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Money Talks - But What Is It Really Saying? For such a time as this
1 Chronicles 29:1-20
1 Chronicles 29:1-20
I had the unique privilege of being pastor of two churches which have had long and illustrative histories, the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Time and again our spiritual forefathers have risen to the occasion when the hour of need has come. Down through history those before us have sacrificed and served that we might enjoy the benefits of their labor. We are deeply indebted to them. Our children have had the opportunity to be saved and grow up in the faith of God through these ministries because so many sacrificed so much in years gone by. Now, the baton has passed to us. We must do the same for the future! May our children and grandchildren look back upon us and remember us as a people of faith. We have come to the kingdom “for such a time as this.”
One of the most informative, instructional, and inspirational passages in all of Scripture is found in the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters of the first book of Chronicles. David and his people were confronted with a challenge similar to the one facing those of us who are expanding church buildings. The time had come to build the temple in Jerusalem. It was to be the physical edifice where God would meet his people. After all the years in Egyptian bondage, after all the years of wilderness wanderings, after all the years of conquering Canaan, through the times of Judges and the reign of Saul and David, at last the glorious moment for the building of the temple had come. King David seized the opportunity to raise the money for the building of the magnificent edifice where Jehovah God would meet with His people for centuries to come.
David knew his whole life had been meant for that one special moment. What if you knew your whole life was meant for one special moment? What if you knew that all of your life God had prepared you to give and to prepare “for such a time as this.” Like Esther who would come after him, David had come to his kingdom “for such a time as this.” No wonder if was so easy to lead his people to give the necessary funds for the construction of the temple. It was the opportunity and moment of a lifetime, and God’s hand was upon him.
How did the Israelites do it? How did they raise such a vast sum of money for the building of the temple? They followed seven vital principles to victory. How can we do it as a family of faith? The answer is found in the pattern and principles left for us by the ancient Israelites. They left us some scriptural guidelines for supernatural giving “for such a time as this.” These guidelines have to do with the occasion of our giving, the order of our giving, the origin of our giving, the object of our giving, the opportunity of our giving, the objective of our giving, and the outcome of our giving.
Principle No. 1: The occasion of our giving
“… the temple is not for man but for the Lord God.” 1 Chronicles 29:1
“Furthermore King David said to all the assembly: ‘My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced; and the work is great, because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God’” (1 Chr. 29:1).
Was the building of this magnificent temple something David thought up himself? Was it the brainchild of his constituency? No, a thousand times no! The occasion of their giving was God-caused. God had initiated the need of the temple and God had given David the plan for building it.
Consider the following Scriptures: “And the plans for all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord, of all the chambers all around, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries for the dedicated things” (1 Chr. 28:12). “All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans” (1 Chr. 28:19). “And David said to his son Solomon, ‘Bes strong and of good courage, and do it; do not fear nor be dismayed for the Lord God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord’” (1 Chr. 28:20).
God had caused the need and God had given David the plan for carrying it out. The temple was not the imagination of a man’s mind. It was initiated and orchestrated by God himself. The occasion of the Israelites giving was God-caused and God-directed.
David placed before his people the greatness of the task. He said, “The work is great” (1 Chr. 29:1). People then and people now want to be a part of something that is great for God! Yes, the task is great for us. Do you know why some people in some churches never give of their resources willingly and joyfully? They do not believe the work is great. For some of them it has become a mere ecclesiastical ritual to be performed on Sunday morning so they might see themselves as respectable.
When we built a new church plant in Fort Lauderdale, I asked our people some questions. Do you think what God is doing through our First Baptist Church is important? Do you think it is a great work? Do you think it is not for man but for God? If so, you realize the occasion of our giving like the Israelites is God-initiated and not man-initiated. David gives us the true reason why the work was great? Why? Because “the temple is not for man but for the Lord God” (1 Chr. 29:1). This is why we were involved in that great work in Fort Lauderdale. It was not for us; it was for a testimony to God. Long after every one of us in heaven, people by the tens of thousands will pass those facilities and see that there was a people of faith who responded to a God-caused need who rose to the occasion of raising up a cross in the heart of a hell-bent, sinful city. The work is great! Why? Because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God.
What is the occasion of our giving? God’s blessings brought about our needs. We were a God-blessed people. We would not need new facilities if we were a dead church. We would not need new facilities if we did not sense the urgency of the hour in reaching masse of men and women for Christ. We would not need new facilities if we existed solely for those who are here now, instead of those who are yet without our walls. We would not need new facilities we had no vision. The truth is, we did not create the need. God did! The need before us was an invitation from God for each of us to discover how wonderfully He can provide.
The building of new facilities did not originate with us. We did everything we could for ten years to keep reaching people for Christ without constructing buildings. When one Sunday school was full we started another, then a third. When one worship service was full, we started a second, and then a third. God’s blessings and the impression of His Spirit upon our hearts brought about our needs. And since God’s former blessings brought about our need, we could be sure that God’s future blessings would be sufficient to meet the needs the former blessings caused!
What is the occasion of our giving? Like the Israelites, God has taken the initiative. The occasion of our giving is God-directed and God-initiated. This is an important principle to victory.
Principle No. 2: The order of our giving
“… I have given to the house of my God… my own special treasure… Then the leaders… the captains…with the officers over the kings’ work, offered willingly.” 1 Chronicles 29:2-9
“Now for the house of my God I have prepared with all my might: gold for things to be made of gold, silver for things of silver, bronze for things of bronze, iron for things of iron, wood for things of wood, onyx stones, stones to be set, glistening stones of various colors, all kinds of precious stones, and marble slabs in abundance. Moreover, because I have set my affection on the house of my God, I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house, my own special treasure of gold and silver: three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses; the gold for things of gold and the silver for things of silver, and for all kinds of work to be done by the hands of craftsmen. Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”
“Then the leaders of the fathers’ houses, leaders of the tribes of Israel, the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the officers over the king’s work, offered willingly. They gave for the work of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, into the hand of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the Lord; and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chr. 29:2-9)
The proper order of our giving is a vital principle to victory (note who led the way in giving). The people? No. The leadership? No. David himself :the leader. David said, “I have given my own special treasure of gold and silver” (1 Chr. 29:3). David told his people what he and his family were going to do. He was giving out of his personal treasures. Some men are used to doing things out of expense accounts. David did not take money out of the government treasury to meet a need. He gave of his own personal treasures. It is interesting that David told them exactly what he and his family were going to do. He let them know he was giving one hundred twelve and a half tons of gold and two hundred sixty-two and a half tons of silver. What led David to give so liberally and sacrificially? He had “set his affection upon the house of his God.” He had devoted his heart to it.
David did not simply give his personal time. There are a lot of leaders who do that. Nor did David simply give of his personal talent. Still other leaders do this. David gave of his personal treasure for the construction of the temple and it was over and above his regular giving. Note the order of the giving. First, David gave. Then the leadership gave. Then the people gave.
Examples are vitally important. Here we see David setting the example. He is practicing what Gideon preached when he said to his men, “Do as I do.” It is the same principle Pail would use later when he wrote to the Philippians and said, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). It as the same principle Paul used when he wrote the Corinthian church saying, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
David made a sacrifice. Earlier he had said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). David did not say, “Well, God, I am a very wealthy man. I’ll give you out of my abundance. Here is a little token, a little tip. You know what the market has been lately. The elections are right around the corner. The economy is so unsettled. Interest rates are still quite questionable.” No, David didn’t say those things. He led by example. He gave a sacrificial gift out of his personal treasury.
As a pastor, I wrestled with this. On the surface it appears to be that Scripture is in contradiction. David specifically tells the people the amount of his personal gift, and yet I remember that Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount that we should not let one hand know what our other hand is doing. There are many that are quick to point to these words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Is the Scripture in conflict? Was David out of line here? Let’s note carefully the words Jesus preached on the grassy hillside in Galilee:
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:1-8).
Does Jesus mean that all giving is to be done in secret? If so, in the context, it must mean that all praying is to be done in secret. We know this is certainly not the case because as we read the Gospels we find the Lord Jesus praying publicly on almost every page and three times from the cross itself! The key to understanding this passage is to note the type of giving Jesus was discussing in the Sermon on the Mount. It was “giving to the needy.” The King James Version translates it “alms.” This was the specific type of giving which Jesus was referring to that should be done in secret. He was reacting to the custom of the blowing of the trumpets when a rich man would walk through the lines of poor beggars and toss in a few coins. The Lord Jesus was not referring to all giving here any more than he was referring to all praying being done in secret in the same context. What are we saying? David was right in doing what he did because his motives and his heart were pure.
David was setting the example for his people as a leader should do. When the people found out that he was committed, they gave willingly. That puts the pastor on the spot, doesn’t it? When we led our churches in major giving programs our family prayed much about what we would do with our personal treasures. Like King David, we shared with our people what God led us to do. It is the price of leadership. And we have never once been able to outgive Him. We have seen the truth and the proof of Luke 6:38 over and over again. It says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into you bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Like David, we find great joy in giving. What is the order of our giving? The very word “leader” implies paving the way not just with time and talent but also with treasure.
An interesting thing happens next. David did not simply give his testimony, sit down and leave it at that. He challenged his people. He was not afraid to ask his people to join him giving. As soon as he told them what he was going to do, he asked this question, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?” (1 Chr. 29:5).
The result of David’s challenge was overwhelming. The people gave “willingly.” The Bible records, “Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the Lord; and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chr. 29:9). They rejoiced at their leader’s sacrifice and they rose to the meet the challenge. The people of God always rise to meet a God-caused challenge!
It is important to note that David did not ask the others to do anything that he had not done himself. He had led the way by example. He didn’t say, “I’ll leave it to the princes and people to come up with the necessary funds for the construction of the temple. I’ll give my time and my talent but I’ll let the rich people do the rest.” No! David led by example. He said, “Now for the house of my God I have prepared with all my might” (1 Chr. 29:2). Then he challenged the people, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?” (1 Chr. 29:5). The first words of the very next verse speak volumes, “Then the leaders of the fathers’ houses, leaders of the tribes of Israel, the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the officers over the king’s work, offered willingly.”
It is a probing question, “Who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord?” At least give critical questions arise out of this verse. WHO? This is the real probing question. Will you? WHAT? What is it that David is challenging the people to do? He is challenging them to consecrate themselves to God. There is an important order to follow here. They were first to give themselves. Then they were to give of their treasure. This is the way the Macedonians gave and were commended for all posterity by the apostle Paul. He said of the “That in a great trail of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2). He went on to say (v. 15), “He who gathered much has nothing left over and he who gathered little had no lack.” HOW? This is another important question arising out of verse five. That is, how were they to give? The answer is “willingly.” This was a call for voluntary, self-sacrificing service. Nothing is gained for the glory of God until our hearts are wiling. WHEN? When were they to consecrate themselves to God? Today! The need is urgent! Today is not too early. Tomorrow may be too late. The time is now “for such a time as this.” TO WHOM? The final question of verse five is an important one. To whom are we to give? Are we to give to the church? Are we to give to the new buildings? No! We are to give to the Lord! Here is our highest service produced by a noble motive? “I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You” (1 Chr. 29:17). The offering received by the Israelites was free will offering. No one told anyone else what to give. David did not tell the leaders or the people what to give. He did not assess anyone a certain amount. David simply told the people what he and his family were going to do and challenged them to meet God and do what God impressed upon their hearts.
I have a word for this. I call it grace giving. There is a kind of giving which one might call “guilt giving.” It says, “ I will give because I ought to give.” There is also “grudge giving.” It says, “I will give because I have to give.” But neither of these are seen in the fund-raising program of the temple. What is seen here is what we desire. It is “grace giving,” which says, “I will give willingly because I want to give.”
When God’s order for giving is carried out it results in great rejoicing. It is not surprising that those who have o real joy or rejoicing are usually those who are selfish and stingy. The Israelite’s were so full of joy one would think they must have received some tremendous gift. After all, most people find joy in getting! But here we see an amazing principle. Their joy was from giving and not from getting. The world says joy comes from getting. We who know Christ know better. The Word says real joy comes from giving. David and his people discovered the truth that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
What was the outcome of it all? The giving became contagious. First David gave, then the leaders gave, then all Israel got in on it and gave willingly. David said, “now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willing to you” (1 Chr. 29:17).
The occasion of our giving is God-caused. The order of our giving is first the leader, then the leadership, then the people. I sense what was in David’s heart when he said, “Nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.” My continual prayer is that it might be said of us what was said of the Israelites, “Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the Lord; and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chr. 29:9).
Principle No. 3: The origin of our giving
“… For all thins come from You, and of Your own we have given You.” 1 Chronicles 29:11
“But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You,
As were all our fathers; Our days on earth are as a shadow, And without hope. “O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own” (1 Chr. 29:14-16).
