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!

Romans 1:16 | re-Ver(sing) Verses

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 4:2-3 “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 6th– Grounded in the Truth of Jesus’ Lordship

Let’s start this morning with some worship if you cannot see the video, use this link. 

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,

 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Time is short, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s easy to forget this fact in the midst of events and circumstances that vie heavily for our attention. If we’re not careful, we can lose sight of where God is taking us, the control He has over everything we go through, or even God Himself. Unfortunately, when this happens, we often find ourselves prone to distractions in an attempt to numb our emotions or keep ourselves happy. As I write that, I’m reminded that sometimes God wants us to be in difficult places and to be weak and vulnerable, as some lessons can only come not only from difficult circumstances but also the emotional distress that accompanies them and where we go in such dark times, as well as to whom.

 

In calling believers to have the mind of Christ and to follow in His humble orientation to God the Father, we find in Philippians 2:9-11 a bit of a digression from the call that highlights the Lord Jesus Christ and His eternal designation on the basis of His sinless life and perfect sacrifice for sin upon the cross.

 

In reviewing the previous verses, we see in Jesus a humble attitude residing in the Maker of the universe, dwelling among men but not making it a point to remind them of how much He had condescended to be among them. The mind of Jesus was set on the Father’s will and the fulfillment of that will.

 

This is why, in conclusion to His life and death, the Father has determined to magnify the Son eternally. Even now, it is our duty to magnify Him who will forever be set at the center of it all, for He gave His life that we might have life eternally with God found through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

It’s September 2020, and it’s been quite the year. Some might say that we have lived nearly a decade in this one year, for that’s how it has felt. It’s very easy to get bogged down with the rest of the world in the constant changes we face, as well as the great uncertainties that abound in nearly every direction we look. 

 

How ought we to face such uncertainty, and what can anchor us when the world around us seems to be quickly loosening from its moorings? Look no further than the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus Christ found therein. 

Today, let’s look at Philippians 2:9-11, a brief set of verses that show us three powerful concepts to contemplate regarding Christ.   This passage is a great place to go when we find that we need grounded once again. My family was able to go on vacation the last two weeks, and it was great, but I’ll tell you, there’s no place like home.  That’s what grounding is, that place where things that are off-kilter get reestablished.  The three concepts we’re going to look at from this passage are: 1.  Authority; 2. Certainty; 3. Finality.  Join me for a bit of an explanation:

 

  • AUTHORITY  Verse 9 says, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” There are many voices speaking into our lives today, and all claim some level of authority on life and the issues therein. To speak authoritatively that which is false will certainly lead to failure and confusion, for speaking into matters when not based upon what is true will only flop in time. Who can speak authoritatively into all matters that take place but God alone? He created all things, holds all things together, has determined the end of all things, and is sovereign over all people, spirits, and circumstances.  God the Father, according to v. 9, has highly exalted the Son and given Him preeminence to all others. We can see this preeminence as well in Colossians 1:15-20:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that  in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

No one on the TV or in the headlines has the authority in any comparison whatsoever to that of Jesus Christ. What He says is true, reliable, and resolute.  His authority is the supreme authority of all authorities.  Rest in that, for what the Scriptures tell us need to speak into our lives today; we need to slow down, listen, and trust what He says is true no matter the day or age.

 

  • CERTAINTY  Philippians 2:10-11 says,  “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The NASB translates “should bow” and “should confess” a bit more emphatically in our modern vernacular as “will bow” and “will confess,” the point being that it’s not just the hope of the design that this will transpire, but that it is certain that at the appointed time, all beings will bow the knee and all tongues will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

 

Sometimes, given the diversity of beliefs out there and the backlash that Christianity faces, it feels like things will never be set straight. The fact of the matter, though, according to Scripture, is that every person out there is going to recognize the truth in time, whether they accept it or reject it in this lifetime, and they will absolutely know that Jesus is Lord and confess it as such. 

