Jonah Chapter 3: Reach (Part 3)

12:13 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Jonah
Chapter 3: Reach
Pt. 3 The Responses to Evil
           
Jonah 3:9-10 “‘Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”

Allow me to clarify something right up front. There’s only one proper way to respond to the evil in your own life: Repent! We’ve already discussed that in chapter two, so we don’t need to repeat ourselves. But in case you’re still reading, and you haven’t had that time with God when you confessed your sin, and turned from it to God, please do that right now. You won’t be able to deal with the evil in other people’s lives until you deal with your own.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready for what’s next. Jonah helps us to see the evil in this world and contrast it to how the Lord responds to it. Here’s the question that is naturally posed; How do I deal with wickedness that offends me? This is personal. We’re not talking about solving the problem of evil in the whole entire world, but rather responding to the evil that directly offends us. And I see only three possible responses.



1st. You can choose revenge – This is where you pummel the wrong doer. You are determined to hurt the person that hurt you. You believe very much in the “eye for an eye” philosophy of life. And most likely you believe, although nobody would admit it, that is how you should behave toward others but not so much how others should behave toward you, right? I don’t recommend this response. It doesn’t end well for anybody.

2nd. You can choose retreat – This is when, out of passivity, you just let it go but not in the healthy way. This is when you cannot get past it so you do nothing about it. Outwardly you seem to be fine but inwardly you are bitter and hurt. You go to your room and scream into your pillow. Maybe you pop in the head phones and zone out from the world. Perhaps your medication is a little more serious and damaging. This is more about running away than dealing with the evil.

Neither of these two options are better than the other, because you are responding to the hurt in unhealthy ways. Some people think, “Well I’m not hurting anybody if I bottle up.” But revenge and retreat are BOTH wrong, and do no good for you OR the wrongdoer.

Here’s the last option. This is the one we all need to aim for.  

3rd. You can choose to reach out – This is the forgiveness that God gives to the people of Nineveh and what he is trying to give Jonah. He is reaching out to them, not to exclude, but to include. This is not reaching out with a fist like revenge. This is not reaching out with a shove like retreat. This is reaching out with an open hand to offer forgiveness and love.

In the book, The Secret Garden, Colin is a cruel, spoiled, arrogant boy who makes the lives of his servants and nurses miserable. At first, you despise him in the book. But as you read on you realize this boy is really just afraid. Because all of his life he’s been told he wasn’t going to live long. That he would get a disease like his father and die. So he chooses to confine himself to his bed and order his servants and nurses around.

Until one day he meets his cousin, Mary. Of course, she doesn’t like him at first because of his demanding, selfish personality. He really was an evil little boy. But instead of getting some revenge on him or choosing to retreat from him, she begins to reach out to him. She talks to him about the beautiful things she had seen in the Secret Garden. She describes the adventures she had with the neighbor boy. She begins to encourage him to come outside with her and to see it all for himself. And through it all, she is really showing him that he is actually healthy and he isn’t going to die.

So as she reaches out to him with a love that he had never received before, he begins to soften. He stops throwing his tantrums and starts thinking about others. The evil in him was ruined when Mary reached out with forgiveness and love. The only way you will ever ruin evil in the world is by reaching out with forgiveness and love. That is the one response to evil that God has commanded.

If we fail to do this, if we choose to exact revenge or run away in retreat, we just become a part of the cycle of evil in the world. We are adding to the sinfulness of our own world, but God has called us to destroy the evil; to help bring forgiveness, love, and repentance to those around us.

That’s a lot easier said than done. Right now you might encouraged and thinking, “Yeah! I’m going to change the world with love!” And it all seems clear to you, right now. But tomorrow, when the bullies come around again, or the family member starts acting selfish again, or that coworker makes up another lie about you, this usually isn’t the first thing in our minds because it’s not natural. You’re going to have to work at this. It will require a good amount of effort. Are you up for it? I believe you are. I really do believe you can ruin evil in your world and bring forgiveness and salvation to those around you. Next month, I’ll show you exactly how this works.

Jesus Christ: God, Man, Hero, King

12:23 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I’ve so looked forward to this time with you before get into our holiday this week and celebrate the birth of Christ...  Unless you have been living in some form of cave, you know that this week Star Wars Episode 7 premiered at the box office.  Projections say that the movie will make over $250 million this weekend alone.  Written by George Lucas, it was originally released in 1977, and most of you know this but for those who don’t, these seven movies are the story of the rebels versus the empire; Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader; heroes versus villains; light versus darkness. 

When it’s all said and done, “Star Wars” will have captivated three generations of people.  I’ll never forget when I was a kid and I saw (what’s now Episode 4, but the very first movie).  I had been waiting and waiting, we saw it a little late, and the buzz had grown, “this was unlike anything anybody ever seen”.  It came up to the weekend and we were going to the Ritz Theatre in Big Spring.  The Ritz Theatre was like popcorn covered floor , get stuck at the end of the movie, a little bit run down, but it was a palace to me because I was going to see Star Wars there.

 My Dad was a literature teacher so we grew up on the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Beowulf, and all those stories.  Dad was a very dedicated follower of Jesus Christ who didn’t mind us using our imagination.  He explained, “Hey son, the force is nothing, there’s not a real force”, but this idea of good versus evil, light versus dark encouraged us to think in those way.  He, my mom, brother, and I were all geared up to go to Star Wars and I got sick as a dog somewhere around Thursday and we were supposed to go on Saturday.  I was nauseous and throwing up; the whole thing.  Saturday rolls around and my parents are like “you’re not well enough to go” and I’m like “I am well enough to go! I can make it!  I’m well! I’m better!  If I don’t see Chewbacca something’s going to happen!  I got to go!”  So we get there, and it’s right about the scene where Han Solo is about to take off in the Millennium Falcon with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker and it hits me.  I start throwing up, LOL.  I will not gross you out with the details but there was a hurried rush out of that theatre!  They replaced our tickets and I got to go the next weekend. 

