Sermon Blog

an interactive blog from winona lake grace brethren church

Outward Appearances – Jonah 1:7-16

May 10, 2018

If you met a man who drove up in a horse-drawn black buggy, and the guy had a full dark beard and no moustache, and he wore plain clothes with a broad-brimmed hat, and you noticed that he had buttons but no zippers, and his last name was Yoder, what ethnicity would you think he was? Pretty good guess you’d go with Amish and pretty good chance you’d be right. There is a certain look and custom that goes with the ethnicity.

In the same way, Hebrews then and now had certain dress requirements (tassels on clothing corners (Num 15:38), full sideburns (Lev 19:27), prayer shawl on, wearing tefillim (Deut 6:8), and so on). The Joppa sailors were well-traveled, and departing from Joppa in Israel they would certainly have been able to recognize a Jew on sight. For them to ask Jonah in 1:8, “Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” meant that Jonah was ditching all semblance of even outward obedience. It is equivalent to an Amish person who completely goes off the wagon and not only cuts off their beard, but wears baggy jeans and a hoodie as well. Jonah was not only fleeing God, he was fleeing his identity.

In 1:12, Jonah says, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea.” There are a couple of ways to look at this:

1)    Jonah had repented and trusts God to save him from drowning

2)    Jonah had repented and sees drowning as his fair punishment

3)    Jonah had NOT repented and would do anything to make sure the Ninevites never hear and get saved.

It does not record Jonah’s motives, but I think it is #3. He (maybe) thinks that if he commits suicide, then SURELY the Ninevites will have no one to warn them and then they will perish (which he thinks they deserve.) Boy, that is determination to do them harm! Jonah WANTS to die in order for the people of Nineveh to also die. Makes me think twice about wanting to name my kid Jonah! At least from what we see of him so far…

— SF

Posted in: Jonah, Uncategorized

Do We Rationalize Too? – Jonah 1:1-6

May 9, 2018

Obviously Jonah hadn’t recently been reading the Psalms in his morning devotions. Psalm 139:7 would have reminded him, “Where can I flee from your presence?” When Jonah bought his ticket to sail to the edge of the known world, he may have seen the availability of a ship in Tarshish as good luck, or even as God’s provision. Do we ever perceive seeing “open doors” as clear signs of God’s will? We often see what we want to see.

Could we also speculate that Jonah convinced himself he was quite brave to set out on a long, uncomfortable journey? Did he rationalize this sacrifice of personal comfort was worth it so he could have freedom from the ridiculous order from God to preach to Assyria’s brutal capitol city? Do we decide to opt for what appears to be the best choice for our lifestyle over the choice to get involved in serving God in messy situations?

When God allowed a storm to smash into the Spain-bound ship, Jonah was sound asleep in the hold where he thought no one, including God, could bother him. Do we ever hide? Some of us hide in church, even church ministry, where we can be safe from having to be a witness to a hostile world that needs to hear a message of hope about the Savior.

In Monday’s blog Josh brought to our attention how possessive Jonah was of God’s mercies to the nation of Israel. Jonah’s pride of nationalism couldn’t fathom the real possibility of God’s forgiveness if the military rulers in Ninevah repented of their inhumane practices. Do we believe God will enable us to obey Him even when it doesn’t make sense?

Although the story of Jonah may have been one of the narratives we heard in early-childhood Sunday School, over time we’ve been developing a more clear understanding and gratitude for God’s continual pursuit of us when we are tempted to rationalize our disobedience.

— ES

Posted in: Jonah, Uncategorized

The Fear of God – Isaiah 10:5-19

May 8, 2018

A few days ago a friend asked, “What does it mean to fear God?” Neither he nor I were satisfied with the frequent answer, “It is a reverential awe of God.” The dictionary definition of awe is only partly helpful: “veneration and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime. The archaic meaning, we’re told, is “dread, terror; the power to inspire dread.” Now, that’s a bit closer to the biblical use.

In a recent war the term “shock and awe” was used to describe the desired result of bombings in enemy territory. The enemy was to be shocked by the dreadful, deadly attacks in response to the wonder and power of the bombs and missiles. As we read through today’s passage, we are shocked at the cruelty of war. Assyria’s “plan [was] simply to destroy, to cut down nation after nation.” The king boasted, “We have finished off many a kingdom.”

It’s clear that God is going to use Assyria, a wicked, cruel nation, to punish his chosen people Israel. Why? Because of their sin and their departure from him. God describes them as “a godless nation,” “a people who anger me.” And he said that Assyria was “the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!” Assyria will “seize loot and snatch plunder, and . . . trample them down like mud in the streets.”

