Friday, November 19, 2021

The Danger of Moral Compromise

“There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin.”  – Revelation 2:14

When we hear of a church being "under attack," we tend to think of it being assaulted by an outside force. Critics are slandering. Atheists are picketing. Or the landlord is threatening to evict the church from its building. But more times than not, churches die from the inside out. And one of the culprits is a silent killer: moral compromise.

A pastor gets caught in an act of indiscretion. The treasurer helps himself to the church's donations. The small groups become gossip groups. The members become cold and self-absorbed. And little by little, the church becomes indistinguishable from the world.

But moral compromise in the church is far from new. It was just as much of a danger to the Christians in the church at Pergamum, and in Revelation 2, Jesus calls them out for it. After praising the Pergamum Christians for their loyalty and courage in verse 13, Jesus rebukes them for two things. The first rebuke is in verse 14: “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.”

In the Old Testament, Balaam was a pagan prophet and sorcerer who believed in God and, to some extent, worshiped and obeyed God. In Numbers 22-24, he blessed the Israelites four times when he was hired by the evil King Balak to curse them. But a few chapters later, we learn that Balaam cooked up a plan to send Moabite women into the Israelite camp to seduce them into sexual sin and idolatry (Numbers 31:16).

Basically, Balaam told King Balak: “I can’t curse the Israelites. God won’t let me. But there’s another way that you can get God to curse them. It’s a back-door approach. If you send your hottest, most alluring women into the Israelite camp to seduce their men into having sex with them and joining their pagan worship, God will HAVE to curse them, because He can’t turn a blind eye to that kind of sin.” From that point on in Scripture, Balaam’s name becomes synonymous with moral compromise.

So, when Jesus tells the Pergamum Christians that some of their people “hold to the teaching of Balaam,” in essence, He’s telling them this: “Christians in Pergamum, although you’ve stood strong against threats and attacks coming from outside the church, you’ve started to give in to moral compromise inside the church. And it’s not okay! I have called you to a higher standard, so I expect you to raise your moral standards … not lower them.”

In verse 15, Jesus rebukes the Pergamum Christians for allowing some of their church members to “hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” Since the Nicolaitans aren’t mentioned outside the Book of Revelation, we don’t know exactly what they taught. But the word “Nicolaitans” literally means “conquerors of the people.” So, in one way or another, the Nicolaitans were infiltrating the church, convincing young, impressionable Christians to be soft in their convictions, and to be soft on sin.

Together, the Balaam followers and the Nicolaitans in the Pergamum church were corrupting their congregation. The church was supposed to be holy, separate and distinct from the sinful culture surrounding them. But as the weeks passed, they were becoming more and more indistinguishable from their culture.

Jesus’ message is loud and clear: It’s not enough to just stand strong against the soldiers from OUTSIDE the church who come to arrest you for your faith. You have to stand just as strong against compromising Christians INSIDE the church. You have to stand strong against carnal Christians who are trying to get you into bed with them. You have to stand strong against lukewarm Christians who are trying to get you to drink this or smoke that. You have to stand strong against Christians who live like the devil outside the church building and are trying to get you to live the same way. They want you to be like them—to live lives that are indistinguishable from the world around you. Jesus tells the Pergamum Christians in verse 16: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

However, in verse 17, Jesus makes a wonderful promise to those who resist the allure of moral compromise: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.” In other words: “If you overcome the temptation to eat the bread of sin, I will bless you with the bread of life.”

So, don’t jump on the bandwagon of moral compromise, even when your fellow Christians are going for a joyride. Your refusal to compromise your morals and your integrity will pay off in the end, when you successfully cross the finish line of your Christian race and receive your heavenly reward. What a mighty God we serve!

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

A Model Church

“I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! – Revelation 2:9

 Afflicted, dirt poor and slandered. It was just another day for the Christians in Smyrna.

