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Who are we?

The center of the Traditional Anglican Communion; adhering to the Holy Bible (KJV) in all matters of Faith and Doctrine, a strict reliance on the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, The two Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, the Two Creeds, and the Homilies and formularies of the Reformation Church of England.

Verse of the Day

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sermon By Bishop James P. Dees, Founder of The Anglican Orthodox Church

The Healing of the Man With the Palsy

 There is no truer statement anywhere, I guess, than the statement which I suspect many of you have heard:  "We become like what we look at."  We are inclined to adopt the habit patterns and thought patterns of the people that we associate with.  It is of paramount importance therefore that we be selective in the things that we give our attention to.  That we be selective in the books that we read, the movies we see, TV programs we look at, etc., be selective of our whole environment, for the things that we give attention to react on us, affecting the disposition of our characters, the conditions of our hearts, our morals, the welfare of our souls.

These things being true, we in the Christian faith are reminded that we are to look to, and to follow and to let our characters and souls be molded by the One who is of supreme importance to all mankind, to every human being, and that One, of course, is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  He is the very image of god, who came to earth to dwell among us, to show us God, to show us God's truth, to give us hope of immortality in God, and to remake us fallen creatures into the image of Himself, by His Grace, through the power of the Spirit of God and of His Spirit, working in us and through us, through our Faith.  THEREFORE, it behooves us and should be of infinite concern to us to look to Jesus to seek to follow Him, to seek to become like Him, to let God remake us by the power of His Spirit dwelling within us, into the Image of our blessed Saviour, that men seeing us may see something of God himself; and that in so doing we may become the effective instruments, by God's Grace, for His saving of the Lost, and that we, in doing so, may be saved ourselves.  Christ is our Saviour; Christ is our Lord and Master and God; He is the image by which we all are judged; by His Blood shed on the Cross for us, we are saved; and by way of Him comes the Spiritual power from God which transforms us slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, into the likeness of God Himself.

Therefore, it behooves us now and always, ever to be looking to Him, seeking His Will, seeking to walk in His ways, seeking to obey His Commandments, believing in Him, for in so doing we find Eternal Life and are given His infinite Peace that passes all understanding.

Acknowledging this, we ask, where do we find Him?  How can we look to Jesus?  Where?  We can find him in the love of faithful Christian friends; we can find him in the beauty of His crated world around us, His work is seen in the sunset, the lily, and the rose.  He is experienced as we engage in faithful Christian worship and service, in visiting the sick, in visiting the lonely, in visiting shut-ins, visiting our older members, in helping to provide for the needy, and in serving Him in His Church, cleaning the Church, cutting the grass, serving at the altar, in the women's guild, singing His praise, giving Him thanks.

                                But, before our Saviour can be deeply experienced in these ways, it has been the witness of 2000 years of Christian experience that He must first be deeply experienced in Faith now as to the God-Man who walked the earth 2000 years ago manifesting God to me, showing them what God was like, healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving the sinful, and showing to mankind God's love and mercy and pity, as well as his demands  for righteousness, and telling of God's judgment on sin.  We should look for our Saviour in the Scriptures.  We should study our Bibles, and especially we should read our Saviour's life in the Four Gospels of the New Testament, for here we find our Saviour's life revealed.  Here the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we can look at the Son of God, and here we should be looking.  Here we should fasten our mind's eyes, our devotion, for here we find the stories about Him who came to save our race.  Here we see Him.  Here we should be looking, in the Scriptures.  And by God's Grace, and through the strengthening power that comes from above, as we look at Him, we come to be made more like Him, we come to put our trust in Him, we are given eternal life, we sense the experiencing of receiving eternal life; and when the time comes to die, we are ready confidently to entrust our souls, and the souls of our loved ones, into His keeping.

In the 9th Chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, [which we read as the Gospel for the day,] we find one of the many, many stories from the life of our Lord that gives us an opportunity to look at Him as He dwelt among us.  I will read this story [again] for you to refresh our memories, and I would like for us to think about it for a little while together.

And Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy: Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.  And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, this man blasphemeth.  And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee: or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men. (St. Matthew 9:  l-8)

So often we hear these stories, or we read these stories, but we so often fail to get out of them what is in them because we fail to give them enough of our attention and our concentrated study.  Let us give our attention for a few minutes to this story from our Lord's life and see what we can see in it behind the historical facts that are given us.  What do we see here of eternal value and supernatural meaning?

First of all, in this story, we see running through it all, evidence of the Presence of God with His power.  This is the most important thing of all.  God is present with these people, through His Son.  His Spirit is sustaining them in their will to call on the Son of God for help.  God is there is the sustaining power of His Almighty being, by whom the heaven and earth were created and are sustained through all time and eternity.  God was present then, as He is present here in His Church now.  God was, and is, at hand.  God is here.

