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THE SOURCE OF OUR STRENGTH
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
2 FEBRUARY 1992
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Preparation Verse: (Psalm 36:6)
Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Thy judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, Thou preservest man and beast.
For the past few weeks we have been talking about how the Lord our God presents Himself to us in a commonsense way, so that we would not be led astray.
We saw how love is the common denominator in all things coming from God.
So, if we do not see this pure love of God being extended to the whole of creation, then we should be alerted to the fact that what is happening is not of God.
God pours out His love upon all who repent of their sins and believe in Him; and sometimes, as in the case of the prophet Jonah, we don't want to accept the fact that we, or anyone of us, are God's chosen vessels for delivering His love.
This is particularly true when we don't like those to whom God wants to send us.
But if we ourselves are filled with God's love, we will be able to see through these difficulties, for we will have the strength to overcome our dislikes.
God's love is the source of our strength.
Most of us probably know the story of Jonah, and how God went to extraordinary means to convince Jonah that he was to go to Nineveh to deliver God's warning about their sins and that they must repent.
Well, in spite of Jonah's reluctance, the people of Nineveh did repent.
Listen to what the king of Nineveh said in Jonah 3:7-9 –
7. And he issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.
8. "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men [or them, as it actually says in the Hebrew] call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.
9. "Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?"
The king of Nineveh recognized the truth about God's love.
The king also accepted the fact that he was responsible for his people and his nation; thus he issued this decree, not just for himself and his people, but for all those who couldn't speak for themselves, including the animals that may have been led astray by human beings.
The people of Nineveh prayed for themselves, for those who could not pray for themselves, and for their animals.
And God heard their repentant prayers and saved them all.
Two weeks ago we read part of Psalm 36. Let's recall what was said in verse 6.
6. Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Thy judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, Thou preservest man and beast.
This verse speaks of what God did in Nineveh, even though it was written many years before.
Jonah didn't want to remember this Psalm, and he was angry with God for having such compassion and saving Nineveh.
God puts no limits on how we should pray, or for whom we should pray; for He has compassion for all of His creation, as He reminds Jonah in 4:11.
11. "And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"
God's love has the strength to heal even a case of “Jonah-itis.” If you have such a disease, allow God's love to heal you of it.
And before we go on, let's remember what the king said about violence in the people's lives: "that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands."
Yet every year the hand of human violence is inflicted upon billions of innocent animals, and millions of innocent humans.
No crime can be committed, no war can be fought, and no animal's flesh or bodily secretion can be produced or eaten without extending the wicked hand of human violence.
The Prophet Jeremiah was also one of those whom God chose, and who allowed God to heal him of his shortcomings.
Please turn with me to Jeremiah 1:4-10 and let's listen in on their conversation, as God calls Jeremiah into service.
4. Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."
God does not wish to waste the power of His Spirit or His love.
So when He abundantly pours out His Spirit upon us, when we first believe and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He expects us to do the work He has set before us, and to leave our former wicked and violent ways of life.
And at first this can be frightening, for we are unsure of ourselves in this new position.
We may even respond as Jeremiah responded:
6. Then I said, "Alas, Lord God!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
Because I am a youth."
No matter how old we are when we first come to Christ, we feel like a new babe.
But God, in all His love, answers us as He answered Jeremiah:
7. But the Lord said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am a youth,'
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
The Hebrews of Jeremiah's day had some really bad doctrinal positions that were leading or sending the people away from God; and we still have some of these kinds of doctrines hanging around today.
Jonah didn't want to pray for sinful people. Jonah didn't want to pray for non-Hebrews either, but God had other plans.
God's compassion has always been for all of His creation, not just for a select few.
Are we willing to accept this position ourselves?
The king of Nineveh was willing to do just that.
And because he didn't put any limits upon what God could do, He just accepted the fact that God would want him to pray for every human and every animal in his kingdom.
He even had the animals wear sackcloth as a symbol of their repentance, too.
And as we saw, God accepted the repentant prayers of Nineveh, and even rebuked Jonah further for his failure in not considering little children, the retarded, and the many animals.
We are to pray for all, without limits.
Are we willing to do this?
God is not going to leave us alone.
8. "Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you," declares the Lord.
9. Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me,
"Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
10. "See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant."
The source of our strength is God's love, and we are to use it.
If something is not of God, if something is not based on unconditional love, then we are to lovingly and peacefully pluck it up, tear it down, destroy it, and overthrow it; and in its place we are to plant God's unconditional love and then build upon it.
Beloved, don't worry about the false doctrines that have crept into our churches; you know what is of God.
Use your common sense.
As a guide to the truth, use the love that the Lord has given you.
See the confirmation and consistency of these truths in the pages of your Bibles.
If we have any doubts about the truth of these statements, then look closely at yourself, as I have done many times with myself, and see what God has forgiven. Then go forth and give abundantly of God's love, unconditionally.
And pray for yourself, as well, for your continued strength, as does the old man who wrote Psalm 71. Let's turn there and observe how he is praying, beginning at verse 1.
1. In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed.
I cannot imagine a greater shame than to be forgiven for my own sins and then fail to forgive someone else; or having been told by God to do something, and then not do it.
2. In Thy righteousness deliver me, and rescue me;
Incline Thine ear to me, and save me.
3. Be Thou to me a rock of habitation, to which I may continually come;
Thou hast given commandment to save me,
For Thou art my rock and my fortress.
4. Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the grasp of the wrongdoer and ruthless man,
5. For thou art my hope;
O Lord God, Thou art my confidence from my youth.
Is the Lord all of these things to us?
He wants to be.
He really should be.
We should each be able to say, as the old man is saying,
6. By Thee I have been sustained from my birth;
Thou art He who took me from my mother’s womb;
My praise is continually of Thee.
Accept the touch of God with an open heart and mind.
Put no limits on what God can do in our own lives, or in the lives of others – human or otherwise.
We lose our joy when God's love does not overflow from us.
We have no strength when His love is not in us.
Accept His touch.
Accept His strength.
Accept His love.
And then go forth and do with it as He directs, without limits.
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