Fruit Cove Baptist Church


Pastor Tim's Blog

RESET: The Church

RESET: The Church

Matthew 16:13-20

I love the church.  I haven’t always.  Like some of you, I rejected “institutional religion” when I was younger.  But when I came back, I came back with a passion and with a mission.

I love the church.  It’s flawed, it’s sometimes ugly, it is far from perfect, and sometimes hurts and alienates the very ones it should help. Yet in spite of the flaws and problems there is something that Jesus sees in us and loves so much.  Listen.  You may see all the problems, and divisiveness, and sheer stupidity enacted in the name of the church.  But that’s not the church.  That’s people using the church for their own agenda.

I have seen the church operate with a lot of resources on massive scale, and I have seen small gatherings of believers in poverty come together and share life and love each other.  I got to preach the first public service for a body of believers in Sophia, Bulgaria that met in a nearly abandoned hotel.  I’ve preached in a church that met in an apartment in New Jersey where 40 or 50 people and two or three cats crowded.  Harvest City Church in New Jersey met in a Mexican restaurant before Covid hit.   None of these churches had money. None owned a building.  They had no social clout. But they had a confession:  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  It’s an incredible and beautiful thing when we see what Jesus intended His church to be.  Let me pull back the curtain for a moment.

1). The expression of Jesus’ presence on earth

We are the body of Christ.  The bride of Christ.  We are members of Christ and of one another.  We need each other.  85% of Americans say you can have a healthy, flourishing spiritual life without ever going or belonging to a church.  I don’t know which Bible they got that from, but it’s not in the one I use.  The same Bible that tells you Jesus is the only way to eternal life tells you that your physical involvement in the body is not optional, but essential!  It is not an individual deal; it is a relationship with one another.  (One another’s)

The 59 “One Anothers” of the New Testament*

  1. “Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
  2. “Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  3. “Love one another.” (John 13:34a)
  4. “Love one another.” (John 13:34b)
  5. “Love one another.” (John 13:35)
  6. “Love one another.” (John 15:12)
  7. “Love one another.” (John 15:17)
  8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” (Romans 12:10)
  9. “Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)
  10. “Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:16)
  11. “Love one another.” (Romans 13:8)
  12. “Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” (Romans 15:7)
  14. “Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Romans 16:16)
  16. “When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  17. “Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
  18. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
  19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
  20. “Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
  21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other … you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
  22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
  23. “Carry each other’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2)
  24. “Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
  25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  26. “Forgiving each other.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
  29. “In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
  30. “Do not lie to each other.” (Colossians 3:9)
  31. “Bear with each other.” (Colossians 3:13)
  32. “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
  33. “Teach … [one another].” (Colossians 3:16)
  34. “Admonish one another.” (Colossians 3:16)
  35. “Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
  36. “Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
  37. “Encourage each other.”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
  38. “Encourage each other.” I Thessalonians 5:11)
  39. “Build each other up.” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
  40. “Encourage one another daily.” (Hebrews 3:13)
  41. “Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  42. “Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
  43. “Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
  44. “Don’t grumble against each other.” (James 5:9)
  45. “Confess your sins to each other.” (James 5:16)
  46. “Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
  47. “Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
  48. “Live in harmony with one another.” (I Peter 3:8)
  49. “Love each other deeply.” (I Peter 4:8)
  50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
  51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” (I Peter 4:10)
  52. “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” (I Peter 5:5)
  53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
  54. “Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
  55. “Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
  56. “Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
  57. “Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
  58. “Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
  59. “Love one another.” (II John 5)

Love one another 16 times.  Greeting with kiss 5 times.  Encourage each other 5 times.

Can I be real with you for a moment?  Our message to the world is not believed because our love inside the church is not supernatural, Jesus birthed love.  The world will know we’re Christians because of our love for one another.

2). The extension of Jesus’ mission in the world

I’ve told you before that churches are like cruise ships, whose mission is making the customer, the traveler on the ship, comfortable.  Right?  Been on a cruise ship before?  It’s all about you, isn’t it?

But churches are not cruise ships.  They are aircraft carriers.  We are on this planet to carry out a mission, and the mission is to move against the enemy who is occupying this world.  We don’t exist to see what a nice experience we can have while we’re here.   We exist to pay the price necessary to do the mission.  Why does an aircraft carrier exist?  I spent 24 hours on the USS Enterprise a few years ago and let me assure you:  They do not exist to make ANYONE comfortable!  They exist primarily to launch jets into their mission; refuel them, rearm them, and send them out again.  And EVERYBODY on that ship knew that!

WHAT DID JESUS SAY ABOUT THE CHURCH?

In Matthew 16, Jesus took the disciples to a place called Caesarea Philippi.  The Romans had renamed a city known as Paneios, named for the Greek god Pan, after Caesar Augustus.  Paneios was a place of pagan worship and of much idolatry.  The altar to Caesar was just one more “god” on the religious buffet.

So, when Jesus stopped in Caesarea Philippi and asked this question, He asked it in this marketplace of false deities and pagan religious ideas.  “Who do men say that I am?”. “Who do YOU say that I am?”. (“Y’all”)

While Peter’s answer gave a framework to how the church would be grounded (“You are the Christ…”) the church was not born until Acts 2.  But Jesus told the disciples some important things about the church before it became a reality.

1). The church is an organism, not an organization

The word “church” (ecclesia) was not a Biblical word.  It was actually used of a special group of Roman citizens who were called out from the general populace to legislate on behalf of the Roman government.  The ecclesia represented the power and authority of the Caesar granted to the citizens of the empire.

The church is not just a group of folks who gather together on Sunday morning to sing, and go to groups, and fellowship for an hour.  The church is the official representation of the Kingdom of God on earth.  It is the place where eternity speaks into history, and heaven speaks to earth.  The principles, the laws, and purposes of the Kingdom and of our King Jesus are to be spoken and to address earth from heaven.  We are legally authorized by God to be this voice.  We are not a self-improvement society or a self-help organization.  We speak with God’s authority through His Word.  The church is like the embassy of heaven.

The church was never organized.  It was born.  Jesus gave it birth upon Peter’s confession of faith, “You are the Christ, the Son…”. Upon this rock I will build my church.  “Petra,” the word Jesus used to refer to Simon Peter, is a small stone…usually a group of stones.  Connected stones.

What material does Jesus use to build His church?  1 Peter 2:9, we are called “living stones” being built into a “spiritual temple.”  Any brick or stone in a wall is resting on a foundation of other stones or bricks under it, and it has other bricks or stones resting on it.  It is an interdependent process, and as it says, “being built,” a continual process.

If you pull yourself out, something that was leaning on you or needs to lean on you for support will be lacking.  God is building us together with one another!  The wall is stronger as all the bricks are in place.

2). The church belongs to Jesus, not to us.

“I will build my church.” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus is the builder.  We are the building blocks. Jesus is the owner.  We are the servants.  Jesus is the cornerstone.  We are the “petras” stones; the little stones.   Jesus is the Rock.  Big R.

