12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:12-13
Jesus didn’t trash the place as some would describe. It’s why most refer to it as the cleansing of the Temple not the destruction or vandalization. Jesus simply put His house in order. Why? Because human brokenness and corruption had turned it into something it was never intended to be.
Worshippers who deeply loved God and who at great personal cost had traveled to Jerusalem were being taken advantage of by white collar thieves.
These abuses of the poor and the racketeering done by the leadership turned Jesus’ sadness into Holy indignation. Can you imagine coming home to find a bunch of people partying and messing with your stuff? You would be angry too. So quoting scripture from the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah “God says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations and you have turned it into a robbers den.’”
What Jesus did was to reclaim the space for those who truly wanted to worship God. Jesus forcefully and symbolically removed the barriers humans erected that kept people from worshipping God. This is ultimately why Jesus came to earth. Our sin separates us from God and only Jesus can remove it. Jesus can reclaim the parts of your life where brokenness and sin have tried to move Him out.
Jesus had every right as God to do what he did. God once dwelt on earth in the tabernacle, at that time, He dwelt on earth in the temple as well as in the person of Jesus. Upon the sending of His Holy Spirit, He made any man made structure obsolete. Through his Spirit He now takes up residence on earth in the hearts of his followers.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you may already know this: 1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us; “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.”
Even if you didn’t know it then I would guess you have sensed it. The temple of God is no longer made of stone, we are all living, breathing temples of the Holy God. So this begs the question, if you truly are the temple of God, and Jesus was to walk into his temple:
What barriers are in your life that are crowding out true worship of God?
How have you let, things, and stuff clutter up your life making true worship almost impossible?
Think about your life. “What needs to go?”
If Jesus was going to clear you as his temple, what would he have to remove to make space for worshiping him?
If you gave Jesus full access to your heart what would He clean out to make room for worshipping Him?
“By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)
Faith is great. It is the only place to start. Without faith, you have no starting place. All good things that we do in the name of Christ are hinged on faith. Many of us stop at a profession of faith in our lives without ever moving to obedience. We say we love Jesus, which is easy to do, but doing the will of God requires a level of commitment that few people ever reach.
Many of us actually create our own version of God’s will. We even do it based on what the Bible says. We act obedient and moral, and on the outside, we look like the real thing, but on the inside we can still be angry, bitter and even unloving. God has a tremendous call on our lives to make a difference and we try to buy Him off with good behavior. God could be saying tell your neighbors about Jesus and we say how about I just put a fish on my car and don’t cuss.
Jesus died on a cross for our sins, and that should drive us to courageous and loving actions rooted in deep gratitude — nothing less. Did Jesus really suffer the agony of the cross for us to simply give him “good behavior?” The cross frees us for far more rebellious acts against this dark world than mere moralism.
The story of Jonah is a great example of compassion. The compassion God had for the Ninevites is remarkable. This was not a prophet of God going to the people of God and lovingly calling them to repentance. This was God reaching out to a group of people who did not believe in Him. Even though Jonah did everything in his power to avoid going, God orchestrated events to place him exactly where he needed him to be and he delivered the message.
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Jonah 3:4
I’m sure Jonah had made incredible assumptions about the Ninevites. They are horrible people. Of course God hates them. There is no way they will listen. Jonah wanted them to be punished.
But regardless of what was happening in his spirit, God’s message was very clear. And the people of Nineveh believed God. Jonah 3:5
The Spirit of the Lord transcended the words of Jonah’s mouth and spirit and became acceptable to the ears and hearts of the listeners. The message that Jonah delivered was about destruction. The message that they received was about undeserved grace. The King called for personal and community repentance.
Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:8-9
There is a good reason that we worry too much about how people will receive our message. It’s because we think it is our message. Our message may be weak, unloving and judgmental. Fortunately, this was never about Jonah and his message. It was about God’s desire to show compassion to a group of people.
If God is calling you to reach out to someone and your assumption is that they are too far gone or that they don’t want to hear your message, you need to know two things. Where you are called to go, God’s Holy Spirit is already there. Where He asks you to go, He already has a plan for you to share His message.
