Guarding a Godly Perspective of Life: Philippians 1:19-24

If you base your happiness, your contentment, your joy off circumstances they you will always be left wanting. But that begs the question, how do we find joy in a world that is so obviously decrepit? The answer lies in where your focus is, what you perspective is.

Pastor Sam Stringer brings this message out of Paul who, being imprisoned while writing Philippians, talks about finding fulfillment, joy, and purpose.

PowerPoint Outline can be viewed while you watch here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Izd6… 

Mid-Week Devo: Jonah 4:11-16 “No Accidents”

Jonah 4:11-16

 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”– for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.

 

“No Accidents”

 

Today’s portion of the text shifts into the response of the sailors once they discover the cause of the calamity at hand. The sovereign hand of God is certainly holding all things in tension, not letting Jonah loose from serving Him nor the sailors from beseeching Him for mercy.

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Isn’t it interesting that Jonah’s flight away from Nineveh inevitably led him into testifying about God to pagans who followed false gods? What he didn’t want to do (in essence) towards the Ninevites still took place on the ship going to Tarshish. It reminds me of the childish prank of writing “Turn this over” on a card only to find written on the other side, “Turn this over.” Jonah could not wash his hands of his calling or being used, despite his reluctance and despite his failing attempt to discount himself from God’s desires for him. We could also liken God’s calling of Jonah to a piece of cork in water, perhaps trying to be held down but inevitably rising again to the surface.

 

Perhaps we would do best to recognize the work of God in this passage, for the initial response of the men to Jonah was, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” Following Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he concluded his lengthy statement to the surrounding audience by saying, 

 

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

 

Unfortunately for Jonah, there seems to be an indifference towards the real need of the men on the ship with him. He was content to get on board and leave them unaware of his identity and intentions until a great storm nearly overtook them. Even in declaring who he was, why he was running, and that he was the cause of the chaos, he failed to point them to the Lord. All he directed the men to do was, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” 

 

Notice that the men on board the ship did not necessarily heed his advice initially. “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.” Identifying himself was not enough to end the opposing winds and waves; these men were showing mercy to the man that brought them calamity. 

 

It may not be so obvious at first, but consider this: the crew knew by Jonah’s own admission that they were undergoing a near-death experience and yet even in their fear, they didn’t respond to him with coldness nor a quick, harsh response by immediately dumping him off the ship. If we step out just a bit further, we must see that God moved pagans to show mercy to Jonah if even but for a little longer. In great irony, the men aboard the ship seemed to show better character than the man representing God.

“Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.’” Had these men simply followed Jonah’s instructions, tossed him overboard and watched the sea’s violence abate, they very well would have missed the dire plea with God for His mercy, and that would have been an even greater calamity. We must never forget that though temporal pains may subside, if spiritual needs are never addressed, the greater problem still remains. 

 

It’s interesting here, too, that their theology actually doesn’t seem so far off. First, they recognize the Lord as Sovereign. Second, they recognize that God can hold us accountable for our behavior before Him. Finally, they recognized that God acts in accordance with His pleasure, too. 

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“So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” It is something to be pondered on here that Jonah was witnessing repentance in the hearts of people he neither cared for nor intentionally engaged on a spiritual level. Perhaps God intended to minister to Jonah through working in others despite Jonah’s heart, that Jonah might be shown mercy when he should have been released for his attitude alone. Neither party in this whole book, that being Jonah or any audience, is really any better than the other; both need grace and both have a lot of flaws. Sometimes it’s our connection to God that our pride gets a hold of, telling us that we’re better than others because of our association when really we’re just as much imperfect sinners in need of the grace of God still.

 

“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.” Though it may seem a bit murky at first sight, there is good reason to believe that salvation came to the men on board the ship, despite the fact that they had pagan backgrounds. They did not seek God but were found by Him as a running prophet of the Living God intersected with their lives. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The sailors began the act of wisdom by fearing God, but went further by offering him sacrifice and committing themselves unto Him. Though Christ would not come for a long time beyond the days of Jonah, the fact of the matter was that these men expressed faith in God and obeyed with what little they knew. 

