Category Archives: Jonah

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 313

11/04/15 – 313

Our God truly is a God of second chances. And sometimes third, fourth and fifths, especially when it comes to our salvation. We don’t know how many chances the Ninevites had to turn around before the story began, but we can assume they were the way they were as a culture for quite a while. Even if they didn’t worship Jehovah, the God of the Israelites, they knew right from wrong. The story began with God sending Jonah to give them one last chance as a people, as a culture.

Then the story quickly took a turn to focus on the individual Jonah. He should have been living a pure life as a man of God, and I have a feeling that he thought he was good to go in that respect. Yet we quickly find him as a self-absorbed, disobedient, immature bigot. Even through his experiences with the storm, the fish, the Ninevites and the plant, Jonah hung on to that persona.

The relevance of this story for us today is also twofold. We are living in a culture that’s rapidly spiraling into the ground as far as Godliness is concerned. There has always been evil, I know, but I don’t know that there has ever been such a specific, generalized, cultural and governmental anti-Christianity movement in our country and others. From within and without, the church is under attack. Some of the worst damage is done by people who claim the name ‘Christian’ but live only for themselves – like Jonah.

We need to be in prayer constantly for our land and people, of course. But we can’t stop there. The only hope we have of even slowing down the spiral is to stand in the way – stand firm for what is right, even if it hurts. You can’t control what others do, but you can make sure that when you call yourself a Christian, you are doing everything in your power to be worthy of the name. That is simply, to be holy, as He is holy.

If you are living for Christ, you have died to yourself, and the problem of self-centeredness that Jonah had will be nonexistent. Just remember this is something you can rarely judge in yourself. A BIG part of it is that you don’t think there’s anything wrong with you – it’s always the other person. That’s why we need real Christian accountability in our discipleship partners and/or small groups – to help us see and heal from just such things.

As for the ‘Ninevites’ among us who believe they won’t have to stand in judgment if they don’t believe in God? Paul addresses that here:

Romans 2:14-15 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Let’s close the story of Jonah with a prayer first for ourselves, that God would always keep our eyes open, place us with a disciple who will keep us accountable and growing in holiness, and that He would always help us to represent Him well in a fallen and falling world.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 312

Jonah 4:10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

We said yesterday that God wasn’t coddling Jonah. He tried giving him an object lesson, but Jonah just wasn’t getting it. Not surprising, really, is it? This is spiritual blindness at work, or maybe more accurately, spiritual tunnel vision. Jonah can’t see beyond himself. He’s so focused on his own comfort he can’t see what God sees, or discern what God wants other than what God has had to tell him directly – and even with that he argues and pouts like a little kid!.

By the way, speaking of seeing people from God’s perspective, notice His description of the Ninevites? He says they are “people who cannot tell their right hand from their left”. In other words – they are lost. Not inherently evil and worthy only of hatred and extermination. They were just people who have fallen into the state they are in because they had no right spiritual direction – no guide or map. God obviously felt compassion for them (and even for their animals), and so Jonah should have also. After all, he was supposed to be God’s representative, God’s prophet.

So how did Jonah respond to God’s lesson with the plant and the worm? We don’t know! He leaves us hanging! Maybe this is one of those ‘write your own ending’ children’s books. Probably not, but we can make an educated guess or 2.

My first guess is that Jonah finally, at some point, learned the lesson. If not, I don’t believe he ever would have written a book that made him look so bad, not with his spiritual state of self-worship. Not just that, but he had to have been pretty repentant as well to want to share so much of the lesson with others – some of whom might even be Ninevites!

We can also be safe in assuming, I think, that as with most Bible stories, there is more than one lesson to be learned. We’ll sum things up tomorrow. For today, let’s pray a prayer of gratitude for Jonah and all the others in scripture who humbled themselves in order to teach us the lessons that they learned so painfully. Let’s also continue to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to anything that we need to learn about ourselves – no matter how painful, uncomfortable or humbling it may be.

 

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 311

11/02/15 – 311

Once again we have seen Jonah at an emotional low – asking God to kill him after preaching the message of a lifetime – one that sparked a revival that save an entire people in a single day! But the thing was, he didn’t like them. And that was the problem in Jonah’s eyes. Obviously he still had a lot to learn, and incredibly, God was still willing to teach him.