Looking at Old Testament heroes really challenges me. It shows me that as followers of Jesus, you and I should be attempting greater things on behalf of the God of the Universe. And while nearly all of our biblical figures made mistakes, they made them within the context of attempting the miraculous. I have tied to make this point over and over in the previous weeks. The Bible consistently shows us ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things by God’s power.
When we are brave and we act on behalf of God out of obedience, we have every reason to expect that God will provide a victory. Psalm 46:1 reads God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. I think our lives would look a whole lot more courageous and obedient if we actually believed that God is our strength.
I was watching a message the other day on youtube by Pastor Carl Lentz and while he challenged me in many ways, much of his message broke down to this. “It doesn’t matter what you say about yourself, or what you do in life, who you are is who Jesus is to you.” -Carl Lentz Who is Jesus to you?
You can’t escape that question. 1. If Jesus is just some guy that lived and taught some great things about how to treat the poor a couple thousand years ago, then that Jesus will have little affect on my day to day life. 2. If Jesus was God, and came to earth, and died on a cross for my sins, was raised to life, and is coming back to judge everyone and to separate those who believe in him from those who reject him, then that Jesus will have a profound impact on my daily living. Who is Jesus? Actually, your life answers that question every single day. We just fail to observe the data and draw logical conclusions. I don’t think we actually want to know.
Most of us say we believe in the second Jesus and live like we believe in the first one. We say we care for the poor, but do little to understand or lessen their plight. We say we want justice, but what we really want is what we think we are owed. I pray I never receive justice which is why I am banking on grace. I deserve justice, justice demands that I pay for my sins myself, I don’t want that. I want grace. If you believe in Jesus, live like you do. If Jesus is just some radical teacher then you are free to live under whatever bondage you choose to place yourself under.
When it comes to who Jesus really is to us, it often revealed in our willingness to obey Him. Who Jesus actually is to us will most often be revealed in how we respond when He call us to do something difficult.
When God called Jonah, his actions revealed that he had little faith that God would keep him safe. It is interesting as I look at this story. God had a message of the Ninevites and he wanted Jonah to deliver it. When Jonah heard God speak, there was no mention of Jonah’s well being. I would guess that Jonah would have been more obedient had God said, “And by the way, you are going to live through this.” But no such promise was made. The fact that Jonah might die was a real possibility. As I said on Sunday, Jonah’s response to run from God was not an obedient one, but it was a rational one.
I think we are more willing to obey Jesus when we get a guarantee of safe passage. But God doesn’t often tell us how it is going to turn out, he just tell us how and when to obey.
In what ways can you be more obedient when God puts a challenge in front of you?
Do you find yourself looking for guarantees of success when you are deciding whether or not to follow God’s call on your life?
In the message on Sunday we learned that Elijah had pretty much given up and asked God to take his life. He was done! I know that many of us have been there as various points in life. But fortunately, God reaches out to us.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 1 Kings 19:5-6 NIV
At the lowest point of Elijah’s life, God goes to him and cares for him, not in a general way, but in a very specific way. God doesn’t address Elijah’s doubts, failures and fears, he lovingly meets his needs by simply showing him that he is still there.
This is a beautiful picture of God’s unchanging nature. The Almighty God of the Universe, maker of heaven and earth, consistently and lovingly offers himself to us in our greatest times of need. Unlike humans, He does not harbor bitterness when we offend Him, He still loves us and comes to us. 1 John 4:9-10 shows how He also did this through Jesus.
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 NIV
I wish the story ended with Elijah getting some food, taking a nap and getting back to the work of God. But God went to him again and said get up and eat. After this he went on a 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb found a cave and went back to feeling sorry for himself. God then said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Upon hearing the voice of God, strangely he didn’t get up and get to work, he started with a sob story. God, I have done so much for you, but I’m so alone, no one likes you either God, there is no one left but me and everybody wants to kill me. So God said to him;
“Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV
Now on a different mountain, God reveals himself and his glory in a whole different way. God was not in the wind, He was not in the earthquake, and He was not in the fire. While the point on Mt. Carmel was to show himself in spectacular ways, He is now choosing to show himself in a low whisper.
