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Reservations

At this time reservations are no longer necessary for Preschool and Children on Sunday mornings.

Thank you for your understanding and flexibility over the past 7 months that our reservations system has been in place. Our Preschool and Children’s ministry areas were the two hardest hit church-wide when it comes to the number of people who opted out of serving due to the pandemic. As such we needed to rebuild both of these ministries. The reservations system helped us be ready for you and your children on a weekly basis.

While the reservations system is not currently needed there may be a time in the future that we will need to revert to it. But for now and the immediate following Sundays, we look forward to seeing you and your family Sunday mornings at Fruit Cove…without reservations!

-Family Ministries Team

Bio Transition Team

DUSTIN KANADY

I came to Christianity through the grace of God one cold day in February 2015. Having considered myself a Christian for most of my life, on that night I realized I was what I now term at best an “Intellectual Christian”. I knew the Bible, but I didn’t live the Bible. I realized that for 51 years I had wrestled with the same sins and made the same mistakes repeatedly because I was living life on my own terms more in love with my sins than with Christ. At the time, I was living up in Northern Virginia due to a job change. I was residing in a basement apartment and living away from my wife, Kimberli, who was tied to the St. Augustine area because of her commitment to her terminally ill parents. It was in this dark and lonely basement where I was living that I met Jesus and He changed my life in an instant. And I haven’t been the same since.

I have been very active in the church since my conversion. I have directly been involved with the Prayer Ministry, The Treasured Friends Ministry, The Upward Basketball Ministry, and the Encouragers Ministry. In addition, I was ordained as a deacon. I currently function as the Secretary and Vice-chairman of the deacons. I am also coming up on my third-year anniversary of teaching a Connect Group called Feeding Your Faith. I love to teach and serve through my Connect Group. We support a local mission, Dining with Dignity (feeding the homeless in St. Augustine), and an International mission, the Guatemala Mission.

The desire to serve and be a spiritual leader is Heaven sent. It led me to accept the nomination to be on the Transition Team back in November 2020 and led me to volunteer to be the Chairman of the Transition Team at our first meeting. As chairman of the Transition Team I have a singular focus – to find the best possible, most qualified pastor that can continue the good works begun by Pastor Tim and his staff for the next 30 years. I will use the leadership and professional skills I have gained in the military and in the marketplace to bring about the best possible outcome for this church, our next senior pastor and Pastor Tim. My skills are in leadership, written and oral communication, public speaking, project management, organization of teams, and leading teams of volunteers. I ask for your continuous prayers for the wisdom we need as a group to make good decisions to bring this transition about in the most efficient and smooth manner. God bless one and all.

JEFF CRICK

As a native of Jacksonville I grew up in a typical “cultural” Christian home. In fact, my dad was a preachers kid and my faith hero became my Grandfather Rev. TN Crick. Grandpa was an actual carpenter and church planter who is responsible for starting several churches in homes throughout the Southeast then building their church buildings, many that still stand today. My personal faith journey, however, began in the 10th grade on the baseball field at Sandalwood High-school where one of best friends shared the gospel (Gospel track showing the Bridge Illustration) with me and I finally realized my sin and need for a savior, and began following Jesus as my Lord!

My journey since that day has taken me down several paths of growth and service for the Kingdom of God. My first servant roles in churches started with teaching 5th grade boys here in Jacksonville at Ft. Caroline Christian Church and then leading bible studies in homes for singles at FBC Ft. Lauderdale, where I eventually met my wife Michelle. Over time, I found myself serving as a deacon at FBC FTL and then as a Deacon and eventual Elder at Covenant Fellowship Baptist Church in Stuart FL where we moved after finishing my medical training as a Family Physician in Columbus, GA. During our days in Stuart, Michelle and I helped launch an intensive bible study group called Community Bible Study which is still going strong today. After moving back to Jacksonville in 2014, I became involved in Evangelism and Discipleship training with the #NoPlaceLeft Movement Network and now also serve as a Connect Group leader for Young Families here at FCBC.