I can remember during my childhood just the awe of that.  This is back before they had cartoon stations. You didn’t watch cartoons online.  You woke up on Saturday morning to go watch cartoons.  At Christmas Mom and Dad would buy us little Star Wars figurines which I wish I had saved.  I wish I had saved in their packaging. I wish I’d never played with them because they’re worth thousands now.  That whole notion is epic to me.

I read a Time Magazine article, and there is sociologist named Wayne Youngquist in 1977 who wrote about the phenomenon that was Star Wars and Time revisited that with some thoughts of its own as this new [movie] is being released.  I found it fascinating when describing why [Star Wars] captivated the culture to such a degree; and it still does. 

The mid- and late-1970s were a time when American institutions were collapsing. Watergate had destroyed the collective sense of investment in the democratic process. The Vietnam War, having worn down the nation, had ended in disappointment. Even pop culture was splintering into niches. There had been an energy crisis and an economic crisis, and the end of the Vietnam War did not mean that the world was suddenly all that peaceful.

“It was this very kind of fragmentary period where everybody woke up with a hangover from the ‘60s and was really dubious about getting swept up into anything that large again,” Hallberg tells TIME. “And then all of the sudden you have this myth arrive that seems to speak for everyone and to everyone and that everyone can collectively project themselves into and talk about...”

... Star Wars, on the other hand, is morally uncomplicated. It’s about a just cause, people coming together and the good guys winning, “like the opposite of Vietnam, in a way.”

And that’s where today comes in.

“I see our time period, where we sit in history, as having something in common with where audiences might have been sitting in May of 1977,” Hallberg says. “There were the oil shocks, this huge economic grinding of the gears going on in the mid-‘70s, and stagflation that followed from that. We don’t have the inflation but I think we have the sense collectively of having lived through an economic trauma and not really having reached escape velocity from that. In 1977, I think there would have been a kind of hangover from a decade or more of armed conflict far away.”

Hallberg notes that the public appetite for The Force Awakens seems even larger than the appetite for the The Phantom Menace and the trilogy it began in 1999—and, if the ‘70s are any indication that may portend a bigger shift... perhaps the nation is ready to celebrate a new era of heroes.

I think the appeal of this, the frenzy, the captivation with just this one example in our culture is in a painful, troubling, monotonous, often heartbreaking world, we long for something more.  Down deep inside of us, I believe all of us, whether you knew it or not when you walked in here, deep down we crave adventure.  We ache for romance.  We yearn for mystery.  We cry for hope. 

In short, this didn’t die out in 1977.  We human beings collectively, deep in our hearts, need a hero.  Some of you are like, “what in the world does that have to do with Christmas?  I didn’t really come to get a soliloquy on Star Wars, Pastor. It’d be nice to hear something about Jesus.”  What in the world does that have to do with Jesus?  Everything.

I hope when you see that manger scene, that nativity, shepherds with bowed knees and crooks in their hand.  Mary there before the baby, and the Christ child lying there... When you see the light shining in darkness, when you see all this imagery, I pray you don’t just see something beautiful.  I pray you don’t just think of the warmth of motherhood and family.  Don’t just see a time of reprieve and a time of thinking about things that are bigger than us.  Don’t take the teeth out of what Christmas is really about.  This coming to the manger is the ultimate hero story.  It is what, deep down, we all long for. 

 “JESUS CHRIST: GOD, MAN, HERO, KING”

Hebrews 1:1-3  God, who at sundry times and in divers manners (various times and various ways) spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,  2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds (created the universe);  3Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…

Let’s break that down a little bit.  The scripture says the Son radiates God’s own glory.  Jesus expresses the very character of God, and He sustains everything by the mighty power of His command.  That same Jesus, when He had all by himself purged away, paid for, redeemed us from our sins, He sat down on the r right hand of God, the majesty on high.

Jesus Christ: God, Man, Hero, King.

Before we go one step further, for a lot of us hearing the title of the sermon, or where I’m going with this, it doesn’t generate a whole lot of excitement or enthusiasm.  Whereas, we might have bought our tickets for that movie a month ago!  Whereas a lot of us, when it came up on the screen, that shot of the gigantic star wars print and the music playing, we were excited.  Why would we be so excited about that and so “eh” about Jesus?  I’m not about to throw a holiday guilt trip on you, listen, there is a world not only with a hero, victor, and a king but there’s a world with an enemy.  The enemy’s favorite pastime is to blind you to the truth and open you up to the lie.  Blind you to the glory of God and offer you some pseudo glory.  Take your deepest longing and say “listen, God can’t give you anything for that long but a move can, or food can, a relationship can, a drug can, a drink can, a trip to the mall can.”  That’s what he’s been doing for over six thousand years; offering pseudo glories that we will wrap our heart around in worship and miss the point. 

There are 4 Episodes in the Story of Jesus Christ:

EPISODE ONE

·         The mystery of His pre-existence
The bible says that before there was ever a plant Earth, before there was  a moon or Sun, stars or universe as we know it, before any of that; there was God.  God existed in what we know as tri-unity; we call it trinity. One God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God for all eternity passed.  Don’t think of Jesus beginning in a manger, think of Jesus as God with God forever in the past.  What were they doing?  They loved on another, they fellowshipped together.  They were in perfect power and perfect knowledge.  Beyond that y’all, I can’t tell you what they were doing.  It’s too big for my feeble mind.  Is too mysterious for us to comprehend, but God was God before there was ever a planet Earth.  Jesus was Jesus before He ever came down to Earth.  For all of eternity.  He didn’t have a birth date.  Spiritually speaking, He always was and He was always with the Father.  Do you know what the bible tell us?  I didn’t know this for the longest time,

 Col 1:16   For by him (by Jesus) were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him (Jesus), and for him(Jesus):

When God determined, “I’m going to speak the universe into existence.  I’m going to make a Milky Way galaxy. I’m going to establish atoms and cells, minutiae of the universe.  I’m going to establish not only the micro but the macro.  I’m going to put planets in orbit. I’m going to make galaxies.  I’m going to make supernovas.  I’m going to make black holes...” it was the mouth of Jesus that spoke it into existence.