 Although the ancient city of Smyrna was the most beautiful city in the Roman Empire, it had some really ugly stuff going on inside city limits. You see, Christianity was outlawed. So, it was open season on followers of Christ. But in Revelation 2:8-11, Jesus sends a little message to the Smyrna Christians, and He praises them for patiently enduring three things:

1. The Smyrna Christians endured afflictions. Christians were persecuted in every one of the seven cities in Asia Minor, but the persecution against the Christians in Smyrna was particularly cruel. In the city of Smyrna, everyone was expected to worship the Roman Emperor. Refusal to do so was treason. So, if a resident of Smyrna neglected their patriotic duty to worship the emperor, they were discriminated against. They were kicked out of the local trade guilds—leaving them unemployed. And many vendors in the marketplace wouldn’t sell them food. So, starvation was a real possibility. Many of them endured torture. It was stifling, even crushing, and Jesus knew it.

Remember, Jesus is not oblivious to our pain and suffering. He KNOWS what we’re going through, and He knows what it feels like: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…. He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and … afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4). In Revelation 2:9, Jesus says to the Smyrna Christians, “I know your afflictions.” And He means it. He’s been in their shoes. He’s felt the crushing weight of persecution for the sake of the Gospel.

2. The Smyrna Christians endured poverty. The Christians in Smyrna were dirt poor. They had nothing. Under the persecution of the emperor, these Christians had their homes and property confiscated. They lost their jobs when they were kicked out of the local trade guilds. And many Bible scholars believe that since Christianity was illegal in Smyrna, the Christians had their smaller possessions looted by both Jews and the Romans. So it’s remarkable that Jesus tells them in verse 9: “You are rich.”

But Jesus isn’t as shallow as we are. In 2 Cor. 6:10, the Apostle Paul says, “[We are] sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, poor, yet making many rich, having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” How was it possible for Paul and his fellow missionaries to have nothing, yet possess everything? The short, sweet answer is: Because they had Jesus. Anyone who has Jesus is rich. Forgiveness, grace, love, eternal salvation, adoption into God’s family, peace, purpose and joy: All of these riches and so many others are ours in Christ. As far as material possessions go, the Smyrna Christians had nothing. But they actually had the greatest Mother Lode of treasure that money can’t buy. So, Jesus tells them in verse 9, “You … are … rich.”

3. The Smyrna Christians endured slander. Sadly, much of this slander came from people who called themselves “Jews.” The Jews in Smyrna seem to have practiced their religion only to the extent that it made their lives easier, while ignoring God’s commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Jews jumped on the bandwagon and slandered Christians’ good names. They accused Christians of having orgies at their church services, and of eating human flesh and drinking human blood when they took the Lord’s Supper. They called the Christians “cannibals.” Was any of it true? Of course not! But that’s one more reason why the Smyrna Christians’ endurance was so remarkable.

If you’ve been a follower of Christ for any length of time, you have probably faced discrimination and persecution for your faith at one level or another. And when it comes to endurance, the church at Smyrna is a model church. Like the Christians in Smyrna, we need to remain faithful to Christ and endure, no matter what the world throws at us. When we are afflicted, we must faithfully endure. When our Christianity costs us our jobs, we must faithfully endure. And when we are slandered for the name of Christ, we must faithfully endure. And with Christ’s help, when the heat is turned up in the kitchen, we will do just that: We will faithfully endure. And as Jesus promises at the end of His message to the Smyrna Christians, every bit of endurance for Christ will result in a heavenly reward. 

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Right Motive for Doing Good

 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” – Revelation 2:4

Years ago I visited a local church for a special evening service. During the worship time I noticed the sound mix in the room was terrible. Some microphones were turned up too high. Others were turned down too low. So, I did what many of us do when we don’t like the sound quality—I turned around to glare at the sound man.