Do you ever find yourself desiring to find God in the miraculous ways to the point that you may often miss him in the little things?
Elijah did at least one thing right here even if he was acting out of cowardice? He removed himself from the chaos.
Are you intentional about removing yourself from the aspects of life that may drown out the voice of God speaking to your heart?
What kind of practical things can you do to begin to quiet your life so that you can hear the voice of God?
Elijah had a tough battle but he was no super hero. However, he was heroically obedient. The Bible consistently shows us ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things by God’s power. What better way for God to put His power and might on display than by using a broken, flawed individual to accomplish His purpose? He continues to do that today in ordinary people just like you and me.
Elijah challenges the people of Israel with a question that we all need to ask ourselves. Its a question of devotion. Possibly an invitation to leave the double life of trying to please God and ourselves. Its the same indictment that was handed down to the people that James was writing to when he said;
…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4
The words of Elijah go like this;
21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21
I love that imagery: limping. When you limp, something is very wrong. You are injured, you cannot function properly. We don’t want to limp, but something broken or injured is slowing us down. When we try to serve God and do whatever we want, its as if we are limping through life. It happens to all of us. We desperately want to love Jesus with our whole heart, but we fall into patterns of selfishness and sin and we stumble and fall.
Jesus made it clear centuries later in case we don’t fully comprehend what Elijah is saying. You can’t serve two masters.
Far too often in my life I can look back and see times and places in my life when I was limping and stumbling through my faith. As you look at your life, does it feel like you are spiritually limping? If so, what is the cause? What do you need to take to God? Where are you making compromises? What do you need to leave behind?
Hebrews 12:1 urges us to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
Life may be very difficult at times, and we may need to part ways with things that bring us comfort by deny us growth. However, when our heart is set on Christ, he will better equip us to deal with the difficult realities in front of us and to help us persevere. I have known many people who assume that change is not possible and that God is not interested in changing. I have come to believe the reality that most people don’t turn to God for healing because deep down, they see all that needs to be done and just simply are not willing to make the appropriate changes. God will empower and equip us for change, but he expects us to join Him in the process. Most people are more comfortable with the discomfort they are experiencing daily than the discomfort that will accompany true and lasting life change. As tough as life can be, doing nothing has always been the easiest solution and is by far and away the most popular choice for people.
How is your race going? Are you running? Tell us about your victories. Are you stumbling? What do you need to cast off? Have you stopped running? How can we encourage you to get up and finish the race?
Based on the message from Sunday, (excerpts from 1 Kings 18) I would love to get your feedback on which of the characters that you identified with the most.
As Elijah comes back on the scene it hits me that in three and a half years of famine, Ahab has yet to do enough serious personal reflection to realize that the catastrophe and life difficulties that he is facing are a result of his own disobedience. He calls Elijah the troubler of Isreal when in fact, it was he that was the cause of the drought. Ahab’s disregard for God stemmed from an overwhelming need to please people.
Do you want to serve God more openly but you are afraid that it will make you unpopular with friends and family? Even in business?
Would you be more devoted if it didn't cost you so much relationally, financially and even morally?
Or, like Jezebel;
Are you chasing after false god’s in a lifestyle that can be described as the complete pursuit of self-gratification?
Jezebel ruthlessly sought after the things that she thought would truly make her happy. It made her selfish, manipulative, jealous, and just flat out unaccountable to anyone. While we may not be just like her, there are aspects of each of us that can be eerily similar.
The person that I think many of us can identify with is Obadiah. We are doing a lot of really good things, but we are also making a lot of compromises with the world. We desire to please God but we still want to be comfortable. By hiding the prophets of God, he was courageous, but he also had to make compromises with the prevailing culture to do so. I think he walked the fine line of faith and compromise that many of us walk. What is your character worth?
Nothing good we do in one area of life can ever justify disobedience in other areas.
Are you living a double life where you are two different people depending on the people that you are hanging around with?
What changes do you need to make?
Elijah was obedient and brave. Later we will get a greater sense of his fallen nature, but at this point God said, “Go and stand for me in the midst of a group of people who hate you and blame you for everything that is bad in their life.” Sound fun? Obedience is not always easy. But it is rewarding.