All the trees, animals, wind, sea, earth, us!  It is the most mysterious, awesome, unfathomable thing.  When you take a telescope and look into the night sky, you think “oh God, how big that is...”  Yes, and Jesus made it all.  When you hear in your science class about how the universe breaks down into smaller and smaller elements. There was a time when they thought the atom was the smallest unit.  “Atomo”, atom, means indivisible and then they split the atom and realized.  Some scientists believe it keeps getting smaller and smaller almost infinitely. Jesus spoke all that into existence.  What was He doing before He came to Earth?  He was God, with God, and it’s a mystery. 

EPISODE TWO

·         The adventure of the incarnation
Incarnation.  We sing songs about it.  There are a lot of Christmas songs that have that word, “incarnation”, and sometimes we don’t define our terms.  Incarnation means “The assumption of a bodily or human form by a supernatural being.” Here’s the picture: God doing life with God, speaks the universe into existence., creates the angel orders, the Angels – a third of them rebel and become demons – led by an angel named Lucifer, “the shining one”, not became Satan.  God creates the Earth, Adam and Eve, and the created order in perfection, but they make a choice in chapter three of Genesis.  We think we can be our own God and do it better.  Creation falls.

Two thousand years ago, there came a moment when God the Son looks down on plant Earth.  Jesus Christ, who’s been there all the while, watching Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, watching all the things transpire with the Jewish people.  Conquered by the Babylonians, Neo-Persians divided up by Alexander’s generals and ultimately conquered by Rome.  Jesus Christ looks down on, planet Earth, a people lost in sin and He says,

”Father, I want to rescue them.  Father, is there hope for them?”  I’m speaking in human terms because Jesus knew everything from the beginning. 

“Father, is there hope for them?” 

“Yes Son, there’s hope but it’ll be terribly expensive.” 

“Father, is there a way to bring them back from their sins?  The fact that they’ve hated, even rebelled, against you and run from you.  In their own will and volition they’re going off the edge of the cliff.”

“There is hope for them, Son, but it will be very expensive.”

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit devise a plan. God will have to journey to Earth.  God will have to be born into a human body.  God will have to live life on this planet with all of its mud, blood, war, and turmoil.  God will have to die to rescue mankind.  “Incarnation”.

Man, this came down to me so vividly this last week.  My daughter, Aubrey, went in to have her tonsils and adenoids taken out.  You know, very minor surgery, but it’s never minor if it’s you and it isn’t minor if it’s your Mom or Dad.  They did a marvelous job out at the Baylor Surgicare out in Mansfield, such sweet people.  It was all done well, everything was as it was intended; we get Aubrey home and the first day she just shock us.  They said, “If they want to eat something, let them eat.  It’s not a big deal give them the pain medicine, we’ve got some nausea medicine.  If it gets bad you can give them that.”  She comes home on day one and she’s like “Dad, did I see some Roses Tortillas in there?  Can I have some tortillas?”  Like Father like daughter; yes, absolutely.  She was eating, feeling pretty good, giving her pain medicine.  Boy, day three she really started hurting.  Yesterday, she got a fever and her stomach was burning so bad she couldn’t hold any food down.  You parents, every one of you know what I mean, she just literally has her mouth open just crying and there’s not a thing in the world I can do for her, and that flat kills you.  This morning, when I got up and had my little time with the Lord, He reminded me He knew what His Son was about to go through.  He knew what He was sending Him down into:  open mouth, unsolvable pain, and He sent Him anyway.

Jesus comes. You talk about adventure?  The Son of God standing up and walking away from the throne in heaven, from the right hand of God; I believe Angel armies are all along that procession blasting their trumpets, standing in awe with mouths covered as Jesus, the Son of God, walks to the edge of Heaven and makes a journey down past planets, stars, through the atmosphere, to planet earth, into a virgin’s womb, flesh and blood and fluid, into a cattle trough.  God is incarnated and becomes a man.  The adventure of that!  What a journey.

John 1:14   And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

“Infinite and an infant.  Eternal, and yet born of a woman.  Almighty, and yet (nursing) on a women’s breast.  Supporting a Universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms.”

He’s still 100% God, mind you, but now he’s also 100% flies-and-blood man.

EPISODE THREE

·         The romance of His rescue
Jesus is on earth.  We don’t hear much about His childhood.  There’s one little story about Him going to the temple. There are all sorts of apocryphal stories that we don’t believe in the New Testament canon, but we don’t know much about thirty years of life on planet Earth.  We do know He is raised by Mary and her husband, Joseph.  Joseph is a carpenter which meant Jesus was a carpenter.  He would have been raised to learn that trade there in the city of Nazareth.  I believe there in the carpentry shop, at the age of 30, there came a moment of decision.  He knew why He’d come but for 30 years He’s been living life on planet Earth and at the age of 30, He faced a decision.

Max Lucado wrote a book called “God Came Down” and one of the chapters was entitled Out of the Carpentry Shop. If you’ll bear with me, I want to share some of his thoughts with you today.