As I glanced at the sound booth, I immediately diagnosed the problem. The sound technician was standing in the booth with her eyes closed and her hands lifted high in praise. So, I thought to myself, “Well, she’s busy worshiping and loving Jesus, so I guess I’d better leave her alone.” You see, sometimes we’re so focused on doing good ministry, we forget why we’re doing it in the first place. That woman hadn’t forgotten.

In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus writes seven short letters to seven different churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Since He is the Son of God, Jesus Christ has both the power and the insight to do what you and I can’t do—to perform a spiritual X ray of every church in order to diagnose its true condition. Within each letter to the seven churches, Jesus tends to follow this basic three-point outline. First, He praises the church for at least one thing its members are doing RIGHT. Next, He rebukes the church for at least one thing they’re doing WRONG. Finally, He makes a promise to the church.  

Jesus follows this outline to a “T” as He addresses the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2:1-7: the Church at Ephesus. First, Jesus praises them in verses 2, 3 and 6. When you take a closer look at these three verses, you’ll discover that the Ephesian Christians were doing a lot of things right. In fact, Jesus offers them nine compliments that can be summarized this way: They didn’t put up with bad teaching or bad behavior; they stood firm in their faith during times of persecution, and they protected younger Christians from exploitation.

Sounds like a great church, doesn’t it? And—considering how wicked the City of Ephesus was—it’s remarkable that the Ephesian church was so morally strong and faithful to Christ. The Ephesian church didn’t cave to the pressure to conform to popular culture.

But as Jesus inspected the hearts of the Ephesian Christians, He found something inexcusable—something that, if not addressed, would bring about the church’s downfall. Jesus addresses it in verse 4: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” The New Living Translation says it this way: “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love Me or each other as you did at first.”

So, what was the Ephesian Christians’ inexcusable sin? Somewhere along the way they had stopped loving God and people. So, Jesus basically tells them, “Christians, do you remember how you used to love Me? And do you remember how you used to love each other? Something has changed, and I’m not sure you even realize it. Your love has grown cold. You do so many things right, but you do them for the wrong reasons. You work hard, but there’s no love in it. You don’t put up with bad teaching or bad behavior, but there’s no love in it. You patiently endure persecution, but you don’t do it out of love. You’re not doing your good deeds as an act of love for Me or for the people around you.”

Do you remember what Paul wrote in the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13—the “love chapter”? “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Wow! Don’t miss what God’s word is telling us. It doesn’t matter how hard you’re working or how many good deeds you’re doing or how much persecution you’re enduring for Jesus; if there’s no love in it, it’s MEANINGLESS. And in Revelation 2:5, Jesus tells the Ephesian Christians (and us): “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”

Friends, what we do for the Lord is important, but so is why we do it. There could be a hundred different reasons why we do the good deeds we do. So, Revelation 2:4-5 serves as a clarion wakeup call for you and me. Jesus calls us to turn away from cold, loveless Christianity. It there’s no love in it, our ministry is meaningless. So, it’s imperative that you and I get back to loving Jesus Christ as we once did—with our whole hearts. So, if doing good ministry ever gets in the way of loving Jesus, I believe God’s word is clear. We need to follow the example of the Jesus-praising sound technician: Take a short break from your ministry in order to get your priorities and motives back in check. Love God first. Do good ministry second. And once we put the love first, we can once again do both together.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is now available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

If I Was God …

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

In 2015, country artist Jimmy Fortune released the hit single, “If I Was God.” The lyrics include: “If I was God... I'd never let that cancer take away my Dad. I’d add at least 40 to the 60 years he had. He could know my kids … If I was God.” Two years later, Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame) came out with a similar song called “Déjà Vu” that ended the first verse this way: “If I had been God, with my staff and my rod … if I had been given the nod, I believe I could have done a better job.”

Both Jimmy Fortune and Roger Waters touch on a question that most of us have thought at one time or another: Why doesn’t God do things … differently?

