Fruit Cove Baptist Church


Pastor Tim's Blog

Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 9

THE JOY OF KNOWING JESUS.  

Philippians 3:1-11

What a season this has been!    And if all the other things going on didn’t get you, I killed my first cicada of the season last Sunday…only 999,999 more to go!”.   It is Hurricane Season.  As one meme posted online had it, “Welcome to Jumanji Level 6.”

It all makes us grateful though that our joy does not depend on everything going our way, right?  Philippians is a book that shows us how to have a joy that surpasses our circumstances and transcends even our sorrow and problems.

Joy does not occur because of our circumstances, but in SPITE of them!

Jesus gives us a contagious joy that spreads more effectively than the Covid-19 virus we have been facing.  It is more powerful than the racism and hatred that is tearing our nation apart; more abundant than one million cicadas; and stronger than a Category 5 hurricane.

“In conclusion… (so then) …rejoice in the Lord.” (3:1-2).  How do we do that?

Relating Well to God

The Futility of Religion. (Philippians 3:3-8)

Paul here is painting a clear contrast in the ways we seek to relate to God.  Some try to relate to Him through RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCE.   But that truly does not bring us confidence or joy, no matter how sincere.  There are two contrasting sources of our confidence before God—

Where the confidence of our joy in Christ is NOT found:

  1. In our religious heritage:
  2. In our personal pedigree
  3. In our prideful accomplishments

NONE of those things brought Paul lasting joy.  RELIGION is incapable of doing that.

Religion and Racism

(In the sermon I used a water bottle placed on the platform.  Some letters I could ready, but I could not read what was on the front of the bottle.  I had to “walk around the bottle” to do that).

Hosea 4:6. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

We do not understand.  I am a middle class suburban white male.  I’ll never really understand what it’s like to be black or Hispanic or Asian or another ethnicity.  All I can do is try to get a different perspective.

I do not know the experience of being ostracized  because I opened my home and heart to a child who is not racially like me or of seeing my adopted black son running down the street I live on being chased by a white neighbor with a cell phone videoing.  And I don’t know the pain of burying a child killed because of his skin color.  I haven’t walked far enough around the bottle yet.  I don’t know what it is like to feel the need to take to the street in protest of unfair and unjust treatment and simply to have my pain heard.   I don’t… and I can’t understand those things.  Not standing where I am

What We CAN Know

But I do know some things:

  • Racism a sin problem not a skin problem that resides in our hearts.
  • Racism despises the image of God…every man, woman boy and girl … “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.”  (Acts 17:26)
  • Racism diminishes the Great Commission and the Great      Commandment…If you dislike or distrust people from other races… it is a sin against the One Who made them.
  • Racism detracts from our calling to be ministers of reconciliation
  • Racism distorts the intention of God that “every language, people” and “tribe” be represented in eternity around Gods throne. we will not be just one color in heaven.  (Revelation Chapter 5:6-7)

Racism is Evil

Racism is unvarnished evil that will hide in church buildings and places of worship among those who are religious but who “deny the power” of God.  It is often clothed in righteous garments, but racism is self-righteousness that is sometimes imbedded in churches and sometimes in political systems. It has no place in government, in education or in business.  And it certainly should not be named among those who wear the name of Jesus.  RELIGIONS feed on prejudice and considers an ethnicity or class of people as “less than” they are.

Biblical Christianity as presented in the Bible is NOT a religious system.  IT IS A LIVING AND VITAL RELATIONSHIP with the living God made possible for us through Jesus Christ.  But until we know Him and begin to love Him, it is just a joyless religious performance that amounts to dung.

Where our confidence IS found:

1).  In the PERSON of  Christ: LIVE PERSONALLY. “That I may know HIM….”

It is safe to estimate that almost thirty years had passed since Paul met Jesus on the Damascus Road.  He was still in that eager search to get to know Him!   I think the idea that he could actually KNOW Christ personally was the most radical and life-altering thing that ever happened to him.  He had tried religious performance sincerely.  It left him empty and angry.  And he truly did not KNOW God.

Pam and I were together for 42 years; dating 2 and married 40.  And yet even in all that time… literally a generation together… there were still things I was learning about her, and she was learning about me.  When you love someone, you just want to keep learning about them!  Paul said, “I want to KNOW Him…”.   Some of us are far too easily satisfied with a superficial, casual, Facebook-friend kind of level of relationship with Jesus.  We never get to the joy because we never really get to know much about Jesus.  Paul is saying, in essence, “I want to know Jesus on a deeper, experiential, intimate level.”  And it was to know Him and then keeping on growing in that knowledge.  This is not about research and biographical knowledge.  This was, “I want to know Him on the deepest level possible.”  Right here is where many of us miss it.   We just need to fall in love with Jesus again…or perhaps for the first time.

2).  In the POWER of Christ: LIVE POWERFULLY “…and the power of His resurrection…”

But Paul also wanted to know Jesus through the POWER of the resurrection.  It is the resurrection event that sets Jesus apart from every other religious figure and leader and, in fact, every other person Who ever lived.  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life….”.  Now. Present tense.  Not tomorrow.  Not when you die.   When you come to Jesus eternal life begins for you and resurrection is assured!

Jesus really died on that Friday at Golgotha.  He really went into the depths of the abyss of the grave.  And He stayed in that place for three days, as “Jonah was in the belly of the fish” as a foreshadowing of the resurrection.

And when Jesus came back from the dead, He not only had the keys of death, and hell, and the grave with Him, but there was more.  Everything changed because of His resurrection.  God changed everything by this one sacrificial and powerful action.   That is why tolerating a sin like racism in our hearts is in such conflict with being a resurrected person.  It just doesn’t fit.

Death was overcome.  The grave was overwhelmed by victory.  Sin no longer had a death grip on us.  Sin’s chains were broken by the resurrection of Jesus.   Paul was saying, “I want to know the power of the resurrection….”. That power.  Not the power that the world brings.  I want to know “the explosive, transforming power of His resurrection.”

3).  In the PASSION of Christ: LIVE PASSIONATELY  “…and share in His sufferings…”

Now most of us, so far, would say “I’m in.  I’d like to get to know Jesus.  I’d sure would like some of that resurrection power in my life too!”. But this part usually slows our steps a bit.  We’re inviting suffering?

Actually, what Paul was saying was, “I want to be united with Jesus in His death so it becomes effective (from Heaven’s perspective) as MY death….to His burial so I can overcome the grave like He did…and His resurrection…that I may walk in newness of life in Jesus.”   But as our brother and friend Nik Ripken reminds us, “There is no resurrection without a crucifixion.”

I remind you here that this is exactly what we are showing when we are baptized.   We are outwardly and visibly showing that these invisible and inward things have happened.  I am identified with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  As Paul said in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I no longer live…. but Christ lives in me.”  We are showing, not just the passion of Jesus: His death, His burial, and His resurrection—but our fellowship in that; our sharing in it; our being united and one in it.  A oneness or uniting with it as God makes that happen.

Our joy, our hope, and our confidence is found as we become one with Jesus Christ through His death on our behalf….do you believe He died for you?  Through His burial…that He experienced the grave for you?  Through His resurrection…that He overcame the greatest enemy—death—for you?   Our confidence is not in our accomplishments or religious practices, but in His accomplishments and our belief that His victory is ours… His death became our death… and now, His life is our life!

That is where our confidence lies.  That is where our joy comes from…As we live personally in knowing Jesus and powerfully in His resurrection and passionately in our connection with Him.

“That I may know Him…!”

03 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

Jonah:  The Storm-Tossed Prophet

(Jonah 1:17-2:10)

“A Severe Mercy”

Fish stories are notoriously hard to verify, especially if we are letting the fisherman tell it!  Nowhere is that truer than in the story of Jonah.  People have believed Jonah was telling a “fish story” for thousands of years now.

An uncle was visiting his brother’s family one Sunday afternoon.  The uncle was a hardened skeptic and did not mind spouting his opinion.  He turned to his ten-year-old niece and asked, “So what did you learn about in Sunday School today?”   She said, “We read about Jonah being swallowed by a whale.” He said, “Really?  So, tell me, do you believe that Jonah was really eaten by a whale?”  She replied, “Yes.”  And he said, “And how do you know that happened?”  She said, “I don’t know, but when I get to heaven, I’ll ask him.” He said, “Oh yeah?” with that “gotcha” kind of face.  “Well what if Jonah didn’t go to heaven?”  And without missing a beat, she said, “Then you can ask him.”

Well today we are not going to get distracted with a lecture in marine biology to convince skeptics that there really could have been a fish large enough to eat a man. {Let me ask you this.  If I could scientifically verify it, would you then be willing to believe the story was true?  No, you wouldn’t.  If I could prove medically and biologically how Mary could have conceived Jesus without a man being involved, would you then believe Jesus was the Son of God?  Again, no you wouldn’t.  For the believer, let me say that Jesus believed and taught that Jonah was absolutely true.}

 

JONAH’S PREDICAMENT

(NOTE:  The Book of Jonah has been overtaken through the years by his encounter with a “great fish.” Jonah and the fish are not the point of the story, but in reading many commentators and preachers you would think it was.  The fish was mentioned only four times in the book.  It should be noted that, when sensational events such as this are used as a literary device in fiction or mythology, the event itself finds a central place in the story.  The fact that Jonah downplays the fish event speaks to the fact that this is NOT mythology or fiction.  It is NOT a story made up for the Bible.   The fish is of importance only as it points to God’s providential care for the prophet as he was drowning.  Since the Enlightenment period, scientific proof has become the paramount way of “knowing” anything.  The empirical method— knowing by observation and repeated phenomena— has overtaken the importance of “knowing” reality by faith.  It is this desire to truly “know” something by proving it scientifically that has moved many to comment of Jonah’s great fish and some to discount it as myth.  The Biblical account does not give us any indication of what kind of fish it was, nor does it really matter.  It was an “appointed” fish; a “prepared” fish; a “great” e.g. large fish.  But the genus and species are left unrevealed.)

Jonah was running full out away from God.  God said, “Go east to Nineveh.”  Jonah boarded a boat headed west to Tarshish to “run away from the presence of the Lord.”  And so, as Jonah ran, God “hurled” a storm into the Mediterranean Sea.

Sin always leads you into a storm.  And your sin, as Jonah quickly leaned, is never just about you.  When someone decides to make sinful decisions, they often defend their actions by saying, “It’s not hurting anyone.”  Jonah could have said that, and yet his disobedience was now jeopardizing the lives of a ship’s crew.  Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking your decisions only affect you.  Sin…ANY sin…diminishes you.  It depletes you.  There is less of you to be there for others.  It makes you less human.  And that impacts every person in your life.  “Be sure your sin will find you out,” the Book of Numbers warns us.