The heavy door creaked on its hinges as He pushed it open. With a few strides He crossed the silent shop and opened the wooden shutters to a square shaft of sunshine that pierced the darkness, painting a box of daylight on the dirt floor. 
He looked around the carpentry shop. He stood for a moment in the refuge of the little room that housed so many sweet memories. He balanced the hammer in His hand. He ran His fingers across the sharp teeth of the saw. He stroked the smoothly worn wood of the sawhorse. He had come to say good-bye.
It was time for Him to leave. He had heard something that made Him know it was time to go. So He came one last time to smell the sawdust and lumber.
Life was peaceful here. Life was so . . . safe. Here He had spent countless hours of contentment. On this dirt floor He had played as a toddler while His father worked. Here Joseph had taught Him how to grip a hammer. And on this workbench He had built His first chair.
I wonder what He thought as He took one last look around the room. Perhaps He stood for a moment at the workbench looking at the tiny shadows cast by the chisel and shavings. Perhaps He listened as voices from the past filled the air.
“Good job, Jesus.”
“Joseph, Jesus – come and eat!”
“Don’t worry, sir, we’ll get it finished on time. I’ll get Jesus to help me.”
I wonder if He hesitated. I wonder if His heart was torn. I wonder if He rolled a nail between His thumb and fingers, anticipating the pain. It was in the carpentry shop that He must have given birth to His thoughts. Here concepts and convictions were woven together to form the fabric of His ministry.
You can almost see the tools of His trade in His words as He spoke. You can see the trueness of a plumb line as He called for moral standards. You can hear the whistle of the plane as He pleads for religion to shave away unnecessary traditions. You can picture the snugness of a dovetail as He demands loyalty in relationships. You can imagine Him with a pencil and a ledger as He urges honesty.
It was here that His human hands shaped the wood His divine hands had created. And it was here that His body matured while His Spirit waited for the right moment, the right day.
And now that day had arrived. It must have been difficult to leave. After all, life as a carpenter hadn’t been bad. It wasn’t bad at all. Business was good. The future was bright and His work was enjoyable. In Nazareth He was known only as Jesus, the son of Joseph. You can be sure He was respected in the community. He was good with His hands. He had many friends. He was a favorite among the children. He could tell a good joke and had a habit of filling the air with contagious laughter.
I wonder if He wanted to stay. “I could do a good job here in Nazareth. Settle down. Raise a family. Be a civic leader.” I wonder because I know He had already read the last chapter. He knew that the feet that step out of the safe shadow of the carpentry shop would not rest until they had been pierced and placed on a Roman cross.
You see, He didn’t have to go. He had a choice. He could have stayed. He could have kept His mouth shut. He could have ignored the call or at least postponed it. And had He chosen to stay, who would’ve known? Who would have blamed Him?
He could have come back as a man in another era when society was not so volatile, when religion wasn’t so stale, when people would listen better. He could have come back when crosses were out of style, but His heart wouldn’t let Him.
If there was hesitation on His part of humanity, it was overcome by the compassion of His divinity. His divinity heard the voices. His divinity heard the hopeless cries of the poor, the bitter accusations of the abandoned, the dangling despair of those who are trying to save themselves.
And His divinity saw the faces. Some wrinkled. Some weeping. Some hidden behind veils. Some obscured by fear. Some earnest with searching. Some blank with boredom. From the face of Adam to the face of the infant born somewhere in the world as you read these words, He saw them all.
And you can be sure of one thing. Among the voices that found their way into that carpentry shop in Nazareth was your voice. Your silent prayers uttered on tear-stained pillows were heard before they were said. Your deepest questions about death and eternity were answered before they were asked. And your direst need, your need for a Savior, was met before you ever sinned.
And not only did He hear you, He saw you. He saw your face aglow the hour you first knew Him. He saw your face in shame the hour you first fell. The same face that looked back at you from this morning’s mirror, looked at Him. And it was enough to kill Him.
He left because of you. He laid His security down with His hammer. He hung tranquility on the peg with His nail apron. He closed the window shutters on the sunshine of His youth and locked the door on the comfort and ease of anonymity.
Since He could bear your sins more easily than He could bear the thought of your hopelessness, He chose to leave. It wasn’t easy. Leaving the carpentry shop never has been.
He makes a choice.  For three years He gathers a group of unlikely men, nobody else would have picked them.  He constantly depends on His Father.  He constantly depends on the Holy Spirit.  He doesn’t make a move, preach a sermon, say a word, heal an individual without the Spirit empowering Him to do it.  And for three years He teaches, preaches, heals, loves, helps, and He suffers.  At the age of 33, the hero is nailed to a cross.  The hero has come to rescue you and this is the only way He can do it.  Our sins my friends are so serious to God, so vast, unconquerable, the only way to deal with them was for the Son of God TO DIE.  Jesus hangs on a cross, the sky goes black, that place is so think with spiritual warfare and out of the darkness Jesus Christ cries “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani” meaning “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” because now the Father for the first time in creation isn’t looking on Jesus as God the Son.  He is looking on Him as the greatest sinner that’s ever lived because now your sins, my sins, our children’s sins, our forebearers sins have come into His body on the cross and Jesus is being punished in your place and mine.  The hand of God’s justice, I believe with tears in His eyes, is being brought down.  The hammer blow falls on Jesus so it doesn’t have to fall on you. There Jesus Christ, with a loud voice and gives up the ghost.  We don’t know for three days while He lies in a borrowed tomb what is going on, but here’s what we do know: DEATH COULDN’T HOLD HIM DOWN.  Death couldn’t conquer.  Jesus, our hero, the Son of God comes back from the dead and He ascends to the right hand of the Father from when He came.  Up passed planets, through the atmosphere, stars, and the gates of glory swing open and the angel throngs hit their knees and applaud.  Jesus Christ takes His seat at the right hand of the Father and now He made a way to bring you and me with Him.  Praise God.  That’s our hero.  That’s the story.

EPISODE FOUR

·         The glory of His victory
I’ve got to tell y’all, listen, one day in a scene that Steven Spielberg himself could not possibly do justice, the Living God, Jesus Christ, on a white horse with the throngs of glory is coming back to planet Earth to reclaim what is rightfully His. 

