Sunday, March 10, 2013

God is Love

I am always fascinated by God’s ability to speak so many things through the same verse or book.  I can tell you as a pastor; it gets a little awkward to stand up here week after week realizing that we are saying the same thing in a different way each week.  Here’s the kicker, people come up afterward and tell us they’ve never heard that before and that they had a life change!!!  It blows me away at how big and great a God we serve.  Let us just stop and thank Him for the word we are going to receive today. 
After saying all that, turn in your Bibles to the book of Jonah.  You can see where I was going with that now.  How many people have ever heard of Jonah?  Even most unbelievers have heard this story but don’t get too comfy, God will be speaking to many of you today through this well known story.
This book was written around 785BC to Israel and God’s people everywhere.  It is different from the other prophetic books because it tells the story of the prophet and does not center on his prophecies.  It is an autobiographical account from Jonah showing the extent of God’s grace and love for all people.  On a side note Jewish tradition has Jonah as the author.  Initially, one would think it would be counterintuitive to write a narrative painting oneself the way Jonah looked.  But after reading the story, one could argue that Jonah may not have seen Himself as the bad guy.
          In fact, with not too much of an imagination, one could easily put themselves in Jonah’s shoes and feel the same way. 
          “Today, sin runs rampant in society – daily headlines and overflowing prisons bear dramatic witness to the fact.  With child abuse, pornography, serial killings, terrorism, anarchy, and ruthless dictatorships, the world seems to be filled to overflowing with violence, hatred and corruption.  Reading, hearing and perhaps even experiencing there tragedies, we begin to understand the necessity of God’s judgment.  We may even find ourselves wishing for vengeance by any means upon the violent perpetrators.  Surely they are beyond redemption!  But suppose that in the midst of such thoughts, God told you to take the gospel to the worst of the offenders – how would you respond?”      Life Application Bible (p.1559)
This is where we find Jonah in these first three verses... 
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 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.
We could stop right here and spend the remainder of our time discussing these three verses and their application.  There is so much here, it’s a pastor’s paradise.  The first verse, first five words, is the first thing God wants you to hear today.
1.  Who is Speaking:
God is Speaking
God is speaking to you this morning.  He is giving a state of the union address to your hearts and ears.  He is saying to many of you that things are not going well and He is going to do something about it.  Things aren’t always great for Christians if you haven’t noticed. The bible says that “Many are the afflictions of the righteous”.  Jesus said we would have “tribulations and trials.”  Bad things happen to good people.  But is that a reason that good things shouldn’t happen to bad people?  I think not.
2.  Who is He Speaking to?
But who is God speaking to?  Who is His audience?  God wanted to reach the Assyrians with a message.  These people, like many today, are in need of salvation from themselves.  They are a representation of the world.  
The World
3.  Who is He speaking through
He is Speaking through You
God is speaking to many of you today.  He is speaking through me today to reach you.  There are people in your world who have hurt you.  Who have misused you, embarrassed you, and hated you.  But God still wants to speak to them.  He has a word for them, a message that only you can bring.  This is where things got to be too much for Jonah.  It only took two verses and one word from God to run, use his own money to buy a ticket and board a ship heading as far as he could from Nineveh.  It’s almost comical how quickly he runs from God.  Imagine this prophet of God who has heard from God many times over and knows God’s voice, hears the word of the Lord and doesn’t even try to pretend he has something to do.  He just runs out the door.  How many understand Jonah?  It’s not as hard to understand Jonah now.  Some of you might want to run away right now.  Don’t!  We see how it ends up. 
This is a hard word.  Jonah doesn’t try to reason with God like we often do.  “Well God, I know you said I need to love her, but you don’t understand she isn’t lovable.” Or, “Well God, I know you said I need to respect him, but you don’t understand he isn’t respectable.”  Oh no, I’ve gone to meddling. 
4.  What is God Saying
Moving forward, what is God saying?  What does He want to speak through you today?  Write this down, if it’s the only thing you get from this message, remember to ask this question all the time… What is God speaking to and through you?
Repentance and Redemption
Paul says: Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
He says this in Galatians 5:7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?
Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?  What a question!  If we were to look at it we would probably find out that it was ourselves that “cut in” and kept us from the truth. 
Run the race that God has called you to run.  Don’t run away like Jonah.  Realize that success is not determined by our own measure, but by God’s.  Jesus went to the cross, Paul was beheaded.  Don’t think that just because your life is hard, that you’re not where God has you, look at Hosea.  God called him to marry a prostitute only to have to turn around and buy her out of prostitution again.  God is not a God of fair; He is a God of just!  Jonah thought is wasn’t fair that the Assyrians were going to receive God’s mercy if they repented.  They had done horrible things to the Israelites and didn’t deserve God’s grace.
There could be people in our lives that are in need of God’s mercy and grace.  The problem is that we might be the ones God is calling to extend it to them even though we are the ones that got hurt by them. 
How are we going to react to this calling?
Are we going to be like Jonah and run the other way, paying our own way to try to stop the Will of God?  Where God calls, He also provides
Will we be as self-centered as Jonah to think that because it affects us, it’s about us?
He is calling you this morning to:
Let go
Jonah 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Love’s Focus – People
Love’s Price – Jesus
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for each other.” (1 John 3:16)
Love’s Response - Salvation
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)
Our Response – Salvation (Faith activation)
How can we obtain this blessed position with God?  We have to accept the fact that we are in need of a savior, lost and without God.  Then, we acknowledge that God made a way and activate the “measure of faith” God has freely given to all to be saved by believing and confessing Jesus as our savior having lived a sinless life, died an atoning death, raised to life and reigns with God forever.  This is our response to the Love of God, His focus is you, His price was Jesus, Our response is to believe and be saved … but is doesn’t end there
Our Responsibility – Offer Salvation to others (Faith in action)
This is the part that scares most Christians.  We will come to church, give of our time, talent and even resources, but don’t ask us to talk to someone about Jesus.  Don’t ask us to share the message of salvation.  Let me be frank for a moment.  There is only one thing you have to do, one thing you have to say when it comes to Jesus, God and your faith…   Share your testimony.
Love’s Purpose – Relationship
Romans 8: 38-39 For I am persuaded beyond doubt (am sure) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But I think the bible has a better way of saying these four things.  Focus, Price, Response and Purpose of God and His love is summed up in this one verse.  In fact, I think I know why it’s probably the most well known scriptures in the history of the bible.  You probably know it and can quote it in some form or fashion
John 3:16 For God so loved the world – Love’s Focus - People
That He gave His only son – Love’s Price - Jesus
That if we would believe in Him – Love’s Response - Salvation
We will live with Him forever – Love’s Purpose - Relationship
That’s how God see’s it in our lives today.  Reach out with the message of Redemption.  Don’t get caught up in judgment, leave that to God.  Focus on loving others as Jesus did and gave His life for us so we could be saved and have a eternal relationship with God.