Monthly Archives: May 2011

Jonah 3 – The Gospel; May 18, 2011

Jonah 3 – The Gospel

There are three reported times in the Gospels that Jesus references the story of Jonah.  Each time he suggests that Jonah was a sign for the people of Ninevah and that Christ would also give a sign like Jonah had.  Jonah’s “burial” inside the fish and third day “resurrection” were precursors to Christ’s actual resurrection after His sacrificial death.  There is another common thread that runs through the stories of Christ and Jonah.  Both Christ and Jonah upon their resurrections rose to allow repentance to be brought to those whom God had chosen for such an opportunity.  Jonah for the city of Ninevah, and Christ for the world.  Repentance is a means by which the Spirit can begin the work of sanctification in our lives.  It is the Spirit that initiates the work of repentance and through that initiation we turn from the things that pull our allegiance from Christ.

It has been my experience that most people in churches today have a limited understanding of what true repentance looks like.  Most people believe that it is something that happens at the point of salvation and must be repeated only if we fall back into some kind of “really bad” sin.  Repentance is not something that happens once and then can be laid to rest.  It is a daily practice that any follower of Christ must learn.  The Spirit’s initiation of repentance is often voiced in simple, clear messages, much like that of Jonah’s; turn or experience the consequences of alienation from God.  Despite the simplicity of the message, the work of the Spirit is profound.  So profound in fact that an entire metropolis, peopled with over one hundred thousand citizens, turns from their wickedness and mourns their sin.  Christ’s death and resurrection made the way for us to know the kindness and mercy of God, just as Jonah’s emergence from the belly of the fish allowed a great city to know them.

One of the key things we should glean from this reality revealed to us by Christ is that Jonah is a story primarily about the Gospel, and secondarily, as we will see in chapter 4, is the story of a stubborn and misguided prophet.  Both aspects are beneficial for the growth of a believer, but only one is essential.  Only one permeates the entire meta narrative of Scripture.  Only one brings salvation.  And too often, the Gospel story found in the book of Jonah is the one neglected for the sake of character study.  It is lost in our fascination with the whiny and relatable prophet.  We get sucked into the entertainment of imagining a man being swallowed whole by a giant fish and surviving.  And too often, we miss the Gospel.  We skip over what is essential for the sake of what is makes us feel more important.  We would much rather be the reluctant prophet who is pursued and saved by God instead of being the wicked Ninevites who end up mourning in sackcloth and ash when their wickedness is addressed.  We must learn to find the Gospel in the Scriptures, keeping God’s revelation of Himself at the forefront.  Too often we like to bring the human element to the front.  We want to be the main character.  We want to be the hero.  But more often than that we are the villain who has to undergo an unlikely and often painful transformation in order to be redeemed.  That is our part in the Gospel story.  We are the evil ones, the disobedient ones, the ones who constantly screw things up and wander from the plan.  Christ and Christ alone is the hero.  The one who saves.  The one who accomplishes the impossible.  May we not miss knowing who God truly is by putting ourselves in His place in the story.  Lord forgive us when we think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Jonah 2 – From the Belly of a Fish; May 11, 2011

Jonah 2 – From the Belly of a Fish

Growing up, I saw the Bible very differently then I have come to know it presently.  I think part of it was poor teaching in the churches that I grew up, and the other part was most likely my knack for leaning on my own understanding instead of seeking the teaching of the Spirit.  I saw the Bible in two parts conveniently split into the Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament being about a bunch of cool guys who were beyond belief and did things for a God who was distant, like the Israelites a lot better than everyone else, and seemed to be a lot more grumpy then the God who sent Jesus.  The New Testament was like God was finally set free from what made Him so grumpy in the OT and could love everybody, not just the Israelites.

Last week I talked about wanting to reclaim the story of Jonah so that we could see the heart of God for the world.  God did not become a mission minded God in the New Testament.  In fact, what I often missed in the Old Testament was God’s call for the Israelites to be mission minded in the way they lived in hope of drawing the nations to Himself.  The Law of God was never relegated to the offspring of Abraham exclusively. Anyone could join in the worship of God through His Law.  This Law was given to Israel, and Israel was to set the example and even welcome the alien or sojourner into their culture and point them towards God.  A large part of God choosing the nation of Israel was to use them to execute judgment on nations living in sin.  So much of the work of Israel aside from being an example to the nations was to be used by God as a tool of judgment.  We tend to notice the judgment part long before we will grasp the example part, maybe because the people didn’t do so well in living as an example to begin with.  Almost from the beginning, the people of Israel walked with a swagger as if they were great and mighty because the Lord had chosen them and that the work of the Lord through the Law should be bound to the offspring of Abraham instead of shared with the world.  The Israelites failed to see the missional element of the Law that called them to live as light in the midst of darkness.