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Salvation, biblically speaking, is always a matter of looking to the Christ, believing upon Him for His perfect, holy sacrifice on the cross as a means of removing the wrath of God while also having the righteous record of Jesus Christ accredited to one’s own account, God viewing the person expressing faith in Him as justified. Sometimes I’ve heard it spelled out in a sense, “Just as if I’d never sinned.” It’s not a personal performance issue, but a matter of faith relative to the God-Man Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life by God’s standards and died a sacrificial death on the cross that all believing on Him might have the certain hope of eternal life. 

 

Well, are there any further practical applications to be drawn from this passage? Let me highlight a few:

 

  1. God does as He pleases and there are no accidents in the plans of God. For all that people do, they can never suppress God from His free will. No one and nothing can act outside of His permission and determination. This is cause for praise!
  2. God can save anyone at any time through any means. The hope of repentance still ultimately rests in His hands. Therefore, serve Him but do so in reliance upon Him for the outcome. Genuine change never comes apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. 
  3. God does not give up on His children because He is faithful to His promises. They may at times kick and scream, even try to discount themselves, or go as far as to try running from Him (among many poor responses) and while this is never okay, thank God that the hope of our relationship with Him rests in the foundation of His faithfulness. The hope of our relationship with God day after day is bound to His grace towards us. In his mercy, He does not leave us to our own devices for long, but may for times as He allows. 
  4. God knows what He’s doing. Preach that to yourself in 2020, right? 

 

I hope this short devotional has been a help to you, and if you’ve gleaned anything of usefulness to your Christian walk, or it’s stirred up in you a desire for salvation, I praise God for that. Thank you for your time! God bless you.

 

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

“How To” in Hard Times Part 2

 

Where is our focus?

Joy in 2020 still has the same foundation as it always has. It doesn’t come from economic strength or good politics or healthy nations. It comes in people who are willingly made useful to the lord with their eyes on Him in the service they provide. God has called all believers to be influential in their own ways towards the same end goal of glorifying him and furthering His work in this world.

Outline:

1. The Potential for Influence (15)

a. Preaching the Good News, the Gospel

b. 3 John 1:9-10

2. The Focus of Influence (15-16)

a. “Some preach Christ from envy and strife” – think of jealously and rivalry

b. “Some from good will” – desire to be kind. Godly mindsets focus on the biblical goal, whereas ungodly mindsets focus on the return.

c. Making a name for myself or making a name for Jesus as it relates to me.

3. Discerning the purpose of Influence

a. Carnality/potential wolves in sheep’s clothing – no security from great self-focus

1. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3: envy, strife, selfish ambition, insincerity are marks of carnality

2. 2 Corinthians 2:17

3. 1 Timothy 6:3-5: knowing nothing, obsessed with argument, godliness for gain

4. Romans 1:28-32: losing awareness of God, behavior is a punishment for unrepentance.

Consider this, sinful behavior brings punishment, but punishment in part is also to be absorbed in sinful behavior. It is a two-sided coin. Somethings the immediate lightning bolt for deviant behavior is to live in the rut of deviant behavior.

b. Godly believers – security in Christ from focus on Him

1. Romans 12:10-18: behavior transformed by biblical mindset

2. James 3:16-18: peace-making

3. I Corinthians 9:19-22: winsome, not to myself, but to the Lord

4. The Joy of God-led influence (18)

a. Negatively (misery)

1. Envy, rivalry, selfish ambition and a desire to undermine others creates misery.

2. Refusing to entrust yourself to God creates misery

3. Therefore, it is imperative that we put those thoughts and behaviors off.

4. But this is not enough; we are only creating a vacuum by focusing on what not to do.

b. Positively (joy)

1. Setting our focus on Christ, serving in love with the intention of not being a hindrance but a bridge to the Gospel – this creates joy, deep profound gladness.