3). The church will prevail, not fail

I know the number of churches reported closing year to year (about 5-6 thousand) might sound like the church is on life support.  It isn’t. The pandemic did not stop the church.  A virus can’t kill the church that Jesus died to form.  The communist regime in power in China right now is seeking to stop the church by tearing down the buildings where they meet, but they can’t tear down the living stones that make the church what it truly is!

The gates of hell will not stand against the church.  We get this image wrong sometimes, I think.  We see this as a picture of the church all huddled up in a sanctuary together with hell pounding at the door trying to get in.  But the “gates of hell” is representative of the legal authority of hell.

The gates, in the Bible, was the place where legal matters were discussed and decided.  Hell has no authority to advance.  The church has that authority.  (Keys of the kingdom…not given to a government.  Any government.  Given to the church). The Kingdom of God will arrive, not through any government or man-made entity, but through the church.

Jesus gave us a picture of the church victorious moving against the gates, or strongholds, of hell in the world!  Hell cannot stand up against the forward progress of God’s church.  Let’s say this again.  Jesus is building His church and it can’t be stopped.  Hell wants to stop it.  You’re on the victorious side of the conflict.  Hell can’t stop what God is doing.

  1. You do not love Jesus passionately if you don’t love His church
  2. You cannot serve Jesus effectively if you refuse to serve His church
  3. You cannot follow Jesus obediently if you reject His church.

Patrick McGinnis, a FOBO:  Fear of better options.  Leads to indecision, regret, and lower levels of happiness.  Make a decision.  You can literally attend one church a week for over three years just in the metro Jacksonville community and still not be in all of them.  You ready to do that?

 

RESET: The Gospel

RESET: The Gospel

Nov 6 will mark for me the 28th year of my first visit to Fruit Cove, Florida.  I came to preach for you the first time with a carefully chosen, and carefully prepared message.  I would never have preached a message like I’m about to bring today.  THIS is outside of my comfort zone.  But I am called by God (and by name, “Timothy, do the work of an evangelist”) (1 Corinthians 15:1-7)

I have said for years that one of the most helpful things I’ve ever learned about ministry came from an older African American pastor I heard once at a conference when I was just beginning in ministry, almost forty years ago.  He told this gathering of preachers I was attending two things that stayed with me throughout my ministry: “The secret of a great message is have an engaging introduction, a stirring conclusion, and keep the two as close together as possible.”  “Gentlemen, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As a younger pastor, I nodded my head in agreement.  His comments came from the Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15, where he said under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, “For I delivered unto you that which was of first importance (or, the main thing): Namely, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and He rose again on the third day.” In our written record called The Bible, this was the earliest formal statement about the resurrection of Jesus.

That was the main thing.  It should be easy, right?  Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get distracted by tertiary, secondary, temporal issues.  Don’t veer off the road.  Don’t die on hills that don’t matter in eternity.  “The way is straight, and the gate is narrow…”

And yet, being in ministry for four decades, I fight continually to keep my eyes on the main thing.  And it’s not just MY need to stay focused on the main thing.  It’s helping the church focus on the main thing, too.  We get distracted by many things, and not just distracted.  We allow these things to become more important than the Gospel.

We drift from what is most important.  It’s not sudden.  It’s gradual. When we drift from the essential thing, the main thing, other secondary things will come in to take the place of “that which is of first importance.”  I’m going to call out 3.  But they are the areas I see over and over again where people take good things and make them ultimate things.

Our Worship preferences (music, style, dress, times):  When our focus is more on what makes me feel comfortable OVER what helps the Gospel progress to our mission field, we are being distracted from the main thing.  Churches still split over disruptions about music:  what songs are we going to sing, and who’s going to sing them, and what kind of accompaniment will it have, and will there be drums, and all of these things that are so secondary to the main thing, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ going forward.  In other words, we can let our preferences over which 3 songs are being sung on a Sunday morning make us angry enough to take our focus off the Gospel of Jesus.

Our Political positions…if 2020 has been a trip down uncharted rapids, we are now approaching the rocks.  Some churches and ministries have already been dashed to pieces on these rocks.  Others are about to be.  Let me say this as clearly as possible:  We are in danger of losing our testimony as believers and our impact as a church in this community if we don’t navigate this season wisely.  What I’m talking about is presenting our political positions and preferences (in and of themselves, nothing wrong with that).  The danger is when our message to the community around us and to those who know us says that politics are more important to us than the Gospel.  Now let me clarify this.  There is nothing wrong with Christians being politically involved.  I hope you are.  I hope you’re listening carefully and learning what you need to learn about how your vote should be cast, because as a Christian you should vote with an informed conscience.  I think I’m right about my political convictions.  But even if I’m right (and I believe I am), I don’t want my political position to keep someone from hearing the Gospel.

What really concerns me is seeing believers who are showing more passion and spending more energy trying to get their candidate elected than to get Jesus into people’s hearts.   The answer to the pain and sin and distress of our time is not going to be an elephant or a donkey.  The answer is a lamb.  The Lamb that was slain.  Folks the animal you vote for is not as important as the Savior you worship!   Let’s not give up the main thing for a secondary priority.

Social issues …The very first conflict in the New Testament church was, at its core, a racial problem.  In Acts 6, we learn that the Hellenistic widows were not being treated as the Jewish widows were.  The early church was a mash-up of Jews, Romans, Greeks, slaves and free people, slave owners, and politicians, Zealots, traitors, uneducated, brilliant, women and men.  White/black issues and skin pigment is never brought up in the Bible as a problem.  The world of that day was very multi-racial and cosmopolitan.  There wasn’t racial prejudice as we define it today.  But the prejudice between Jewish and non-Jewish people was huge.  It was a battle that Paul found himself in the middle of time after time as he sought to plant churches in the world of that day.  But it was clear that Paul saw God’s new creation, which the church represents and is a part of, as a multi-cultural, multi-racial, cross generational, people who accepted anyone, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female.  There was no place in this that allowed for prejudice or ostracizing any person or national or racial group.  But in today’s church, prejudice and racism is tearing fellowships apart and distracting from the “main thing” of sharing the Gospel.

What is the Gospel?  The gospel is the proclamation that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. “But God demonstrated His love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

The “Good News” of the Gospel is not JUST that God loves us, but that He has done something radical to bring us to Himself, and we are made right with Him by having faith in what Jesus did for us, and not our own works.  “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Every religion in the world says, “Believe, then work to gain approval and access, and then you get to God, or Nirvana or whatever they promise.” Only Christianity, the Good News that Jesus came to bring, says “Believe, and then you are justified and forgiven and made right with God, and then obey because that has happened to you.   The Christian life is not obedience school, where you just go to church and try to conform.  It’s a life change, a transformation, a transition to being a whole new person in Jesus.  It’s not just praying a prayer, joining the club, and eating pizza.

