Welcoming the Christmas Season

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Isaiah 53:1-10

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked– But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

 

 

Thanksgiving is now behind us and the Christmas season is upon us. I hope that, however this may find you, there are many things you could think of to thank God for. It’s a choice, you know, whether we place our focus on what we lack or what we have. It’s a choice to be negative or positive, and whether we will be a help to others or a hindrance. For all of the difficulties we may rehearse, please keep in mind all of the blessings we can give God praise for, and focus on the good. We can thank God for everything, though, because we know as believers that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Take a moment and think over the verses for today from Isaiah 53. These verses are rife with difficulty, aren’t they? When we celebrate the Christmas season, we generally think of a gentle baby lying in a manger and a soft setting surrounding Him. Jesus Christ came into this world in very humbling circumstances and was put on the cross in absolute humiliation by the crowds surrounding Him. Do you think that He knew the words of Isaiah 53 in reference to Himself before He came? Of course He did, He’s the Son of God, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 53 is powerful, in part, because the Lord knew what He was walking into when He came into this world. He knew how He would be treated, how would be misunderstood and sinned against and the incredible injustices He would suffer, even to the point of death. Yet He also knew Whom He was serving: the Father. He knew why He was here: to proclaim salvation and to provide it through His sacrificial death on the cross. He knew the price He would pay, and yet He came and dwelt among men and suffered at their sinful hands to provide us with life and truth.

In bridging Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s often our perspectives that can keep us from seeing how good we really have it. We may only focus on what we don’t have, such fleeting desires at times, only to fail to see that the Lord Jesus Christ, the one spoken of in Isaiah 53, has made Himself our Lord upon faith in Him. How would you respond if you went through the things listed above? Would it drain you of your hope? Would it make you cynical and isolated? Would you complain and fight back? Regardless of what we might do, Jesus went through it all and never wavered in His commitment to the Father’s will or in His perfect character. Isaiah 53 speaks both to the character of Jesus and the character of sinners and the stark contrast between the two. God is so, so good to us despite the ways we have treated Him. Despite our failure to be thankful like we should or to give Him praise or top priority in our lives. His faithfulness to us is the most beautiful thing about our relationship to Him. As Christmas draws near, don’t forget the goodness of God in light of the sinfulness of people just like you and me. Grace is never merited, only freely bestowed upon those God chooses to bless.

Please keep my family and others in your prayers as we had been exposed to COVID a couple days ago. Our love goes out to the church and we hope you are all staying well yourselves.  Thank you.

 

 

60 Bible Verses about Prayer - DailyVerses.net

 

God be with you!

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

Devotional: James 1:9-11 “If I Must Glory”

James 1:9-11

9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation,

10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.

11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

Today’s passage comes with a play on words for both those in humbling circumstances as well as those who are in quite favorable positions. The word pictures throughout the book of James are quite thick in volume; it seems that nearly every couple of verses has some kind of illustration being used to describe biblical truth. James would have been a great model for preaching as he was good at giving visual references in explaining practical theology to make his point. With that being said, let’s look at the text.

 

“Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation.”  BDAG describes “lowly” here as “pertaining to being of low social status or to relative inability to cope.” (BDAG, Bibleworks)  Poverty can be in its most thought of form, financial need, but that isn’t the only way it could be understood. In this passage, we will soon see from verse 10 that it most likely does have wealth or possessions in mind. However a person became “high status” or “low status” in a social context, there are often accompanying traits that go with the territory.

 

The lowly brother should “glory in his exaltation.” The term for glory refers to boasting, essentially bragging or taking pride in something. What is that something, specifically? BDAG defines exaltation here as, “a position of high status.” What a strange play on words. It’s basically saying, “Let the brother of low status brag about his high status.” This can only be understood by further context.

 

“But the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.” Rich is referring to “having an abundance of earthly possessions that exceeds normal experience.” (BDAG, Bibleworks) It’s funny, because “rich” always seems relative to each person defining what that looks like. What should the rich boast about? The word for humiliation means, “to experience a reversal of fortunes.” (BDAG, Bibleworks) Drawing those two definitions together, it is telling us that those with wealth should brag about losing their wealth and therefore, status. 

 

What on earth is the writer getting at? This is all spoken in irony to make a point. The rest of these verses (10-11) speak only of the rich person, not the poor one. It compares the rich man to a flower of the field which will wither away, the flower falling off of the plant and the beauty perishing. Does this mean that the poor man doesn’t also have a fleeting life? No, it absolutely is the poor man’s end, too, except for the fact that all of the luster of the rich man’s life fades with his life. It’s not if they perish, but how they perish.  The poor man has little if any luster to lose and therefore is not diminished so much by fading away. Both are humans, weak and dependent upon the mercy and grace of God when seen at the grave, and it is mortality that brings us all back to the same place. In Job 1:21, he is recorded as saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” 

 

It would be a mistake to look at these verses and to behold wealth with a jaundiced eye or to promote the power of poverty as though it were more noble. In reality, both riches and poverty leave the soul’s greatest need unmet, which is salvation from the wrath of God through justification in His sight. Poverty doesn’t lead to salvation, and wealth doesn’t lead to it, either. Wealth can be deceiving, though, in that it does pose the potential of fooling a person into a false sense of security when eternity is at stake. The preacher Jonathan Edwards from the First Great Awakening said long ago: “Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotted covering.” (Jonathan Edwards, from his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) What he’s saying is that there is a great ignorance towards a very precarious position to be in for all of those who have not found salvation in Jesus Christ; social status has no bearing on that.

 

If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as we see in the Old Testament (Ps. 111:10, Prov. 1:7), then both those who are poor and those who are rich must start with God or there is no hope. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, period. Acts 4:12 states, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

 

Do poor people brag about being poor? Not if they’re sensible; nor would rich people brag about losing all that they possess. Perhaps we should look at a somewhat parallel passage in Philippians 4:11-13: 

 

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 

Paul is glorying neither in prosperity nor poverty, but in Jesus Christ as he writes to the Philippians. Foolishness boasts in positions and circumstances like trophies on a wall, but wisdom boasts in He who can both build up and tear down, the Sovereign Lord.  Yes, we are probably all guilty of putting too much stock in status at times, but it’s something God is working to draw out of us as He changes us (and if you’re like me, we both need a lot of help and polishing). The lots God gives us are for His purposes, and they put us in the paths of others that we might not meet had we been in different circumstances.

James 1 speaks deeply into temptation and trials. From verse 2 until verse 18, the primary emphasis is this very subject. Wisdom (see vv. 5-8) is to look at our lives, whether prosperous or impoverished, and to recognize that this does not speak volumes of our character per se, and especially not of our salvation. Contextually, wealthy people must avoid the temptation to think too highly of themselves because of the possessions they have, as though this informed them of their worth. Rich or poor, our worth comes from the value God has placed upon us and the love He has shown to us in offering His Son to die on the cross for our sins. Don’t let your bank account, the kind of car you drive, the people you know or the achievements you’ve accomplished inform you of your worth; relish the truth that God has mad every believer equally worthy of His forgiveness, faithfulness, blessings and eternal hope. Without God’s justification, it won’t matter how much we have or how many people think we’re wildly amazing.

 

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

 

May God bless you in the reading of today’s devotional.

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:5-8, On Wisdom

 

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

 

 

Let’s look at today’s portion of James 1 under two primary categories: first, a promise, and secondly, a condition. Most promises made in this world are found to be conditional, and while it does happen in the Bible multiple times, it tends to the be unconditional promises that I personally have warmed to the most over the years (predominantly in relationship to salvation and glorification, whose fulfillment are both dependent upon God’s faithfulness and precious grace). We do ourselves a great disservice, though, if we only look at Scriptural promises as only conditional or only unconditional; both are present. It is very easy to presume conditions or to impose conditions where they are not, so our task is always to mine what the Bible says and to avoid the fallacy of assumption. 

 

Verse 5 is following from verse 4, because both use the term “lacking” in connection with each other. In James 1:4, he says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” If you didn’t read last week’s devotional on James 1:1-4, I encourage you to do so as it may be of help in further understanding today’s devotional. 

 

“Perfection” has a couple different uses in this passage, one being of standard (which is they typical way we think of “perfection”) and the other is maturity, either in physical growth or in moral development. Lacking, therefore, was directly linked to the idea of maturity, that a person who is spiritually immature is lacking in certain areas. Think of it especially as it relates to spiritual fruit and spiritual character.