Where do we find the origin of our giving? How can we possibly give what God has impressed upon our hearts? Where is the origin of our giving? Many are quick to look into the bank account balances. Others look to the origin of their giving in stock portfolios or life insurance polices or the like. What is the origin of our giving? David discovered it! He said, “For all things come from You and of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr. 29:14). This is what the songwriter meant when he said, “All I have needed Thy hand has provided, great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”
AS a pastor I often felt in my own heart what David surely felt when he said, “Who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer so willingly as this?” (1 Chr. 29:14). How can this possibly come about? The secret is in the last phrase in verse 14. Listen to it. Don’t miss it. Here is the key for our personal stewardship: “For all things come from You and of Your own we have given You.”
Do you see it? Everything belongs to God. We are not to give out of our limited resources, but we are privileged t give out of God’s unlimited resources. It all comes from God and we have the ability to “give out of God’s hand.” God owns all the wealth in this world and the next. David said it this way, “For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours” (I Chr. 29:11). In the Psalms he declared, “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness” (Ps. 24:1). Paul put it this way “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever” (Rom. 11:36). Yes, God owns all the wealth in this world and the next. Not only does God own everything, God wants his wealth in circulation. We learn this from the familiar passage from Malachi which said, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open fro your windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10). In God’s economy the earth had one theme in the beginning. It was give, give, give, give. The sun gave. The earth gave. The animals gave. Man gave. The trees gave. The enemy then introduced a new concept and it was get, get, get, get. And man became greedy and begins to live by this philosophy. However, God wants His wealth in circulation.
Think this through. God owns it all and wants it in circulation. Here is another important point. All God’s wealth belongs to His children. Listen to Paul, “And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). We are heirs of Go. It all belongs to us. You say if we are heirs then where are our riches? How do we lay hold on what is ours from God? Now, if God owns it all, wants it in circulation, and it belongs to u… how do we get it? The way to appropriate God’s wealth is to give. This is what Jesus is trying to get us to se when He said, “Give and wit will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). We are to give out of God’s resources, not our own. David put it this way: “Give out of God’s hand.” We are not necessarily to give what we think we can afford but we are to reach over into His abundant and unlimited resources and give from them. What a privilege. The issue is not what do I have the ability to do. That philosophy is giving out of my own hand and God gets no glory in that. The issue is what has God said that He desires to do through me? What is it that He desired for me to believe by faith to give from His hand? What are we saying? Everything comes from God! He is the origin of our giving. David said it well when he said, “For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given you” (1 Chr. 29:14).
Everything comes from God. This is what David is reminding his people when he says, "For we are aliens and pilgrims before You… our days on earth are as a shadow” (1 Chr. 29:15). Life is short—too short. Our days are like a shadow. We only pass this way once. We are merely stewards along this journey. The question is, “What have you done with that which God has entrusted you?” Some of my readers have no time to lose. Some of you have hair that is graying and may find this to be the last great opportunity in your entire lifetime to do something big for God. The way is before us “for such a time as this.” The occasion of our giving is God-caused. The order of our giving is first the heart, and then the personal treasure. The origin of our giving is God Himself. We are not to give from our own limited resources but out of His hand from His unlimited resources. “Everything comes from God.”
Principle No. 4: The object of our Giving
“… with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You.” (1 Chr. 29:17).
“I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You” (1 Chr. 29:17).
To what or to whom are we being challenged to give? Were the Israelites giving their personal treasures to the church? Are we giving our personal treasures to brick, or mortar, or buildings? What is the object of our giving? Note carefully what David says, “… with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You” (1 Chr. 29:17).
One might say, “I thought they were giving to the temple.” To whom were they giving? They were giving to God. They were not giving to the temple. To whom are we giving? What is the object of our giving? We are giving to God. We are not giving to new buildings or to our church. When we put a handle on this vital principle, it will be a breakthrough for us as it was for the Israelites. The object of our giving is the Lord Jesus Himself. We simply happen to be giving through our local churches to Him?
As much as I love my church, my family and I are not giving our personal treasures to the church. We are not giving one dime to concrete or steel or mortar or concrete blocks or tile or carpet or pews. The object of our giving is the Lord Himself. It just happens to be that we are giving to Him through a great soul-saving station. As we take from His hand, we put it back into His other hand. And He has a way of seeing that He can trust us and when He does, He gives, and gives and gives again. The object of our giving is the Lord Himself!
Principle No. 5: The opportunity of our giving
“… in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things…” 1 Chronicles 29:17-18
“I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You. O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the intent of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and fix their heart toward You” (1 Chr. 29:17-18).
How does a Christian walk in “uprightness?” He does so by doing what he claims to be. A Christian walks in integrity when his walk matches his talk and when his life matches his lips. We say we are a people of faith. We say we live by faith. David reminds us that “God tests the heart and has pleasure in uprightness” (1 Chr. 29:17). Yes, God tests or hearts to see if we really dare to live by faith. The Bible admonishes us, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). Many are quick to say we are saved by faith. But so few of us continue in the same way. We say we are saved by faith, but we live our life by works. If faith is good enough to save us it is surely good enough to live by. So many Christians who walk through the door o Christ by faith revert to what they can see and do themselves in living The Christian life. God is testing the integrity of our hearts.
What is the opportunity of our giving? The opportunity before us is to please God by living by faith. He is “pleased with integrity.” Some of us pride ourselves in our own integrity and need to hear these words and heed them. We say that we are a Christian by faith alone in Jesus Christ. We say we believe God will never leave us. We say we believe all of His promises. And yet so many of us live by sight. Our hope is in our savings account or stock portfolios or real estate holdings or retirement packages. This is a call for integrity in Christian living. David put it this way, “I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness” (1 Chr. 29:17). What an opportunity is ours to say to the world, “All things are possible—only believe!”
Now, this creates a great deal of pressure upon an individual. However, the pressure is put upon us by the Holy Spirit Himself. When we gave to build the new buildings in Fort Lauderdale we made a faith pledge to God that was given weekly and systematically over three years. Many of us have spent a lifetime doing that with the world. We have done such things as sign thirty-year mortgages with a lending institution and promise to pay on the first of the month for the next thirty years.
IS there a Biblical basis for a faith pledge? Indeed there is. Do you remember when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and challenged them to make a gift? Listen to his own words, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me” (1 Cor. 16:1-4).
One year later, Paul writes back to the same church (recorded in 2 Corinthians 8:9) and says to them that he is sending Titus to make sure the gift is ready when he gets there. Note carefully what Paul says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). The New International Version translates that Scripture, “That which you decided in your heart to give.” In the original language the words is “prohaireomai.” It means “ to decide ahead of time to do a certain thing.” The Corinthians had made a faith pledge ahead of time and they gave it when the time came.
We did exactly the same thing Paul admonished this first century church to do. We decided ahead of time what we were going to give from God’s hand to the Lord over the next three years. We were challenged to make a gift just as Paul challenged the church in 1 Corinthians 16. Over the next three years we gave what we decided “ahead of time” to give. We called it a faith pledge. It doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as you meet God and give from His hand.
We are now at the heart of the issue before us. We are dealing with God Himself who knows our hearts. In a very real sense our own spiritual integrity is revealed at this point. It is no wonder some feel pressure from the Holy Spirit. We call it a faith pledge because the issue is our faith in God’s ability to provide. The issue is not our faith in what the economy is going to do or who the next president of the United States will be, nor anything else that man can do, manipulate or orchestrate. The opportunity before us is our faith to believe in God’s readiness and willingness to provide through us from His hand for His work. What an opportunity! We have the opportunity in our giving to show the world that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in and through us to the Father’s glory.
Our integrity and our motives are at issue here. Do you know that it is possible for a Christian to do something in the eyes of man is wonderful but in the eyes of God is detestable? There are lot of folks who do things in the eyes of men that are wonderful. Some even receive plaques and the like for them, but Jesus put it this way, “No on can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:13-15). David said the same thing in the follow way, “I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You” (1 Chr. 29:17).
As commendable as David’s efforts were and as valuable as his gifts were, had his motives been the applause of men, the whole matter would have been an abomination to God and detestable before His eyes. David sought to walk by faith in integrity and to glorify God in the process. We catch a glimpse of his heart when he says, “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the intent of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and fix their heart toward You” (1 Chr. 29:18). David desired for it t become a lifestyle, not only for himself, but for his people. It will become a lifestyle for us as we keep our hearts loyal to Him. David’s concern was that his people would continue and that his pattern of giving would not just become a one-time shot, but a transformation of a lifestyle toward faith and dependence upon God forever.
Our personal giving is the place where our spiritual integrity is revealed before God. God is measuring our personal integrity. David said the task was great because the temple was not for man but for the Lord God. May it be said of us what was said of the church at Rome, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world (Rom. 1:8). What an opportunity we have to be a blessing and encouragement to the work of God around the world.
Principle No. 6: The objective of our giving
“…so all the assembly blessed the Lord God…” 1 Chr. 29:20
“But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr. 29:14).
“Then David said to all the assembly, “Now bless the Lord your God.” So all the assembly blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king” (1 Chr. 29:20).
What is the objective in giving? Our objective is that everyone become involved. Our objective is that everyone prays and everyone fasts and everyone meets God and everyone gives from God’s hand. The Israelites victory won the day because each one did his or her part. The one thing that stands out in each of the above passages of Scripture from Chronicles is that each one of the Israelites was involved. It was a case of total participation.
The early church had the same objective and followed the Israelites example. “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1) ‘Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need (Acts 2:44-45). “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:32-35).
Our objective in giving is the same. We along to see everyone involved with no one missing the blessing of giving. Someone might say, “I have no money; I have nothing to give.” Then give from God’s hand. Proverbs 13:23 reminds us, “Much food is in the fallow ground of the poor.” Fallow ground is ground that has not been used, plowed nor planted for a considerable period of time. God is saying there are resources available where we think there are none. There is much food in the fallow ground of the poor! God show us fallow ground!
Everyone gave to the Lord for the building of the temple. Old men gave. Young men gave. Middle age men gave. Women gave. Young couples gave. Singles gave. Teenagers and boys and girls gave. Those without money sold their possessions and gave. It was victory day because everyone got in on it.
Remember the occasion of our offering is God-caused. The order of our offering is first from the heart and then from our gifts. The origin of our offering is to give from God’s hand. The object of our offering is the Lord Himself. The opportunity of our offering is to please God by being people of faith. The objective is everyone being involved.
Principle No. 7: The outcome of our giving
“…Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty…” 1 Chr. 29:10-13
“Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. “Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name” 1 Chr. 29:10-13.
“I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You. 18 O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the intent of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and fix their heart toward You. 19 And give my son Solomon a loyal heart to keep Your commandments and Your testimonies and Your statutes, to do all these things, and to build the temple for which I have made provision. Then David said to all the assembly, “Now bless the Lord your God.” So all the assembly blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king” (1 Chr. 29:17-20).
What was the outcome of the Israelites giving? God got the glory! The people pointed to His greatness and not that of David or the leadership. The outcome of their giving was all praise going to the Lord God. Can you just imagine their joy when the offering was taken? Can you just see David standing up in front of his people saying, “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. “Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name” 1 Chr. 29:10-13. God was glorified that day because where a man puts his treasure his heart is sure to follow. They “bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king” (1 Chr. 29:20).
Their giving resulted in revival. Usually, in the end, money is the last thing to which people hold. There are lot of people who give their time. There are lot of people who give their talents but so many hold back their personal treasures. These men and women said, “God it’s all yours; here it is!” And Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Our hearts always follow our treasures. If we primarily put our treasures in some kind of activity, our hearts will be there. If we put our treasures in the work of God, our hearts will be there. And revival will result! The Israelites made a sacrifice for those who would come after them. They gave to the Lord God… for others and not for themselves.
One might think that such incredible success as David and his people saw would make them burst with pride. Quite the contrary, it brought a deep sense of gratitude and a humble spirit. “David said to the whole assembly… ‘Look what we have done!’” No! That’s not what he said. He said, “Now bless the Lord your God. So all the assembly blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king” (1 Chr. 29:20). What an outcome there was of praise and worship. Oh that we might join them in bringing great honor and glory to the living Christ “for such a time as this.”
The task before the church is great. We are a part of something grand and glorious because what we are about is “not for many but for the Lord God.” How can we do it? We can follow the example of the Israelites and these scriptural guidelines for supernatural giving:
- The occasion of our giving. The occasion of our giving is God-caused. Ours is a God-caused need. Remember, if God’s former blessings brought about our present needs, his future blessings will be sufficient to meet the needs the former blessings have caused! We can trust the Lord. He is the initiator of our need.
- The order of our giving. The pastor and leadership must lead the way and the people will follow. First we are to give ourselves and then our gifts. May we be able to join the Israelites and may it be said of us, “The people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the Lord; and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chr. 29:20).
- The origin of our giving. Our ability to give comes from God. “Everything comes from God and we have given only what comes from His hand.” He owns it all, wants his wealth in circulation. We are his heirs, and the way to appropriate his wealth is to give! He is the origin of our giving.