Jonah 4:4-9 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

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

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

Is it just me, or are you beginning to get the impression that Jonah may be just a bit of a drama queen (in today’s jargon)? At the same time, I notice that God’s not coddling him. I have to wonder how God would do on a contemporary parenting assessment, but that could be a loooong rabbit trail, so I’ll leave it lie.

Anyway, Jonah still doesn’t seem to be getting the message. The question is, who could possibly not get it? After all, God has been pretty clear, even speaking outright to him. I think the answer is, someone who is so focused on himself – so self-centered – that he’s pretty much blind to anything or anyone else. I think we’ve all had our self-centered moments, and known self-centered people. The world is full of them, simply because that’s the root of our sin nature. But seriously?

Jonah is past the stage of running from God and he’s willing to obey God but for the wrong reasons. He didn’t come to Nineveh because he was repentant, he didn’t preach the message out of love for God or for the lost Ninevites. He did it only because he didn’t like what happened when he ran.

This is why so often I suggest that we ask the Holy Spirit to examine us and show us where we need to change; because we are so often blind to these things in ourselves. That’s my suggestion for today, by the way. Ask for His help not only in finding and bringing those flaws into your awareness, but in taking them from you forever.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 309

10/31/15 – 309

Jonah 3:3b-5 Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

So far so good. Jonah was only 1/3rd of the way in and people who had never worshipped Yahweh as God were at least fasting and mourning. In other words, they were paying attention. As word spread, even bigger things happened. As soon as the king heard, he issued a proclamation that everyone (even the animals) should fast and pray to God for forgiveness and mercy) He also told them to turn from their sinful ways.

I’ve heard many an argument spirited discussion about whether repentance or conversions that were ordered by a king or the head of a family were really valid, since true change must come from within. That’s true, but it’s also true that in the days prior to Jesus’ coming, people lived under the law. Since then His followers live by the Spirit because the requirements of His law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Besides, God seems to have honored it, and especially so in this case: 

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

Well, this sounds like a preacher’s dream! And he didn’t even have to walk through the whole city! But (there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?) remember the little sticking point that caused all the trouble in the first place? Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to be saved! He did not want this to be the message of his life that sparked a revival that saved 120,000 people – because he hated them that much! And sadly, his experience hasn’t changed his attitude.

Jonah 4:1- 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.”

Isn’t it amazing that just a short time ago he saw himself as even more worthless than a Ninevite only to be rescued by God and given another chance, yet he still can’t see that these people might be loved by God as well? Especially since the reason He’s being sent in the first place is to give them that chance for redemption, for rescue?

God is offering them through Jonah just what He did for Jonah – one more chance. Just as Jonah was drowning in the sea, the Ninevites were drowning in their own wickedness, in so deep that they would never get out without a rescuer. But Jonah, this ‘man of god’, still couldn’t see them as people worthy to be saved. In fact, he’s saying he’d rather die than live in a world where people like this could be forgiven.

I’ve known people with a chip on their shoulder, but I think Jonah was carrying a whole log! Are you carrying any old grudges today? Any old prejudices or biases? If so, isn’t it time you got rid of those burdens? Let’s make that our prayer for today. Ask God not only to show us those ‘logs in our eyes’ that we are not seeing, but also to help us remove them.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 308

10/30/15 – 308

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

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for! The ‘Applause’ sign is on and flashing! But before we move on, we must make sure we don’t miss one more lesson or picture in this part of the story. We’ve talked many times about the pictures God paints for us to enable us to see, learn and understand things of importance. Jonah’s last few days were just such a picture of an event that was to come nearly 800 years later. Jesus himself pointed it out here:

Matthew 12:39-41 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 

I realize that Jesus didn’t run away from God, but anyone who reads his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-44) can see that he really didn’t want to do what he had been called upon to do. When he stood accused he made no defense, but allowed Himself to be taken away and used as a sacrifice to save the lost just as Jonah did. Jonah’s being thrown overboard saved both the sailors on the ship and eventually (spoiler alert!) the Ninevites. Jesus’ death and resurrection also saved those who murdered him (“Father, forgive them”) and countless others, including you and I. As Jesus pointed out, Jonah spent 3 days and nights in the fish’s belly, “in the realm of the dead”, then was again given life and freedom to finish the work of redemption that he had been given.