How could a loving God allow my best friend to get killed by a drunk driver? How could a loving God let a child get cancer? If God knows the future, why does He allow rapists, human traffickers and mass murderers to be born? Truthfully, at times we echo the lyrics of Roger Waters: “If had been given the nod, I believe I could have done a better job.”

During his lifetime, I’m sure the Prophet Jonah had many shining moments when he trusted and quickly obeyed God. But we don’t read about them in the Book of Jonah. Instead, we read about a time when Jonah was at his worst—a time when He didn’t trust or obey God. When he was sent to preach to the wicked people of Ninevah, Jonah believed that God was wrong … dead wrong. Therefore, His marching orders to Jonah were wrong. And when God ultimately had mercy on the Ninevites—to Jonah, it seemed as if God had LOST HIS MIND!

We’ll never know all the answers to God’s workings this side of heaven, but I’d like to share a few insights about God that we can take from the Book of Jonah:

Insight #1: Throughout human history, when a nation doesn’t repent, God judges it. But when a nation truly repents, God has mercy on it. In Exodus 34:6-7, God told Moses, “[I Am] the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” God told the people of Israel plainly how He works. He judges and punishes unrepentant sinners. But He mercifully forgives sinners who repent. God never said that this rule applies only to Israel. It applies to ALL nations in ALL times and places … because “God so loved the world.”

Insight #2: God can’t be trusted to hate the people we hate or be prejudiced against the people we’re prejudiced against. We talk a lot about God being faithful and trustworthy. But you can’t trust God to be angry at the people you’re angry at. And you can’t trust God to send people to hell who you think should go to hell. We like the people around us to think like us: to be upset when we’re upset, to be angry when we’re angry, and to hate when we hate. But if that’s what you’re expecting from God, you’re going to be very disappointed. God doesn’t think the way you think. And God doesn’t act the way you act. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” If you’re looking for a god to think like you and hold petty grudges like you, the God of heaven and earth is not for you.

Insight #3: God will always care more about people’s souls than He cares about your comfort and happiness. God isn’t as shallow as we are. We tell people we care about, “I just want you to be happy.” God tells people HE cares about, “Right now I’m not interested in your happiness. I’m interested in your obedience. There will be plenty of time for you to be happy in heaven. But for now, I want you to help Me seek and save the lost. And ultimately, nothing will make you happier in heaven than seeing people there who you invited.”

Insight #4: Unlike Jonah, God was willing to lose face and be misunderstood for the good and salvation of others. In all likelihood, Jonah was concerned about his reputation. When his fellow Jews found out that he had a part in bringing about the deliverance of their greatest enemy, Assyria, Jonah’s life was likely to become very uncomfortable. Back home, he would lose face. And, to Jonah, losing face back home was worse than 120,000 Ninevites going to hell. But not Jesus. Jesus willingly submitted to being humiliated and completely disfigured for those who spat in his face, socked him in the head and nailed him to a cross. Jesus lost face and was completely misunderstood and slandered. But he was okay with that, because it was for the ultimate good and salvation of others.

In the first verse of Jimmy Fortune’s song, “If I Was God,” he wrestles with questions of why God would allow his best friend to be killed by a drunk driver and why God would allow his dad to die of cancer at the age of 60. He seems to think: “If I was God … I believe I could have done a better job.” But then he gets to the chorus: “But who am I to question what is best? I can’t make a heart beat in a chest. I could never let my Son die upon a cross. The whole world would be lost … if I was God. So, thank God I’m not. Thank God I’m not!”

God has generously shared ALL good things with us … including His own Son. So, let’s all follow in His footsteps and do the same, especially when it comes to sharing Jesus with the people around you.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is now available on Amazon in print, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services,in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Running Against God

“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 4:2 

“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo is one of the best loved novels of all time. You’ve probably seen one of the many adaptations in a movie or musical. It tells the bittersweet story of Jean Valjean, a poor wood-chopper’s son who grew up as an orphan. When he was just 17, after his brother-in-law died, the responsibility fell on Valjean to provide for his sister’s seven young children. But he didn’t earn enough money to even feed them. So, one winter night, he went out, broke a baker’s window and stole a loaf of bread. The next morning he was arrested for stealing. His bleeding hand convicted him.