 

Within the realm of maturity as is described in this passage as “perfection” is certainly wisdom. Can you imagine being mature and yet not being wise? No one thinks of a mature person as one who is foolish; the image of a sage is generally pictured as a person who is both mature and wise. 

 

Contextually, we might consider this verse in relationship to Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fearing God, which involves both being aware of His presence and acting reverentially because of it, precede obedience in the face of temptation as well as all types of trials. Little awareness of God and little reverence will always show forth in sinful behavior in response to temptation. No matter the nature of the trial, if God is small to us in the moments of difficulty, we run a constant risk of sinning in response to the adversity that we face.

 

If we are to face temptations or trials with joy (James 1:2), knowing that perseverance produces patience and proven character leading to spiritual maturity, then wisdom is absolutely a part of the package. To lack wisdom, therefore, is to lack part of what it means to be mature, and this will play out in how we live. The promise of this portion of the passage is that if we should lack wisdom, we can “ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him (or her).” 

 

Tackling the wisdom issue as it relates to the passage, there is a great need for wisdom in how we should live in light of adversity, be it from without or from within. We don’t always know how to be when things are hard or we face long-term battles of heart idolatry, and this is where asking for wisdom from God is tied to how we should think, feel, and live. Most of us find ourselves in increasingly difficult circumstances, some very unique, feeling like greenhorns and rightly so. God has prepared us for trusting Him through trials and temptations by being available, not necessarily by always giving us the “how-to” for some of those problematic areas that we enter into. Remember this: God has given us what we need for what we face, which should force us to look at what we have when we’re in some state of vulnerability. 

 

Now, please remember that wisdom can be as simple as having the smarts to know yourself and how you react habitually within certain environments. There are many things that we do without even thinking about it, especially within certain contexts that are familiar, that take our minds places, move us to do certain behaviors repeatedly and so forth, and wisdom can be as simple as God helping us to grow in self-awareness and changing how we respond.

 

Let’s further break down just a few of the terms from verse 5 to help us understand what is being said. First of all, wisdom: this is “the capacity to understand and act accordingly” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Note that there is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom: we can know a lot but not apply it, and that would essentially make us smart fools. Wisdom, biblically speaking, is the act of both knowing what to do and doing what we know to do. 

 

Secondly, “liberally” means: “sincerely or openly” (BDAG, Bibleworks) Even more so here, it is listed in BDAG as “without reservation.” God doesn’t hold back on the things that would help us. 

 

If you recall, it’s the same book, the book of James, where it also says, “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3) The same book that tells us that God gives liberally and without reproach to those who ask also says that some people don’t have because they ask amiss to spend their requests on their own pleasures. This means that God is invested in giving us what would be good for us: what would benefit us and not hurt our relationship to Him in the process. Prayer, therefore, is not just about asking, but also about aligning, and when we align with God’s purposes, we will find that we will want more of what He wants for us and ask for it in wiser ways.

 

What is “reproach”? That’s the third term we’ll look at, from where it says, “God…gives to all liberally and without reproach.” BDAG defines the word for reproach, oneidizo, as “seeking to find fault that demeans the other.” I think that it’s trying to tell us here is that God doesn’t give gifts with a hidden agenda, looking to trip us up or test us to show our faults. The gifts of God are not a ploy, some kind of bait meant to catch us and expose us. God’s gifts are as gifts should be: straight-forward and direct with no ulterior motives. God is honest and just.

 

Note that the conclusive nature of the promise is that, “it will be given to him.” The “iffy” nature is not brought in on the basis of God’s character, but on the basis of a person’s trust. Why is trust such a big issue? Connect the terms from above and I think you’ll start to see that God, who gives openly and without some hidden intention of finding fault with us in giving us gifts like wisdom, is not one for being belittled. He’s just not into playing games when it comes to how we relate to Him. The reason someone would doubt is because they don’t trust His character, you see; because of that, they should expect nothing from God no matter the request. It is offensive to ask God for help when not trusting the help that He might give.

 

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” Remember, doubting God is a reflection of the character of the doubter, not of God. God is trustworthy, period. The picture analogy here, one of many in James, is of a wave of the sea. The wave, which is driven and tossed, meaning controlled by the wind, is likened to the person doubting, who is controlled by their doubt. Doubt is in charge, and it is moving them to do their own thing and to even ask God for whatever it is that they feel they need. They are not controlled by faith. They are not submissive to God. Their master is their insecurity. Want to grow in your relationship to God? Learn to trust Him for who He is first and foremost.

 

“For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Let me say this again: prayer is not just about asking God for things; it’s very much about alignment with Him. These last two verses are very reflective of the person praying as to the lack of receiving what they’re asking for. Two words of note from verse 8: double-minded and unstable. Being “double-minded” means “being uncertain about the truth of something” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Uncertain about the truth of what, or Whom, rather? The context drives us back to whether or not one can trust God’s motives in giving them gifts, and contextually, wisdom.

 

Another issue to consider here is that people may not trust God because they don’t think He wants to give them wisdom; perhaps they’ve concluded that He wants them to suffer and feel completely alone and confused in the process. If we were to conclude that God hurts us just to enjoy our pain, how could we not end up doubting Him? False views of God often cause much doubt because people who see God in wrong ways will always relate to Him in warped fashions. 

 

If you are facing trials, especially temptations, what should you do? Ask God for help and ask Him for wisdom. Don’t accuse Him but entreat Him. Additionally, I encourage you to analyze what your views of Him really are. Many times we will find that we hold some wrong views about God that have had a very negative affect on our relationship to Him, and in those cases, we must recognize the failure, repent, and see God anew for who He has shown Himself to be in the Bible. 

 

Why not take a moment and ask Him to help you grow in wisdom towards the pressures you currently face?

 

Thank you for your time and the Lord bless you as you contemplate His word.

In Christ,

 

Devotional: What is the Point of Resisting Temptation? James 1:1-4

James 1:1-4

“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. 

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of  your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

 

If Philippians is a book written both from joy and really on the topic of having joy, James is not far off from Paul’s letter as he begins his letter “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” Most New Testament letters are identified by their recipient, but the book of James is identified by the writer himself. Obviously, this book has a much farther-reaching message than to its scattered original audience, as the book is very practical and very applicable to the modern reader. It’s a great place to start for those who haven’t read the Bible much or want to get back into reading the Bible as it is relatively short, very practical, and very straight-forward with little need to understand culture aside from what’s highlighted. James also uses a lot of word pictures and analogies, and that makes this a memorable book of the Bible as well.

 

What is joy? As I have read it in multiple Christian dictionaries and Greek lexicons, it is essentially “the experience of gladness or well-being.” It has very little to do with the externals of life, those happenings into which we often walk many times unassuming. It has very little to do with what goes on physically, as though health, be it good or bad, really affected what it meant to be glad.  Joy is not predicated upon those three old prosperity gospel tenets: health, wealth, and happiness, though it is often assumed that it follows not far behind. In fact, it is important that we discern the common reasoning behind such desires, which if we’re truly honest is often tied to the false conclusion of what brings people joy. The Bible would tell us very different things that lead to joy other than what is typically assumed or preached today.

 

Paul wrote from prison in Philippians, an unlikely place for joy if we equated joy with circumstances. James, in a similar vein, tells us to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials.” If trials and the lack thereof are a standard by which you determine your faith or your closeness to God, you are in for a hard road, and James makes that clear with his initial words. Thankfully, he doesn’t just say that as someone telling us to “just think positive thoughts,” as though we should just console ourselves with wishful thinking. The comforting effect of trials is found in what they “produce.” What James is saying is that we can be glad as we face trials for we know that God is at work to make us better than we were before the trial happened. It’s very hard to look at trials positively without this wisdom towards them. 

 

Maybe you’re wondering, though, what a trial is. This is a great example of a place where eisegesis can get us off from the author’s intention. “Trial” as it is called here is often translated “temptation” in the New Testament. It’s not an issue of difficult circumstances like we often think of; BDAG refers to it here as “an attempt to make one do something wrong, temptation, enticement to sin.” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks) We know from later on in v. 13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” 

 

How could we have joy in stepping into something meant to cause us to stumble and how could it not be from God? The answer is that God allows temptation without promoting it for the sake of purifying His people. He calls us to grow and to trust Him while letting the winds of adversity blow against us. Faithfulness through this resistance accomplishes the goal, which isn’t just serving, but it’s also being sanctified. This principle has to be one of Satan’s least favorite gems: God uses Satan’s opposition to make His children stronger and better if they’ll endure those winds by faith.

