God Shows Compassion, 27 October 2019

God Shows Compassion
Jonah 4:1-11

Series Big Idea:
The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

Big Idea:
God showed compassion to the Ninevites…and Jonah…and He shows it to us, too.

Do you like the LORD’s prayer? It would seem sacrilegious to say no. Jesus said,

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’ (Matthew 6:9-13)

Many of us have prayed the Lord’s Prayer countless times, either out of tradition and ritual or in seeking to earnestly pursue God and His participation in our lives.

But since all relationships require participation from both parties, I want to draw your attention to verse twelve.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Do you see it? There’s an assumption, a condition. Jesus tells us to seek forgiveness as we forgive others. Do we deserve forgiveness any more than another?

Before we finish the book of Jonah today, I want to give a quick summary of the first three chapters. The book of Jonah begins…

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

Jonah disobeys God and hops aboard a boat going the opposite direction from Nineveh. He hates these people. God causes a terrible storm which results in Jonah confessing his disobedience and being thrown overboard.

God causes a huge fish to swallow Jonah, sparing his life. Jonah prays during his three-day stay in the fish’s belly before God commands the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land (you can’t make this stuff up!). Jonah learns his lesson, he goes to Nineveh, the people repent—turn from their evil ways—and

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

What great news…right?

God relented.
God forgave.
God showed mercy.
God offers compassion.
God loves.

That’s our God!

I’m going to say something very radical, maybe controversial, and certainly outrageous…

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. He really does. He loved the evil Ninevites. He loves sex traffickers and drug dealers, atheists and even politicians! He doesn’t just love Christians! God doesn’t just love church people! He loves sinners…which includes you and me and the other 7+ billion people on the planet. And catch this: He doesn’t love us because we’re good…which is good…because we’re not good!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Our culture is so binary, forcing people into categories: Republican or Democrat, Christian or non-Christian, embrace and endorse and celebrate LGBTQ+ or hate them, black or white, rich or poor. We’ve got to get beyond labels. We’ve got to go beyond friend or enemy. That’s the way the world operates. God says we’re all sinners, we all need forgiveness, we all have an opportunity to receive mercy and grace, and we all choose now how we’ll live eternity—with God or without God. We all choose now who we will worship—God or our desires.

I love the late Dallas Willard who said, “
The sinner is not the one who uses a lot of grace... The saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on take off.”

Just because I made a decision more than forty years ago to trust Jesus as my LORD and Savior doesn’t mean I don’t need God grace or love…or that I deserve it more than anyone else. This might be the big idea of the entire book of Jonah.

God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a chance to preach to Nineveh.
God shows grace to Jonah by sparing his life through a fish.
God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a second chance to preach to Nineveh.
God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a front-row seat to witness revival.

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)

Jonah hates the Ninevites. They were enemies of Israel. He wants God to destroy them. He wants them gone! Instead, God forgives them. He shows mercy. He is compassionate. That’s who God is, and He loves the whole world. Period.

Does that mean everyone will spend eternity with God. No. Many choose hell, eternity apart from God. But my Bible says

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The world. Whoever. Anyone who believes…trusts…surrenders will have eternal life. Anyone who surrenders to Jesus Christ and receives the love and grace and mercy and forgiveness provided by the cross and the empty tomb will spend eternity with God, which, by definition, is what we call heaven…it is where God is present.

God was willing to spare Nineveh, but to do so He could not spare His own Son.

Jonah actually knew God is forgiving, gracious, compassionate, and love.

In chapter one, he was like the Prodigal Son, rebelling against God. Now he’s like the elder brother, angry that God would extend forgiveness and love to others.

In chapter one he asked God to spare his life.
In chapter four he asks God to take his life.

He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)

Are you kidding me?! Jonah should’ve died when he was thrown overboard. He deserved to die for his disobedience, but God still uses him to deliver a message of repentance which is successful. Jonah think God only loves his people, his kind…or that he should.

But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)

God is compassionate. Jonah is angry.
God spares Jonah’s life. Jonah wants to die.

The story continues with one of the most interesting accounts in the entire Bible.

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. (Jonah 4:5-6)

He wants to see God change His mind and destroy the city. He’s hoping he misunderstood God and that his people, the Israelites, would celebrate the destruction of their enemies. And then Jonah is excited about a plant. A plant! No, it was weed for him to smoke or even food for him to eat, but shade. It says the plant made Jonah very happy! Have you ever had a plant make you very happy because of its shade?