- The object of our giving. We are not giving to brick, nor mortar, nor our church, but the object of our giving is to Lord Himself. David put it this way, “Now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You” (1 Chr. 29:17).
- The opportunity of our giving. We have the opportunity to be a tremendous witness for Christ by walking by faith. God knows our hearts. Integrity is the byword. We say we are people of faith and now it is time to let our walk match our talk and our life match our lips. Like David, we too know that God “tests the heart and has pleasure in uprightness” ( 1 Chr. 29:17).
- The objective of our giving. The objective of our giving is that everyone meet God and give by revelation. Everyone being involved is the key to victory. No one is unimportant. Remember there is much food in the fallow ground of the poor.
- The outcome of our giving. The ultimate outcome of it all is that the Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified and honored and praised. Our desire is that we praise the Lord our God and give Him glory through the whole experience.
Yes, money talks… but what is it really saying?
Money Talks - But What Is It Really Saying?
Money Talks - But What Is It Really Saying? Economics 101
Every election year brings a new debate on the economy. If ever there was a subject with wide-ranging, dogmatic differences of opinion, it is the economy. My undergraduate degree is in Business administration and I never shall forget my first college-level Economics course. There I learned the basic formula of economics that is called the law of supply and demand. It is a simple law. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise. When supply exceeds demand, prices decline. My Economics professor explained it in the following manner. Pretend there is a store that sells apples. On a given day there is a tremendous demand for apples. Outside the door there is a line of forty or fifty people waiting to buy apples. The supply of apples is low. What does the storeowner do? He raises the prices of apples because the demand is exceeding the supply. On another occasion, there comes a time when there are a hundred apples in the store and no one has an interest in apples. There is no demand whatsoever. No one is asking for apples. They are about to rot and will become of no use to anyone. So, what does the storeowner do? He puts them on a sale table and lowers the price of apples because the supply is exceeding the demand. The law of supply and demand simply stated is that when demand exceeds supply, prices go up, and when supply exceeds demand, prices go down.
Now, what does all this have to do with Christ’s feeding of thousands of people on the Galilean hillside? That experience was all about the law of supply and demand. Without Christ, demand always exceeds supply and the cry is “not enough!” With Christ, supply always exceeds demand and the cry is always “more than enough!” Of the 38 parables that our Lord told in the Gospels, one-third of them deal with our relationship to our own material possessions. One out of every six verses in Matthew, Mark and Luke discuss the right use of material goods. Our Lord reminds us that our money talks and is saying something about our commitment to Him.
One day our Lord laid out His economic plan for His people. He did not lay it out in the halls of government but on a green, grassy hillside in Galilee. That experience reminds us today that without Christ, demand always exceed supply and the cry is “not enough.” With Christ, supply always exceeds demand and the cry is “more than enough.”
Without Christ demand exceeds supply and the cry is “not enough.”
“…Two-hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient…” John 6:1-9
A need had developed in Galilee. The demand was great. Thousands of people were gathered together far away from home without any food. There was no apparent supply to meet the demand. That is always the way it is without Christ. It may be that some reading these words are sitting on that hill this very day. Without Christ there is never enough. Demand always exceeds supply. Those who try to fill the void of life with money never have enough How much is enough? Just a little more. How much sex is enough? Just a little more. How much recognition is enough? Just a little more. Why? Because the void of life is so large that only Christ can fill it.
There were three things that brought about this problem of demand and supply in Galilee. First, there was no sense of planning (John 6:1-5). These people did not think ahead. There were thousands of men, women and children who had no sense of proper planning. They had a demand for which there was no apparent supply. The problem turned out to be an opportunity for the Lord Jesus Christ to work a miracle. IN fact, all miracles begin at the platform of problems. The heartcry of so many today is “not enough.” The reason is not that much different. There is no proper sense of planning for so many today.
They also found themselves in their predicament because they had no sense of purpose (John 6:5-9). Phillip and Andrew best illustrate this very fact. The Lord said that He was “testing” them (John 6:6). He had asked Phillip where they should buy bread to eat and John 6:6 reveals an interesting insight into our Lord. It says, “This He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” Not only did he already know what He was going to do with Phillip and the multitudes, but He also knows what He is going to do with you and me. Our Lord was testing His disciples. Phillip gave and interesting response to Christ’s question. He replied that “two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (John 6:7). Phillip had a cash register for a mind. The first thing he thought about was neither the glory of God nor the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, but how much would it cost? Not long before he had seen our Lord turn water into wine. However, Phillip dealt with the dilemma at hand the same way an atheist would. He looked only at what he could see. Give Phillip an “F”. He flunked. He had no sense of purpose.
Andrew comes on the scene. He says, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9). He is doing great thus far, but unfortunately he continues — “but what are they among so many?” Andrew crashes and burns. Give him an “F” also. Now Phillip and Andrew were both soul winners (Phillip found Nathaniel and brought him to Jesus, and Andrew found Peter and brought him to Jesus). But on the Galilean hillside they became part of the problem and not the solution because of no sense of purpose. Our Lord was testing them. I believe HE was hoping they would say, “Lord, this is no problem for You. We watched You turn water into wine. You can do anything!” But neither Phillip nor Andrew figured Christ in to the equation. Without Christ demand always exceeds supply. Phillip and Andrew are still around today. There are some who are ever looking over the scene for human possibilities to solve problems with their own resources. The disciples also found themselves in their predicament because they had no sense of potential (John 6:9). A lad comes on the scene who has a sack lunch with five barley loaves and two small fish. Look at that boy. HE left home with enough to feed thousands of people and did not even know it. Demand often exceeds supply and it’s not just because of no sense of planning or no sense of purpose. Sometimes it is because we have no sense of potential. Some reading these words left home this morning with unlimited potential and did not even know it. It is not the size of our lunch that matters but whether Christ possesses it. Little is much when God is in it.
Without Christ, demand always exceeds supply and our cry is “not enough!” Some of us have a need today for which there is no apparent supply. Perhaps it is material. Perhaps it is spiritual. Perhaps it is emotional. For Phillip, there was not enough money. Not enough bread. “Not enough,” is the cry of so many today. Without Christ, demand always exceeds supply. Why? Because some of us, like those in Galilee, have no sense of planning. Others of us have no sense of purpose. And some of us have no sense of our own potential. Christ is “testing” us as He did those in Galilee. God has His own way of opening up heaven to those who figure Christ into the equation of life. It is the enteral law of supply and demand.
With Christ supply exceeds demand and the cry is “more than enough.”
“… Jesus took the loaves… and distributed them… and likewise the fish, as much as they wanted.” John 6:10-15
We all know the story well. Jesus took the bread and fish, gave thanks to the Father, and multiplied it across the multitude. After everyone had eaten there were twelve basketfuls of fragments that remained which were gathered. Yes, more than enough!
How did it happen? The boy gave (John 6:9-10). He could have clutched his brown paper bag, but he gave it to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus looked at the prospects. They were not much. Just a lad and a lunch. The boy planted a seed that day. He gave.
The boy gave all (John 6:11). He could have given one loaf and one fish and kept the rest for himself. But he gave everything that he had. That exchange between the lad and the Lord tapped the eternal resources of heaven and moved them into the bankrupt affairs of men. The lad reminds us today that he gave and he gave his all. And, then he stayed around to expect a miracle.
One of the most beautiful parts of this whole story is that the boy gave again (John 6:12-13). After everything was eaten there was more left over than there was to begin with. The boy would have the opportunity to give again. We never give anything to the Lord Jesus Christ and lose it. He gives it back to us again and again. Note the secret of God’s own economy. The boy gave to Jesus. The lord Jesus gave to the disciples. The disciples gave to the crowd and the more they have the more there was to give. And the crowd even had the opportunity to give back. The Bible says “they were filled” (John 6:12). Most of us would stop there. The need was met. Praise the Lord! But if it’s great to get a blessing, it’s greater to be a blessing. Jesus then says, “Gather up the fragments that remain.” Now the people gave! The same ones who cried “not enough” are now crying “more than enough!” Yes, with Christ supply always exceeds demand and the cry is “more than enough.” There were 12 baskets of food left over. And the boy? He who gave so little would have the privilege of giving again. This is God’s plan of economy.
It is interesting that Jesus said, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost” (John 6:12). Note He said “so that nothing is lost.” What did our Lord mean? This is the same Greek word that is translated “perish” in John 3:16. It is the same Greek word that is translated “ruined” in Matthew 9:17. It is the same word that is translated “perish or spoiled” in John 6:27. Our Lord Jesus wants us all to know that He is in the business of “picking up the pieces” of lost, spoiled, perishing, wasted, ruined lives and using them again! He wants us to gather up the pieces of broken lives today so that none will be wasted or lost.
Remember, it’s not the size of the lunch that matters but whether we are willing to let our Lord Jesus Christ have it all. The lunch did not do any good at all until it was placed in the hands of the Lord, and when it was, what a difference it made! Some of us who have been crying, “not enough” have potential like a little lad and don’t even know it.
Without Christ, demand exceeds supply and the cry is “not enough.” With Christ, supply exceeds demand and the cry is “more than enough.” Without the Lord Jesus Christ factored into the equation of life, we will never be satisfied. There will never be enough. When we ask ourselves how much is enough, we will always reply, “Just a little more.” But with Christ, supply will always exceed demand and “more than enough will be our theme.”
Look finally at that little lad once more. He left home with enough in his little sack lunch to feed thousands of people and didn’t even know it! Some of us say, “I can’t do much. I am like a lad with a lunch.” Then do what you can. The Lord Jesus Christ is not looking for your ability, but for your availability. We are full of potential. All we need for a miracle is lad, a lunch, and the Lord. Little is much when God is in it.
Money Talks - But What Is It Really Saying?
Modern day motherhood
Mother’s Day often conjures up an image of a Norman Rockwell kind of world where life is simple and everyone lives happily ever after. In today’s world the real heroes are Christian mothers who are being both mom and dad. Hagar represents many of these modern day mothers.
I. The Plight of Many Modern Mothers (Gen. 21:14-16)
Hagar was the victim. Her fate was not her fault. We see her hurting, hungry and hopeless in these verses.
II. The Fight of Many Modern Mothers (Gen. 21:17-18)
Through a visit of the pre-incarnate Christ, Hagar puts an arm of protection around her son. In these verses we see her expectations, her encouragement and her example.
III. The Might of Many Modern Mothers (Gen. 21:19-21)
Through His mighty power, God blessed Hagar. In verses 19-21 we see Hagar’s provision, her promise and her persistence.
On Mother’s Day, let us thank God for all mothers and especially those single mothers involved in similar plights and fights like Hagar.
Missions: Moving out of our comfort zones
Comfort zones are areas from which we seldom stray. Some have social comfort zones and have little contact with anyone outside their own socioeconomic level. Others have political comfort zones and do not have much to do with those who do not share their political persuasion. Some of us even have our comfort zones in the church. We all have little comfort zones whether they be in literature or the arts or music or sports or whatever. It is easy to get comfortable and never venture out of a comfort zone. Comfort zones take the cutting edge out of many lives.
When we study the life of our Lord we find that He was continually moving men and women out of their comfort zones. He called those fishermen up in Galilee to throw down their nets and follow Him. That is, He called them to leave the comfort zone of their surroundings. Everywhere He went He called upon people to leave their comfort zones whether it was Zacchaeus down in Jericho, or the rich young ruler, or the woman at the well in Samaria.
Comfort zones keep us from our potential. In the business world salesmen can gravitate toward them. We’re even prone to find our comfort zones in our own ecclesiology. Comfort zones kill productivity and production.
The Lord Jesus came into this world. Now, if we want to think of leaving a comfort zone think of Him. He laid aside His glory and came to walk the dust of this earth. And with whom? Publicans and sinners and the despised and the multitudes. And then His followers impacted the world in one generation. How? They moved out of their comfort zones. This is a word to those of us who have gotten comfortable. The Bible, especially those words in the New Testament written in red, are not too comfortable at some points.
Once in His home territory of Galilee, our Lord Jesus addressed this subject specifically. He called upon us to see our world through His eyes. He challenged us to look backward, outward, inward and upward. He instructed us regarding our pattern, our potential, our problem, and our priority. He called upon us to see four very important things in our text.
Our pattern…how do we discover it? …look backward
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd (Matt. 9:35-36).
The Lord Jesus stayed busy. He “went about all the cities and villages” (Matt. 9:35). He was out there among the people. He did not find a comfortable spot, some comfort zone, and wait for them to come to Him. The Bible tells us He was “teaching.” Matthew uses a New Testament word here to describe that our Lord was instructing, explaining, expounding to the people. The tense also indicates that this was a continual thing. He stayed at it. Note he was also “preaching.” Here the word means to proclaim as a herald. We can see Him as He was standing on street corners and heralding what? Seven habits of successful people? Some new phrase of popular psychology? Five ways to possibility thinking? No. The text tells us He was preaching the “gospel.” He was laying forth the good news. Then, He was “healing.” The Greek word here is therapeur?. It means to cure and one can readily see that we get our English word therapeutic from this Greek word. It is important to see that the Lord Jesus was not only teaching and preaching but He was touching physical, mental and emotional needs. He was with the hurting. He got down where they were. There was something therapeutic about His very presence.