 

James says that the “testing of your faith,” produces patience. It’s not “having faith,” that produces patience, but rather faith that has the winds of opposition driving against it, which like a tree causes us to drive our roots deeper. The believer drives their roots of faith into God and His promises, whereas the tree drives its roots further into the dirt for moisture, nutrients and anchoring. Both are made more capable of producing fruit and enduring the seasons of life by this very process.

 

Furthermore, the more firm the root system of the believer, the stronger the believer. “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It’s somewhat of a disservice for English translations to say “perfect,” because our vernacular identifies perfect as flawless and pristine, an issue of standards when that’s not always the way to read the word. Let me clarify: in the BDAG Lexicon, it actually identifies the word as being used in three different ways: “1. pertaining to the highest standard; 2. pertaining to being mature or full-grown; 3. pertaining to being fully developed in a moral sense.” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks) We see, therefore, that there is some interchangeability between the same word, context often driving the interpretation of the word. (As a side note, we should always let context do this for us with our English translations; eisegesis, pronounced eye-seh-gee-sis is the practice of taking perspective and using it as our interpretive guide-this can lead us astray. Exegesis, pronounced ex-eh-gee-sis, is to draw the meaning out of text, whether that’s a word or a paragraph or a book of the Bible). 

 

A full-grown tree, with healthy branches and green leaves and producing beautiful, healthy fruit (if it’s a fruit-bearing tree) is a mature tree. It has become what is was made to become; it is not waiting for future years in which it will yield forth those elements which it might currently lack.  

For a believer, maturity would be a healthy, obedient Christian that is wise and committed to God, bearing much evidence of a life yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit. This person forsakes sin, confesses when they do sin, lives in light of the grace of God, and seeks to be pleasing to Him. When facing the temptation to sin and patiently outlasting the temptation, we become mature believers. The perfect (as a standard) work of patience is a perfect (morally mature) child of God. 

We often come upon difficulties and what is our response? Remove this from my life, God. Just make everything better. What does this show about us, though, but that our perspective is found to be lacking? When we pray for these issues to go away, invariably we are often asking God, “Please, can just make my life easy, or easier?” Listening to a Jim Rohn video this morning on YouTube from the early 1980’s, he said these words: “Don’t wish for your life to be easy; work to be better.” Good point. What’s hard for a child may be a cakewalk for an adult; this is why growing and learning and maturing make the same tasks easier. The same concept holds true for being a believer; it may never be easier, but we may be more mature and handle difficulties better. Once again, though, we’re talking in this particular passage about being better by resisting the temptation to sin. Immature believers are push-overs when sin comes knocking; that’s what God is trying to get out of our system on our way to glory.

 

If perhaps your hope has been to grow in maturity in Christ, know that God may be answering that hope with the process that will bring it so long as you or I are committed to riding it out in faith. We can pray for temptations to never come our way, but the harder challenge will be resting in God’s grace to endure it by saying no to our sinful desires when they arise. It’s much harder than just not having the temptation, isn’t it?! 

 

All too often, God is far more vested in our growth than we are, and as such, we run into temptations and difficulties regardless of wanting to be more mature or not. In highlighting what is probably a pretty common problem among us Christians, it would be best advised that we get on board with growth if that’s where God has clearly said He’s taking us, because it’s one thing to face temptations for maturity, but something else to not even have maturity as one’s own goal.

 

I read a quote years ago that still makes me chuckle when I think about it: “Why does life keep teaching me lessons I never asked to learn?” The Devil himself likes those kind of Christians, the ones who keep getting tempted but see no hope other than not being tempted. Consider Peter’s words from 1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”

 

How do we resist? Maybe, just maybe, it starts with understanding “why” we resist in the first place. Why would we ever carry on in resisting when we’re not convinced of the point? A teenager may mumble what mom or dad said, “We don’t do it so we can glorify God…” and that’s true, but God has given us more in James 1:2-4. We resist sin to become mature, like a weightlifter uses resists the gravitational pull of a bunch of weight plates on a barbell as they lower it down and push it back up. When temptation comes your way, you’ve got to welcome it with joy because on the other side of resisting it is greater spiritual maturity and character. Don’t be the person standing there near the water-cooler watching people running on treadmills, dismissing them like hamsters on a wheel. They walk and others lift so as to be stronger and better, not so they can walk and push weights alone.

 

If you’ve noticed that the world as a whole struggles with sin, you’re right; it does. Don’t think that temptations exist because you’re a Christian; temptation happens to every sinner in a sin-cursed world. There is hope for every Christian because there is deep purpose to our pain, and it will not be wasted by God. He will use it and our faith to make us into who He wants us to be, and that’s part of the redemptive plan of faith-based moral resistance for our mortal season of eternity. Maturity precedes perfect glorification in Heaven where we will be with the Lord in a place of no more tears or pain. We may lose sight of the purpose of our pain at times, but thank God that He never does. He will never leave us or forsake us, and nothing will happen to us that He doesn’t intend to use in perfecting the masterpieces of who we are in Christ for His glory. Amen.

Thank you for your time and may God bless you in your endeavors to please Him. We are in this fight together.

In Christ,

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

The Compassion of God–Jonah 4:6-11

Jonah 4:6-11

6 And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.

 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  

9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

 10 But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.

 11 “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left– and much livestock?”

Plant Pictures, Images, Stock Photos | Depositphotos®

What is the difference between grace and mercy? In a culture that seems to be growingly distanced from the very ideas of grace and mercy, it often seems that churches themselves do not know how to define the terms. “Grace” strangely enough is often concocted as a response of God to some meritorious activity or character, but this by definition is no longer grace if there’s some reason for it.

 

Additionally, and I find this more common, there are many who espouse views of grace that can be forfeited; this, too, is not a grace concept, for if it can be gained by personal merit or lost by demerit, it is not grace, but rather law.

 

Both mercy and grace are best understood in relationship to the Giver and the not the receiver or recipients. The casual theology that is most common out there today is far more reflective of subjective thinking rather than objective understanding. We can only come to grips with His treatment of us on the basis of who He is, not who we are. Nevertheless, if we pay attention to songs and popular books and such in the Christian world, we will find that what is popular often correlates with subjective views of God based on feelings, perceptions and the like. 

 

Most of the book of Jonah would probably be better summed up in the “mercy” category than the “grace” category. There are some simple ways that we might define each concept and draw a distinction between the two, which I will attempt to do here. As it comes to mercy and grace, we might simplify mercy in this way: mercy is God not giving us what we deserve.  Conversely, grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve

 

We might consider then that Hell, as Scripture would define it, is a place of the reserved wrath of God in relationship to the sinfulness of Satan, fallen angels, and sinful humans who are not under the covering of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross (for failure to place their faith in Christ). Heaven, likewise, is the dwelling foremost of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as the angels who have retained their loyalty, and those covered by faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross (currently and future tense for those yet to enter).

 

It is mercy that withholds a person from going to Hell, but the Bible never gives us any time of a person being in limbo between the two (despite the Catholic teachings of purgatory, which is not consistent with biblical teaching). It is grace that transfers a person’s eternal destination beyond a removal from Hell by an eternal admission into Heaven. 

 

Mercy is found within all of those things that ought to happen to us but are withheld, whereas grace is tied to the blessings that we ought not have access to that God many times over chooses to shower upon us. Both mercy and grace often tend to be limited in perspective by people in how they perceive the transmission of either, but at the core, anything that God does to withhold what ought to be falls into the category of mercy, and anything God does to provide for us what we could not earn is grace.  In other words, mercy is preventative, while grace is provisional.

 

Now, all of that being said, which do you think appears in Jonah 4:6: grace or mercy?  Look again at verse 6: “And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.” Before reading further, you might cast your vote. 

 

Here’s some thoughts to ponder before answering: Did Jonah deserve the plant that God provided for shade? Did he do anything to deserve that plant? Did Jonah deserve the pleasure of the shade that the plant offered? 