1). The GOSPEL is a UNIVERSAL message

It is God’s greatest desire that every man, woman, boy and girl on the planet hear and respond to the Gospel.  (2 Peter 3:9). No person, no race, no nationality, no ethnic group, and no person however hopeless they might seem is excluded from the invitation.  No sin is too deep, no person too far gone to move themselves outside the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

2). The GOSPEL is an EXCLUSIVE message

While it is universal, the Gospel is also exclusive.  It is exclusive in the same way that a doctor giving you a prescription that will cure your illness says, “this is the only medication that will help.”  He or she would be seen as very narrow minded, by the definition of some critics.  But do you want a doctor who would say, “You know there are hundreds of thousands of medications out there, and they were all made by good people.  Just pick the one you feel good about.  One is just as good as another to help you get well.” Now we might applaud him for being open-minded, but he’d be a terrible doctor and should lose his license.

When the Bible says, “there is salvation in no other Name” and that “no one can come to the Father but through Jesus” it’s the same thing in play.  I want that doctor to be narrow.  I want that doctor to be confident in the cure to fix what’s wrong with me!   When I was diagnosed with cancer in the early 2000s, the doctor gave me three options for treatment.  I asked him a simple question:  Which would you do?  He said, “I’d have surgery, hands down.”  I said, “Then that’s what I want.  Schedule it.” “There’s a way that seems right to a man but ends thereof lead to death.”  I didn’t feel like having surgery.  I didn’t like having surgery.  And if left up to me alone trusting what “seemed” right, I would not have chosen to have surgery.  But if I hadn’t had it my choice would probably have led to my death.

There is only one way…only one Who can rescue you.  Only One Who is the mediator between God and man.  That’s Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t matter what you feel; what God’s Word says is true.

3). The GOSPEL is an ESSENTIAL message. (California earthquake)

200,000 plus people have died in the US since March.  How many of those died without ever hearing the Gospel of Jesus?

4). The GOSPEL is a PERSONAL message

You must respond personally for this Good News to be effective for you.  Your parents can’t decide this for you; your wife may love you and pray for you, but she can’t do this for you.  You have to humble yourself, repent of your own sin, and receive for yourself the free gift of God that is forgiveness of sin and eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The word “evangelist” is not a word created in the Bible.  It was actually a political term, that had to do with how news got communicated in the days before newspapers, and internet, and Fox or CNN.  Whenever a new king came into power, the “evangelist” would travel from village to village, little hamlets and towns and burgs, and tribal clusters, and announce that a new king had now come to power.  The message the “evangelist” would carry was called “the Gospel…” “Good news.”

Christian man, woman, young person, when King Jesus began to rule in your life, He appointed you to be an evangelist…you are to go and tell your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even people you don’t like…that a New King has come to rule…a new Kingdom has been established…and His Name is Jesus!

“Do the work of an evangelist!”

RESET: The Ever-Loving Truth

Reset
“The Ever-Loving Truth”
(2 Peter 1:16-21)

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV)

One of the most staggering and memorable images of Jesus Christ’s passion took place in the great hall of Governor Pilate’s mansion. We read about this encounter in John 18, as Jesus stood before Pilate, the representative of all the power of the Roman empire and was being interrogated by him.

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:37-38 ESV)

A part of the RESET we need to return to as a church and as believers today is an understanding and affirmation of The TRUTH. We live in a culture and among a people who have now rejected the concept of truth as a fixed, objective reality and therefore today we can justify just about anything. We need a reset of our understanding of truth to soak into our thinking as Christ followers that is distinct from the way the world around us sees it.

THE CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING OF TRUTH
1). Truth is relative, or fluid, and therefore so is morality
2). Truth is personal, and therefore allows for our individuality
3). Truth is unknowable, and therefore has no absolute authority

THE BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF TRUTH
1). Truth is absolute, and therefore so is morality
2). Truth is objective, and therefore our preferences are subject to it
3). Truth is knowable, and therefore is not subject to opinion.

When you take the untrue things said about truth and layer them over everything that is happening today, you can see the effects of erosion in everything from morality, to education, to politics, to history, to philosophy and even to religion.

Several years ago, when Stephen Colbert’s show was just getting off the ground, he used a term to describe how people today see the truth. He called our new way of understanding truth, “truthiness.” It became Oxford American Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” in 2006. It beat out “bird flu” and “soduku.” “Truthiness” means that actual facts don’t matter. How we feel is what actually matters. American history is being rewritten today on the basis on “truthiness,” and not verifiable fact.

Again, as Christian people, we need to embrace and drill deeply into the foundation of God’s Word as our grounding of truth more than we ever have. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul tells us that when people reject the truth, they will believe a lie.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

We desperately want something solid to hold on to. The Word of God is that. But even Christian people have begun to neglect the reading and study of God’s Word in our day. Only about 32% of church going folks say they read the Bible every day. When God’s truth is not flowing through our veins, then lies begin to take root and grow: Lies about how we see God, how God sees us, how we see ourselves, and how we see the world.

Learning truth begins early. The other night, McCail watched a cartoon version of the creation story with her Aunt Allie. Thursday, Logan told me she gave McCail an apple for a snack, and my grand darlin said, “Adam and Eve ate an apple…and they died.”

Some years ago, in the early 2000’s we hosted Dr Voddie Baucham here at Fruit Cove. He did a national launch of some material that became a book entitled “The Ever-Loving Truth.”
One of his sessions was entitled, “How to Know Your Bible is True.” He took his thoughts from 2 Peter 1:16-21 and that’s what I would like for us to do today. How would you answer the question, “So how do you know the Bible is true?” To vaguely answer, “well I know it because it changed my life,” may be a true answer but will not satisfy a critic. A Muslim could say, “I know the Quran is true because it changed my life.”

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

1). We have a reliable collection of historic documents written down by eyewitnesses. (2 Peter 1:16)

The Bible is not “cleverly devised myths,” as some have suggested. With our Bibles, we have 66 books compiled in one cover that were written by over 40 human writers, over a period of 1600 years, on three continents and in four different languages. And all of them testify to a common theme of creation, the fall, and the redemption of humanity for the glory of God.

In addition to it’s miraculous beginning, we have over 5,800 historic manuscripts, documents, papyrus pieces, and other historically valid documents that we can date, and study and we see incredible agreement within these documents. I minored in history in college, and I did learn that there are ways of scientifically dating documents to the period of their writing.

One thing this takes off the table is any possibility that some crazy little monk or person disaffected with Christians somehow changed the Bible. Whenever someone says that, I want to ask, “So he did that on his laptop right?” How would someone have been able to locate all 5800 manuscripts we have evidence of and change every one of them by hand fifteen hundred years before the printing press?

The earliest New Testament document we are aware of dates to 150 AD, or within fifty years of the original manuscripts written down by the apostles or others. That may not be a big deal to hear that.

The best historic documents we have from antiquity, never challenged by historians, are Caesar’s The Gallic Wars. We have only ten copies of that manuscript, the earliest of which was written nine hundred years after Caesar’s death. Aristotle’s Poetics is another example cited by historians. We have five portions of this document, the earliest one written 1400 years after the death of Aristotle.

