Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Greatest Gift Ever, Given by the Greatest Gift Giver


Flat screen TVs, iPods, iPhones, cellphones, MP3 players, Gps watch, Xbox, Wii, Nintendo DS, BlueRay DVD players, chocolate covered anything, clothing, jewelry, watches, shoes, anything Air Jordan, books, books, and more books, toy trains, dolls, board games, stocking full of candy, gum, laptops, basketballs, footballs, ping pong, my little pony, and easy bake ovens are all wonderful Christmas gifts and all have one thing in common....the joy they bring is only temporary and eventually will fade away leaving us hungry and thirsty for something else, something newer, something faster, shinier, thinner, sleeker and more chocolaty-er (is that even a word)?

There is nothing wrong in giving gifts or in receiving gifts. In fact there is great joy in doing both. There is nothing wrong in any of the toys, electronics, technology, or food just mentioned as they are all wonderful in the many ways they entertain us and bring joy to our lives, and what could possibly be better than chocolate covered anything?

James 1:17 tells us that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows". God the Father gives us not just good gifts like food, sex, material possessions, and chocolate covered goodness but He gives us perfect gifts and He never changes...ever and the gifts never change....ever. All of this means that the things we enjoy so much like food, sex, material possessions, and yes even chocolate covered anything are good gifts created by the Father given to us to enjoy and there in lies the problem for you and I.

The gifts from God are good and perfect and it is good to both give and to receive yet you and I have a tendency and the capacity as fallen, sinful people to elevate the gifts high above the creator and giver, Father God.

Instead of receiving food in gladness and eating out of enjoyment and to the glory of God, 1 Corinthians 10:31, we receive food as our comfort and we eat to medicate, to soothe, and we make food our priority, our savior, and we worship food, and we turn to food instead of turning to Jesus and we do the same with sex, and technology, and on and on and on.

John Piper says it this way in his book, A Hunger for God, "The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift..." The danger of sex, technology, chocolate is that instead of partaking with gladness to the Father we partake and fall in love with the gift and forget the Father and our appetites continue to grow for more and more and more and we are forever hungry and thirsty after the things of this world that do not feed us, quench our thirst, or bring satisfaction to our souls.

Yet 2000 years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, a baby was born. Jesus, God eternal, God come down to us, God reaching down to us, God seeking us, coming to save us, stepped down from His eternal heavenly kingdom, and confined His glory into the frail, weak body of a baby so that He could live among us, be tempted in every way as we are tempted and yet remained perfect and sinless. Jesus is given to us by our loving Father, John 3:16, as a perfect atonement for our sins, 1 John 2:2, died in our place because you and I are unable and incapable of earning God's favor, or earning God's love, and of earning our way into heaven.

Isiah 9:6 "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

A child has been born but not just any child, the Christ child!!! A Son is given but not just any son, the Son of God, His only begotten, the greatest gift ever given by the greatest gift giver ever. Jesus is given to us, His blood shed for us to cover our sins, to pay the price that you and I could not pay, taking our punishment for our sins so that you and I would not have to and while some believe today there is coming a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The government and everything in creation and under heaven has been placed under His authority(Matthew 28:18). Jesus is our wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and He is our prince of peace.

Today and tomorrow you and I will open gifts that will bring us enjoyment but that enjoyment is only temporary and will never satisfy the unending hunger and thirst of our souls. Gifts are good and are intended to be enjoyed but never worshiped and never as a substitute for Jesus. Jesus said, John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst."

Enjoy your iPod, flatscreen TV, and all the chocolate covered goodness you can handle but don't love the gifts more than the giver, don't worship that which will always leave you hungry for more and thirsty for more. Instead turn to Jesus as the ultimate gift, turn to Him to quench your thirst, to fill your hunger and never leave for only through Jesus will you ever be satisfied, will you ever be happy, will you ever find peace, and will you ever be forgiven of all your sins which is great and glorious news to us all.

Merry Christmas and may God bless you and your family!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jonah - Week 3


Jonah 1:7-16

Jonah and the crew of mariners are in a terrible storm, I would dare say the worst storm of their lives as this one was "hurled" by God (Jonah 1:1-4). Remind you these sailors are seasoned veterans, professionals who have done all and seen all yet their fear was so great it caused them to pray to their many gods and when that didn't work they began to throw their cargo overboard in hope of lessening their load, speed the up the boat and reach dry land.