 The second thing that we encounter in this story is the existence of human need.  Human need for God is universal; all men need God everywhere all the time.  We need Him for the strengthening of our souls, for the feeding of our spirits, for the strengthening of our Faith for sustaining our moral character.  But particular human need is seen here in this story by this poor sick man, broken by the palsy, stricken to the point that he was unable to walk, stricken to the point where he had to be carried to Jesus by his friends, this man whom the laws of nature had decreed to live a helpless and a broken existence.

 In a real and profound sense, the fate of this poor man stricken with the palsy is the fate of all humanity!  For we all need the cleansing and strengthening power of the Son of God to cleanse our hearts and souls from all our sins and malice and pride and uncharitableness, jealousy, selfishness, greed, and all that fills our lives that keeps Jesus from filling us.  Some of us need God's healing powers for sick and broken bodies; we all need God's healing power for the regeneration of our souls, to make us anew in the likeness of His Son, to recreate us into that state of holiness and righteousness that is becoming to those who call themselves God's own.  All men need His Divine Grace and the healing influence of His Presence.

We all need Him who said:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised."

Man's need for God is universal, we all need him.  We all need Him more than we know, and here we see this need pointed out as we observe these faithful friends bringing this poor man sick of the palsy to our Blessed Lord for healing and for strength.

A third element in this story of the healing of this man is the element of profound Faith.  these men had Faith, Faith in Jesus.  The friends of this sick man go to the trouble of going and getting him and carrying him through the press and confusion of the crowd that always surrounded Jesus when He was publicly ministering, seeking help from the Spring of Heaven for healing.  They come to Him in Faith, nothing wavering, believing; they come bringing this their friend to Him in whom they have profoundest confidence, and who is able to help.  They come to Jesus as all men should come, every one of us.  The Bible tells us over and over again, to cry to Him, to pray to Him, who is able to help us.

The Scriptures tell us,

The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous,
and his ears are open unto their cry.

God tells us in the Bible to look for Him faithfully,

If with all y our hearts ye truly seek me,
ye shall surely find me."

Our Lord tells us:

"Ask and ye shall have, seek and ye shall find,
knock and it shall be opened unto you."

He gives us blessed assurance in His Holy Word:
"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am."

And those who cry to God come to know finally what the hymn writer knew when he wrote:

"I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Saviour true;
No, I was found of thee."

We should cry in faith believing utterly, or we might as well not cry at all.  It is necessary that we have faith when we look to God for help.  We must believe truly.  "O trust in the Lord; wait patiently for Him, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart!!  Believe!  Trust!  We need not expect help from God if we pray with little faith, half believing, filled with doubts and uncertainties.  We recall that in His own home town of Nazareth, Jesus Himself was not able to do any great works "because of their unbelief."

 These men who brought the man with the palsy had faith, we may be sure; and when we pray to God, we must have faith, or our prayers are idle words, and we can expect no answer.

 We come now to the most important element in this story, of the healing of the man with the palsy, and that is, as we know, the person of Jesus Himself.  He is the focal point of this story, as he is the focal point of all history.  These men cry to God for healing and it is through the only true Mediator that they call, through Jesus.  They call for help from God through Christ.  And here again they set the example for us all.  It is through Christ that God hears us and answers our prayers.  We have an abundance of exhortation to us in the New Testament to do this.  In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells His disciples:

"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name
that will I do, that the father may be
glorified in the Son.

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I
will do it."

And in St. Paul's letter to St. Timothy, we read:  "....there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."  Not the Virgin Mary, Not the saints, but Jesus.  Not Mohammed, not Buddha, but Jesus.  We make our prayers to God through Christ, as did these men, and God hears and answers faithful prayers made in the Name of --  and in the Spirit of His dear Son.

 These men brought this man to Jesus to be healed of his physical infirmity, to be healed of the palsy and what was the first thing that Jesus did?  We remember the story.  When Jesus saw him, He sensed immediately that more was wrong with this person than was apparent on the surface, that is, the palsy.  Something was wrong with him spiritually; he was carrying his sins and a burden of guilt; and so our Lord, putting first things first, sought to life his spirit and to help him spiritually, and so he did what he considered to be the most important thing first.  He freed him from the burden of guilt that weighed on his conscience when he came into the presence of His Holiness.  We hear those blessed words:

"Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee."

What happens here is what always happens when someone sincerely seeks to come into the presence of our Saviour.  When we come, He always gives us more than we expect.  More even than we "can desire or pray for;" for of the inestimable riches of His Grace, of the Kingdom of God, God gives good gifts to us of those things -- spiritual blessings -- of which we know not (don't even know about) and therefore cannot ask.  He gives us His spiritual blessings of forgiveness, of spiritual peace, of spiritual strength, of new life, of perfect trust, of happiness in God.  He is always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and Jesus gave on this occasion to this man, because he had come to Him in faith, that for which he did not even know to ask, the forgiveness of his sins.  This is what we all should seek and ask for first when we enter into His Presence.  His Holiness compels it.

Some of our Lord's critics were standing by on that day.  We always have our critics standing by, whether we are doing good or doing evil.  Having critics is nothing new.  Any faithful minister of the Gospel knows this, and all of you do, I suspect.  And Jesus had his critics.  And they challenged Jesus when He pronounced the absolution over this man, proclaiming that his sins were forgiven.

