Lessons From Jonah.  Are You & I Like Him?

Lessons From Jonah. Are You & I Like Him?

Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well. 

God Calls

In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself. 

Running from God

Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)

Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God?  We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe. 

Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world.  Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish.  Futile is how we might describe such an effort. 

When Storms Roar

When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God. 

Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life.  But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?

Falling Asleep

Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates. 

What about you and me?  Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens?  If so, note what happened next to Jonah. 

Pagans Begging for Prayer

When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet. 

There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually. 

Getting Thrown Overboard

When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard. 

And the Storm Stopped  

When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm.  Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death. 

The Big Fish

As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights. 

If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior. 

When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus. 

Mission Impossible

Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained. 

But God…

Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands. 

When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan.  Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory. 

So, are you Jonah?  Or have you been?  If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you. 

Are you ready?  

Statues, Conflict & WWJD

Statues, Conflict & WWJD

“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”  1 John 2:6

As Americans weigh in on the latest race relations battle, I can only imagine how satisfied Satan is, knowing that he has once again fanned the flames of division, racism and hatred in our nation. It seems that these skirmishes continue to flare up, no matter how many years we move away from the scourge of slavery that marked our nation’s past. 

So as iron and stone artifacts are receiving increased focus by newspapers, cable news, and social media, what seems to be lacking, at least for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, is WWJD — as in What Would Jesus Do?

There was a time when this slogan was routinely seen on bumper stickers, wrist bands, and t-shirts. And many continue to pose the question, WWJD, to test their actions and words. But the problem with using WWJD is that too often a person’s subjective evaluation can yield multiple answers, if Scriptures are not abundantly clear.

So I’ve been searching the Bible for answers to how Christ’s followers should respond to the calls for removing statues, flags and monuments. Rather than pragmatic or even patriotic approaches, I’m more interested in what Jesus would actually do were He here physically today. But as I considered the likelihood of a subjective response to this latest American problem, I became more intrigued with WDJS — as in What Did Jesus Say?  

If you grew up never knowing your father, but he left you a book with explicit instructions on what he valued and believed, such a document would be of great value as you encountered life’s struggles. 

You and I never had the privilege that the original twelve disciples had, to not only hear the words of Jesus but to also see Him live those words out day after day. So when Jesus told them, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and the disciples then witnessed Jesus loving and forgiving those who tortured and crucified Him, they could see that what Jesus said directly impacted what He did. 

So whether it’s Jesus or you and me, our actions are driven by our thoughts and our thoughts spill out in our words. 

If you and I profess to be followers of Jesus, and we routinely ask WWJD, then what Jesus said, and He directed others to say for Him throughout the Bible, should be of supreme importance to us as we deliberate over how to respond to statues and racism, and those who are drawing lines in the sand. 

So let’s look at what the Bible has to say about how a follower of Jesus should respond to this latest racial skirmish. 

Dealing with Anger & Conflict

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”  Matthew 5:9

“But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”  Galatians 5:15

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  Ephesians 4:31-32

“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.”  2 Timothy 2:23-24

“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” 1 John 3:14-15

Looking to the Good of Others

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Matthew 5:44

“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.”  1 Corinthians 10:24

“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”  Galatians 6:10

“See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.”  1 Thessalonians 5:15

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.  Romans 15:1-2

Showing Grace, Forgiveness, Love & Unity

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15

“Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.”  Matthew 12:25

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”  Ephesians 4:2-3

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”  Colossians 3:13

“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”  Romans 14:13

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”  Romans 15: 5-7

The Lawsuit Analogy

“When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.”  1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Final Thoughts

This last weekend our nation was reminded of the priority of life, unity and cooperation as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas, wreaking death and unimaginable destruction for millions of our fellow Americans.  Interestingly, my blog post last week entitled “Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within” dealt directly with such catastrophic events that can bring our nation together and what the two step solution is for this division we are facing. 

While most of us have not been directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey, our hearts, minds and prayers are with those who are struggling to survive.  So as I was communicating with some friends in Texas and viewing the scenes of catastrophic destruction, the following thought suddenly struck me:  Statues No Longer Matter

When an event like a hurricane, a terrorist attack or something similar occurs, our attention is immediately brought to bear on what is ultimately important. Likewise, if we are a follower of Christ, we should understand on an even greater scale that we have opportunities to make an eternal difference in the lives around us when we chose to live as Jesus did.  

As you and I consider the controversies playing out over statues and monuments, may we remember the words of Jesus and the scriptures, focus our attention on eternity, and then adjust our behavior to align with God’s principles. 

If you think others might benefit from this post, please consider forwarding it to them, including your pastor.  And feel free to share your thoughts with me.

 

Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within

Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within

If you’ve ever watched the movie Independence Day, or one of the many other films that have been made over the years about aliens attacking the world, you know there’s one consistent theme with all of them: There is a common enemy that seeks to annihilate mankind, and this common threat brings together people of every race, background, and even religion to fight the enemy. The myriad of differences of the people no longer matter. Rather, the people become united as one because without such unity they will surely die. 

 

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“American will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

The President who led our nation to battle the evil of racism, which resulted in the deaths of 620,000 Americans, had a front row view of the hatred that nearly destroyed our nation. And he ultimately lost his life because of that hate.  

Since the founding of our great nation, the scourge of racism has pulsated through our communities. If we are honest with ourselves though, racism flows in all directions. It is not limited to a particular race or skin color. 

But racism is not the root of the problem, any more than the spaceships of the aliens were the underlying threat to mankind. Rather, the aliens within the spaceships were driving the threat to annihilate mankind. 

Likewise, racism is merely the vehicle that carries the real threat: Hate.  We hate others because of their skin color, or their socio-economic status, or their geographic location in our nation, or the wealth they possess, or the education they were provided, or the President they voted for, or a host of other reasons. 

Pure and simple, Americans Hate. And the latest stage where we have seen that hate playing out is in the streets of Charlottesville as KKK and other white racist groups battled with BLM and other black racist groups. Sadly, if we’re honest with ourselves, hate is often present in our own hearts and lives. As we view the bloody scenes of men and women clashing in the streets, what wells up in our hearts?  Is it anger or sorrow?  Is it the desire for retribution or forgiveness?  Is it rationalization or condemnation?

Jesus said that we should be willing to forgive our brothers up to seventy times seven, symbolizing an unending flow of forgiveness. Yet, are we willing to do so?

Consider that unforgiveness is a sin that directly severs our relationship with God, as Jesus affirmed:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15

Later, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

The antidote to the poison of hate is a two step process: forgiveness and love. This process requires a daily commitment on our part to insure that the enemy of mankind, hate, does not well back up in our hearts. Unless we commit ourselves to the discipline of forgiveness and love, the future of the union for which so many bled and died is at stake. But more importantly, the eternal destiny of our own souls hangs in the balance. 

Thank you for reading and if you enjoyed this post, would you mind forwarding it to a few friends?  Thank you.