 

There are a lot of uncertainties in our lives. We don’t know what this week will look like if we’re really being honest, and we certainly don’t know what to expect of the rest of 2020 nor 2021. There are hopes as well as disappointments, but regardless, no one really knows, nor do we know our personal parts in those times to come. What do we know from Scripture? The certainty of the future is under the sovereign hand of God, and Jesus Christ will be magnified in time. Thinking and living in light of the truth of Philippians 2:9-11 can certainly bring peace and firmness to our hearts and minds today; make sure you don’t forget how this all “ends.” 

 

  • FINALITY Once again, vv. 10-11 say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

Think with me just a bit here over the many times we have thought, “finally…” only to have that sense of completion undone. You’ve finally gotten the house cleaned, only to have it get dirty again the very same day. You’ve finally got your finances under control, only to have another surprise expense come knocking at the door of your bank account. You’ve finally lost those last five pounds…and then the holidays hit or the diet just doesn’t seem to work like it once did. There are many moments in life that we look forward to only to soon find ourselves back in the rut of waiting for the next great milestone, none of them truly fulfilling us like we had often hoped.

 

Consider this kind of cycle within 2020: what if some other coronavirus comes out in 2021 or this decade? We’d hate to think it, much as its affected policies and procedures in so many ways and our whole way of living socially, but it is always possible. Wars are always possible; what if a war breaks out in the 2020’s, making 2020 itself feel like it wasn’t that bad of a year? I don’t want to be a fear monger here, but the point is that we do not know, and while folks hope for finality in various ways throughout life, it can only be found ultimately in Jesus Christ. 

 

When Philippians 2:9-11 speaks about Jesus and His authority, it speaks of all other persons having that final moment of recognizing, bowing, and confessing His Lordship. It’s final, because this will not waver. It won’t be a moment of recognition that is taken back later on; Jesus Christ is Lord and all will know it. 

 

Not only is there a finality to the activity of all created beings, but there is also a finality to God’s glory: He will be glorified and that glory will endure. 

 

All time is headed in the direction of this passage coming to fruition. No matter what takes place between now and then, we must remember that Philippians 2:9-11 is a destination towards which we are all headed. Saved or unsaved, all people will recognize the authority of Jesus Christ. The great question to the reader is, “On which side of that day will I be on, and will it be a moment of joy or a moment of shame?” 

 

Remember that the Lord died upon the cross to offer us eternal life through faith in Him. Only Jesus is enough for acceptance with God the Father, and salvation means trusting in Him that the death He died and the record He has might both cover our sins and grant us that righteous record before the Father for full acceptance as beloved children in His presence. So we will close today’s time with these words taken from Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” That is a promise that we too can claim and I encourage you to do so if you have not already.

 

Authority, certainty, and finality: the more you and I trust in the claims of Scripture, the more it will affect our lives today by our hope for the future. Preach His sovereignty to your heart!

Let’s close with this worship song today. Click this link if you do not see the video below. 

 

Prayer:

Lord, help us to look to You for our hope in this life. Lead us back to the Gospel today, and help us to be reminded that it’s your grace and mercy that make us acceptable in Your sight. Help us to be good stewards of the time and resources You have given us, and help us to live in light of the truth of the coming day when all will bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Blessings upon you today, my friends!

 

 

 

 

Devotional: Jonah 3:4-10 “Godly Repentance”

Jonah 3:4-10

4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

 

Solomon writes in Psalm 127:1, Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

667,736 House Construction Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free ...

Jesus is quoted in John 6:44 as saying, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Medraws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

 

Paul writes in Romans 9:14-16, What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.  

 

All of these references are but a few of the many verses highlighting the preceding work of God in the decisions of men, namely in those choosing to seek Him, repent before Him, and follow Him in faith.  

 

Jonah 3:4-10 should strike intrigue in the reader, for what guarantee had Jonah that he would not die in attempting to call the Ninevites to repentance or that they would ever respond positively to the message? A fascinating passage indeed, for God was calling Jonah into a work He was already doing. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this repentance process began at the words of Jonah; no, he was entering into obedience by proclamation over a matter that God had been working in these people, and because of that, it may very well appear that a monumental task took but the slightest of efforts to cause national repentance. (Consider Jesus’ conversation with the disciples in John 4:35-39).