We have absolutely indisputable evidence of the historic validity of Scripture. But the Bible is not just that.

2). These eyewitnesses recorded supernatural events, which took place as fulfillment of specific prophecies.

There are literally dozens of Old Testament prophecies spoken hundreds of years before Christ even came that predict the events of His birth, His birthplace, His ministry and ultimately even His death. Every prophecy we can locate in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Mathematically the chances of only a few of these being right are mind boggling. For all of them to be correct is…supernatural. It’s not just a history book. It’s a book that records supernatural…God-orchestrated events.

3). The Bible brings light and transformation.

“Day star dawns.” The light of faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God. It’s like a light dawning in a dark place. Lives truly are changed by the Word of God!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

“I don’t know how to explain that miracle where Jesus came to a wedding a turned water into wine. But I know when He came to my house, He turned beer into furniture.”

4). These prophecies and miracles point to the Bible’s Divine origin

The Bible is essential in these days of fake news, and conspiracy theories, and just not knowing what is true and what isn’t any more. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, be ready to be ridiculed for it. The world and our spiritual enemy, the devil, wants to silence the truth.

But as CH Spurgeon said, “The Bible doesn’t need to be helped, any more than a lion needs to be helped. You don’t help it. You just turn it loose!”

RESET: Honor God

RESET:  Honor God * Exodus 20:1-3; Romans 1

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Exodus 20:1-3 ESV

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  Romans 1:19-21 ESV

 

We are in a time of resetting.  We are resetting many things in our life:

How we work, how we socialize, how we go to church, how we do school, and family, and many other areas.  The spiritual reset happening in our day is pretty amazing, though.  People are tuning in to church services in unprecedented numbers.  It’s happened here.  A mathematician in (Jeanette Bentsen) Copenhagen noted a marked increase on internet search engines on the subject of “prayer.” Ninety-three countries showed skyrocketing numbers of people turning to the internet to try to understand prayer!  There is a spiritual hunger… a spiritual reset… happening in our world right now.

We live in a difficult day to talk about religious subjects, especially when THE subject is…God.  It hasn’t always been so, but confusion and chaos and even anger seem to swirl around any conversations about Him.

Some of us remember it not always being so controversial.  There was a day when it was the most natural thing in the world to go to a neighbor and invite them to attend your church with you.  It was just… neighborly, even normal etiquette to do this.

If sharing our faith in that time was like a football game, this would be like taking a ball already at the five-yard line into the end zone for a touchdown.  Easy really.  Even the Jaguars… no I won’t go there.

Then, around the seventies, churches and anything organized began to be suspect.  People were abandoning religious systems by droves.  In that time, talking to someone about God or your faith was more like carrying the ball from the fifty-yard line.  Not impossible, but much harder.

But now in a culture where postmodernism rules and everything solid has become liquid…talking to someone about religious realities is like starting with the ball all the way outside of the stadium.  Today many people have to be persuaded that God exists.  They aren’t even on the field!

To get to a RESET in life means we must return to a Biblically faithful understanding of Who God is.  I don’t think I’m overstating when I say that EVERY problem we are facing today; politically, racially, and personally, comes from our rejection of the truth that there is “one God,” or our belief that there is no God or there are actually many “gods”

So, I challenge you today to think about this important topic with me for about twenty minutes.  It may be the most significant twenty minutes of someone’s life who is listening today.  I no longer assume everyone agrees on what we’re talking about when we say “God.”  They don’t.  I will even challenge some of you who claim to be Christian to examine what you think about when you say “God.”

A.W Tozer said, “What you think about when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”  Your thoughts of God determine your behavior, your morality, and even your mental and emotional health.

The Bible reveals God to us.  In particular, it reveals these three things:

1). God exists.  There is a God.  He made the heavens, and the earth, and all things visible and invisible.  All of creation screams out his glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God….”    “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  God exists alone.  That does not mean God is lonely.  It means God does not need anything else to exist.

God exists.  He is real.  He speaks.  He creates.  To deny Gods existence is to deny the most fundamental truth of your existence.  You cannot live as a flourishing, contented, fulfilled human being if you deny the very One Who gave you breath and life and purpose. We are incurably religious people.  Every one of us.  It is in our DNA to worship…something. And today you…every one of you…worship something or someone.

Conspiracy theories are not a new thing.  Heard of Area 51?  Heard of Jimmy Hoffa being buried under Giants Stadium?  We kind of laugh these off, but the past six months have birthed so many more conspiracy theories around Covid 19 and the upcoming election.

We believe conspiracy theories about God.  Sometimes the God you have rejected is a god you should reject, since your image of Him is built on lies.  Adam and Eve believed a conspiracy theory about God, and it led the entirety of humanity into sin and alienation from Him and each other.

You see, they believed a lie that some of you also believe.  That, if there’s a God, He doesn’t want you to have joy in life.  He sits in Heaven, makes you miserable, and then laughs at you.  In other words, we sometimes believe God is NOT good… we believe a lie.

The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.  (AW Tozer)

Adam and Eve believed the lie.  While God had opened every venue of food and enjoyment possible in the Garden of Eden, He stopped them from eating the fruit of one tree.  Their belief was God was holding out on them.  He didn’t want them to be fully happy.  He wasn’t truly good.  The tempter lied and told them, “If you eat of this tree, you’ll be like God.”

What they failed to see was they were already like God!  He created them “in His image.”  Eating from the tree would them less, and God knew that.  So, He said, “Don’t.”

We believe lies about God, too.  “God wanted me to suffer, so He took… what… from you?  Your health?  Your job?  Your spouse?  Your money? God just wants to punish me for some little thing I did wrong.”  These conspiracy theories make us push God away or even deny His  existence.

2). God can be known.  He wants to reveal Himself to us.  The first clear revelation of what He expects for our lives to fully flourish before Him was the Ten Commandments.  We think these were rules to stop our pleasure.  He gave them to us that we may know life and not death.

Through the centuries God has revealed Himself through Scripture, and through prophets, and through miracles.  He revealed Himself through creation, but we have worshiped the creation more than the Creator.   “What can be known of God is plain to them,” Romans 1 tells us.  There is no possibility for any person who has ever opened their eyes and had rational thoughts to ignore God as He is revealed through creation.

God speaks.  God is always speaking if you know how to listen.  But His ultimate communication was not through a prophet, and not through a miracle, not through creation and not through a smoking mountain and not even through a book.   God revealed Himself in His Son.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”  (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)

Jesus was given as the perfect and complete revelation of God.  He showed us God in flesh, so we could see clearly Who He was, what He was like, and how He loves us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Jesus came to reveal God’s glory.  There’s a name for people who stare at the sun too long without sunglasses.  They’re called blind.  The glory of a star that is the least brilliant star in our solar system can blind you after only a few moments of staring at it without some kind of protective filter.

Sunglasses.

But in Jesus Christ, John’s Gospel tells us, we “beheld (stared long at it; comprehended it) His (God’s) glory….” Jesus was the Divine filter, the protective lens that God gave us so we could see Him, and touch Him, and know Him and even understand Him.  (“That which we have seen….”)  And it is only through Jesus that we can do that.  No other way, no other means of salvation.