 

Now, verse 6 is really showing us (drum roll) …. grace. It’s grace, because it was a gift freely given, not earned, but bestowed nonetheless. What’s interesting about the passage, though, is that isn’t really meant to highlight grace as much as it is mercy. How is that? Because God says in v. 9 that Jonah’s anger was “about the plant,” and in v. 10 says “You have had pity on the plant…” Pity is often also described by the word compassion and the measures that one takes when they feel moved for the plight of someone else. Compassion is meant both to alleviate pain as well as to prevent further pain from happening, so we might say that both grace and mercy can touch upon the concept of compassion.  (You know, there’s times when I write these devotionals and ask myself, “What did I get myself into?” 🙂 )

 

What is Jonah upset about, according to the wording? It isn’t that he lost the shade, but that the plant got damaged by a worm and died. He was upset that it perished when it provided such a value to a weary traveler such as himself. He knew the value, but others didn’t and never would. It provided something that Jonah wanted; think about Jesus in the New Testament with the fig tree, when He reaches for some fruit and finds none, in which He curses the tree and what happens to it?  It withers!  You can read it here in Matthew 21:18-22. Perhaps there’s some parallel to be made between the two passages; mull it over. 

 

God rebuked Jonah for his pity on a plant over which he had “not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.” The plant was an illustration of Nineveh, a place that God had labored over in working in the people’s hearts, a group which would have been destroyed had He not shown them mercy.  A similar passage can be found in John 4:35-38 where Jesus speaks to His disciples in regards to the Samaritan people of Sychar:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

 

Jonah’s value system was out of sorts, and he had grown to have pity on a plant but still had none for humans that he’d written off. Even when the Ninevites recognized their sin and cried to God, all he could do was leave the city and watch to see what would happen to them. He obeyed God’s directive eventually, but he did not care about the people to whom he preached. His anger over the plant’s destruction was so great that he wanted to die, and that would have been both selfish and foolish.

 

Verse 11, after God reveals Jonah’s pity on a plant that God had brought up Himself, now relates the illustration’s purpose: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left– and much livestock?” If it was right for Jonah to be moved over the withering of a plant that a day before did not exist, how was it not right for God to pity the people who had turned from their sins? How was it not right for Him to show them mercy? The discerning of the right hand from the left, by the way, is referring to children (or those who are mentally incapable of very simple discernment). For children, namely babies and young infants, to discern their right hand from their left was really an impossibility; they lacked the faculties to do so. Both those young children and all of the animals had done absolutely nothing towards Jonah or Israel, but Jonah was just as happy to see them all burn. He hadn’t even completely registered the nature of his desires, and that’s what God is highlighting. 

 

There are certainly passages in the Old Testament where God calls for the complete eradication of all people and animals who were enemies of Israel.  1 Samuel 15:2-3 says,  “Thus says the LORD of hosts: `I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. `Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” 

 

Think of that, in light of a Holy God, as a sweeping justice. It’s so contrary to the pity God shows Nineveh in the book of Jonah. The sweeping justice for sin is what all humans should incur, but it’s the grace and mercy of God that prevent that from being everyone’s story. The Ninevites, like you and me, were people outside of God’s covenant promises. They did not seek Him; they worshipped false deities. They sinned grossly and they defied God personally. Nonetheless, God had pity on them, which was His sovereign right. It is His right to show mercy and grace or to withhold them and pour out His wrath and justice: He’s God.  It’s true for our lives as well: He can let things happen to us, stop them from happening to us, give us incredible blessings or choose not to, and He’s right to do whatever He does.

 

It is clear that the book of Jonah is driving deeply into the message of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, isn’t it? It is a message of both grace and mercy. It is undeserved, unmerited, and unequal in its offer of pardon and eternal blessing in the presence of God in Heaven forever. It is a message of the compassion of God as He looks at people like us, sends someone to preach the word to us, and grants us both freedom from Hell and the promise of Heaven by responding in faith to His word. Only sin would make us turn down such a glorious offer, but it is an offer that stands while the Lord tarries. It is a privilege to believe it, to proclaim it, to rehearse it, to teach it, to be reminded of it, and to hear it, period. Let us not grow lackluster in our captivation with the message of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ came and died for sinners, the perfect Son of God dying on the cross as a perfect Sacrifice for our sin, removing the wrath of God and crediting us with His righteousness as we believe on Him by faith. We are trusting in the sufficiency of His death and resting in the promises of God to those who believe. 

 

The Gospel is beautiful and strong, powerful and true. I love it and I hope you do, too. There are many “hills to die on” in this life, but I can’t think of any that are as precious in the sight of God as simply standing for the furtherance of the message of life. We can preach it to kids, to teens, to adults, to people who are happy and healthy as well as people who are frail and on their deathbeds. It bypasses all language barriers, cultures, and distances. It is color-blind and available freely and fully to every person hearing it.  

 

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

Thank you for your time and may God have all the glory!

 

In Christ,

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Jonah 4:5 “Warped Wishes”

Jonah 4:5

“So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.”

 

I encourage you to read Jonah 3:10-4:4 here before considering our portion of Scripture for today.

Today’s verse has a few verbs that help us to see a plan of action on the part of Jonah. Going back to Jonah 1:3, we would see Jonah, in response to God’s call, as he “arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” There is still a running parallel between Jonah 1 and Jonah 4, and the parallel is that Jonah is acting quite the same again. Rather than running from the Ninevites, now he is moving away from the city with the hopes that he had in chapter one.May 2013 – nukelearfishing

In Jonah 1:3, part of the goal, other than running away, may very well have been the possibility that God was going to bring wrath on those people if nothing was done. Jonah was called to preach to them about the destruction God would bring; this doesn’t necessitate that the judgment wouldn’t have come without the message’s proclamation.

Now, in Jonah 4:5, there are still signs that Jonah may yet be waiting for that wrath to still come after the message. Imagine preaching salvation but hoping people rejected it and went to Hell; this might capture some of the heart of the verse. There are many ways that Jonah may have hoped for the Ninevites to incur the wrath of God, whether that be avoiding the warning, hoping for no response, or lastly, hoping God might still “let them have it.”

What does this speak to in the book of Jonah that we need to hear in ourselves as well? One of the primary challenges here is to let it go. If that Frozen song just played in your head, come on back to the devotional. 🙂  Seriously, holding on to all of the past, the wrongs, even if it was all true and very unjust, bitterness is no way forward to peace in God.

We should always stop and ask, but rarely ever do, where the end goal is for harboring negative thoughts towards others and refusing to let things go. We should also consider what God wants for us, and how He feels about the attitudes we accommodate in our hearts. The justification we give ourselves for not letting go of pain, disrespect, defamation and so forth are also something we must consider in the way it is affecting good relationships, too.

We will all be wronged by someone, perhaps many times, and that is never easy. We may move into circumstances that completely side-swipe us, sometimes quite literally. The Devil would love to maximize the effects of the wrong or the pain, sustaining the hurt and compounding the problem, inevitably trying to keep us trapped in the moment and leaving us quite ineffective.

We should remember in Jonah 4:5 that this was Jonah’s response to God’s question of whether it was right for him to be angry. Avoiding the question with a verbal response, Jonah answered that he felt it was right for him to be angry by removing himself from a place he (kind of hated), waiting to to see what would become of the city.

Rather than be on board with God, Jonah refused to share God’s enthusiasm over the Ninevites’ repentance. He refused to share God’s quickness to be merciful. Don’t be the like the kid who reluctantly obeyed his parents by sitting down after being told twenty times to sit, only to blurt out, “But I’m still standing on the inside!”

This isn’t about us and “them,” but us and God. In fact, if you still struggle with getting over something, I encourage you to shift your focus away from the person, people or event, and to think about moving forward with God instead. When we get stuck in bitterness towards others, we often forget that we inevitably stall in our relationship with God, too. We may convince ourselves that this just isn’t true, but consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:23-24: Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.What will it take to be at peace with Him: joyful, content, unburdened by the nagging thoughts of the past?

A former teacher recently told me something very helpful: people often like to write a narrative in their minds about heavy things they’ve gone through, and if they’ve chosen to cling to that narrative, it’s very hard to get them to change it. Personal narratives help us make sense of experiences, but they don’t necessarily tell us the truth. They may become “our truth,” but they aren’t a shared truth. Whether or not it’s immediately obvious, Jonah was carrying a narrative within himself throughout this story, and that’s why it was so hard for him to let things go that he might align with what God wanted.

Then again, it’s not just about letting things go; it’s also about embracing “the cards” that God deals to us. Those cards may seem quite unequal when compared from person to person, but in the end, it’s what we do with the cards we’re dealt and not the cards themselves. God rewards faithfulness within our sphere of life, no matter what He blesses us with or what difficulties He allows. Stack of Playing Cards 3d model - CGStudio

Jonah, by this point in the story, needed a mirror more than he needed to see Ninevites suffering. In fact, we might say that the Ninevites functioned as a mirror for Jonah. When God puts us around people or places that we can’t stand, the things that come out of us only reveal what’s inside of us. Most of the time, we all just hope that those kind of dynamics are few and far between, and as time continues, nothing more than a fading memory. Does it occur to us, though, that the sinful responses within Jonah might have moved him to avoid the Ninevites as much as possible, too?