The boat is creaking, twisting, and cracking. Things are breaking and snapping as the boat takes on water and is tossed around the sea by the waves and the wind. Where is Jonah in all of this? He is below deck asleep and for the first time since God called him to Nineveh he must have thought..."Finally I am safe, alone, and away from God." The whole world is going to hell in a hand basket and Jonah is taking a nap with no urgency to God's calling and completely oblivious to what is going on. That is until the captain wakes him up.

The captain brings Jonah to the crew and that storm has gotten so bad that they decided that the storm is not of nature...that something or someone is so bad that God must have caused this storm as a direct result. How do they determine what is going on? By casting lots, Jonah 1:7.

The casting of lots was used extensively throughout the Old Testament as a means to discern God's will when knowledge or specific details were not specific from scripture. Lots were bits of bone probably thrown like dice into the lap of a seated man. Now I know what you are thinking..."these guys are about to die and all they can think about is playing dice?" It would be the modern day equivalent of you taking your family to the beach, checking into the hotel, getting into your speedo, lathering up with spf275 and as soon as your foot hits the beach you think to yourself..."I knew we shouldn't have brought grandma." Then the wife breaks out Yahtzee to see whose fault it is or who has sinned to cause such great calamity.

But casting lots weren't like that at all. Proverbs 16:33 tells us that we cast the lot but the outcome is determined by God alone. There was no chance, gambling was not involved when the lot was cast. In fact the lot was used on such important matters as - selecting the scapegoat, allocating parts of the promise land, matters of war, and determining the order of priests and their duties.

The lot is cast to see who caused the storm and of course it falls on Jonah. Immediately Jonah is bombarded with questions, Jonah 1:8. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? Boxers or briefs? Question after question after question to which Jonah replies, Jonah 1:9 "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."

This is truly an example of God's irony. Jonah was running away from God's calling to preach to pagan people. The very reason they were in this position was because of Jonah's unwillingness to take God's word to a people he didn't like yet in spite of himself, in spite of his disobedience and unwillingness Jonah ends up delivering a short, 21 word sermon to a group of pagans, some of who could have very well been from Nineveh!

Statement #4 God uses all circumstances to accomplish His plans.

Romans 8:28 is an often quoted and often misused verse from scripture. Many use this text as a lucky charm, a rabbit's foot, a promise that because someone loves God, because someone is saved, because God loves us that all will forever be good and nothing will ever happen to the believer. That is not what the verse says at all. What it says is that all things work together, the good, the bad, the ugly to produce good things in our lives. This means that every circumstance, every situation every triumph, victory, every defeat, failure, sickness, death, struggle all work together to produce good results in our lives.

"You mean to tell me that God can use great tragedies for good? Tragedies like 911? Abortion with over 30 million babies killed? The death of my dad? A miscarriage? a job loss?"

Yes He can and yes He does.

Our problem is that you and I see our lives as if looking through a microscope. We have limited view, limited visibility. We see the great evil, the great tragedies. We feel the great hurt and experience the great disappointments in our lives and very often never see any good result. Yet God sees both on the micro and the macro level, seeing the intimate details of what is happening today as well as the eventual outcome way into eternity future.

I will give you the one perfect example....Jesus Christ on the cross.
Jesus Christ existed as God in all of eternity past. He is God's only Son. Jesus is the Great I AM, the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is the sinless, perfect Lamb of God and He willing came to earth to live as both fully man and fully God. Jesus subjected Himself to every hardship and temptation you and I could ever face so that He could completely identify with our struggles so that He could represent us as the perfect High Priest yet through all of this Jesus never sinned. Never said a bad word, had a bad thought, operated from an evil motive or broke any law. Jesus was arrested, beaten, mocked, and murdered as His blood soaked body was mercilessly nailed to a cross, His internal organs turning to sludge due to lack of oxygen, dying of thirst, He who was sinless taking our sins upon Himself. This was the greatest evil ever perpetrated on earth in all of history. You know the disciples did not understand as they scattered and fled and we know through Peter, 1 Peter 1:12 that the angels don't understand. Surely in the microcosm of what was happening no good could be seen or realized in the death of Jesus. How could God allow His only Son to die this way?