"This man blasphemeth,"  they said.  "Who are you to forgive sins.
Only God can forgive sins."

"And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said, Wherefore think ye evil
in your hearts?"  For whether is easier to say, thy sins be
forgiven thee; or to say, arise walk?

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth
to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,)
Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house."

And he got up, and took up his bed and went.

Jesus, in showing the Pharisees, his critics, that he could heal this man of the palsy, demonstrated to them that He walked in the Power of God that empowered Him also to forgive the sins of men.  Jesus revealed thus to them the Divine power with which, and in which, He had come among them

This man, this God-Man, Jesus the Christ, who walked the earth 2000 years ago, is not dead.  He lives, and He is with His children still; He is with us still; and His faithful children know He is.  We know He is.  He is with us, in us.  St. John in his first Epistle assures us,

"Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God,
God dwelleth in him and he in God."

and again,

"Ye are of God, little children,
and greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world."

Jesus still works miracles today for those who pray to Him in Spirit and in Truth and in accordance with His will.  His promise, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world," is no empty promise.  He is with His children, and they know it, and He will continue to be, as He promised.  And He will be with any man who will let Him --  Who will open his heart to Him. -- Who will be faithful to Him.

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock;" he says.
"If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I
will come in to him, and will sup with him, and
he with me."

and He says --

"to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with
me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am
set down with my Father in his throne.  He that
hath an ear, let him hear...."

Jesus is with his children still, and He still works miracles in our times.  I have seen them.  And I suspect that some of you have too.

We thank God for these Bible stories of our saviour.  We thank God infinitely for the gift of His son, Jesus, and that we can look at Him, can look to Him, and be drawn to Him, can be drawn by Him, that by His Grace, as we look to Him, we can be remade by Him to become more like Him, that by His Grace, we may be made fit to enter into the Kingdom of God in its fullness, clothed with his righteousness, clothed with his holiness, when we meet God face to face on the Judgment Day, which awaits us all, which will be a great day and a happy day, a glorious day, a day of victory, of triumph, for God's children.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Devotion on Jonah (Part Four – vs. 11-17) - 28 September 2013, Anno Domini

11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. 15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows. 17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:11-17)

            We have observed how Jonah intended to flee from the Presence of God by going DOWN to Joppa, and DOWN into the ship, and DOWN into the sides of the ship to sleep. In frustration, the master of the ship asks Jonah to awaken and help the crew to keep the ship afloat. Of course, Jonah could not keep the ship afloat. Jonah was the cause of the great danger that faced the ship and all of its occupants. Having drawn lots, it was determined that Jonah was the culprit. Learning that he was a Hebrew, they asked to him to pray to his God for salvation of all. Unbelievers will not fail to count on the believer when the axe is laid to the root. Now, Jonah, it would seem to me, faces a grave dilemma:  1) to answer deceitfully to momentarily save his own hide; or 2) to confess to these men what must be done. He knows God very well. Now, as a result of the storm, Jonah knows God even more, and he knows that God will settle for nothing less than Jonah taking a good bath - he needs it for his soul is soiled with a rebellious spirit. At least Jonah has the decency to speak the truth, after all, he is a prophet of God and cannot intentionally lie even if he is prone to avoid the Word of the Lord. Jonah supposes this to be his last act of decency and fidelity, for he is sure that, sooner or later, he is going into the sea.

            11 "Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous." The seaman inquire of Jonah of what remedy must they take to suffice in satisfaction of Jonah's God. They know not this God, but the tempest has given them a healthy respect for Him. They would like to save ALL aboard, but must do whatever is required to soothe the deep. These men are a better caliber than the normal They could wildly disregard any concern for Jonah and simply dispense with him summarily, but they do not.

            12 "And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." The response of Jonah is honorable and commendable. Here, again, is Christ typified by the self-abnegation of Jonah is giving up his own life to save others. Jonah is now more aware of his role as a prophet than ever before. He knows that this storm is of the Lord. He knows that the Lord will not be evaded. The Lord is more powerfully on the Sea than He was on the Land!

            Jonah showed no compassion at all on the pagan folk of Nineveh, but see how the pagan sailors employ all of their strength to save Jonah. 13 "Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them." These men did not want the blood of another on their hands. They were willing to fight as best they could the boiling tempest and inordinate winds to save all aboard, including Jonah. But there is no strength that can avail against the Hand of the Lord. Our great strength is only childish weakness before God. "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD." (Prov 21:30) There is no wisdom against the Lord because there is no wisdom that does not come from the Lord. We may be called to teach, to preach, or to visit the sick; but if we do so on our own merits, we are failures. All must be done in the perfect will of God and in following that Light He gives us.