 

God called Jonah to preach a message, which he truly struggled over, but the work that took place was not because of Jonah’s persuasiveness. Some have speculated that Jonah may have looked quite disfigured by the gastric juices of the fish he “camped out in” for three nights and that this caused incredible stir among the Ninevites. In many ways, it is a moot point because the repentance we see taking place here can only come if God is in it, whether Jonah looked like a fish’s leftovers or a model.Large White Birch Fireplace Logs, Set of 5 - Traditional ...

 

Ministry in any context might be best illustrated by the act of building a stack of wood made ready for a fire. We may preach, teach, exemplify, serve, etc., but when it comes to the work of God in the hearts of others, only God can bring the fire. The “wood” matters because it’s what He works with, but the fire can only come from Him.  How to Build a Campfire - Fishing & Camping

 

In the last part of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, a powerful point is made in the same vein of the wood and the fire:

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:27-31)

 

Jesus’ point here is that if people will not hear the word of God (Old Testament being referred to), they will not listen to someone even if they were to come back from the dead, as extravagant and eye-catching as that might seem. Why is this? It is because God must be at work in the heart, for the heart of a sinner if left to themselves will never choose faith.  

 

Royalty-free gift photos free download | Pxfuel Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” What is the “gift of God” referring to, exactly?  Well, it actually is referring to the whole phrase, “by grace you have been saved through faith,” and if broken down, tells us that there are three gifts essentially: grace, salvation, and faith. All come from God and are given freely to whomever He pleases. 


Finally, look over the verses once more. Note that there is a qualitative difference, biblically speaking, between
godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” In a simplified way, we might consider godly sorrow as a sorrow over causing grief to God, whereas worldly sorrow is a sorrow over consequences incurred. Godly sorrow is concerned with God’s glory, and worldly sorrow is concerned with the loss of one’s desires.

2,553 Repent Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from DreamstimeThe repentance we observe in Jonah 3:4-10 is a repentance of godly sorrow; it is concerned with God’s defamation and it is godly, too, because it is a repentance that God has worked within them. The Ninevites from greatest to least were convinced of their wrongfulness, God’s righteousness, and their unworthiness before Him; therefore, they sorrowed before Him over their sins. It was not a given that God would relent from His wrath against them, but they concluded that He might do so if He so desired. What does this mean but that they did not show sorrow in hopes of simply dodging a bullet.  

 

You see, worldly sorrow is only a manipulation tactic meant to prolong one’s agendas and ambitions; it does not truly care about the sin as much as avoiding the consequences. This, too, shows that consequences have unfortunately been learned in the wrong light, being that consequences are actually grace themselves meant to keep us from worse ends (see how Paul describes it here). If we only see consequence as punishment, we fail to see that many times over we as sinful humans bear the responsibility of the pain over which we cry and that God is kind and merciful should we seek Him out.

 

Praise God when repentance is truly expressed. Praise Him when sorrow is felt over offending Him and not just an expression intended to garner pity with the hopes of avoiding certain consequences. Praise God when people who may have strongly opposed Him, even in very gross ways like the Ninevites of Jonah’s day, turn from their sin and seek His mercy and favor as they realize that they are doomed without it. Pray that many more people would come to know and experience true repentance before Him in our times as well.  There is so much to learn from the book of Jonah, and I hope you’ll give it the time necessary to draw out the many insights that can be found in this small Old Testament book.

Thanks for your time if you read this, and I truly hope this finds you well. The next couple of weeks will be down time for these devotionals as my family gets away, but we will be up and running right away when we get back.  Take care.

 

Blessings in the Lord Jesus Christ,

 

 

 

 

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

Signs of Repentance–Jonah 2:10-3:3

Jonah 2:10-3:3

 “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,

‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.’

So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.”