In a scene that JRR Tolkien could do justice to, the King is going to take His throne once again.  And every single knee is going to bow and every tongue is going to confess that Jesus, the hero, is Lord and Savior and God.

That’s the story.  So kids, I’ve got to tell you something and don’t be mad at me: Star Wars isn’t real.  You do know that don’t you, it’s good. It’s fine, it’s fun, it isn’t real.  All the special effects in the world, in the end is just a game, is smoke and mirrors.  It’s entertaining for a time, but it will break your heart if you put your hope in it. 

Can I just tell you something?  There is a war going on in the universe.  There is a cause that you were involved in whether you like to think so or not.  There is a force called the power of the Holy Spirit of God that will change planet Earth when it flows through you.  There is a hero who cannot be killed again.  His name is Jesus Christ.  You’re playing part in a saga right now whether you yawn and talk about slough it off.  Whether you’re enamored by what we’re talking about today.  Whether Jesus Christ as your Savior, or you disdain Him and you’re here for the ceremony and because your family brought you.  Either way, you are playing a part in this drama that’s unfolding and one day you will see with your eyes what I am describing today with my lips. 

God got all over me watching that movie, which is great.  You want me to tell you all about it?  I won’t do that to you; spoiler alert!  You know what got to me?  We’re in the greatest, most romantic adventure of our lives, right now, and we’ve got a hero who is worthy of us giving everything to follow Him. Oh my God, let me flowing Jesus Christ. 

This is a moment in our service, where we’re almost complete with our time here together.  No doubt we’ll go off and have a great week ahead.  I know some of you, frankly, you have somethings in your life that are just flat painful and maybe you’re not really looking forward to this week. There’s a lot on your mind and a lot on your heart.  I want to pray for you in a minute, if that’s you. As best we can, let’s not have a lot of unnecessary movement, a lot of leaving and coming right now unless you have to.  We’ll leave this place, and this service will be just a memory.  Just be an occasion on the calendar that happened back in 2015, but I tell you what can happen here today.  

Some of you felt moved, not by my words, but something deeper.  Some of you feel compelled to do something with what you just received.  There’s some triviality in your life that you’re like, “I don’t want to live just for that.”  There’s some dark stuff in your life and you don’t want to be bound by that.  There’s some hope in your heart that He really is coming back.  If you’re feeling that, that’s not coming from this Preacher’s mouth, I’m not that skilled.  That is the Spirit of God taking His word and applying it in your heart.  He is calling you to take a step of faith.  He’s calling you to trust him and step out. 

Let me tell you who I’m most alarmed for in this service right now, some of you that enamored by the movie and bored to death with this; more enamored by the food, the relationship, girlfriend, boyfriend, phone, right?  But God, is (for you) very distant, figurative, non-literal.  I love you enough to tell you there’s a real good chance you don’t know Christ as your Savior. I don’t care what dotted line you signed.  I don’t care who made you a promise years ago.  I’m telling you, if you know Him, there’s a love for Him down there, that’s a part of Him living in you that when He calls, that part hears and responds.  It can get cold, dull, calcified by layers of triviality; yes it can.  Friend, listen to me, you ought to wonder this morning.  It’s proper to wonder if you really know him and if He came back today, if He would be your greatest friend or your enemy, frankly. 

Right now is the time of grace.  Now is a time where Jesus is still reaching out a hand to bring you back in a relationship with God.  He wants to be your hero and there is only one way that happens, when you get real.  Admit you're a sinner and ask Christ to be your hero and Savior. You don't have to have a preacher, a priest, or alter a ceremony, or any of that to have Him like that. You could just ask him. 

You know what?  Some of you need to take a step today. Today's the day you need to say hang what anybody thinks about me I don't care. I don't care if they if they smile, if they frown, if they wonder, if they look.  I need to know Christ as my savior. I need to be served today. I'm going to ask you for a moment, after we pray to slide right out of your seat come down to an altar, to come right here down to me and say, “Brian I need to be sure I'm on my way to heaven. I need to be sure I know Jesus.” Everybody in this place that knows Him will celebrate the fact that you're coming. It won't be some weird conversation some secret room. We'll have somebody come and talk to you and answer your questions, either at this alter their set up an appointment with you if you have more questions, but today you need to nail that thing down and make sure. There's too much at stake, and He loves you too much, to go through another Christmas that’s nothing but a song. 

Christians all over this place, how long has it been since you took a step of faith? How long has it been since you said, “Lord, it’s been a long time since I've really talked to you. Since I told you how I really feel.” Some of your mad at him but you’ve never told him that. You're so disappointed you kind of just pulled back but you never told him that. There's something in your life, He's telling you, and “it's time to trust me with that. It’s time to trust me with them.” I'm telling you when you do, there's a flood of Jesus coming to you that I can't describe. Why not let the hero rescue you today? 

I'm going to pray and then these altars are open if you need to come pray with your family or by yourself.  If you need to come take me by the hand and say, “Brian, I’m that guy, I’m that lady. I need to know Him today. I need to know today.” You come do it on the very first verse.

Lord,
We give you this invitation. The thing you’ve been putting on my heart is Lord, water our words, our thoughts, our sentiments. Without your power and God we feel your power here today. Spirit, make Jesus real. Make your call effective. Save souls, change lives right here today for your glory, Lord. Your children ask this of you and we ask you to forgive us for our sins and our triviality at how we miss you, Lord. Open the eyes of our heart this Christmas. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen

 

"Jesus Christ, God, Man, Hero, King" Brian Loveless Sermon on December 20, 2015 at Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas.