Here’s another sign of God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward Jonah.

But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:7-8)

God provided the plant.
God provided the worm.
Now Jonah is suicidal again…because of a worm!

This guy is a hot mess, proving yet again that God can use anybody.

He can use a murderer and stutterer like Moses to speak to Pharaoh, leading the Israelites for forty years.

He can use a loose-lipped, compulsive person like Peter who denied Jesus three times to build His Church.

He can use a suicidal, prejudiced patriot like Jonah to lead a great city to repentance.

He can use you and me whenever and however He chooses…if we make ourselves available…if we say yes…if we surrender.

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

What audacity!

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. 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?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

And the book ends there—somewhat abruptly—with a question. Jonah’s angry and wants to die. God is compassionate and forgiving and the great city of Nineveh becomes a repentant, God-fearing city. And don’t forget the animals!

So What?

Warren Wiersbe writes, “When reputation is more important than character, and pleasing ourselves and our friends is more important than pleasing God, then we’re in danger of becoming like Jonah and living to defend our prejudices instead of fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities. Jonah certainly had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart, and he was so distraught that he wanted to die!”


What makes you happy?
What makes you angry?
What makes you want to give up?

Jesus’ half-brother, James, said that Jonah was “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8,
NKJV). What about you?

If we return to Jesus’ words following his prayer instruction, he adds…

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

I know it’s hard to love…especially people who are different.
I know it’s hard to forgive…especially people who don’t deserve it (which is everyone!).

But this is the test of our faith, of our devotion to Jesus, of our obedience.

Agreeing with a statement of faith does not make you a Christian.
Going to church does not make you a Christian.

The only thing that makes you a Christian is repenting of your sins and following Jesus. Acting like Jesus. Loving like Jesus. Forgiving like Jesus.

Jason Horton: https://levithepoet.bandcamp.com/track/keep-forgiving

Keep forgiving. It doesn’t mean you forget. It doesn’t mean you necessarily trust. But forgiving frees you from bitterness and anger.

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. He wants them forgiven.

Do lost people matter to you? Do you have compassion for those far from God? Do you have a passion for the broken masterpieces in Toledo that need to be restored? Do you rejoice when sinners repent and trust Jesus?

Tragically, Christians are often known more for what we’re against instead of what we’re for…which should be God…and people. All people.

We’re beginning a series next week on discipleship…becoming like Jesus. It’s easy to get sucked into the binary arguments of our day, seeing everyone as a friend or enemy, us versus them. Jesus looks at all of us as broken, sinful, selfish, messed-up people…and he proved is love for us by giving his very life, dying in our place, taking our sin upon himself, crucified on a cross so we could experience forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, faith, hope, joy, and love. How can you resist that?

Many have, not because of Jesus, but because of those of us who claim to follow him.

Don’t be a Jonah. Be like Jesus (who himself taught about Jonah in Matthew 12 and Luke 11). Forgive. Show compassion.

We may have impeccable doctrine, perfect Sunday School attendance, and give generously to the church, but if we don’t have compassion and forgiveness, we don’t share in the life or character of God.

"God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Forgives the Repentant, 20 October 2019

    God Forgives the Repentant
    Jonah 3:1-10

    Series Big Idea:
    The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

    Big Idea:
    God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others.

    I love sports! October is one of the best months of the year because it might be the only month you can watch baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. I’m not much of an athlete, but I love to play as well as watch sports, especially with friends. Although it’s not my favorite sport, I enjoy an occasional golf game (and when I say occasional, I mean the annual First Alliance men’s golf outing!).

    I’m a terrible golfer, but there’s two things I love about playing golf: nature…and mulligans! For those unfamiliar with the sport, a mulligan is when you swing at a golf ball and…the result is embarrassing! The ball ends up in the woods, the water, or simply a few inches from where you tried to hit it! Forgiving golfers will often say, “Take a mulligan,” which means a do-over…a second chance.

    Wouldn’t it be great if life were like that? Actually, I’m here to declare that

    God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others.

    We’re in the middle of a study of the book of Jonah, a short four-chapter book made famous by a fish. Our text for today, the third chapter of Jonah, is a wonderful story of people repenting and God relenting. The short book of Jonah begins with these words:

    The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

    Nineveh was an evil city. The people were known for their violence and ruthlessness, impaling live victims on sharp poles, beheading by the thousands, stacking skulls by the entrances to the city, skinning people alive, and killing babies and young children. It was a great city, not because of its godliness, but its notoriety and size.