The boat was threatening to break apart.   And so, the crew reluctantly decided to do what Jonah requested: throw him overboard.

Jonah expected to die.  He thought this was the end for him.  He was alone in a now – still sea, without a life vest and no land in sight.  It was then God did the unexpected:  He sent a fish.

God appointed a fish… just as God appointed a storm.  Though Jonah took his life out of God’s hand, God did not just leave him alone.  God was determined to bring the prodigal, prejudiced prophet back into His will.  This is a clear picture of the mercy and compassion of God that is presented in Jonah.

But let’s see this properly.  Though Jonah was in a tough predicament, he was still experiencing the grace of God.  God sent the fish as a rescue mission, not to make Jonah’s life miserable.  Jonah had already done that.  God wanted to spend some time having Jonah’s undivided attention.

Well now he has it.  Pitch black, hot, smelly, and swimming in gastric juice and half-consumed fish and seaweed, God left Jonah there for three days and three nights.  Sometimes when God wants to get our attention, He leaves us nowhere to look but up!

 

JONAH’S PRAYER

(NOTE:  The prayer that follows is taken almost entirely from the Book of Psalms.  Every word that Jonah speaks was taken from the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.  Jonah knew the Bible.  It flooded out through him as he sank down to “the roots of the mountains.”  Yet knowing the Bible and living the Bible are two different things entirely.  Jonah knew the Word of God; it is questionable whether he truly knew the God of the Word.)

Jonah was now in the belly of the fish.  I would imagine he didn’t have a Bic lighter or a cell phone with him to provide light.  It was terrifying, he was all alone.  He did not know if that was going to be his place of death, as much of his prayer indicates.  He hadn’t read the book of Jonah to know how this was going to end!  Don’t let the imagery this provides for some of our situations to escape us.

You may be in the same type of circumstance today.  Through no fault of your own, you may be confined to a wheelchair; quarantined in a hospital bed or maybe locked in a jail cell as you listen to this.  Maybe you are trapped in a situation where your job or marriage has begun to feel like a prison.  Our whole nation, in fact most of the world, this morning is living in the belly of the whale with Covid-19.

Let’s also understand that, for Jonah, this predicament was his salvation though he did not understand that in the moment.  God was still shaping, still working in Jonah’s life.  The Bible clearly states (no matter what the fish was) that it was “PREPARED” or “appointed” for Jonah.  He wasn’t an accidental “catch of the day.”  God ordained this fish, just like He ordained/prepared the storm.  God was always a step ahead.

You know, when we undergo times of chastening or discipline, we need to see God’s grace and His hand in the midst of the discomfort.  “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord….the Lord chastens every child He receives…” (Hebrews 12:4-11)

And from the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed.   But as one writer noted, Jonah’s prayer was a prayer of affliction, not a prayer of affection.  Jonah prayed, but he never truly repented.  He cried out in pain, but not in hunger for God.  He never confessed his own sins.  Not once.

Though Jonah used the Psalms as the structure of his prayers, he carefully avoided the Psalms that talked about confession of sin and repentance.  He could have used Psalm 32 or Psalm 51, but instead he stayed away from those.

He repented of his circumstance; he was sorry for his pain, and that God had thrown him into this mess.  But his prayer was very self-centered.  “My distress…my pain…my problem.”

Jonah did not repent of his prejudiced and unloving attitude toward the Ninivites.  He still thought he was better and more deserving of God’s mercy than they were.  He was, after all, a “Hebrew.”  He even threw shade on the Ninevites when he said, “those who pay regard to vain idols will forsake their hope of steadfast love.” He made this statement without ever repenting of his own idolatry of creating a God in his own image.  Jonah wanted a God of all wrath but no compassion, except for him and for his.    We’ll see how that works out later.

There are also some Gospel pictures here.  Jesus likened Himself to Jonah, calling Himself “the greater Jonah.”   The picture of Jonah’s being tossed into a sea raging with the wrath of God is a picture of Jesus being thrown on a cross for us, to absorb the wrath of God.  Jesus said “the Son of Man has come to give His life a ransom for many.  And his being devoured by the fish is a picture of Jesus dying, and being dead and buried for three days in the depths of the earth.  (see Matthew 12:39-40)

 

JONAH’S PROCLAMATION

The day came for Jonah’s release.  Jonah was expelled as the fish “vomited” him out.   Jonah never spoke much about the fish.  We talk about it more than he ever did.  It only gets four mentions in the whole book!

But Jonah made one statement while he was still in the belly of this mega fish.  “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” “Salvation is of the Lord.” “Salvation is the Lord’s.” (2:10)

Some have said this is the central verse of the entire Old Testament, if not the whole Bible.  It is the Gospel in one sentence.

Salvation comes because of God’s grace, not because of our works and efforts. “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves…”  We are not saved because we’re decent people, or because we’re registered Republicans, or because we’re Americans,  or because we’re not criminals, or because we’re good parents, or good neighbors, or just all around good people.

None of that matters.  All have sinned.  We are incapable of pleasing God in our sin.  No amount of good you can pull off can counterbalance the weight of our sin.  We need grace.  Grace.  God’s grace.  “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” The Gospel is that God moved toward us, not that we decided to move toward Him.

Another man found himself in the middle of a raging storm.  He was a ship’s captain with a cargo of human slaves aboard.  The ship had blown off course and was about to capsize and in desperation, this ship’s captain cried out to God for help.

The ship righted itself, got back on course.  And the captain’s life was changed forever.  He cried out to God.    As Jonah did from the depths of the sea, John Newton cried out and God heard him.  The date was May 10, 1748; the day he forever after marked as his conversion.   He became a pastor, and a powerful voice for the reform of slavery in England.   He also wrote a few songs his congregation sang.  Among those:

“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound”

But now, in our day of heightened racial tensions and Black Lives Matters and White Supremacy and everyone in between Jonah is taking a brand-new bounce.

Jonah was a racist prophet.  He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth.  He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to other nations.

Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more than ready for God to wipe them off the map.  People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal.  But he hated them.  How much?  Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out!

But the large fish is only mentioned four times in the book.  Jonah is not about the whale.  And it’s not about the great city.  Nineveh is mentioned nine times.  It’s not about the prophet either.  Jonah is only mentioned eighteen times.  But GOD is mentioned 38 times in a book that just has 48 verses!

You know that the MAJORITY of our Bible’s 66 books were written from right to left?  Every OT book was written…God’s Holy Spirit inspired  people who read from right to left, and people who think from right to left.  That is one of the main reasons we struggle so much with Old Testament books, and why we miss so much of it while we try to make it make sense as people who read and think from left to right!

Now I know that some of us, as modern, scientifically-minded left to right thinkers, believe that it would be unlikely that this is a REAL event…that it actually happened…that JONAH was swallowed by a fish.  C’mon pastor.  Sounds like a scene from Pinocchio or something.

But you may never have seen the video clips of a whale shark or even a great white that could swallow a person!  So maybe it was something much bigger than a whale that swallowed Jonah.  We do not know.  The Bible says it was a “great fish.”  I’m pretty sure there wasn’t enough space inside the fish to set up a little table and chair like Geppetto had in the Pinocchio cartoon.  It would have been dark, smell like dead fish, and Jonah would have been marinating in gastric juices that probably started bleaching his skin.  And I’m sure that some of our fishermen in here have a “great fish” story at least that big that got away!

We do need to understand that the Lord JESUS believed it really happened!  In fact, He used the story of Jonah’s being swallowed as a way of explaining His time in the grave before resurrection came.  “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish…” (Matthew 12:39-40)

But ultimately Jonah’s story is about God calling Israel back to their intended purpose:  To be a light to the nations who do not know Him…  A missionary people, carrying the Good News to the world.  But the story  was repeated time after time and the Israelite’s chose over and over again  to emphasize their “chosen nation” status and neglect their duty to evangelize and do missions and to tell the nations about the God they served!  They thought God chose them to bless them.  But God blessed them to be a blessing to the nations, not to keep Him to themselves.

Church, be careful.  Christian, listen up.  You were “grafted in” to the vine of Israel to do what Israel would NOT do…go to the nations and share the Good News of Jesus!!  Let’s not fail in that task as they did.

Jonah failed.  This is the story of a man called to do exactly what was in his job description:  Represent the God of Israel to a lost nation—in this case the Ninevites.  But Jonah did exactly what we do:  Eric Mason reminds us that Jonah put his SOCIOLOGY above his THEOLOGY.  He put his RACE above God’s GRACE.

Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 8

The Joy of Gospel Friendships

 

We live in a day marked by loneliness.  It is, by most accounts, one of the most pressing emotional needs of our day.  Most people who take their own lives through suicide are not simply depressed.  They are alone.

While they might live in a house filled with people or work in a workplace buzzing with activity, they are isolated and feel that no one knows or cares whether they exist or not.  It is a devastatingly painful thing to be alone—the ONE thing God saw in the perfection of the Garden and world He created that was “not good.”  He said, “It is NOT GOOD for the man to be alone.”

Well, what is true of men is also true of women.  While some are uniquely created to survive life alone, the vast majority are not.  We need people.  We need each other!

Nowhere is that truer than in Christian fellowship.  In fact, it is very clear that we cannot please the Lord without serving others.  We have no call to retreat into monastic existence and never interact with other souls God has made in His Own image.

In fact, it is arguable that you can’t even know yourself by yourself.  Much of our self-understanding comes in our interaction with others.  One of our first impressions in the world as infants comes as we see the face of our mother and father.

Of all the isolating experiences in life, (and we can think of nursing homes, hospitals locked down by Covid restrictions, and even college dorm rooms), one of the most difficult is the enforced loneliness of prison.

There is a social structure in every prison.  There is a hierarchy of people, and even a grouping together of different crimes and convictions, that those imprisoned used to identify with others. But even in that, there are the outliers; the lonely; the solitary confinements.

 

A JOYFUL COMMUNITY

Caesar’s Household

Even though imprisoned, Paul was not alone.  Never, from what it sounds.  Paul was constantly accompanied in his jail cell by members of the praetorium guard.  These were usually soldiers retired or retooled from the battlefield.  They were hardened, crude, and probably hated the work they now had to do.

But Paul saw each of his guards, as their shifts came and went, as opportunities for the Gospel of the Kingdom to advance.  Rather than complaining about having to be chained night and day to one of these rough Roman soldiers, Paul began leading them to Christ one-by-one.  They thought Paul was their prisoner when, as Paul began preaching to them and as they overheard Paul preaching to others, they were the captives!