God over and over again in the Old Testament shows mercy to Gentiles and even uses them to the shame of the nation of Israel.  Let us contrast the faith of Rahab with the faith of the 10 spies who first scouted the Promised Land.  Even though she lived within the walls of mighty Jericho, had seen the strength of the city and it’s army, she feared the Lord and risked her own life and the life of her family in order to procure favor with the Israelites because she knew that God was with them.  Then there is the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman.  The woman, a Gentile, had faith in the God of Elisha and saw her son raised from the dead. Ruth was a Moabite, a Gentile, but upon seeing the faith of her mother-in-law Naomi, refused to return to her own people saying, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”  Such remarkable faith from one outside the line of Abraham.  We could go on and on with examples of God’s love and mercy extending beyond the people of Israel into the realm of the Gentiles.

Jonah is another beautiful example of this.  God calls Jonah to Ninevah, to preach against the city that it may be saved from judgment.  Jonah’s response should give us pause.  Not because he was pursued so ruthlessly by God but because we can often have the same heart as Jonah.  A heart that may know God but still fails to see the bigger picture.  The heart that still fails to see that God may allow illegal immigrants into this country so that we, as God’s people, may be the love of God to them.  We still fail to see that the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Atheists, and all other flavors of religion and faiths are our neighbors, coworkers, clients, or even in-laws and we refuse to share the love of God with them.  We get so blinded by our limited view of eternity that we fail to see the mission field that God has brought to us.  He hasn’t called us to a foreign country or to a hostile city, He’s simply called us outside of ourselves.  And the majority of us run as far as we can.  We run to political justification for treating poor immigrant workers with disdain.  We run to religious insecurity that blames an entire people group for work of the radical extremists who have caused devastations around the world.  We run to our rights and comforts that keep us fat and happy in our own sphere of people who like us and agree with every foolish reason we can come up with for not engaging the unbelievers around us.

My friends, many of us look at the Israel of the Old Testament who pursued idols and abominations and swear that we are not like them.  We read of the Pharisees who neglected the poor and the hurting around them for the sake of religious superiority or bloodline, and tell ourselves that if we lived back then, we would not have lived as they did.  We are liars.  Each one of us, at one point or another, have run full tilt from the call of God to love the people around us and chosen to remain comfortable.  We have turned our back on the poor.  We have refused to love the immigrant.  We have scoffed in our hearts at those wearing headscarves, turbans, veils, or various other religious symbols condemning them because they are not like us.  We have wandered so far from the Gospel that we can no longer see clearly the path that we should be on.  We have accepted and treasured the heart of foolish Jonah, and in that acceptance we have condemned not only the multitude around us, but also ourselves.

But alas, there is hope.  For even out of the belly of our own selfishness and religious arrogance, God is still on His throne no matter how hard we have worked to usurp Him.  Jonah’s heart towards the people of Ninevah did not change in the belly of the fish, but something else did.  In the belly of that fish there was a remembrance.  A recollection if you will.  Jonah remembered that in His sovereign grace, in His steadfast love, the God who had driven him into the sea was a God who longed to save.  But God did not just want to save Jonah but all people, even the people of Ninevah.  May we remember the lesson from the belly of a fish.  The same God who has saved you wants to save the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jehovah’s Witness, the Mormon, and even the Atheist.  May we allow the Lord to change our hearts for the people of this world. I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Jonah 1 – As It Pleased Him; April 4, 2011

Jonah 1 – As It Pleased Him

I always enjoy going back to the Old Testament after spending an extensive time in the New.  Mostly because I love seeing the Gospel throughout the Bible where most only see it in the New Testament.  But I also want these stories about God to be reclaimed in my heart.  I grew up in church and heard all the Bible stories about David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah and the whale, and so on.  I heard these stories taught as moral lessons, teaching me a way to live so that God would have no choice but to be pleased with me.  David and Goliath taught me to dream big and know that God would be with me no matter what.  Daniel and the lions’ den taught me that as long as I believed in God He’d protect me from the troubles of life.  Jonah and the whale taught me that if I was wandering away from Him, He would do something big to get my attention and bring me back.  Then Veggie Tales came along, and took these same lessons and marketed them to children around the world.  Sadly, these stories were never meant to primarily be about us.  Sometimes not even secondarily. And sometimes not even at all.  The Old Testament points us to our desperate need for God as fallen humanity and God’s sovereign plan to reconcile all things to Himself.  Scripture teaches us two key lessons that are imperative for our growth and salvation: God is God and He does whatever pleases Him.