My family, who includes two wonderful daughters (Abby and Ashley), have been members here at FCBC for the past 4 years. I was honored to get the call from a Nominating Committee member late last year to help transition this church from our current lead pastor to a new lead pastor. As a Catalytic Leader for the #NoPlaceLeft movement I have been coordinating teams and working with church leaders for the past 4 years developing intentional processes for reproducing disciples, leaders and churches. My profession as a Family Physician allows me the great privilege of knowing individuals very personally and investing in there lives to find balance to a healthy life experience. My own experience as a Mayo Clinic Consultant and Instructor has afforded me many opportunities to train students and residents as well as be part of many teams and committees pursuing what’s best for our patients and the overall organization. I hope these life experiences will aid me as I assist with serving on this Transition Team. My desire is to prayerfully help develop and lead a smooth and healthy transition of leadership that ensures a place for our current and future generations to call home and continue to be equipped as Disciples of Christ and Disciple Makers until all have heard the Good News. He is worthy!

Meghan Blood

I grew up in a small town in south Mississippi where I was raised and very active in the Baptist church.  I became a Christian at the age of 12 after attending a summer camp with my church youth group.

At my home church in MS I worked in our nursery, directed and taught VBS.

In 2005 I moved to Starkville, MS, where I attended Mississippi State University, got a degree in Risk Management, Insurance and Financial Planning, and met my husband, Robert.

We married in 2007 and moved to Birmingham, AL, where we lived for two years. We moved back to Mississippi in 2009 and welcomed our first child, Kylee in 2010. Our son, Barrett, was born in 2012 and in 2013 we moved to Atlanta.  During the two years we lived in Atlanta we attended FBC Alpharetta where I worked as the Assistant Preschool Director.

We left Atlanta in 2015 to move to Bloomington, IL, where we lived for 3 years and welcomed our third child, Marion Ruth in 2017.

In 2018 we moved to Jacksonville and shortly after we joined FCBC.  I quickly jumped into the children’s ministry to help where I was needed and now you see me every Sunday and Wednesday checking your children in for their classes.

I feel very honored and am excited about being part of the Transition Team.

KELLY GATES

I was born and raised in Jacksonville and came to know Christ at the age of 7. My parents had recently given me a new bible with a question and answer portion located in the back.  For each faith question, there was a scripture reference where the answer could be found in the Word.  I spent a long time reading through all of the questions and answers and began asking my own questions about salvation.  Being raised in a Godly home, Jesus had been part of my life since I was born but from that point on he became my personal Lord and Savior. 

I have been a member of Fruit Cove Baptist since I was in the fourth grade.  I met my husband Barrett on our church campus while we were in high school.  Barrett and I were married in 2009.  Our son Jack was born in 2018 and we welcomed our daughter Margaret in February 2021.  Over the years I have served as an adult Sunday school leader, children’s ministry volunteer and have worked with both the women’s and In His Image ministries. 

I am honored to serve on the Pastoral Transition Team. I bring more than 14 years of experience in both nonprofit and ministry.  While I am currently spending this season at home with my young children, most recently I served as the director of donor engagement and stewardship for the University of North Florida Foundation.  It is my goal to humbly serve the Lord and this church that I love dearly through the pastoral transition process.

Sunil Kuchipudi
Sunil Kuchipudi

Growing up in India, I was surrounded by Hindu and Muslim friends who are still some of my closest friends. It was understood at that time that religion is what you are born into and tied to family, birth, and nationality. Sometimes, my friends would ask me questions such as, “Who is Jesus?” and “Why would you follow a Western God when we have a number of gods and gurus of our own?” At that time, I had no idea, so I would blurt something out and change the topic. During my college years, I joined a Bible study led by the Navigators at the university dorm. I came across the verse in John 14:6 where Jesus clearly answered “I am the Way and the Truth and Life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. 

It was rather a jarring feeling to see why Jesus’ claim would be so exclusive. As I continued to study the words of our Lord in the Gospels, it became clear to me that He is the only One who shed His blood for me and you. He died for my sins and not only for mine, but also the sins of the entire world! He is the resurrected Savior who overcame the curse of death and gives all hope and eternal life. On an Easter Sunday morning, at 18 years of age, I personally accepted Jesus Christ into my life and was baptized in a small Brethren Fellowship in India.

I started helping lead bible studies in the university dorms. I did evangelism on the streets, this entailed presenting the gospel, clarifying the questions that people asked, and pointing them to Christ. In 1993, I came to the US to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I joined Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) and helped lead the bible studies on the UCF campus.

In 2010 our family moved to Jacksonville to join FCBC and I started serving in various ministries such as Upward Sports ministry. I also have the privilege of uplifting ministry work in Haiti. 