“Many of Caesar’s household” greet you, Paul would later say.  Many of these soldiers came to the hope of Jesus Christ on their shifts in the prison cell.  And when conversion came, Paul began to disciple them one-by-one.

Think about people that God has, by His sovereign design, brought into your life.  The rough, crass, crude, the hardened, the profane.  Why do you think you moved next door to them, or work in the next cubicle or on the same team beside them?  God didn’t put them there for you to ignore and avoid.  They’re your mission field.

Here is a plan.  Start with the worst person.  Spend time with them, coffee breaks, maybe a lunch time.  Befriend them.  I know this works; I have seen it!

When she worked at Mayo Clinic, my wife Pam was the “patron saint of lost causes.”  She drew the hardest, most difficult people into her circle.  She brought them little gifts.  She loved on them, prayed for them.  And some came to Christ through that friendship she brokered—a friendship few others would pursue.

I did not realize until her funeral what an impact she had on her workplace.  Person after person came to tell me what she had meant to them and what she had done for them.  I knew a little before then.

We can be contagious with joy in our workplace or classroom, or a little dark cloud that rains on everybody!  Which would you rather be known as when your life is over?

 

Paul’s Workforce

Paul did not accomplish what he did alone.  A team of people supported Paul.  It was not a lot of people, but each was significant.  Remember, Paul did not work alone. His community of friendships included Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Titus, Euodia and Syntyche, Lydia, Tychitus, and Aquilla and Priscilla. Paul led a work group that changed the gentile world for eternity in only 20 years!  What made it so effective and what made it joyful? Obviously, Paul had joy in what he did.

You need a team.  I’m not saying a work team, but you need team mates to walk through life with you.  People who can cheer you, and encourage you, and stand with you when your life is turning hard.

As I write this, I just finished engaging in a group prayer email to a friend in Virginia.  He served a ministry I’m a part of, and was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor that was already metastasized when they discovered it.

He is a team builder.  He is an encourager.  He spreads joy.  And now, the team he helped build is turning inward to encourage him and his wife; to bring them the same joy that he helped others find.

Who is on your “team?” You cannot do all that God wants you to do alone.  We need each other.  We need a team.

 

Paul’s Gospel Friendships

Paul had two friendships in particular that he takes time to mention in detail in this letter.  Timothy and Epaphroditus had touched Paul’s life deeply, and in so doing helped in the sharing of the Gospel.

1). Timothy

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”     Philippians 2:19-24 ESV

I am always struck by the things said about and to Timothy because, obviously, that’s my name!  I have always taken the words of the two letters called by his (my!) name to heart.  I hear them personally and have for the entirety of my Christian walk.

Paul had poured his life into Timothy.  From earlier years, he met and was impressed with the young Greek man.  Paul did for Timothy what we need men to do for other men today.

One of Timothy’s problems was a spiritually absent father.  He did not have a godly father to look to as an example and model of the faith.  So Paul’s willingness to take Timothy on as a protege has served as the basis for countless discipleship ministries through the years.

But as important as Paul was for Timothy as he grew in faith, and walked with Paul in some hard places, at some point the relationship became more collegial and friendship-based.  A true Gospel friendship.

It was Christ Who united Timothy and Paul, and knit them together in Christian fellowship.  But as Paul aged and became more limited in what he could do, Timothy was able to step in and be there for him.

In one of his last written works, 2 Timothy, Paul requested that Timothy come and stand with him in prison and even to the day of his “graduation” to heaven!  Timothy was the last person Paul wanted to see on earth.  That is not a negative statement.  It is the greatest compliment Paul could pay.

Whose eyes are the last you would want to look into before saying goodbye to this world?  That is the person Timothy was to Paul.  “I have no one like him,” Paul said, “who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”

Paul saw a selflessness in Timothy that was unique.  Timothy did not have his own personal agenda.  Paul could trust him with an assignment like no other.  He knew Timothy’s priority was “the things of Jesus Christ.” He cared for people, but he cared first for Jesus.

Obviously Timothy knew personally about the Philippians.  “You know…” Paul said.  You personally have seen with your own eyes how he cares for me as a son for a father.  You have watched him as he did it.

But Paul really did not want to release Timothy too quickly.  He wanted to see “how it would go with me.”  Again I suspect that Paul’s wish was not to face death without Timothy there if possible.  So his reluctance was borne of how important Timothy was to him as he was in prison.

I truly hope you have someone like that in your life.  You won’t have a lot.  Some will not have anyone.  But great joy comes in knowing someone like Paul had in Timothy and, I’m certain, as Timothy felt about Paul.

2). Epaphrotidus

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”    Philippians 2:25-30 ESV

Paul mentions Epaphroditus by name as well.  Epaphroditus was likely a well-known and much trusted layman in the Philippian community, and was the carrier of their gift to Paul in prison.

Seldom do we hear Paul heap more praise on a man than he does on this relatively unknown individual.  He called him “my brother,” “my fellow worker,” “my fellow soldier,” “your messenger,” “a minister to my need,” and his sacrificial ministry “risking his life” to complete this assignment.

Apparently the rigors of the trip to Paul’s place of imprisonment almost took the life of Epaphroditus.  Paul said “he was ill, near to death.”  And though news did not travel quickly in Biblical times, the church had obviously heard of this illness.

“But God had mercy on him, and on me…” and brought him to recovery.  The Apostle also knew that they were anxious to hear about his well-being and so Paul said, “I am more eager to send him…” that they might be relieved to see him doing well.

There must have been dozens or perhaps hundreds of people who came alongside Paul in his ministry.  They would come in and out of his life and become life-giving friends to the Apostle.  These were not trained ministry professionals, but Christian lay men and women.

It was not their ability that commended them to Paul, but their availability to be used by God.  Some, as with Epaphroditus, paid a steep price for their sacrifice.

“Honor such men,” Paul said.  The Gospel cannot go forward without them.

Maybe, like Timothy, you are called to ministry at some point or in some fashion.  If so, serve well as he did.

Maybe, like Epaphroditus, you are a person with a different vocation but look for ways that God can meaningfully use you.  Serve faithfully, both in your daily work, and in opportunities provided for you to encourage and serve a missionary or a pastor or your local body.

“Honor such men,” Paul said.  There are few greater honors than being recruited in the Kingdom as “a fellow soldier and fellow worker” in Kingdom matters.

And beside all else, find a way to be a friend!  The world needs a lot of those.  Pastors, ministry professionals, missionaries are crying out for a Timothy or an Epaphroditus to come alongside them.

I pray you can find one…and I pray you can be one!

02 Jonah: The Strom-Tossed Prophet

Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

(Jonah 1:7-16)

 

It is not difficult to see in the early verses of Chapter 1 and now as we continue further, that Jonah’s mess was of his own making.  Rebellion always leads us into a storm.

And Jonah was in one.  A GREAT storm, the Bible calls it.  Jonah, you remember, was running from the clearly revealed and spoken will of God.  Jonah was sent by God to bring light and hope to a GREAT city. Jonah went the other way and found himself in the middle of a GREAT storm.  Few of us receive as clear an assignment as Jonah received.

But to Jonah, this assignment seemed impossible.  It was impossible first, because Nineveh was a GREAT city.  I’m sure most reading this have been in some of our national urban centers like New York, or LA, or Miami.  The sheer number of people are overwhelming and intimidating if you don’t live around it.

Growing up in a city with a population of about 38,000 even Jacksonville is an overwhelmingly large city.  It is the second metropolitan location I have lived near, including Louisville, Ky.  But neither Jacksonville or Louisville look large next to Manhattan, or Dubai, or Dallas or Guatemala City.

Jonah lived in a very parochial setting, surrounded by people like him and people he liked.  He knew many of them and if not, they probably knew him.  Going to Nineveh was way out of Jonah’s comfort zone.

But not only did it seem an impossible assignment from God to go and preach in such a large city, but it seemed an implausible one as well.  Jonah was being asked to go and offer grace and an opportunity for repentance to some of Israel’s most hated enemies!  They likely didn’t even speak the same language.

It would be like a Jewish rabbi being sent to talk about the God of Israel in Tehran!  “I can’t go there!  They hate Jewish people there!” And that was Jonah’s conundrum.  He hated the Assyrian people.  And they reciprocated their hatred.

But Jonah had forgotten the forbearance and mercy of God.  When Moses saw the back of God’s glory as he was hidden in the cleft of a rock in the wilderness, the word he heard as the Lord passed by was,

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6)

God’s nature had not changed since that proclamation.  And it still has not changed!  God loves your enemies as much as He loves you!  Jonah was to be an emissary carrying that message to an idolatrous people.

 

The Fleeing Prophet

But Jonah ran from that opportunity. He fled west when God clearly told him to go east.  Jonah’s intention was to book passage on a ship carrying him, literally, to the end of the world as far as the Jewish thought of that day was concerned.  He was going to Tarshish, and probably bought a one-way ticket.

With this act, Jonah was retiring from the vocation of prophet.  He quit.  It was too hard, too unreasonable, too confusing.  He hung up his prophetic mantle and ran.

Jonah is about God shaping a prophet.  The story ends in Chapter 4 without a concluding word.  We leave Jonah stewing on a hillside under a withered castor oil plant.  We don’t know if he re-embraced his calling or not.  Jonah may have been finished with God, but God was not yet finished with Jonah!  Romans 11 tells us “the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.”  When God calls, God never changes His mind…even if we change ours.

Before we get there, however, we go on an incredible journey with Jonah.  And that’s where our present text finds us.

Jonah had found a boat.  Again, in his effort to escape from “the Presence of the Lord,” Jonah saw his ability to book passage on a ship out of Joppa that just “happened” to be going to Tarshish as good fortune to him.  “You’re lucky:  There’s one boat left and it’s going to Tarshish!”

It’s interesting, when we find ourselves in rebellion and disobedience, and we seem to “get lucky” and take a job we shouldn’t have, or leave our family for another person (“surely God must have sent this person to me”), that we see these as signs of our good fortune.

The Proverbs tell us “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end are the ways of death.” The Tarshish-bound vessel seemed “right” to Jonah, but it was about to transport him into the middle of a fight for his life!

 

The Sleeping Prophet

Jonah was sleeping when he should have been praying.  It took a frightened ship’s captain shaking him awake in the hold of the vessel during a “great” storm.  Jonah was physically exhausted, no doubt to sleep through a storm like this.

But more than that, Jonah was spiritually asleep.  Here is a word for the church in a fearful time.  The men on this vessel were terrified, out of control, and frightened for their life.

And in the bottom of their vessel lay a man, sound asleep, who should have been awake, and on the deck, and telling these sailors to call out to the Lord of the heaven, sea, and earth.