            14 "Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee." I am made to wonder at Jonah's reticence, in the face of God's wrath, to repent of his actions and to pray. These rough, weather-worn seaman, who are graced with only a glimpse of the greatness of God, are in desperate prayer, but Jonah remains sullied and silent! They know that God's prophet has spoken, and it is the storm sent from God that must be satisfied. They do not desire to be guilty of the blood of the very man responsible for their travail. Nevertheless, they recognize the inevitable. The same was the case of Christ. One must perish for the good of all. "Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. (John 11:50)

             15" So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging." Jonah is going to go down once more, but not down to Joppa, but into the Sea. Immediately, the sea was calm once it had its grip on Jonah. The Sea, the waves, the wind, and even the crewman, were all servants of God to accomplish His will in this matter. This is not such a pleasant situation for Jonah. He may have slept on the ship, but it is doubtful that he slept in the sea. Even as he was cast off the ship, he still has uttered not a word of remorse so stubborn and stiffed necked is he. Some in the Church, and even in the Pulpit, are likewise stubborn and stiff-necked to do all things according to their own way and not the way of the Lord.

            So what was the response of the seaman when they witnessed the fulfillment of Jonah's prophecy concerning the calming of the sea? They had, up until now, feared the tempest, but now their fear is directed to the Lord of the Tempest.  16 "Then the men feared the LORD."  If you will remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. These men have obeyed God far more than has Jonah. So the prophet has achieved a part of his mission in awaken a forlorn bunch of sailors to the reality and power of God. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever." (Psalms 111:10) These men now have a seed of faith, and if watered nearly as well as Jonah has been watered, the seed will surely grow. Jonah, in the peril of the sea, may have uttered the words of the Psalmist: "Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.  I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me." (Psalms 69:1-2)

            17" Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." I do not wonder at the kind of fish, for Christ has told us that it was a whale. In spite of all arguments to the contrary, there are cases in which men have been swallowed by a whale. But even if there were not, this particular whale was "prepared" by God for the purpose. Do we truly believe that the maker of the heaven, the earth, the mountains, the sea, and even the whales could not have created a whale that would not typify those that we know today? This verse is one of the most profound of the Old Testament because it is made reference to by Christ on more than one occasion. " And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." This is so powerfully symbolic of Christ who was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. You may be one of those charismatic's who look about and believe the heart of man is getting better and better. It is not. Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?"(see Luke 18:8) Does this sound like the true Church is going to achieve dominance in the world? No, but God shall always preserve a remnant unto Himself. Jesus calls that generation (which is more than a generation in the chronological sense) a wicked and adulterous generation. That generation has grown in size even until this day.

            Jesus used the ordeal of Jonah as an example of his own ordeal. Jonah was cast into the sea at his own behest. Jesus was nailed to the cross at his own volition. An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:  For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here." (Matt 12:39-41) Can you see that the men of Nineveh, even, were not as wicked as those who confronted Christ and whose numbers are increasing in our time. Those numbers are accelerating toward the end just as the Mustard Tree grew beyond its natural size - so much so that the fowl of the air came to roost in its proud branches. Those fowl are reproducing much faster than the fruit of the Mustard Tree. Evil is afoot, not only in society and politics, but in the church as well.

            Can you imagine the suffering, anxiety, and trauma Jonah experienced in the belly of the whale? Do you not think he now has a coming to terms with his failure to obey God? His experiences are horrific, and we shall address them more fully in next Wednesday’s devotion beginning the second chapter.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Devotion on Jonah (Part Three – vs. 4-10) - 27 September 2013, Anno Domini

4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. 6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou? 9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. 10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. (Jonah 1:4-10)

            Jonah has a direct calling of God to go DIRECTLY into a certain city. Jonah does not doubt the word of the Lord to go to Nineveh, but, instead, he disagrees with the Lord. He is self-willed and headstrong against going to his enemies with the warning that God desires to issue against that "Great City." It is a comfort to know that our Lord Jesus Christ did not forbear to come down into a world of sin and darkness in which all men were at enmity with His Father. "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. " (James 4:4) Jonah may have conceivably justified his disobedience in the proud supposition that he (Jonah) knew better about how to handle the enemies of his God then did God. The shrewd machinations of the mind are so very inclined to rationalize away every thought and deed that is contrary to the will of God.

            It should be noted that going down to Joppa, or even to Nineveh, is not a wrong direction if done in accordance with the perfect will of God. God sent Moses DOWN into Egypt (symbolically the land of sin) not to join with the sinners, but to bring the people of God out from among them. Perhaps our modern pulpits should be more animated to bring God's people out from among the luke-warm church and into the church that worships in faith and reverence. Jesus, too, came the greatest distance down of any to save us, not to become like us. So many moderns are attempting to redefine Christ and make Him like unto them rather than becoming more like Him. But whether to a higher elevation, or a lower one, any who depart from the will of God are headed DOWN on the road to destruction.