Good picture, no? So, back to the story. What happened next? Isn’t it obvious?

Jonah’s prayer was answered in an undeniable, miraculous way that he could no nothing but be gratefully and cheerfully obedient to God for the rest of his life, don’t you think? Well…

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

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

Let’s pray today a prayer of praise for a God who teaches us in such wonderful, creative ways. Let’s also praise Him for sending a Son to be our Savior, and ask that Son (for the first time or again) to be the Lord of your life – even if He calls you to do something you don’t really want to do.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 307

10/29/15 – 307

Yesterday we left Jonah being swallowed by a large fish. I’m not going to argue here whether it’s possible. It is. I make no claim to being an expert in aquatic animals, but I do know that my God can do anything. So we’re moving on.

Jonah 2:1-2 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,  and he answered me.

From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 is an interesting study, but rather than go through it phrase by phrase, I’d like to point out some of the more important ‘big picture’ things that I believe would help us more in daily life. There are some questions about the details anyway, although I’m really not sure how much they matter.

Did the fish swallow him immediately or did he sink to the bottom first? Did Jonah formally pray this prayer while inside the fish or was this a prayer of thought and emotion that he put into words after he was back on dry land? Would he have been able to think that clearly while in there anyway, or was he unconscious the whole time?

Short answers, my best guess: Bottom, both, both.

Here’s what I believe really matters. This Jonah, this man who thought he had thrown away everything worth living for and everything that gave him any value even to God, this man who felt so discouraged and separated from his God that he couldn’t even pray in the face of death on the ship – found hope. He prayed.

His prayer is written in the past tense, which says that it probably was put to papyrus later on (sea water wreaks havoc on iPads). But it is not a prayer of petition, as one of a desperate man begging for mercy or rescue. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and hope!

This makes sense, if you think about it. As Jonah went over the rail, as he descended into the depths, I’m sure he expected darkness, death and whatever judgment might follow. Instead he finds himself in a very strange place, but obviously alive! I can only think that it was his past relationship with God that enabled him to even see his situation as a rescue rather than some kind of weird punishment or torture.

We also see in these next verses many references to the Psalms, especially those written around David’s time. Jonah knew the scriptures well enough that they were available to him even here in the belly of a fish. Jonah knew he had messed up – but he was finally remembering what kind of a God he served, and what kind of a covenant they had.

And, I think that is what’s important. God was still his God.

I’d like to do something a bit different today for our prayer time, and that is to pray Jonah’s prayer as our prayer. Don’t panic, it’s only 9 verses. But try to put yourself in Jonah’s place, and think of the times when God has rescued you from the most hopeless situations. Or the one you’re in right now. Let’s pray:

Jonah 2:1-9 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.

From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers swept over me.

I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight;

yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’

The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me;

    seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord,

and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.

What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

Amen.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 306

10/28/15 – 306

We left our story yesterday with a greatly discouraged Jonah telling the sailors to throw him overboard so that the wrath of God would be satisfied and the sea calmed.

Jonah 1:13-16 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

To their credit, the crew of Jonah’s ship certainly didn’t want to throw him to what they thought was certain death. But hey, Jonah himself had told them that this was what they had to do, and he sure seemed to know what he was talking about! Still, they tried everything they could think of before resorting to that most desperate measure.

We don’t know why, maybe just because it was bad for business, maybe they were just good men at heart. Still, they were afraid – very afraid. And, as we have seen a number of times, people do things out of fear that they would never do otherwise.

In my mind’s eye I see these men fighting the sea to the point of exhaustion, all the while wondering if their boat would break into pieces underneath them or whether they would be thrown into the sea by a random wave. It would be bad enough in our day, with flotation suits and GPS transponders. In that time there would have been no chance for rescue, no hope of survival. Death could have come at any moment, yet they fought as long as they could rather than sacrifice one man who was a stranger to them, one who had admitted causing the trouble! Wow.