Is there an area of your life where you just need to be obedient to God?
It could be facing an addiction. Having a difficult conversation. Making an apology, forgiving someone. Take a step toward solving the problem.
How can you be more bold, focused on God, consistent and obedient?
In my experience, many people fail to pray because they do not perceive it to be effective. We seem to continue to do the things in life that are effective. If we desire to lose weight and we begin to exercise and nothing happens, we tend to stop exercising. This happens a lot because when we exercise we want immediate results and all we get is immediate pain and fatigue. But it is the long-term commitment to exercise that gives lasting results.
We often pray like we exercise. We want something quickly and pray about it once or twice and then move on because we have seen no immediate results. But that is not the point of prayer. Prayer is about a relationship. A relationship is not a one-sided conversation where all we do is express our needs and desires. Relationships take discipline and so does a prayer life. Relationship is the key to prayer.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16b
When we become followers of Christ, we are given the righteousness of Christ. Righteousness simply means that we are in good standing with God. Being in good standing with God is not something that we can do on our own. Grace is a free gift, so the righteousness that goes with it must also be given. We stand blameless before God not for anything that we do, but for what Christ has already done for us.
Is it fair to say that God is more likely to answer the prayers of a Christian than a non-christian? Yes. The reason that our prayers are more effective as followers of Jesus is that through Jesus, God has removed the barrier to healthy communication that has been caused by our sin. Our relationship with God through Jesus Christ has everything to do with the effectiveness of our prayers.
As you pray this week, seriously consider your relationship with God. It will have a direct impact not just on whether you pray, but how you pray. It is why confession is such a large part of prayer. and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12
Confession is just acknowledging the reality of our sins to God. Though we have been given the righteousness of Christ, it doesn’t mean that our sins don’t occasionally hamper our ability to effectively communicate to God.
What kinds of things can you do make your prayers more effective?
Are there things that others have done to you that you need to forgive so that your prayers may be effective?
Give us examples of ways that you have been able to establish a more healthy prayer life.
How do you think God hears the prayers of a person who has not received grace through Jesus Christ?
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:13-16a
In the very first verse, we see the point that James is trying to make. It is his thesis for the rest of his conclusion. In all things. God. He puts suffering against praise for a very good reason. A heart that is truly centered on God will automatically default to God in any situation. Another main theme in James is individual Godly character. Individual Godly character contributes to a Godly community. While suffering can cause us to feel alienated from God, abundant blessing can equally alienate us from Him by allowing us to believe that we don’t need him. James gives us a quick reminder that no matter how life is going, we need to keep God at the center.
I think a great deal of physical and spiritual healing is being missed in our church because we are not perceived and a safe place for people to land. In many cases, the last place people will go for help for their brokenness is to a church and I don’t blame them. Why do bartenders hear more true and honest confession than most church leaders?
We will find more in common through our losses than we will in our victories. Not all of us will be wealthy, but we will suffer the loss of a loved one. We have all had a broken heart, if you haven’t, wait. Ironically, it is in our brokenness that find unity and solidarity. I think it is because brokenness is a place where jealousy does not exist. I have never looked at a person who is suffering and said, “Man, I wish that would happen to me.” But I do need to say, “How can I enter into their brokenness to offer the hope that they desperately need?”
The church is not a collection of individual believers, it is a body of believers unified with one purpose: To pursue Christ. As a community we can lead one another on to greater expressions of obedience than we could ever achieve on our own as individuals. We can also lead one another to greater levels of personal and spiritual healing than we ever thought possible as well.
Do you see the church as a safe place to take both your victories and struggles? If not, why?
Are you the kind of person that others can come to for loving acceptance, healing, and spiritual care? If not, what needs to change?
In what ways do you see other church members as helpers in your spiritual development?
How can we as the church create an environment where people can not be afraid to fail?
As humans, we are incredibly impatient. We want what we want right now. But patience is learned by being patient. We tend to think that there are ‘patient people’ and there are ‘impatient people’ but patience is a skill that we must all develop.