Immeasurably More by Stephanie Grounds

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Stephanie Grounds has been attending Calvary Baptist Church since 2005 and resides in Grand Prairie, TX with her husband Chad and their three children. You can find Stephanie teaching in the Refinery or Boulevard of Kid City on most Sundays.  In her spare time, Stephanie likes to hang out with family, play volleyball, and cheer for THE Dallas Cowboys!

Immeasurably More

Some of you might know me as Chad's wife or you might know me as the girl that wears the blue shirt since I'm always in Kid City. I met my husband at Arlington Baptist College in 1995. Seven months into our friendship, and our courtship, we were sitting in an Arlington hospital room with my parents, and a doctor with bad bedside manner.  At the age of 20, he told me I needed a full hysterectomy. The words simply rolled off the tip of his tongue, “You're never going to be able to have children. You might as well go ahead and get the surgery. We can schedule it today or tomorrow.” What he said so easily, felt as if a house just landed on me, and crushed me. I also remember my very sweet, but very Texan mama replying, “Well, I don't think you are God and we will definitely be seeking a second opinion! Thank you, bye-bye. You are done here.”

The road to my surgeries began. There were six surgeries to be exact, one before I was married, five to follow afterwards, and they all led to exactly the same place: no children. It is amazing how during some of the loneliest times in my life, I absolutely felt my Savior the closest to me. He was right there beside me. He was whispering truths because the enemy was on a mission. Satan wanted to sift me like wheat and sometimes I let him. He would start whispering, “What kind of a woman are you? This is what your husband has dreamed of! All he talked about while you dated was having a family. You cannot give him that. What is wrong with you?” About the time that the enemy would start feeding me those lies, my Savior would start shouting out words of truth; everything depended on who I chose to listen to. The Lord taught me so much during my journey and gave me what I like to call “nuggets of truth”.

About eight years into my journey with infertility I was at my very lowest after learning a birth mom was choosing another family; not Chad and I. This was the second time we had tried to pursue adoption and the door had been shut. I fell on my face in my living room floor and sobbed from the depths of my soul. I gave myself time to weep and mourn before I got up and I went to the Word. That's where the comfort came from - friends can give you comfort, I love my family more than life, but the Word is what kept me sustained. I remember telling the Lord specifically, “I am lost. Please take away this desire to be a mom. I feel dried up and empty.”

My kind and gracious Savior took me to the Bible study I had been doing. The verse was Isaiah 58:11,

”And the Lord will guide you continually...”   Wait Lord, you mean I’m not lost?

“And satisfy your desire in scorched places...” My desire was to be a Mom and let me tell you, I felt really burned.

“And make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Wait, I’m not dried up?

Then I gave up! Not the way you quit something, but I surrendered once and for all. This journey would be 100% His will and not mine, His timing and not mine, His way and not my way. I promise you, besides salvation, that was the sweetest surrender of my life!

In August 2008, after a nine-year battle with infertility (and you can say nine years, “like oh yeah nine years” but that’s a LONG time), I found out we were expecting. I embraced every moment of sickness. Every time I felt like throwing up I celebrated; I was so excited! It was a reminder of the life that the Lord had amazingly placed inside me. One month later we found out we weren’t only expecting, but we were expecting twins! At 20 we were told we would never have children and 13 years later we’re carrying twins... TWIN GIRLS! Their daddy was in trouble.

Everything was going perfect until my 24th week. I taught at an elementary school, having a normal day, until the pain hit. I thought, “Good grief what did I eat that you two disagree with?” Before I knew it, I found myself in the nurse’s station at the school, buckled over, while she told the school counselor to get me to the hospital pronto! This could not be happening.

At the hospital, they told me I was in full labor. This was not good, it was January and my babies were not due until May! There were about six people in the room and everybody was doing something different - rolling me side to side, giving me shots, pumping meds through my IV. I had no idea what was happening because nobody was talking to me. I remember thinking, “I haven't even had a Tylenol since I found out about these babies!”

I was finally able to ask what the nurses were giving me but nobody was listening. Finally, one nurse looked at me and she said, “Honey, we're giving you steroid shots. Your babies’ lungs have not developed. If they're born today, there's a very good chance they’re not going to make it.” I was devastated. They had done a sonogram and Baby A weighed one pound and Baby B weighed 14 ounces! This was a nightmare, but within a few hours the meds started working, my body was responding, and life started making sense again. I was told the girls were stable, but I would have to spend the duration of my pregnancy in the hospital on bed rest.  Two days later as I lay in that hospital bed, two of my precious friends were trying to cheer me up and brighten up my room. I'll never forget they painted a verse for me on a little board:

They hung it up in my room without knowing a few hours later that verse would be my lifeline! I had complained to the nurses that I was having a hard time breathing and they told me it was the medicine they gave me to stop the contractions and I was okay, but the feeling continued. I insisted that I really couldn’t catch my breath, but they suggested that I was going through some anxiety. Once I made it clear that I COULD NOT BREATHE I was taken for a CT scan and chest X-rays. The techs were laughing and having a good time, cutting up, and then all of a sudden they were very somber. When they took me back to my room, they treated me like I was a delicate rose.  I was confused, “What’s going on? What happened to the funny people from before?”

The techs said my doctor would talk to me if there was anything they needed to discuss.  The on-call nurse came in and she told me they found an aneurysm on my heart. They were talking with a heart specialist who would be in shortly to discuss this with me.  The heart surgeon arrived with my mom, my husband, and preacher.  When I saw preacher, I knew it was bad. My husband wanted to break the news to me, so with tears in his eyes, yet so strong, he said, “Stephanie, this aneurysm has to be removed but in order to do so, it requires open-heart surgery. They're going to have to lower your body’s core temperature to the point that your pulse is very weak. But the girls won’t survive that.”