One of the influential voices from the Jesus movement in the 1970s was Brooklyn-born Keith Green.  His prophetic songs still haunt me today.  One song, called “Asleep in the Light” has a refrain which says

The world is sleeping in the dark,
which the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light.

The sailors on the deck above were living in spiritual darkness.  They were crying out to non-existent pagan gods which could offer no relief for their situation.   Jonah meanwhile slept through his opportunity to be light in the darkness of their situation.

Before we start throwing stones at Jonah, however, we need to take a look in the mirror.  We are living through a time, in this generation, that will define the human race from this time forward.

In the midst of the craziness of people’s responses in this fearful, anxious time…what will history say the church did?   The sailors on the deck of Jonah’s ocean-going vessel were terrified for their lives.  They were ready to try anything, and more receptive to truth than they had ever been.

And yet, the church’s voice is ominously silent.  Are we fearful of the storm?  Do we not know the God of the virus?  Are we beholding to human definitions and limitations and the rebuke and fear of “political correctness?”

Or is this our hour to wake up?  We’ve been “asleep in the light” for longer than I can remember.   Our message no longer has relevance to a broken world. They think we have nothing to say that must be heard.

I wonder if it’s possible that, like the frightened sailors, the world is now searching for a true word, a hopeful word in this storm?  And if they are, can we rouse ourselves from our slumber?

I find myself convicted by this passage.  I see myself in Jonah’s face, wrinkled by blankets of self-righteousness and an unwillingness to be inconvenienced by the cries of despair around me.   More often than I’d like to admit, I hear the cries and roll over and go back to sleep…always wrapped in the comfort of my excuses.

When will we stop dickering over our petty political posturing and step up to be the church?  When will we prioritize the message of the cross over any other message?  When will we rouse from our sleep and ask the Lord of Heaven and Earth to still the storm and show His power to the fear-blinded world around us?

A fearful, sin-blinded, and storm-tossed world is waiting for a word from the sleeping church.  If God has truly placed us here “for such a time as this…” isn’t now the time to rouse from our slumber and speak and live for Jesus?

Jonah never found his identity, never let the sailors know who he was as a prophet.  He never embraced his identity as God’s man in that situation.  He hid in fear…in apathy…and turned a deaf ear to the despairing cries of the sailors on the ship.

The Hiding Prophet

When Jonah was awakened in the belly of the ship, not by the storm but by an insistent, pagan ship’s captain.  I don’t know how it goes for you, but there have been times that I have been awakened and didn’t know I had been asleep!

The problem today with the church is, we think we are awake.

But in reality, we are asleep.

 

The Waking Prophet

Whether or not Jonah knew the despair of his situation was unclear. He had slept through the storm.  Jesus did the same in the Gospels.  When Jesus was awakened tough, He calmed the storm.

When Jonah awakened, he did the same, though in a different way.  Jonah had already missed a lot of the action:

“But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So, the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah 1:4-6

Jonah was awakened by a pagan sailor throwing question after question at his passenger:

“How can you sleep through this?”

“Get up and call out to your god.”

One of the awkward moments for a backslidden, disobedient Christian is having someone ask him to pray for them.  “Everyone on this ship is calling out to their god, Jonah.  Why won’t you?”

Jonah could have honestly responded, “My God and I aren’t on Speaking terms at this time.”  But he climbed wearily to the deck and saw the peril of the storm.

“And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So, they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And 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, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.”   (Jonah 1:7-10)

The men in desperation did the best they could spiritually.  They knew they were at the mercy of a power greater than they themselves could control.

And so, they cast lots.  This was a common way of seeking answers and solving problems in that day.  They were superstitious, like most people are who reject the truth of the Living God.

We may not resort to “casting lots” per se but a world that flounders spiritually will consult fortune tellers, Ouija boards, palm readers, horoscopes and other occult and voodoo and Wiccan approaches to try and find answers for life.

Paul tells us in the New Testament that when we reject the truth, we are susceptible to believe any lie.  The more we push the truth back, the more appealing a lie will seem to us.  We see it happening all the time in the media, and in entertainment, and even in politics and government.

These men were doing all that they knew to do.  And the lot, interestingly, fell to Jonah.  He was the problem.  He was the reason for the storm.

Immediately questions began to come:

“Who are you?”

“Where are you from”

“What is your nationality?”

“Who is your god?”

“What did you do to make him angry?”

When he answered their questions, they were terrified!  “What is this you have done?” He had already told them that he was running away from the presence of the Lord.

And so now, they are left with a quandary.  They know who is to blame for the storm.  They know he is from the Hebrew people and they had obviously heard of the God of Israel and were terrified by that knowledge!

What are we to do to stop this storm?  The answer surprises them.

And repels them.  Jonah said, “Throw me overboard and the storm will stop.”

 

The Sinking Prophet

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So, they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

Jonah’s suggestion that they throw him in the raging waves did not appeal to the men.  As desperate as they were, they still sought to escape the tempest by their own strength.  The men “rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not…”

They feared the Lord of the storm.  They were afraid of what His wrath might do if they injured one of His prophets.  Their confession and their statement “…for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you” was an expression of theological confidence that Jonah should have demonstrated.

It’s an embarrassment to Christian people at times when the world speaks more truth about God than we do.  Certainly, it seems at times that unsaved, worldly people have a more certain moral compass than those who claim to know the Lord.

These things are cause for embarrassment for those who named the name of the Lord as their God.  We should be proclaiming truth to a lost world, not the world repeating things to us about God.  We should be shining out in our lifestyles and moral choices, reflecting God’s light to the world.

And yet far too often it is the case that we are outlived and sometimes, out-thought spiritually by a world that has no access to the Holy Spirit.  These things should not be true of us.

After praying to the God of Jonah to forgive them for casting His prophet into the stormy waters, they threw Jonah overboard.  Immediately, the waters calmed…the winds ceased…the boat returned to normal…the skies cleared.

And they did the unlikely…the unexpected.  They worshiped.  They truly worshiped the Lord of Heaven and Earth and the sea and offered sacrifices.  Once again, these are things Jonah should have done, but would not do.

In his backslidden, disobedient state Jonah bore witness to the greatness of God in spite of himself!  God accomplished His greater purpose even without the positive help of Jonah, and even more in spite of Jonah’s efforts to frustrate God’s will!

But now, Jonah was adrift in an ocean, and truly in the hands of God.

 

A Concluding Application

All of the little Book of Jonah is an incredible well-told, artfully written literary work.  It takes on so many themes and so many important subjects that one time reading it will lead to many others.

But a question that arises time after time is this:  Did this really happen?  Is this (as some have said to me) a “preacher story?” In other words, is it some made-up or hyperbolized anecdote or is this a recounting of an actual event with a real person?

It is certainly a true story (actual event, historical rooting) as far as the Lord Jesus was concerned.  He referred, not only to the Jonah account, but read Himself into it!

In Matthew 12:39-40, Jesus spoke of being “three days and three nights” in the ground as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish.  Jesus saw Himself as the fulfillment of Jonah and of Jonah’s ministry.

Now there are certainly some hard things in that to understand.  Jesus was not comparing Himself with a disobedient, fleeing prophet.  By no means.  But there are two things we need to pay attention to in what Jesus said.

First, Jonah was cast into the sea as a means of appeasing the wrath of God being demonstrated in the storm.  His sacrifice saved the ship and the men aboard from perishing.  He allowed them to offer his body as a sacrifice for the sake of their salvation.

Like us, the men sought first, in vain, to save themselves.  They worked.  They tried hard.  They were genuine and sincere in their effort, but without the sacrifice of another their efforts were in vain.

Second, Jonah was swallowed (next chapter) by a “gedola” or great fish.  Not necessarily a whale, though it could have been.  The question that lingers in the Jonah story, especially since Jesus points to it as a type of His coming death and resurrection, is “did Jonah die?”  We will come back to that in the next session.

But clearly, we see in Jonah an Old Testament telling of the Gospel that would not be preached by the church for many years after Jonah walked on the earth.  How beautiful that, even before Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem, the Gospel story was being outlined and told by a soggy, Old Testament prophet named Jonah.

Only.  God.

Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Finding Joy in Living Out the Mind of Christ. (Phil 2:12-18)

It is a wonderful and even transformative thing to spend time thinking about the mind of Christ, reading books about how to “be transformed” by the renewing of our minds, and listening to music to help us imbed these thoughts within us.  But the Christian life is not just about our thinking.  It’s about our living out what we’re thinking.  That is where the reality of the Christian life really meets the road.

We live out what we put into our minds.  Our thoughts drive our actions.  We do not do anything, at least anything of significance, if we haven’t thought about first, (unless we are toddlers).   If you are parenting a toddler (and really, even older children) it’s an act of futility to ask them “why did you do that?” when they do something disobedient.   They will look at you with either impish or innocent eyes and say, “I don’t know.”  For some reason that escapes me we think that children are rational in their actions and thoughtful in their behaviors.

But maturity should bring a certain intentionality and thoughtfulness to our actions.  We act a certain way as thinking people because we are thinking a certain way before we act.

During a training event in our church done for our local community, a law enforcement agency came and walked us through an “active shooter” event.  They taught us a number of helpful and fascinating things, but one of the things that stuck with me was the comment “your body will never go where your mind hasn’t gone first.”

Now the implication of that comment was to encourage us to plan an escape route and even practice it.  We all did that before we left the building.  It was a very practical lesson in human nature.

We are always acting out something that is pre-programmed into our minds.  When Paul tells us in Romans 12 that we are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds,” he was pointing to something like this.  We need to think through our behaviors, our actions, and our “living out” the Christian life.  Then, our bodies will follow what our minds tell us to do.

In Philippians 2:12-18 we see the implications of living out thinking like Christ.  Our joy comes as we connect thoughts with actions.  According to this text, we are to live out of faith, as we:

  • Work out our own salvation
  • Hold out the Word of life
  • Pour out ourselves in service

 

WORKING OUT OUR SALVATION

Now before we react to this on the basis of “we are saved by grace through faith and not our own works,” let’s carefully hear what Paul is saying, and not what he isn’t saying.

Paul ISN’T saying that our salvation depends on us.  It does not.  “It is God Who is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure.” The very fact that you WANT to work out your salvation is evidence that you have a salvation to “work out!”

Richard Melick in his commentary on Philippians says that this phrase is actually a play on words.  We are to “work out” what God has “worked in.” (NACC, Melick, p 111)

So, this isn’t God leaving it up to us to get ourselves to the “finish line” of eternal life.  That was bought and paid for on Calvary.  It is a completed work of redemption and the ransom has been paid.

IN fact, Paul’s presumption of the Philippians faithfulness in obeying Christ is stated in verse 12, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…” He assumes their past obedience.  This is just carrying it forward into real life.