We certainly see in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, men and women who have learned these lessons and lived by them.  And certainly we can be encouraged and learn from their examples, but only within the context of the primary goal of Scripture which is to show us who God is.  Too often we get focused on the human characters and want to make the story about us, and that is simply not the case.

If you don’t know the story of Jonah and the Whale/Big Fish, then please read it. In this study we will focus very little on the story and more on the revelation of God to us through the story.  In chapter 1, the sailors traveling to Tarshish reveal an aspect of God’s character that is extremely difficult to grasp and, honestly, is very unpopular in modern Western culture.  In verse 14 they confess, “for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”  A deep and weighty confession for pagan, most likely Gentile sailors.  But in the midst of their circumstance and the witness of Jonah about God being the “the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” it was a natural and reasonable conclusion.  If He is God and has created all things He must then be doing what pleases Him.  So if we begin to grasp that concept of God doing what He pleases, it must have pleased God for Jonah to bring this encounter with God to these sailors.  God could have very easily made Jonah lame or blind.  God could have had Jonah arrested or made him fall in a hole.  But God apparently wanted these sailors to encounter Him, even through the disobedience of Jonah.

One of the beautiful things that God reveals about His character in the story of Jonah is how He will pursue us.  If we run from Him, He will even at times change the course of nature in order to accomplish His purposes through us… when it pleases Him.  Unfortunately, most people in the church today will live there lives believing that if they were really living in sin, God would do something drastic to get their attention.  He’ll make them lose their jobs.  He’ll send a tornado to destroy their house.  He’ll do something crazy to get them back on the right track.  This is not the case.  Romans 1 is going to give us a different perspective on God doing what pleases Him.  Romans 1:21-25 says this,

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to he wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

For some of us, God doesn’t send a storm or a fish to get our attention.  Sometimes He lets us run to whatever depravity we have set in our minds to do.  It all depends on what pleases Him.  It all hinges on His plan.  God does not have to use us, but He has called us nonetheless.

God’s sovereignty is not an easy thing to swallow.  And for most of us, it doesn’t seem fair or just to send miraculous things after some people and allow others to wander into their own destruction.  If we focus on this dilemma, we very often miss who God really is.  Psalm 19 tells us that all creation screams the truth of God to mankind, but instead of heeding that truth, we demand a miracle, something out of the ordinary, we push God to send a storm and swallow us with a fish before we will repent and acknowledge Him as God.  God is unchanging.  He has revealed Himself to all, and we are the ones who have rejected Him.  He is not unloving because He does not always send a fish.  For even when He doesn’t, His hope is that we might see the destruction and emptiness in the things we pursue and return to Him.

Some of you reading this right now are wandering from Him.  Your life is lived to honor and glorify you.  You’ve traded the truth of God for a lie.  You’ve traded the worship of Immortal God for the worship of the stuff He has created.  It is my prayer that in this blog or perhaps by some other means you will hear His voice calling to you even in the midst of your sin.  Return to Him.  If you don’t know how, please feel free to ask.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Galatians 6:11-18 – Let Us Boast; April 27, 2011

Galatians 6:11-18 – Let Us Boast

Humans have this really funny thing that they like to do.  In my travels and experiences with people of other cultures, I’ve noticed one common thread.  We love to boast.  Whether it is about abilities, differences in culture, food, values, politics, or a multitude of other silliness, it never takes much to get someone going on boasting about something.  We want to take pride in something.  And the most ready things that are available for us to boast about have something to do with us.  We have accomplished something.  We have been born a certain place that makes us just a little bit better than someone else.  We have a job that makes more money or is more enjoyable.  We have better behaved kids.  We drive more reliable cars, faster cars, or prettier cars.  We are healthier, have better food, or the most options for food than someone or somewhere else.  We love to boast.  Paul is intimately aware of this.  I believe that Paul as an educated Pharisee and citizen of Rome would have had to fight his desire to boast in his own accomplishments and heritage.  In fact on multiple occasions Paul pulls the boast card in order to show others how foolish it really is to boast in ourselves.

