Devotional: What Makes a Gift a Gift? Romans 6:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Have you ever thought about what makes a gift a gift? How people relate to the idea of gifts is often revealing as to whether they understand what a gift really is or is not. On multiple occasions I have met folks who refuse to receive gifts, many who do not like giving them, and occasionally some who find far more joy in giving than receiving. Certainly plenty of folks do like receiving gifts, too. It’s important to comprehend what the Bible means when it says that God gives us gifts, first and foremost salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Failure to grasp the nature of God’s gifts will quickly transform into legalism or license; in fact, more than likely the foundation of either direction would essentially be misunderstanding God, why He gives gifts, or what God intends when He gives them. Is it possible to distrust His motives in giving? Absolutely, and it happens all the time, but not without harming our potential for closeness with Him. No one who misunderstands the gifts of God will evade distancing themselves from Him; it goes with the turf.

 

Let’s start today’s devotional by looking at Romans 6:23. Romans 6 speaks primarily towards the issue of how we should live; if we are free from the power of sin, why would we live any longer as though we were still lost in our sin? That’s the gist of Romans 6, which works it’s way down into v. 23, telling the reader that if sin is so great, then why would it’s outcome be death (and wrath)? If we believe sin to be an affront to God, and the path of those who remain in their sin to be death and judgment, why would we throw ourselves back into that lifestyle? Once again, if we fail to understand the gift of eternal life, we very well may start to not only entertain conclusions that are not true, but will inevitably see these thoughts trickle down into our choices and our character. The first half of Proverbs 23:7 states, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”

 

Romans 6:23 is a comparison-by-contrast verse intended to show us the consummation of either a life devoid of faith in Christ or a life submitted to God by faith in Christ. Paul reiterates in various ways the challenge to not let our thinking be tainted by temporal desires in a world filled with carnal ambitions and activities. The wages of sin is death; this is not referring to simply the death of the body, but rather, eternal separation from God. The just payment for sin without a Savior is eternal separation from God under the outpouring of His wrath. This speaks far more to the holiness of God than the corruption of man, for it is not that humans are as terrible as they possibly could be, but that God is holy and in His holiness, far holier than we could possibly imagine.

 

The gift of God is really the point of this devotional. The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. By nature of comparison, this is in part how we can tell that death is referring to eternal separation rather than the act of dying or being physically dead. Notice that the action of sin merits eternal death, whereas the grace of God freely bestows eternal life by faith in Christ. Eternal life is not earned and if not earned, then also cannot be lost through “demerit.”

 

The word for gift is “charisma” (from which the modern term “charismatic” is derived) and refers to “that which is freely and graciously given” (BDAG, Bibleworks). When we speak of spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:1, 14:1, 14:12), we are talking about God-given abilities within the confines of being spiritually alive and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, gifts which come not on the basis of merit but are given as God desires for His purposes. The gift of eternal life is also something that God gives freely by His choice and not our works. It is on this very issue where confusion gives people and denominations directional variance within Christianity. The two primary paths that are taken with false conclusions on the gifts of God would be legalism and licentiousness. 

 

If a gift is given with merit attached, is it really a gift, or is it a wage? Biblically speaking, it is a wage and not a gift when someone must do something or be something in order to receive something. That may strike us funny, because as Christians we might say something to the effect of, “But I have to believe in order to receive eternal life,” and this is true. Nevertheless, believing itself is not a meritorious activity, and still many people have subtly subscribed to just that sort of thinking. It is the work of Christ on the cross that was the saving act, and believing on that act is the necessary response for a relationship with God and an eternal life in Heaven. Still, God is granting life freely on the basis of faith, not because His hands are tied by what we do.

 

Theoretically, we could believe on Jesus and still go to Hell because God is not obligated by what we do to honor our faith. Of course, this is not what God does! What does He do, then? Well, He honors His word to us when we believe. Hebrews 6:17-18 says, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” Side-note: it is impossible for God to lie because everything that God says is true, for He is the source of truth; that will never change.