I refused and insisted we just wait because they were only 24 weeks; we just needed to give them a chance and wait a little longer.  The heart surgeon insisted that I didn’t have time. The aneurysm could burst at any moment.  Again, I insisted we give my daughters a chance. I suggested doing a c-section.  They could deliver the babies (and we would pray for God to sustain their life) and then the doctors could do the open heart surgery afterwards.  The surgeon told me my body could not go through a c-section and in then immediately have open heart surgery. I would die on the table.  I recognized the options all as lose-lose situations but right there hanging in my window, seriously the same day, was this freshly painted sign: God is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all we can ask or imagine. It is His promise, immeasurably more, and that was what it would take. A peace came over my body that I can’t explain to you, it was the Lord, and I resolved this wasn’t my story. This was not where God brought me. He did not bring me here for this.

No heart surgeon in DFW wanted to touch me because I was a huge insurance liability, but the hospital found a surgeon in Houston who would do the surgery. The plan was to CareFlight me to Houston so the doctors wanted to do a sonogram of my heart. They brought in the sonogram machines and told all my family and friends to step out. As hot tears were streaming out of my eyes, they had me swallow a scope. Normally scopes are done while you are under anesthesia, but I couldn't have any, so I was consciously swallowing a scope that would take a picture of my heart. The process seemed to last forever but I felt (literally felt) my Savior holding my hand through it. After it was over, I looked up at that surgeon and he had a very strange look on his face. He told me I had done well and walked out of the room.  That was all he said.

I was later told the heart surgeon went straight to my husband and a waiting room full of prayer warriors there that day.  The doctor looked at Chad and told my husband he couldn’t find the aneurysm.  It was on the CT scans, every test they did, but when they did the sonogram the aneurysm was gone. Chad asked if I still needed surgery, and the doctor said “Nope. She doesn’t need anything. It's gone.” The doctor was so puzzled and even had me go in weeks later for follow ups.  He admitted he didn’t know what happened.  I said, “I do! I told you. It was God. He did immeasurably more...”

I want to thank so many of the people who prayed. When you tell somebody you will pray for them: pray for them! Prayer works and God is still in the miracle business! I was able, with the Lord's help, to hang on to those precious baby girls.  At 32 weeks, my beautiful twin miracles made their debut. Abigail Elise came first weighing 4lbs, 6oz and Reese McKenna came one minute later weighing 3lbs, 7oz. and they are the joys of our lives. I want you to know that God is still in the miracle business. He loves to show off because nine months later, we all discovered there was a sibling coming. Our son, Noah Colt was born 18 months after his sisters, rolling in at 9lbs pounds. More than their COMBINED weight.
    

The kicker of our story is that I delivered all three of those babies in the same hospital where that first doctor told me I needed a full hysterectomy and would never have children.  Wow, I guess my mama was right when she said that things aren't always as they seem.

What to Do with Unanswered Prayer via John Starke

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Last time, we read about the three keys to having a more powerful prayer life.  Today, let's touch on a subject I think we all have encountered a time or two: unanswered prayer.

In Christ,
Brandon H.

What to Do with Unanswered Prayer by John Starke 

Anyone who’s given himself or herself to prayer for a sustained amount of time has likely experienced the disappointment of unanswered prayer. But the more theological astute among you may not like that phrase “unanswered prayer.” You may call it a category mistake. I understand your point. In reality, there are no unanswered prayers. God is sovereign and giving us all what we would’ve asked for if we knew everything he knows.
And I’m sure David was told something similar when he penned Psalm 13: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (v. 1). 
Surely you know, David, that God hasn’t forgotten you!
I’m sure he knew.
David continues: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God” (v. 3). Apparently, David hadn’t experienced an answer to his prayers for a while, and was asking God “why?” I trust you could give a quick, theologically accurate answer.
But David is a serial offender in the Psalms. Maybe you would even quote the Psalms to David and correct him! “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? (Ps. 94:9).
Still, David and other psalmists consistently ask the God who never forgets if he has forgotten them.
My Experience 
Have you experienced this pain? I have. There have been days I’ve felt as if I could only pray, “Will you forget me forever?” Maybe you feel that’s overdoing it. Perhaps you’d say, “Well, maybe you should pray for something else. It sounds like you’re expecting God to do your bidding!”
Maybe. But I wonder if you’d be as quick to say so to a brother or sister struggling with addiction, praying 10 years for relief, longing for a wandering child, or to a congregation fearful of its doors closing.
I penned a poem about unanswered prayer once. I wince sometimes when I read it:
Where is your listening ear, O Lord?
Why have you ignored me?
All my prayers are swallowed up in the ceiling!
Is my voice too quiet for you?
It gets worse:
Where have my prayers gone, Lord? What have you done with them? “Ask me anything,” you say—“The desire of your heart!” All my desires have been crushed. All my groanings ignored.
Those last two lines are a sore spot for people who experience unanswered prayer. We read Jesus’s words of almost completely unqualified invitation—“Ask me anything and I’ll give it to you!” (Matt. 18:1921:22Mark 11:24John 14:1315:715:1616:23–24James 1:5–61:171 John 3:225:14–15)—and wonder why he hasn’t answered us.
When will I get some relief?
When will my sighings give way to smiles?
I know where comfort comes from,
But you have locked its doors from me.