 

Reluctancy would be a good word to use for many portions of the book of Jonah, but that is not the case as we begin Chapter Three.  Jonah had gone through a time in the sea in the belly of the great fish, and in that time cried out to God in a repentant spirit and great humility. Truly, though, the testing of his repentance would come after God showed him mercy.

 

By the way, notice that the mercy of God is one of the great themes of the book of Jonah.  God showed mercy to the sailors on the boat headed to Tarshish; God showed mercy to Jonah in saving him from perishing in the belly of the fish; God led Jonah to show mercy to the Ninevites by calling them to repentance and by relenting from the promised judgment against them when they would later cry out to Him upon hearing Jonah’s call for repentance.  This book may at times be read with a focus on Jonah, but the hero of the story is God and His kindness to pagans and pouting prophets.

 

We see in Jonah 2:10 the sovereignty of God once more over His creation.  God spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Whenever God commands His creation to obey, it obeys; only those with minds and wills does he implore to obey, whereas nature and animals are made subject to His will in a reactive sense (He commands, they respond).

 

God’s word came to Jonah the second time and in doing so, He returned to his first command to go to Nineveh.  This time, though, Jonah obeyed in immediacy much like the fish in vomiting him forth.  Jonah did not protest the command of God, nor did he try to tailor God’s word to suit his pleasure.  Repentance has come when we no longer try to barter with God over His terms, but rather are seized in the heart before Him, torn over our sins, and in agreement with His judgments and His righteous offer. The salvation God offers is never something that humanity can concoct on its own terms; our justification before God can only come in line within the parameters God has laid out, and given that His word makes it clear, we do have the responsibility of searching the Scriptures, studying them well, and placing ourselves under the authority it speaks over our lives.  

Repentance before Salvation? – Media 4 Life Ministries

Genuine repentance is shown, in part, by submissiveness to the Lordship of God, and in our time it would be better put, the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Jonah displayed submission to God by hearing the command and promptly acting upon it as he was commanded without trying to negotiate the terms. Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.  Much like the progressive sanctification of a believer today, though, there would still be failures on the part of Jonah as the story progresses.

 

I am reminded in mentioning progressive sanctification that the trajectory of the believer ought never be assumed to be a straight ascent upwards.  Much like a stock market graph, we know growth takes place over the long run when the “highs” get higher, and the “lows” get higher. The direction of the heart, though it has its many failures along the way, is set in the general trajectory of the glory of God.  

 

It’s hard to see any point in the story of Jonah that isn’t teaching us something about God, even when Jonah has his worst moments. God is good and His mercy is relative to His determinate will towards whomever He chooses to bestow it upon, never as a result of their performance, but of His own free will and goodness. I, for one, am thankful for the grace, mercy, and love of God, all completely dependent upon a faithful God who keeps His word and blesses in accordance with His good pleasure.  I hope you, too, can bask in the glory of God as shown in the beauty of the Gospel of grace and have claimed that grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There’s no gift greater than the gift of eternal life and no hope higher for the believer than the steady, patient hand of God guiding us along the way to meet Him one day in Heaven as glorified children of God.

 

Blessings to you-

 

Deep Worship–Jonah 1:17-2:9

Jonah 1:17-2:9

17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.

 2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

 4 Then I said,`I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.

 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.

 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.

 8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.

 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”

 

God knows how we will respond both to favorable as well as adverse conditions.  Nothing takes Him by surprise; in fact, He allows things to happen far more often with the intent of showing us what’s inside of us.  In his book “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote these words as he reflected on his grief in the loss of his wife:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” Lewis, C. S. (2001). A Grief Observed. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, p. 52.

 

Today’s passage shows a quite different person as it comes to Jonah from the man we saw in chapter one. It’s a man held in the grasp of death, whose greatest concern in the book of Jonah tends to highlight his own preservation but here is also humbled before God. Compare how he responds to nearly dying with seeing people respond in repentance throughout the book and you may soon begin seeing that Jonah’s reluctance had much to do with the focus of his life: his life! This of all things on Jonah’s behalf was more than likely something God was working out of him in directly calling him to the task of preaching to the Ninevites (and the rest of this ordeal for that matter).

