Morning church. My name is Monty Strickland. I’m one of the elders of Broward Church and I serve along with my wife, with the youth and family ministry. We have a blast teaching both mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and kids of all ages what it is to love God. A Small Warning And… See more
Morning church. My name is Monty Strickland. I’m one of the elders of Broward Church and I serve along with my wife, with the youth and family ministry. We have a blast teaching both mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and kids of all ages what it is to love God.
A Small Warning
And this morning, I have a small warning with all of the things that we’re experiencing in our nation today. This sermon will not deliver many of the answers you may be looking for. But what it will do is it will challenge you to commune with your fellow man in a new way, in a dynamic way, in a way that is in accordance with the justice of God.
So I want to talk about God’s justice this morning. One of the things we do in the middle school this time of year is we would have them move out of fifth grade into sixth grade and we would introduce them to our our worship service, where they are expected to start behaving and acting and worshipping as adults. And so we’ll take some of the lessons that they’ve heard, tried and true tales to teach them about God and how God’s justice informs man’s justice and how God can be related to by man.
Some of these tried and true tales talk about Noah and The Ark. Talk about Daniel in the lion’s den, or maybe even Jonah and the fish. And what we do is we remove the central figure from being the man who needs to be saved. And we interject God, who’s actually the hero of the story. You know, what we’re facing today makes me think a lot about Jonah. And I think that’s where we’re going to start today.
Heavy Hearts, Heavy Nation
I’ve got some things to share. Of course, we all are here in this time with our nation with heavy hearts. You know, our minds are reeling with what should be our next steps and what can we look forward to in our tomorrows. So, Jonah, I’d like to start at the end for the sake of time.
And it says, “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong. And he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?'”
Out of all the prophets, Jonah was the prophet that had to go preach a message of repentance to a nation not his own, to preach a message of blessing to a nation that he didn’t feel like deserved to hear that message. And so he was put off by the very fact that God was going to send him to a foreign country to talk about something that should have been reserved for the faithful of Israel. And so he fled and he tried to forestall God’s will by going in the totally opposite direction. But he finally gets his act together.
He becomes obedient to God’s will. Does what he’s supposed to do. But as the Ninevites repent and do exactly what God wanted. Jonas struggles with the fact that God now blesses the Ninevites.
Do You Have the Right to Be Angry?
He’s angry and he’s upset, and I imagine that this must feel like your parents deliver unto you Christmas gifts that you’ve been looking forward to for a whole year. And you get to unwrap them. You get to look at them. But then they say you’ve got to take these gifts and you’ve got to go next door to your best friend’s house and you need to give them to him. Now, should we be able to do that? Maybe. But that would be entirely weird for somebody in our nation today. And this is what it was like for Jonah to give away God’s sweet blessings, not to the people that deserve to have them, but the people that were the enemies of Israel.
And Jonah was angry. And God asks him the question, do you have the right to become angry? You know, I think a lot about what’s been going on in our country. And I’ve had to ask myself, do I have the right to become angry? Do I have the right to be angry?
You know, to be honest, I’ve been across the whole spectrum of emotions over this last couple of weeks because, yeah, sometimes I feel justified in my anger. I’ve had so many things flashback and my own situations that I’ve been reminded of through the lives of men like Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd, you know, where they’ve suffered unjustly and had no recourse and their lives were taken.
And it’s made me think a lot about how am I going to go into my tomorrow? What should I expect my life to be going forward? I’ve been very blessed. You know, God’s allowed me to have a wife, three children. And I look forward to seeing them every day. But the mere thought that that might not occur. It scares me. And I think a lot about my own interactions with the police. And I asked myself, what are the probabilities in 2020 that are different than what they were in 2019? And it’s a very real question that I’ve got to grapple with. You know, I’ve been accosted by the police department by gunpoint before, so I know what that feels like.