 

God is fully committed to His glory and holds Himself accountable to the promises that He makes, and we should be glad for that. His offer of salvation is tied to His promises, and He is not a God who lies; it is not in His nature to do so, and therefore, what He says is true and trustworthy and as good as done. The New Testament is full of words in the doctrinal parts that speak of believers as glorified (see Romans 8:29-30, for instance) using past tense verbs for a future tense reality. Translation: good as done. What would our lives looked like if we were fully convinced of the things the Bible said were true of us?  That’s a huge element of sanctification right there!

 

We must be so careful that our faith is not in our faith, but in the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross for sin, as well as in trusting God to keep His word. If the gift of God is contingent upon our keeping some sort of moral arrangement with Him, please understand that it is not a gift, but a contract if that’s how we relate to it. This is exactly why some strongly believe against any form of eternal security; unknowingly, they have actually bought more into a soteriology (theology of salvation) of contract than a theology of grace. A contractual paradigm of Christianity is the fastest way to inevitably turn the Christian life from humble awe over God’s grace towards us into legalistic perfectionism with our focus far more on keeping ourselves in good graces than what Jesus already accomplished. If the gift of salvation is nothing more than a veneer of contractual obligation with the potential for the contract to be completely abolished, count me out, and I hope you would feel the same if you have grasped grace for what it is: unmerited favor.

 

Given that Romans 6:23 came from a passage more on license than legalism, we might ask then how the gift of God can come with any sense of responsibility, accountability, and obligation to obey? Let me say this: salvation is a transformative happening. It is offered freely and it comes with no strings attached. Yes, in some sense, you could live however you wanted and not lose your salvation. The problem, though, is that if salvation has truly taken root in your heart, the gift begins to flourish, much like a seed planted in good ground.

 

A view of salvation that makes Christianity of no effect in the life of a “believer” is a Holy Spirit-absent view of salvation, and thus it is not salvation at all. The problem, therefore, is not that there are folks who were saved but then completely abandoned it, but rather that they were never truly saved to begin with. (This very issue has haunted many evangelical churches over the years in attempting to make sense of people who seemed on board who completely jumped ship).  1 John 2:19 states, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

 

There is no such thing as Christianity without conformity, one of the strongest reasons being that the Spirit within is on a mission of spiritual transformation. Living however we please with no conviction while constantly reminding ourselves we’re forgiven nonetheless is a fool’s remedy for the appropriate guilt and self-doubt that should accompany such activity. To paraphrase John MacArthur from a sermon I once heard him preach, “Confidence in our salvation is a gift for the obedient.” The simple point was that there will be doubt over our salvation if we do not walk with God, no matter how much we might try to rehearse truths we had been taught.

 

Salvation does not mean immediate moral perfection but it also does not mean moral indifference. We live for Christ, submitted to Him and pursuant of Him, because the gift of grace is growing within. This does not mean that we earned the gift of salvation, nor that we maintained our morality enough to keep our salvation. What it does mean, rather, is that truly regenerate people will never be the same again upon salvation and though they may stumble along the way, the anchor of their souls that keeps them from completely abandoning submission to God is the Holy Spirit within.

 

Salvation theology (the thirty-cent word is soteriology, pronounced sew-teer-ee-ology) is a Christmas gift to you and to me. There is nothing more precious and important to be reminded of in the season of gift-giving than the gift of eternal life. The giving of Jesus Christ by God the Father to this world was absolutely unmerited but completely necessary. The death of Jesus on the cross to pay for sin was absolutely unmerited, too and without His sacrifice there would be no hope beyond the grave. Salvation is not just something to claim, but also to continually learn that we might appreciate it more and proclaim it better. When Christmas comes (this was written on Wednesday, 12/23/20), take a moment to ponder not only the gifts you may give or receive on that day, but if you are a believer, remember the greatest gift of all: the righteousness of Christ credited to our account on the basis of faith in Him.

“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.” Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Merry Christmas and may God bless 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!

 

 

 

 

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).

Deep Blue Sea Wallpaper posted by Sarah Simpson

 

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.

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