Another lie we believe about God is that He reveals Himself to us in all other religions.  “You call God Buddha, you call Him Allah, you call him Vishnu or some other exotic name… it doesn’t matter.  We’re all talking about the same God, and we’re all going to the same place when it’s all over.  Right?”  Wrong.  That’s a conspiracy theory.

The way of salvation is open to all, but there is only ONE WAY to find it, and that’s through the revelation of Jesus Christ.  He is God’s final Word.  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.   (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV)

3). We are to honor God.  Are you honoring God with your life?  With your worship?  Do you truly worship God so you can know Him and love Him?Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Does that sound like your pursuit of God?  Do you worship Him with all your “mind, heart, soul, and strength?”  Or is worship half-hearted for you or worse, even ignored?  We honor God when we trust Him as our God.  When we depend on Him.  When we lean on Him for our strength and in our trials.  Do you worship Him?  Do you trust Him?

Do you obey Him?  “If you love Me, you will do the things that I say.”  Do you do the things that He says, or do you pretty much live your life on your own terms, and do whatever your flesh and whatever the world tells you?  Do your friends have more influence on you than God’s Word?

For some here today, or listening online or on the radio, you start by “resetting” what you believe about God.  Let’s start here:  Do you believe that God exists?  Do you believe He made you?  Do you believe that one day you will stand before Him and give account for your life?  “Those who come to Him must believe that He is (He exists!) and that He rewards those who come to Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul. (Packer)Today you can push the reset button.  You can take a step back and say, “Maybe I’ve gotten this all wrong.  Maybe you’re one of those folks not even in the stadium today.  Is it time for you to step onto the field, and begin moving toward the goal line?  If so, today is the day to take that step by faith.

Contact us through the Connection Card on the web page.

Let us introduce you to the God Who Exists…and the God you need to honor by giving Him your life, and your allegiance, and your all.  Don’t believe the lie that says, “You’re too far gone for God.  You’re too messed up.  You’ve used up all your chances.”

Drowning Without the Truth

A few years ago, comedian/commentator Steven Colbert coined a word to describe how issues of truth and falsehood were being handled in our culture. The word was “truthiness.” It became Harvard Dictionary’s “Word of the Year.”

“Truthiness” is truth without backbone, sentences without meaning, words that mean, as the famous “Cheshire Cat” said, “exactly what I want them to mean.”

How do we move, think, and even communicate in a culture where the foundations have eroded so badly?

As we have lost truth in our culture as a solid reality, everything else around it becomes liquid. Today, young people speak of being “fluid” in their sexuality. The word “sex” or “gender” now mean “exactly what we want them to mean.”

The truth that Jesus spoke about, however, was robust. Unchanging. Life-altering. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” There is a power that comes with truth.

Truth tears down strongholds, and sets captives free. Falsehood erodes our minds, our relationships, and our country. Russia learned this in their failed effort to hide the truth about the Chernobyl disaster from their own countrymen and the world. Boris Gorbachev, in a later memoir, said the Chernobyl disaster and resulting coverup led directly to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

A nation without the truth drowns in the resulting “liquidity.” An individual without truth drowns in their own falsehood and efforts to cover the lie. When we reject the truth, Paul said, “we believe a lie.” And we believe many lies today.

“The truth is out there,” the old X-Files television series would repeat. It is. Not in outer space, but much, much nearer.

It is found in Him Who is “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.” The truth, not “truthiness,” can be found in a relationship with one person.

His name is Jesus.

Don’t Miss The Joy! Chapter 12

Holding on to Contagious Joy

Philippians 4:10-23

With this message, we will bring our series on Philippians to a conclusion.  It’s been a very odd time to preach on joy.  Every news headline seemed to fly in the face of the text I would be preaching the next week.

Life was normal when we started this series in February:  The coronavirus was something that barely got a news headline.  It was, at that time, happening “over there” in another world.  The economy had not upended.  We were able to gather in our church sanctuary without masks and meet in our Bible studies face-to-face.  Students were in school classrooms, not at home working from the kitchen table.  Or maybe now, YOU’RE working from the kitchen table at home and that’s your “new normal.”

But we’ve been talking about contagious joy over these months of drastic change.  In Philippians, there are 14 uses of the word JOY:

  • I always pray with JOY because of this
  • I REJOICE
  • I will continue to REJOICE
  • your progress and JOY in the faith
  • your JOY in Christ Jesus
  • make my JOY complete
  • I am glad and REJOICE
  • you too should be glad and REJOICE with great JOY
  • REJOICE in the Lord!
  • my JOY and crown
  • REJOICE in the Lord always I will say it again: REJOICE!
  • I REJOICE greatly in the Lord

Now if you are tending to get down, read those fourteen verses out loud to yourself and I can almost guarantee they’ll get you in a better frame of mind.  I say that because I’ve done it!  It works, even writing them out.

If we’ve learned one thing, I hope it is that we understand joy has nothing to do with our emotions or our life circumstances.  Joy comes independently of those things, although our emotional mindset or distressing circumstances will choke our joy out if we let them.

And to a degree we must CHOOSE joy, remembering that it is not just a decision we make.  The joy that Jesus offers is something He wants to give, and we must want to receive, but there are some things we must do to hang on to it.  So, let’s hear Paul’s closing words to the Philippians today in the last 13 verses of Chapter 4.

Hanging on to joy means:

We must learn to prize contentment

Let’s remind ourselves one last time that Paul was not writing this from the deck of yacht or a cruise ship in the Caribbean.  He was in prison, either in Caesarea Philippi or Rome.  He was awaiting possible execution and chained by the wrist to a Roman guard all day long.

. . by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger . . . (2 Cor 6:4-5)

Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced . . . hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger, and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. (2 Cor 11:25-27)

He could rightly have said, and we would have understood, that, “under the circumstances I’m doing alright.”  Now I hear some folks “catch” us when we say something like this: “Well the Christian shouldn’t live under the circumstances.  You should live OVER them.”

That is a Christian cliché.  How do you live OVER circumstances? You are IN your circumstances.  Now we shouldn’t live washed away by the pain and tribulation of life.  God never intends that.  But humanly speaking, your circumstances are where you live, and sometimes what you must endure.

A more authentic reply is, “I’m pressing on in spite of my circumstances, and learning to find victory in them.”  Joy is not about learning how to “float above” life without being affected by it.  That is what Buddhism teaches is possible.  It isn’t.  You’re going to be swamped by the waves of life sometimes.  But you don’t have to drown in them.  WE read a moment ago in verse 13 I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength.

By the way, that verse is probably one of the most misquoted verses in the New Testament.  In context, the verse is saying “after learning to be content in little and learning to be content in much, and even now sitting in a prison cell on trial for my life, I now know that Jesus is enough.”  The Stoic philosophers of Paul’s day taught the virtue of self-sufficiency.  Paul was teaching the contentment that comes with CHRIST-SUFFICIENCY!