When the Nominating Committee selected me, I prayerfully accepted. I am honored and humbled to serve on this journey.  I have around 20 years in the technology industry, experience in financial, government and advisory industries, and executing strategic and transformational projects for global organizations.  It will be a privilege to serve and apply my leadership and organizational skills to support a successful pastoral transition. I can only do this with your support and prayers and earnestly seek them during this journey.

ROSS NELSON

I grew up in Houston Texas where our family attended a methodist church.  As a child I recall participating in all the various plays and musicals that the children’s ministry put on.  We moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1999 and shortly thereafter began attending a local baptist church.  It was there at age 16 that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; I had heard the word of God all my life but only in that moment did I feel compelled to follow in obedience.

While attending school in Kentucky my family moved to Fruit Cove in 2003, and in 2006 I followed suit.  For the last 14 years as a member of Fruit Cove I have served faithfully in the music ministry playing in the orchestra on Sundays.  It is through serving in this ministry that I feel the fulfillment of my desire to be used by God.  For the past 2 years I have also served in the Wednesday Children’s Ministry.  It is such a joy to support the growth of faith in the children of FCBC. While serving in the music ministry I met my wife Larisa, we were married in 2012.  After many years of trying to have a child, we prayed and felt led by God to start the adoption process.  We are currently in the waiting period of the process.

The Nominating Committee reached out about being a part of the Transition Team in November 2020.  After prayerful consideration, I accepted the privilege to serve on this team.  As the team begins the process we ask for your continued prayers that we bring honor and glory to God.

Michael Osborne

I came to know Christ in March of 1974 at 6 years of age.  At the time, my father pastored a church in California, and we were having a youth revival that was led by a student/college group.  After one of the services, my father and mother were in a meeting and one of the young ladies from the lead group saw me sitting outside.  She approached me and asked if I knew about Jesus.  I said yes (duh – my dad is the preacher).  However, she started talking with me in a way that hadn’t happened before and discussed how Jesus died for me.  It made me think about Jesus not as a “biblical figure” but as MY SAVIOR.  Sitting on the steps of the church, I prayed with this young lady and accepted Christ right there.  Afterwards, I raced to tell my parents and excitedly interrupted their meeting.  Later, my parents talked with me about my experience and felt confident that I had a real experience with Christ.  The impact of that decision at that time made a huge difference for me in my formative years of school and college.  Although I was and am a sinner, my early life was framed by a belief that Christ is my guide, and I usually made key decisions by asking the Lord to lead me.

My first adult experience in serving the church came when I was living in Hattiesburg, MS at Temple Baptist Church.  I started in choir and later as part of our worship team.  Choir and worship team were my longest service opportunities, but this was my inroad into other church service.  I also taught (with my future wife) classes in our Singles Group and later became an ordained deacon at Temple in 2005.  I was also a member and Chairperson of our Church Personnel Committee for 4 years.  In 2011 we left Hattiesburg and moved to Panama City, FL.  We became part of First Baptist Church Panama City and got involved in the Children’s Ministry (our daughters were 6 and 5 years old at the time).  To be honest, we loved the pastor and many members of the church but did not get as “plugged in” as we wanted to be there.  When we came to Fruit Cove in 2017, we had a desire to be more missional and more relational.  With our daughters, we have taken part in several mission experiences including the Romanian Mission Team, the Harvest City Church Mission, and the Mission Miami Project with the Middle School Ministry.  Also, we have had several local mission opportunities including City Rescue Mission, Dream Church, and the Fruit Cove Car Show.  I am currently one of the teachers for the “Parents of Middle School & High School” class and assist my wife with the Middle School Ministry food service as needed. 

In November of 2020, the Church Nominating Committee asked me if I would consider being a part of the Transition Team.  I requested a week to provide my answer – this was because I understood the gravity of what this team will work on for the church.  It is an important task that will shape our church for years to come.  I accepted the opportunity to be a part of this team and want to assist in the ways necessary to help us get to the “Lord’s Outcome”.  I encourage all of us to pray without ceasing for God’s will to be done in this endeavor. 