The New Living Translation says, “Put into action God’s saving work in your life.” That captures the idea of this passage with simplicity.  “Working out” salvation simply means, “don’t leave what has happened to you in the realm of theory.” One commentator has it, “put boots on what you know.”  Walk it out.  Live it out.  Work it out.

There are two aspects that need consideration to understand this relationship between what God does and what we do.  First of all, this is about our RESPONSIBILITY.

Now there is something about that word that makes some recoil.  “Responsibility? Are you going to talk about my duty now?” Well, actually, yes.  We have a responsibility, a duty if you will that we must keep in tension.

Yes, there are places in the Bible that makes us sound like passive instruments in God’s hands.  We “abide” in the Vine.  He is the Potter, we are “clay.”  Doesn’t sound like vine branches or lumps of clay have much of an active role in the process really.

But then the other side of this is while we are branches attached to the vine and clay in the Potter’s hand, we are also ambassadors, soldiers, watchmen, children. All of these are positions of responsibility.  (Briscoe, p 71)

Alongside the word responsibility we see the REALITY of working out of salvation.  Paul was a realist about the Christian faith.  We move it into fanciful or casual categories.  We want to emphasize Jesus’ word telling the disciples (and by inference, us) that we are His “friends.” But if we treat Jesus with the same level of casualness that we treat our friends, then our relationship with Him will bear no fervor, no great Spirit-empowered deeds, and little or no life at all.

The reality, we are reminded here, is that our salvation is to be worked out like a runner works out on the track, or by laboring for the Lord.  “Running” and “laboring” define Paul’s understanding of what it means to “work out” our own salvation with fear and trembling.

Another word in this phrase that needs some attention is the personal pronoun “your.”  Work out “your own” salvation.  That means how it is going to look for you to do that and for me to do it are two different realities.  We need to be careful not to judge another person as they are “working out” their salvation.  There is a lot of latitude and liberty in the Christian life, and what may be an important part of your own spiritual discipline may not be applicable to other believers.

So, we are to “work out” salvation.  Second, we are to

 

HOLDING OUT THE WORD 

Now in thinking about the translation and meaning of this phrase, I have leaned back into some different versions of the Bible.  “Holding out” the word of life can mean several things is the translation that most agree on.  It can mean:

1). “Hold it out” as an offering to those without life

2). “Hold it fast” as in clinging tightly to it

3). “Hold it forth” as in allowing it to be reflected in your lifestyle.

While each of these have warrant, I tend to lean on the latter translation as the better of the three.  I do so, actually, because of what occurs before the command to “hold forth” the Word.

Tying back to the first imperative to “work out” our salvation, Paul now shows us what that should look like.  As God works salvation INTO us, we are to be “lights that shine” in a “twisted (crooked, perverse) generation.”

In other words, our lives should look very different since we came to Christ.  Of the ways we demonstrate that difference, we see three:

1). Don’t complain and argue

Complaining says, “I didn’t get my way.” Arguing says, “I’m going to get my way.” Both are rooted in selfishness and self-centeredness.  While you may argue for your rights, you sacrifice your light when you do so.

Now this is not to say you shouldn’t complain if there’s a fly in your salad at a restaurant.  You shouldn’t just eat the fly.  But neither should you make the waiter feel like a fly!

2). Don’t murmur and dispute

 “Murmuring and disputing” has a lot to do with how we relate to each other, which in turn has a great deal to do with how the community around us perceives us.  Churches for too long have been known as centers of conflict, and personal vendettas, and pools of gossip.

Frankly, nothing dims the light of the Gospel and steals our joy like conflict and broken fellowship in the church.  We have nothing to say to a lost and broken world.  Jesus said, “They will know that you are My disciples when you love one another.” When we are “murmuring and disputing” we deny the witness of the Risen Christ among us.

3). Be blameless and pure.

This was the goal of completion of the Philippian’s and of our character.  We are not hearing this as Paul asserting perfection among them, but a striving toward being “blameless” and without reproach from outsiders.  But further they were to be “pure” in the privacy of their own hearts before God.

A life lived like this will truly shine and light the world in a “crooked and depraved generation.”  We are to stand out more and more as different from the world we live in.  We are not crooked.  We are not depraved.  We are not morally bereft or bankrupt.  They were to “cling tightly” or “hold fast” to the Gospel which saved them, and their joy would come as they become known for that.

So, they were to “work out” their salvation with fear and trembling.  They were to “hold out” the Gospel through their relationships with each other and with God Himself.  And third, we are to

 

POUR OUT OUR LIVES 

Paul continues to clearly lay out the pathway to joyful and contagious Christian living.  It stands is tremendous contrast to the way many seek to live and orient their lives.

The remarks in this last section seem to indicate and look toward Paul’s impending martyrdom.  He knew his life was on the line as he waited in prison.  His appeals were over and if it was the desire of the court, he would be executed.

Paul lived every moment of every day with the executioner’s sword poised over his head.  Some of us feel that way, I think, in our current crisis with COVID-19.  But Paul said “even if…”  Even if I am “poured out” like a drink offering.

A drink offering was always poured over a sacrifice already given to God.  It was a done deal before the drink offering was poured.  Paul’s “sacrifice” was his Gospel-centered service to the Philippians.  His service was his sacrifice.

And it was one he made gladly…. even (his words) joyfully!  He said, “Even if I am poured out…”  This is a very interesting Greek word that he uses.  In Greek it is “spendo.”  It sounds just like “spend” in English.  When you go shopping you “pour out” (“spendo”) your income.

Paul saw life as he possessed gladly “spent” on the Philippians.  Jesus was His joy.  They were his life. His pride was in their continuing steadfast in the faith.  His ministry to them was his offering.  Paul said, “whatever happens (even if) I rejoice” and then he turned to them and said, “and you should rejoice and be glad with me.”

If the orientation of our lives is getting and keeping, we will miss the joy.  Every time.  Philippians teaches us that joy comes, not from our abundance, but from our willingness to release all on the sacrificial altar of ministry to Jesus Christ as we pour out (remember, “spendo”) our lives for others.

As we look for the true source of joy, this is a large part of the puzzle.  Are you giving…pouring out your lifetime, energy, resources—for others?  Or are you hoarding and keeping these gifts God has given you to spend on yourselves.

If your answer is the latter, this explains why nothing you do brings joy.  We work out our salvation; we hold out the Word of life; we pour out of lives in service to others in Jesus Name.

And God will make certain that joy is “worked in” to our hearts.  Matt Redmond wrote a song called “Shine” inspired by the words we have looked at in this section.  His song says,

“We will shine like stars in the universe,
holding out your truth in the darkest places.
We’ll be living for your glory.
Jesus, we’ll be living for your glory.
We will burn so bright with your praise, O God,
and declare your life to this broken world.
We’ll be living for your glory, Jesus.
We’ll be living for your glory.
Like the sun so radiantly sending light for all to see,
let your holy church arise. We will shine” (“Shine,” Matt Redman, © 2006 Thank You Music).

 

01 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

JONAH, THE STORM-TOSSED PROPHET

(Jonah 1:1-6)

JONAH text. (Jonah 1:1-6)

We make some common mistakes as we read Jonah.  Only 48 verses in Hebrew, it mentions a “great fish” 4 times.  It mentions a “great city” (Nineveh) 9 times.  Jonah’s name comes up 18 times.  But God is mentioned 38 times in 48 verses!  Now just doing the math, what is Jonah about?  Well, we might correctly say “a GREAT GOD!”

It’s a great story to tell children, but we miss the “grown up” message of Jonah.  Jonah raises some of the toughest questions we wrestle with as Christians in the 21st Century:  Questions on racism, and nationalism, and death, and judgment, and God’s mercy and compassion, and God’s sovereignty.  Jonah deals with our call to missions, and evangelism, and our problems with idolatry.

I want to deal today, not so much with the storyline and narrative of Jonah, but to talk about some very serious mistakes that Jonah made…mistakes we also are prone to make.

First, Jonah underestimated how FAR God’s love reaches

Jonah went down to Joppa….

(NOTE:  You might remember Joppa from the New Testament.  It was in Joppa that Peter led a soldier named Cornelius, the first non-Jewish convert, to faith in Jesus.  But this was after God sent Peter a vision in Acts 10 to teach him “call nothing unclean that I have called clean.”  Peter had to overcome his prejudice. It’s maybe just ironic that it was the same Joppa where Jonah had gone to run with his own prejudice.)

The Biblical storyline begins with Jonah running “away from the Presence of the Lord” to the city of Joppa, to book passage on a ship to Tarshish.  One of the things that happen through the Book of Jonah is that we see the character, or attributes of God either plainly stated or implied in the story.

One of the first we’ve already encountered.  God is merciful and compassionate.  His call to Jonah is proof of this.  Jonah was not a philanthropist.  Nothing in this prophet could indicate he had an ounce of compassion toward Assyria.  God had to forcibly impress on him His desire for a message to be sent.

Jonah also was about to learn of an attribute of God’s nature called “omnipresence,” or “God is everywhere.” Conversely, it means we cannot go anywhere God is not.  God is not local.  He is not regional.  He is not national, nor does He belong to any political party, race or culture of people.  God transcends all of this and stands over it.

God sent Jonah to warn and testify to the Assyrian people…ruthless enemies of Israel.  They were an unusually cruel people and were considered a “terrorist state” people Jonah had been conditioned to hate; people that were beyond Jonah’s capacity to love, given his history with them.

Jonah was a prophet to Israel’s northern Kingdom and served King Jeroboam.   We read about him in 2 Kings 14:25 where he prophesied that Israel would regain territory lost to their enemies.  It came to pass as he predicted.

Jonah was a nationalistic, gung-ho, pro-Israel prophet.  He was a patriot to Israel and to his king in every sense of the word.  But God was about to take him from his pedestal of popularity and place him in the deepest struggle of his life.  Jonah was about to go into a storm that left him wondering about this God with Whom he claimed to speak.  Did he really know Him at all?  Had He been forsaken by Him?

Jonah is also about God’s will.  God has a desired will for each of our lives.  The debate is usually about just how detailed the plan is.  But most would agree, if God is our Creator, and He is Sovereign and in control of all things created, as well as the time we are living, then He has some intention for us to live out.  Sometimes elements of that plan frustrate us.

Jonah didn’t want to go where God was sending.  Sometimes the greatest opportunities for life begin just outside of your comfort zone.  But we don’t immediately see these times as opportunities.  We see them as a problem.