It’s not saying “I’m going to go be a Christian athlete…I can do all things…”  It’s not saying, “I’m going to go be a brilliant and wealthy Christian businessman or woman.”  Those statements still rest a lot of the heavy lifting on you…what YOU are going to do…. what YOU are going to accomplish.  He is saying “whether my life circumstances are good or bad, high or low, rough or easy, Jesus is all I need.”  “I can do (bear) all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  This is Christ-sufficiency.  Jesus is always enough.

Contentment, we learn here, is independent of what we are going through in the moment.  I have learned to live with plenty, and with nothing.”  Later in 1 Timothy 6 we pick up on contentment again where Paul tells those with plenty that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Three things that might help us:

  1. Contentment must be LEARNED.  It doesn’t just fall on you.
  2. Contentment is a SECRET.
  3. Contentment is independent of our circumstances or possessions.

Again, Christian joy and contentment do not come through what we have, or through what we lose.  Now understand, this is not about becoming stoic and phlegmatic or just learning to be self-sufficient.  It’s about becoming fully dependent upon the sufficiency of Christ, and nothing and no one else… because everything, and everyone you have…can be taken from you.

If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Tim 6:8)

We must learn to practice gratitude

A part of the motivation for the Philippian letter was to thank the church for a financial gift they sent.  By the way, your gratitude to God at some point will take the form of what you give.  Giving should never be about fund raising for the church.  It is always about worshipping as an expression of our gratitude.

They were showing their gratitude for what the Apostle had done for them.  They understood the cost he paid for starting their church.

But from this, Paul helped us understand the importance of our giving.  We never give because God needs our money.  We never give to “pay” someone’s salary.  And we don’t give so we can get our way.  We give…. get this…. because we NEED to give:

1). To overcome the grip of covetousness that money has on us.  Jesus said our life does not consist of the things we possess.   The bottom line in our bank account does not guarantee quality of life, or absence of it.

2). To demonstrate our gratitude for what God has done.  We’ve been able to help keep our mission partners moving forward by your generosity.  But God keeps the records.  “I want a gift that will be credited to your account,” Paul said.

I am incredibly grateful for your faithfulness to continued stewardship during this time of being separated and shut down by the pandemic.  It is not the case in every church.  I am encouraged and blessed that you are continuing to demonstrate mature stewardship, which partly means you don’t just give when you are here.  You give even when you can’t be.

We also need to take heart in understanding the verse that says, My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. When we give gratefully, we are saying “I believe that God will supply all my needs and will continue to do so.”

We are laying hold of that truth that our income, our possessions, our needs are not simply met because we work hard or have a great job or a great boss.  We have a great God Who owns everything!  “It is He Who gives us strength to get wealth.” If we really believe that we will not struggle with giving.

So, gratitude is not about simply being polite.  It is not just a nice habit to build into our children or into ourselves, although I really hope you are teaching that to your children.  I look at a child that is grateful and, without even knowing the parents, I think, “That child is being raised well.” Folks we are either living as grateful people, or as entitled ones.  Giving is a lifestyle choice that involves everything we have.

“When I survey the wondrous cross” contains a stanza which states,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so Divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all. 

We must learn to prioritize community

We need each other.  We truly cannot, nor should we try, to do this alone.  Circumstances may shut us up alone; lockdowns may keep us at home to avoid illness, our groups may not be able to meet face-to-face.  But all of us have learned through these hard days that community is essential.  We need each other!   Paul mentioned “the brothers with me” and “those of Caesar’s household” in his farewell.

Rejoicing in the Scars

Rejoicing in the Scars

by Cayela Moody

 

He was my sixth child to master the skill of clapping and by far the most memorable. We were alone on the couch, doing our morning snuggles. The house was optimistically quiet, as if it was preparing for the noise which was inevitably coming.  He is twenty months and hasn’t spoken his first word, or blown a kiss, or waved bye bye. We have spent hours in therapy with this goal teaching to this simple goal, because if you can clap, than maybe we can get him to sign “more”, and if he can sign, he can communicate, and if he can communicate, maybe he will stop banging his head on the floor when he gets mad at us.

I have modeled clapping consistently in play. We have banged blocks together so he understands the motion. I have made him clap his hands while he pushed back more times than I could even count. So, on this unassuming morning, as he was drinking his milk and I drank coffee, equally preparing for our calendar of to-do lists for the day, I never expected it to happen. He set his milk bottle down, (judge me if you must), and he looked studyingly at one hand, then the other, almost as if to say, “So, if I slap this hand against the other one, she might  scream in my face and we will both get a good chuckle out of it.”

So he did and he was right. I screamed and I told him he was the smartest little boy I had ever met and I gave him too many kisses on the cheek to stand. I jumped up and down and danced and I praised the Lord for this simple and amazing talent. Then he did it again. Then he showed Dad when he got out of bed. We spent the rest of the weekend celebrating and I have no plans to stop partying.

I don’t remember the exact moment when any of my other babies learned this common feat. If I have learned anything over the past years of a fuller submission to his calling it is this: The greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Anything that comes easy can be easily taken for granted.

We are so beautifully reminded by Paul in Romans 5:3-4,  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

I have always been so puzzled by this verse. To me rejoice means a celebration. Perhaps shouting a happy hallelujah? But my heart is rarely filled with delight at the realization that my tomorrows will be heartbreaking for a time or that I am entering a period of anguish and hardship. But this I know to be true: I have always grown more from the storms than the sunshine. Maybe it isn’t the suffering we should rejoice in, but rather the scar to follow.

These battle wounds weave and build our testimony. When someone asks me how I have joy in trials or they have seen me come through a valley, I always point them to the one who fully bore my burdens during that time. It is by suffering that we come to know him on a deeper level. Day in and day out, I find more confidence that he is consistently faithful. A scar will leave us changed forever. We won’t ever be the same again. I can rejoice knowing that this trial will not only help define me, but in time refine me. Jesus bore the ultimate scars and by those wounds we are healed. How humbling to consider that God could use my heartbreak and challenges to someday help strengthen or heal another.

In my refinement and closer walk with Jesus, I still have my share of uphill battles. As I was sharing my full plate with a friend, she in her thick southern accent reminded me, “Honey,  that’s not a plate. You have a platter.”  And when that sense of being overwhelmed begins to creep back in, I remind myself to cast to Christ those fears that I was never meant to carry and focus on the simple joys and moments that I am blessed with or beautiful victories of overdue milestones that are finally achieved.

07 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“The Jonah Complex”

Jonah 4:1-11

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed our little socially distanced summers cruise with Jonah.  We’ve gone from the waters off the coast of Joppa to the bottom of the sea in the belly of a fish, and we took a 3 day tour of the ancient city of Nineveh, one of the wonders of the world of its day, and finally ended up on a hillside outside the city of Nineveh, modern day Northern Iraq.