I keep thinking – if only Jonah had been half as willing to fight for the people of Nineveh, none of this would have had to happen. But he wasn’t, and it did. So, we can at least take some good out of this by learning from his story and applying it to our lives.

Here’s another thought that doesn’t usually get discussed much. The next 2 verses in the story tell of not just one great work of God, but 2. 

Verse 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Notice that Jonah was saved physically (from drowning), but also the Phoenician sailors were saved spiritually? This is some strong language – ‘greatly feared’ and the fact that they made vows suggests a permanent commitment. We could say that this was easy for them. After all, they had just witnessed a miracle. But then again, how often did the Israelites witness miracles only to turn away from God almost immediately? More importantly, how often have we?

What I like about the sailors is that they didn’t try to rationalize, give credit to other gods, ‘good luck’ or coincidence, or anything like that. They simply accepted that the God who controlled the storm and the seas was the God, and gave their lives to Him in return for His rescuing them from the storm.

As we pray today, think of the times that God has rescued you from one storm or another, then take a lesson from those simple sailors. Give Him the glory, thank Him, and commit your life to Him in return.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 305

10/27/15 – 305

While Jonah was still fudging on the prayer issue, the ship’s crew was trying desperately to figure out why they were about to die. They evidently believed that someone among them had to have offended a powerful deity – and they wanted to know whom!

Jonah 1:7-10 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

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

(I guess they just wanted to make sure.)

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

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

And it is here that we need to stop and once more try to gain some insight into what was going on in Jonah’s mind and heart. It’s also another point that we usually whiz past because we can’t wait to get to the ‘good part’ – the big fish. But please, go back and reread this passage, and really get this picture in your mind. What does Jonah look like? Does he look like a hero, ready to sacrifice himself for the good of the crew? Maybe he appears as a repentant soul, ready to meet his judge and accept his just reward for his disobedience.

To me, he looks like a man defeated, who knows what he has done and sees himself as being so far gone as to be either not redeemable, or simply not worth saving. In other words, he sees no way out and he’s tired of running. His last act can be one of nobility, at least, if he doesn’t force innocent men to share his fate. However, he doesn’t even have the strength of will left to throw himself over the rail. In his convoluted thinking, he must turn them into murderers in order to save them.

What places sin will take us! Places that we never thought we’d be, faster than we ever thought we’d get there. One bad decision starts the ball rolling, but really how many others follow that – all those chances we have to just stop, repent and renew our relationship with God. Eventually we find ourselves where we think we can’t sink any lower, out of strength, out of heart. And we give up. But, sadly, we often take many other people down with us as we go – and Satan is there all the way, adding weight and greasing the rails.

Still, there is a thread of hope. Jonah, as defeated as he feels, still cares about someone else. Maybe there’s a little bit of God in him yet. Let’s pray today for those who feel defeated like Jonah, or those who are on the way there. Maybe it’s you, maybe a loved one. It doesn’t matter. But don’t just pray for them. Ask what God would have you do personally to make sure there is still a ray of His hope in that person’s life.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 304

10/26/15 – 304 

Back to our story, Noah had boarded the ship headed for Tarshish. In my reading on this I came across an interesting factoid. The city we now call Tarshish may have been Tartessus, a Phoenician seaport in the south of what is now Spain. Why choose Tarshish? We know it was in the opposite direction of Nineveh, but it was also very close to what was thought to be the edge of the world at that time. This gives new meaning to the phrase ‘going to the ends of the earth’ to avoid something, doesn’t it? That’s where Jonah thought he was headed!

Maybe for a while he thought he was in the clear, I can’t say. I know that most of us can easily convince ourselves that we’ve gotten away with something – right up until the boss calls us into his office or the flashing red lights come on in the rearview mirror. Judging by what happened next, my guess is that either Jonah felt like he was in the clear and very relaxed, or just exhausted from running:

Jonah 1:3-6 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

If indeed this ship was Phoenician and these Phoenician sailors, they would have been polytheistic. Their gods were mostly inspired by nature and probably varied depending on where they were from, but with 1 of 3 main gods presiding over the rest. So, these were the gods the sailors were crying out to for help while Jonah took a nap. No wonder the captain was mad! In his eyes, the more gods they prayed to, the better the chance that one of them would listen. But think about this: how ironic is it that the landlubber Jonah could sleep through this violent storm while experienced, salty sailors are in a panic?