This is our pattern for ministry. We look back to Him to find it. It has to do with the head. He was teaching. It has to do with the heart. He was preaching. It has to do with the hand. He was healing; He was touching people’s needs. Some of us gravitate to one or the other and get out of balance in the process. Some have only preaching with a strong emphasis on evangelism. Others are overbalanced on teaching. They fill minds with truth but make little application. Some others are busy getting their hands dirty with social action but with little mention of evangelism or teaching. Our Lord Jesus Christ was balanced in his approach. He is our pattern for ministry. Our Lord didn’t stay within His little group of twelve. There were important times for that, but by and large He was “out there” among the people in the villages and cities.
Then something happened. “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them” (Matt. 9:36). While others looked, Jesus saw. There’s a difference between looking and seeing. The word we find here is translated in most other passages and scripture as “to know or to perceive.” Jesus saw right into their hearts and He knew them. Have we seen the multitudes lately? Oh, we’re not asking ourselves if we’ve looked at them. Have we seen them? Do we know what they’re thinking? Do we know how they’re hurting? Some of us drive past a hundred mission opportunities to come to our churches and pray for our missionaries in faraway lands. Jesus “saw” the multitudes that were all around Him.
Then the Bible tells us He was “moved with compassion.” The middle voice indicating that the subject was acting upon itself expresses what was deep within His innermost being. This is the motivation to get out of our comfort zones. It does not come from outside encouragement but it comes from inside of us. We remember that the good Samaritan on the Jericho road met the wounded man’s need because first of all his “heart went out to him.”
The Lord Jesus sees the multitudes today and He is still moved with compassion. Why? Because they’re “weary.” The word means they are faint, they are about to faint, they’re weakened, they’re exhausted, they’re about to collapse. The Lord Jesus saw them weighted down by life. Some of them were weighted down by sin and others by circumstances like so many people today. He also saw that they were “scattered.” The word means cast down or thrown down. In fact, the same word appears in Acts 27:29 to describe the anchor that was cast from the boat. It is also used in Luke 17:2 to describe the millstone tied around someone’s neck and cast into the sea till it sank. It is a strong descriptive word. Jesus saw a people who had no hope. They were beaten down by the circumstances of life and sinking in their own experience. They were weary and scattered. What an apt description of so many in our world today.
Jesus goes on to say that they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). There was no one to feed them. There was no one to lead them. They were looking for someone to point the direction to bring them provision and protection.
As we look around at our cities, do we see the same thing Jesus saw in His day? There are men and women all around us in the same circumstance and situation. They are weary and scattered like sheep having no shepherd. Oh, that more of us could see the multitude through the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we do we would see a world and we would be moved with compassion to leave our comfort zones and get involved.
Where is our pattern? We find it by looking backward to see the life of our Lord. He was busy like so many of us today. But, He saw something. Perhaps some of us have been looking and really not seeing. The Lord Jesus is our pattern. We will never get out of a comfort zone unless we become motivated from within. He calls us today to not only look backward and see our pattern, but also He reminds us of:
Our potential…how do we discover it? …look outward
“Then He said to His disciples the harvest truly is plentiful” (Matt. 9:37A).
Listen to our Lord. He is reminding us that we exist for those who are not here yet. He says the harvest truly is plentiful. When read in the language of the New Testament, we find no verbs here. We hear Him simply saying “harvest plentiful!” The harvest is mentioned three times in this context. This is Christ’s emphasis. He is not talking about plowing nor planting nor cultivating. He is talking about the harvest! He was speaking about those in verse 36 who were weary and scattered. He said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Our Lord told His three most familiar stories in Luke 15 and the major emphasis upon each one of them was the fact that people were lost. We will never see the multitudes through the eyes of Christ until we see them as lost.
In our current church culture today it is not popular to call men and women “lost”. We have other names for them today. We call them unreached or "unchurched" or some of us even refer to them as seekers. We refer to them as anything but lost. Thus, if we do not believe that people are truly lost, we lose the urgency to see them what? Saved! Lost. That is indeed a haunting word. That is the word that robbed heaven of its pearl of great price. That is the very word that caused the angels to bow low when He laid down His glory. That is the very word that caused the Father to turn away when His Son hung on the cross and darkness enveloped the earth. What is the real problem in our Western world today? We point to drugs, the loss of character and integrity, and a thousand other things. But the real problem is that men and women are lost, without hope and without Christ.
Jesus says, “The harvest truly is plentiful.” Once in Samaria He reminded His followers to not say that there were four months into the harvest but He challenged them to lift up their eyes and look upon the fields for they were “white already under harvest.” (John 4:35). Our first pastorate was in the wheat farming community of Hobart, Oklahoma on the southwestern plains. I was 24-years-old, fresh out of seminary, and I learned so much from those good and godly wheat farmers like Mervin Greb, Kenneth Lawford, John Cokely, and a host of others. They taught me about the harvest. In fact, my wife Susie and I moved to Hobart during the wheat harvest of 1972. The land is so flat there that people often say you can stand on a brick and see both oceans. You could drive as far as you could and see miles and miles of waves of wheat. They were golden at harvest. It reminded me of the patriotic anthem that exclaims, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.” And yet, Jesus said the fields are “white unto harvest.” For a young preacher this was confusing. What I saw were amber, golden grains of wheat when it was time for harvest. One day I asked Mervin Greb about the harvest. He said, “Preacher, when the harvest gets white it’s almost too late to harvest it. It’s almost over-ripe. It means you have to get it out in a hurry when it’s white. There’s an urgency about it.” Our Lord Jesus said the harvest is plenteous but it’s also white. Men and women are ready but the time is short. It takes months to grow a good crop but harvest time is short, very short. When the time comes, the harvest must be gotten out in a hurry.
I used to sit at the old A&B Cafe off the city square in Hobart and talk to those farmers in the early morning hours. They would sit leisurely and tell their stories into the morning. However, when harvest time came they didn’t sit around. They didn’t sit at the tables and talk about how to run their combines or how to transport their wheat to the silos. They did not get into their pickups and drive by the fields and talk about how plenteous the crops appeared. No, the time was short. They stopped talking and got into the fields. They got their hands dirty. If they didn’t get the harvest out they would lose it. How much of the harvest in America have we lost? Sometimes we find ourselves only talking about it. The heart of the Lord Jesus is on the harvest of souls right now. He wants us to see our potential and the only way we can do that is by looking outward at the fields that are ripe unto harvest.
Pastoring in that part of the world I learned what happens to wheat if it’s not harvested in time. In fact, if you go down to the A&B Cafe today, they’ll tell you. It’ll get over-ripe. Then it will become useless, too old, it will rot and be lost forever. It will fall to the ground and decay.
The problem in America is that we are watching the rotting of a culture. Why? We’re quick to point our fingers at the legislature, the judicial branch, or the administrative branch of government. But, the harvest is plentiful, it is white unto harvest. However, the church has not gotten into the fields. Too many of us have hunkered down within our four walls. We seem to be down at our own A&B Cafe, cozy and comfortable within our comfort zones. Our culture does not know Christ because we have left the harvest rotting and not made Him known. And all the while Jesus continues to cry, “the harvest truly is plentiful.”
Some of us think we cannot harvest until we plant. Did it ever occur to us that the Lord Jesus Christ has been planting? He said one plants, another cultivates, and another reaps the harvest. He has been working on hearts. He has been plowing, He has been cultivating. Remember, He is the Lord of the harvest. He told those disciples when they were in Samaria that the fields were “white already unto harvest.” But, who plowed the fields in Samaria? Who planted in Sychar? The disciples? No, they’d never even entered into the village. Those folks had never heard a gospel witness. Who plowed and planted? God did. He was working on empty hearts.
We look backward to see our pattern but we also look outward to see our potential. The harvest is plenteous. Do we see it? Jesus goes on to remind us of:
Our problem…how do we discover it? …look inward
“The laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37b).
Things haven’t changed much. The crowds still come. After all, our Lord had thousands of folks gathered on the Gallilean hillside but when it got right down to it, He only had 120 in the upper room who truly left their comfort zones. Jesus said the problem today was the problem then, “the laborers are few.” Oh, not the spectators. They are many, but those who truly look back and see their pattern, look outward and see their potential, and who leave their comfort zones are few.
God’s problem today is not out there in the fields. They are plenteous. They are waiting. They are ready for harvest. Men and women in our cities are ripe to be harvested. They’ve tried everything else. They are weary. They are scattered. They do not know Christ paid for their sins on Calvary. They think it best that He might have made a little down payment and they have to work the rest of the way. We have good news to share with them. But when we look inward we find our real problem.
God’s problem is with His own people. “The laborers are few.” This must break His heart and certainly ought to break ours. When deacons have to be begged to share their faith. When Sunday School teachers wait for us to come to them instead of leaving comfort zones and getting into the harvest, it must break the heart of Christ. When we see a world in need of the Gospel and so many of us in our comfort zones, we see the reality of His exclamation, “the laborers are few.”
Our Lord calls us to look backward and see our pattern, to look outward and see our potential, to look inward and see our problem, and finally, He calls upon us to see:
Our priority…how do we discover it? …look upward
Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).
Here’s the heart of Christ’s message. If we miss this we miss all that Jesus is trying to say to us on World Missions Day. “Therefore pray!” Matthew uses a word to describe what Jesus is saying here. The word we translate “pray” means to ask or to beg. Yes, we’re supposed to plead, to beg. But some of us are pleading and begging the wrong person. We think we’re to plead and beg those in the church to go into the harvest fields, but note that Jesus moves prayer up to the front of the priority list for the harvest! Since the harvest is plenteous and the laborers are few, our natural inclination is to do anything we can to enlist workers. We beg them. We plead with them. We coerce them. Some of us even try to motivate them by guilt. But Jesus points to intercessory prayer as the primary resource to move men and women out of their comfort zones, to get them out there into the harvest.
The Lord Jesus always made prayer His own priority. Before choosing His first twelve laborers, the Apostles, He prayed all evening. Then He chose them and sent them into the harvest (Luke 6:12-13). He did not have to beg them nor to plead with them. He prayed and God the Father moved in their hearts and they were ready!
The Lord Jesus says, “Pray.” But pray for what? Should the object of our prayer be in the direction of those in the fields? No, Jesus says we are to pray for “laborers.” Some of us are busy praying for neighbors, or friends, or family members. We should be praying that God would send someone to leave their comfort zone and go to them and reap the harvest. This should be exciting to all to all of us. What would happen if we would see people as Christ sees them and pray that He would send forth laborers into the harvest? He would send some of us who were earnestly praying!
The Lord Jesus says to pray the Lord to what? He challenges us to pray that the Lord would “send out” laborers. Here we come to the place in our English text that we can never grasp the meaning of unless we read it in the language in which it was written. There are four words in Greek which we translate “send” in our New Testament. What was Jesus saying? Was He using the word that’s translated “send” in Acts 13:3 when he says that the church at Antioch sent out Paul and Silas? The word there means to “release, or to let go.” Was He using this stronger in Acts 13:4 when He said the Holy Spirit “sent” Barnabas and Saul on their missionary journey? Here the word is prefaced with a strong preposition meaning that the Holy Spirit thrust them out. Did He perhaps use the word that we find in Matthew 10 verse 5 when the word translated means to “send with an official summons”? We get our word “apostle” from that word. None of these words were used in our text. The word here is ekball?. It means to throw out with a violent motion. The same word is translated in Matthew 21:12 when Jesus threw out the money changers from the temple area. The same word is used in Acts 27:38 during the shipwreck when the sailors were busy “throwing out the cargo.”
Jesus is saying that we are to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will pick up and thrust out people into His harvest fields. That men and women can literally do no other. How much better when He sends us? The Lord Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to go out and recruit workers but to pray that the Lord would so move on their hearts that they could do no other. Fresh on my mind as I pen these words were those days in my life when I was being called into the ministry. There was simply no option! I knew God had picked me up and thrust me out into His harvest.
It’s interesting to note that our Lord is not just sending us into the fields but into the harvest. This is the pressing need today. That is, the harvest. It is already ripe. Our Lord sees it. Do we? And, it is important to note that He is the Lord of the harvest. Consequently, whose harvest is it? It is His harvest. What a privilege for us to be a part of the harvest.