            Jonah is feeling quite content in his rebellion as we open our study today. He has gone down from Jerusalem to Joppa which, he believes, is taking him further out of the Presence of God. He has arrived and even found the very ship that he believes will complete his escape.  Being a man of God, Jonah should realize that God is in every place, and that He is the Master of the Seas as well as the Sovereign of the Land. He has purchased a ticket that may have been at such a bargained price as to make any Jew happy. Little does Jonah know that the ticket may be the most costly he will ever purchase even it if does provide a free ride in the depths of the sea aboard a great fish. He has gone DOWN into the ship, and the sails have been unfurled, and the anchor weighed. All is well for the Judean redneck, Jonah. He may have thought, "It can't get any better than this." The ship slides smoothly out of port and is underway. "Mission accomplished, right?" WRONG! Jonah is sailing more into the Presence of God than he had ever been on the heights of Jerusalem.  God is displeased with Jonah. It is a terror to sail into the Seas of the Displeasure of the Lord; but the Winds of God are alluring the ship, along with Jonah, and its many innocent souls to the very place where God will finally deal with Jonah. Unaware of the coming storm, Jonah is sleeping like a baby. He has been willing to change his entire life and circumstances in order to escape the Word of God. He will fare well, he believes, on the coast of far away Tarshish (Spain).

            About a decade ago, a missionary was traveling with his two young sons through a village on the east coast of southern India (not far from Mumbai). He was tired of the long drive as darkness descended. He parked in a village on the coast to sleep. It was a place well-lit and one which he believed offered the greatest safety. The Hindu villagers were agitated by their religious leaders to proceed with a devilish plan to murder the missionary and his children. They silently poured gasoline on the car, held the doors closed with poles, and set the automobile on fire burning its three struggling occupants to death. Even as they did so, and unbeknownst to them, a great storm was brewing opposite the village and across the Bay of Bengal. That typhoon sustained 50 ft waves that destroyed the village and coastal region associated therewith the next morning. The villagers believed that act of nature was also an act of the vengeance of Nature's God. They resolved never again to murder any persons of faith. God is always alert and acting even if we believe we have escaped the penalties of our sins. So, Jonah sleeps.

            4 "But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." The word 'BUT' in the Scriptures is a most powerful word. Jonah is fine and dandy, sleeping in peace and satisfaction, yet, here comes the word 'BUT.' Were it not for that 'BUT' Jonah may have gone all the way to Tarshish. God always has a 'BUT' for our ungodly schemes. Remember our old VFW comrade, Naaman? "Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour," Yes, he was. He was very great and powerful. He commanded one of the greatest armies of the day. He was mighty and courageous - a man of valor! If the sentence ended there, all would be fine in Naaman's life, but wait, there is that troubling little 'BUT' at the end of the verse: "but he was a leper." (2 Kings 5:1) No matter the shining armor, or silk robes that Naaman wore, he was in constant fear that someone would detect the fowl odor of leprosy that afflicted his body. All of the perfume in Asia would not cover that stench of leprosy, nor all the flattering gestures of polished men cover their sins. Now comes the little unexpected counseling session that the Lord has scheduled for Jonah. The storm was sent out by the Lord, not by happenstance. Bear in mind, though Jonah was in rebellion against God, God did not give up on Jonah even if He had to teach him a harsh lesson.

            The tumultuous waves that accompany a storm at sea can be most terrifying to a landlubber, but, in this case, it was of such severity as to strike terror into the hearts of seasoned sailors. It was beyond their human skills to master this storm. It threatened their very survival as the ship itself was in danger of shipwreck at sea. 5 "Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep."  Unbelievably, as the seaman struggled against the oars, the sails, and the rudder, Jonah, the most guilty of the party, slept. He was the cause of the storm. You will remember that our good Lord also slept on the Galilean Sea during such a storm; but the difference was this: Jonah was the CAUSE of the storm, and Jesus was the REMEDY for it.

            When the storms of life assail, it is time to get rid of those little sins that have appealed so greatly to us so that we might ride out the storm. These poor mariners knew not the true God, so they called upon whatever gods they imagined might be of help in their desperation. It is very likely that these weather-worn men were never so 'religious' than at this hour of danger and impending doom. How remiss we are in allowing those whom we greet on the street to go on in life unaware of the true God who is able and ready to answer prayer. Jonah had not only gone DOWN into the ship, but once aboard, he went further DOWN into the hull to sleep. A troubled conscience may find a temporary respite in the immediate aftermath of pleasurable sin, but he may be awakened in the terror of the storm.

            6 "So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not." The rough, shipmaster was more concerned for Jonah than Jonah was concerned for all others aboard. Perhaps the shipmaster had a glimpse of brilliant revelation in the God of a man who could sleep through such a terrifying storm. If we have gone away from God and hit upon a storm, it is time to pray! The shipmaster did not make reference to his gods, but to Jonah's God. He is the one who, if He "will think upon us" can save us from perishing. Somehow, the shipmaster realized this in a moment of grave danger. God uses often an unlearned man to awaken His own who know, yet act in rebellion.