Married to Debra for 18 years – daughters Gracen (15) and Samantha (13) 

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Advent Day 21 – His Name Shall Be … Prince of Peace

“His name shall be… Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:7
One of the hardest places to believe that Jesus would be “the Prince of Peace” is in the midst of a war. Those who have spent the Christmas holiday on a battlefield or deployed and away from their family will nod their heads in understanding.
On Christmas Eve, 1914, this reality came home. The British and German infantry, weary from warfare, found themselves facing off over “no-man’s land.” This ground, a football field in length, was littered with the corpses of fallen soldiers, dead animals, and the hollowed-out husks of abandoned tanks.
But something miraculous happened that evening. The Germans had retreated to a monastery, and began to set it up with Christmas trees, Tannenbaum, and lights. As the evening went on, they started singing Christmas carols.
A couple of British soldiers saw what was happening, and against orders risked the long walk across no-man’s land. They approached and were welcomed by the German soldiers. Soon, dozens of other British soldiers came. A French soldier, a member of the Paris Opera, sang “O Holy Night.”
Over the next two days, the soldiers met together, exchanged gifts and souvenirs, and buried their dead. Games of soccer broke out between the soldiers. And on the evening of the second night, one of the men began singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
That evening, on the cold muddy, blood-soaked ground of Flanders Field, “all was calm, and all was bright.” The Prince of Peace had shown up in the middle of a war, and for forty-eight hours some homesick, weary, and hardened soldiers played, and sang like children.
Peace can come in the midst of your battlefield, too. Maybe you’re not facing off against an enemy combatant. Maybe your enemy is a family member, a marital partner, or your parents. The same One Who caused peace to break out on a muddy battlefield, surrounded by decay and death, can bring peace to your home, your family, and your heart.
Trust Him. He is the Prince. And where He reigns, there will be “peace on earth,” “peace with God,” and “peace in our hearts.” It starts with your invitation to allow Him to rule.
…Won’t you give yourself… and those you know… the gift of peace this Christmas?

Advent Day 03 -The Fullness of Time Continued

Well it’s almost here! As December rolls around on our calendars, the official December countdown to Christmas has begun. There is an unusual expectancy in the air this year. My neighborhood has already gone “over the top” in decorations. The time is ripe… for something.

There was a constant sense of expectancy in Israel in the days and years before Jesus’ nativity. Messiah had to come soon. God had promised His arrival from days of old. The prophets had prophesied. The conditions were right. And, indeed, they were.

“When the fullness of time had come…” Paul writes in Galatians. Why was this time the right time? History gives us some important clues:

  1. The Romans had conquered and, for all intents and purposes, tamed the known world. The “Pax Romana” (peace of Rome) lay like a blanket over Europe and parts of Asia.
  2. A system of roadways called “the Roman road” (any one of which would literally take you to Rome) crisscrossed the previously treacherous countryside.
  3. Unemployed Roman soldiers, idle due to lack of war, were put to work keeping the peace and protecting travelers on the roads from thieves and hijacking of goods being transported.
  4. A common language was shared, uniting the Greco-Roman world with “common” Greek; the language in which our New Testament would ultimately be written.
  5. The Jews had now received favored religion status under the Roman Empire, and they began an aggressive program of building synagogues in every city.

While others could be added, these realities alone show that the stage was set for Jesus to come. The conditions of the world would allow the Gospel to begin to travel to “the uttermost parts of the earth.” Missionaries could journey safely, protected by elite Roman soldiers. The common language would allow the pages of the New Testament to be written and understood by multitudes. And the synagogues became the first places for evangelism as the first Christians entered cities unreached by the Gospel.

How wise of God! These are just a few physical things that made the timing of Christ’s birth to be, well…perfect. It is so important that we learn to trust God when He says “wait,” or when He says “go.”

He knows when the time is right. And His timing is never wrong!

Don’t Afraid

My friend Nik Ripken tells a story about a flight he took on Ethiopian Airlines.  The flight was a leg going deeper into Africa, and was not a large plane.  After several bouts of turbulence and some equipment rattling, he asked the flight attendant if everything was ok.  They replied in broken English, “Don’t afraid.  Everything ok.”  From then on everything of concern was answered with “Don’t afraid.”  Dr Ripken decided that “Don’t afraid” must have been the official motto of Ethiopian Air!

We have a similar assurance that comes from God’s Word and from Jesus Himself.  We too are to live our lives and “don’t afraid.”  In fact, the Bible contains some 365 admonitions for us NOT to fear, not to be afraid.  And when God tells us not to be afraid, He also tells us why….some 365 times!