The time is ripe for us to leave our comfort zones. These words from our Lord are a challenge to look backward. The Lord Jesus is our pattern. He left His own comfort zone and found Himself out there among the people who were in need. This is also a challenge to look outward. This is our potential. The harvest is all around us. This is also a challenge for us to look inward. This is really our problem. Do we see it? The laborers are few! Finally, our Lord’s challenge is one to look upward. This should be our priority. To call upon Him. To ask Him to send out laborers into His harvest field.
Our Lord Jesus left his own comfort zone because you were part of the harvest. He laid aside His glory. He worked upon you and me through circumstances, perhaps through suffering, perhaps a word fitly spoken like apples of gold and settings of silver. Perhaps some of us are weary. Others of us may feel scattered. He sees us and His heart is still moved with compassion for us.
Hark the voice of Jesus calling
Who will come and work for me
Fields are white and harvest waiting
Who will bear the sheaths away
Loud and long the Master calleth
Rich reward He offers free
Who will answer gladly saying
Here am I send me, send me!
- “Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling”
Words by Daniel March
Memorial Day is uniquely an American experience. We pause on this day each year to remember those who expressed what our Lord referred to as “greater love” who “laid down their lives” for family, friends and freedom. One week after the Pearl Harbor attack then President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Those who long enjoy such privileges that we enjoy forget in time that others have died to win them.” Freedom is never really free; it is most always bought with the blood of patriots.
The biggest battle Americans are waging today is a battle for the very soul of a nation. We see it manifested in a myriad of ways every day. The erosion of a culture is a slow process but we have seen it accelerate rapidly in the past few short years. In the broader picture it continues to erode whether there is a Democrat or a Republican sitting in the Oval Office. We have today what we tolerated yesterday. And, we will inherit tomorrow what we tolerate today.
History has its own way of repeating itself down through the centuries. In his day, in the midst of a Babylonian culture, Daniel saw much of what we seem to be seeing today. Yet, his situation was even worse. We read in the fifth chapter of Daniel of the collapse of a culture. They had felt so smug and secure within the confines of their strong walls. But, they crumbled from within. Babylon made four major mistakes. They lost all sense of remembrance. They lost all sense of reality. They lost all sense of restraint. And, they lost all sense of respect. On this Memorial Day may we be challenged to call our people to repentance and to acknowledge that “all is vain unless the Spirit” comes down upon us.
The Danger of Losing All Sense of Remembrance
“…the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men…but you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven…” (Daniel 5:18-23)
Belshazzar’s problem was the same as many today. This King of Babylon had forgotten some of the valuable lessons from the past. He had forgotten lessons like his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had learned the hard way. Lessons like, “Those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Pride is most often the predecessor to destruction. Daniel gives us a pertinent insight when he challenges the king with the accusation that “you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven.” To “lift one’s self up” means to boast, to elevate, and to lift up. This is exactly what Belshazzar had been doing, that is, boasting about himself. He picked up right where King Nebuchadnezzar left off, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty (Daniel 4:30)?”
Pride always leads to a fall. It is right up there at the top of the list of those things which God hates. Just ask Lucifer about this. Ask Adam and Eve. Ask King David. Ask Simon Peter. Yes, “Those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Our own nation once honored God unashamedly and openly. The truth of this is etched in numerous marble monuments all over the nation’s capital. It is carved in granite on many of the government buildings we hold dear. It is printed on our currency. We once credited Him with our blessings and our successes and turned to Him in our trials and our losses. But today, we, like Babylon, seem to have lost a sense of remembrance. President Woodrow Wilson said, “A nation that does not remember what it
was yesterday does not know what it is today, or what it is trying to do. We are about a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.”
In some ways we have forgotten our past. What was it about America that made her so great and caused men and women from the nations of the world to risk their lives and fortunes to make her their home? Is there something about America that distinguishes us from our neighbors to the north and south? Canada was settled by French explorers who were looking for gold. Mexico was settled by Spanish explorers who were also looking for gold. America was settled by men and women who came here primarily looking for God. They came searching for a home where the Lord Jesus could be exalted and worshiped in spirit, freedom and truth.
This became blatantly apparent when they penned the charters of those original thirteen colonies. They left their motivations for founding these colonies for all posterity to read and remember. Rhode Island was chartered in 1683 with the following words inscribed in her charter, “We submit our persons, our lives and our estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and absolute laws given us in His Holy Word.” In Maryland their charter read that they were “formed by a pious zeal to extend the Christian gospel.” Not to be outdone, their neighbors in Delaware wrote in their charter that they were “formed for the further propagation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And up in Connecticut they expressed in their charter that their colony’s purpose was “to preserve the purity of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” With talk of someday adding Washington, D.C. as a 51st state, I wonder how different her charter might read?
We have come a long way today. We have diverted from our founders’ path so far that it is now common to see the federal courts repeatedly doing such things as restricting manger scenes from city squares and removing ten commandment displays from government buildings. Except those, I might add, where they are carved in granite like the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. itself.
Unfortunately, there are some alarming similarities between ancient Babylon and modern America. There is an expensive price to pay when any nation loses all sense of remembrance of who they are or from whence they have come.
The Danger of Losing All Sense of Reality
“Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand.” (Daniel 5:1)
In order to understand how the king had lost all sense of reality around him, it must be remembered that outside the city walls of Babylon, the Medes and the Persians were encamped besieging the city. But inside, Belshazzar is partying. Here is presumption personified. The Babylonians began to think that because of their history of dominance and their strong walls they were invincible and indestructible. Those great walls stretched for sixty miles in circumference. But everywhere you looked along the top of them now you saw the enemy surrounding the city. But, no problem, they thought. After all, the walls were so high and thick they were impossible to penetrate and a twenty-year supply of rations lay inside.
So, what did Belshazzar do? He lost all sense of reality. He threw a big party and invited thousands of guests to his drunken orgy. His confidence was in the physical. His was an impregnable city, at least, so he thought. So he partied when destruction was at his door. It is often in those times when we feel most secure in our own strength that peril is most imminent and danger is most near.
While the armies of Cyrus encircled the city, Belshazzar, at the moment of his greatest danger, thought he could party his troubles away. He is a picture of many today who think that because they have gotten away with it before they will do so forever. This king was too blind and drunk on his own success to realize that the strength of a kingdom, or an individual, is never on the outside but on the inside. Babylon soon fell because they had become corrupt on the inside with no more sense of remembrance or reality.
Some in our own Babylon seem to think our walls are impregnable, that somehow God needs America to carry out His plan on earth. After all, we have won all the world wars, the cold war is over, and we seem to be the only real superpower still standing in the world today. But, I believe God is saying to us today, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he also fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Like those in ancient Babylon, we are so often prone to think we, too, are invincible. But, remember the judgment of God came to Judah and she was called the “apple of His eye.” There was a time when Israel was, herself, the world’s only superpower. She was one nation under God. Her motto was “In God we trust.” King David and King Solomon took her to superpower status. God gave her a land, a law, and a Lord.
Three thousand years after King David, God birthed another nation. God gave us a land. He gave us a law built and based on Israel’s ancient commandments. And, He gave us a Lord to love and to live under. Why should we think we, too, are invincible when we lose our sense of remembrance and reality? Of Babylon, God said, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Daniel 5:26). Is it not time for us to remember who we are and from whence we have come? Is it not time for us to recapture the reality of what is taking place around us and truly pray, “God forgive us and God bless America” again?
The Danger of Losing all Sense of Restraint
“While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.” (Daniel 5:2)
When a nation, or an individual, loses all sense of remembrance and reality, it follows that they also lose all sense of restraint. The Babylonians were too blind to see any correlation between moral decay and national decline. Does this sound familiar at all? Daniel 5:2 describes what the Old Testament politely calls “concubines.” These were women who were kept for the king’s pleasure for the purpose of sexual gratification and additional procreation. Our nation, like Babylon, has been virtually given over to sexual permissiveness and perversions of all types.
There is not enough time to describe by way of illustration the various depictions of graphic sexual perversion that infiltrate this modern western culture twenty-four/seven through movies, television, print media, Internet and the like. In his book, Our Dance Has Turned to Death, Carl Wilson chronicles the pattern of decline of the Greco-Roman culture. He observes that first, men began to cease to lead their own families in spiritual and moral development. Next, they neglected their wives and children in pursuit of material wealth and power. This was followed by men becoming so preoccupied with business ventures that they began to ignore their wives and become involved with other women outside the home. Thus, their wives began to seek their own worth and value outside the home and marriage laws eventually made divorce easier to come by. Then, because male and female role models were no longer prominent in the home, the children developed identity problems of their own. Finally, this left many children unwanted and, for the most part, undisciplined. I do not believe we need much in the way of application at this point. Now, two thousand years later, it is strangely descriptive of another culture we know all too well.
Belshazzar and the Babylonians had lost all sense of restraint. And, not just morally. Here we also see them in a spiritual debacle. They took what God called “Holy,” the vessels of the temple, and desecrated them for their own godless satisfaction. God is still serious about anyone anywhere desecrating what He calls holy. God is weighing us on His balance today and I fear we, too, are being found wanting. Have we, too, lost all sense of restraint?
The Danger of Losing All Sense of Respect
“Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” (Daniel 5:3-4)
Look at this crumbling culture of Babylon. Nothing was sacred to them anymore. Because they had abandoned all absolutes, it naturally followed that there were no restraints and, when restraints are left behind, then there is found no respect for anything that is sacred. It was party time in Babylon.
Then an amazing thing happens. “The fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lamp stand on the plaster of the wall” (Daniel 5:5). The king sobered up. His “knees knocked against each other” (Daniel 5:7). Into the party hall comes Daniel (Daniel 5:13). He was not at the party. Most people do not want the man of God around when the liquor is flowing and the women are present. But, when the writing is on the wall, when the crisis comes, they no longer want their immoral friends and drinking buddies, they are looking for someone who can tell them what this means.
Daniel looked around the scene. The shouting and drinking and sex had come to a stop. A strange silence filled the banquet hall. People looked as if they were frozen in time. The sacred vessels were scattered around the tables. Daniel was the only one in that ballroom who was calm. He then did what every preacher should do. He took the Word that came from God and without fear or favor simply revealed to them all of what God had said. This is still the preacher’s responsibility to this very day.
Listen to Daniel as he stands before them. Before he interpreted the handwriting on the wall, he preached a sermon to them with three points. First, there was a word about power. Daniel reminded Belshazzar that King Nebuchadnezzar’s power came from God (Daniel 5:18-19). Second, there was a word about pride. Daniel reminded the king that Nebuchadnezzar lost his kingdom because of pride (Daniel 5:20). Third, there was a word about punishment (Daniel 5:21). King Nebuchadnezzar was punished until he came to realize that the “Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses”(Daniel 4:32).
Next, Daniel applied the text. “You have not humbled yourself, although you knew all this” (Daniel 5:22). He said, “King Belshazzar, you knew about the power, the pride, and the punishment.” Yet, sadly, he had lost all sense of remembrance, reality, restraint and respect.
When, and if, we forget these things ourselves, then we become blind to the fact that, like Babylon, our problems are not primarily political, economic or social. The decline of any nation has its roots in spiritual factors. All the other issues are simply symptomatic.
Back to the banquet. The hall is hushed. Daniel now reveals the handwriting on the wall. “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” (Daniel 5:25). Daniel digs into the lexical roots of these words in order to reveal the three elements involved in the sinner’s doom. Numbered. Weighed. Separated. The end of opportunity, the Judgment, eternity.
Mene is from Aramaic meaning “numbered.” That is, your number is up, your time has run out, you are finished, it is over. There are no more opportunities and no more second chances. And that is the way it happens. Suddenly. The finger of God writes on the wall, “Mene,” when we least expect it. Yes, even in the midst of partying our way through life. Mene…your number is up.
Tekel is a word meaning “to weigh.” The word picture is of a scale with God’s standard on one side and you on the other. But you are too light. You do not measure up. God’s standard is the law. Who of us has not been measured on this scale and found wanting apart from the righteousness of Christ in our behalf?
Upharsin means “to break into two pieces, to separate, to divide.” The Lord was always doing this. He separated, divided, the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the tares.
Note the scene that evening in Babylon. The ballroom was now a scene of fright and terror but there was one figure who stood in perfect peace. There was no fright on his face and no concern on his countenance. He knew well the very One who had written on the wall. The Day of Judgment holds no fear for those, like Daniel, who know the Living God.
Daniel, chapter five, concludes with these very words, “That very night Belshazzar…was slain and Darius, the Mede, received the kingdom” (Daniel 5:30-31). Yes, “that very night.” While Babylon had partied with no sense of restraint or remembrance, the armies of the Medes and the Persians diverted the Euphrates into swampland and the Persian army marched right into the city through the dry river bed that ran under the city walls and took the city.
God’s judgment is sure. There are no walls high enough or thick enough to prevent a man, or a nation, from falling when God writes, “Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” on the wall.
Who really knows how close we might be to that word, “Mene,” our time is up, our number is up? Or, who knows how close we might be to “Tekel,” weighed in the balance and found wanting? Or, “Upharsin?” The kingdom is divided and separated from you.