Personally, I’m a little disappointed having to come back to dock again, but that’s where we are with this part of our story today.  Last week we left Jonah sitting on a hillside east of Nineveh…and he’s angry. He has now preached God’s message to the Assyrian people that Jonah hated because he was a Jew and they were not.  Basically, it was a prejudice deeply imbedded in Jonah, and really all Jewish people.  Like we still today talk about Nazi Germany as the epitome of evil.

Now before we leave this too quickly let’s think again where Jonah was.  He was angry…he was resentful that an entire city of pagan, idolatrous people had turned to God in repentance.  Lest we think that would never happen to us, let’s imagine a scenario.

For some of us, had something drastic happened last week during the DNC…speaker after speaker took the platform and began to repent and turn from their sins…revival happened!  For some of us, we might have a problem because it happened at the DNC!  Or what if something similar happened next week at during the RNC.

God forgave them upon their genuine repentance as they turned to God as their Creator and judge.  In 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 Solomon prayed “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel…when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from Heaven, Your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name and fear You.” Jonah would have known this promise.  And now he’s seeing it come to pass before his eyes!

With just 48 verses, this is an incredible and God-inspired account we are reading about.  While we’ve talked about Jonah a lot, this is really a story about God:  not a prophet, not a whale, and not a revival in a city.  The fish gets mentioned four times; Jonah 19 times but God is mentioned 38 times!   It is a portrayal of God as “gracious, and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

But it’s also a lesson to Israel to show them Who He was and what He expected them to be.  They were rebellious and resistant to God’s call to be “a blessing to all the nations of the earth” and “a kingdom of priests and kings.”  They wanted to enjoy the privilege of God’s call without the pain of responsibility.  Just like us!  They didn’t want to have to love people they didn’t like!  Jonah’s story was a real-life object lesson for all of Israel and revealed their resistance to doing His will.

But the Book of Jonah also reveals characteristics of God that we sometimes struggle with and don’t understand.  Let me mention three.

God’s Mercy and Jonah’s Resentment. (Jonah 4:1-5)

Jonah experienced what many today experience.  He struggled with reconciling how God could be just, and righteous, and holy and, at the same time, forgive the unrighteous who, clearly in Jonah’s opinion, more than deserved God’s burning wrath.  He didn’t like the “change of plans” that God pulled off, because it crashed into Jonah’s neat and simplistic view of God that some of us entertain:  God loves good people and punishes bad ones.

This view is flawed on several levels, but the most obvious one is this:  Good people compared to who?  “Would God send an innocent person to hell?” Absolutely not!  The problem with that statement, though, is that there are no innocent people.  We usually compare ourselves with other people and then create a sliding scale of good vs bad.  “Well, I’m better than that person, but not as good as her.”  But God stands us up next to His perfect righteousness as the standard.  How’s that working for you now?  “All have sinned…”  There is no righteous person.  No innocent person.  Not even one.

It took the death of Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  Religion can’t do that.  Promising to try harder won’t do it.  Only trusting in what Jesus did for you at the cross can bring you the righteousness you need.

And only the cross can explain how God can reconcile His own holiness, and righteousness and justice and still forgive our sins.

God’s Plan and Jonah’s Resistance. (Jonah 4:6-7)

Let’s remember again a theme that runs throughout Jonah: The theme of obedience.  “To obey is better than sacrifice,” we read in 1 Samuel.  Every element of nature and every person introduced in the Book of Jonah obeyed God unquestionably.  But not Jonah.  The wind and sea obeyed as a storm came.  The pagan sailors on the boat obeyed and the last time we see them they are praying to Jonah’s God offering sacrifices of thanksgiving to Him.  The fish obeyed; worst assignment in the story:   The fish and the worm may have argued about who had the worst job:  The fish might say, “I had to have that ugly, bitter little prophet kicking and shouting inside of me for three days and three nights!”  It is debatable which was more relieved, and who wanted Jonah out of the fish more: Jonah or the fish!  But then a little worm had to eat a castor oil plant!  The people of Nineveh obeyed “even the cattle,” the plant obeyed and grew up over Jonah, the east wind obeyed and blew, and a little worm did what God told him and ate a castor oil plant.

We see this incredible portrait of God’s sovereign rule over all of His creation, people, and nature alike.  All of creation obeyed God.  But Jonah was still stubborn in his rebellion.  He resisted.  He chose to disobey God’s plan.

God’s Love and Jonah’s Reluctance (Jonah 4:8-11)

Jonah preached to Nineveh, but not because he loved Nineveh.  He was an angry, bigoted, Jewish prophet who wanted the God of Israel to obliterate these people.  Jonah obeyed God, but not because he loved God.  He feared God…he saw what God can do with a fish!  He didn’t want to end up in a worse condition.

But God’s “abounding love” even abounded toward the hated enemies of Israel.  Jonah couldn’t handle that.  It was too much, and far too much for him to get his arms around.

So, God gave Jonah an object lesson about His abounding, steadfast love.  He allowed a plant to grow up.  Now Jonah had already made a lean-to, probably tying some sticks together. (Guat: Cornstalks). But God sent Jonah the mercy of a shade plant. (ricisnus—castor oil)

God covers us with His mercy and love.  That’s how the love of God works…that’s how it worked for Jonah…that’s how it worked for Nineveh.  God “covers” us when we don’t deserve it.

And Jonah “set his heart” on this plant.  He was so grateful.  “Finally, something is going my way!” But then came the worm.  And the east wind.  And soon the plant was a casualty and withered and died.

Jonah got REALLY angry then.  And it was right there that God called him out: “Jonah…you set your heart on this plant…but you won’t set your heart on these people I have created.”

God taught Jonah an important lesson we all need to learn.  The Greek philosophers taught that there were two kinds of love:  Benevolence, which basically is a love based on the one loving, since the one being loved could do little or nothing for the one loving.

But they also believed there was a second kind of love:  the love of “attachment.”   This is a love that brings the one loving into the relationship because of attraction and loving desire. (Keller, Prodigal).

[The word used in verses 10 and 11 for “compassion” is a word that means to grieve over someone or something, to have your heart broken, to weep for it.  God says, “You had compassion for the plant” (verse 10). That is, God says, “You wept over it, Jonah. Your heart became attached to it. When it died, it grieved you.” Then God says, in essence, “You weep over plants, but my compassion is for people.” For God to apply this word to himself is radical. This is the language of attachment. God weeps over the evil and lostness of Nineveh. When you put your love on someone, you can be happy only if they are happy, and their distress becomes your distress.