Valjean was sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison. But because of numerous escape attempts that added to his sentence, Valjean ended up serving 19 years in prison—for stealing a loaf of bread for his family. By the time he was released, he was bitter, mean and mad at the world. As he traveled from town to town, nobody wanted anything to do with him. Finally, Valjean went to the house of a Catholic bishop, who took him in, fed him and gave him a bed for the night. But after the bishop fell asleep, Valjean stole all of his silver knives and forks and fled. Early the next morning, five soldiers brought Valjean back to the bishop’s house, explaining that they were arresting him for stealing the silver. But the bishop turned to Valjean and said, “I gave you the candlesticks, too. Why didn’t you take them?” And then he turned to the soldiers and said, “It was a mistake to arrest him. Let him go. The silver is his. I gave it to him.”

As the soldiers left, Valjean whispered to the bishop, “Is it true that I am free? I may go?” And the bishop responded with some of the most wonderful words ever penned in a novel: “Yes. But before you go, take your candlesticks. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of hate, and I give it to God!” From that moment on, Jean Valjean was a changed man. His heart belonged to God, and he spent the rest of his life loving and serving others. Years later, as Valjean lay on his deathbed, there was something familiar in the room just a few feet from his head:  those two silver candlesticks that for years had reminded him of God’s great mercy and grace.

If only the prophet Jonah had had as much compassion for the people of Nineveh as the good bishop had for Jean Valjean! But in chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah, we see that isn’t the case. After running from God’s will, then doing an about-face after being spat up by a whale, Jonah walked into the city of Ninevah and preached ONE sermon—and over 100,000 people repented from their wickedness. Jonah should have been thrilled. Instead, we read that “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry” (v. 1). And he prayed this angry prayer: “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That 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. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (vs. 2-3).  

You see, Jonah—like most Israelites of his time—hated the Ninevites, because it was prophesied that Assyria was going to wipe out Northern Israel, and Nineveh was one of the biggest cities in Assyria. The Jews considered Assyrians their mortal enemies. So Jonah would have preferred that the Assyrians NOT repent … for them to die a horrible death rather than be spared by God … to burn in hell for all eternity rather than go to heaven. At least at that moment, Jonah despised the compassion of God.

Jonah didn’t want to see this basic truth: If Jonah was saved, his salvation was for others. As Bible commentator Michael Griffiths puts it:  “If Jonah receives the call, if he is truly saved, it is for others. We must be permeated by the conviction that if grace is being conferred on us, it is primarily for others. The Christian is not just the man who is saved by Christ, he is the man whom God uses for the salvation of others by Christ.” The same holds true for you and me. Jesus Christ has given salvation and grace TO us so that He can give salvation and grace THROUGH us. We must never hoard them.

Honestly, we’re more like Jonah than we like to admit. We’re more than happy to receive Christ’s salvation. But we want to keep it to ourselves, especially when we’re around people we can’t stand. We’ve somehow missed or ignored the reality that every blessing from God in our lives was given to us to be shared. Your salvation is supposed to be shared. Your spiritual gifts, talents and abilities are supposed to be shared. Your house, your car and your food, your time and your money, are all supposed to be shared.

Every good and perfect gift that has ever come across your path is from God, and it was given to you to share. So, let’s be more like the good bishop (selfless, generous and compassionate) and not like Jonah (selfish, stingy and judgmental). As Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:8: “Freely you have received. So, freely give.”