            7 "And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah." God does not gamble. With him, there is nothing left to chance or to the casting of lots, but God uses the occasion to  allow the casting of lots to be His Finger of Revelation to the seaman. The ominous Finger pointed to Jonah! If a perceived chance is taken, and the result is confirmed in proof, then the lot was not by chance but of God. The seaman realized that. So the prophet of the Lord is reduced to cringing in his bed robes while his treasonous flight is revealed even to those who know not the Lord our God. How pitiful and how demeaning!

            8 "Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?" These rude men knew that there was something unusual about Jonah. If a mighty storm would be sent after such a fellow, they wondered, "What cause, this storm?" What does Jonah do for a living?" "Where does he come from and to what nation does he belong?" The last question is the most revealing and humiliating: "Of what people art thou?" Many in our sinful society today may wonder of what people we are. Are we different enough from the world for those who see us to ask that question? Do they suspect that we are of the People of God, or just another carefree pagan? Where we come from and to what people we belong is an important question. Do we fit in with the 'locals' of the world, or is our nature so different that all will recognize it? Are we not pilgrims on this earth who seek after a better city not made with hands? "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city." (Heb 11:13-16)

            Just as this ship in the storm must be made light to better weather the relentless waves, so must the pilgrim travel light so that his burdens delay not his travels. The Christian Pilgrim will not be over-burdened by worldly possessions and concerns. He knows, and seeks, something far better - not made with hands, but made by God. "Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?" (Acts 7:48-49) Your church building is not the House of God, either, it is the collective hearts of believers that define the Church.

            9 "And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land." We are not told if Jonah was of the tribe of Judah (Jewish) for he is identified only as a Hebrew which could mean any of the other twelve tribes. But professing himself to be Hebrew was perhaps enough to make even these strangers of the Kingdom to know something of his God and his faith. Jonah puzzles me. He did not suddenly come to know that the Lord was the "God of Heaven who made the sea and the dry land." Was he so delusional with rebellion that he forgot that the Presence of God was also on the seas as well as the land masses? One day, I hope to ask Mr. Jonah about that. In the mean time, it remains a mystery to me.

            10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them." Amazing turn of events when the same kind of lost souls to whom God would send Jonah in Nineveh now chastise Jonah for fleeing from the Presence of the very Lord of whom Jonah should have told them earlier. They are clearly upset that Jonah would flee from such a Mighty God. The glimmering light of faith begins to burn softly somewhere deep in the hidden chambers of their heart, and it is a warm presence to them. They begin to wonder about this God. These men feared a God whom they did not know, more than Jonah feared a God whom he DID know.

            What will happen next in this intriguing story. Read tomorrow's devotion, or you might even get the advantage of a preview by reading ahead of this writer.....'

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Devotion on Jonah (Part I – v. 3) 26 September 2013, Anno Domini

3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)

            In the way of postscript to yesterday’s Introduction of this book, I will add that the Book of Jonah is not simply an account of what happened in the life of a single prophet of the ancient day, or to the thousands of people of Nineveh, previously ignorant of the true God; but it is given as a SIGN to us and to all peoples of all time. “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a SIGN; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:39-40, see also Matthew 16:4) Today, worshippers are mad to find a church which makes fabulous claims of miracles and extra-biblical teaching, but they walk in abject darkness if they seek such.

God has provided a sufficient sign for us in the works of His prophets of old, and in the consummating life, death, and resurrection of His dearly beloved, only Begotten Son. God has punctuated His signs among the people during all times. It was intended as much to awaken Israel to the promise of the coming Savior as it was to lighten the darkness of the back streets of Nineveh of the Assyrians. That brazen serpent, lifted on high by Moses for the healing of those bitten by the fiery serpents, was also a sign to those who are bitten by that deadly Old Serpent, called Satan. Those who look to Christ lifted up on the cross, and risen to the Father, are healed of the deadly effects of sin. “Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (Num 21:7-9) The relationship of that SIGN was pointed out by Christ: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, see also John 8:28, 12:32, and 1 Peter 2:24)

As we proceed in our study of Jonah, we must recognize that in many points, Jonah is a type of Christ, just as was Adam, except in those areas of failure and weakness. He went down from the close presence of God as did Jesus, but Jonah went in the wrong direction. Jonah went to the wicked people of Nineveh just as Christ came down to the wicked world. Jonah lamented the forgiveness of God for the people of Nineveh, but Christ rejoices in it.

            Whereas, Jesus humbled Himself in descending to our level and becoming flesh and blood like unto us, Jonah rebelled and rose up AGAINST the commandment of God. “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” See the contrast with that of Christ in his actions: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:5-8) Have we not all, from the eldest to the youngest, not behaved in the like manner as Jonah at some point? We know what the Lord has commanded, but we think we are somehow special and can disregard that commandment in our peculiar circumstances. We go in the opposite direction from obedience. Is there a great and hungry fish awaiting us in our flight from God? Please note, again, from the 5th verse of Philippians, that we surrender our old free wills when we accept the Lordship of Christ and take His will upon us.