Placing the burden on the Ninevites for their sin was one thing; placing the burden of Jonah’s bitterness on them was another. While we may not be responsible for the wrongs we incur, we are responsible for how we handle our response. Sadly, we may feel that both what happened to us and how we responded are indeed someone else’s fault, but there’s no way out of the rut that this creates until we own up to the responsibility of our own response.

 

Sponges in water Stock Photos - Page 1 : MasterfileOnly Jonah could carry the burden of his own bitterness, and so too is it the case for us. Just like we can’t squeeze water from a dry sponge, we also can’t get bitterness out of a heart where it’s not. I recently heard a preacher say that COVID revealed problems that already existed in places like the church; it certainly didn’t create them.

A hard realization in life, often neglected, is that God often exposes what’s already within our hearts. A woman walking with her son through the city many years ago was caught off guard when a drunk man came stumbling out of a bar, cursing up a storm and throwing an absolute fit before he collapsed on the ground. The boy, taken aback by this sight, looked quizzically at the mother, who then said to the son, “Son, nothing coming out of this man wasn’t in him already.”

As we close, let’s look at our verse one more time: “So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.” Now let’s ask ourselves this: how are we responding to what God allows to happen to us, and how God may choose to respond to the things that happen to us? That’s what we have to wrestle with. None of us have handled things flawlessly, but thank God that He’s a God of grace and a God who is deeply invested in changing us for the better. We do best to not limit His ability to transform ourselves or others, because who we are or who someone else is (or was) may not be who they are as time progresses. Let me put two small passages here to illustrate just that from Scripture:

37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.
38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
(Acts 15:37-40 )

Think that’s where things stood later on? Well, look at Paul’s last letter and see how his view of Mark had changed, because Mark had changed:

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. (2 Tim. 4:11)

Sometimes the problem is really found in the disbelief of what God can do in people over time. A younger person may be discounted because of their inexperience or ineptitude, but given time may prove to be quite useful in certain places where they fumbled around before. Those who discounted them early on may never know what potential was there for judging them only for what they were, not for what they could be.

The book of Jonah ends a bit on that kind of difference of judgment; God knew what He could do, and Jonah had judged the people of Nineveh unworthy of mercy and practically incapable of turning around. That, though, is what the Gospel does in people. The Gospel rests in God’s power to forgive, the power to change, and the power to use people however He may please. Let’s praise Him for that!

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Thank you for your time. May God bless you in the reading of His word and the consideration of how it may be applied to our lives.

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jonah 4:4–Understanding Accountability to God

Jonah 4:4 

“Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

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We will limit today’s devotional to just one verse, because this verse is so powerful. Have you ever noticed the power of a good question? “What do you want to be when you grow up?” for instance, is more than a question. It causes a child to ponder their life’s directions and as they get older to consider those directions in relationship to their beliefs and values. Far more than the simple question relative to what one wants to be, though, are questions targeting the heart of a person, especially those spiritual in nature. “Do you know where you will go when you die?” or as one (unknown) author put out there, “If you were to get to heaven, why would God let you in?”

 

There are questions, though, that the heart feels compelled to respond to. A good question doesn’t need to send any kind of hidden message, because the right question when asked of the heart has a way of stirring up the conscience and letting the spirit of the recipient do the hard work of exposure and conviction. Some people respond to it in faith; many respond to it with running, hiding, and ignoring as best they can. That is exactly what verses like John 3:17-19 have in mind:

 

 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

 

Notice in Jonah 4:4 that God didn’t indict Jonah, He simply asked him something that was hard to dodge. “Is it right for you to be angry?” While a bit rhetorical in nature, there is also a necessary response to this question. Oftentimes, there are two sides to the pressure one feels from a piercing question, and we’re not sure whether that pressure is coming from outside of us or it’s simply the conscience raring its ugly head by a cage-rattling inquiry. 

 

If God taps us on the shoulder, who are we to disrespect Him with the silent treatment? This is the root issue with all sin, anyway: crossing a line within before we cross another person. As said before, God can put pressure on us, but the design of the conscience is such that He also knows the pressure it creates within. 

 

Before we ever sin against God or other people (all sin is ultimately against Him), we first choose to permit ourselves to do so. Sin, therefore, is a reflection of our character, not a justified response to someone else for whatever they have done to us (or we feel they have done to us). Many responses to others, by the way, are often perceptions of offense and if we will not seek to understand their intentions, we will inevitably misrepresent them to ourselves and perhaps to others. Only we can grant ourselves the permission to sin in violation of God’s commands; no one makes us do it. Again, it’s not that we have the authority to grant ourselves permission, but one of the first steps of sin is allowing ourselves the right to do that which we know isn’t acceptable to God. 

 

Now, back to the question God posed to Jonah in v. 4.  If Jonah responded, “Yes,” the simple answer would have revealed a lot about his heart as well as his position on his personal authority over the feelings and thoughts he harbored within himself. Remember that the Ninevites sinned against God, but Jonah took it personally towards himself. Jonah’s anger was indicative of his pride, seeing his feelings of offense as greater than God’s offense, thus causing him to desire the Ninevites’ destruction even when God had chosen to forgive them.  This, in a nutshell, is how we allow ourselves to withhold forgiveness where God has offered it freely.

 

God was small to Jonah, small enough that his being offended meant more to him than God being offended. If you ever get offended by someone else’s actions, be those actions intentional or not, stop and ask yourself about how God might feel about this and concern yourself most with that answer. People need to be reconciled to God first and foremost, not to us.

 

In a reverse logic, think about it this way: if you were in good relational standing with someone else but they were completely disobedient to God, or dead to Him relationally, would you care? The Ninevites reconciled with God but Jonah’s concern was about what he felt they had done to him, not God. What if the Ninevites did everything in their power to console Jonah but neglected God? If that would have been suitable to him, a host of problems would become immediately apparent.

 

Now, if Jonah responded, “no” to God’s question, then he would have to acknowledge that his response was wrong and that his thoughts, feelings and actions must be corrected. The power of the question is in the self-reflection it immediately induces, unless someone has chosen to block it out to avoid performing this inner examination.

 

In looking at the larger context, we see that Jonah does not give a response until asked later on in the same chapter about the rightness of his anger. Why no response? Deducing from the passage, it is because he does not want to let go of his anger yet. Obedience, though, is not just about coming around to the same page as God, but doing so when He calls us to do it, not when we’re good and ready. Draw a parallel with that and how some people view Hell: “I’ll be ready to repent when it suits me.” Only in this world can a person repent and why, if we could see clearly the offense we’d caused, would we wait to make it right?

 

Have you ever wanted to be angry but knew that it was wrong? Have you ever harbored any sinful attitudes knowing that they were wrong? Most people who want to hold on to their sin do not want accountability. Make no doubts about it, one of the themes travelling through this book is that very issue. It’s not a popular subject nor is it an activity people are lining up to participate in, churched or not. Oftentimes we walk into it dragging our feet and then some, but one of the most amazing things about coming into the light of God’s mercy is the love we find when we finally step into that light.

 

How does God hold us accountable? God holds us accountable through the reading of His word; He holds us accountable through other believers and through leaders; He holds us accountable by simply convicting us as we ponder our choices, too. Accountability is like a mirror to the soul, and if our spiritual “hair” is messy and our spiritual “shirts” are disheveled, it is in our best interest to look in the mirror that we might address problems that had eluded us before.

 

“I’m fine, I’ll figure it out, just let me be!” someone might say. Is it really true, though? Sometimes the greatest grace that we can receive in the moment  is loving accountability, because God is more invested in our transformation than He is in just keeping us comfortable. It’s an act of mercy to stop us from the direction we were headed, and an act of grace to call us to a better way that God will empower with that grace as we comply with Him. 

 

Chapter Four of the book of Jonah seems to reveal to us why Jonah was chosen as the man for the job. God could have called anybody of His choosing, but He chose the man Jonah, who needed to be held accountable but also served to preach a message of accountability to an entire nation of pagan people. It’s as if to say, “Jonah, you may call it forth in others, but you are not above it yourself.” Remember, this is a sign of God’s care, not His punishment. Until we see it as such, we’ll be looking for the nearest exit.