Yet even in such great evil the death of Jesus was used by God to accomplish His great plans to forever pay for our sins, conquer Hell and death. Romans 6:10 gives us this promise that the cross was a onetime, once and for all event.

Even Jonah who ran from God, who intentionally purposed in his heart to not preach to pagans found himself delivering this 21 word sermon to a bunch of pagans.

Jonah 1:10, upon hearing the word the mariners became "exceedingly afraid." The word has been preached clearly and concisely, their eyes are opened, and suddenly everything makes perfect sense. Now what? The storm is getting worse and they turn to Jonah, Jonah 1:11. What does Jonah say? What do they do? "Hurl me into the sea!" Jonah says puffing his chest out trying to use his deepest voice.

Is that the only option? What about repenting? What about calling out to the men on the boat to repent and follow God? How about...I don't know? Give me an oar! Or what about..."Turn the boat around. It is obvious God wants me to go to Nineveh."

Instead Jonah chooses to be thrown into the sea as opposed to obeying God. It's as if Jonah is saying, "I'd rather die than do God's will." Instead of immediately following Jonah's advice the mariners begin to row harder, Jonah 1:13. Jonah, who knows God is willing to let millions of pagans die in Nineveh yet a handful of pagan mariners are unwilling to let Jonah die! We need to be very careful that we do not act worse than the pagans do as sometimes non-believers are kinder, more loving, more forgiving, and more patient than Christians.

They try, they fail, they give up, Jonah 1:14-15, they pray and throw Jonah overboard and immediately the sea ceased from raging. Can you imagine what this must have felt like. One minute the sea is raging and the men are about to die and the next minute the sea is calm, the boat gently sways with the waves, and Jonah is gone.

Jonah 1:16 the mariners respond to God and even though Jonah did not want to preach to non-believers, through God's complete control, he ends up preaching to non-believers anyway and they believe! Here is a group of pagan sailors who prayed to their many gods yet now they fear the LORD, offer sacrifices to the LORD, and make vows to the LORD.


Statement #5 Only God saves

Because they heard the word these men were converted. Not because Jonah gave a great message, it was only 21 words, not because he was crafty, witty, hip, or clever. These men didn't covert because Jonah argued them into the kingdom it was part of God's plan they through these circumstance God used all things for their good.

Psalm 3:8, Psalm 25:5, Psalm 37:39, Psalm 62:7, Psalm 68:20, as well as many other verses all say that salvation belongs to the LORD.

You say..."but I share and I share and I share and I share but nothing!"

I want you to leave this morning with great confidence knowing that only God saves! I want you to have this as fuel thrown onto your evangelistic fire. This should take the pressure off as we seek only to be obedient to His calling in our lives for it is God alone who saves. It is only by God's power that anyone is saved. It is not our job to save. We do the sharing, teaching, preaching, and inviting and God does the rest.

Questions?

1. What circumstances are you going through right now? Be of great courage for God will use all circumstance to accomplish His perfect plans for you.

2. How great is your evangelical zeal? Are you discouraged? Burned out?

Wherever you are I beg you today to turn to Him and to Him only for His glory and your benefit.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jonah - Week 1 - Go!

The Old Testament contains 5 major prophets and 12 minor prophets, each categorized by length of text not importance. The book of Jonah is the 32 book of the Bible and is classified as one of 12 minor prophets.

In Judaism the book of Jonah is read every year on Yom Kippur - the day of atonement. Jonah or Yunus, is also a prophet of Islam and the name of one of the chapters of the Quran and Jonah's story is recounted in eight verses of the 10th chapter of the Quran.

There are typically three common approaches used when dealing with the book of Jonah.

1. Ignore it - this group consists of the non-religious, atheists, other religious groups apart from Christianity, and perhaps some extreme fundamentalist Christians who focus primarily on the New Testament and disregard the Old Testament.

2. View/teach it as an analogy, myth, fairytale - this group includes liberal theologians, liberal pastors, and liberal professors who argue that the story of a whale swallowing a man is not to be translated literally but is given to us by God as an illustration, as an analogy of His love and forgiveness toward man. Liberal Christians may also hold this view in an effort to "normalize" their faith. Secular literary professors teach the book of Jonah from an anthropological point of view often grouping the book of Jonah together with Indian folklore, Greek Mythology, and various other story traditions.