            Jonah used his own will to subvert the perfect will and commandment of God. He was angry and dismayed that God would command him to go to the terrible, Gentile enemies of Israel. He knew, instinctively, that God would not warn a people of their gross sins unless He was ready to forgive them in their repentance. Jonah was fearful that his mission would be successful! He did not fear its failure. See? Jonah had a firm knowledge of God’s Mind, and he had faith in knowing that whatever God disposed to do, He would accomplish. Yet, Jonah fled from what he deemed the “Presence of the Lord.” How futile is the effort when we attempt to flee and hide ourselves from the commanding Eyes of God! The first to learn this hard lesson was our ancient parents in the Garden eastward in Eden. The next to learn was Cain. And now, Jonah will learn the same, but he must first suffer much effort in escaping by sea – but in two different conveyances – a ship and a whale! How do we ever expect to escape the All-Seeing Eye of god when all of the Universe is His, and He made it?

            Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and it was located some great distance to the EAST of Jerusalem; but Jonah went the opposite direction. He went WEST to the coast of Joppa. If God would go with him to Nineveh, did her believe that God would not follow to sea and to Tarshish (coasts of Spain)? Anger and rebellion blinds men to the will of God. So was Jonah blinded by his own small mind? “. . . and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish.” There was another opposite direction taken by Jonah. When Jonah went out from the will and presence of God, he, like all who disobey, went DOWN. He went DOWN to Joppa. The Lord had sent a ship there to meet Jonah. But Jonah thought that he, himself, had found that ship. It was prepared and furnished with crew and canvas to sail the seas; but today, it would sail into a teeming gale of such force that the crew could not maintain control of either sail or rudder – but God could! When we run from God and His plan for our lives, He is able to bring us into the great storms and buffeting breakers of life. He watches us there for He is the “God that seeth me.” We may worry about the outcome, but He does not for He has already ruled it. The ship that Jonah ‘found’ may have, indeed, been going to Tarshish, but Jonah was NOT!

            If we do not allow the Lord to provide our means of passage, we will pay a very great price from our own treasure: “. . . so he paid the fare thereof.” Little did Jonah know exactly how great that fare would be in the end of three days. How wasteful it is to run on our own way and depart from the Narrow Way of God!

            “. . . and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” So far, Jonah has gone DOWN twice in our narrative, but he has THREE more occasions remaining in which he goes DOWN. The way is always a spiraling DOWN to the abyss when we flee from God. Jonah went DOWN into the ship which he presumed would take him to Tarshish. He had his own ticket, but a ticket is no better than its issuing authority – in this case, man.  He believed man’s sailing ticket would take him out of the Presence of God. Good luck with that one, ole boy, for it is a dangerous delusion. Jonah would actually come INTO a presence he did not contemplate; yet, the Lord would be there with him in that sea-monster’s belly after Jonah had become just another dish of seafood.

            Do we struggle against the pricks of God? I KNOW that I have done so and will, doubtless, so struggle again. I am, by nature, a stubborn thing. God may use our stubbornness to achieve his purposes if we allow, but when we use it for our own ends, we may wind up in the depths of the sea in a conveyance not of our own choosing. Jonah has gone in the opposite direction on earth that he was commanded to go. He should have gone East to Nineveh, but Jonah went West to Joppa. He also went in the opposite direction spiritually from that which he should have gone. Jonah went DOWN to Joppa, and DOWN into the ship, instead of going UP to a closer fellowship with God. Quite often, good Christian people so get immersed in doing the WORK of the Lord that they forget the LORD! The labors of Martha were beneficial to the Lord and dinner guests, but Mary chose the better part – at the feet of Christ where she was often wont to be. The struggles of Godly living are moment by moment – not year to year. We must constantly be aware of the allurements of the world AWAY from God. We must cast away our free wills daily, and put on that Mind which was in Christ Jesus! Have you done today, friend?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Devotion on Jonah (Part I – Introduction and vs. 1-2) 25 September 2013, Anno Domini

1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. (Jonah 1:1-2) (KJV)

            We begin today a devotional study of the Book of Jonah which is not a prophetic, but historical, book.  It reveals God's calling of a man named Jonah - a real person of ancient times - to go into a wicked and fearful city to carry His warning to the pagan people there. We learn herein that God not only exercises His oversight of nations, but also of individual persons. His Providence is over you and me just as surely as it is over the nations of the world. Secondly, we learn that God calls men of His choosing to execute His Will and to carry forth His Word. God seldom calls one unfamiliar with His Word and Name to call others to repentance, or to prophesy on His behalf, but mainly those who know Him and are courageous to do His Will. Jonah was just that man though Jonah had to learn that truth through some hard trials. One who is called of God may delay in his responding, but he will not finally escape the unrelenting persistence of God. Rather than kick against the prods, we would suffer far less wounds in our bodies and souls if we would simply obey at once when God calls.