 

When the Ninevites were held accountable, they responded with brokenness, responsibility, and a cry for God’s mercy; the opposite response would look like stonewalling, hardness, or refusal to alter course. We should grow to be more afraid of justifying our sins than we are of being confronted about them. Like bumpers for bumper bowling, God does not address our hearts for the sake of condemnation but for the offer of merciful course correction. It’s one of the road markers that we’re actually on the right path when we see mercy calling us back and grace pushing us towards godliness.

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Have you grown to see the accountability that God sends our way as a sign of His love, or is it still something you might despise? Think of God’s exposure and the conviction within as a sign of His love and as life in Him, not the absence of it. When God calls something out in us, it’s only our perception of that action that makes us come out of our shells or, sadly, bury our heads in the sand even more. 

 

Perhaps one of the most loving acts of God in the book of Jonah is the accountability factor both for the Ninevites and for Jonah. The same is true for us as well. The question is, “What will we do towards God when he touches upon the nerves of our sin?” Perhaps we don’t even feel like something we’re doing is all that wrong, but if God wants it gone, will we give it up? Growth in Christ means losing parts of ourselves that can’t continue on, and gaining character that God won’t let us see Him without. He is preparing us for glory, you know?

 

If God speaks to your heart, whether it’s comfort, hope, or even conviction, all are relative to the truth and it’s the truth that sets us free. Praise Him for that!

Thank you for your time! I wish you well-

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday Lesson: Protecting Our Message and Mission (Philippians 2:14-16)

Reminder:  We will be back in session for regular in-person worship services starting next week, Sunday, September 27th, 2020.  Thanks!

Philippians 2:14-16

Do all things without complaining and disputing,

 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,

among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. 

 

This week as we make our way through the book of Philippians, we find ourselves stepping into some of the more practical verses of Chapter Two thus far. One of the typical arrangements of New Testament letters is the giving of doctrine first as foundation, and secondly the giving of commands for implementation.

 

Unfortunately, many churches and individuals for that matter often try to skip the harder concepts for the easy and practical lists of things to do.  This is always to their disadvantage, because a good understanding of biblical truth is highly instrumental to personal practice. In fact, we might say that the foundational principles within the doctrine tend to spill over into practice, though it is still clearly necessary to clarify these commands as it reinforces the directions to take and the standard for conduct.  Additionally, it is a reminder that Scriptural commands are never merely suggestions; they are firm orders that remind us we are under God’s authority.

 

Today’s passage has some stark caveats that are to be honed in on. First of all, let’s begin with verse 14 as it says, “Do all things…” Does the phrase “all things” remind you of other passages of Scripture? Two references that immediately come to my mind are 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Philippians 4:13.  

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Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The passage he is being quoted from here is referring to weaker brothers and stronger brothers over the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the true principle at hand, the standard by which all of our actions are to be gauged. “All” is referring to scope, the area relative to which the command applies. Here, we see that it is an all-encompassing principle: there are no boundaries outside of which doing things for God’s glory does not apply.

 

Philippians 4:13, also written by Paul, states: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  The question we should ask in regards to this passage is, “What does he mean by ‘all things’?” Contextually, it’s governed by verses 11-12, which speak about abounding in all situations with contentment in God’s provisions. Whether or not he still does, the NBA basketball star Steph Curry had this reference printed on his shoes. While many people will use this verse almost like a talisman for overcoming any difficult circumstance in life, we must return to the context of Philippians to see that “doing all things through Christ” is not a license to forge any old path and find God’s support, but to follow God in whatever lot befalls us and to find the strength of His grace suitable in facing the challenges He has led us into.  Consider that the strength Paul really may be referring to is the strength of God’s grace to be content, to be at rest in Him, even if things are not “okay.”

Having said all that, we return to Philippians 2:14 and must consider “all things” here in light of the context as well. Yes, the scope really is every area of life, not just in church or ministry contexts. Concealed complaining and mental battles with others will certainly still have a negative affect on us, though in this passage we are talking primarily about our public testimony. Given the nature of the passage at hand, this verse is speaking into the engagements we have with others and the reputations that are built off of our interactions.

 

Do all things without complaining or disputing.” Both complaining and disputing are externally directed and publicly aired opinions. It seems that it’s often forgotten that complainers and disputers are showing us more of who they are in character by the choice to fight or complain than those that they attack, defame or disrespect.  If we claim to be Christians, though, we don’t just drag our own names through the mud of our disputes, complaints or grievances; we also stand to tarnish God’s reputation among others as well. Imagine trying to be a Nike shoe salesman but constantly walking around in tattered old shoes; it casts doubt on the belief in the product when even the salesman doesn’t buy into his pitch.

 

Complainers and disputers by nature of reputation establish themselves negatively. What does it mean to be “blameless and harmless?” It would be a mistake to assume, as many do, that “blameless” means sinless. In context, we are not talking about sinless perfection; we are talking about being winsome and not causing distraction from the message and the mission

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Blameless and harmless are both reputation-oriented terms; blameless and harmless to whom? To those that are watching: perhaps looking to find fault, perhaps doubting, perhaps just curious to see if all this Gospel-talk is real. Even for believers, our obedience to God serves to encourage or discourage other believers in carrying on in their walks, too. 

 

Other ways to translate blameless and harmless are faultless and innocent; remember, we are not faultless or innocent as sinners before God, but in Christ we are forgiven of our faults and blame and declared justified. The discrepancy is that while positionally we are treated today as if we’d never sinned, when we look in the real-time mirror at our hearts and actions, we know that we certainly still have many ways that sin is still raring its ugly head within us. Therefore, this passage really is speaking to human perception and reputation: no, we know no one’s perfect, but is their reputation within Christ tarnished to such a degree that it now hinders the effectiveness of the Gospel as relative to them? Have they dealt properly with the failures that have been made public? Those are just some of the concepts to consider in blamelessness. 

 

The point of this passage is that conduct is a conduit by which we either live lives supporting the Gospel message or we live lives that disrupt and diminish the message we preach. The Gospel either flows through us with a growing efficiency or it gets really clogged, like water backing up as it goes down a dirty drain. Think of the goal, in part, as to be as little of a hindrance to the message of life for the sake of other people’s focus on God. The point was never legalistic lifestyles, but lives that did not cause unnecessary stumbling to the paths of other believers or the paths of unbelievers and them finding a relationship with Christ.

 

Now, the next part says, “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Notice that this portion of the verse is referring to a stark contrast between these two (people) groups, the primary governor of each being who they submit to, who their master is. “Crooked and perverse” can only be understood in relationship to God; they have bent away from His straight paths and have defied His moral designs. In submission to God, there is a call to realign with these parameters in direction, morality and spirituality. Road Sign Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

 

Unaltered minds and lifestyles will never serve to reinforce the message God is calling us to promote in a lost and dying world, “among whom you shine as lights.” Lights serve to bring awareness to what is. It is the sin nature within that sees the exposure that lights bring and pridefully desires to put out those lights, as if darkness altered the truth. In darkness, a person may entertain any number of realities surrounding them if their only guide is their imagination; therefore, when the light of truth begins shining, the rays tend to burn upon guilty consciences, and thus there is a movement to either get away from the light or to do away with it. The hope and prayer of evangelism is that people will come to the light and find peace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

In summary so far, we see that the calling is primarily two-part: to be as little of a hindrance as possible to the message and mission Christ has for us, and to be used to bring exposure to what is good and beautiful and true, as well as what stands in opposition to God. 

 

1,024,943 Mission Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStockFinally, let’s look at the remainder of this selected passage:  “holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” Many times over, the words “that” or “so that” are used in English translations, and this should never be overlooked. What it is often referring to is what is called in the Greek a “hina clause”. This means that one phrase is relative to the other, usually by means of purpose, result, or sometimes both. By deduction alone, it’s clear that Paul would not have meant that they should hold fast to the word with the purpose of His rejoicing and ease of mind over lasting fruit in ministry. Rather, for them to hold fast to the word of life would lead to (one of the) results being his joy and rejoicing and consolation over the Gospel continuing on in perpetuity in these people’s lives. 

Why do we hold fast to the word of life? Well, going back to verse 13, it’s because God works in us both to will it and to do it. The purpose is for the furtherance of the Gospel, the glory of God and the growth of the believer. The partial result is encouragement of other believers, and in this case of Paul and the Philippians, it is the ministry of the church to the church leader in helping to confirm the human value of his earthly spiritual investment of time, knowledge, experience and talents into them. Still today, it’s such a cyclical process that God does when He leads people to serve Him to the benefit of others who then turn around and serve others as well.