With this post, I am adding eleven verses that give us reason not to fear, even in days where COVID and a volatile election dominate the headlines.  As the people of God, “don’t afraid” should be our motto too!   And because Jesus lives, WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE IN FEAR!

Take one of these each day as your own personal verse for the next eleven days, and see if your fear will not subside and your anxiety begin to fall away.  Child of God, we don’t have to live in fear.  Jesus promised!


Deuteronomy 31:6

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Proverbs 3:23–24

“Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

Isaiah 41:10

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Hebrews 13:5–6

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

Psalm 112:6–8

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.”

Psalm 56:3–4

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

Psalm 91:4–5

“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

Psalm 46:1–3

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

Psalm 27:1

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 23:4

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 34:4–5

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

DON’T AFRAID!

Don’t Miss The Joy! Chapter 11

The Enemies of Contagious Joy

Philippians 4:1-9

A precious family in our church suffered the death of their husband and father.  He died unexpectedly from a heart attack.  The family, of course, is shattered by this.

It led me, once again, to asking questions about this current series on Contagious Joy.  Particularly with the text, “Rejoice in the Lord and again I say, rejoice!”  Here’s my thought…my question.  Is the joy we’re talking about robust enough to be present even for a family whose life has been dashed on the rocks?  Can it survive the civil unrest and Covid 19 and political uncertainty and all that flows out of this?

My conclusion is this.  If it can’t I am either preaching it wrong or we are understanding it wrong.  The joy of the Lord is not restricted to our circumstances being rosy.  We don’t need the joy of the Lord when everything’s going our way.  We need it when our lives are shattered.

So, I read our text today with fear and trembling.  I do not want to misspeak or overstep anyone’s pain in this time.  I am not saying that Christ followers don’t hurt.  They do.  They die.

IN the face of all of that there is joy.

Enemies to our spiritual walk abound.  John speaks of our unholy trinity of enemies as, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”  The enemy of our joy can be disunity…in our families or in our church.  But often our enemies are much closer to home and do their work within us.

Today I want us to take a look at three hindrances to our joy.  They are joy-stealers and joy-killers if we do not confront and deal with them.  We hear about the first one as Chapter 4 opens.

ATTACK YOUR ANGER

Philippians 4:1-3

One of the most dangerous enemies to our joy is anger.  Sometimes we keep our anger bottled up inside.  Other times it creeps out say, on the golf course.  One golfer came to play with a new putter. He said the other one didn’t float.  Sometimes, sadly, it can be released on our families and people we care about the most.

Anger itself is not wrong.  Anger is a defense mechanism, and every person on some level deals with anger regularly.  But some allow it to build up and spill out in domestic abuse and conflict in homes, and churches and the workplace.

Dads, your hand is on the thermostat of the home.  You can turn the heat up in your home by not dealing with your anger properly.

What we are seeing in Philippians 4 is a conflict between two women who had a difference of opinion that had damaged their relationship, and then spilled over into the church.  It threatened the fellowship and the unity of the church.

Paul gives us three keys to resolving conflict in these verses.  The first is we CHOOSE to live in harmony.  It begins with your choice that relationships are far more important than always getting your way.

Secondly, we need to CONFRONT the problem.  At some point, if you’ve injured another or you’ve lost your joy because of a broken relationship, you have to confront the problem.  If needed, find a trusted friend who can stand with you as you do this.

One Wednesday night we had a service of prayer for racial reconciliation.  At some point, the church needs to take a stand… not make a political statement… but to be a “fellow laborer” and do the Gospel work of reconciliation.

Finally, we have to show the CHARACTER of Christ as we deal with this conflict.  “Rejoice in the Lord, let your reasonableness be evident to all, the Lord is near.”

Dads, back to you.  Are you gentle in your relationship with your family?  You have a position of Divinely appointed leadership in the home.  That means your voice has a constant amplifier with your wife and your children.

Did you know that almost 90 percent of conflicts in the home happen because someone uses the wrong tone of voice?  Not the wrong words… the wrong intonation.

ARREST YOUR ANXIETY

I have spoken about anxiety already several times in 2020 and began the year with a message on it.  The world has changed since January, but the need for dealing with anxiety has only accelerated in the face of everything that is happening in our world.

Anxiety-related problems are usually rooted in fear.  We fear an unknown future, a declining economy and loss of jobs, an uncertain political climate stoked by civil unrest, and an unseen virus that has killed almost 120,000 people in America and now…its numbers are increasing again.