    Who do you hate? I know, Christians aren’t supposed to hate, but who do you despise? If you’ve served in military combat, you had an enemy. If you’ve been abused, you have a perpetrator. If you’ve been wronged, you have someone you’d like to see God judge.

    Jonah despised the Ninevites. Israel’s rival was Assyria and Nineveh was its capital. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that he disobeyed God and
    didn’t go preach fire and brimstone on these people, watching God destroy this evil city.

    As we saw in chapter one, Jonah disobeyed God, heading in the opposite direction of Nineveh. A massive storm led to his transport into the sea where found himself in the belly of a fish for three days before being launched onto a beach.

    We don’t know if anyone saw Jonah vomited from the fish.
    We don’t know if word spread about his journey.
    We don’t know if his appearance was bleached by his home for three days!

    We do know Jonah’s learned his lesson and he’s ready to go to Nineveh.

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it.

    Chapter three begins

    Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Jonah 3:1-2)

    If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! God has Jonah’s attention now! It’s time to resume the mission. But the mission has slightly changed. The first word of the LORD in chapter one, God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” Now God says to proclaim to it.

    God is the God of second chances. God forgives the repentant, the one who turns away from sin, does a 180, and runs to God seeking mercy and forgiveness.

    God forgave Noah the drunk.
    God forgave Abraham the liar.
    God forgave Jacob the cheater.
    God forgave Moses the murderer.
    God forgave Rahab the prostitute.
    God forgave David the adulterer (rapist?).
    God forgave Peter the denier.
    God forgave Martha the worrier.
    God forgave Saul the persecutor.

    God gave Jonah a second chance. He offers us a second chance, too.

    How many of you are glad God is the God of second chances?

    Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (Jonah 3:3)

    Jonah obeyed. It’s about time! He finally goes to Nineveh after taking a three-day, dark detour. Perhaps we should call it “alternative transportation!” We’re not sure if Jonah felt like it this time, but he goes. He knows the alternative is not pretty!

    It says

    Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (Jonah 3:3b)

    That’s huge! It was founded by Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10) and could’ve been about the size of the Toledo metro area in both population and land mass. One wall of the city had fifteen hundred towers and a circumference of eight miles, according to one researcher. Nineveh was built near the Tigris River and the Khoser River ran through it.

    Nobody is sure if three days meant the amount of time to preach to the entire city or to travel through it. Regardless, it was a very large and significant city.

    Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4)

    This is not a way to make friends and influence people…but when God says go…

    The life of a prophet was not easy. It is truly a calling to “call” people to repentance, to turn away from their sin, to change.

    I might add this must be done with love, genuine concern for others. Standing at a street corner yelling at people, judging and condemning does not count!

    Issuing warnings before disaster because you care about the potential victims is another matter entirely.

    Alliance president Dr. John Stumbo recently reminded us of the importance of show and tell. We need to live attractive, grace-filled lives
    and proclaim the truth lovingly to others. We need to demonstrate the gospel—the good news of Jesus—and verbalize it, too.

    A popular myth is that St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” He did not say that! Words
    are necessary. The book of Romans declares,

    “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14)

    We need words. We need to proclaim, one of the four verbs emphasized by the Christian & Missionary Alliance.

    I realize words can be difficult. Some of you love the
    idea of evangelism—of sharing good news—but you’re nervous about what to say. Maybe you’re an introvert. Perhaps you’re a new follower of Jesus and feel insufficiently trained. First, share your story. If you don’t have a story, don’t worry about it. I’d love to introduce you to Jesus. Let’s talk!

    Second, there are tools to help. Sunday mornings right here. Dinner Church on the last Sunday of the month. And next month,
    Saturate Toledo.

    Imagine what will happen when every household in the five-county area is given a chance to experience the gospel!

    You might look at people in our area the way Jonah looked at Nineveh. Let’s face it, our city is filled with needy people, broken people, and evil people. This might surprise you, but there are sinners in Toledo…and in this room…including me! But God is a God of second chances.

    We don’t really know Jonah’s attitude, but he nevertheless is obeying God.
    If you’ve spent any time reading the Bible, you’ll know the number forty appears frequently, usually connected to judgment. Noah and his family were in the ark while it rained forty days and nights. The Jewish spies explored the Promised Land for forty days. Goliath mocked God for forty days before his demise.

