In Matthew 15:9, Jesus presented our working definition of religion for this three week series. Here it is, "Man-made ideas taught as commands of God." The worship that came from these man-made ideas he described as a "farce." Those who used their man-made ideas to cancel the word of God he called "hypocrites." They claimed to be following God, but worked very hard to put their self-serving agendas ahead of God and his word. As much as I may want to throw stones at the religious leaders who constantly harassed Jesus, I find versions of their problems lurking in my own heart. What about you? Additionally, some of us believe something presented as "God's word" but is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Yikes! Finally and sadly, some of us have rejected a pursuit of Jesus based upon misinformation about what that means. Our goal this series is to highlight these three problems Jesus had with religion and to make sure neither we nor others fall victim to them.

 

Three Stands

From the very beginning God created us to be relational. First and foremost, he desires for us to be in relationship with himself. Second, he desires for us to be in relationship with each other. These relationships are to run deep. Of all of our relationships with each other, the marriage relationship is to be the deepest. God's description being a relationship of "oneness." So, what are some of the evidences of a deep relationship? What difference does it make for Jesus to be at the center of these relationships? Buckle up! Invite your friends! This conversation is one we simply can't afford to miss.
 
Take Two. God charges Jonah once again to go to Nineveh. He complies this time. His obedience doesn't surprise us as he and God had a real heart to heart in the fish's belly. What surprises us is the response of the Ninevites. After Jonah tells them God is about to destroy them, they don't hang Jonah or even laugh him out of town. They believe his message! So much so, they repent of their wickedness and call for a fast humbling themselves before God. And then...Well, you'll have to come this weekend for the rest of the story. 
 
I don't know what it's like to ride in a fish's stomach for three days, but apparently it was enough to get God's runaway prophet back on track. He abandoned his efforts to run the other direction at least with his feet. Sitting in the dark of that stomach provided him with ample opportunity to pray. Some of his prayer is recorded for us in the second chapter of Jonah. What can we discern about Jonah's heart and mind from his prayer? As a mirror, can it help us get a better perspective of ours? 

They were just minding their own business. Another night out with the sheep. Same old same old right? If a terrifying angel shining with the glory of the Lord is business as usual, then yep, business as usual. Once the angel calmed them down, he gave them THE news. God's promised Messiah just landed. In Bethlehem. A baby. In cloths. In a manger. A big ole angelic choir beamed in to provide back-up. Then, they were gone. Now what? You guessed it. The search was on. Did they find the baby? Did they find what they were looking for or perhaps what they didn't know they were looking for?

It's amazing how prevalent the theme of searching is during the Christmas season. We search for gifts. We search for plane tickets and rental cars. We search for warm experiences and fun activities. We search for a pause, for connection, for peace. "Joy to the world!" proclaimed the angel. Where do we go to find some of that? The Christmas story is filled with searching as well. There was searching for a king, a baby, a fulfilled promise. Some searched for answers, others for confirmation, and still others for someone to tell. Hmm ... what are you searching for this Christmas? I invite you to make this December series a priority. Maybe, just maybe, as we consider all the searching that took place that first Christmas, we may find what we've been looking for. 

Most of us have been in that frustrating situation where someone is telling us a story that we were a part of, but we simply do not remember. It's not a good feeling. While most of these occurrences are not indicating a mental decay, they serve as a tangible reminder of our propensity to forget. We need to remember, especially what God has done in our lives. Why? Remembering God's faithfulness in the past steels our resolve and courage in the present and in the future. As we conclude our very brief survey of Numbers this week, we consider one of God's oft repeated commands that powerfully preserves our memories - give thanks.

When it comes to a task or an assignment, we all have had to contend with "almost." Almost done. Almost fixed. Almost clean. Almost ready. You get the point. In our conversation this Sunday, we see the people of Israel almost to God's Promised Land. Moses' sister has died and the people barely give him time to grieve before the complaining begins again. Here at the finish line, God gives Moses and Aaron clear instructions which they almost obey. If the choice is between being a strong starter or a strong finisher, the Biblical record is clear, finish strong. Better still, be both!  

How hard is it to celebrate another's healing miracle when we didn't get ours? When someone else gets the job? When someone else's womb is full? When someone else's baby makes it to term and is alive and healthy? When someone else's addiction is broken? When someone else no longer suffers under the dark clouds of depression? When someone else's spouse is faithful and loving? The "no" answer from God has rocked the faith of so many of us. The pain overwhelms all our theological explanations leaving us in an emotional quagmire that we simply cannot think our way out of. Perhaps it is fitting that we conclude our series on Failing Faith in a graveyard. Now what Jesus? Now what?

I Doubt It

Many people today are very quick to mock the Bible. Global flood, a talking donkey, walking on water, invisible God, dead people being raised to life..."Seriously, does anybody really believe this stuff?" they scoff. Self, cynicism and skepticism are the idols of choice in our secular humanistic culture. The net effect of this continuous barrage from our world forces us to face the reality of our doubts. Thankfully, Jesus never ran off the honest doubter. The most famous one was one of his disciples, Thomas. He asked Peter, "Why did you doubt?" He encouraged them to move past doubting to belief, but he never belittled them as they struggled to get there. This week, we'll eavesdrop on this extremely poignant moment where Thomas and Jesus meet after the resurrection, the doubter and his Savior.

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