Nineveh and The Cross

 The Book of Jonah is milk for babies, entertainment for the weak, an interesting story or fable for the unbelievers but it is “solid food for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” ( Hebrews 5:14 )

Jonah was called upon by God to deliver a prophecy to the great city of Nineveh.  But instead of obeying, he fled from the presence of the Lord.  The rest of the story is simple.  He thought that Tarshish would be far enough away that God’s call would not be heard.  Tarshish was as far west from where Jonah was as Nineveh was to the east.  Yet, in reading what Jonah recounts in his narrative, it wasn’t far enough.  It’s sad that Jonah had not read what David had said 200 years earlier when he wrote Psalm 139, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”  David’s revelation of his place in God’s hand was simple, for in his psalm, a song of praise to God for His omniscience and his omnipresence, David said, “Where shall I go from Your spirit?  Or where shall I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”

As Christians, we all have a calling to a Nineveh.  There is something somewhere that God wants us to do for His kingdom.  And try as we might, we cannot ever get so far away that His voice can’t reach us!

And our Nineveh is like the cross that Jesus said to take.  In Matthew 19, in response to a young man who told Jesus that he had kept the commandments but felt that he still needed to do something to gain eternal life, Jesus said, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.  But the young man walked away from Jesus grieving because he was wealthy with many possessions.

That young man heard about his own Nineveh that day and left God’s presence.  He didn’t totally understand who Jesus was, that’s obvious, but he knew enough to ask Him what it would take for him to gain eternal life and though there is nothing further in Scriptures to tell us of that man’s life after his encounter with Christ, I believe that what David said in Psalm 139 applied to that confused young man as well.

Even the closest disciples to Jesus still had the wrong idea about the kingdom that He had talked about.  They still had worldly expectations.   In Matthew 16:24, Jesus was speaking to His disciples when He said, If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  The disciples were still thinking of riches and honor.  Denial meant the same to the disciples as it did to the wealthy young man.  

To follow Jesus is to leave all of the worldly attachments behind. .  come follow Me

To take up the cross, to head toward Nineveh must be done by every Christian.  No matter how far, how painful, shameful or dangerous.  To each of us there is a long trek to Nineveh, a cross that we must carry.  And to that journey, that burden, we must quietly and humbly submit.

Following Christ, carrying His cross, going to Nineveh requires us to set aside our own plans and expectations.  It is a daily commitment to our Savior.  We will need determination, patience and endurance.  We will need to be walking in and with His Holy Spirit.  We will need the zeal that drove Christ’s Gospel throughout the ages.  We will need the same courage that held up all those who have been martyred for His Gospel since Stephen was first stoned by Saul and his followers.  We will need to keep the vision of Simon carrying the cross that would soon hold up for all to see our Savior and Lord. 

Good, Pleasing and Perfect

Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
 
In our Christian walk we all want and need to know God’s will.  We struggle each day trying to go His way, often knowing at the end of the day that we failed.  Somehow we missed His directives, didn’t hear or heed His voice, and once again our flesh was the winner.
 
Knowing and pursuing His will is never easy but wouldn’t we can be more apt to hit the mark if we obeyed the command in that verse and “renewed” our minds?
 
Every moment that we spend in reading the Bible, in prayer and in serious study and meditation on God’s Word, we are renewing our minds and strengthening our spirit.
 
The Apostle Paul knew first hand of the struggle to please the LORD and being unable to do that all of the time.  He said in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.”
 
If we could just obey the Spirit and not the flesh life would be so much easier.  But therein lies the catch. What the flesh wants to do is opposed to what His Spirit that is within us wants us to do.  Even Paul, who knew and understood these things better than anyone, struggled.  He said in Galatians 5:17, ” For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.”
 
One would think that it would be so easy!  With the Spirit of God, the “Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4) dwelling within us, there should be no problem.  But we are by nature, flesh and human.  As we stand on this earth and until we are released from these bodies of flesh, there will be a conflict.
 
Even as a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and godly thoughts and desires rise within us, we find ourselves crippled by the longings of our flesh. 
 
The Apostle Paul discovered the truth of the battle.  He learned that his own resources were not enough to be the victor in that battle.  He had the godly desires.
In Romans 7 he said, “For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law.”  But in spite of what his “inner self” agreed with, it was his outer self that seemed to always win out.  He explained it further by saying “But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.”  The Apostle Paul, who had once looked into the face of his Savior on that lonely road to Damascus, now faced his own carnality.  He discovered that the pull of sin was greater than his own strength and he knew he must call for help. Facing this overwhelming battle, he cried, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.”
 