Another interesting note is not what happened next, but what didn’t happen. Do you see any hint that Jonah complied with the captain’s request – that he prayed? I don’t. Do we need to ask ‘why’, or just point out the obvious? When we sin, we know it. We separate ourselves from God, and it’s usually our own guilt that keeps us there. We don’t feel worthy of forgiveness, so we quit trying. Quit praying. And the rift between us grows wider and wider.

I wonder what might have happened if Jonah had prayed at any point for God to forgive him. If he had repented, and asked for a second chance to do willingly what God has commanded. Obviously God was willing to give him a second chance – that’s pretty much what this whole story is about. But just like us in so many ways, Jonah chose to do it the hard way – to make it much more painful and difficult than it had to be.

Today is a good day to re-examine your relationship with God for anything that is keeping you at a distance, or separated from full communion with Him. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘I’ll make things right with God when I…’ Do it now. There may never be another chance. And even if there is, so what? Why wait even one more day to begin living the best life possible? I’ll bet when the prodigal son finally went home, he regretted every ‘extra’ day he sat with the pigs trying to decide if he could.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 302

10/24/15 – 302

Jonah 1:3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

There has been a lot of conjecture as to why Jonah did what he did – and why he thought he could get away with it. But to understand Jonah’s point of view, we have to know a little about the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, famous for being one of the long time enemies of the Jews. It was a big city – within the next 100 years or so it would grow to become the world’s largest. Later in Jonah we learn that the size of the city was 3 days walk (3:3), about 36 miles in diameter, with a population of about 120,000 (4:11) at the time of the story.

Joppa was a seaport in southern Israel, on the Mediterranean. Nineveh was in what is now Iraq – inland to the northeast of Judah. Tarshish, on the other hand, was across the sea in what is now southern Spain. Ever here the saying ‘you can’t get there from here’? It sounds like Jonah was trying to make sure of that. The question is – why? Why would a man of God, after such a personal encounter, choose to risk everything by such a gross act of disobedience?

The more or less obvious answer is that Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to get the chance that God was offering by sending him to preach this final warning. He had good reason to hate them, the Jews has never known anything but pain and oppression from the Assyrians. This isn’t just guesswork, as we’ll find out later in the story when Jonah complains to God about what he sees as a huge injustice. What a deep hatred it must have been, though, for Jonah to have been willing to break his covenant, to throw away his own relationship with God just to do what he could to see Nineveh come to its end.

Still, I’d like to set that aside for a bit, and ask a different question – one that I can’t remember having heard before. We always ask why Jonah did what he did. We never ask why God would have done what He did – namely, choose an unwilling and disobedient spokesman to deliver a critical message that would literally mean life or death for 120,000 people. After all, there must have been someone more qualified, or at least more willing than Jonah, don’t you think?
Funny thing is I’ve often asked the same question when God has asked something of me that I really didn’t want to do – and I don’t think I’m alone in that. He must get tired of hearing “Why me, Lord?” again and again.

Of course, we don’t know for certain, but if the answer in Jonah’s case is anything like it has been in my own, my best guess would be that Jonah (even though he was supposedly a man of God, a prophet) needed saving just as much as any Ninevite, and the way that he would find it would be by helping others who were lost also. Just as the Ninevites didn’t realize the lost state they were in, neither did Jonah realize his own.

The irony is that as the story unfolds, we’ll find that it took a lot more for Jonah to ‘get it’ than the Ninevites. All it took for them was a good sermon. Jonah had to get over himself and start seeing things through God’s eyes.

Maybe the reason God’s ways seem so mysterious isn’t because of what He does or how He works, but because we simply don’t want to see them except from our own point of view. Hmmm…

Let’s pray in earnest today, that the Holy Spirit would give us new insight, both in our devotional studies and in the things He asks of us in life. If we truly want to let Him lead us, we really shouldn’t blindfold Him, right?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 301

10/23/15 – 301

Ready? Then let’s ‘dive right in’, as Jonah would say.