2. Taking our eyes off ourselves or other people is the grounds for joy.

3. Being a vessel made useful and considered worthy by God in His grace to cause change in other people is foundational to joy.

c. Note Paul’s mindset (18)

1. He could rejoice in the Gospel going forth regardless of intentions.

2. He could rejoice in the Gospel regardless of his circumstances.

3. He rejoiced in what the Gospel could do: save people even if that wasn’t the real intention of the messenger.

4. Remember: joyful people serve to save; miserable people serve to enslave.

 

Mid-Week Devotional: Jonah 1:4-10

Jonah 1:4-10 NKJV

“But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”

There is a great contrast between Jonah 1:3 and Jonah 1:4. Jonah did all that he could to run from God’s presence in v. 3: he went to a harbor town, found a ship going about as far away from Ninevah as one could go, paid a fare and boarded the ship. Jonah took every step possible to ensure that he could try to drown out the voice of God in his reluctancy to heed God’s calling.

It is interesting that with all of Jonah’s planned steps that he took, the next verse (v.4) begins with the words, “But the Lord.” It’s almost as if nothing more needs to be said in the verse, because the contrastive word “but” tells us that regardless of all that Jonah did, God took exeption to Jonah’s plans. In similar vein to Joseph’s statement to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, where he tells his brothers “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good,” the plans of Jonah could not trump the plans of God, but only succumb to them.boat on body of water at daytime

Jonah’s plan of running away did serve a missional purpose in the hands of God. Consider this: Jonah’s only intention was to run away; he really had no spiritual concern for the men aboard the ship. We know this, because later on it will finally come out who he is to the others on board the ship and what his intentions were in taking the voyage with them. Nevertheless, we will see later on in v. 18 that the men inevitably feared the Lord, offered sacrifices to Him and took vows in relationship to Him. Even in running, God would not allow Jonah to get away from being part of His activities. Before I get ahead of the passage too much, let’s return to verse 3.

“The Lord sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.” While nature is always a servant to God, there are certainly times where He directs it to accomplish His purposes. Even the great reformer Martin Luther had a similar course, with a thunder storm scaring him while caught out in it only to cry out and offer himself for the priesthood (later, while a priest, he would come to believe in salvation alone by grace alone, and this is when he got saved).

Not only did God know how this would result in relationship to Jonah, but He also knew this towards the sailors. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.” Superstition has been a part of many different social spheres over the course of time, and the sailors on Jonah’s boat saw the storm through the lens of an angry deity causing the tumult. Not everyone tends to look at the violence of nature as though it is the result of offending a deity, but that’s entirely how this crew responded to it.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” There appears to be a parallel taking place here that is seen in the New Testament with Jesus and his disciples. In fact, the events occuring in Jonah 1 share a lot of similarities with Matthew 8:24-27:

“And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing! But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” 19 Copyright Free Images Sites (You'll Fall in Love With) - PSD Stack

Both passages see a boat full of people extremely terrified, crying out for rescue while the “hero” on board is asleep.  When God (or the Son of God) responds, nature immediately is calmed, and worship ensues. (We can also see a similar incident in Matthew 14:24-33).

“So the captain came to him, and said to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’ And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” In the case of Jonah, men were crying out to false gods to no avail. They then woke up Jonah in demand that he also call upon his God. It’s not certain whether he did or not, but the way the passage is written, it seems that they didn’t even wait for a response. They quickly turned to the casting of lots, looking for a sign of the culprit. God once again worked by accommodating disbelief with His sovereign hand guiding the events.

“Then they said to him, ‘Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ So he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” Notice that the sailors were driven greatly by fear in this passage, and from their point of view, they were going to die if something didn’t change. When the lot fell upon Jonah, they demanded answers and quickly, for they had no idea who it was that they had allowed on their ship. Jonah’s response could have been dismissed, but all things as they were, the men on the ship were primed to believe every word that he said and to be captivated in fear with Jonah’s God. The Lord, being maker of the sea and dry land, had absolute control over their circumstances.

“Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘Why have you done this?’ For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” It’s a great question that these men asked Jonah, isn’t it? “Why have you done this?” It’s perhaps a very complicated answer if he was to be completely honest. We must see here that their concern regarding Jonah’s disobedience wasn’t necessarily out of interest for him, but out of self-preservation as his disobedience brought pain into their lives, too. Disobedience to God has a way of doing that: when we live in sin or drag our feet with God, oftentimes it’s not just us that suffer, but those around us, too.

Perhaps today we should consider our relationship with God as not just something that affects us, but everyone around us as well. When we’re close with Him, others benefit. When we’re resistant to Him, unwilling to accept His plans or to obey, others will feel the effects, too. This is an incredibly important lesson for us to learn about relating to God: we affect others by our relationship with God.

Near or far, loving or apathetic, worshipful or selfish, who we are and how we are rubs off on those in our company. Our values do indeed give direction to others about what is to be valued. Please keep this in mind: reading your Bible, praying, going to church, serving, etc. are not just about us, even though that’s how most Americans look at spirituality. Attitudes towards God create a culture and a climate, neither of which come out of a vacuum. The people, families, and churches that we are becoming do have a profound connection with our relationship to God.

God has given us a high calling if only in knowing Him. See it not only as an act of worship, but also an act of service to others when you pursue Him. Jonah may have gotten on boat for his own reasons, but everyone with him felt the weight of his reluctance soon enough. Keep seeking the Lord!

 

 

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

“How To” in Hard Times: Philippians 1:1-14

Thank you for joining us for this week’s message from Philippians. If you are able to join us in person we are thankful and if you are joining us from home, we are thankful and know that you are missed!

In Philippians 1:1-14 Paul shows us three ways to think and act when times are tough.

1. How to Relate to Other Believers (1:1-8)

a. Desiring God’s grace and peace for them (2)

b. Being thankful for them and letting God know (3)

c. Remembering them in your prayers (4)

d. Remembering what unites us — the Gospel (5)

e. Looking for the work of God in others (6)

f. More of them, less of me (7)

g. Desiring to be together and encourage (8)

2. How to Pray for One Another (1:9-11)

a. That your love may about still more and more in knowledge and all discernment (9)

i. Love that is rooted…

ii. Spiritual Insight

iii. Spiritual discernment (good judgement)

b. That (purpose) you may approve the things that are excellent (10)

c. That (result) you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ (10)

d. (put on) Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ (11)

e. (ultimate goal) To the glory and praise of God (11)

f. Two things Scripture essential warns against: love without discernment and discernment without love. They are a package deal. Paul prays for both – much like 1 Corinthians, he sees action without love as meaning nothing)

3. How to Think Positively (1:12-14)

a. God’s story is bigger than my own and He is working it out even when life seems contrary.

b. God can use the strength He gives us in difficulty to witness to the truth and many times when we are unaware of it (13)

c. The faith I exercise today my be the strength other need tomorrow for their own story (14)

 

If you have any prayer requests that you would like us to know about, please contact us!

 

Devotional–Jonah 1:3

Jonah 1:3

But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

 

Last week, we began this devotional series on Jonah by looking at the first two verses of chapter one.  If I might sum up the first two verses once more, we could understand them best by the concept of God’s rights with the subcategory of God’s mercy.

God is always completely in His right to do as He pleases; we don’t have to agree, understand, or (especially) allow Him to have those rights. Being God, by nature, He is above all things created and is the only being with pure free will, that is, the ability to choose and to do exactly as He pleases without any constraint.

God has the power and the right to show mercy to whom He wills and to harden whom He wills.  Romans 9:14-16 states: What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” We could simplify v. 16 by saying, “It depends on God.” The received treatment from God is not dependent upon the person in His sights but the God behind the “eyes” through which He sees the person. All of creation is dependent upon God, but God is dependent upon no one; He is self-existent, self-sustaining, self-contained, and self-fulfilled among many of His attributes. 