Jonah’s problem was his love was limited, as yours and mine tend to be, to include only those we like.  Or those who like us.  Or those who ARE like us.  Jonah couldn’t understand how God could love the Assyrian people.  In Jonah’s religion, God blessed good people (meaning Israelites) and judged bad people (meaning non-Israelites).  He couldn’t reconcile God’s mercy and God’s justice as he saw it.  How can a just God forgive and allow a horrible nation to repent and come back to Him?  It didn’t fit Jonah’s theological paradigm.

Eric Mason said that Jonah let his SOCIOLOGY overrule his THEOLOGY.  He allowed RACE to trump GRACE.  Racism and nationalism make the mistake of saying that if we hate someone or refuse to love them or think they don’t deserve to be loved, God must feel the same way.

It’s our duty to hate them too.

But Who does God love?  And Who does God hate?  And how do we know?

Second, Jonah underestimated how BIG God is

God HURLED a storm….

There is an interplay in Jonah with the adjective “GREAT,” or, in Hebrew, “gedola.”  The same word is used interchangeably to describe a “gedola” (great) fish, a “gedola” (great) city, and a “gedola” (great) storm.

The word “gedola” has to do with immensity, dimension, intensity and size.  We use the English word “mega” in much the same way.  “Mega” could describe a hit movie in a theater, a city, a shopping center, a sale in a store, and other uses.

As Jonah ran from the will of God, which was specifically to “go and preach to Nineveh, that “gedola” city.  But Jonah’s refusal to go and do as God desired led him directly into the path of a “gedola” storm, and later into the belly of a “gedola” fish!

That is exactly what happens when we run from the revealed and clearly stated will of God.  We run from God’s best into our mess.  We abandon the glory and joy of working with God to accomplish His purposes in the world, and squander them on the confusion and chaos of trying to do things our own way.

The little book of Jonah also stood as a stark message to the people of Israel.  While I believe Jonah really happened (so did Jesus by the way, if you’ll check out Matthew 12:39-40), it is presented as a larger working parable for the people of Israel.

Jonah had simply been sent by God to do what God had intended for Israel to do all along:  Being a light to the nations; being a missionary people to a lost world.

But Israel had squandered their opportunity by emphasizing the privilege of being the people of God and refusing to embrace the responsibility that goes with that.  Lest we think we’ve ironed that out, we haven’t.  God grafted us in (Romans 9) to be a new growth on the vine of Israel that would hopefully bear fruit, since the original vine did not.

We find ourselves doing the same thing, however.  We would much rather emphasize our privilege as the people of God.  We have grown complacent in the thought and belief that we are saved, so that should be enough, and that’s all God expects.  Now, let’s enjoy the privilege of the people of God.

But God is still seeking a people to be the light…to be the missionaries who will go with His Presence and bless ‘all the families (nations) of the earth’ as Abram was called to be a blessing in Genesis 12.  The Great Commission that Jesus left us in Matthew 28:19-20Sadly, like Israel we miss it.  Like Jonah, we run from it.

Jonah kept going down…an interesting metaphor that occurs throughout Jonah.  The further Jonah ran, the further down he went.  He actually thought he could get somewhere that God couldn’t see or know where he was.

You see, Jonah thought God’s “jurisdiction” as God ended at the border of Israel.  That God was not even God of the oceans, and that he could go there to hide from the face of the Lord.

David the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139,

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:7-12)

Assyrians, like most cultures of the day, were idolatrous.  They had their own religions and their own deities.  They worshiped the god Marduk.

One underlying message of Jonah, though, is that he also was idolatrous.  He had created God in his own image…made Him an Israelite…believed He hated Israel’s enemies and only really loved the Jews.  And He stayed in Israel!  Blessed to be a blessing to the nations.

Whether we acknowledge God as God or not, He still is.  Though none in Assyria named the name of Yahweh in worship, He was still their Creator and their sustainer.  He was about to become their REDEEMER.  It was God’s grace for His creation that kept them alive.

You know when the Bible says, “Every knee will bow, and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”  that’s what this is saying.  Whether we acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all or not doesn’t change the reality that JESUS IS LORD!  We will either acknowledge this and bow before Him or resist Him and be judged by Him.

And we will never take missions seriously until we understand and acknowledge this reality.  God loves other nations as much as He loves America.  Now if you are trapped in nationalistic thinking, that statement will give you some heartburn.  You may say you believe it, but your heart recoils from it.  There’s nothing wrong with patriotism, until it becomes nationalism which means you believe your country, your nationality, is the only one God cares about…or the people He loves most.

The problem with a theology that is nationalistic in nature is that it reduces God.  As long as we see God as the God of only nation, one people group, one culture…we reduce not only God, but we reduce ourselves.  Nationalistic religion is self-absorbed, and self-centered.  And when the chips are down, it is easy to kick a nationalistic God to the sidelines.

We will never take God seriously as long as we reduce Him to a size we can comprehend, explain, or relate to.  If you can understand all of God, you are not truly understanding God at all.  Our sin is making God too small in our eyes.  Jonah made God small in his own eyes by believing He could only be the God of Israel.

We are guilty of making Him smaller than our problems.  We think, “God is big, but obviously the coronavirus is bigger, right?”  Well of course it’s not, but we can drift into thinking that way.

Is God bigger than cancer?  Than your marital problem?  Than mental illness?  Than addiction?  Is God bigger than the grave?  And we make Him smaller than our passions.  We make Him smaller than our causes, or our agendas, and even our nation.  We use God to serve what we want or what we think is best.  That’s what Jonah was guilty of doing. That’s what Israel had done.  And if we aren’t careful, we will repeat the same sin.

God is sovereign. He is bigger than this universe.  Over every problem, and bigger than every issue you confront.  In our Milky Way galaxy, there are over one hundred billion STARS.  Our sun is among the smallest of all stars.  In our known universe, as far as we can see and estimate, there are no less than one hundred billion GALAXIES!   This awe and wonder made the Psalmist David reply,

“When I consider the heavens, the handiwork you have made what is man that You are mindful of him…?”

Trust me, God is more than enough to handle any issue you are dealing with right now.  With David the Psalmist, we’re amazed to know that God knows us…and cares.  He is God of the farthest-flung star in our universe.  And He certainly reigns as God of every nation, every ethnic group, and every piece of ground on earth.

Third, Jonah underestimated how DEEP God’s mercy will go

God pursued Jonah into the depths, even in Jonah’s disobedience.  You know, whenever you run from God’s will or God’s command or God’s presence, you always go “DOWN.” You never go “UP!”

The story of Jonah is the story of God giving a rebellious, disobedient prophet a second chance.  Jonah was confronted in the belly of the very ship he had booked passage on by a pagan sailor who was showing more devotion to his false God than Jonah was to the One True God!

How far will God go to get our attention when we’re in a state of rebellion?  Well first, we need to be very afraid when God leaves us alone!  Here is an amazing act of a merciful God Who would not let go of His rebellious child’s hand, no matter how hard he tried to pull away.

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me… (ruthlessly pursue) me” (Psalm 23)

God in grace doesn’t turn His back on us, even when we are determined to turn our back on Him.  Like the story of the prodigal son, (which parallels Jonah on many fronts), maybe you’ve found yourself running “away from the face of God.”  He’s calling you back…calling you home today.

No matter how hard you’ve run or how far you’ve gone…

…He wants you back.

But now, in our day of heightened racial tensions and Black Lives Matters and White Supremacy and everyone in between Jonah is taking a brand-new bounce.

Jonah was a racist prophet.  He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth.  He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to other nations.

Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more than ready for God to wipe them off the map.  People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal.  But he hated them.  How much?  Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out!

But the large fish is only mentioned four times in the book.  Jonah is not about the whale.  And it’s not about the great city.  Nineveh is mentioned nine times.  It’s not about the prophet either.  Jonah is only mentioned eighteen times.  But GOD is mentioned 38 times in a book that just has 48 verses!

You know that the MAJORITY of our Bible’s 66 books were written from right to left?  Every OT book was written…God’s Holy Spirit inspired people who read from right to left, and people who think from right to left.  That is one of the main reasons we struggle so much with Old Testament books, and why we miss so much of it while we try to make it make sense as people who read and think from left to right!

Now I know that some of us, as modern, scientifically-minded left to right thinkers, believe that it would be unlikely that this is a REAL event…that it actually happened…that JONAH was swallowed by a fish.  C’mon pastor.  Sounds like a scene from Pinocchio or something.

But you may never have seen the video clips of a whale shark or even a great white that could swallow a person!  So maybe it was something much bigger than a whale that swallowed Jonah.  We don’t know.  The Bible says it was a “great fish” I’m pretty sure there wasn’t enough space inside the fish to set up a little table and chair like Geppetto had in the Pinocchio cartoon.  It would have been dark, smell like dead fish, and Jonah would have been marinating in gastric juices that probably started bleaching his skin.  And I’m sure that some of our fishermen in here have a “great fish” story at least that big that got away!

We do need to understand that the Lord JESUS believed it really happened!  In fact, He used the story of Jonah’s being swallowed as a way of explaining His time in the grave before resurrection came.  “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish…” (Matthew 12:39-40)

But ultimately Jonah’s story is about God calling Israel back to their intended purpose:  To be a light to the nations who do not know Him…  A missionary people, carrying the Good News to the world.  But the story  was repeated time after time and the Israelite’s chose over and over again  to emphasize their “chosen nation” status and neglect their duty to evangelize and do missions and to tell the nations about the God they served!  They thought God chose them to bless them.  But God blessed them to be a blessing to the nations, not to keep Him to themselves.

Church be careful.  Christian, listen up.  You were “grafted in” to the vine of Israel to do what Israel would NOT do…go to the nations and share the Good News of Jesus!!  Let’s not fail in that task as they did.

Jonah failed.  This is the story of a man called to do exactly what was in his job description:  Represent the God of Israel to a lost nation—in this case the Ninevites.  But Jonah did exactly what we do:  Eric Mason reminds us that Jonah put his SOCIOLOGY above his THEOLOGY.  He put his RACE above God’s GRACE.

The God Who Sends

This is actually an amazing beginning.  Most of the prophets, especially the minor prophets, began and finished their ministry calling Israelites back to covenant obedience to Yahweh.  Some of the prophets were sent to the northern Kingdom of Israel, and some to Judah in the south.  But it is rare to unheard-of for a prophet’s ministry to turn to a pagan people…especially despised people like the Ninevites…maybe God could find us some NICE unbelievers to love, right?

The Assyrians were an unusually cruel and wicked people.  Their evil was notorious.  It would have been an easy assumption that God would simply want to wipe them out for their sinfulness.

But instead, God sent a prophet.  An emissary to warn them and give them opportunity to respond to Him in repentance and faith.  This is where we encounter the radical mercy and grace of God.  “And…”

It was a difficult assignment for Jonah.  He had been taught all his life to hate Assyrians.  He had been taught all his life to believe GOD hated the Assyrians too.  Isn’t it interesting that we assume that because we hate someone, that God must hate them too?