Few nations have had a history like America. For over two hundred years we have been as a shining light to the world in many respects. We have been a launch pad to take the gospel literally to the very ends of the earth. We often hear people say, “God is our only hope.” But, I wonder if God might not be our
biggest threat! What is there about America that should offer us a special dispensation that neither Babylon nor even Ancient Israel were given?
There is a last night for every nation, and for every individual. In light of eternity what is the kingdom of Babylon or any other nation compared to the kingdom forfeited by men and women without Christ who shall be weighed and found wanting? Since our days are numbered, should we not sense the urgency to exchange our own righteousness for the righteousness of Christ through the new birth that we might not be found wanting in that day?
America has had some proud moments but none finer than that foggy morning of June 6, 1944. Those American boys approached the French coast at low tide. In wave after wave after wave they stormed the beaches of Normandy. Within one month over one million Allied troops had filled Europe and brought an end to the diabolical and murderous grip of Hitler’s Germany. But, when we think about it, that was not the original D-Day. I once heard Max Lucado, the master wordsmith, in telling this story put it like this — “God established his own beachhead in Bethlehem. He triumphed over the strongest enemy. He used a woman, a baby, and a Bethlehem feeding trough.” Christ is our hope!
On this Memorial Day, as we remember those who gave so much for the freedoms we enjoy today, may we be reminded anew that, in the words of Daniel, “The Most High still rules over the affairs of men” (Daniel 4:32). And, may we bow our hearts and our knees before Him...and may God bless America!
Lessons on leaving the Lord
Have you ever left something behind? We can learn valuable lessons from Jonah as we study how he left the Lord.
Jonah, a prophet of God, aspired to know God’s way until he left the will of God to go to Tarshish instead of Ninevah. He left his aspirations.
Jonah was the only man on board the ship who knew God. He was the only person who could lay hold of God — and he was asleep. He had left his obligations.
Jonah would not listen to God, so God had to speak to him through the storm and through the sailors. He had left his ability to communicate with God.
Jonah concealed his identity from the crew of the ship. They did not recognize him as a man of God. He had left his reputation.
God sent the storm as a sign that He was not finished with Jonah. Some of us blame the storm experiences of our lives for difficulties we face, when all the while, it has been a loving Father calling us back to Him.
Keeping Life in Focus
Focus. That single word holds the key for success in so many different endeavors of life. This was at the heart of Paul's own interest when he challenged us to "set our minds on things above" in the Colossian letter. It is at the heart of this message to the Philippians when he says, "This one thing I do."
Keeping the main thing the main thing in the midst of a multitude of other things is always a challenge for the follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the key elements to spiritual growth is the ability to obtain, and maintain, focus in the Christian life. Focus will lead us to do four things.
Focus Will Put Our Priorities in Order
Paul said, "this one thing I do..." Not ten things, not five things, not even two things. But, "this ONE thing I do." Focus helps us put our priorities in order. First, you define your goal, and then it begins to define you.
Focus Will Give Us a Forward Look
Too many of us today spend our time looking around us, or, worse yet, looking behind us most of the time. Focus enables us to begin to see our glass half full instead of half empty. It gives us a forward look. Paul goes on to say that he was "reaching forward to those things which were before" him. Paul's focus led him to possess a wise forgetfulness about the past and enable him to make sure his reach continued to exceed his grasp.
Focus Will Set Us on the Second Mile
Focus brings a passion to our work that instills within us a desire to do what is required, and then some. Paul said, "I press..." This word carries with it the idea of an intense endeavor; much like an avid hunter who is pursuing his prey. Paul was "pressing" because he had focus; he had "one thing" as a priority in life.
Focus Enables Us to Know Where We Are Going
One of the most valuable assets focus will bring to us is the ability to know where we are headed. Paul said he was pressing toward "the goal." This word translates the Greek work, skopos, from which we transliterate our English word, "scope." Like the scope on a rifle, focus will enable us to get our goals and priorities “in the crosshairs.” It enables us to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. It keeps our priorities in the bulls eye of our target.
Focus is the fountainhead of successful living. It helps us to begin our task with the end in mind. What is your goal in Christian living? What is in "the cross hairs" of your scope? Keep your life in focus by keeping Christ in the center of it.
Keep yourself in the love of God
The evening before the crucifixion our Lord admonished us to"remain in my love" (John 15:9). Jude repeats the same admonition, keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 21) and then shows us how to do so. There is a sense in which the burden is upon us!
Some of us are like the prodigal son. When he left home it did not mean the father stopped loving him. While he was away the father’s love never changed. What had changed was that the young man had removed himself from the place of blessing and from the environment of the father’s love.
The same truth applies to us. Three important words in Jude 20-21 give us the secret to abiding in the Father’s love. These three words, “building, praying, looking,” describe how we can keep ourselves in the Father’s love.
I. The inward look of edification
Building yourselves up in your most holy faith (Jude 20).
II. The upward look of supplication
Praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20).
III. The forward look of anticipation
Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life (Jude 21).
All of these words — building, praying, looking — should continually characterize our behavior. To remain in His love, we should be continually building ourselves up in the word of God, praying in the Holy Spirit and looking for the return of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The inward look of edification, the upward look of supplication and the forward look of anticipation will serve to “keep us in the love of God” daily.
Jonah: Lessons on Leaving the Lord
I had always wanted a camelhair overcoat. Pastoring in the cold icy Oklahoma winters made a camelhair overcoat the common desire of a lot of people. We had just been through one of the coldest winters on record. Merchants in Ada, Oklahoma, always celebrated the end of the winter season with a half-price sale in order to clear their racks and make ready for the spring fashions. So I took the plunge and bought the camelhair overcoat I had always wanted and packed it away securely to await next winter. However, that winter never came. We moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it is seventy degrees twelve months of the year. After living there a few years, and never wearing the overcoat, I received an invitation to preach in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the middle of February. I readily accepted, knowing it would be a tremendous opportunity to break in my new camelhair overcoat. I rose early on the appointed morning, and laid my overcoat and briefcase near the front door while I said my goodbyes to the family before heading off to the airport. Having checked in for the flight, I was sitting in my seat and the plane was barreling down the runway when a haunting thought came to me: I had left my overcoat by the front door at home. I left it. My big opportunity to wear my new coat — and I blew it! Minneapolis greeted me with a temperature of eight degrees below zero and snow drifts of eight feet. And I greeted Minneapolis without my coat.
Have you ever left anything? It is a terrible feeling. It leaves an emptiness when we leave something that is dear to us. Jonah left something. In fact, he left a lot when he left the Lord. He left his aspirations. I have seen men and women who aspired to do great things for God, but in getting out of His will, they left those aspirations when they left Him.
Jonah also left his obligations. I have also seen people who have left their obligations. Once they were active in the service of Christ, but today they are asleep in the storm.
Jonah also left his communications. I have seen this in the faces of men and women who once prayed, once had a sweet fellowship with God. But when they left His will for their lives, they left the ability to communicate with Him.
Jonah also left his reputation. I’ve seen men and women who once were looked on with respect and appreciation. Once they had a testimony. But when they left the Lord’s will, they left their reputations and their testimonies behind.
We often talk about what it costs to serve God, but Jonah gave us a vivid picture of what it costs to leave God.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord (Jonah 1:3).
Jonah had a calling from God to go to Nineveh. This was God’s will for his life. He was a prophet of God, a man of God, and he had aspired to know God’s way until he left the will of God. Then he also left his aspirations behind. He resigned his calling.
Everything in the book of Jonah obeys God’s will except his own man. Think about it. God sent the waves and they obeyed. The lots obeyed. The storm obeyed. The fish obeyed. The worm obeyed. Birds fulfill the will of God in their lives. Snakes fulfill the will of God in their lives. Man was made to fellowship with God and he is the only one of all of God’s creations who is not fulfilling his purpose and will.
Some people think they can get out of the will of God and maintain their Christian aspirations at the same time. They are deceived into believing they can go on in their sin, and God’s mercy will simply cover them. If we can go on and on in unrepentant sin without the chastisement of God, that is certainly not a sign of His mercy. It may be a sign that God is giving us over (as He said in Romans 1:28), “to a depraved mind.” God sends storms of chastisement on His people when they are out of His will. The wind and the rain that beat against us are God’s way of getting us to wake up and come to our senses.
However, before we point a finger of accusation at Jonah, we must ask the question, “What about us?” are we fulfilling our purpose? Are we in the will of God? Or have we too left His will and found a boat for Tarshish? One thing is certain, when we leave the Lord, we leave our aspirations behind also.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish” (Jonah 1:4-6).
The crew was frantic. They were praying to their own gods. Those rugged sailors had seen many a storm on the Mediterranean Sea. It would take quite a storm to get them alarmed. And Jonah? He was indifferent and unconcerned. In fact, he was sound asleep. That shouldn’t surprise us. This usually happens to men and women who leave God. They leave their obligations behind as well. Jonah was the only man on board the ship who knew God. He was the only man who could lay hold of God — and he was asleep. He had left his obligations.
While the others on board were fighting for their lives, Jonah was sleeping through the storm. He was really no different from a lot of professing Christians who are in the same boat today. So many of us seem to be at ease while the ship is sinking. So, many people seem to be asleep while the storm is raging.
What is happening to this nation in which we are living? This ship we call America is in the midst of a storm and has been close to sinking while Christians have been in in the bottom of the ship asleep. We have put a creed on our coins that says: “In God we trust.” The Declaration of Independence says we are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” The Mayflower Compact declares that America was established for the “glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” This very America is now in a storm. All of those affirmations of our heavenly Father are being stripped from before our eyes. We have come a long was as a nation since George Washington said in his farewell address on September 19, 1796, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”
While we Christians have been sleeping in the ship, the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools in 1963. Christmas carols have been prohibited in many schools. The courts have stripped the 10 commandments from public spaces. Crosses in some city parks have been declared unconstitutional. Like Jonah, we are endangering the souls of others by being out of the will of God. Like Jonah, we had better wake up before it is too late.
The Bible says the Lord sent the storm (Jonah 1:4). What should I do if my children disobey me? If I am really a loving parent, should I say, “Well, that’s all right, honey”? Or should I discipline them? How do we know if we love our children? We discipline them. The Bible says, “The Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). Every once in a while some mother will say, “I just can’t whip little Bobby because I love him so much!” But the Bible says that’s not love. In fact, the Bible says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). If we really love our children we will discipline them.
God is too merciful and too loving to let His children drift into open rebellion without disciplining them. David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67). “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71). Why does God send the storms? In Jonah’s case it was because he would no longer hear and obey. And some of us wonder why a storm is raging around us right now. It may be that it is the voice of a loving Father disciplining us, and in His mercy not giving us over to wrongdoing.
It is hard to believe that Jonah could sleep in such a storm. It shows how insensitive we can become. Sin hardens the heart. When we are on the run from the Lord’s will, it is inevitable that we become spiritually insensitive.
Paul said in the Ephesian letter, “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:18-19). (In the King James Version, verse 19 starts with the phrase, “who being past feeling.”) Those words bear with them the picture of a callus. In fact, some translations use the adjective callous instead of “past feeling.” A callus is skin that has lost its sensitivity. Most athletes know what it is to have calluses on the bottom of their feat. Seamstresses know what it is to have calluses on their fingers. You can stick a pin in a callus and not feel it; there is a loss of sensation.
This is what happens to our hearts if we continue in sin and leave the will of God. We become hard and without feeling toward God. WE have no response to any spiritual stimulus. Do you remember the pain you felt the first time you committed some sin that really plagued your conscience? For children, perhaps it was a lie you told your parents. For others, it might have been act of thievery, or an act of immorality. Think about it. Can you remember it? The hour of temptation came, you hesitated, you knew in your heart you shouldn’t, but you finally said, “I’ll try it just this once.” And you fell. Do you remember the pain that came afterward? You went home. You couldn’t bear the thought of facing those you love the most. You felt such shame. You were conscious that the eye of God had been upon you. You felt unclean. You were concerned about what others would think. You got into your bed and thought, “If that moment could only be lived over again, I’d never do it again.” Oh, the pain you felt in your heart.
Then came the second time. The temptation came again. Again you succumbed. Afterward, the pain was there, but it was a little less. And the third time, and the fourth, and on and on and on. Now you continue in that sin, and it scarcely bothers you. Your conscience is not affected by it anymore. You started on a walk of insensitivity. Your heart has become hardened.
The psalmist said, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8). Every time God calls us and we say no, continuing en route to Tarshish, we become a little less sensitive. The callus on our hearts gets a little thicker. Before long we are totally insensitive to His call. Now that doesn’t mean He has stopped calling; He continues to call. But the problem is, we can no longer hear. We are asleep. We are on a path of insensitivity that the apostle said is “past feeling.” Those are haunting words.