The love of attachment makes you vulnerable to suffering, and yet that is what God says about himself—here and in other places (cf. Isaiah 63:9). In Genesis 6:6 it says that when God looked down on the evil of the earth, “his heart was filled with pain.”6 While this language cannot mean that the eternal, unchangeable God loses any of his omnipotence or sovereignty, it is a strong declaration at which we must marvel.7 Most of our deepest attachments as human beings are involuntary. Jonah did not look at the Ricinus plant and say, “I’m going to attach my heart to you in affection.” We need many things, and we get emotionally attached to things that meet those needs. God, however, needs nothing. He is utterly and perfectly happy in himself, and he does not need us. So how could he get attached to us? The only answer is that an infinite, omnipotent, self-sufficient divine being loves only voluntarily. The whole universe is no bigger to God than a piece of lint is to us, and we are smaller pieces of lint on the lint. How could God be attached to us? How could God say, “What happens to Nineveh affects me. It moves me. It grieves me”? It means he voluntarily attaches his heart. Elsewhere we see God looking at Israel, sinking into evil and sin, and God speaks about his heart literally turning over within him. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hosea 11:8, ESV).]

And God gives us an object lesson as well as we see His love crucified on a hillside outside of the city of Jerusalem.

Last week I mentioned in our little sidebar on anger that anger happens as a result of a threat to something important or precious to us.

Sin happens when we are inflamed with anger, or “quick to anger” and when we “seethe with anger.” Getting angry is not sinful.  Getting angry all the time becoming inflamed and for no good reason is a problem.  Hanging on to anger and letting it turn into resentment and bitterness is sin.

But if anger is a result of something being threatened in us, and it is, how could anything threaten God?

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Could God possibly be VULNERABLE?  What’s more vulnerable than a newborn baby?  What display of love is more genuine than laying down your life for what you love?

It was this amazing fact of God’s “hesed” love; His steadfast love that even extends to lost, and violent, idolatrous, and pagan people that threw Jonah.  He didn’t know how to think about a God Who loves even people who don’t deserve to be loved.

We don’t really understand the profound message of Jonah without the cross.  From a hillside of judgement and condemnation, where Jonah sat, to a hillside of mercy and reconciliation at Calvary.

“Should I not love…?” is the question that God leaves Jonah with…and us as the book ends.  It really doesn’t end.  The reader must put your own ending on the book!

Two things remain to do.  First, let me answer the question asked me by a young lady early in this study.  “Is Jonah in heaven today?” I think “yes,” not because of any evidence we see in Chapter 4 of Jonah’s changing.

But the logical question is, “if Jonah didn’t tell the story in The Book of Jonah, who did?”  Biblical books don’t just “fall from the sky,” bound in black leather and gold-embossed pages.

They are real.  They happen to people.  People relay what happened to them, as in the four Gospel presentations of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Biblical inspiration can be, ultimately, traced back to a real person experiencing something with God in a valid historical context.

Jonah told the story of Jonah.  He told it as a cautionary tale, because I believe that one of the important purposes of this book was to warn Israel how they were missing the point of their existence by refusing to proclaim their God to the pagan and unbelieving nations of the world.

Second, “what are you going to do about the ending of the book?”

It ends with a question.  Let me prompt your thinking with four. Each are taken from one of the four chapters of Jonah.

  1. What thing that God is calling you to do are you running from?  Maybe God is offering you a second chance to do the right thing.  (Chapter 1)
  2. What storms has your disobedience brought into your own life…and those around you? (Chapter
  3. Who are the most difficult people or maybe just the most difficult person in your life to love? (Chapter 3)
  4. What are you angry about?  Where is that anger coming from?  Why are you “angry enough to die?”  Is it right?  Your anger usually reveals an idol in your life… (Chapter 4).

If you are running from God in your life, remember Jonah.  When his running was finished, he ran right into the God he was running from!  I pray you’ll do the same.

The Valley View

The Valley View

by Cayela Moody

It was 5:15 in the morning, when I heard an unfamiliar sound in our bed. Evan found something a child had left behind and was rolling it around in his hand. “What in the world is it?”

“They are marbles. Did you lose yours?”

It certainly feels like it most days. And I know from my conversations with others who are walking this similar journey, I am not alone in feeling this way.

I am embarking on another year of homeschooling and when I put together my schedule this year, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. We have six children, three of which require tutoring and therapies that amount to forty hours a week. I have a route that surpasses most UberXL drivers. It seems so very impossible. When I get overwhelmed, I shrink. I make myself as small as possible. I get very quiet and I wait to hear something, anything, from a God I know is near.

In the quiet I was reassured, but not how I had hoped. The message was simple. This is a valley. Thanks. I already feel like I am losing. I have lost control. That superhero glow has long since faded in the light of foster care and adoption and the chaos that abounds in our home. I feel like I am losing myself, my sanity, even my friends.

A few weeks later, I was watching the kids swim. My oldest daughter, Margaret, came rushing inside. She was whining about a race she lost, and she got very irritated with me. “Are you even listening?”

“You didn’t lose the race. You lost the joy.”

Her eyes followed mine. We both watched as my youngest daughter, who has been deathly afraid to jump in the pool all summer, was taking gigantic leaps into my oldest son’s waiting arms. But that message wasn’t for her, it was a reminder to me. I am not losing in life; I am losing sight of what matters. I focused on the hard and lost sight of the joy.

I understood what he meant by the valley. I was wholly focused on a singular definition: a low point. I needed to reconsider the meaning. I imagined myself as a child in my grandmother’s rocking chair. She is crocheting as Elvis sings “Peace in the Valley” in the background. It was time for me to find rest and stillness in waiting for him. I was reminded to look around and find joy in the ordinary. I need to adjust my view from the valley. If I only focus on what life could be on the mountain top, I will miss the miracles in the moments of today.

Psalm 84 speaks of the Valley of Baca, which is translated as the valley of weeping. Verse 10 so beautifully reminds us: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. What a soul filling reminder. Better is one day in the valley with Jesus, than a thousand mountaintop experiences apart from him.

Rushing Fall

I’ll admit it. I’m over summer. It’s been terrible in many ways for some, and intolerable for others. Who would have thought that we would go through summer breathing through cloth masks?  So usually by the first week of August or so, I’m ready for something to look like fall.

Guess I’ll have to settle for pictures though. I don’t have a “leaf trip” to the mountains planned. And nothing changes in Florida, except the daytime highs drop to the upper eighties instead of the mid-nineties.

Maybe it’s not just fall I’m rushing. I’m kind of over 2020. I’m trying to be optimistic that 2021 will be a much better year, but it may have its own level of awful too.

But I want to see kids buying school supplies, and I’m actually kind of excited to have to be waiting on big yellow school buses to start picking up and letting off their eager payload of students. I want to see ONE leaf turn! Just ONE! Anything to say we are moving forward and making progress. Bring on the pumpkin spice scented face masks!

Ok that’s my rant. It’s wrong. We shouldn’t wish our lives away like that. Every day we have on God’s earth is precious, even though not always easy. Each day has its own “new mercies” if we’ll stay tuned in for them. (Lamentations 3:23)

And, as Christians, we are to “redeem the time,” not wish it away. We have an opportunity TODAY, whatever our circumstance, to make Christ known; to enjoy the grace of living in our Creator’s world; to serve a person in the Name of Jesus.

Who knows? This may be our last day… or many, many more years lie ahead of us. Whatever God chooses (since He has “numbered our days”), let it not be said we wasted or wished one away.

Let’s live for Jesus

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