    Jonah obeyed God and warned the people of judgment with five Hebrew words (eight in English)…and then something happened.

    The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 5)

    Was this supposed to happen? People actually repented? They turned away from their sins? They fasted and put on sackcloth, a symbol for mourning and repentance. It wasn’t just the commoner who repented.

    When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. (Jonah 3:6)

    Can you imagine the king repenting? Can you imagine any politician acting out of such humility?

    Oh that our leaders would repent.
    Oh that we would repent.

    We all sin…and we must mourn our sin. We must repent. Yes, Jesus died to forgive us our sins, but that doesn’t give us a license to sin. It doesn’t mean we should be flippant about it? We must acknowledge and mourn over our sin…and be grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

    This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

    “By the decree of the king and his nobles:

    Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7-9)

    What a leader! What repentance! Even the animals were included! Notice the kind didn’t simply say, “We’re sorry, God.” He decreed that the people change, that they turn, that they give up their evil ways and their violence. Some would call that revival!

    Jonah (finally) obeys God and it truly makes a difference. A huge difference! The people of Nineveh—like the sailors in the boat in chapter one—don’t want to perish. God doesn’t want them to perish.

    God is the God of second chances.

    John 3:16 says that those who believe and trust in Jesus will not perish. Peter reiterates God’s attitude toward sinners:

    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

    Some Christians can’t understand why Jesus hasn’t returned yet. I long for him to return soon, too, but God is waiting for us to make disciples of “all nations.” He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance. Everyone. Young and old. Communist and capitalist. Rich and poor. GED and PhD. Married and single. Gay and straight…and other. Homeless and home owner.

    God is the God of second chances.

    He sends Jonah to utter five Hebrew words:

    “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4b)

    Instead, they repent.

    When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

    God relented. He responds to their repentance.

    God is the God of second chances.

    There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.
    There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.

    This is great news…and it needs to be shared. We can’t keep it to ourselves.

    God showed compassion upon the wicked but repentant Ninevites.

    God has shown compassion to you and me. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6).

    But we must repent. We must confess our sins. We must agree with God when we have sinned and disobeyed and return to obedience. No excuses. No compromise.

    Where do you need to repent? Where do you need to turn and do a 180? Where do you need to obey?

    Part of obedience—of following Jesus—is to proclaim. It is to let others know God is the God of second chances. There’s hope for them, too. We’ve all been called to make disciples. We’ve all been called to love others…in word and deed. We need to let the world know…

    There’s nothing they can do to make God love them more.
    There’s nothing they can do to make God love them less.

    Family, we must show and tell. We must proclaim in word and deed.

    God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others. Praise God!

    Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe, Jeremy Myers.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Answers Prayer, 13 October 2019

    God Answers Prayer
    Jonah 2:1-10

    Series Big Idea:
    The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

    Big Idea:
    God invites us to pray prayers of repentance which can lead to redemption.

    After running from God and His instructions to preach to the great city of Nineveh, Jonah finds himself miraculously in the belly of a fish (not an actual spaceship!).

    The last verse of Jonah, chapter one says,

    Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

    His story is similar to that of the prodigal son, a rebellious man who came to his senses and came home, so to speak, grateful for the kindness of the Father who brings him to repentance, sparing his life.

    Imagine God gave you an assignment which you completely ignored; you fled! The next thing you know, you’re inside a fish. You can’t get any cell phone service. Your phone battery is dead, anyhow. You’ve tried to sleep, had an unusual craving for seafood, and felt left in the dark! We can only imagine what those three days were like, but Jonah, chapter two tells us…

    From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. (Jonah 2:1)

    This doesn’t merely say Jonah prayed.
    This doesn’t merely say Jonah prayed to the LORD.
    It says Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.

    Is God your LORD? I bring up this word “LORD” often because its real meaning is so foreign to our culture, even our church culture. We like to use God for our purposes. Bless me, LORD! Help me, LORD! Heal me, LORD! The all-caps, by the way, indicate the original Hebrew usage of the sacred name of God, a word Jews refuse to pronounce but is probably something like Yahweh. Jonah prays to the Almighty, sacred, holy, awesome One.

    When is the last time you prayed? What did you pray?

    Our prayers are often more like wish lists for Santa than authentic conversations with our Creator. Right?

    How big is your God?
    How great is your God?
    How awesome is your God?