The God Who Sees

Jonah went DOWN to Joppa, bought a ticket going DOWN to Tarshish (away from God’s presence), went DOWN into the bottom of the ship ….away from the place God had called him to go…to flee from the assignment God had given him.

Jonah’s story is one of going down…down to the ship…down in the ship…down in the sea…. down in the belly of the fish.

Now before we shame Jonah, let me ask this question.  Have you ever tried to run from the call of God?  Has God ever clearly told you to do something, and you just pretty much said NO?   We find our life in a downhill spiral when we do this.  We don’t ever help ourselves…we only hurt ourselves.

Maybe like our children sometimes do, we say OK, but LATER.  That answer normally aggravates parents.  Because the next thing they’re going to hear is I FORGOT.  Some smart Moms and Dads have learned to say NOW.  If you have people working for you, and you supervise them or own the company that writes their check, and you ask them to do something isn’t it  implied with your request…NOW?

Is delayed obedience enough?  Or is it, in reality, the same as rebellion and disobedience?  Jonah ran.  He didn’t want to do what God had said, and so he headed in the opposite direction.

Jonah had prophesied before about the fortunes and lands of the people of Israel being restored (2 Kings 14:25). He was obviously a very popular prophet, carrying joyful messages from God and getting applause.  He would only get God’s applause for doing this.  Some would think he was crazy doing this.  Some would think he was a traitor to the Jews!

So, he became, in the words of one book title, a Prodigal Prophet as he ran from God’s call.

The God Who Pursues

But God stubbornly pursued Jonah.  Listen.  The times we need to fear are those times when God STOPS pursuing us and leaves us to our own devices and our own destruction!

Jonah experienced and received the same mercy that he was willing to withhold from the Ninevites.  We learn in later verses that he was not fleeing God because he was afraid of what they might do to him.  He was afraid that God would do exactly what He did:  Show them mercy!

You see we want to help God decide Who He should save, Who He should show mercy to, and Who He should love.  Who are those people?  The ones we believe deserve it!   If God hates the people we hate, then He also has to love the people we love, right?  Jonah decided God should not be showing mercy to these Assyrians!  He hated them, and surely God did too!

God pursued Jonah.  From the moment he departed from Israel and headed south to Tarshish…but from that moment God was after him.  He made the mistake of thinking he could leave God behind in Israel.

His theology was wrong.  He believed God was the God of Israel exclusively. That was very common thinking among people in that day.  This God belongs to us!  He watches over everything that happens in Israel and the more land and nations that are captured, the more God can rule over.

But Jonah was about to learn an important lesson, and a hard one for him.  First, that God is the God of every people, every land, every nation, every culture, every people, every ethnic group.  God is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual, and multi-national in His dominion.  God is omnipresent. He is universal in scope.  He created every person, not just those of certain races and nationalities.

Whether or not they acknowledge that does not change the reality.  Whether or not you believe in God does not change the reality one bit that He exists.  You don’t diminish Him with your unbelief.   He is still God.  You will either acknowledge Him as Creator and Lord, or you will be called to account for choosing to disbelieve.  But either way, the reality doesn’t change.  God is the God of all people.

As such, God is a lover of all people.  Every ethnos, every land, every nationality.  He doesn’t love us more as Americans any more than He loved Israel more than the Ninevites.  His heart, His love is for every person…because every person has the image of God stamped on them.  If you hurt or hate any person, you are doing the same to the God Who made them.

Third, Jonah was about to learn one of his most important lessons:  that the God Who called him also pursues him relentlessly.  This is such a powerful lesson of grace.  We don’t earn God’s love by our obedience or lose it by our disobedience.  We will know greater blessing if we obey, plus we get to partner with God in His redemption of the world.  We miss those blessings if we refuse to obey and live only for what we want.

—What is God calling you to do today?

—Are you thinking biblically about Who God is?

—Who is the hardest person…or group or race or nationality for you to love?

A Prayer for Unity in the Church

A Prayer for Unity in the Church

July 5 Prayer Service

Given by: Jeff Crick

 

John 17 English Standard Version (ESV)

The High Priestly Prayer

17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

Dear heavenly Father, if it were right for your Son to live to glorify you, may we, the Body of Christ, The Church, commit to do exactly the same. May we be unified for this purpose above all things. That you O’ Lord may be Glorified in us. Glorified by every word and deed, may you alone receive this glory, honor and praise.

2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Lord Jesus, as The Church, help us to focus our gratitude of eternal life on Knowing You AND making You Known. If We believe, as we have just sung, nothing should occupy our minds more than knowing you and making you known. Let what we say we believe and what we sing so boldly about from our lips be deeply rooted also in our hearts. As the lyrics of “We Believe” say, “Let the Church Live Love our God will see….and the gates of hell will not prevail, for the power of God has torn the vail, now we know your love will never fail, We Believe, We Believe”.

4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

Lord Jesus, thank you for accomplishing the work necessary for us to know truth and to know you. May we “consider our life worth nothing and our only aim be to finish the race and complete the task you have given us – the task of testifying to the Good News of God’s Grace (Acts 20:24)”. Your plan was perfect Lord, but all of humanity has sinned against you. We now have this broken world, full of broken systems and broken lives who desperately need a you, in desperate need of a savior. And while we were yet sinners, You proved Your love for us by taking on this sin and the punishment we so deserved for our sake, so that we may live. In true repentance and faith you restored us back into unity with You, making us a new creation, giving us new & eternal life. Thank you Jesus!

9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.[a] 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them[b] in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,[c] that they also may be sanctified[d] in truth.

Lord, YES, make us one. One Body UNITED around the truth of the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, led by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit with one Mission… to know you and make you known as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ONE True God.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Dear fellow servants, please hear the call for unity. Unity in the Church is about unifying to glorify the Father so that the world may know His love. “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2)”.

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Church, it is with this love, a love that comes from knowing Jesus and knowing he is in you and that He will stand with you. Therefore, “be strong and courageous, don’t be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 24:13)”.

AMEN.

Footnotes:

  1. John 17:15 Or from evil
  2. John 17:17 Greek Set them apart (for holy service to God)
  3. John 17:19 Or I sanctify myself; or I set myself apart (for holy service to God)
  4. John 17:19 Greek may be set apart (for holy service to God)

 

A Prayer for Repentance

A Prayer for Repentance

July 5 Prayer Service

Given by: Sherri Thompson

2 Chronicles 7:14 scripture focus.

  • Gods response to Solomon King of Israel
  • Finished Temple in Jerusalem, dedicated to God.
  • Solomon praised God.. love, faithfulness, promise keeper
  • David.. people of Israel
  • Solomon wise King servant
  • Knew people fall short of obedience sin against God.
  • Result suffer famine, plagues, disease Sin, wickedness
  • Solomon God to hear supplications people.

IF they turn back heart and soul forgive the people

2 Chron 7:14 is God’s response:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Our prayer

Father, We are your people, called by your name, and we come to you, humbly, seeking your face, praising you, and desiring to turn from our wicked ways. Our land and your people need healing Lord. Healing that only you can provide.

We praise you Father as our Creator, Sustainer, Master, and our Friend. You’ve been our Provider, our Peace, our Hope, and our Joy.

You are Worthy of our love and devotion, yet Father we have ignored and dishonored you. You love us when we are unloveable, and we have been. Forgive us Lord. You are the perfect Teacher and example for how we are to live. You give us instructions in Your Word The Bible. You are The Word Lord. As your people Father, we confess. We have not walked in pure devotion to you. We have not worshipped wholeheartedly, prayed without ceasing, nor have we meditated on the Bible for direction and teaching. FORGIVE US Father for not giving you the honor you deserve. We have taken your blessings for granted and have become an “all about me” generation of people. Worshipping our possessions, lifestyle, celebrities and athletes. Taking much and giving little back to you. We need reminding often, that you are God Almighty and it all belongs to you. Forgive us Father. You are our Shepherd, our Righteousness, our Healer and Redeemer. However, we’ve gone our own way and have not let you Shepherd our lives. You are Jehovah Shammah, you are always there. Your love, grace, and provision is enough, yet we search in all directions for anything we might need or want. We have not been living with the mindset that this world is temporary and your kingdom is eternal. You call us to be a light, to walk in Christian love, and to carry the gospel to the nations. Instead we have withheld the Good News from family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers as though we are content with them facing a Christless eternity. Instead of being the salt of the earth and bringing change to a dark world, we have allowed the world to change us. We’ve allowed evil to infiltrate our lives and godless media and entertainment to fill our homes. Our children are enslaved by unthinkable sins in a society where evil is called good, and good is called evil.

We fear and worry about sickness, hardship, and suffering, when you tell us not to worry, not to live in fear, that there is future glory in our suffering, and that our faith grows stronger in our sufferings. Yet we have filled our lives with drama and fear. Forgive us Father and hear our prayer of repentance. Make your people salt and light again. Help us to respect and submit to our leaders in authority that you have put there for our good. We commit to put on your armor daily and no longer allow evil to fill our lives. We will praise you and thank you for the freedoms and blessings you give us every day. We will be slaves to you and no one else. We pray for wisdom in our decision making. Father, we will not mistreat our fellow man or woman, whom you love and we are called to love also. We recognize we are all equal in your sight. We acknowledge every life you created is important, and we promise to speak up and seek to protect the lives of the unborn and newborn. We will stand up for justice, and honor those you call to protect and serve the nation you allow us to live in.

Father hear us from heaven, show us mercy and heal our land. Lord, make us whole again. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior we pray.

Prayer for the Nations

Prayer For the Nations

July 5 Prayer Service

Given by: David Cass

Revelations 7:9-12 ESV

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Lord in Heaven, we need you. We need your Son. It’s in His name that we gather together today so, Lord, please give us the eyes that Jesus saw the world with.

Give us heaven’s eyes so that we may look and behold what is to come. And what a glorious day it will be when we are finally gathered together. Every one of us who claims the name of Christ – gathered together around your throne. You have already brought us together as a great multitude that no one could number. Though we are scattered – though we speak different languages – though we have made man-made lines that separate us as nations. It’s all done under the guise of sin, but we who claim your name are already a great multitude.

Give us heaven’s eyes to see the multitude around us. Praising your name with one loud voice. Father, we are separated by lines we have created but you do not see us as such. As we celebrate this weekend the birth of this amazing nation that you have blessed with uncountable blessings – we could spend a lifetime talking about the blessings of this one nation. But there are many nations – many peoples, tribes, and tongues – all singing your praises. May we not think that we are superior to anyone else.