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

This is one story in which we see God as being extremely straightforward. For all the times I’ve heard ‘God works in mysterious ways’, I maintain that the vast majority of His works are not all that mysterious. Oh, we may not always see His reasoning (at least not immediately), and he still does perform miracles – some in mysterious ways and some not. But for the most part the manner in which He works isn’t so mysterious. I think this is by His design.

After all, He created us for the purpose of having someone with whom He could have a relationship so special, so close, that He didn’t even have it with His angels. Ours was to be the relationship of a bride to a groom, a Father to a child, of 2 closest friends. You can’t have such a relationship like that with someone who doesn’t know you intimately, and loves you anyway.

To that end, He has given us His Word, this big fat book we study, and His very Spirit to dwell in us and teach us about Him. He has given us all of creation – and now all of science – so that we can see His work and through that know the artist more deeply.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands

So, it seems to me, this is not someone who desires to be mysterious. It is the work of someone who seriously wants to be known and understood. And loved.

His command to Jonah was not mysterious or subtle at all. Jonah was obviously a preacher, a prophet. God wanted to use him to preach to the Ninevites about their impending destruction – what was about to happen if they didn’t repent and turn to Jehovah as God. Now I think most of us would expect a preacher to jump at the chance to reach a new audience. But Pastor Jonah? Not so much.

I think we all know what Jonah’s next move was, and we’ll look at that in detail over the next few days. For today let’s identify the questions.

Why did God even care about the Ninevites?
Why didn’t Jonah want to be obedient – to go preach to them?
Fear?
Anger over past wrongs?
Hatred (i.e. racism)?
Did he think it was a waste of his time?
Or… was he afraid that God might actually end up forgiving them?

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. For today, as we ponder Jonah’s motives, let’s also examine ourselves for those areas in which we’ve been disobedient to God – then ask the Holy Spirit to help us 1) identify the problems and 2) our true motives. Finally, whatever is not pleasing to God – change it. Remember, you can’t always change you emotions, at least not instantly. But you can change your behavior.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Jonah – 300

10/22/15 – 300

I think I’m going to call this one ‘Jonah – The World’s Worst Fisherman’.

OK, so I’m tired and it’s hard to come up with new and catchy story titles – especially for stories like this one. It seems as though everybody, Christian and non-Christian alike, have at least heard some version of the story of ‘Jonah and the Whale’ – and therein lies the problem.

This is one of those tales that has been told and retold way too many times, by way too many people, with way too many variations, until it has become not much more than a fairy tale to most people. Quite simply, people have accepted it as they have heard it (apart from the Word of God), and apart from the Word it has lost credibility.

The story of Jonah is often the first weapon used by those who want to discredit the Bible, to prove it’s really no more believable than the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s also a great example for us as well, but in a different way. It should teach us the importance of checking our sources – going back to the actual scripture whenever someone begins to tell us what they think the Bible says.

Please don’t misunderstand – telling stories is a fantastic way to teach people about God, about Jesus. The Nazarene church has begun a worldwide training initiative to teach people how to do just that – Tell THE Story. You can learn more about it here. The idea is to teach the scripture as a story, but accurately. I think we all know that we will be held accountable for what we teach others.

At the same time, I have to point out that we are also accountable for what we learn. If we accept twisted or false teaching just because it makes us feel good or comfortable, or because we simply don’t want to take the trouble to check on the credibility of the teacher or the accuracy of the treaching, I think we may have some ‘splainin’ to do when we face God one day.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

In other words, keeping yourself willfully ignorant is not a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card when it comes to God’s judgment. So, it’s good that we do what we do, wouldn’t you say?

One more thing before we start digging into the story. I don’t plan to try and argue with all the variations on the story as to whether it really happened, whether it’s even possible for a man to survive inside a fish etc. We’ll talk about that a bit more when we get to that point in the story. But I will say this. I believe that this account is more than a fairy tale, more than allegory. I believe it is actual history, that it really happened as it was recorded for us – and I will treat it as such.

For today, let’s take some time to thank God that even though men have twisted and distorted His Word horribly through the years, it still stands firm. Ask for the help of His Holy Spirit to give you the discretion to recognize those teachings that have been changed, and the wisdom to do whatever it takes to confirm the truth.