I am writing to some whose hearts use to warm to the Gospel. You used to aspire to the great things of God. You used to take seriously your obligation as a Christian. But something happened. You turned aside and tried to forget what God wanted of you.
If I were outside the will of God and felt no chastisement from Him, I would begin to examine myself to see if I was in the faith, or if God had given me over to a depraved or reprobate mind. Paul said that some folks go on in sin and “Give themselves over.” When a person makes a willful decision to leave God, after a certain point God will let that person go. In the greatest doctrinal treatise ever written, the book of Romans, Paul said:
“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:24-28).
The Old Testament says it like this: “Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!” (Hosea 4:17). Most persons who are out of the will of God are like Jonah in that they have not necessarily been given over, but they have been “overtaken in sin,” as Paul talked about in the Galatian letter.
Jonah slept on while the storm raged. It is interesting that we really don’t know when we are asleep. On a given day, after returning home from Saturday church visitation, I sat in a chair in the den to rest for a while and in just a moment I looked at my watch and I had slept in that chair for an hour. I didn’t know it. I thought, “Was I asleep?” So many people are not aware that they are asleep in the midst of the storm.
Further, when we are asleep, we dream of doing things we would never do when we are awake. Such was the case with Jonah. When we are sleeping through the storm, we don’t like to hear the sound of an alarm. We want to sleep on. We are so comfortable. Most of us know that experience. It’s the same spiritually. This is why messages and books that sound the alarm today rub many people the wrong way. They do not like to hear the alarm. They would rather go on in their sleep. They would rather listen to some positivist preacher who makes them feel comfortable in their sin.
The trouble with Jonah was that he was content with his rebellion. As long as our hearts are broken over our sin, as long as it keeps us awake at night, there is hope for us. But when we become comfortable in our sin, it is a danger signal. Many Christians are now content with uselessness. Some who used to cringe at the thought of certain social evils now are not bothered by those things. It is possible to be on the run from God’s will even if we are not going anywhere.
Even though Jonah had forgotten God, God had not forgotten him. He continued in love to discipline and chase down his prophet. A little later we will see how far He went to get his attention.
Oh, that we would hear God’s voice today. What do we mean, raising our children in “Christian homes” and not praying with them daily? What do we mean, saying we are Christians our lives do not match our lips? What do we think we’re doing — sleeping through the storm?
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah (Jonah 1:7).
When we leave the will of God we leave the ability to hear Him. Jonah had a God who spoke to him. When he left the will of God, he also left his ability to communicate with God.
Listen to the captain of the ship. When the waves of death were lashing against his ship, he suddenly believed in prayer. Fair-weather sailors are found not just in the open sea; they are found in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting in coastal areas that when the hurricanes come the television commentators who interview people hear lots of comments like, “We are boarding up and praying a lot.” “We hope the good Lord spares us.” “We are trusting in the Lord.” It’s strange that we hear people interviewed by these commentators the rest of the year and never hear anything like that until the storms come. It is the same with church members.
But Jonah? He was not praying. There is no evidence here that Jonah called on God. Later he did, but not here. Do you know why? He couldn’t. He was regarding sin in his heart, and God would not hear him. So often our praying seems ineffective — and it is. The Bible says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Isaiah put it this way: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
When we live with open and unrepentant sin in our lives, we cannot communicate with God. There is a sense in which what we are when we pray is more important than what we pray.
The sailors cast lots. Does that mean it is all right to gamble? Is it all right to take part in a lottery? Although we see the casting of lots other times in the Old Testament, it is not right for us under the new covenant. Rather, we are to live by faith in our God.
The storm was raging, and the inevitable had to come. It always does. We can hide for a little while, but sooner or later we will be found out. Jonah learned this and so have many of us. The Bible says, “BE sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
It is a sad day when a saint of God has to be exposed before an unbelieving world, but that is what happened to Jonah. My heart is broken over verse 7. Every time one of us falls, it hurts the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts should grieve over what happened on this ship.
Since Jonah would not listen to God, God had to speak to him through the storm and through the sailors. Some of the storms of our lives occur because that is the only way God can get our attention.
So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord because he already told them so.) (Jonah 1:8-10).
Jonah was the only man on board that ship who knew the living God and now, in leaving that God, he had also left his reputation.
A powerless Christian is pitiful to behold. “If the salt loses its saltiness… it is no longer good for anything” (Matthew 5:13). Some of us once gave the world a good taste of Jesus, but now as far as the kingdom is concerned, we are not “good for anything.” Like Jonah, we hurt the testimony of Christ if we claim to be Christians and do not live like it.
Dr. R. T. Kendall tells a story of some youngsters who played a prank on a man with a moustache. They put limburger cheese on his moustache while he was taking a nap. When he awoke he said, “This bed stinks.” He got up and walked around the room and said, “This room stinks.” HE went into another room, took a deep breath, and said, “This whole house stinks.” HE walked outside, took a deep breath, and said, “The whole world stinks!” Could it be that we are the ones who are making everyone else miserable by our rebellion against God? Oh, we are quick to blame them and feel that if they only started acting right, things would be wonderful.
This is the tragedy of backslidden Christians. They make everybody else miserable, and so it was with Jonah on the ship to Tarshish.
The thing that gets to me most about this part of Jonah’s pilgrimage is that he had lost his testimony. It’s amazing to note the questions with which Jonah was bombarded in these few verses. Think about it. “How can you sleep?” “Who is responsible?” “What do you do?” “Where do you come from?” “What is your country?” “From what people are you?” “What have you done?” “What should we do to you?” Could it be that people around us are asking the same questions?
It is a very sad day when a prophet of the Lord has to be asked, “What is your occupation?” “Who are you?” If someone has been around us for a period of time, and has to ask us if we are Christians, that is proof that we are outside the will of God.
And what about the question Jonah was asked, “Why have you done this?” (1:10, KJV). What a rebuke. And this question came from a lost man. How humiliating.
But let me ask you, why have you left the will of God? Listen to this question again: How could you have done this? Why did you do this? Because God is so cruel you didn’t want to follow him? Is it that you just couldn’t trust him? Was it that you didn’t believe his word? Were you simply tired of him? Have you found a better friend? Was He unfaithful to his promise? Why? May the Holy Spirit press that question to our hearts.
We used to sing, “I’ve found a Friend, O such a Friend, He loved me ere I knew Him.” We used to work with those dirty-faced little bus kids. We used to find our joy in seeing folks come to Christ. Why has all that come to an end? I’ll tell you why. We found a ship. We got on board to flee from the will of God. But if any reader of these words is on the ship to Tarshish today, a loving God is chasing you down as He did Jonah. The Bible says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord and He will have mercy on him, and to our God for He will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
The question is not “Why?” The question is “What?” What will we do about it? Will we go on in our rebellion or will we come back to Christ?
Jonah was found out. He had concealed his identity. Why do we point a finger of accusation at him? Some of us have worked in an office for years and not let anyone know we are Christians. How embarrassing it must have been for Jonah to admit this when his life was so different from his lips: “I worship the Lord.” His practice had not matched his profession. Of this type person Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Many people profess to fear God today but their “saying and not doing” is nothing but blatant hypocrisy. Is it any wonder the church has lost so much influence?
Jonah’s testimony didn’t mean much, did it? This ought to be a lesson for all of us. Jonah was quick to say, “I worship God.” But he didn’t. If he did he would have been en route to Nineveh.
Who fears God today? Have you really met anyone lately who fears the Lord? Men and women are not afraid of God today. So many of our churches seek to make sinners comfortable in their sin. They do not want to sound the alarm. This passage is a call for us to awaken from our slumber. The alarm is sounding. WE may want to reach over and turn it off, but we had better wake up before it is eternally too late.
Is there a Jonah reading these words? A Jonah who has fled from God’s will? Know that you will be a very unhappy fugitive. God will not let you go unpunished if you are one of His. He will follow you. He will pursue you. He is the “hound of heaven.” The storm will come.
Thank God for the storm. Heave you thought about it? God did not have to send the storm. He could have let Jonah go on in his rebellion. He could have cut him off. The storm was a sign that God was not finished with Jonah yet, and it just might be a sign that God is not finished with us yet. Remember, God sent the storm. Some of us have been blaming the storm experiences of life for our difficulties, when all the while it has been a loving Father calling us home. Let it remind us that we left our aspirations, obligations, communications and reputations when we left the Lord. Jonah finally admitted, “I am a Hebrew.” Who are you?
Jonah: Here am I... Send Someone Else
God calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. In Jonah’s case, we find God calling him to Nineveh to preach against its sin. But when God called Jonah, he replied, “Here am I… send someone else. I’m on my way to Tarshish!”
What a contrast that response was to the call of the prophet Isaiah. When God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was, “Here am I. Send me!”
Many Christians today are like Jonah. It may be that Nineveh for some of us is reconciliation. The Nineveh to which God calls others may be repentance. Still others may be called to the Nineveh of restitution.
A lot of us are on boats that are sailing for Tarshish while God is saying, “GO to Nineveh.” Where are you headed? There are really only two roads in the Christian life. One leads to Nineveh, the other to Tarshish. One road is the will of God; the other is disobedience to His will.
Somewhere there is a job for you that no one else can do quite the way you can do it. Each of us is indescribably valuable to God. Each of us has a special part in the body of Christ. No one is unimportant.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “God to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2).
The call of the Lord is personal. Jonah was a real person who lived in a real city just like you and me, and God called him for a special task. The Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittal.” It was a personal call. It was “to Jonah.” God did not call Habakkuk nor Amos nor Obadiah, nor any of the other prophets to go to Nineveh.
This was not the word of man; it was the “word of the Lord.” Men do not call us; it is God who calls us. Jonah had a God who spoke to him.
I don’t know how God talked to Jonah. He did not have the word of God, the final complete written revelation, as we do today. Perhaps God spoke to him audibly, as He did to Abraham. Perhaps God spoke to him in a vision, as He did with Peter on the rooftop or with Ezekiel. Or maybe it was in a dream, as it was with Joseph. It may simply have been an impression on his heart. How He spoke to him is not important. What is important is that the word of the lord got through to a human being.
God still speaks to His servants today, and His call is just as personal.
We have a God who speaks to our hearts in a still, small voice. It is strange how it never occurs to some believers that the same God who spoke to the prophets in the past now speaks to us directly by the Holy Spirit through His word. Some people have no difficulty believing that God spoke to this man Jonah, but that God would speak to them is extremely difficult to believe.
Has the word of the Lord come to you this week? If not, you have not spent time with Him. God still speaks to us personally. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). What are we doing about the fact that God speaks to us personally? It is no wonder that later in Hebrews we read, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).
I remember a Friday evening all-night bus ride from Matamoros, Mexico, to Fort Worth, Texas. I was a college pre-law student but that night on that bus God spoke to me and called me into the ministry. I cannot explain it but I know He did it. It could not have been more real had He been seated beside me physically on that bus. God spoke to my heart and called me to preach and I’ve known from that moment that I could not find happiness in a court of law or in doing anything else. God still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes — and not just preachers. He calls teachers and lawyers and business people and housewives and bank tellers and scientists, if we would but listen. David said that God makes known to us the path of life, and in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). And a good thing to remember is that God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.
The Gold Coast of Florida, including the greater Fort Lauderdale-Miami area, has become one of the large metropolitan areas of the world, with more than 5.6 million people now residing in this beautiful tropical paradise. A lot of people come to that area to get lost in the teeming masses. It is easy to become nameless there. No one knows you. No one is watching you. But we need to remember that God knows us. God knows our names, addresses and telephone numbers He knows our backgrounds, our parents, and brothers and sisters. Even before we were formed in the womb, He said, “I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). The beautiful thing about life in Christ is that He gives a purpose and personhood. God calls us personally to Himself. It is a happy day in the life of any believer when he or she comes to realize that the Lord Jesus is interested in them personally: at school, on the ball field, at the office, in the home, at the grocery store, struggling with the finances, in good times and in bad times.
The call of the Lord is pointed. God said, “Go to Nineveh.” It was a clear call. It was pointed. It was urgent. God did not tell Jonah to go to Jerusalem or Shechem, or Joppa, or anywhere else. His call was to Nineveh, a city founded by Nimrod shortly after the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.
Nineveh was a great city in what is modern-day Iraq. Its streets were 20 miles long and its walls 100 feet high. The walls around Nineveh were so wide that three chariots could be driven abreast across the top of them. Historians believe that the population exceeded hundreds of thousands; the Bible tells us that one 120,000 did not know their right hand from their left (perhaps a description of small children). It was a city of great wickedness and it was the capital of Assyria.