And I’ve had people ask me afterwards, you know, what do you think? Was racially motivated? And, you know, my own response to that is, yeah, I do. Why? Because all my white friends that were in the car, they let them get out. And then four officers got to retrain their guns on me. And I happened to be driving. And so I feel angry because I get reminded that I don’t have any legal recourse to deal with something like that.
You know, there’s no way for me to take away the fact that dead men tell no lies. And if I had been removed from this planet that day, you know, where would my wife be? Where will my children be? I don’t know how they would do with that, but it scares me and that makes me feel angry sometimes.
And I grieve with the families who actually have lost loved ones, because I can imagine for a small measure what that might feel like. And so I look to God for his justice when I can’t find justice of my own.
Jonah was angry. Does he have the right to be angry? God didn’t judge his anger. He didn’t tell him how he ought to feel. He just asked him about it. You know, and I appreciate that about how God approached Jonah. And Jonah says he’s angry because he knows something about God that that maybe I don’t.
The Qualities of God
He describes God as being gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and merciful. That’s something that I’m still learning. But Jonah knew that, he understood that.
You know, we ask the questions at our middle school class. We go, is God kind? Is he fair? Is he just? Does he show favoritism? And we said there’s no right or wrong answer. We just want to know, what do you think? You know, my attitude toward these questions is it’s changed for me a lot over the years.
I don’t have a way to say I know exactly what my answer would be in any given moment. But I do believe that God is gracious. I do believe that God is merciful. I do believe that God is abounding in love. And I do believe he is slow to anger and sometimes his slowness to anger, and sometimes his mercy, and sometimes his grace on behalf of those that I may not support makes me feel some kind of way. But after I realize his grace to them is the same as when he gives me grace, I have to appreciate that.
Will Justice Ever Come?
You know, I think a lot about the folks that suffer harm and where their justice will really come from. Will we get that justice from man? Will that be enough? Or does God promise us something more? You know, God’s justice, I find, really should inform our own. There’s a quote by Martin Luther King and I actually believe it’s a quote that he transcribes from Theodore Parker, which says, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice, meaning it may take a while, but morally mankind arrives at justice through patience and perseverance.”
How can we be assured that man’s justice at some point becomes the same as God’s justice? That is what we want to talk about this morning. You know, we’re socially distant, for our health sake. Some of us may be racially distant this morning because of what’s going on in our society. But we have a bigger issue, which is our spiritual distance from God. And we want to bridge that gap with scripture. We want to bridge that gap with the commands and encouragements from God that help us draw near to him in our time of need. And we want to understand that sometimes when we’re the recipients of grace, others may be filled with anger.
Is it justified? Is it right? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. But God, doing his good, pleasing and perfect will, has a plan and he bends our morals to his justice, short time or long, through the power of his word.
Grace Vs. Mercy
God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding with love, and merciful.
Let’s focus on what grace is. You know, Grace, it sounds really good. You may think grace means that you do things with a certain style in a certain manner that is sure, steady, and attractive. But that’s not what grace really means here. What grace means for us is that God grants us undeserved blessing. He gives us what we don’t deserve. And it’s the exact opposite of mercy, grace and mercy are opposites, but we need them both.
Mercy is the taking away of deserved punishment. It’s the taking away of deserved punishment. So these things are opposite. But God has created them both. And he is known for them both. And we need both of them.
It says also that God is compassionate. Does he care? Absolutely. He is a God who cares. You know, this is God is slow to anger. We need this. And he says he’s abounding in love. He gives us something that we can imitate. He’s full of love. You know, the message of the cross is really about God’s grace. It’s how God takes his justice and substitutes man’s justice in its place. And I’d like us to look at another Scripture and Romans Chapter 9 to clarify this a little bit more.
It starts by saying, “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction. What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,’ and, ‘In the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the Living God.'”
My People: Children of the Living God
This is an incredible verse, mainly because God does this in dramatic fashion in scripture. You know, we’ve spent a few weeks looking through Exodus and we’ve watched the Israelites be safe from the Egyptian army through the Red Sea. The Israelites passed through the Valley of the Red Sea on dry ground, followed by the Egyptians. And then finally the waves come crashing back to their destruction. God bears with great, great patience the objects of his wrath so that he can display his incredible power to the objects of his mercy.