Thomas Paine quotes (English born American Writer and political pamphleteer, whose 'Common Sense' and 'Crisis' papers were important influences on the American Revolution was quoted as saying:

“The story of the whale swallowing Jonah, though a whale is large enough to do it, borders greatly on the marvelous; but it would have approached nearer to the idea of a miracle if Jonah had swallowed the whale.”


W.C. Fields, actor and comedian once said, "To me, these biblical stories are just so many fish stories, and I'm not specifically referring to Jonah and the whale. I need indisputable proof of anything I'm asked to believe."


And an anonymous source is quoted as saying, "“It required effort once for the whale to swallow Jonah, and now it requires effort to swallow the story.”

3. View/teach it as fact - this group includes Christians around the world and throughout history who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, who see the Bible, Old and New Testament as God's story as History/His-story, as God revealing Himself to man, as one long story with Jesus being the hero of this story where all scripture points to Jesus. This group not only includes many professors, theologians, pastors, and lay people, but also includes Jesus.

In Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44-45 Jesus appears to His disciples and gave them the greatest Bible lessons of all time.

"44He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."

Jesus is saying that everything that is written in scripture from Genesis to Malachi, all the books of Moses, all the prophets, all the Psalms point to Him and in Matthew 12-38-41 Jesus specifically refers to Jonah.

Matthew 12:38-41 "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here."

Jesus walked them through the Bible and showed them how everything points to him.

You think Abraham was righteous? I alone am righteous.
You think Moses was a great man of God? I am God.
You think David was a great king? I am the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
You think Solomon was wise? Man's wisdom is foolishness next to mine.
You think Jonah was a great prophet? I am a greater prophet than Jonah.

And in Matthew 12:38-41 Jesus is saying, "You guys remember Nineveh? How wicked they were, how they cheated on God? How adulterous they were and how God sent His prophet Jonah to them to preach repentance? Remember how the they saw Jonah come from the whale, they saw what great lengths God went to bring them to repentance and forgiveness and they repented? You guys are wicked and adulterous just like Nineveh was! You want a sign? You cant' handle the sign! I will give you a sign. I will be crucified and buried for three days and on the third day I will rise from the dead conquering hell, sin, and death forever. You think Jonah was a great prophet? I am the greatest prophet ever!"

Jesus referred to the book of Jonah and to the events of the prophet Jonah as historical and as actually happening so our approach will be to teach the book as a historical, factual event.

Do you mean to tell me that you actually believe a big fish swallowed a man and that he lived for three days inside the fish, was spit out, went to a city and began preaching?

Quite simply...yes. Psalm 115:3 says, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." This means that Jesus can walk on water, can create the world in 6 days, can heal the sick, make the lame walk, make the blind see, raise the dead and yes, keep Jonah alive for three days inside the belly of a great fish.

So who is Jonah?
2 Kings 14:25 says that Jonah was God's servant, son of Amittai and that he came from Gath Hepher, which is in the vicinity of Nazareth. Jonah, through his prophecy, encouraged King Jerobam II to expanded Israel and under his reign Israel was marked with a great time of prosperity, expansion, and eventually moral decline.

Jonah means dove, to be weak/gentle and most scholars believe that he was a contemporary of Amos and Hosea and is quite possibly the oldest of all the prophets. Jonah was a missionary to the "heathen" Ninevites, as one commentator put it and was a type of the "Son of Man" as his ministry ultimately points to Jesus' ministry. Jonah was intensely patriotic which may explain his reluctance to preach to the Ninevites whom he knew would eventually be used by God to punish Israel.

We could approach the book of Jonah from several different angles. We could focus on Jonah, his attitude, his response to God's calling, his reluctance to obey, his running from God, and his ultimate return. We could focus on the wickedness of the Ninevites, their idolatry, and their eventual repentance and turning to God and during this study we will look at these in great detail but instead we want to take this short time we have together to focus on God and see how He reveals Himself through the text, see how glorious His character is, how magnificent His plans are, and how great His love is.

So that's our introduction. Let's look at Jonah 1:1-2 this morning.