Please, give us Heaven’s eyes to see the needs of our brothers & sisters around us – and the needs of the lost around us who need to be brought into your fold. Who need to know the warmth and grace – the kindness and acceptance that comes from your love and your grace.

Father, give us heaven’s eyes to see that you are King. To see your throne in your kingdom. So we do not bow down to political parties or ideals. We do not draw those national lines that say we are this people and you are another. But as one. As we claim the name of Christian may we see your throne – your dominion – and your kingdom. You created all of it – and you sustain it by your grace and the power of the might of your word alone.

Give us heaven’s eyes to see your throne… and Your son. Your son who died who allows us to see it.

Give us heaven’s eyes to see His purpose and His grace and His gospel working out in the lives of billions of people around the world.

Give us Heaven’s eyes to not see the flesh and blood before us but the souls that Christ died to save.

Lord, give us Heaven’s eyes to sing and shout with one loud voice: Glory and grace and honor and power to you and to your son Jesus.

Father give us heaven’s eyes to see that you are our God. You are not the God of America or Canada or England or France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia – you are the God of all. You are the king of kings and the lord of lords – this world is yours and the fullness thereof.

Lord, Give us heaven’s eyes to see your dominion. To see that you are our God.

And Lord, give us heaven’s eyes to see that this prayer is not an American’s prayer – this a prayer for everyone who claims your name.

Lord, give us heaven’s eyes. In Jesus’ name we pray – Amen.

 

Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6

Finding Joy in Chaotic Times

Philippians 1:21-30

 

The classic little Charlie Brown cartoon offered this favorite of mine.  Charlie and Lucy are having a deep discussion about life.  Lucy says, “Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair.  Some people set their chairs so they can see where they are going.  Others set their chair to see where they have been.  And others so they can see where they are in the present.” Charlie was wordless for a frame, and then said, “I can’t even get mine unfolded!”

One of the last places we would expect to encounter joy is in the middle of a dilemma… a confusing, perplexing experience… tossed back and forth between options or opinions.   Quite a few of us are facing dilemmas today in the midst of our current situation, and you are “trying to get your deck chair unfolded…” in the midst of chaos.

Paul wrote about this very thing in 2 Corinthians:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”   (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

We are perplexed, but not in despair.  Nowhere has this been truer than in our now months-long battle with Covid-19:

  • Which media reports do I believe about the coronavirus… the conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated Twitter opinions or another source? Should I pay attention to them at all?
  • How do I talk to my kids about all this? Do I tell them everything, or shelter them from much of what is happening?
  • Should we just revert back to normal now that restrictions are being lifted, or continue “sheltering” until an all-clear is sounded or a vaccine is discovered?
  • Do I spend my time and energy taking care of my own family, or do I see this also as a time of generosity and ministry to my neighbors who hurt just like me and try to reach out to them?

We could list more.  Again, we are living through times like we’ve never experienced in our lifetime.  The uncertainty of it all produces a lot of dilemmas for us.  Times of crisis usually do.  They are “perplexing.”  They are chaotic.

Ideally, though, they force us to our knees in prayer.  Maybe we need to spend more time just focused there, rather than worry about the storm blowing around us.    Every emotion you are experiencing right now…fear, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, frustration…should be processed before God in prayer.  Don’t dwell on it until you have prayed about it!

We stand in serious times, to paraphrase a famous quote of John Adams.  Most of us have never seen times more serious than these.  It seems almost hourly a new reality is revealed making our bad situation worse.

Let’s admit it.  We do find ourselves confused, perplexed, sometimes frightened, anxious, stressed, and unsure what to do next.  Sometimes that is precisely where life circumstances bring us.  God knows right where you are today.  He is still on His throne and He is the One we should be looking to in this.

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It may also help to realize that this is not the first time, nor the worst time the Body of Christ has faced on earth.  The church has continued and even thrived through far worse.  The Black Plague, The Spanish Flu of 1918, the Nazi takeover of Germany in World War 2; not to mention wars, genocide, and persecution on a scale we have never experienced were all thought to be “the worst of times” for the church on earth.

CS Lewis was a voice of stability to the British people during the Second World War.  His messages were broadcast over the BBC network and were eagerly heard by this beleaguered people.  After World War Two ended, Lewis continued to lecture and write.  In one essay, he responded to a question asked by an individual who was concerned of the possibility of a nuclear attack on London.

I will repeat his reply as he wrote it.  But as you hear it, just insert “coronavirus” wherever you read the words “atomic bomb.”

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.‘  In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.

He continued,

Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

While Lewis’ remarks may not speak exactly to our situation, there is enough of a connection to draw some lines to it.  First of all:

1).  God does not forsake His people.  The Lord is in the Heavens, and He does whatever He pleases.   He’s not afraid of catching the coronavirus, nor is He washing His hands and trying not to touch His face.  He’s not socially distancing from us!  Do not begin to believe God is absent from us, even though we are for a time absent from each other.   We should not let the prospect of what MIGHT happen dominate our minds and preoccupy and sideline our lives.

2).  As chaotic as all of this seems, God is working in the midst of our distress to bring His purpose to completion. You and I get to be a part of that purpose, and whatever the coronavirus does to us as a child of God, we still win!

3).  Let’s stop acting like we’ve already lost the war and everything important to us.  We haven’t.  God is still on His throne.  I am asking God daily to do a work that will be so amazing and undeniably His hand that no man or no country can take credit for it.  I am daily praying Ephesians 3:20 over us that we will see God do “exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.”

“Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

God is at work, in ways that we would not believe if He told us!

I want us to be delivered from this moment.  But if not this it will be something else.  The world we live in… the world our Creator God entrusted to us…is broken beyond our remedy because of sin.  We are seeing now the outcome of what that truly looks like, without the candy coating of our daily lives and activities softening the reality.

In our study today, we hear again through the inspired Words of the Bible about a man who could be joyful in spite of false accusations, a prison sentence, and even possible execution for the crime of claiming that only Jesus was Lord….and not Caesar.

And we are looking clearly for the secret of his joy that was contagious.  Joy is more contagious than the coronavirus!  If we can choose joy in a time like this, well, some people will think we’ve just gone insane.  But others will want to know, “How do you do that?”

Well, we can do it like Paul did it.   People are looking for it now more than ever.

 

PAUL FOUND JOY BY HAVING A CONFIDENT HOPE

Paul was not suicidal, nor did he have some kind of morbid death wish.  Paul had hope.  He knew that when he went home, his suffering would be over forever.  The persecutors that sought to shut him up would forever be silenced.

He did not fear death.  He did not vacillate in what he believed about it.  We could argue that he welcomed it!  He had a confidence that the life to come is “better by far” than his life here.  He had confidence that death was a beginning, and not an end; a continuation of His walk with Christ only now with face- to- face fellowship.   It is possible to walk in a fellowship with Christ that is so real, and so life-giving that you barely notice it when you die.  I think Paul was there.

But fear is indication of a problem.   We are ONLY to fear God.  Oswald Chambers said, “If you fear God, you need fear nothing else.  If you fear anything else, you are not properly fearing God.”  Jesus said, “Fear Him Who has the power to throw both body and soul into hell.”

If we are fearful about everything happening around us, then we are not focused on the One we should TRULY fear.   Paul was not afraid.  He had a certain hope.  He knew, as he knew that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” that death opened the door to a lot of things for the faithful one who dies in Christ.

Death held an end of suffering for Paul; an end to pain and despair of imprisonments and illness and having nothing and no money and no family and no home.  Of course, he looked forward to it!

What is your hope in today?  Are you hoping in government, in the United States, in science, in health care, in the economy?  I pray for all of these and those involved in trying to solve this crisis.  But all of these will fail us, if not this time, then at some point in the future.  Only God is the Rock you can anchor your hope to, and He never wavers, and He never fails.

 

PAUL FOUND JOY BY LIVING A WORTHY LIFE

CS Lewis’ 1948 strangely relevant article continues:

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are… going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.  (And they should not crush our spirits.)

Jesus used an interesting word in talking about the day of His coming.  He gave instruction to the disciples, and to us, “occupy until I come,”

So how then do we live in this present distress?  What does it look like to “walk around” having a worthy life…to occupy until He comes?

First, Paul says we are to be “firm in one spirit.”  The strength of the church comes as we walk together in the “unity of the Spirit.”  We are to be one.  Jesus, in fact, prayed for this very thing in John 17.  “That they may be one…”  We take our English word “athletics” from a Greek term that means “to contend as one man.”

Second, as we stand “firm in one spirit,” we are to defend the faith.  The purpose of our defense of the faith is that we might engage the lost with the truth of the Gospel.

Peter tells us we need to be “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope we have in us.”  That does not mean engage them in arguments, or philosophical debate unless those lead to a clear, loving presentation of the Gospel of salvation.

Third, we are not to be put into “fluttering alarm by any of our adversaries.” (Barclay.)  We are not to live cowering in fear.  We are not to live in fear of our adversary, the devil or be afraid of his threats.

All of this comes under a call to live consistent lives as citizens of heaven.  Our ultimate “residence” changed when we came into the Kingdom of God.  Our earthly citizenship, though we have obligations and responsibilities to it, are secondary to our heavenly one.

We are to be consistent in our lifestyle.  We are to be consistent in our love, as we are proclaiming a Gospel of love.  We are to be consistent in our liberty as we proclaim a Gospel of freedom.

As Christians, Paul calls us to be faithful, to be forceful in our defense of the faith, and to be fearless as we face the enemies of the Gospel.

 

PAUL FOUND JOY BY SEEING A VICTORIOUS OUTCOME

This part of Paul’s letter leaves them with an expectation.  He fully expected they would be victorious, no matter what happened to him or even what happens to them.  “It has been granted you that you believe and suffer….” As your faith is a gift of God’s grace; (BUCKLE IN here) so is your enduring suffering well an evidence of faith and “a gift of grace” from God!

Being a Christian does not mean we won’t have problems.  It does not create a guarantee for you that you won’t get this cursed virus.  But even if you do, when you suffer as a believer you are showing the certainty of your faith and bearing witness to God’s goodness in the midst of it.

This is especially true when we are caused to suffer because of our faith.  Our suffering due to our faithfulness is as much a gift from God as is our salvation.  They are part of the same experience.

It’s our time to live a faithful and worthy life in a dark and chaotic time. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on!

It’s our time to choose to rejoice in the Lord, and having done all else, to rejoice!

—Make sure your hope is in the right place—and fear is put in its place

—Make sure you are living a life worthy of the Gospel—if not, course- correct!

—Make sure you are keeping your eye on the finish line, confident that the One Who began this good work in you will be faithful to complete it!

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