If we begin each day, setting our mind on Christ, there will still be a battle, but as Paul confessed, we will be slaves to the laws of God and we will find that walking in and by His Spirit gives us the resources of a victorious Christ and His Spirit, and that life in Christ will set us free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2

Dear Jesus,
No matter how hard I try, I fail to do all that my heart desires me to do for You.  My best and holiest intentions fail and I end up, at the end of the day, defeated by my own flesh.  As Paul cried out to you, I do as well.  Strengthen me by Your Holy Spirit against the desire of my flesh to conform to this world.  Give me Your mercy for my failures and Your grace to humble me so that I will know to call on You.  Transform my own mind by Your Word so that I will have the weapons to win the battle for as long as You allow me to continue.  LORD of all, You know when I sit down and when I stand up so please guide me into Your good and perfect will.  Amen

God Is Love

Our ladies Sunday school class just completed a three-month study through the OT books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.  And in those two books alone, I think I counted 57 times that the word “destroy(ed)” was used.  It was either God Himself destroying cities or people or He was telling Israel to do so.  And the word “destroy” used in those Scriptures has quite a few varied meanings in the original language but they all mean about the same thing, that is, to pull down, break up, kill, annihilate.
 
If we only read those verses or some of the many others throughout the Bible, we would have a picture of God that did not support the idea that He is merciful, loving, just and good.  And it would be nearly impossible to ever show God’s love to anyone.
 
The problem lies in our inability to judge God’s actions by any, other than our own.  The carnal man is evil, retaliates evil for evil, has no good in him.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:17, And He said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but One, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
 
Jesus Christ was God’s representative on earth and He said, But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”                (Matthew 5:44-45  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205:4445&version=KJV)   
 
And in John 14:9, Jesus said to Philip, The one who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/search=John+14:9&version=HCSB)
 
That is the Father we have in heaven.  He is loving and forgiving, even to those who hate Him and He wants us to act the same.  And by that we can be sure that He doesn’t go around killing people for no good reason.
 
Some unbelievers compare the Christians of Christianity to the Muslims of Islam.  They try to compare the “Christianity” of the Crusades to the Muslim killing of non-Muslims today.  They accuse the true and living God of killing the innocent.  But the so-called “Christianity” of the dark ages was not true Christianity, any more than Catholicism is today.  (I suspect I will get flack about that statement but sadly for the most part it is true.)
 
The truth is, the Crusades were acts of violence and death that were declared by popes Leo IV and John VIII.  They commanded the killing of unbelievers and claimed that those murders could erase the sins of the “Christian” soldiers thus becoming a great spiritual benefit to them.  And in 1095 another pope, Pope Urban II began the First Crusade.  He declared that the killing of Muslims was a type of penance for the remission of sins.
 
As Christians we know that true remission of sin cannot be achieved by any sort of “penance”, as penance is described by the Catholic church as a “sacrament, a voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for a sin that brings absolution.” 

The only remission that is available to sinners is faith in Jesus Christ.  In Romans 1, Paul says emphatically that the Gospel is God’s power for salvation (vs.16)
( http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%201&version=HCSB )  
And in Galatians the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins to rescue us and that was by the will of God the Father.  He then goes on to say that they had so soon turned from the true Gospel of Christ to a “different gospel”.  Paul says that he could have preached a gospel that was based on human thought, but that would not have been the truth.  Instead he chose to strive to please God not people and taught the Gospel that came from a revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.
( http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%201&version=HCSB

When the Catholic church declared the beginning of the Crusades, that ideology nor the actions that followed could be supported by Scripture and were not an expression of true Christian faith.   And neither did it have anything to do with trying to convert the masses.  Sadly today, within the communities of the Muslims, many still call for such actions which are truly not efforts to convert the masses either.   And these radicals try to justify the killing of people to spread Islam saying things like, “But the God of Israel sent the Israelites into Canaan with the command to kill all the inhabitants, the Canaanites and the Amalekites, so the Muslims aren’t any different.”   But the fact is, they are. 

God directed the Israelites to destroy the people in Canaan, not to force them to worship Him, but because of their evil ways, their idolatry.  Not because He enjoyed killing people, but because of their wickedness.  And in Numbers 14:9, we can read that there was a time when God protected those who dwelt in Canaan.  In that verse Joshua and Caleb say to the children of Israel, “Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.”
(http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers%2014&version=KJV)

Their defence was ‘departed from them’ which means that once they had been protected, but now they are only ‘bread’ for the Israelites.
 
As the Muslim influence tries to invade farther and farther into America, we will have to draw a line in the sand.  I don’t think we are far from that day. . . . .
 

Obedient Heart

Remember the old TV series, “I Dream of Jeannie” of the late 60’s? I can’t help but think that we all do.  And likely all of us thought about what we would wish for if we happened upon a Genie in a bottle or a lamp like Aladdin’s. Would it have been a big house, lots of money, a new car or some other mere tangible thing?

And the answer to that is most likely yes as well. The idea of getting something for nothing is part of the human frailty or human nature or what the Scriptures call the flesh or carnal mind. Sadly, there is no total deliverance from our human nature until Jesus returns. We will have to work against it and as the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:18  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
And in Romans 8:5  he said,  “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
From that we can see that the battle is in the mind, it’s what we set our minds on that is important!

There once was a man to whom God said, “Ask. What should I give you?” Solomon was that man.  And to that question, Solomon replied, “You have shown great and faithful love to Your servant, my father David, because he walked before You in faithfulness, righteousness, and integrity. You have continued this great and faithful love for him by giving him a son to sit on his throne, as it is today. LORD my God, You have now made Your servant king in my father David’s place. Yet I am just a youth with no experience in leadership. Your servant is among Your people You have chosen, a people too numerous to be numbered or counted.  So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
(http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20kings%203:5-9&version=HCSB)

Far better was this chance to have every dream fulfilled than even Aladdin’s lamp or a genie in a bottle, but Solomon chose to ask for an obedient heart and the wisdom to be able to discern between good and evil.

Many times in our walk with Christ we will be given tasks that seem overwhelming at first glance. And that is when we need to be as humble as Solomon and ask God to give us an obedient heart and discernment. In James 1:5  we are told to ask God for wisdom and it will be given generously and without reproach, which means without reprimanding or contempt. God knows our need of wisdom even before we ask for it.

God did not promise us wealth, but He did promise to meet your needs. But it is human nature to think of our wants as though they are our needs. God wants us to put Him first in everything. He wants us to fill our minds with His desires, to imitate Him and serve and obey Him.

Money can’t buy wisdom or God’s blessing, but through our worship we can express to God that we are committed to walking with Him according to His ways. Our obedience is a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God. And in Romans we can read where Paul said that obedience leads to righteousness.  (Romans 6:16
 
We can chase after great wealth, fame or glory OR we can live humbly before God according to His ways, honoring Him by reading and studying and obeying His Word, living peaceably with each other, helping each other, setting others before ourselves, seeking no honor or fame and using that which God blesses us with to bless others.

Lord God, giver of life and creator of all things, seen and unseen, I thank You for investing Your life in us and planting in us the life-giving seed of Your word.   I praise You for the changes Your word has already brought into our lives. By Your grace Lord, give each of us a desperate need for more of Your word, the word of Your grace which is able to deliver our souls from all that is destructive and refill us with all that is edifying and sanctifying. And as we begin a new week Lord, give each of us new opportunities to show honor and glory to You alone Lord, as we Your servants, in humility and gentleness reflect Your light to a dark world. Amen.

If Christ Had Not Come

Last night Skip and I had the pleasure of seeing the Christian film, “Courageous”. 
And I will plug the movie by telling you, if you have an opportunity to see it, do!!

As we were driving home from Gainesville, we were talking about the film and this thought crossed my mind. .
What if Christ had never been born?
What if there was no Christmas?

Now that’s not to say that Jesus Christ did not exist, I am just asking what life might be like if God had not sent Him to live as the Man of sorrows, allowing Him to remain seated on the throne.

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anyone consider the ramifications!!

So here are my thoughts on the question. . . . .

First of all, there would be no Bible.  Oh, the Jews might still have their Hebrew Bible which includes the Torah, but the Bible as we know it, with the 27 books of the New Testament would never have been printed.  And the Old Testament would be a lot shorter because it would not include the 366 prophecies concerning Jesus Christ, which by the way, have all been fulfilled against one in a million million odds!

If Christ had not been born in that little town of Bethlehem and we didn’t have the Bible with the New Testament, we could not know God.  In John 14:9, Jesus said, the one who has seen Me has seen the Father“.  God is revealed in the Bible.  And the Bible is the revelation of Christ.

If there were no Bibles, if Jesus had not been born, if we could not know God then our sins could not be forgiven.  God is holy, and as our holy God, though He might want to enjoy our fellowship, He cannot, for we are sinners.  But Jesus came so that our sins could be forgiven and we could know God and have fellowship with Him. 

No Bibles, no Jesus, don’t know God, no prayers answered, in fact, no reason to pray! 
Without Jesus as our Great High Priest, interceding for us, there would be no reason to pray.  Quite possibly, that word ‘pray’ would never have been spoken!
In Hebrews 4:14-19 we can read,  “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”  (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews%204&version=HCSB

And in Hebrews 9:11 & 12 it says, ” But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation),  He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”  (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/search=Hebrews+9&version=HCSB)

In the movie “Courageous”, the main character’s daughter, a beautiful 9-year-old is killed in an auto accident.  The family is devastated.  But at her funeral, their pastor reminds them of the hope that is in Christ Jesus. 
If Jesus Christ had never come in the flesh, if there was no Christmas, no Bible, no revelation of Himself in His Word, if we were still in our sins and prayers had never been uttered, we would be as ships tossed about on the sea without an anchor.  And isn’t it amazing that the words “hope” and “anchor” are in the same verse. . .

Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”

But praise God, He did come!!  He was born of a virgin, lived without sin, walked and talked and preached and taught.  And when the time came, He laid Himself on that cross so that as He was lifted up, He could draw all men to Himself. John 12:32 
 
Colossians 1:27 tells us that “God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Some days this life on earth seems hopeless.  Trouble all around, finances crumbling, crime on the rise, but imagine for one moment what life on earth would be like if Jesus had never graced this soil with the touch of His perfect feet.  No imagination can create the horrors that would be the everyday existence of humanity if Christ had chosen to remain in heaven.

Instead we have hope. . . .Look for yourself. . . .take time to read about our hope. . . .

To Be Full

Ephesians 3:19-21 tells us, “and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us —  to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
 
In verse 19 Paul prayed that believers would “know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so they could be filled with all the fullness of God.” 
If we truly know the Messiah’s love that surpasses all knowledge and are filled with all the fullness of God, what qualities should we have?
 
Obviously, humility, gentleness, meekness and mildness should be most evident in us.  And we should live and walk in obedience and repentance.  And if we consider those attributes and we know that we see them in Christ, then we can be sure they should be seen in us.  And not just a outward display or a persona, a facade, they must be part of our very being.
 
In verses 20 & 21, the apostle says, “Now in Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”
 
I love that word ‘ABUNDANTLY’ as the Apostle Paul uses it in that verse. And when I consider the synonyms: copious, luxuriant, extravagant, super abounding and I think about how vast are the things that even I can ask or think, I am made more aware of His power.
 
Galatians 2:20 tells us that Christ lives in us, that the life we live is not us but Him in us and in Romans 8:9 says that the Spirit of Christ is in us. So there is the power, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is in us. And that word “power” is from the Greek “dynamis” and is the root word from which we get the word dynamite.

LORD God of all that is seen and unseen, we see the blue sky but cannot measure it, we see the oceans but their depths are unfathomable.  Both have breadth without  bounds, length without measure, and depth without a bottom and we know that Your love for us is as wide and as deep.  Before time You loved us.  Quicken our hearts to sing praises loud and with joyful exuberance as Paul did.  Excite within us a need to praise and worship You as vast and as deep as Your love for us.  We thank you for today and all the blessings You have given us through Your Word.  We thank you that the power that is at work within us is You. Amen

The Inner Man

Ephesians 3:14-19, “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
 
How does one gain strength in the “inner man” except by the Spirit of God.  Self help books can’t do it, will power is only as strong as the human mind will allow it to be, so except that God by His power, grant us that strength, we are weak, frail humans.  And faith is more than accepting something as truth. Paul is praying that his readers would grow in their intimacy with the Lord and have more than just a surface relationship. Galatians 2:20 says that Christ lives in us, that the life we live is not us but Him in us and Romans 8:9 tells us that the Spirit of Christ is in us. This means that we need not approach spiritual problems using our mental or physical abilities or human understanding. 
 
The nowledge of Christ’s love is experienced in relationship with other believers. That is why Paul was careful to add the phrase “with all saints”. Such is the nature of God’s love that it cannot be experienced or appreciated in a vacuum. Christian love grows in the context of Christian relationships. Paul’s prayer at this point reminds us that as believers we need other Christians to experience God’s love in it’s fullness.
 
Paul longed for believers to experience the love of Christ in all it’s dimensions. He used words that describe references to measurements like the LENGTH of His love through all eternity, the WIDTH of His love to all mankind, both Jew and Gentile, the HEIGHT of His love in the praise of His Glory, and the DEPTH of His love to the most evil sinner.
 
The Scottish minister Robbert Murray McCheyne once wrote, “This river of love began to flow before the world was; from everlasting, from the beginning, before ever the earth was. Christ’s love to us is as old as the Father’s love to the Son. This river of light began to stream from Jesus towards us, before the beams poured from the sun; before the rivers flowed to the ocean; before angel loved angel, or man loved man: before creatures were, Christ loved us. This is a great mystery; who can fathom it? This love passes knowledge.”
 
Paul prayed that believers would be “filled with all the fullness of God.”
 
While we will never fully understand the magnitude of His love for us, at least, not on this side of heaven, spending time in prayer and in His Word will help us if we allow His Holy Spirit to reign within our hearts and minds.