Stepping into verse 3 today, we actually are looking at a verse that should be a crisis of theology for Jonah, but Jonah’s response often to lesser degrees has been attempted by many Christians. It’s amazing how believers have a propensity for learning Scriptural truth on one hand and yet have practiced beliefs on the other. No matter what we may claim to believe in doctrine, we are always limited by what we are willing to put into practice either in acts of obedience or in how we think, despite what we know.

Every Christian, in a sense, is given large shoes to fill that they are growing ever so slowly into when they are given biblical truth. We often don’t add up to what we believe, and just because we know to have faith, to live by hope, to trust God for the outcome, to practice obedience and to die to sinful desires, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily do. Biblically speaking, it is a process that we are both called to work out but that God Himself is also working out in us (and there’s great hope in that). Nevertheless, God has a way of taking truths we know and forcing us to see just what we truly want to believe; they don’t always align.

With this backdrop of thought in mind, let’s look at our verse. The first part of v. 3 says this: “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” The word “but” is a contrasting word; God gave a command (v. 2), but Jonah chose to run from it. Not only did he run from the command, but his heart was to run from the presence of the Lord.

This is where that theology crisis should immediately kick in, because there is no place in all of creation that one can flee from the Lord. David would say in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in [f]Sheol, behold, You are there.” (I’d recommend reading Psalm 139:1-12 for a more full picture of what’s captured in vv. 7-8.)

There is no escaping the presence of the Lord, but that is what Jonah’s intention was. He could have gone to Ninevah. He could have stayed put where he was. Jonah went above and beyond in his response by going the entirely opposite direction from Ninevah (Tarshish would be over in modern Spain). Jonah was trying to go as far away as he could, literally to the edge of the Europe near the Atlantic Ocean when Ninevah was thousands of miles the other direction.

Notice, though, that the story of Jonah doesn’t end with his boat ride, a frustrated God putting His hands up in the air and saying, “Guess I’ll have to find someone else.” No, God knew who He was calling when He asked Jonah to do this, and knew that Jonah would buck, and that this calling was going to not only be a work on the people of Ninevah, but also a work on a reluctant prophet who had a lot of rough edges to smooth out. He still has a way of calling us into places that will rough out the edges of both the ministered and the minister.

Service to God is not just about changing others, but also being changed in the process. He provides grace to serve, but the pressures that we may undergo in the process have a purpose in refining us. No one serves God without also being radically changed in the process; it’s one of the gifts (you read that right) that God blesses us with in obedience: transformation. This is why many folks would gladly accept the offer of grace and mercy but shun the notion of serving God for the potential pain incurred or dreams dismissed in favor of God’s plans. Obedience to God always brings the discomfort of submission, but then again, is it really all that comfortable to be at the helm of your life without God at your side?

“So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Can we draw something from this portion of verse 3? I would surmise that it’s highlighting how calculated Jonah was in his determination to run from God. He first went to a port town (intentionally), found a ship going to Tarshish (intentionally), paid a fare (probably not small as it was one of the farthest destinations to go) and then went down into the ship to go with the sailors. Jonah did his research, took his trip, and spent his time and money all in an effort to distance himself from God to serve his own interests.

We have to wonder if sometimes the best way to drown out the sound of God’s voice is to continuously take steps to ensure a path we know He’s not in. Jonah didn’t get to Joppa and then turn around, nor did he find a ship going to Joppa and then change his mind. He didn’t pause on the payment (that we can see) but took steps to cement his journey out of the presence of God. Sometimes we do similar things: we may choose to willingly not do things we know God wants us to do, but have to go to great efforts to keep not doing them. Additionally, we may choose to willingly do things we know God does not want us to do, and yet again have to go to great lengths to keep doing them when that quiet voice keeps trying to talk. The inner awareness that comes with God’s activity can sometimes only be dealt with by noise, but even noise can only keep God silent as long as He chooses to not overpower it.