Jonah 1:1-2 "1The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

God calls to His man, the prophet, the preacher, Jonah and gives him the command to go to Nineveh and preach against it because it was wicked.

Nineveh first appears in Genesis 10:11 where we are told that it was built by Nimrod, the first great king on the earth. Nineveh was:

"A great city" as described by God in Jonah 1:1
The ancient capital of Assyria
Extensive City - three days journey - Jonah 3:3
City of commerce and great trade
Populous - at least 120,000 people

The prophet Nahum describes Nineveh as:
Rich, wealthy
Strong
Vile
full of lies, robbery, and idolaters
Full of witchcraft
Called the "blood city"

Question #1 - Why did God call Jonah to preach against Nineveh instead of just destroying such a wicked, adulterous, idol worshiping group of people?

Point #1 - God loves people

1 Timothy 1:1-6 "1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all,"

Scripture urges us to pray for everyone, for all people, of all walks of life, friends, family, co-workers, political leaders, rulers, even enemies. These prayers are the prayers that are pleasing to God and that He desires that all people be saved and come to know the truth. The truth being that Jesus is God, that He lived a perfect, sinless life, that He died in our place for our sins, that He was buried, that three days later Jesus rose from the dead conquering sin, hell, and death and that everyone who calls on Jesus to save them will be saved, their sins will be forgiven, and they will have a home in heaven.

1 John 4:9-10 "9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

God is love (1 John 4:16), God loves people (John 3:16), and God's love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4), and in His love and desire that all people should be saved God is merciful to those who do not love Him.

Romans 5:8

Isaiah 55:7 "7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."

Point #2 - God loves cities. (the following data/information is taken from a sermon by pastor Mark Driscoll on Loving the City)

God loves people and there are a lot of people in cities. Today over half of the world's population live in cities. It has been estimated that by 2030 over 60% of all people will live in major urban centers like Atlanta, New York, and Chicago. Cities are important and strategic in many ways.

Everything flows from the cities to the surrounding suburban and rural areas.
Government is centralized in the city - laws are made in the city.
Education is centralized in the city - major universities and colleges are located in the city.
Art and entertainment come from the city.
Information comes from the city as TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines all are centralized in the city.
Urban areas are important due to the high concentration of people and the strong role played in culture making.

What is Jesus attitude toward cities?

Jesus wept for the city - Luke 19:41-44
Jesus called us the light of the world and a city on a hill - Matthew 5:14
In John 14:2 Jesus tells us He is preparing a place for us...He is working on a city.
And in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 the Bible talks about heaven and the new Jerusalem being a great city, the greatest city of all.

For many today the vision of the city today is that it is vile, crude, godless, filled with sin, and should be avoided at all costs. Instead of running to the city we tend to run from the city which is completely opposite from the majority of Christianity's history.

The apostle Paul spent the majority of his time traveling from city to city preaching the gospel and planting churches. Cities like Galatia, Philippi, Corinth, Thesolonica, and Ephesus..all strategic urban centers from which laws, entertainment, and culture flowed from.

Christians have typically gone to the cities to reach people for Jesus so that more people would be impacted as the city, which is the center for art, law, culture, entertainment, and information would be transformed by the gospel of Jesus.

God could have destroyed Nineveh but instead He called Jonah to go to Nineveh because it was:
The capital of the pagan empire.
Packed with people.
Had great influence over the world at the time.
And because God loves people and desires that all people be saved.


Point #3 - God calls us to go.

Matthew 28-18-20 Jesus, having all authority given to Him, commands each of us to go and make disciples of all nations and it has been ordained by God that the primary means of hearing the gospel come through our words, through the preaching, teaching, and sharing of the gospel.

Romans 10:14 "14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

God called Jonah to go and preach against the great city of Nineveh in order that they might hear, believe, repent, and be saved and so our call is to go and share with those around us, those who we may not like and who may not like us, share with those who are opposed to God not because of who we are but because of who God is in His great love, mercy, and grace and not for our glory but for the glory of Jesus Christ alone.

God, in His sovereignty has placed us in this church, in this city, in our neighborhoods, in our jobs, specifically either to hear the gospel of Jesus and be saved or to be on mission to those around us who do not yet know Jesus and need to hear so that they too can be saved. Jesus has given every believer the command to go so that those who have not yet heard can be saved.

Will you go?