    G. Campbell Morgan said, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.”

    How awesome is your God? If He’s just your genie in a bottle, your SOS, your sky fairy, He’s way too small.

    If we could truly grasp Who it is we pray to, not only would our prayers be different, our lives would be different.

    I must confess I’ve prayed some really pathetic prayers.

    “God, please help everyone in the whole wide world.”
    “God, bring peace to the world.”
    “God, please feed all the starving children while we enjoy this feast.”

    William Law said, “He who has learned to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.”

    He said:

    “In my distress I called to the LORD,
    and he answered me.
    From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.
    You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
    all your waves and breakers
    swept over me. (Jonah 2:2-3)

    He’s in a fish and he’s testifying to God’s answer! Is he grateful? Absolutely! His life was spared. He knows he sinned against God and now he repents. He’s not just admitting wrong, he’s turning away from his rebellion and moving toward God. Repent means to turn, to do a 180. Although the sailors physically hurled Jonah into the sea, he realizes it was God who was behind it, loving discipline.

    How do you respond to discipline? Hebrews 12 tells us we can despise it and fight, resist it and face even greater discipline, or submit and grow in faith and love. God’s discipline is never to harm us, but rather to help us grow like an athlete’s muscles grow from training. The Father chastens/disciplines only His own children (Hebrews 12:8).

    God invites us to pray prayers of repentance.

    Jonah continues…

    I said, ‘I have been banished
    from your sight;
    yet I will look again
    toward your holy temple.’
    The engulfing waters threatened me,
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head. (Jonah 2:4-5)

    This is a vivid description of his frightening, aquatic experience. Remember, he’s praying from the belly of a fish, and yet he is grateful. He worships God, the one from whom he was running days earlier. He knows God’s character and mercy.

    One writer noted how up until now, Jonah continues to go down—down to the city of Joppa, down into the sides of the ship, and he continues…

    To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.
    But you, LORD my God,
    brought my life up from the pit. (Jonah 2:6)

    He went down into the fish’s belly. Running from God is a sure way to go down! But now that Jonah has repented, he begins to look up…from the pit…to God.

    “When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered you, LORD,
    and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple. (Jonah 2:7)

    He looked up to God’s holy temple, following the instructions of 1 Kings 8:38-40. He knew and claimed God’s promises.

    They say there are no atheists in fox holes or when a plane is about to crash. Why do we remember God when we’re facing death? Why don’t we remember God in the midst of life?

    “Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
    But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
    What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’ ” (Jonah 2:8-9)

    Jonah is back in the game. His faith is engaged. He knows his God. He recognizes the futility of idols. His near-death experience has transformed Jonah from a rebel to a worshipper.

    What worthless idols are in your life? For Jonah, it was extreme patriotism and bigotry toward the Ninevites. John Calvin said Jonah’s sin was that he was “very inhuman” toward the people of Nineveh, refusing to see them as masterpieces created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. He makes vows to God, the only One who can save. He is no doubt recalling the psalms when he speaks of salvation:

    The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. (Psalms 37:39)

    But what worthless idols are in your life? What’s more important to you than loving God and loving people? Pleasure? Entertainment? Money? Power? Sex? Popularity?

    There is no mention of the fish, the smell, the darkness, the discomfort, or even his own sin. He doesn’t ask for a housing upgrade, yet God obviously hears his prayer. In chapter one, God provided the fish. Chapter two ends by showing God’s activity again.

    And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:10)

    Just for fun, I looked up this verse in several translations, most of which used the same verb to describe Jonah’s transport to the beach!

    God invites us to pray prayers of repentance which can lead to redemption.

    So What?

    The moral of this story is…well, let’s go back to last week’s big idea:

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Today’s big idea is

    Prayer matters, no matter what you’ve done.

    God spared Jonah’s life. If the story ended here, we’d see disobedience followed by prayer and God’s intervention.

    We were created for relationship with God. That means God loves to hear our voice. I believe the most beautiful sound in the universe to God is your voice. When is the last time He heard it?

    A few weeks ago, we talked about prayer in our study of the book of Colossians.

    Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

    Prayer is more than talking to God.
    Prayer is more than talking with God.
    Prayer is being with God, which may sometimes involve silence, listening, stillness.

    Are you ok with that? For some of us, slowing down and quieting down is not easy. Is anybody with me? I like to be busy, productive, and sometimes noisy…but it’s not ideal for relationships. I get annoyed when I’m talking with someone and they keep checking their phone…or even worse, start texting or talking as if I didn’t exist.