Anxiety is a joy stealer.  There are no joyfully anxious people.   Some anxiety is a physiological symptom of a deeper problem.  Most anxiety is simply a matter of our being tossed like a cork on the waves of the sea.

It clutters our thinking, obscures our ability to see Jesus clearly, and generally saps our energy and drains us of joy.  It is an enemy that must be arrested!  It needs to be stopped from doing its destructive work.

PRAYER IS ADORATION:  We have a good, good Father!

Easy for me to transition to that.  I had a great, godly, faithful father.  Some folks choke a bit to pray, “Our Father…” or to sing, “Good, Good Father.” I never saw my Dad get angry…

The most frequent word in the New Testament for prayer is the word “proscheuo” which is an act of worship.  Prayer is worship.  When we worship, we don’t worry.  When we worry, we aren’t worshiping.  A part of every prayer time should be our adoration of Who God is, of What He is like, of the things He has done for us.

PRAYER IS SUPPLICATION:  We ask.  Indicates intense asking.

Pray about everything, be anxious for nothing.  “Nothing is worth worrying about; everything is worth praying about.”  E. Stanley Jones used to say, “To worry is to live against reality.”  Only 8 percent of the things we worry about are real.  The other 92 percent are imaginary, “what if” scenarios.  Anxiety clutters our thinking by importing things from our past that we cannot do anything about or imagining the worst-case scenarios of our future which probably aren’t going to happen.  We pray about everything.  “With prayer and supplication, we make our requests known to God.”

PRAYER IS APPRECIATION:  We give thanks.  “With thanksgiving make your requests known…”.

We need to stop anxiety in its tracks.  Let me say again.  There are some realities unfolding in our day that will drive us over the edge if we do not master this.  You can let this blow past you, or you can decide today to arrest anxiety and not permit it to make itself at home inside of you.

Paul said if we will simply do these things, then “the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”

ALTER YOUR ATTITUDE

My grand darlin’ McCail has now moved in with me for a few months while her Mommy and Daddy build a new house.  They came with her.  She had a new doll that looked real…creepy real.  For some reason unknown to all of us, she threw it downstairs and its head broke off.  Last night, after we had gotten ready for bed, she looked at me and said, “Poppy why did I throw my doll down the stairs?”

The things we do have mostly to do with the things we think.  Negative thoughts lead us to do negative things.  In fact, in an article I read last week, persistent negative thinking actually can lead to dementia!

But Paul doesn’t just say, “Stop thinking negative things.”  Instead, he gives us a list of positive things to replace them with.  “Think positive” is better than “don’t think negative” …if we remove something from our thoughts, nature abhors a vacuum.  Something will fill that void.

What we dwell on in our minds shapes us and is reflected in our external person.  In other words, we will always act and do like what we think about.

Biblical transformation does not come until we enter that process of “renewing our minds.”  Romans 12 tells us we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Recovery groups refer to our negative and wrong thinking as “stinkin thinkin.”  This is the core of most addictions and substance abuse issues.  We think ourselves into it.  Nothing is more influential to human life than our thoughts.  So, the Gospel goes after how we think.  Gospel-transformed people think differently.

One person said, “we need to let the mind of the Master become the master of our mind.” What does that look like?  Paul shows us here:

You may be thinking, “well, that’s all well and good.  I’ve tried to think good thoughts.  I’ve tried to stop thinking bad thoughts.  But nothing changed.”

Ok, here’s the thing.  Everything in these verses, first of all, is addressed to Christian people.  That means not just religious people or people who go to church and try to be nice folks.  Let me go back to a phrase I used a moment ago:  Gospel-transformed people.  You notice phrases in these verses: “whose names are written in the Book of Life.”

“Rejoice IN THE LORD…”. “guard your hearts and minds in CHRIST JESUS.”  “The God of peace will be with you.”’

All of these benefits, all of these promises are available within a relationship with the Son of God Who is Jesus Christ.  Apart from that relationship they won’t work.

05 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

JONAH: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“Revival in Nineveh”

Jonah 3:5-10

So far, we have traveled through some rough miles with Jonah.  In Chapter 1, we meet the prophet, who was well-known and well-respected in Israel.  He received an assignment from God that he really didn’t want to accept, so rather than go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and the largest city in the world of that day, and preach Jonah booked passage to Tarshish…in the opposite direction.