Why would God call Jonah to go to Nineveh, when Nineveh was a Gentile city, and God was working with the Jews? Surely Nineveh was not on Jonah’s preaching schedule. We don’t know why God picks certain places. For example, why were you born where you were born and not in another country or century? I was born in 1947 in Fort Worth, Texas. It would have made a profound difference in my life had I been born three years earlier in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Like other Israelites, Jonah believed that God blessed his people in two ways: first, by directly blessing Israel spiritually and temporally; and second, by sending adversities on their enemies. Thus, a famine in Nineveh would be considered a blessing to Israel. Things haven’t changed much, have they? Many of us feel as if someone’s victory is a defeat for ourselves. And some people even believe that someone else’s downfall in some way lifts them up. A call to go to Nineveh went against the grain of a Jewish prophet like Jonah. In fact, a comforting hope Israel held to was the hope that some day God would pour out wrath on Nineveh. Now, instead of that, God was calling Joan to go and preach to them the message of salvation. It seems that even in Old Testament times our Lord was giving us a glimpse of what He would one day say on a Galilean hillside: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Those ancient Jews had it in their minds that God loved them and them alone. What a surprise Jonah must have felt when he received word from God to “go to the great city of Nineveh.” Had God commanded him to go to Jerusalem or Bethlehem or some other city, It might have been different. Bit Nineveh? A pagan city?
Before we are quick to point a finger of accusation, however, we must understand that in some ways we are no better than Jonah. We too can get to thinking that God loves us more than He does others. We live in America, a so-called Christian nation. We are the so-called “people of God.” When we read that God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, it ought to remind us of our commission to take the Gospel to the entire world. This pointed call smacks in the face of any exclusivism or cliquishness on our part. Can you sense its missionary spirit?
God loves Russians, Iranians, the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Israelis, the Palestinians. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”
God’s call is purposeful. God instructed Jonah to go to Nineveh and “preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” The Lord is never vague in His call. Jonah was to cry out against the wickedness of Nineveh. What a task God assigned him. He would be one lonely voice in the midst of that city, calling its people to revival and repentance. Think about that. What could one man do?
The verbs in verse 2 are imperatives. They are commands. Go. Preach. God’s calling is not merely one of several options if we intend to be in His will. Some people hear the call of God to a particular place for a particular purpose and they think, “Well, I’ll decide about that later.” WE all need to be reminded that God’s calling is always in the imperative. Jonah was not to be concerned with success. He is simply to obey the call. Jonah was not to go and preach philosophy. He was not to go and speak religious platitudes. He was not to go and address social issues. He was not to go and set up a blood bank and begin a clothing ministry. He was to “preach against their sin.” Surely God is calling more people to this task today than are evidently on the scene. The 21st century business to Tarshish must be booming in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Where are the prophets who as Joel said, “weep between the temple porch and the altar” (Joel 2:17) over the sins of the people?
Thank God for those in our own nation who are standing against the humanistic philosophy that has subtly infiltrated our culture. This cancer is especially preying on young minds in the public schools. It is no wonder the humanists are so determined in their effort to keep prayer out of public schools. They want no acknowledgment of God, so there will be no sense of sin, which is the breaking of His commandments.
Today four men are ruling America from their graves. Charles Darwin tells us that sin is just a hangover from our animalistic background. John Dewey, the leading promoter of pragmatism, tells us that human beings can be educated out of what drags them down. He says that sin is not our problem; a lack of education is. Sigmund Freud tells us that the concept of sin is what is wrong with people in the first place. Karl Marx tells us that man’s problem is basically economic; put him in the right economic state and he will prosper. Those four philosphies are ruling America. But where are those standing between the porch and the altar, crying out against the wickedness of our day?
Whatever became of sin? Man’s problem is not fundamentally biological, nor educational, nor psychological nor economical. Man’s problem is sin, rebellion
To cry out against the wickedness of our day is not easy. Why? Mainly because we cannot cry out against the sins of others with sin in our own hearts and lives. Could this be the reason so few Christians are really standing against the tide of sin today? It is difficult to speak out against pornography if you yourself subscribe to certain magazines, surf to certain websites or read illicit literature in airports when no one is looking. It is difficult to cry out against prostitutions if you personally think nothing of having extramarital affairs. It is difficult to speak out against marijuana if you smoke cigars and cigarettes. It is a difficult thing to speak out against dope if you are social drinker .It is difficult to speak out against X-rated movie enterprises if you are glued to television soap operas with all their adultery and fornication. In such an environment, is it any wonder that many of God’s people are enroute to Tarshish today? God calls us to a purpose, and that purpose is to cry out against the wickedness around us.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord (Jonah 1:3).
Jonah’s fall from the Lord was calculated. What an honor had come to him. God chose him to go to Nineveh with the message of revival. Jonah must have been the most humbled and challenged man in all the land.
Jonah 1:3 begins with two words that may be the saddest words in the whole book, “But Jonah.” Instead of being thankful, Jonah fled from God’s will. He was not different from us. So many of us have doubted God’s word. Remember, Jonah was a prophet called of God. He knew the Lord, and knew that the Lord had called him. I dare say there are those reading these words who know the Lord, who have been called by the Lord, and perhaps like Jonah have fled from the will of God. Perhaps you are a young man whom God is calling into the ministry, but you are enroute to Tarshish. Perhaps you are a young woman living in sin, knowing that her Nineveh is repentance.
The Bible tells us that he went down to Joppa. He found a ship. He bought a ticket. This was no passing whim. This was a calculated decision.
When we fall from the Lord, it is always calculated. We make plans to do wrong and we follow them through. Tarshish was the farthest known city of that day. It is believed to have been in Spain, over 2,000 miles from Joppa. When people leave God, they always go as far away as they can. Remember the story Jesus told of the prodigal son who went to the “far country” when he left the will of his father. Tarshish was a far west as one could go. Nineveh was to the east.
A lot of us have a Tarshish out there somewhere. It’s that place where we think we can minister as effectively as we could in Nineveh. But remember, when we go to Tarshish and God has called us to Nineveh, we go without his blessing.
When we really think about it, this is incredible. Here was God’s man. Why would he run away from life? Perhaps it was because of fear of the unknown. Think about it. What if God called you to go to Tehran, Iran today? The people are so different. The culture is so opposite from ours and so antagonistic toward us. A lot of us might be running to Tarshish because of the unknown.
Perhaps Jonah went to Tarshish because he was afraid he would become unpopular. I suppose a lot of people are running away from the will of God for fear of being unpopular. It could have been that he left God’s will because he was unconcerned. It might be that he was just not concerned that Nineveh come to repentance. After all, he held some animosity toward them. He knew all about the people of Nineveh and had witnessed their cruelty and brutality. They were known for their savagery. They burned children alive and tortured adults by skinning them and leaving them to die in the scorching sun. Is it any wonder he went to Tarshish?
It is not unusual for modern day Jonahs to want to run from difficult things. A lot of people are on the run today simply because they don’t want to face difficult tasks. It is easier to get a divorce than it is to go to Nineveh and be in the will of God. So many think the route to Tarshish is so much easier… until they are on board ship.
The real reason Jonah fled is found in the first verses of chapter 4 of the book: “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “o Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’” (Jonah 4:1-2). Jonah could not believe that God would shower His grace on the Gentiles, especially those who had been so ruthless with the Jews. Jonah wanted no part of that. We see a lot of the same spirit in the prodigal’s brother who “became angry and refused to go in” when his wayward brother returned (Luke 15:28).
So Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord. Jonah’s fall was a calculated fall. He knew where he was going, and he was going his own way. “He was running away from the Lord” (1:10). When we are on the run, we forget the truths of Scripture. Probably Jonah had read a thousand times the words of the psalmist:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settled on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10).
Jonah thought he could flee from the presence of the Lord. He knew better, but his sin had blinded him to the truth of Scripture. This happens to people when they are on the run from the will of God. They find themselves doing things they know better than to do. We forget what we know when we are on the run from God.
Jonah wasn’t the first nor the last person in the Bible who tried to flee from the presence of the Lord. Adam and Eve tried to flee from God’s presence. Like Jonah, they disobeyed, and God came to mend the broken relationship. But the first thing they did was try to hide. “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).It was the same with Cain after he killed his brother Abel. He deliberately rebelled and after he killed his brother Abel. He deliberately rebelled and the Bible says, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). On and on we could go throughout the Bible. And it is the same with so many people today. In our rebellion, we think we can hide from the Lord — but we can’t.
Don’t be so foolish as to think you can flee from God’s presence. God said, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? … Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). We cannot run away from God. It is a tragic mistake to think we can.
It is interesting that the Bible says he “found a ship.” He was looking for it. It is a dangerous thing to try to justify our rebellion simply because things seem to fall in place. Some people think that just because they “find a ship” it must be all right. Someone leaves God for a life of sin and says it must be right, look how everything is turning out. You too may find your ship, and it may sail right on time, but if you are enroute to Tarshish when God has called you to Nineveh, a storm is brewing and sooner or later you are going overboard.
It is amazing how skilled the devil is in his manipulative powers. For example, a woman leaves her husband because she found a ship to Tarshish. Oh, there was someone else who was always there and was so kind and understanding. A man gets himself into legal trouble because he found a ship for Tarshish. He was in a financial bind and thought “just this once.” A young Christian woman marries an unsaved man because she found a ship for Tarshish. “Oh, he’ll get saved after the wedding,” is her wishful thought. The truth is, any time we want to run away from the will of God, one thing is certain. We will find a ship to Tarshish, and the devil will make sure that it is sailing right on time. Satan always sees that transportation is provided for those who are running from the will of God.
Jonah’s fall from the lord was continuous. Note his ongoing downward digression. He went down to Joppa. He went down into the ship. He went down into the sea. He went down into the fish’s belly. He went down into the deep. Here is a vivid picture of a life fleeing from God. It is characterized in the King James Version by these words: down, down, down. There is something eerie about the sound of these words in verses 3 and 5. It is as though an ominous dark storm cloud was gathering and you can see it coming. Then it unloads thunder, lightning and pelting rain.
Once we step on the pathway of disobedience, the road keeps spiraling downward. David started going down when he watched Bathsheba bathing. He went down farther when he called for her. He went down farther into adultery. He went down farther when he had her husband Uriah killed. He went down farther when he tried to cover over his sin. He kept going down, down, down, until he repented.
Falling from God’s will brings on the feeling that we cannot stop. I remember learning how to snow ski in the Santa Fe ski basin in New Mexico. On the first day of my first attempt, a friend and I got on the wrong ski lift and went to the top of the mountain instead of to the beginners’ slope. The farther down we went, the steeper it got and the faster we went and we couldn’t stop until we crashed. This is the way it is in leaving the will of God. When we fall from His will it is not only a calculated fall, but a continuous fall until we crash.
If we could only learn this simple lesson: No one ever goes up while living in rebellion against God. A lot of people today are fooling themselves. A fall is just what it says it is. People never fall up; they fall down. There is no standing still on the way to Tarshish.
Jonah’s fall from the Lord was costly. The Bible says that Jonah paid the fare. We pay our own way when we flee from the Lord. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
The rest of Jonah’s story shows us the trip was more expensive than he ever imagined. That is the way it is with sin. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Have you considered the cost of fleeing from the will of the Lord?
I have seen so many who are paying the fare of a life of rebellion against the will of God. I know men who left their families and the will of the Lord and are paying the fare. I know some who are hooked on narcotics and are paying the fare. I visited with a man in prison not long ago who left the will of the Lord and is paying the fare. I see it in the faces of men on the streets of our city who are paying the fare. Yes, the way of the transgressor is hard. The prodigal son out in the far country feeding the swine was paying the fare.
When we fall from God’s will it is costly. Ask the woman who married the unsaved man; he was lying when he said he would never leave nor forsake her. Ask the man whom God called into the ministry who instead went to Tarshish. Ask the prostitute at the corner who is 40 and looks 60. Ask some of the street people who line up at the clothing ministry. Each one is some mother’s son; some of them are somebody’s daddy. They are the shadows of the men they might have been. Ask the teenage runaway girls on the Fort Lauderdale strip. I see people paying the price of running from God every day of every week. I see it in the faces of men, women and young people. I see it in the guilt-ridden faces of singles who think that everybody else is doing it.
The most expensive thing a person does is run away from God. It costs some people their jobs, others their families, some their reputations, others joy and peace.
The fall from God’s will is a calculated fall, a continuous fall and a costly fall, until we repent and turn to him. When we return to him we hear his clear voice still calling us personally, pointedly and purposefully.
How wonderful it is to know that Jesus paid our fare for us on Calvary. There He took our sin that we might take his righteousness. He died our death that we might live His life. Yes, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
God still calls people today. However, when God called Jonah he answered, “Here I am… send someone else!” Let’s be honest. There is a bit of Jonah in all of us. Many of us have heard God’s call and have gone the other way, only to find that the fall has been continuous and costly. God still speaks to us today. Despite our rebellion, He stays after us as He did Jonah.
Let none hear you idly saying
There is nothing I can do.
While the souls of men are dying
And the Master calls for You.
Take the task He gives you gladly
Let His quick work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly while He calleth
“Here am I, send me, send me.”