    Prayer is being with God. It’s about building a relationship. We need to talk and listen…and always be fully present.

    When you pray, begin with God. In his book The Rest of God, author Mark Buchanon writes,

    “Are you in the midst of a situation where, as you pray, you find yourself putting the problem first? If so, you’re starting where you should end. You’re rehearsing the problem, making it seem larger than it is, when what you need to do is rehearse God’s greatness and bigness. Then the problem shrinks to its right portions.”

    I love that! Start with God. Look what He has created. Remember how He has been faithful. Use the book of Psalms to guide you into praise and adoration of our awesome God so you know who you’re dealing with!

    Recently I was burdened by a number of situations out of my control and I prayed, “Help, God!” Pausing to acknowledge WHO I was talking with—starting with God and His greatness—would’ve certainly given me greater peace and confidence.

    I love that we can talk with God anytime, 24/7. We’re not a burden. We’re not an interruption. He
    wants us to pray. He invites us to pray.

    Some of us don’t pray because we’re not sure God hears us. He does. Even from a fish!
    Some of us don’t pray because we’re afraid of what God will say. He loves you. Really.
    Some of us don’t pray because we feel unworthy. We are, but He still loves us.

    It’s never too late to repent, to turn, to agree with God that you screwed up.
    It’s never too early, either!

    Take a moment to reflect upon your life. How did you get here?

    Maybe you’ve made some wise choices and you’re enjoying the fruit of those decisions. Praise God. Thank Him for giving you wisdom, freedom, education, and opportunity.

    Perhaps you’ve made some poor choices and you’re in the belly of a fish, so to speak. It’s dark. It’s smelly and cold. You really want out. Surrender to God. He hears you. No matter what you’ve done or who you are, He loves you and will forgive you if you trust Jesus, if you surrender your life to Jesus, if you make him your Savior and your LORD. You can begin by simply saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” If you’ve been running, stop, repent, turn, and run to the God who created you and loves you more than you can imagine.


    In a matter of hours, Jonah’s prayers were heard and he went to the beach. Sometimes God’s response to our prayers takes longer…maybe days, months, even years. I don’t always understand His timing, but I know it’s perfect, because He is perfect. His ways are perfect.

    There are some situations I’ve been praying about for years, but I refuse to quit…and I know He wants me to continue. Jesus was talking with his friends about prayer and said,

    “…Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

    God always answers the prayers of His children.

    He might say yes. He might say no. He might say wait. Be he always answers.

    Do you know God? Really? If not, you can begin today. Repent. Turn away from your selfish living and run to Jesus, the one who proved his love by giving his life on the cross.

    If you do know God, you’ve been commissioned to help others know God. Faith is personal, but not private. Good news needs to be shared.

    God wants nothing more than a relationship with us where we talk, where we listen, where we do life together. Does that describe your life?

    One of the greatest thrills of knowing God is when we make a request and He responds. Today and every Sunday we invite you to come forward and receive prayer…for anything. God answers prayer, but first we must pray!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Pursues the Disobedient, 6 October 2019

    God Pursues the Disobedient
    Jonah 1:1-17

    Series Big Idea:
    The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

    Big Idea:
    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Today we celebrated Jesus as our Savior. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to demonstrate his power over sin and death. He not only conquered the grave, he offers forgiveness for all of our rebellion against God. I love that Jesus is our Savior! But he’s more than just Savior.

    As our founder A.B. Simpson said in his four-fold gospel, Jesus is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. We love that Jesus saves us. We love it when he brings healing. We look forward to the return of the King. But his role of sanctifier is a bit different. You might say sanctifier means through the power of the Holy Spirit if we submit to him and his lordship, Jesus is enabling us to become like himself. A disciple of Jesus is someone who looks and acts and thinks like Jesus. A disciple becomes like their mentor, their leader. Jesus is not looking for fans. He’s looking for disciples who make him Lord of their lives, master of their lives, people who will say, “Jesus, I give you my life.”

    When you do that, you give up control. You surrender your preferences and rights. You let Jesus take the wheel while you jump in the back seat! If God were insecure or mean, this would be a frightening exercise, but I’m here to tell you

    God is trustworthy.
    God is love.
    God has better plans for you than you could ever imagine.
    God is not out to harm you.
    God wants the very best for you.