 

In conclusion, we are looking at the high calling of all of us as it pertains to following God and how that impacts the world around us as well as each other. No one is more or less important in effecting change, though the design of each of us may be very different as to our gifting and entrustments. We can support the mission by our actions, but we also have the potential to cause hindrance if that’s the direction we choose to take.

 

A few questions to ponder today as we close are these:

1) How can I be less of a hindrance to the Gospel for the sake of others?

2) How can I be a greater promoter of the Gospel in the way God has made me towards the people He has put in my path?

3) Am I holding fast to the Gospel, and have I thought about the effect that has on others both saved and unsaved?

 

 

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Lord, we thank you for the truths of Your word, but also ask you for the grace to follow the clear commands with obedience. Help us to remember that we’re here on a mission and not just a tour. Give us hearts for others and help us to consider how we might be a blessing to them. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

May God be with you as you ponder His word today. Thank you for your time.

 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jonah 4:2-3 “Addressing the Bitterness Within Ourselves”

Jonah 4:2-3

2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

 

Put the logic together in today’s verses and it might make you scratch your head as a reader. Let’s sum this up very briefly and then explain a bit more: Jonah is saying here that he knew God would act in accordance with His kindness and mercy and that he suspected that God’s calling him to preach to the Ninevites was because of God’s end intention of relenting from doing them harm.

Note that he moves from there in a more conclusive fashion: therefore (on the basis of God’s kindness), please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. Jonah is asking for God to take his life because of his bitterness and sense of a lack of appropriate justice doled out. To say that Jonah was consumed with anger and a deep desire for Israel, or his family, or himself to be avenged would be an understatement.

God may at times in our lives call us to forgive those we feel incapable of forgiving and releasing from our sense of justice and even our minds. Long after someone is gone, it’s amazing how long they can still live in our thoughts, isn’t it? St. Augustine, who is claimed somewhat both by Catholics and Protestants (his testimony is the testimony of a Gospel-believing Christian) is quoted as saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” As we read through the book of Jonah, it appears that many times over this poison was sipped by Jonah in a desire to see the Ninevites destroyed, but it is Jonah in the end who looks like the fool, not the Ninevites.

I’m reminded as I was told years ago to remember that it was Jonah who wrote the book of Jonah; that may sound a bit silly at first, but let it sink in because Jonah was putting in written record his own bad attitude but not in a positive manner. Jonah never records that he was justified for poor behavior, and that’s good, because we should never find ourselves having succumbed to the blame game or to the justification of our own sins in lieu of our pain or opinions of others.  Refusing to handle our issues with others in a godly manner will always take its toll on us and our relationship to God.

What should be said about Jonah 4:2-3? We all need to learn to let God be God in our lives. When we pray for something and God doesn’t answer in the manner we approve, or the timing, or it just seems unheard, remember that this is a testimony back to us that we do not have control over God just because we ask Him to do things. In fact, it’s quite good to know that God can and will do as He pleases in His time, and that we are reliant upon Him. He doesn’t get worked up when we’re out of sorts and He doesn’t fret over our disapproval. He is bringing His children where they need to be, not where He needs to be, because He’s already perfectly there. God’s end game is not about serving the wishes of people, but it is about the fame of His name, which we often refer to as His glory.

Why does God forgive Ninevites who have been completely wicked and hurtful to His chosen nation, the Israelites? Why does God forgive, period? God does as He does to reflect who He is both to those He shows His grace to as well as those He pours His wrath upon. Romans 9:22-24 says these words:

22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Captured in the heart of those verses is the intention of salvation and wrath: the magnification of God’s character. Both ends give a more a holistic picture of who He is, though in a limited sense. You see, God would have been right to forgive the Ninevites and He would have been right to have destroyed them; it was completely whatever He chose to do that was the best course of action.

It’s a deep principle to ponder, but consider this: we often think that God does what is best and what is right, as though He was bound to only do what best and right are, but the best way to understand what “best” and “right” are is whatever God does. God defines good and beautiful and right by whatever He does; He is not bound by the concepts, but rather, the concepts are bound by Him.

Was Jonah right in his desire to die? The short answer is an emphatic “no!” Why? Jonah’s definitions of what was right and just and appropriate were curtailed by his emotions and his sin. He did not allow God the freedom of forgiving others, nor did he allow God to place suffering in his own life. Atheists often have a similar dilemma themselves as many reject God on moral grounds, concluding that if there is evil in the world then God cannot be good nor can He exist, for if He did, surely He would stop it. The problem is a limitations of what a good God can do and what He would do if He were good, when in fact God is good and has done what is right all along. (By the way, He doesn’t fret over the opinions about Him of atheists or anyone else for that matter. He loves people, but He’ll never be undone by the false assumptions they place upon Him).

I wonder, if we’re honest, if there are areas of our own lives that we have failed to allow God the freedom of: placing painful events, broken relationships, long-standing misunderstandings, unappreciated service or sacrifices for others, or anything else for that matter? If we don’t allow God to let us get hurt, we will hold it over Him in our bitterness that essentially He did us wrong. Pride often leads us to think that we are above certain treatment or circumstances, that our service or sacrifice or kindness or commitment have somehow granted us a free pass from certain levels of pain, but it just isn’t so. In fact, it often seems that harder things come as we grow more in our Christian walk.

On a positive note, though, remember too that just because difficulty befalls us, it doesn’t mean that it’s a reflection of our own failures or our value in the sight of God. This is one of the most common conclusions drawn in the Scriptures and by people today when it comes to a person and their lot in life. Truth be told, if we were to get what we deserved, it would be way worse as we found ourselves suffering under His wrath in Hell. It could always be worse and we have it way better than we deserve.

God uses really hard things sometimes to refine us, to teach us, to train us for godliness and eternity, and to further His mission, which is bigger than any one of us who are a part of that mission.
Jonah’s story didn’t end with God taking him up on the offer. No, Jonah was brought specifically to be used to deliver the message, probably because he so badly needed to deal with his own sin of bitterness himself. Tarshish would have afforded the chance to let Nineveh slip into the back of Jonah’s mind, but Nineveh forced Jonah to face his own ugliness within, which would not have been washed away by a sunny day at the beach in Tarshish. God’s like that: He doesn’t just use us to show mercy, but He also shows mercy to us in refusing to cease refining us from the sins within us still troubling our own souls.

Jonah may have tried to draw the line with serving God by using his own life as a line in the sand, but God wasn’t going to take the bait. Jonah needed to preach the mercy of God as much as the people of Nineveh needed to hear it. Once again, I ask you (and myself), in what ways are we refusing to let God have control in our lives? It’s no great merit if you or I only accept the blessings of God but refuse the adversity He may want us to undergo as well. Job basically says something to that effect to his wife in Job 2:10: “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”

Pray that we might grow both to accept what we perceive to be good as well as what we often are trying to pray out of existence in our lives: God uses both to mold His people into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). Praise Him for the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the desirable and the detestable, for all things in the hands of God are meant for good and all things will be used to bring glory to Him. It’s this kind of thinking that can help us to combat the common problem of bitterness, and it’s a problem that seems to become easier to fall into the older we get and the more we experience life in a sin-cursed world as sinners rubbing shoulders with other sinners. It’s inevitable that events will occur where bitterness could be harbored, but will we allow God to be big enough to be good and allow difficulty as part of His plan for us in the process? Think on this and pray about it, too.

I wish you well this evening as I write this. May God be with you!

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 12th, 2020: Philippians 2:12-13 “Understanding The Law Within”

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Philippians 2:12-13 

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

 

 

As we get into today’s short passage from Philippians 2, it’s to be strongly noted that there is some incredible correlation between Philippians 2:12-13 and Exodus 20. If you don’t know Exodus 20’s content offhand, it’s the place in Scripture where Moses receives the Ten Commandments, though the chapter in greater fullness also steps into the circumstances surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments. Before moving into Exodus, let’s catch up on this passage as to how Paul went from talking about Jesus and His mindset from the previous verses (5-11) into obedience, sanctification and the presence of God at work in believers in bringing about their own obedience to Him. 

First of all, therefore.  “Therefore” is always a significant word in Scripture, especially the New Testament, because it is signifying a point to be made on the basis of previously stated information. When I read New Testament passages, it’s words like therefore, because, but, even the simple word and that help draw forth the thought flow of the verses. Always remember that much of the Bible is a recorded train of thought, especially New Testament epistles: there is a logic that flows and turns and develops, kind of like a river if you will.