My smiles are like powder, my laughter like grass;
With a breeze, they are blown away.
Finding Companions 
As I read the Psalms, I continue to find companions. Asaph considers his trouble and all the times he has prayed for relief: “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” (Ps. 77:3). He’s grown tired of asking. The morning comes, and it’s time to pray, but he’s too tired of being disappointed to ask for anything again.
Asaph continues: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he shut up his compassion?” (Ps. 77:7–9). Asaph knows the answer to his questions. In fact, elsewhere he answers them. Even Jesus begs for relief (Mark 14:36), and when he experiences the Father’s absence, he cries aloud: “Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
The Psalms keep good company. They give me words when I’m at a loss. They open windows in the rooms of my heart I didn’t know were there, and they let in fresh air. That’s a grace for seasons of unanswered prayer. 
When you sit patiently with these psalms, you find something more. You remember these aren’t just the words of David and Asaph; these are the words of God. Before David gave me the words, “Will you forget me forever?” God gave them to David. These complaints are God’s gifts. He knows how we are. When we are at the end of our rope, these words are his way of lengthening the tether.
Isn’t that something? God has inspired words of complaint and protest to say to him when we are confused and sad, angry and desperate. He gave us words to say into our pillow as we drink our tears. “Here,” he says, “these words will help. Go ahead. I’m not self-conscious.”
Fighting to Wait
There’s an old church father, Diadochus of Photike, who was part of the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. He was known for writing On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination, or as it’s best known, “The Hundred Chapters,” which is primarily on prayer. He introduces a term that probably won’t catch on with modern readers: “educative desolation.” Diadochus says “educative desolation” is God’s intentional hiding of his presence from the senses of his children. He hides the “experience of divine attention” in order to increase their desire for him. “Educative desolation,” he explains, “brings to the soul humiliation, grief, and proper despair in order that the part of the soul that seeks glory and is easily exalted may return to humility.” Such a soul that “seeks glory and is easily exalted,” he observes, “does not easily renew its love of God.” In infinite wisdom, the Lord uses various ways to awaken our longings for himself again.
I don’t know if this is why God sometimes doesn’t answer my prayers and makes me wonder if he’s near. But I’ve found comfort in these instructions and have tried to look for ways to stir my love for him. When I do seek him, I’ve often heard the whisper of the Lamentations: “You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear’” (Lam. 3:57). Notice he doesn’t say “Here’s your answer,” but “Do not fear.” I can use that.
Until then, Jeremiah teaches me to wait as he laments his exile: “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam. 3:25). He says so when all he can think about is his affliction, and he wonders if God thinks of him (Lam. 3:19–20). He knows the right answer. So he waits. And God says “those who wait for me shall not be put to shame” (Isa. 49:23).
The Lord is good to those who wait for him. In my heartache and confusion, my waiting is not in vain. He’s going to be good to me. He already has been. 
Copyright © 2016 The Gospel Coalition, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Find the original article at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-to-do-with-unanswered-prayer

Jonah Chapter 3: Reach (Part 2)

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The question we ended with in the last article is one we’ll all ask at some point. How am I supposed to respond to the evil in this world? To answer that question, I think it would do well for us to first look at the reason for evil in our world.

Jonah 3:8 “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.”


Let’s do a quick review about the emphasis on the evil, wickedness, and violence in the city of Nineveh that we find in the book of Jonah. The Bible uses several different ways to describe the situation in Nineveh:

  • Jonah 3:8 they were living in an “evil way”
  • Jonah 3:8 there was much “violence that is in their hand”
  • Jonah 3:10 God wanted them to be “...turned from their evil way…”

Now, while the evilness of this city is obvious, this is also a not so subtle emphasis on the disobedience and rebellious attitude of Jonah. Jonah was unable to properly respond to the evil in the city because he was blinded by the evil in his own life. Somehow we Christians have found it quite easy to look at the evil and sin of others and condemn it while never quite recognizing our own sin and evil.

So before we begin correcting this problem, let me explain to you first where the evil in the world comes from and why it is such a problem in our world.

1st. When God is left out of our choices there will always be evil. This is the rebellion in all of our hearts.

Our natural instinct is to be selfish, therefore any decision made without Jesus is selfish. Do you understand that? When we’re born into this world, we’re born selfish. It’s not natural for anybody to serve God and serve others. It’s only natural to serve ourselves. So to keep God in the choices we make is going to be a conscious effort. Don’t ever think that somebody makes wise, godly decisions because they have that type of personality. Following God’s plan isn’t a matter of personality. It’s a matter of the heart. So seek God’s plan in every choice you make.

2nd. When there is a strict moral code, there will be evil. This is the religion in all of our hearts.

Look at the evil in Jonah’s life. He was angry, intense in his reaction to what God had done, and blatantly argumentative. He actually believed that he knew better than God about what should be done to the ‘heathen’ for what they were doing in their city.

Kim Jong Un is currently the dictating tyrant of North Korea who received a lot of publicity for his recent threats of war. He’s known as a selfish, proud man and he rules his people with no respect or concern for them. And yet they all worship him and go crazy when they see him. It’s actually really bizarre. But here’s the reason why. He has the power to imprison and even kill them. When his father died, many people were imprisoned because they did not cry enough or show enough grief at his funeral. That’s crazy! He even goes by the title “Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army.” Kim Jong Un has set himself in charge and is ruling with an incredibly strict and incredibly wrong moral code. The result is evil, misery, false affection, and forced adoration. There’s nothing healthy, pleasant, or sincere about it.

When we adhere to strict moral codes and set ourselves up as “supreme”, like Kim Jong Un or like Jonah, then we are going to have an inner wickedness about our lives that will cause us to have the same evil that we see in others.

It’s kind of shocking, and a little sad, at how aggressive the Bible is in exposing the rotten attitude in the heart of Jonah. I’m sure if Jonah had written this story he would have been like, “Yeah, let’s skip that part about me running from God. Oh and let’s skip that part about me being racist. Aaaand maybe that part about me pouting because God didn’t kill Nineveh.” But the Bible pulls no punches. God calls Jonah out and calls his judgmental attitude what it is: sin.

So before we start looking at others for their sins, let’s first take a look at our own life. 

If you’ve been reading this and all you can think about is, “Man, I hope so-and-so would read this. He’s so judgmental.” Than you better snap out of it, because that is a statement of a rebellious/religious person. That’s looking at someone else’s sin before your own. Watch out for your own religious or rebellious attitude first because that’s where evil comes from.