James does not give any of us an opt-out clause. His words are simple. “Be patient, therefore, brothers (and sisters), until the coming of the Lord.” (verse 7) This is not a request or a suggestion, it is an imperative statement. The word that James used for patience means long-tempered. It literally means “to remain under” — to stay put when your instinct is to give up, run, or quit.
James used three different illustrations as examples of patience. The first is the Farmer.
There is just a natural cycle to a growing season and there is nothing you can do to speed up the process. You plant, you wait, you harvest. But in the waiting there are things to do. To think that a farmer plants in the spring and returns in the fall is foolish. There is a great deal of work that happens in between. Our Spiritual lives too need constant attention if we are to reap a harvest of blessing. When you are trying to develop spiritual disciplines like patience, do you give up too quickly?
The second illustration are the Prophets. We should never think that obedience to God means an easy life. Obedience led Jesus to the cross. Many of the Prophets had to endure great suffering. While many were delivered, others died for their obedience. They are now regarded as heroes of our faith. If you are suffering for doing the will of God, you are in good company. Be patient and know that your steadfastness may be the visible evidence that someone else needs to better understand the reality of God.
The third illustration is Job. You cannot endure unless there is difficulty in your life. There is no victory without a battle. Satan wants us to get impatient with God because an impatient Christian is an effective tool for the devil. If he can get us to lose hope and stop trusting in God, then he can get us to trust in ourselves. It is when I do things my way in life that I most often find myself in trouble. Job held his ground and was blessed in the end.
The first question I need to ask myself in suffering is “Why?” Have I been impatient and had unrealistic expectations on God? Is God trying to teach someone else about Himself through my example of patience and humility? Or is my suffering from an external source and God is trying to develop my character by allowing it? Whatever difficulties we are facing in life, God will use them to develop our character if we are willing to be patient and look to Him rather than give up or look to ourselves.
What is your typical response when it comes to dealing with suffering or difficulty? Which of James’ examples do you most identify with? If you are going through a difficult time, what do you think God is trying to teach you or others through it?
Josh Kesler, Senior Pastor
The following is taken directly out of my transcript from Sunday’s message from the book of James.
As followers of Jesus, we become stewards of God’s wealth whether it is a great amount of wealth or small amount. Either way, we have a responsibility to make decisions as to what is the most faithful thing we can do with the resources that God has entrusted to us. Simply put, regardless of what we have, or how much has been given to us, we must be faithful to use it for the good of others and the Glory of God.
The deep question we each have to ask ourselves when it comes to what we have is who is the true owner, God or me? There is an incredible difference between enjoying the gifts that God has given us and living extravagantly. A couple of months ago, I was at a football game next to a professional sports photographer who I have come to know. At one point during the game, he needed to change his camera lens and go to the upper deck to take a panoramic photo. He handed me his regular lens which was about a foot long, 5 inches in diameter and worth more than I could pay to replace it. You can be certain that I held it with both hands and did not lose sight for a minute. I had been entrusted with something of value that did not belong to me.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. Psalm 24:1
Even the things that we think we control belong to God. This extends beyond our stuff, even to people. I forget that even my children belong to God and have been given to me to steward well into adulthood. Oh yeah… and all of my relationships including the ones I have yet to build. All people belong to God, and it would be wise for me to treat God’s possessions with the respect and dignity they deserve. All of this reflects the fact that stewardship goes far beyond finances and wealth. Regardless of what we have, God says, “hang on to this, I’ll be back for it.” We can never lose sight for a minute that what we have been entrusted with does not belong to us.
If you have a giving problem, it’s probably because you have an ownership problem. Here are a couple of questions for you to answer that may help you better determine how you actually feel about giving/stewardship/generosity.
What does the term stewardship mean to you?
Where do you draw the line between enjoying what God has given you and living a life of indulgence?
Do you trust more in God’s provision for your future or your material possessions?
I would love to hear how you are wrestling with the ownership battle in your own life. I tend to feel that since I give obediently to my church that the rest of the stuff is mine to do what I want with, including over-indulge. How has the stewardship question challenged how you view “your stuff?”