    And sometimes God’s will doesn’t make sense…at least in the moment.

    It can be dangerous to use words like “always” and “never,” but the big idea today is:

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Jonah is one of the most well-known characters in the Bible. He’s mentioned in one, small, four-chapter book which bears his name—and briefly by Jesus—but his story is remarkable. It’s so remarkable, in fact, that many have questioned whether it describes real events or if it’s just a poetic analogy. I believe it’s real—especially since Jesus refers to him—and I believe his life can teach us a lot about our lives.

    There are four chapters in the book of Jonah and we’ll cover each one of these four weeks in October. Written around the time of Hosea and Amos, many believe Jonah himself wrote this book between 793 BC and 753 BC. He was likely a part of a group of young prophets who were in training together. While you may find parts of the book familiar, I think you’ll be surprised at some new things we’ll discover together.

    So let’s dive in…

    The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

    He was supposed to travel 500+ miles northeast, but instead, he headed in the other directions toward Tarshish. Maybe he thought God would choose someone else for the assignment if he was able to get away from Nineveh!

    How does God speak?

    God speaks through the Bible, through circumstances, through people, through dreams,…

    How can you be sure it’s God?

    Seek wise counsel. Fast and pray. Be still and listen. As far as I know, God won’t text you, but if you seek Him with all of your heart, I believe you will find Him and His will.

    God gives Jonah a simple, clear assignment to go to the city of Nineveh and preach. Why does God care about these wicked people? He loves them. He created them. He wants them to repent, turning away from their sins and following Him. Today, He still desires for every man, woman, and child to know and worship Him. That’s why we’re so passionate about not only Toledo, but also the ends of the earth. We want everyone to know about Jesus, and today, even with the Internet and iPhone, there are
    billions of people who haven’t experienced God’s love, mercy, and grace. We’ve got work to do, family!

    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)

    One of the most tragic phrases in the entire Bible is, “But Jonah ran away from the LORD.” Why? Jonah’s narrow patriotism was greater than his theology. His disdain for another people group was stronger than his love for God.

    It’s easy to criticize Jonah for this rejection of God. After all, we can read his entire story in a matter of minutes. We read of the consequences of his disobedience.

    But don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we run from God sometimes? Don’t we sometimes pretend we didn’t read
    that in the Bible or fight what God is speaking to us?

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Why? Because He’s God and you’re not! He knows best. Really. He’s faithful. He’s trustworthy. He knows what He’s doing! He’s not out to get you or harm you. He loves you more than any mother or father or friend or spouse could ever love you.

    Jonah’s headed away from Nineveh. He’s on his way to Tarshish. Did God see him? Yes!

    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. (Jonah 4-5a)

    Here’s God’s prophet, Jonah, on a ship with pagan sailors who worship other gods. They’re afraid of sinking in this nasty storm. Obviously their false gods did nothing to help them!

    Have you ever been in a boat during a storm? It can be scary!

    Notice this storm was sent by the LORD. He controls everything, including the weather!

    Warren Wiersbe wrote, "God was no longer speaking to Jonah through His Word; He was speaking to him through His works: the sea, the wind, the rain, the thunder, and even the great fish. Everything in nature obeyed God except His servant!"

    But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. Jonah 1:5b)

    How in the world can he be sleeping during this storm? Perhaps he had lost sleep arguing with God about going to Nineveh. Maybe he was exhausted from running from God.

    Hundreds of years later, Jesus would be sleeping on a boat during a big storm, too!

    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 so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6)

    Evidently Jonah was willing to share his faith with the sailors, just not the Ninevites.

    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. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jonah 1:7-8)

    We often skip over this detail about casting lots, but it is one way people made decisions back in the day. In fact, Judas’ replacement among the twelve disciples was made by casting lots (Acts 1:26).

    God speaks through the Bible, through circumstances, through people, through dreams,…but casting lots? It’s actually mentioned seventy times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament. The practice was similar to us flipping a coin or rolling dice. Today, we can discern God’s word and will through the Bible and the Holy Spirit rather than casting lots.

    Do you think Jonah was convicted when they asked about his occupation?

    He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)

    This is one of many biblical mentions of creation, a bold declaration of Jonah’s faith in God…a God he is not willing to obey…a God he’s running from…a God who is functionally not a god at all in Jonah’s life as he rebels.

    This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) (Jonah 1:10)

    They were terrified, but at least they got to the root of their problem. Jonah’s disobedience affected others…and our disobedience usually does, too.