It’s safe to say that Jonah’s response to God sought to downplay God’s right in calling him to serve God as He saw fit. God has the right to show grace and mercy to whom He will, but sometimes the harder calling that finds more resistance is in God’s right to call whomever He wills to serve Him. Service doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas or being in the ministry; every believer is called to honor God by doing what He is calling each of them to do individually. We may give Him 1,000 reasons for why He can’t use us, and other people may give Him 1,000 reasons more. Neither party matters when speaking of human reasons being thrown in the face of God; what He wants, He rightly should get. Still, this doesn’t mean we won’t have times of throwing up a fight of resistance or being like the child who would not sit down until the force of demand, at which the child responded, “I’m still standing inside.” Thank God that He doesn’t wait for us to determine if He can use us, but calls us to serve Him and on the way makes us more useful.

The beauty of this little verse of defiance (Jonah 1:3) is that God doesn’t give up on those He bestows His love upon. Both the Ninevites and the prophet Jonah were in need of God’s grace and mercy, and the glory of this book of the Bible rests not in the people portrayed but the God who, in His right, showed grace and mercy for His pleasure. Even Jonah’s reluctant unwillingness did not ultimately discount him from God using him; while in the moment he resisted, inevitably God would bring him around, though he still had much to work on even by the end of the book.

I pray for you today that whether you’ve been near or far from God, you’d be caught up not in your own reflection at the thought of Him, but in the image of a God who is glorious and kind, loving and forgiving, whose character when seen properly draws us in like a bug to a light (with a better end). See Him again for how good He is, and let that goodness infect your soul that you might grow in holiness before Him. God’s character is always on display in the Scriptures, whether people are behaving righteously or sinfully. How He responds to them teaches us much about who He is.

It all starts with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, because if that hasn’t happened, there is no growing in holiness and spiritual maturity. The Gospel message itself tells us how great God is to be so kind to humanity when no one has been good enough to earn or keep the favor that He offers. If Christ is your Savior, take a moment to thank God for how good He has been to you recently.

Wishing you God’s best,

 

 

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Living in Light of True Freedom: Galatians 5:1-6

Thank you for joining us for this message from Pastor Sam, taken from Galatians 5:1-6 about freedom, true freedom.

Mid-Week Devo: Jonah 1:1-2

Jonah 1:1-2 (NASB)

 1The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 

 

I’d like to start this short devotional by beginning in the book of Jonah, what is a short book of the Bible but still a powerful lesson indeed. Jonah was a reluctant prophet of the Old Testament, and while there may definitely be moments of reluctance on the part of multiple Bible characters, even the heroes, perhaps Jonah would be best defined by his disinclined nature at preaching the word of God to a nation that he had no heart for.

Have you ever considered why Jonah would not want to go to the Ninevites? There are numerous reasons; primarily, the Ninevites were known not just for wickedness on a spiritual level with God, but also for being a violent, oppressive group that horrendously tortured those that they captured. Some of the most gruesome forms of torture could be attributed to the Ninevites, who were one group that practiced the “art” of flaying people while they were still alive: that is, removing their skin with the purpose of causing unspeakable pain. They also practiced sticking people on poles and leaving them to die if they hadn’t already. If you’d like to see a document recording some of this, here’s a link to an article detailing their atrocities.

Not only this, but those cities that they captured were burned and the people carted off. They struck great fear in the hearts of those that they fought against, and this obviously would have caused a great deal of psychological defeat in their enemies far before there was an actual battle. Who wants to fight those that are merciless and calculated in their infliction of pain on others?

It has been speculated that some of Jonah’s own family may have endured such violent and tragic ends. Even if not his own family, certainly his own people. Even if not his own people, certainly the fact that anyone had such terrible injustices done against them would cause great pause in ever showing kindness on his part. Jonah was not uneducated in the ways of the Ninevites, and he, like many, only wanted them to suffer for their deeds.