This scene raises one of the most difficult questions Bible students ask. It’s a conundrum, an enigma—a riddle or puzzle. How can God use evil to accomplish good? Why would he send an evil kingdom to war against his own people? It’s clear that he does so, because Isaiah quotes God as saying, “The king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool” (NLT).

One answer, of course, is that sin demands punishment. A righteous God cannot allow sin to go unpunished; he must render judgment. “Be sure your sin will find you out,” Moses warned Israel (Numbers 32:23). Another is that punishment, properly responded to, can produce confession, repentance, and restoration.

Keep in mind that this week’s Bible readings are preparing us for the study of Jonah. Without an understanding of who Assyria was, their intentions to destroy Israel, and God’s purposes in using them, we will not have the full picture of the significance of Jonah.

What can we learn from this preliminary study from Isaiah?

  • God’s purposes are to bring about worship as he demonstrates his holy character and gracious compassion.
  • God’s workings are for the good of his people, which often includes discipline like a parent would give his children. (“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. . . .  It produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 11).
  • Pride goes before a fall. God said, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.” After all, it was ultimately God who is punishing his children because of his love for them. He describes himself as the hand that used the “ax,” “saw,” “rod,” and “club” that subdued Israel. When God chooses to use us, whether in fighting against evil or doing good work, remember it is his choice to use us and his enabling that gives us any success at all.
  • We must not despair when we see evil apparently triumphing. God seems to delight in taking the bad and using it for good. Only he can do that! And why? For our good. See Romans 8:28-29.

— JD

Posted in: Jonah, Uncategorized

Introducing the complicated character of Jonah – 2 Kings 14:23-29

May 7, 2018

We are getting ready to begin a study in Jonah at WL this week, so you might initially wonder why we’re beginning the reading guide in 2 Kings – but read on in this passage, 2 Kings 14:23-29, and you will no doubt notice the significance: Jonah is mentioned!

Jeroboam is on the throne in Israel and is an evil king (vv.23-24), but nonetheless the Lord uses this wicked King because of His faithfulness to His people (v.27).  God had promised that He would not destroy Israel completely, so He used Jeroboam to accomplish this.  How so?  Well, Jeroboam solidified the border of his nation in order to protect them from enemy attack (v.225).  And through whom did God deliver this message to Jeroboam?  A prophet named Jonah.  Verse 25:

“[Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.”

This is the same Jonah who is the prophet in the book of Jonah, the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1).  So this passage in 2 Kings gives us some helpful background on Jonah before we dive into the book of Jonah, and here is what I find particularly interesting.  In Jonah, Jonah is the opposite of what a good prophet should be.  He’s not a good character in the story; in many ways, he’s the foil to the goodness of the main character (God).  The Lord comes to Jonah and tells him to go preach to the Ninevites, and what does he do?  He turns and runs the other way!  That’s the opposite of what a prophet of the Lord is called to do!  But it seems that Jonah was not always this way, because it sounds like Jonah did faithfully deliver the word of the Lord to King Jeroboam.  Jonah faithfully did his job there, speaking for the Lord.

This is important for us to realize as we head into the book of Jonah, because it orients ourselves to the character to realize that he was a prophet, speaking for the Lord, and he had seen the Lord do some great things.  It was through Jonah that the Lord had delivered this message to Jeroboam.  In a paradox, the reason Jonah runs from the Lord’s command in Jonah is because he knows the Lord – he says in chapter four that the reason he ran was because he knew the Lord was compassionate and merciful; he knew that the Lord would do something like save the Ninevites, and he didn’t like it.  How does he know this?  Well, probably because he had been a spokesman for the Lord and had seen Him work.

Today’s reading provides important context, because it gives us the part of the story where Jonah’s actually doing his job.  In Jonah, we’ll read all about how he failed and how he’s a terrible example of a prophet.  In 2 Kings, we read about how Jonah was doing his job of speaking for the Lord.  So given this, it paints an even more relatable picture: We can easily see ourselves in Jonah.  Nationalism that gets in the way of us loving others unlike us.  Pride that doesn’t want to see the Lord’s mercy shown to enemies.  Fear that leads to valuing our lives over God’s will.  Knowledge that makes us think we know better than God.

It is fitting that in a year in which our church’s theme involves “Press on!” we look at the life of Jonah.  Jonah didn’t; he was serving the Lord and then turned and ran the other way.  In this book we’re about to study, he didn’t press on… will you?