    The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (Jonah 1:11)

    This strikes me as an odd question. If I knew a godly man was responsible for a calamity, I’d ask him to pray to his god to stop it. They ask, “What should we do to you?”

    Jonah does not repent. He does not ask God to give him a second chance. Maybe he didn’t believe God was even capable of forgiving his disobedience. Maybe you feel God is incapable of forgiving your sins…if so, you’re very mistaken!

    “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

    Jonah knew he was to blame. It must’ve been a shocking admission of responsibility for him to claim his actions were the cause of the storm. I wonder if they really thought getting rid of Jonah would calm the storm. Clearly that wasn’t their first thought because the text continues…

    Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:13-16)

    It took removing Jonah for God to calm the storm, resulting in new believers. The presence and preaching of prophets is supposed to lead to repentance, but in this case, the absence of the prophet led to spiritual awakening! God works in mysterious ways! First, the sailors were afraid of the storm, and now they greatly feared—they reverenced—God.

    There’s one final verse in this chapter, a little “P.S.”

    Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

    It doesn’t say a whale, but a “huge fish” was “provided” by the LORD. I’m not sure if Jonah fully appreciated the fish during those three days and three nights, but it was the LORD’s provision.

    So What?

    I think the message is simple: Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    God can redeem anything. Here He even redeems Jonah’s disobedience to cause a revival among pagan sailors! But Jonah obviously suffered greatly for his rebellion against God.

    I’ve told the story before, but years ago I was asked why I would leave a nice, comfortable job in Chicagoland to go to Ann Arbor and start a church from scratch. I often remarked, “God called me to plant a church and I don’t want to end up in the belly of a fish!” One time after speaking to a group about our plans for the new church, a man came up to me and said, “I’m Jonah and I’ve been in a fish for many years, running from God who wants me to move to Colorado!” I said, “What are you waiting for? Load up and go west, young man!”

    We’ve all had moments when we’ve run from God. Sometimes the consequences are severe, other times we may not even be aware of our disobedience. The point remains:

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    This is a huge challenge in our culture today. We live in a consumeristic culture which says it’s all about us, our choices, our decisions, our control, our preferences. Some people have even been taught that if you follow Jesus, you’ll be happy, healthy, and wealthy…and they’re so surprised when they encounter the slightest bit of discomfort or, worse yet, pain and suffering.

    Jesus did not come and die to make you happy. He came to make you holy.

    You and I can save ourselves a lot of heartache if we just obey God the first time (spoiler alert: Jonah made it to Nineveh, but he took a smelly detour getting there!). You either trust God and make Him LORD or you don’t. But please don’t call yourself a Christian if you’re not going to follow and obey him!

    I’m challenged by this chapter. Every day I make multiple decisions to follow or flee from God. What do I do with my money? What goes on my calendar? How do I treat people…including the annoying driver on the Trail! What will I do with my body? What will I put into my mind? And yes, with whom will I share the good news of Jesus?

    As we were reminded this morning during communion, Jesus died for me. Will I live for him?

    I want to ask you two simple yet profound questions. These questions are the primary tools I use in discipling people to become like Jesus.

    1. 1. What is God saying to you?
    It might be instructions to go, to stay, to do, to step up, to slow down. It might be a word of encouragement or a convicting challenge. If He’s not saying anything to you, perhaps you’re too busy to listen or you’re ignoring the primary way He speaks: through the Bible.

    1. 2. What are you going to do about it?
    Maybe you don’t want God to speak to you because you’re afraid of what He might say. If He tells you to do something, you’ll be responsible for the message if you receive it.

    What if He sends me to Africa…or Afghanistan…or Columbus?! What if He wants me to change my sexual behavior, my entertainment consumption, my loose tongue, or my laziness? Then again, what if He simply wants to sing over you, His precious child, and remind you of how much you are loved by Him? What if He wants you to indulge in sabbath rest or delight yourself in Him? Maybe He wants you to smell the roses, dance, sing, or just smile. Whatever it is,…

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    And also,

    Always obey God, even when you do feel like it!

    Jonah’s disobedience caused others to suffer. Likewise, our obedience may cause others to flourish, to be encouraged, to grow, to experience Jesus. We obey God first and foremost because He is God and because we love and trust Him, but obedience can also bless others.

    Closing Challenge

    What is God saying to you?
    What are you going to do about it?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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