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Running With God

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” – Jonah 3:5 

Back in 1954, Governor Christian Herter of Massachusetts was working hard on the campaign trail as he ran for a second term. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes, he arrived at a mid-afternoon church barbecue. He hadn’t eaten a thing since breakfast, so he was really hungry. As Governor Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving the chicken. She put one piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line. Using his best manners, Governor Herter asked, "Excuse me. Do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?" She responded, "Sorry. I'm supposed to give only one piece of chicken to each person." 

Normally the governor wasn’t one to throw his weight around, but he was starving. So, he looked the woman in the eye and said, “Do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state.” Without missing a beat, she responded, “Do you know who I am? I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.”

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the prophet Jonah had been as good at following orders as the lady serving the chicken? The job of an Old Testament prophet was NOT complicated. Simply say WHAT God wants you to say, WHEN God wants you to say it, to WHOMEVER God tells you to say it to. For the Old Testament prophet, Job #1 was OBEDIENCE. The job wasn’t complicated, but it WAS really hard. Quite often God told His prophets to say things they didn’t want to say at times they didn’t want to say them to people they didn’t want to say them to.

That’s the way it was with Jonah. When he got God’s marching orders to preach God’s message to the people of Ninevah, he ran the other way. And you remember what happened next. Jonah boarded a ship. Fierce storm. Jonah confessed that the storm was his fault. The sailors tossed Jonah overboard. As Jonah was about to drown, he cried out to God in prayer. God saved his life by providing a great big fish to swallow him and give Jonah a free ride back to shore. And as soon as Jonah turned to the LORD and confessed his willingness to do what God called him to do, “The LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

At last Jonah began running WITH God and doing the work he’d been called to do. He was ready and willing to obey the LORD, but it’s pretty clear that he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. When he got to Ninevah, he started preaching on Day One: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned’” (Jonah 3:4). Now, this is probably just a small sample of his message, but it seems safe to say that Jonah didn’t preach a lengthy sermon. He didn’t tell them to repent. He didn’t teach them how to repent. He didn’t seem to give them any hope that they could do anything to stop God’s judgment from coming if they DID repent.

Yet, amazingly, “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth” (v. 5). It’s hard to imagine how Jonah’s short-and-not-too-sweet message got through to them. But whatever the reason may be, GOD … WAS … BEHIND IT. God was at work. Just as God provided a fish for Jonah in chapter 2, God provided all that was needed for the people of Nineveh to repent and turn to Him. It certainly wasn’t Jonah’s preaching that won them over. It was ALL God.

And “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (v. 10). On the heels of showering Jonah with undeserved compassion, God showered the wicked people of Nineveh with undeserved compassion as well. You see, neither Jonah nor the people of Nineveh were too far gone to be reached by God’s mercy and grace. And neither are you.

I’d like to share two insights from Jonah’s latest adventures:

Insight #1: It’s not enough to just run TO God. You need to start running WITH God. Some of us are running from God, like Jonah in chapter 1, and we’re going nowhere fast. We need to come to our senses, make a spiritual U-turn and run TO God. But running TO God is only the starting point. Once we get to God, we need to start running WITH God. A surfer is not a surfer if he just paddles out TO the waves. He has to mount his board and start riding the waves. It’s the same way when you’re a Christian. Once you run TO God, you’ve got to start running WITH Him. Join Him in His work. Find out where He is moving, and move with Him. Find out where He is working, and work with Him.

Insight #2: In the Kingdom of God, the shortest distance between two points is obedience. It would have spared Jonah and the sailors on that ship a whole lot of pain and suffering if he had obeyed God’s word way back in chapter 1. If God is bound and determined to have you do something for Him, you’ll do it for Him eventually … one way or another. But it will save you and those around you a whole lot of pain and suffering if you obey quickly. The shortest distance between where you are right now and where God is calling you to go is obedience. So, don’t wait until the final chapter or two of your life to obey. Obey God’s word today. If you can’t beat Him, join Him!