Posted in: Jonah, Uncategorized

Surround Sound for Christ-Followers – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

May 4, 2018

Imagine being in a room surrounded by the best quality speakers ever produced, and you’re listening to the music of the world’s best musicians. Actually, it’s a musical group on the other side of the planet, but because of the perfect sound reproduction of the speakers, it’s as if the musicians are in the same room with you. It’s a thrilling experience. You not only hear the music; you feel it.

We live in a culture of better and better sound, with everything from sound bars for TVs, to high-end speakers for sound systems, to noise-cancelling headphones for private listening, and even more and more powerful hearing aids. We don’t like the tinny sound of cheap speakers or headphones. Even cars are equipped with great speakers for amazing sound. Surround sound is specifically designed to take the listening experience to a new level. It works best if the listener is in the sweet spot where the audio effects are most impressive.

For Christ-followers, surround sound is precisely what we need. The world tries to fill our ears with a cacophony of the wrong kinds of sound. But we need to cancel that out and listen to the music coming from the other side of the universe. It’s the best music of all. The solution is God-speakers that surround us with high quality sound 24/7.

Paul wrote to the church(es) in Thessalonica about what it means to listen to God day-in-and-day-out. Worship is not a once-a-week event; listening to God and responding applies to every day and to everything we do.

Daily work consumes most of us much of the time: from housework, to homework, to yard work, to chores, to careers—we are consumed with work. Even retired people feel like they’re as busy as ever.

Yet as Emiline pointed out earlier in the week, it seems to be human nature—unfortunately—that we try to get away with doing as little as possible. We want to do what we want, not what someone tells us. Some people want to retire as early as possible so they can take it easy the rest of their lives. But God’s surround sound makes clear that there’s no place for half-hearted work for full-hearted Christ-followers.

“As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.” (Proverbs 26:14)

Paul challenged the Thessalonians to work as he did, laboring and toiling night and day, and not to be idle. There are two reasons:

  • For the community of believers to function well, each person needs to work hard to meet their own needs so they don’t become dependent on the rest of the group. (If some people appear to be hard workers but are “busybodies,” we should reprove them, if not disassociate from them.)
  • In order to win the respect of outsiders, Christ-followers should be good workers.

APPLICATION: For the full effect of the surround sound, it’s necessary for a listener to be in the sweet spot. Where is that sweet spot for listening to what God has communicated? How do we improve our listening, especially over the din of the world around us?

— DBS

Posted in: Uncategorized, Worship

Payment Due Upon Receipt – Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Jeremiah 22:13; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4

May 3, 2018

When I was a kid mowing lawns, I got paid cash immediately upon the completion of the job. My next job as a camp counselor, I got paid by check every two weeks. My first real full-time job I got paid by check twice a month. Then it was just a pay stub twice a month. Now I don’t even get a pay stub (unless I go fetch it), the money is just auto-deposited and auto-withdrawn, completely removing any tangible connection between work and reward.

The scriptures here are all very simple and straight-forward: when somebody completes work for you (employee or service), pay them right away. The Jewish commentaries on the Torah focused on edge cases but still preserved the spirit of the thing, which was that after the work was done, now that money belongs to someone else and to keep it is tantamount to theft. The New Testament commentaries referred to these sections of Torah as the Holiness Laws, but cautioned that it was easy to focus on observance as legalism and not holiness at all. But in all cases the idea is to pay workers right away their earned reward.

Ironically God does not SEEM to abide by this rule. His delay works both for good and bad: the wages of sin is death but it APPEARS to be greatly deferred. Similarly, the reward of eternal life also APPEARS to be greatly delayed. Sometimes the NT stresses that our “pay” is a gift, not earned (Rom 5:15-18, 6:23), and therefore should not be subject to OT salary rules, but elsewhere the NT does refer to wages in a positive light (Matt 20:8, Luke 10:17, 1 Tim 5:18).

Bottom line: there are many different economic models as pictures in the Scripture, such as work/salary, debts/payment, and wills/inheritances. These passages regulate work/salary in the normal employee/employer sense, but our salvation is more along the lines of covenants/inheritances, which are played out on much longer timelines. To the extent it is up to us, let us be prompt in paying. To the extent it is up to God, let us be patient in receiving.

 — SF
Posted in: Uncategorized, Worship

No Excuses for Underachievers – Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25

May 2, 2018

It may be human nature to try to get away with doing as little as possible, to justify half-heartedness because of being underpaid, or to join in with sarcasm at the water cooler, but what does the Lord look for in the Christian worker?

I spent several hours skimming through the book of Proverbs for guidelines regarding a work ethic and I discovered many admirable qualities. To go along with Paul’s admonitions in Ephesians and Colossians, Proverbs 15:3 reminds us, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” Later in chapter 26 there are no kind words for sluggards, then chapter 27 gives benefits for doing work carefully, and chapter 28 contrasts chasing after fantasies with profitably working one’s land.

Other notable phrases from Proverbs include: wise restraint, not exploiting, being teachable, and guarding the mouth.

The King in Matthew 25 declares, “. . . whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for Me.” It’s the same principle for how to serve employers. Mr. Boss Man may have few Christ-like characteristics, but when we show respect and have integrity, it’s as though we were respecting the King of Glory with sincerity and honesty.

All places of employment have problems because, unless everything is robotic, they are places where humans display a wide spectrum of habits, opinions, and worldviews. Clashes may occur regularly. Paul Tripp asked if we buy into the delusion that our biggest problems live outside of us and not inside us. We can easily become more upset about others’ sins than we are about our own. With God’s grace we can reach for the righteousness of Jesus when tempted to blame our troubles on the other guy.

The Bible really doesn’t allow any excuse for not doing our best in the workplace because we are to work as unto the Lord. If you are young or young at heart, remember the 1902 song by Howard Grose:

“Give of your best to the Master, Give of the strength of your youth. Clad in salvation’s full armor, join in the battle for Truth.”

— ES

Posted in: Uncategorized, Worship

Who’s the Boss? – 1 Peter 2:11-25

May 1, 2018

What have we been learning about worship? Whether it’s alone by ourselves in our private place, at home with the family, or with a small or large group, we can consciously give ourselves to worship. That is, we understand who God is (He has revealed himself) and we respond to him as the one who is worthy of honor, praise, and glory. That’s what worship is. The tough question to consider this week is how we do that in a work environment. On the factory floor, in the cubbyhole at the office, in the school room, on the road—whatever the place, how do we worship?

Maybe we can find some help in the instruction Peter gives to those he describes as aliens and strangers (foreigners) in the world. And some of us are indeed “aliens” in our work place—often alone or in a small minority of Christians. How do Peter’s instructions about sin, authority, and suffering relate to our work environment?

First, we are to “Stay away from worldly desires” (v. 11, NLT). Why? First of all, we may be too weak to resist them, especially if they present themselves eight hours a day, five days a week. And, because living above sin is a positive witness to those we work with, leaving them with no grounds to accuse us of doing wrong. We should live among them in such a way that they can see our “good deeds” and glorify God. As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:16).

What is to be our attitude toward the boss? Peter’s simple statement is “Submit yourselves … to every human authority (v. 13). Why? “For the Lord’s sake.” It is God’s will” (v. 15). Again, it is an unassailable witness to those who work around us. Peter writes, “By doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” In this context, the author reminds us of what good conduct includes: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (v. 17). In this case, should we say, “Honor the boss”?

Verse 18 introduces a very unpopular—and often confusing subject: suffering. Peter addresses slaves. You might think you’re a slave to your boss, working in a very difficult place under really unreasonable authority. It’s especially difficult if it’s almost every day in the workplace.   Peter offers counsel that may accomplish two ends: your peaceful satisfaction as God’s obedient servant despite the circumstances, and your positive witness to your taskmaster.

Have you worked for years without commendation? Or been overlooked for a well-deserved promotion? Do others blame you when an account is lost? Have you been fired unjustly with no recourse? You may ask, “How can we endure such mistreatment?” We must follow the example of Christ who “did not retaliate” and “made no threats” (which may be our inclination). Instead, as Jesus did, we should trust God and leave the results to him (v. 23). Paul had told the Romans, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12, 17, 19).

Are you working in a terrible place for an unreasonable boss? Live above sin, respect your boss, and be willing to “take the heat” unjustly. As you live consistently, God will give you peace, and your witness may influence others toward God. If you work in a more tolerable situation, praise God and continue to worship him by serving well at your work place.

— JD

Posted in: Uncategorized, Worship

Do everything to the glory of God – Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31

April 30, 2018

There’s a funny little thing that I do, sometimes almost unknowingly, that I’m sure will be all too familiar for those reading this post: I tend to filter events through a lens of making myself look better.  In other words, maybe when I’m retelling a story I will filter out some of the ugly parts and just tell it in such a way as to make me look better.