Here in America we like to play a different version of the game, especially in the Bible belt.  We like to boast about what God has done, given us, forgiven us of, or brought us out of in order to show how much worth we have in the eyes of God.  For many people it’s the same game, just with a twist.  We want to show off our blessings, but doing it for our glory makes us look selfish so we add God’s name to it and our conscience is clear.  We love God because of what we get in return, rarely do we love Him for who He is.  They believe that they are in control of their lives.  As long as they do the right things God will give them what they want.  But let tragedy strike that same person.  Let them lose their job, have a loved one get sick or die, or let them get sick and die and they will almost immediately question the very existence of the God that they had previously attributed all of their good fortune to.  We change the game from just boasting in ourselves to boasting in ourselves on behalf of God.  What silly games we play.

Paul in his benediction to the Galatians reveals what our boasting should be about.  We boast in Christ.  Not in Christ and how we’ve benefited by knowing Him.  We boast in Christ, who He is, especially when things go dark in this life.  My wife and I enjoy watching the Cosby Show.  It’s been a tradition ever since we were in college and I would head down to her apartment at lunch to eat and hang out and watch the Cosby Show.  There’s always a common theme that Claire and Cliff try to get through to their children. The conversation usually goes something like this.  A kid will say “Well if WE didn’t have so much money…” or something to that extent and Cliff always quickly responds “Your mother and I have money, you have nothing!”  This is similar to how we tend to boast.  God blesses us with something and we somehow feel entitled to it, we take ownership of it, and in that find our source for boasting.  We boast in what God has done, rarely in who He is.  In reality, we have nothing.  Even what we have been given is not ours, it is always His.  Even when it’s given to us, it is His.  We are like spoiled children who walk around believing that we are owed what we want because we are loved.  We have no real love for the Father who gives us what we need beside some things we want, we simply will use His name enough to hopefully keep getting what we want.  Living in the Spirit will not allow this heart to remain in us for long.  In fact, it is one of the first things to go, followed closely by the desires for stuff.  The Spirit allows us to be satisfied in Christ and Christ alone.  This will lead to boasting in Christ.  Boasting in the Cross.  In that position of boasting we have nothing, we are nothing, He is everything.  This is how someone can rejoice when their family has been killed, they have been thrown in prison, beaten and waiting to be killed.  They are not attached to the blessings or possessions of this world.  They are attached to Christ, hidden in Him, abiding in Him, remaining in His love.

Please hear me.  I am not saying it is wrong or bad to talk about the things that God has done.  But I plead with you to allow God to examine your heart.  Do you follow God only to receive comfort and a clear conscience here in this life?  If God stripped everything from you and you were left alone on the streets, would you praise Him and glorify Him as if you lacked nothing?  If you were to get cancer and live in pain for the rest of your life, would you still be able to worship Him like a child who has never tasted the struggles of life because you know He is enough?  I think most of us would like to say yes to those questions, but if we allowed the Spirit to search our hearts we might not be able to answer so confidently.  Most likely some of us are in a place where we won’t even let go of the silliest things in order to be fully surrendered to Christ.  We refuse to let go of our self image and how people see us, so we spend money on 15 different pairs of jeans, 50 different pairs of shoes, and accessories to match any and every imaginable situation, and when we’re done we’ll thank God that we can continue to live as selfishly as we want.  We refuse to let go of that glowing box that constantly allows us to live vicariously through people “real” or imagined who are able to do and say things that we wish we could if we weren’t “Christians.”  We refuse to run to God for comfort instead of running to food, alcohol, drugs, or that person that can make us forget how broken we really are at least for a moment.  Boasting in Christ means we are constantly reminded that we do not live for this life.  It means we have nothing.  It means we are constantly faced with sins that we have been putting off repenting of because they make us feel good.  It means that until the day we die, we will live in a state of holy tension as the Spirit lives alongside the flesh.  It means we live with the constant sting of having to daily crucify the flesh.  It means He is enough whether we have enough or not.  Let us boast in Christ.  Let us let go of all the silly things we hold fast to, and hold fast to Him.

Let me be very clear.  I am not saying that you are never allowed to watch TV, you can’t buy clothes and you certainly can’t enjoy the things we have been given in this life.  I’ve already confessed that I watch TV shows.  I enjoy movies.  I enjoy food.  But I am willing to sell it all, leave it all, abstain from it all for the sake of Christ.  The Lord is teaching me more and more each day to live with my hands holding fast to Him, but I first must let go of the things of this world.  Allow the Spirit to search you, and then be willing to obey.  Only when we have surrendered to the Spirit can we truly boast in Christ.  Our hearts will always tell on us when we’re lying.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT