I Come Quickly

~This Is My Last Post Until Wednesday, September 14th~

-The Bible’s Last Chapter

It’s nearly impossible to miss the theme of the very last chapter of the Bible. Three times, in Revelation chapter 22, Jesus speaks of His plan to return:  “Look! I am coming quickly,” He says in v.7, 12, and 20.  It’s unmistakable! Jesus wants the world to know that, even as He fulfilled the prophecies of His 1st coming; so He will fulfill all the promises of His 2nd coming! And, He doesn’t want anyone to miss it! He wants everyone to know that He’s coming back. And, when He does, it will happen quickly. Some have misread Jesus’ words to mean that He said He was returning “soon” when He told John to write down these words; as in chronologically, it would happen soon. And, because it’s been 2000 years since He said this, they say it’s not going to happen! But, Jesus didn’t mean that He would come “soon”; as in chronologically! He uses the word “quickly” which means suddenly!

-His Return Will Be Sudden

When He returns, it will be sudden! There will be no time to prepare because it will happen so quickly! That means you have to be ready! You have to make your preparations before His return, or it will be too late. That’s the intent of Jesus’ words. Make your preparations now to confess your sin & your brokenness! Make your preparations now to ask Jesus to be your Savior from sin! Make your preparations now to be reconciled with God. There’s a sense of urgency! If you think you’ll wait to see if Jesus actually returns, before you give Him your life, it’ll be too late because His coming will be sudden & quick, with no warning other than what we’ve been given in Scripture. When Jesus returns there will be no time to get ready! You have to be ready!

-Are You Prepared For His Return?

Here’s what’s tragic— most people are better prepared for bad weather than they are for Jesus’ return! Right? You need to be prepared! Some of you aren’t prepared! Why? Why would you put yourself in such a vulnerable position? This is the All-Mighty God of creation we’re talking about! Why would you put Him off? Why would you ignore what He’s spoken to you in His Word? When you are truly prepared for Jesus’ return, there’ll be no place you’d rather be than with Him.  The description of the new heavens & the new earth, in Revelation 22:1-5, is a continuation from the previous chapter when an angel shows up & begins to give the Apostle John a tour (Revelation 21:9). He sees a pure river that flowed with the “water of life.”

-Hunger And Thirst

And, God told John, “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (21:6). You may remember that Jesus shared similar words in His Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). If you don’t hunger & thirst after God and His righteousness than heaven won’t suit you & you’re not prepared for Jesus’ return. Your life is still wrapped up in this world:  “…the LUST of the flesh, the LUST of the eyes & the PRIDE in one’s lifestyle…” 1 John 2:16.  If that’s what you live for, you won’t like heaven! But, if you thirst for holiness; if you thirst to be more like Jesus, then you’re prepared for His return! Your thirst will be satisfied by the river flowing from the holy, righteous, pure “…throne of God and of the Lamb…” (22:1,2).  And, the Tree of Life will also be there (v.2). And, what’s on heaven’s menu? Probably not McDonalds! We’ll come back to that next week!

Joy In Our Trials

-Consider It A Great Joy!

In James’ introduction to his epistle, by the same name, the Spirit of God prompts him to write:  “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials” (1:2). Say what? Did he just say that we ought to consider it “joy” whenever we’re facing trials?  Yup, sure did! So, what are some of our natural responses to difficulties and problems? Not very joyful are they? Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh. A spiritual response of “joy” is counter-intuitive for us! It’s NOT natural! It’s God’s work in us!

-An Unavoidable Situation

That phrase, “…whenever you experience various trials…” is interesting.  It literally means that it’s an “unavoidable” situation! It’s not “IF” you will experience trials; but, “WHEN.” In other words, you cannot prevent it! You cannot control the various trials of life. I fear that some of you have gone through life feeling a great sense of guilt. You’ve convinced yourself that the reason you’ve had that crisis in your life is that you’ve done something wrong, and God is getting back at you for it! That He’s out to get you! That’s not the case! That’s not the loving, gracious, merciful God who eagerly forgives our sin when we confess it; and cleanses us for our unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10). When James uses the word “consider” in that verse, he means for us to make a conscious commitment. We have to make a conscious commitment that whenever trials or tests or troubles come that we’re going to count it “joy” because it means that God is working in us! He’s using us for His purposes!

-God Puts You On Display!

If this becomes a struggle for you, let me offer you some Scripture to put to memory! When you memorize Scripture, you give God’s Holy Spirit the tools He uses to strengthen your faith and correct your walk with God! The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Corinth:  “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).  God uses the tests & trials in your life to put you on display! “Here’s Jesus in the flesh,” He tells the unbelieving world. He’s announcing to everyone around you! He wants to show the world, by your response to the testing, that Jesus is more valuable to you than a perfect life without struggles; that you still pursue Him despite your trials! 

-Spiritual Maturity!

James is teaching his readers to let God use the testing to produce spiritual maturity in their life. It’s “…the testing of your faith…” he says in v.3 that produces “endurance.” One of our former members, who’s moved away, runs marathons. A marathon is 26.2 miles. He didn’t just start running marathons one day. In fact, if you ask him how far he could run when he started, he’d tell you he wasn’t able to get past the 1-mile mark. But, he kept running, stretching it out to 5 miles; then 10, 15, and 20. Until he could endure 26.2 miles. That’s what the testing of our faith produces is endurance, James says. When you’re a new believer you get tripped up easily over every little test in life. But, God uses it to build spiritual endurance in us! That’s why we consider it joy! We don’t consider it joy because we enjoy the trials. Rather, we face the trials with a joyful heart because we know that God is using those things to produce spiritual endurance in us. It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

The Humility Of Christ

-We’re Usually So Full Of Ourselves!

For Jesus, to become a man was the most humbling experience God could ever endure! How foolish we are when we lift ourselves in pride as though we were really something! We won’t grasp how insignificant it is to be human unless we see ourselves as God’s image bearers! We are usually so full of ourselves; so self-centered & self-absorbed; and narcissistic, that we just don’t get the reality of our existence. Jesus’ humility, however, went way beyond lowering Himself to become a man! He died the most humiliating death ever devised to kill a criminal— Crucifixion! The pain was excruciating & the public shame beyond comprehension.

-Jesus Humiliated Himself To Serve Us!

It was especially true for this one, Who was God! For, He had created the very tree that was used to crucify Him. He humiliated Himself in order to serve us at our greatest point of need—we desperately needed a Savior because we could not possibly save ourselves! So, as we’ve talked about being Gospel lights over the last several posts, we will shine as we let God’s Holy Spirit change our attitude to the mind of Jesus Christ; even if that means humiliation in the service of others! And, church, that will only happen as we live in search of God’s approval! We will only shine as Gospel lights to our city as we seek the approval of God alone!

-We Were Created To Bring God Glory!

That was Jesus’ attitude—pleasing the Father! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” Philippians 2:8. And, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs.9-11). Edward Welch wrote a great little book titled “When People Are Big & God Is Small.” In it, he reflects on how broken & distorted is the image of God that we reflect because of our sin. We were created to bring HIM glory! We were designed with certain “needs” and “desires” that only God can fulfill. But, when we replace that “God-Shaped vacuum” in our life with the created things in this world, we take glory away from God & transfer it to that thing that becomes an idol! And, because of our sinful brokenness, it can be so easy to be caught up in idolatry; and not even be aware!

-We Need Jesus’ Attitude!

We need the attitude of Christ! Because He willingly left His throne in Heaven! Because He took the form of a slave! Because He lived His entire life here solely for our benefit! Because He stopped & lowered Himself even to the humiliating death on a cross to serve our needs! And, because of all of that, God has highly exalted Him & given Him a name above every name! In fact, that word in v.9 literally means “super exalted.” God super exalted Jesus! This is the only place in Scripture that that word is used! Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory! And, our attitude is most like Jesus when we are God-Centered in everything we do! Casting aside our personal agendas! Letting “Christ In Us” restore the image of God that we were created to reflect! God uses the church that is full of people who live their lives like that! He uses them for His glory! We need to pray that way! That God will transform our churches to live like that!

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Acting Most Like Jesus!

-Responding With Grace & Truth!

When encountering anyone caught up in sexual sin, we act most like Jesus by showing them grace & truth. We are most like Jesus when we respond with grace & truth toward those caught up in a same-sex relationship or a same-sex attraction; or any kind of sexual sin! Jesus could never be accused of being mean-spirited. He responded, even to the woman caught in the act of adultery, with gentleness and respect; with grace and truth. He acknowledged her sin, but He did not condemn her. He told her to go and sin no more. The Apostle Peter, who sat under Jesus’ teaching for 3 1/2 years, wrote these words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit: “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness & respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

-Defending Truth With Gentleness & Respect!

Part of our “defense” is to respond with gentleness and respect. Last week we began to look at Paul’s warning to the Church of Corinth: “…Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom…” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It’s an important text on the subject of sexual sin, and helps us form a Gospel response toward anyone caught up in sexual sin. For example, this scripture informs us that all forms of sexual sin are condemned by God. Just look back at that text again. How many sins are listed that God says will cause an individual to miss heaven? There is 9 right? 9 sins that will receive God’s eternal judgment; and 3 are sexual. The “sexually immoral”—that’s a broad generalization condemning all sexual sin.  And, then he specifies “adulterers”—that’s sex between a man & a moan outside of marriage. And, then “anyone practicing homosexuality.”

-No Biblical Distinction Between Sexual Sins!

I want you to notice that God makes no distinction here. God lists no hierarchy of sin when it comes to sexual sin. God’s holiness is repulsed by all sexual sin. As far as God is concerned, sexual sin is sexual sin is sexual sin. God doesn’t have a separate list for those living a homosexual lifestyle from those living in heterosexual sin. So, from this text; and the rest of the Word of God, we derive that all sinful lifestyles are equally condemned by God. Perhaps the keyword is that word, “practicing.” What’s condemned here is practicing a lifestyle of sexual sin. And many Bible students believe that the word “practicing” was used to describe all 9 sins listed. So, what God eternally condemns here is NOT a sexually immoral “act”; or anyone that’s ever been guilty of idolatry, adultery, or homosexual “acts.”

-Some Of You Used To Be Like This!

The Apostle Paul is not condemning to hell anyone who’s ever stolen or been greedy or drunk or verbally abusive; or no one could ever be saved, right? Especially when Jesus expanded sexual sin to include adultery of the heart. No! The condemnation is for “practicing” a lifestyle of these sins. It’s when someone snubs their nose at God’s commandments & is determined to live a lifestyle of adultery or sexual immorality or homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or verbal abuse or a swindler. It’s an unwillingness to repent and call it sin! It’s an unwillingness to confess, or agree with God that it’s sin! That’s what is condemned! I love what comes next. Paul writes, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v.11). In other words, all habitual sin can be overcome by God’s Spirit! He can change every heart!

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

Don’t Harden Your Heart!

-Heading Out On A Little Vacation-

-Next Post: August 25th-

-God’s Intentions Are Good!

God is benevolent toward us! That simply means that He is well-intended! His intentions toward us are good! It is in His very nature that He is loving, gracious, and merciful! His benevolence is not only intended toward us as individuals; but, also toward the nations of the world! However, while He is well-intended toward us— the people of the world— He holds the Sovereign right, as Creator, King & Lord over His creation, to withdraw His intended blessings from us as individuals; or, as a nation, when we fail to listen to His revealed Word!

-It’s His Sovereign Right To Judge!

He holds the Sovereign right to act toward us in the judgment that our actions deserve! And, listen, friend, you don’t wanna go there! God often warns us, in His Word, not to test Him! He often railed on Israel, His chosen people, for their constant testing of His resolve! He will judge! He will punish! It’s not what He wants to do; but, it is what He will do! Over the last several posts, we’ve considered the parable, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, about the “potter and the clay.” In the parable, God is said to be the “potter”; while, we are His “clay.” We’ve discussed God’s Sovereign right to make of each individual lump of clay what He wills to create! We’ve also discussed how gracious God is to “remold” us after we’ve lived a life of rebellion that did not conform to His will! If we’ll confess our sinful & stubborn will, He will put us back on His spinning wheel and make of us a remolded piece of pottery!

-God’s Sovereign Right To Cast Us Aside!

In this post, we want to point out, from God’s parable in Jeremiah, that God also has the Sovereign right to cast us aside when we become hardened against Him:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Go, buy a potter’s clay jar. Take some of the elders of the people and some of the leading priests and go out to the Valley of Hinnom near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Proclaim there the words I speak to you. Say: Hear the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and residents of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder because they have abandoned Me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods… you are to shatter the jar in the presence of the people traveling with you, and you are to proclaim to them: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: I will shatter these people and this city, like one shatters a potter’s jar that can never again be mended” (Jeremiah 19:1-10). Those words are terrifying! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God! Don’t mess with Him! Yes, He is loving, gracious & merciful! But He is equally just & righteous; and, He will punish those who harden their hearts against Him! If you harden your heart against God’s Word, He has the Sovereign right to cast you aside!

-Submit To The Designer’s Will!

We are a lump of clay in God’s hands! We are like clay, which has little value, until we are molded, by the Master Potter, into Jesus’ likeness! God has a design for you; and, in the eternal sense, it’s the same for each one of us! He intends to mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For we are His creation,” Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). There’s a story told that when Michelangelo was asked how he could fashion his masterpiece, of King David, he’s reported to have said:  “It wasn’t that difficult. I just chipped away every piece of the stone that didn’t look like David.” That’s what God, the Potter, is doing in your life. He’s forming you! He’s shaping you into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it hurts a little as He’s forming us; but, He always works on us because He loves us & His plans are best for us!