This is no surprise, becasue we all fundamentally are bent toward seeking our own glory.  But here’s the problem with that: we should seek the glory of the One who is most glorious and in whom is the most pleasure and who is most worthy, and we are not Him.  We are a far cry from Him.  The Bible makes it clear that we should do all things to the glory of God, because HE is the most glorious, in HIM is the fullest pleasure found, and HE is most worthy.  We should seek God’s glory, not our own.

But this is not something we do naturally as unbelievers; in fact, even those ‘good’ things that we do apart from Christ are not actually good, because we are not doing all to the glory of God as the Bible commands.  We need to have our hearts changed by God, to be drawn by Him toward Him, to see even a glimpse of His glory.  And when that happens, our lives should change from being about glorifying self to being about glorifying God.

That’s what the Bible commands us to do, as we see in today’s reading.  Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  And in 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul writes something similar, saying, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  The Bible is very clear: whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.

God is all about His own glory, and as we are transformed by His Spirit we too become more and more about God’s glory!  Therefore, whatever we do, we should be striving to glorify Him – striving to please God, praise God, thank God, and pursue God.  We see in these two verses that we are to: 1) glorify God in all things; 2) do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus; and 3) give thanks to God in all things.  Our lives should be marked by a desire to glorify God, by living to do things in the name of God, and thanking God.

So what does this mean for you?  It means that in the menial tasks at work, in those difficult moments with your kids, in the homework that seems pointless, in the time that feels wasted in traffic, in that quick bite to eat at McDonalds – and so on and so forth – we are to be glorifying God.  How?  Take the time to dwell on God’s glory, be motivated to glorify Him rather than self, do things in the name of the Lord, and be thankful for the blessings He has given you.

We would do well to heed the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Our lives should be marked by that idea: God must be glorified in all things, not me.

Posted in: Uncategorized, Worship

The See-Saw of Worship – 1 Corinthians 14:1-39

April 27, 2018

Maybe you remember the days of your childhood and looking forward to recess on the playground. (For some of us, that’s almost too long ago.) See-saws could be a lot of fun, as long as you didn’t mind the height on one end, or as long as the person opposite your end didn’t jump off unexpectedly, and you went crashing to the ground. Ouch!

This devotional is about a lesson from the see-saw. But first, we need to think about the culture of worship.

For most of us, when we think of worship, we intuitively think of a church service. We even designate certain services as a “Worship Service.” Over time many different cultures of corporate worship have developed: from very formal and liturgical, to very informal and non-liturgical; from very quiet and subdued, to very loud and energetic; from very ancient to very modern. (Question: Is there a right or wrong way to worship with other believers? Or is it a matter of preference?)

In most cases, the context of corporate worship is Christians gathering for that purpose. Today’s text tells us about forms of worship in the church at Corinth, but the issues there are too complex to deal with in this short blog. Yet one thing stands out: it was not a few leading worship, but everyone (see vs. 26). True, the church had leaders, such as “prophets” and pastors. But the community of believers came together and individually sought to strengthen, encourage, and comfort one another (vs. 3) with the goal of building up the church (vs. 12). Now that’s a brilliant idea.

But what does it suggest for us? Maybe we should re-envision worship along biblical lines and encourage the whole body to become agents of worship. As Josh pointed out earlier this week, “We often think of worship as taking place at the church, whereas biblically we should think of worship as taking place as the church.” But how would that work? Perhaps in ABFs and Sunday School classes a member of the class could share a “worship thought” each week, something about God or about the Christian life designed to encourage one another. This could happen in small groups as well, or one-on-one over coffee or lunch.

There’s much to consider about corporate worship, but let’s return to the see-saw analogy. At its core, worship is our response to who God is and to what He does, whether in a “worship service,” in the home, at school or work, yes, everywhere.

Here’s how it works. The more amazing God is—high and lifted up—and the more humbled we are—low and unworthy, we are in position for true worship. The higher God’s end of the see-saw and the lower our end, the more we gain a perspective of his greatness and a sense of our dependence.

But consider what happens if God’s end of the teeter-totter descends and becomes almost level with ours. God’s glory and surpassing goodness becomes less impressive, and we become more impressed by our own self-sufficiency. We don’t need God, and we don’t need to do what He says. Now that’s a recipe for disaster.

And there you have what’s wrong with our 21st century world and even with the church. We have domesticated God and risen above him on the see-saw. For some people, God is effectively dead. For all people, the full greatness, majesty, and holiness of God are not given due respect and worship. In effect, we have become too big for our britches.

— DBS

Posted in: Uncategorized, Worship