But as Jonah ran from God’s assignment away from a “great city,” he found himself in the middle of a “great storm” and ultimately in the belly of a “great fish.” His trajectory was downward, which is the only option you leave for yourself when you run from God.

While in the fish, in Chapter 2, and yes, I believe it was a real fish…Jonah came to his senses and came back to God.  But his repentance and turning and obedience were not complete.  In Chapter 3, after being spit out of the “the great fish,” Jonah is back on dry land and running toward Nineveh.  Like the prodigal son, Jonah came back to where he started and was welcomed by a gracious Father.  Then, he got a second chance to do what he should have done the first time.

Now, we want to turn to the balance of Chapter 3.  It is here that we see Jonah coming to Nineveh, speaking God’s message, and the surprising response of the Assyrian city.

JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE

The call to REPENT

Jonah came with a clearly spoken, Divine mandate from the Lord.  God had said through Isaiah, “My Word will not return to me void…it will accomplish that for which I had sent it.”   The New Testament tells us that “the Word of God is active and cuts like a two-edged sword, dividing even the joint and marrow.”

When we speak or communicate the Word of God, we release something spiritually that we cannot see.  I do not think the power of the Bible is in the printed pages of a book produced by a publisher.  The fact that activists burnt Bibles in Portland does not diminish the Word of our Lord.   It is still “truth without any mixture of error” and it has a spiritual power that changes hearts and minds and lives as those words enter our heart.  We do not worship a book; we worship the God Who inspired the Words in the book.

Jonah unleashed a power when he spoke obediently what the Lord had told him to say.  He repeated it verbatim!  The results were staggering.   If we want to see our nation transformed and healed and brought back to God, it will be through releasing and proclaiming and obeying God’s Word…not through political or military or economic means.  It is “‘…not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.”

If our world isn’t changed, it is because we’re trying to adapt to and be liked by the culture and minimize the power of God’s Word that has been given to us.  Jonah did not go to Nineveh and run for political office, or start a social services program, or begin to lobby for change in the law.   Nothing wrong with any of these, but true heart-change and a new direction will come only as we speak God’s truth to a culture that prefers lies.  Substantial and lasting change will not come any other way.

The need to WARN

One pastor has suggested that there are over one hundred verses in the Bible that involve warning.  I did not count them all but there’s a lot!  Paul spoke about warning in Acts 20:31. It is a ministry of the church, but it’s also important that we do this with each other.

Jonah’s message was basically a warning to Nineveh from God…” forty days…”  He warned them.  They heard him.  We need people who are bold enough to warn us when our life is heading in the wrong direction. You’re not judging.  You’re warning.  You don’t hate someone when you tell them, “the bridge is out” …you love them.  Every person has blind spots.  But often our pride and independence won’t let us hear and heed those warnings.

We need warnings in life…railroad crossing signs, yellow lights, wet paint, and every medicine bottle has a section on it labeled WARNING.  We may not read them or heed them, but if we’re wise, we will.

JONAH’S WARNING AND NINEVEH’S RESPONSE

The response of the PEOPLE.

The city of Nineveh stopped and mourned at Jonah’s message and preaching.  This city was “great” in its history, founded by Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. (Genesis 10:39) It was a city of great influence through art and culture and commerce.  It was great in its size, approximately sixty miles at its widest point.  One wall alone had a circumference of eight miles!  But it was also legendary and great in its sin.  And yet God called out to them through Jonah to repent.  And from King to cattle, they did!

Nineveh did not become converts to Judaism or “Yahwists” through Jonah’s preaching.  That much is clear.  The “believed God” but knew little of Jonah’s God.  When they referred to “God” it was translating the Hebrew word “Elohim” which could apply to a number of spiritual realities. They did not become people of the covenant by their repentance. But Nineveh was heading fast for the cliff.  Their injustice, oppression, wickedness, and notorious cruelty had begun to do what any culture does that builds itself on the wrong foundation.  Those qualities of injustice, cruelty, oppression, and victimization of the helpless was also being inflicted upon their own people.

Historians tell us that this neighbor upon neighbor violence, oppression, robbery, murder, and assault was rampant in the streets.  When you raise an army that are specialists in these kinds of activities and then bring them home without a war to fight, they naturally will turn on each other and the surrounding population.

