instead of God’s grace. You see if we want to deal with merits and entitlements then we also have to include demerits. The bigger question that we need to ask is, do we really want what we deserve? If it’s a wage that we want from God, then the Bible says that our salary is already figured out for us. If we want to be rewarded for our merit and compensated for our work, then Romans 6:23 reminds us of our pay: “For the wages of sin is death…” But, if we want to receive what God wants to freely give us, then we must look at last part of the verse: “but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God wants to offer you something far greater than just compensation. I don’t know about you but I want God to deal with me on the basis of grace not on what I deserve. These jealous murmurers didn’t complain because they received too little they grumbled because of what the other workers received. Their problem was that they though they deserved more. They were not thankful for what they got because they were so focused on what others were getting. We need to stop focusing on what we have been given and focus on the giver. When you focus on the Giver you see what you have been given as a gift. But when you focus on what everyone else has been given you grumble.  Are you grateful or are you a grumbler? Instead of a heart of gratitude to God they grumbled, instead of joy they were jealousy. Instead of comparing our blessings to someone else’s we ought to develop an attitude of gratitude for grace. This faulty thinking put them in danger of serving God for temporal treasure instead of eternal gain. When we murmur we end up missing the message of God’s grace. Jesus reminds us of two fundamental things we seem to so easily forget. First it’s His to give away not ours to demand, “Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money?” Their perception was that this was unfair but the landowner was not being unfair for he had given them what they had agreed upon. It was his money and he could be generous if that is what he chose to do. This parable teaches us that grace is received not deserved. There is nothing that we can do that will put us in a position where we deserve God’s grace. What would have been fair would have been to pay the later workers less or pay those who had worked all day more. But grace is not about fairness it’s about mercy. God loves us and mercifully gives us so much more than we deserve, yet so often our response to mercy is moaning. Second why would we chose jealousy and not joy when He is kind to others? “Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?” God’s grace focuses on the Father not fairness. How do you think those hired second reacted to God’s grace? As far as we know the first workers were the only ones rebuked for complaining so it would stand to reason that those hired later went home with Joy. You see there is an interesting difference between the first workers and the latter, those hired early who went to work after negotiating a wage; and those hired later went to work without a contract, choosing to trust the goodness of the master. Unlike the first workers who wanted a contract, (Verse 2 “He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work”) the last workers trusted His goodness (verse 4 “So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard.”) Because they trusted His goodness, they got His Grace and his uncalled for generosity and went home joyfully. Are you guilty of grumbling over grace? Have you gotten caught up in focusing on fairness instead of the Father? Are you so busy looking at the blessings of others that you are missing His mercy in your life? We will either be concerned with His blessing or consumed with bitterness. When it comes to serving God we need to stop creating contracts and start trust His heart.  Just as the landowner came looking for workers who were in desperate need, so God came looking for us because of our desperate need, sending His one and only Son, Jesus Christ to come and save us. Why do we live thankless lives today, because we have stopped focusing on amazing grace? It’s hard to see grace when you are grumbling and you are either going to focus on the grace or grumbling. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking grace for granted? I encourage you to stop and ponder the words to the song “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton, a man who came to know God’s amazing grace. We may sing about amazing grace but do we soak in it, I think we would rather lip sync about grace than live it. So take some time today to not only read this song of grace but to soak in His grace.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me….

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now, I see.

T’was Grace that taught…

my heart to fear.

And Grace, my fears relieved.

How precious did that Grace appear…

the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares…

we have already come.

T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…

and Grace will lead us home.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years…

bright shining as the sun.

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise…

then when we’ve first begun.

The Lord has promised good to me…

His word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be…

as long as life endures.