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Running To God

“In my distress I called to the LORD and He answered me.”  
– Jonah 2:2

Back in the late 1800s, a story started circulating in coastal taverns around Great Britain. English whalers began sharing the biggest “fish story” anyone had ever heard. According to these whalers, in 1891, one of their shipmates—a 21-year-old apprentice named James Bartley—fell off the boat and disappeared underneath the water. They searched for him for hours, but there was no sign of him anywhere.

But the next day, the sperm whale they were hunting was floating dead on the surface of the ocean. And someone noticed the whale’s abdomen was moving in a strange way—as if something alive was inside it. So, the whalers cut open the large whale, and to everyone’s surprise… out came James Bartley, who had been inside the whale’s stomach for 18 long hours. His skin was bleached white, he was nearly blind, and he was temporarily insane. Newspapers called him a “modern-day Jonah.”

However … in the early 1900s, a historian did some investigating into that whopper of a fish story. He discovered many conflicting reports, and even received a letter from James Bartley’s wife who claimed the whole story was made up. So, was James Bartley actually swallowed by a whale or large fish? Probably not. But the Bible makes it clear that Jonah … WAS.

Now, Bible skeptics read the Book of Jonah and say, “Impossible! It couldn’t happen! It didn’t happen!” But followers of Christ look at Jonah 1:17 and say, “No problem! My Bible tells me in Luke 1:37: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Our God is a great and powerful God. He specializes in the impossible.

In chapter 1 of the Book of Jonah, God gave Jonah clear-cut marching orders to preach a message of repentance to the people of Ninevah. Instead, Jonah boarded a ship headed the other way. But after the boat set sail, God sent a “great wind” and a “violent storm” that engulfed the ship (v. 4). Finally, Jonah admitted to the panicking sailors that he was responsible for the storm because he had angered his Lord. He told the crew the storm would stop if they threw him off the ship. With a little persuading—and a lot more big waves—the crew tossed Jonah overboard.

After spending chapter 1 running FROM God, Jonah finally came to his senses and ran TO God at the beginning of chapter 2: “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God” (v. 1). It’s clear that Jonah didn’t wait until he was being digested to start praying. He started crying out to God before the fish ever swallowed him. As we read Jonah’s prayer in vs. 2-9, we see that it’s more of a testimony. Jonah prayed to God from inside the stomach of the great fish, recounting what had taken place over the past day or two. “In my distress I called to the LORD and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and You listened to my cry” (v. 2). According to verse 3, the currents swirled around him and the waves and breakers engulfed him.  According to verse 5, the deep waters surrounded him, and seaweed wrapped around his head as he sank down.

And what did God do? Did God say, “Forget you, Jonah! You’re getting what’s coming to you! Good riddance, you worthless piece of fish food!” No, thankfully, that’s not at all what God said.

According to verse 6, “[God] brought [Jonah’s] life up from the pit.” Did you catch that little word “up”? For a whole chapter Jonah had been going down, down, down in his rebellion. But as he humbly cried out to God in desperation, God “brought [his] life up from the pit.”

Isn’t that just like our great and awesome God? Even when we rebel against Him, ignore His commands and do the exact opposite of what He’s commanded us to do … when we in humble repentance cry out to Him for deliverance, His compassion, mercy and love break through.

For a whole chapter, Jonah rebelled against God’s marching orders. He was going nowhere but down until—in desperation—he looked up and cried out to God. So God provided a great fish and instructed the fish to swallow Jonah. And unlike Jonah, the fish OBEYED God’s instructions.

The Book of Jonah reminds us that running from God is pointless. It only brings hardship and disappointment. The 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said it this way: “God never allows His children to sin successfully.” If you want to run from God, ignore God’s commands and pursue other priorities, God gives you that choice. But it’ll cost you. Life is hard enough when you’re running TO God. It’s a whole lot harder when you’re running FROM God. Jonah quickly discovered when he was running from God, His life just kept getting worse and worse. But when he repented and reached out to God in faith and obedience, God immediately began to bring him back up. God will do the same for you.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.