Nineveh was teetering and eroding away.  Their soothsayers and spiritual leaders were noticing portends of disaster in things that were happening in nature through a rampant famine, disease, and unnatural weather phenomenon.

Add the social deterioration to this, and they knew something bad was about to happen.  They were telling the people as much. Perhaps that prepared their hearts to be open to a lone Jewish prophet shouting, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be no more…”. The “king” was likely not the King of Assyria.  Nineveh was not even the capital city of Assyria.  Had the King of Assyria repented, he would have called the entire empire of Assyria to repent.

As it was, the voice of the prophet was directed specifically to Nineveh.  And likely, the use of the word “king” was speaking of a governor appointed by the king but who spoke with authority for him.  It was not unusual for ancient eastern cultures to refer to their leader in that way.  But the ruler of Nineveh, and every citizen and even animals, were brought to their knees by this proclamation.

I cannot imagine this, having never been a part of a true spiritual awakening in which God ‘s message has stopped commerce, impacted government and the economy, and swept through in power.     I grew up in Kentucky, where the Second Great Awakening took place in camp meetings in the woods as a circuit riding preacher would come, people would create a clearing by cutting down trees and turning them into seats lined up (don’t complain about uncomfortable pews).  The meetings would last for hours and go for weeks, people wouldn’t even go home.  It impacted how my home state still does church!

A spiritual awakening swept Ireland that was so intense it shut down the mining industry because the mule trains that hauled coal out of the mines stopped. The animals were so accustomed to being cursed and abused by those who ran them that they didn’t know what to do when the operators returned to work, now with Jesus in their hearts, and they stopped cursing!

Those awakenings called God’s people back to being what God had intended them to be.  In America, they called Christians back to the foundation of our nation as a Christian nation.  They were calls to repent and to believe God’s Word.

We have a rich history of spiritual awakenings in America, and throughout the world.  Most of the educational institutions, social reforms, and hospitals in America began out of those awakenings and still affect us as a nation today.

The last true “spiritual awakening” in America and, in fact, through most of the world took place in the 1970’s in a former Methodist church that worked with hippies in California.

Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, decided to allow the long-haired, unwashed, barefoot, young people to come to his church sanctuary and play their music their way.  Some churches had already thrown them out because of their unkempt appearance, and smell, and music and bare feet, the oil of which was destroying the carpeting in their buildings.

Smith simply ripped the carpeting out!  And the kids flooded in by the hundreds and hung around outside as he taught them the Bible verse-by-verse.  The church fed them, gave money to some to travel back home, and just one-by-one won them to Jesus.  A movement began, called “The Jesus Movement.” Proud to say, Baptist pastors and churches were some of the first to open street missions in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco!  I was saved in the middle of that, in December of 1974.

When the nation of Israel was called to repent by the prophets, it was to remember their calling as the people of God and the people of the covenant. The prophets called the people back to what they were at the beginning.

When Nineveh repented it was to turn away from idolatry and injustice and cruelty and oppression and back to God Who had created them.  Repentance is the key to getting us out of the prison of sin.  The Bible is our rehabilitation.  (Eric Mason)

There is, in every person, the ability to know there is a God.  They have even done research on what is called “The God Gene” in people.  It’s in our DNA.  The Bible say so , “What could be known of God is plainly revealed to them,” which means that people who refuse to believe in God (probably refuse to believe in what God has told them to do) are acting in conflict with their own created nature.  The Ninevites knew they were out of alignment with the God they only knew as “Elohim.” Jonah introduced them to “Yahweh,” God of Israel and Maker of Heaven and Earth.

NINEVEH’S REPENTANCE AND GOD’S FORGIVENESS

Does God change His mind?

God cannot and will not act in conflict with His own counsel and will and Word.

We will never see a scenario in which God says, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”  God will never “walk back” a decision as though ill-advised or ill-conceived.  When the Ninevites repented, His forgiveness was in alignment with the His already revealed will: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

It is impossible for God to lie.

1 Samuel 15:29 says, ‘[The God of Israel] does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.’

It is impossible for God to change.

The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘It is impossible for God to lie’ (Heb. 6:18), and Paul refers to ‘God, who does not lie’ (Titus 1:2).

It is impossible for God to violate His Own will. 

When Nineveh repented, they turned directly into the will of God Who said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and Who desires all men to be saved.

The repented toward God.  They believed God.  And God forgave.

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!

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