After this scene, the Red Sea passing will become an indelible feature of Israelite history for all time that they remember as God’s most powerful moment in their lives. And he does the same thing with the Assyrians and Nineveh. He stores up his objects of wrath. He gives them mercy. He relents from his promised destruction.
But he knows he knows what’s going to happen. One hundred years later, those same Assyrian nations would come down and they would take over the northern tribes of Israel. God bears with great patience, his objects of wrath, to glorify himself in the eyes of his objects of mercy. Who do we want to be? You know, what side of the ledger do you and I want to live on?
I think what he says after that is just as powerful. He says, “and in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.'”
We live in a place where today you may not feel like you are a part of the people like everyone else. That is very possible that you’re feeling that today our nation is in an uproar because we don’t really know yet how to love one another.
And we’re trying to prefect that theory, but we’re not doing a great job of it. And in this very promise, God says, don’t worry. In that same place where you were called, ‘not my people’ you’ll be called the very sons of the living God. And God gives us great hope.
Where Grace Met Mercy
You know, the cross of Jesus was where Jesus gives up his life so that mankind can be brought back to God. You know, we’re not necessarily being reconciled to one another as it is, we’re being reconciled back to God. That, in effect, Jesus took our place on the cross and paid the price for our sin.
I mean, I have to admit, the first time I heard about church and God and Jesus and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, I wasn’t very impressed. My heroes. I wanted them to vanquish. To conquer. To succeed and to gain the victory. That was what my heroes were about. And dying on a cross did not seem like something that I could relate to as being very victorious. I couldn’t appreciate the fact that Jesus had done this. Furthermore, that he opted to do it. That seemed very, very weak and, you know, very surrendered. Just didn’t appeal to me.
But when someone sat down with me and studied the scriptures of what Jesus did, that he chose this path and that this path had a purpose and that he would raise on the third day. That took on a whole different tone for me, because now I understood that it took great courage to bear with patience the wrath of others so that someone else, that he didn’t know, may respond by faith in him and thus get to know God.
Jesus, in effect, sacrificed for me, not knowing how I would respond, not knowing what I would do. But he gave his life fully on a might. That I might respond and decide to live for him. Jesus suffered in my place because of the sins that I committed that I would never have to pay for. God extending grace, showing mercy in the form of his son and thus accomplishing justice, may not always look at justice like that.
But God calls justice removing man’s sin so that the offense between God and man is eliminated. That man might be reconciled with him. That is what God is trying to accomplish. But I feel hope from this passage because it makes me want to reinvest. And it makes me want to believe that no matter where I live, no matter what the political unrest may be, that God has me exactly where he wants me and that nothing could remove me from his hand, that I’m in a good place when I see him.
Because He is, I am
When I’m imitating his loving kindness, when I’m imitating peace, when I’m imitating mercy, when I’m imitating him, showing grace.
I still have flashbacks on things that have happened to me in my past. I still have tales that people in my own family have told me about being arrested for no reason, you know, and I look back at that and it still grieves my heart. But I think a lot about the fact that I’ve got police officers that are friends, some of whom I consider brothers, and I love them and I know that they love me.
Does that mean I give them all a pass? No. But what it does mean is that we have an option to show God’s grace, God’s mercy, and to imitate him. You know, we have a challenge today, and that challenge is will we love one another more than superficially?
You know, the Bible says it calls Christians to love one another deeply and from the heart. In other words, it’s more than just being willing to hang out together for forty five minutes or so on a Sunday or to talk with each other over the phone, but to have really deep relationships.
An Incredibly Diverse Church
I love that about this church. I love the fact that we are incredibly diverse. All of us come from different backgrounds. We’re an incredible melting pot here. And it’s so incredible to think about where everybody comes from, what they learned, and then how Jesus changed all of that so that they can have a relationship with a perfect stranger that they would never know otherwise.