Verses 5-11 form the passage backing the word “therefore” to be stated, and the general idea is that Christ placed His focus on serving the Father to the point of His death on the cross. His obedience was not an obedience simply given for human audiences; He truly obeyed God through and through.  Jesus has therefore, contextually, served as our example for how to live with a mind not simply set on ourselves. Paul uses this example of Jesus after he says in the previous verses (3-4) to have a humble mindset of one’s self and to look out not only for one’s own interests, but also for the interests of one another. Even this admonition follows the principle of placing our focus on the Lord, which in turn causes us to diminish in the tendency to be self-absorbed.  It’s hard to set our minds on Christ while also being consumed with our own desires, which is why the call to focus on Him is quite powerful from a practical standpoint for believers to implement in their lives.Royalty-free Walk, Away photos free download | Pxfuel

The mind is like a vacuum; we may try to stop focusing on ourselves, but if we don’t find the appropriate replacement, inevitably the void will fill in once again where it left off. If we are to love others as ourselves, the best way to do so is to seek God more with the result of loving others better. All of this to say that the word “therefore” is powerful in Philippians 2:12, for focusing our faith and lives on Christ is the grounds for growth, joy, and obedience as Christians, as well as the way we relate to one another.

Secondly, notice Paul’s commendation to the Philippian believers: “my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.” What is Paul saying here? The believers are obeying God, not because of Paul’s direct attention, but because of God having wrought spiritual character within them. If you’ve ever seen a class of children who somehow go from being studious and quiet to jumping out of their chairs, shouting, getting in fights or drawing on chalkboards and such, then you’ve seen obedience that is tempered by accountability rather than character. Character moves us to obey whether the teacher is in the class or not, and in a more broad sense, holds us accountable within rather than simply because of the pressure or accountability from without. If Christianity is nothing more than a stage act, we are in trouble, because Scripture tells us that the presence of the Holy Spirit within is a pledge of our eternal inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; Ephesians 1:4). If all we have is “religious stage apparel” but no substance to the form, there is cause for concern over the validity of our salvation testimony.

ᐈ Self-awareness stock images, Royalty Free self awareness photos | download on Depositphotos®If our faith is in the Lord and the Spirit is within us, obedience must be recognized as something that often accompanies an awareness of the presence of God. To paraphrase Jerry Bridges from his book “Respectable Sins,” godliness is living in light of an awareness of God’s presence. Righteousness, as he states in his book, is essentially the activity that flows from that awareness. In line with the whole passage, and the book of Philippians for that matter, Paul’s commendation of their obedience is deeply tied to their focus on the Lord rather than a focus on spiritual leaders like himself. Whether Paul is present or absent, one thing is for certain: God is always present. If they (or we) are to live obediently with consistency, obedience will only develop with a living awareness of the presence of God, as well as an intention to please Him most with what we do.  I was challenged years ago that whenever we choose to sin, we are in essence choosing “practical atheism,” believing in God’s existence but absolving it from our minds to ease the tension of choosing what we know is wrong. 

Paul’s primary thrust here is a challenge to us as well: who are we living for? Is our obedience to God for Him or for a human audience? Who are trying to please?

Now, third and finally, let’s come to the last part of Philippians 2:12-13 and also see the correlation to Exodus 20 (and Hebrews 12:18-21). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” The command to “work out your own salvation” is not a call to maintain salvation as though it could be lost, or that they had some part in saving themselves. The best theological term to be related here would be sanctification, which is the transformative process of the believer between initial salvation and glorification. In saying that, know that it is extremely important that our theology of salvation be biblical, that a believer doesn’t just believe and go 20, 30, 40, 50 years without having a working relationship with God to just wind up in glory; the true trajectory of the believer is a coursing path through life of ups and downs, faith as well as moments of failure, but the general course is on the up and up.  Think of sanctification like a stock market graph, the lows getting higher and the highs getting higher as one moves towards glory. Does it mean perfection on the way? No, but it does mean growth that moves overall in the right direction.

Sanctification, as well, is both an active and passive transformation in that we are called to submit and serve and obey actively, but passively we are being drawn into that very plan by the Sovereign hand of God. This active and passive nature of sanctification is the essence of verse 12b-13.2,746 Mt Sinai Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

(Mt. Sinai)

Additionally, there is a peculiar wording used in these two verses when it says “fear and trembling.” The Greek words in English would be phobos and tromos: think phobias and tremors or shaking. If you’ve read Scripture much, you may be reminded of that phrasing being used elsewhere. Hebrews 12:18-21 will bring it up:

 18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,

 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.

 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”

 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”

 

Going back to Exodus 20, almost immediately after the Ten Commandments are dictated, we see these verses: 

 

18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.

 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:18-20)

Notice that both Hebrews and Exodus capture the emotion of fear to the point of trembling. Perhaps Exodus 20:20 might help the best in relationship to obedience as it refers to a fear of God being a helpful aid in not sinning. When that fear is lost, so too does the inner inhibition to sin shrink up as well. Were Moses and the Israelites deeply aware of the presence of God in Exodus 20?  Absolutely, and that translated into somewhat of a spiritual paralysis before God. Unfortunately, this didn’t last too long because by Exodus 32, they were crafting a golden calf to worship while Moses had been on the mountain for a long time, at least in their estimation.

What Philippians 2:12-13 is most likely referencing, therefore, is the presence of God not simply on a mountain full of fire and darkness and thunder, but His residence within. It both correlates and contrasts with Exodus 20. Not only does He reside within, but the heart of those commandments given on Mt. Sinai is placed within us as well. Like an anchor to the soul, honoring God and living under His command becomes something that may be tested, but is hard to resist when it’s now a part of who we are. 

Work out your salvation (sanctification) with fear and trembling, for (because) it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” The cause of fear and trembling is therefore tied not to scary circumstances but to an observation of the Holy Spirit within us at work in our hearts and lives. Spiritual sensitivity, conviction, a desire for God, hearing Him through His word and so forth–these don’t just happen, they are signs of spiritual life. When trusting God becomes foundational to the way we live our lives and not just a fleeting moment of spoken faith, we are talking about the Spirit-born faith spelled out in the Bible. 

No one stays true to God long-term on God’s terms without God having taken residency within them and putting His word into their hearts. No one obeys with or without a human audience without a focus on pleasing God rather than just pleasing men. Nevertheless, the beauty of this verse as well is found in seeing God at work in us and being in awe of that work that He’s doing. Yes, we can live to serve God and do many religious activities, but nothing can bring comfort to the soul like watching God at work within one’s self. As a pastor, I also take great joy in watching God at work in others, and for the small parts I can play in helping, I’m thankful to see Him moving in them through the use of His word and bringing joy to their souls in their walk with Him. 

One of the interesting things I’ve found in my time reading Scripture is drawing the connection as to what an author is thinking about when they’re writing a particular passage of Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, we are seeing the difference between an external God and an external Law and a modern-day believer who also has God within them and His law written on their hearts as well. Is this found in the Bible? Yes, in Hebrews 8:8-10:

8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–

 9 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.

 10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

 

While these verses speak specifically to the Israelites, we know from the New Testament such as in Acts 2:17-21 that the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church is the giving of His presence within as well as the word being illuminated to the heart.

 

The simple takeaway today is this: take heart in the Lord and place your focus on Him. If you’ve seen Him at work in you, rejoice in that and continue to follow Him in your sanctification as you make your way to glorification. God calls us to honor, serve, and obey Him, but He also sovereignly guides us and empowers us in that calling. Salvation begins with faith in Jesus Christ, it is continued on with sanctification in Christ through the means of faith, and it is consummated with glorification as our hope is fulfilled in the glorious presence of our Lord. 

Thank you for your time in worship today.  May God bless you as you ponder His word.

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You. Help us to remember the mission to which we’ve been called, and to surrender daily to You within Your desires for us. Forgive us for the many times we doubt You or selfishly cling to our own desires and help us to realign with You today. If anyone reading this doesn’t have a real relationship with You, I pray for them, that You’d impress upon them that need to call out to you in faith today for salvation. Please be with the many folks struggling with sickness and we pray comfort for them today. Help us to watch our walk in this world and our attitudes for that matter.  We pray for our country and for our leaders and the great spiritual need of the Gospel that exists both in the U.S. and abroad. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.