            You will recall the experience of Saul of Tarsus, a great persecutor of the Church, on the Road to Damascus: "And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." (Acts 9:3-6) Paul (Saul) learned a hard lesson from the Lord on that Road to Damascus. He was not short on faith, but of the knowledge of the Lord. Young Samuel was asleep when the Lord called to him. He didn't recognize the Voice, being of tender years. But when he knew the Voice, he never relented. "Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. (1 Sam 3:7-9)

            Mr. Jonah is different. Mr. Jonah did not lack either faith, or knowledge. He heard and recognized the Voice of the Lord, but did not AGREE with the Lord, and chose to flee to a distant land where he must have presumed the Lord would not follow. He was WRONG. The whole earth is the Lord's!  Perhaps Jonah lacked that which many professing Christians today lack - COMPASSION! He was well aware of the compassion that the Lord would feel for a repentant people, but did not desire that the Lord forgive such desperate enemies of Israel. The further Jonah fled from the Lord, the more awesome became the Lord's presence. It is a great error to forbear witnessing to a people of your own choosing rather than those to whom the Lord sends us. We cannot discount any race, tribe, or nationality of people as being unreceptive, or unworthy, of hearing the Word of the Lord. We preach the Gospel without distinction to all, and allow the Holy Ghost to separate the wheat from the chaff.

            What was the message that Jonah was to deliver? Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. Jonah was to pronounce God's coming judgment against that wicked city. So why would Jonah bolt at such a mission? First of all, Nineveh was a powerful city whose wickedness was felt and renowned in the Holy Land.  This city had sent armies out to conquer and take spoils from all of their surrounding neighbors. They treated their victims with such cruelty that the mention of their name struck terror in the hearts of the people. They often impaled their victims on sharp poles while they died a slow and excruciating death.  Their armies were strong and terrible. Secondly, Jonah, being a prophet of God, knew that God's heart would melt should the city repent, and God would forgive them. It was THIS fact that most bothered Jonah. He felt that, if he were taken out of the way, this intention of God could not be fulfilled. Of course, the works of God depends not upon the will of any man. Jonah was soon to learn that the Will of God overrides that of men - even His own prophets.

            Nineveh was a GREAT city, even in the Words of the Lord. How great was Nineveh? The city itself was a three day's journey - "Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey." (Jonah 3:3) That means that it would take a traveler three days to go from one gate of the city to the opposite gate (by foot).  In spite of modernist skeptic's claims that there was not, nor ever had been, an historic city called Nineveh (that the Bible was wrong); Dr. Henry Layard, Esq., sought out the ruins of Nineveh in the 1840's. He proceeded to modern day Mosul on the Tigris River. Searching out the environs of the area, he came to a mound which the locals called 'Tippeh Yona' (mound of Jonah). This he presumed to be the tomb of Jonah. But looking some short distance to the north, he spied a mound of earthen works of tremendous proportion. Later excavation proved this to be the ruins of "that GREAT CITY - Nineveh!"

            Skeptics had also claimed that the Book of Daniel was in error in naming Belshazzar as King of Babylon at the time of the "Finger that wrote upon the Wall." In the central ruins of Nineveh, Dr. Layard found some thousands of clay tablets recording daily commerce and legal matters. One such clay tablet contained this remark: "I am King Nabonidas of Babylon who is visiting in Nineveh. I have left my son, Belshazzar, as king in my stead at Babylon." This finding answered another mystery of Daniel as well. "Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom." (Dan 5:29) Skeptics have argued that there was never, historically, a second ruler in Babylon, no King Belshazzar, and no justification to make Daniel "third ruler in the kingdom." since there was no second. But Belshazzar, himself, was the second ruler under his father; therefore, the greatest honor he could bestow on Daniel was to name him third ruler. You would think that this overwhelming empirical evidence would close the mouths of such critics, but many still cling to the false thread of fantasy over truth.

            Suffice it to say that Nineveh was a GREAT CITY. Though Jonah may have feared  his own safety in going there, it seems that his greater concern was that the Lord would have compassion on the city. Though we may harbor great malice for a people, or even the President of the United States, our prayers must be that the Lord will guide them and open their eyes to faith and reason. If we can make a believer of our adversary, we have made a double friend - one more friend, one less enemy!

            As we learn from many places in God's Word, the beginning of sin is a DIRECTION away from God. Naomi and Elimelech left Bethlehem-Judah (the city of Bread and Praise) and went into the cursed land of Moab. It was the WRONG direction. The Jew left Jerusalem (City of Peace) and went DOWN to Jericho - again, the WRONG direction. The Prodigal Son took his inheritance early and went out on the long road to a FAR country - WRONG direction! Psalm 1 tells us the RIGHT direction as well as the WRONG. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. " (Psalms 1:1-3) We begin by walking in the wrong direction with the wrong company; we find ourselves, after a while, stopping in the place of sinners; and finally we find that we have made ourselves at home with the wicked by sitting down with them in intercourse. Well does Eve prove the point in going before the wrong tree, stopping there, and finally chatting with the evil voice. Likewise, did Lot cast his eyes upon the plain before Sodom. Later, we find that he had moved into that wicked city and, later still, sat in the gate of the city. So, we see that Jonah chooses the wrong direction - and it is constantly DOWN. Please read this very short book and meditate on its contents as we cover each verse in the coming days.