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Let’s look at this passage positively, though, for the heart expressed in words shows a side of Jonah that has a relationship with God and reverence for Him. What we do when we come to very difficult circumstances says much about who we are, which is why Jonah’s prayer tells us more about him than simply his reluctance as well as his sulking at the end of the book. 

 

What this book shows us is that not all of Jonah was out of sorts, but there were certainly parts of him that God was performing surgery on out of love for Jonah. It is inevitable for every believer that no matter the calling and positioning of our paths, we will have elements of our character that are being beautified as well as those painful places where character is being buffed out or idols of the heart are being removed. The path of transformation will always be a path of pleasure mixed with pain.

 

All of this being said, let’s take a moment to highlight a handful of points to be made about today’s passage:

1.There was no question that the events unfolding were from the Lord. Jonah knew God controlled the circumstances and even that (v.2) the Lord used affliction to move him to cry out. Jonah was unmoved and attempting to isolate himself from God in chapter one; in chapter two, he could clearly see God pulling him back into Himself. “All your waves and billows passed over me.” Think about that–Jonah recognized the calamity at hand not in isolation from God but in submission to Him. All things that come to pass, in the hands of God, are either determined or permitted but nothing happens outside of God’s sovereignty. 

 

2. One of the marks of having a true relationship with God is a spiritual sensitivity. In saying that, what I refer to is the awareness that God is at work. It is quite possible to be a religious person but to completely lack spiritual sensitivity; in this “setting,” all Christian events happen as a matter of education and duty (not that that’s bad, but there’s more to it than just head knowledge and service). Spiritual sensitivity happens, for example, when we are confronted with sin and convicted or confronted with truth and gripped by it, and other happenings of the like. Really, though, it’s the awareness that God has caused the conviction, the gripping of truth and the circumstances that move us back into Him. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Consider spiritual sensitivity from the words of Jonah: he was highly sensitive to God in the belly of the fish.

 

3. The mercy of God is on great display in our text today. Mercy moved the storm; mercy sent the fish; mercy made it impossible for Jonah to not be thrown overboard. Mercy allowed Jonah to be swallowed whole and kept alive miraculously in order that repentance might take place in the most unlikely of places. Mercy moved Jonah to remember the Lord as his “soul fainted” (v. 7). Mercy also moved God to allow Jonah to be used even after he tried to abandon God and His plans.

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4. Repentance is the heart of this portion of Jonah. Jonah did not just give lip service to God in hopes that God would bail him out. There was an awareness of his failure, an awareness of God’s righteousness and sovereignty, and a forsaking of his ways as he called upon the Lord. In a play on words, Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish was deep; in his most vulnerable of moments, Jonah prayed in a manner that reflected sound theology. God is found even in the moving of Jonah’s thoughts in this passage, for the things Jonah knew about God came to the surface of his mind in the depths of the sea. He was not alone and he knew it.  Once again, let me tie mercy, #3, to repentance, #4. Repentance and mercy are deeply intertwined.

 

Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” The goodness of God leads us to repentance; a true believer will look at their repentance and not pat themselves on the back, but look to God as the cause of their repentance before Him. In looking over Jonah 2, it would be very safe to say that Jonah, too, saw that he needed correction and that the correction that came was from the loving hand of God, to whom He submitted. 

Remember that when God has us where He wants us, and He’s working upon us, the proper response is always worship!

I hope you have enjoyed this brief portion of Scripture; go over it again and just read through it, seeing if there’s anything else you might take note of. Jonah 2 is very applicable to gaining insight into repentance and whether we’ve truly done so, as well as God’s hand in the circumstances we face. Take a moment to thank Him for His goodness on a personal level, as well as the sensitivity to Himself that He gives in His grace. 

 

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

 

Blessings to you–

 

 

 

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

No Accidents–Jonah 1:11-16

Jonah 1:11-16

 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.

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.