This kind of background gives the book of Jonah an interesting perspective on God. Let’s draw our attention to three places found in today’s text that we ought to focus on:

  1. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah.”  Why would God even care to send a word towards such a group and to give it to Jonah, an unlikely prophet to be sent? God is in His right to offer mercy to whomever He pleases and to overlook whomever He desires. He is not obligated to show kindness to the most morally upright of individuals, nor is He obligated to pour out wrath upon those who have done everything possibly wicked in their power. This is a plug for the Gospel: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor; it is not earned by our works nor is it dismissed by our works. Grace must function in both directions to be grace, else it becomes a matter of law-based righteousness. Unfortunately, there is no one good enough in relationship to God in His perfect holiness to ever be counted worthy in themselves of His righteousness; therefore, it is always and only a matter of God’s grace should a person come into a right relationship with Him. Additionally, He has the right to ask any of His children to go and to serve Him in whatever capacity He should desire. He has the rights, and even if we do have pain and weakness towards certain places, His grace is sufficient and He knows what He’s doing. He does not fail when He moves any of His children to serve Him in the capacities that He does. Consider that the book of Jonah has much to do with the rights of God.
  2. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it.” It is an act of mercy for God to ever let people know before eternity that they are living in sin. It is an act of mercy when He moves one of His servants to go and to make that known. Every time we witness, whether people respond positively or not, it is an act of mercy in that truth is being relayed and people are being made aware, whether they like that or not. God could let any person on this planet live and die without ever having any awareness of His righteousness, their sinfulness, and the judgment to come without a Savior. Even in Jonah’s time, the people would have to respond to his message in faith, taking God at His word through the prophet Jonah and essentially believing upon the Messiah that was to come.  You see, Old Testament or New, the Savior was always the one people had to look to, and it was just a matter of whether He was to come or whether He already had. Regardless, when God sends a witness to decry the sins of the people, even that act is part of His gift of mercy. It’s not all that a people need for salvation, but it’s certainly a part of the package. 
  3. “Their wickedness has come up before Me.” The deeds of the Ninevites, that is, the sin of this people, caught God’s attention. We will see that Jonah’s first response is to run, and why is that? He will tell us eventually that he suspected God would show kindness and that was the last thing that He wanted. Had he thought that God’s intentions were only to bring down wrath, perhaps he would have gone. Then again, if God only intended wrath, perhaps there would not have been a need to send a message, but just to pour out that wrath. God’s kindness to humanity, in part, is to let them be made aware of what is to come, whether they accept it or reject it, believe it or mock it. He has the right to save and the right to pass over. He has the right to let people be made aware and to not follow through on breaking their hearts in repentance to Him. God can do as He pleases.

I hope we think about this truth of God’s rights in this world in which we live. A lot is happening and while we may petition God to change things, it’s always His right to answer right away or to let things continue on. He knows what He is doing and He has a plan for what He allows. Sovereignty must be something that we rest in with the world in which we live. Pray, preach, teach, love others, but rest in God’s control over it all.  Sometimes we just need to remember that God is always good and always right to do as He pleases, even if we don’t always like it. Rejoice in knowing that He still sits on the throne, every moment of every day.

Thank you, and God bless you this evening.

Where is God in the Midst of Pain?

Happy Independence Day weekend! Today during our in person services, Pastor Sam will be talking about freedom, which we will post next week for you to enjoy. Today on our website we have last week’s message for you on pain and suffering.

We would all love for all of these pressures in the world to just be resolved, to go away. But will that truly resolve the problems? Pastor Sam delves into 2 Corinthians and shows us the problems that are simply revealing the bigger, deeper problems and where our hope truly lies.

 

A Father of Character in a Crazy World

Father’s Day was last week and we invite you, especially those who cannot join us in person today,

to watch today’s online sermon by Pastor Sam Stringer from Genesis 17:15-22