It is the power of God to remove the barrier and make two people as close as brother and sister could ever be. And it’s great to see this every Sunday. So we look forward to the days when we’ll be back together. But until then, I have some encouragement and a challenge because people have said, what do we do? Thoughts and prayers are not enough. How do we effectively bear one another’s burdens? How do we carry each other’s load when the load gets too heavy? And I think the Prophet Malachi gives us a little bit of insight.
“You have said, ‘it is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evil doers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'”
Have I ever felt like that? Have you ever felt like those in power don’t abide by the same rules that they impose on everyone else and they get to go do whatever they want and they seem to prosper and it makes us burn on the inside because we know if we do that kind of stuff, we’re gonna be called upon to answer for it.
But God has an answer. And he says this:
“Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. ‘On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.'”
Encouragement and a Challenge
You know, those who feared the Lord did not give in to bitterness. They didn’t give in to rage. They didn’t give in to doubt. They didn’t give in to fear. It says they spoke to one another. And I like to interpret that in my own mind is they encouraged one another to stay faithful to God and it moved God’s heart.
It says he listened, he heard to the point where a scroll of remembrance was written for him and he said, I’m going to remember this day and in the day that I make up my treasured possession. I’m going to gather these folks right here.
Now, I want you to think about the things that you have spoken to, those who you believe in, you know, some of the things I see on Facebook. Some of the texts that I see go back and forth. God remembers that. And is that how you want to be remembered?
A little bit of encouragement really does go a long way. Like, I need encouragement. I can’t live without a getting a pep talk. Every once in a while, especially when I’m trying to do something hard or something that I’m not familiar with, I need a little bit of encouragement to keep going. I think this morning we need some encouragement to keep going. So I ask you to imitate God and do exactly what he says here.
You know this verse says God listened, and that is my challenge for each of us. Let’s listen to one another. Some of us are really hurting and we need people to know what it is that we’re going through.
It says then that God heard, you know, he really heard what they had to say. And we need to imitate him in this as well. We need to hear with empathy. Don’t just discard what was said. Think about what that meant for that person and ask yourself, what would you have done or how would you have felt in their situation? God listened, God heard, and he challenges us to do the same.
And lastly, the third thing is we should become an advocate. You know, God had a scroll of remembrance written and then it says he’s going to gather these people to be his. You know, when you have an advocate, when you have somebody that is in your corner, sometimes that’s all you need to know. Then you can talk to them. You can express what’s going on. And, you know, they’re in your corner. So they’re going to give you the support that you need to follow through on the things that you need to do.
This is not an entire solution, but it is an incredible beginning for us to really talk with each other the way the Bible tells us to.
The Bible commands us to imitate those who through faith, have achieved what was promised. And these men and women here did something phenomenal, such that God decided to write down a scroll of remembrance for all time, that they learned how to communicate with each other effectively, not through 26 or so letters in the email or Twitter or sending a really brief shout through Facebook, but really expressing to one another meaningful words. Sharing where we’re coming from and really being able to listen to the other side. Without that, we really can’t overcome what we’re seeing today.
Putting All Three Together
But God gives us some solutions here in Malachi to imitate him, to communicate effectively and to ask the same questions that he asked. Jonah, why are you angry? You know, why are you feeling the way that you are? What is it that you’re going through? And how can I help, you know? How can I help? How can I be an advocate for your situation?
I think if we imitate these things, it will totally change our world. We already see what they’ve done for our church. We’ve already seen what they’ve done in our own families. And we need to extend this to the world at large. So let’s do this with somebody that we wouldn’t normally speak with. Let’s take a chance and step out of our comfort bubble and talk to someone that we normally wouldn’t share these things with and let’s challenge ourselves to be like Jonah and go and be a foreign missionary with our neighbor next door, or the person down the street, or someone at work, or someone who we normally wouldn’t talk to and see what God does. See how God can heal even a nation that’s at unrest with the power of communicating with one another humbly.