Month: August 2020

07 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“The Jonah Complex”

Jonah 4:1-11

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed our little socially distanced summers cruise with Jonah.  We’ve gone from the waters off the coast of Joppa to the bottom of the sea in the belly of a fish, and we took a 3 day tour of the ancient city of Nineveh, one of the wonders of the world of its day, and finally ended up on a hillside outside the city of Nineveh, modern day Northern Iraq.

Personally, I’m a little disappointed having to come back to dock again, but that’s where we are with this part of our story today.  Last week we left Jonah sitting on a hillside east of Nineveh…and he’s angry. He has now preached God’s message to the Assyrian people that Jonah hated because he was a Jew and they were not.  Basically, it was a prejudice deeply imbedded in Jonah, and really all Jewish people.  Like we still today talk about Nazi Germany as the epitome of evil.

Now before we leave this too quickly let’s think again where Jonah was.  He was angry…he was resentful that an entire city of pagan, idolatrous people had turned to God in repentance.  Lest we think that would never happen to us, let’s imagine a scenario.

For some of us, had something drastic happened last week during the DNC…speaker after speaker took the platform and began to repent and turn from their sins…revival happened!  For some of us, we might have a problem because it happened at the DNC!  Or what if something similar happened next week at during the RNC.

God forgave them upon their genuine repentance as they turned to God as their Creator and judge.  In 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 Solomon prayed “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel…when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from Heaven, Your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name and fear You.” Jonah would have known this promise.  And now he’s seeing it come to pass before his eyes!

With just 48 verses, this is an incredible and God-inspired account we are reading about.  While we’ve talked about Jonah a lot, this is really a story about God:  not a prophet, not a whale, and not a revival in a city.  The fish gets mentioned four times; Jonah 19 times but God is mentioned 38 times!   It is a portrayal of God as “gracious, and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

But it’s also a lesson to Israel to show them Who He was and what He expected them to be.  They were rebellious and resistant to God’s call to be “a blessing to all the nations of the earth” and “a kingdom of priests and kings.”  They wanted to enjoy the privilege of God’s call without the pain of responsibility.  Just like us!  They didn’t want to have to love people they didn’t like!  Jonah’s story was a real-life object lesson for all of Israel and revealed their resistance to doing His will.

But the Book of Jonah also reveals characteristics of God that we sometimes struggle with and don’t understand.  Let me mention three.

God’s Mercy and Jonah’s Resentment. (Jonah 4:1-5)

Jonah experienced what many today experience.  He struggled with reconciling how God could be just, and righteous, and holy and, at the same time, forgive the unrighteous who, clearly in Jonah’s opinion, more than deserved God’s burning wrath.  He didn’t like the “change of plans” that God pulled off, because it crashed into Jonah’s neat and simplistic view of God that some of us entertain:  God loves good people and punishes bad ones.

This view is flawed on several levels, but the most obvious one is this:  Good people compared to who?  “Would God send an innocent person to hell?” Absolutely not!  The problem with that statement, though, is that there are no innocent people.  We usually compare ourselves with other people and then create a sliding scale of good vs bad.  “Well, I’m better than that person, but not as good as her.”  But God stands us up next to His perfect righteousness as the standard.  How’s that working for you now?  “All have sinned…”  There is no righteous person.  No innocent person.  Not even one.

It took the death of Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  Religion can’t do that.  Promising to try harder won’t do it.  Only trusting in what Jesus did for you at the cross can bring you the righteousness you need.

And only the cross can explain how God can reconcile His own holiness, and righteousness and justice and still forgive our sins.

God’s Plan and Jonah’s Resistance. (Jonah 4:6-7)

Let’s remember again a theme that runs throughout Jonah: The theme of obedience.  “To obey is better than sacrifice,” we read in 1 Samuel.  Every element of nature and every person introduced in the Book of Jonah obeyed God unquestionably.  But not Jonah.  The wind and sea obeyed as a storm came.  The pagan sailors on the boat obeyed and the last time we see them they are praying to Jonah’s God offering sacrifices of thanksgiving to Him.  The fish obeyed; worst assignment in the story:   The fish and the worm may have argued about who had the worst job:  The fish might say, “I had to have that ugly, bitter little prophet kicking and shouting inside of me for three days and three nights!”  It is debatable which was more relieved, and who wanted Jonah out of the fish more: Jonah or the fish!  But then a little worm had to eat a castor oil plant!  The people of Nineveh obeyed “even the cattle,” the plant obeyed and grew up over Jonah, the east wind obeyed and blew, and a little worm did what God told him and ate a castor oil plant.

We see this incredible portrait of God’s sovereign rule over all of His creation, people, and nature alike.  All of creation obeyed God.  But Jonah was still stubborn in his rebellion.  He resisted.  He chose to disobey God’s plan.

God’s Love and Jonah’s Reluctance (Jonah 4:8-11)

Jonah preached to Nineveh, but not because he loved Nineveh.  He was an angry, bigoted, Jewish prophet who wanted the God of Israel to obliterate these people.  Jonah obeyed God, but not because he loved God.  He feared God…he saw what God can do with a fish!  He didn’t want to end up in a worse condition.

But God’s “abounding love” even abounded toward the hated enemies of Israel.  Jonah couldn’t handle that.  It was too much, and far too much for him to get his arms around.

So, God gave Jonah an object lesson about His abounding, steadfast love.  He allowed a plant to grow up.  Now Jonah had already made a lean-to, probably tying some sticks together. (Guat: Cornstalks). But God sent Jonah the mercy of a shade plant. (ricisnus—castor oil)

God covers us with His mercy and love.  That’s how the love of God works…that’s how it worked for Jonah…that’s how it worked for Nineveh.  God “covers” us when we don’t deserve it.

And Jonah “set his heart” on this plant.  He was so grateful.  “Finally, something is going my way!” But then came the worm.  And the east wind.  And soon the plant was a casualty and withered and died.

Jonah got REALLY angry then.  And it was right there that God called him out: “Jonah…you set your heart on this plant…but you won’t set your heart on these people I have created.”

God taught Jonah an important lesson we all need to learn.  The Greek philosophers taught that there were two kinds of love:  Benevolence, which basically is a love based on the one loving, since the one being loved could do little or nothing for the one loving.

But they also believed there was a second kind of love:  the love of “attachment.”   This is a love that brings the one loving into the relationship because of attraction and loving desire. (Keller, Prodigal).

[The word used in verses 10 and 11 for “compassion” is a word that means to grieve over someone or something, to have your heart broken, to weep for it.  God says, “You had compassion for the plant” (verse 10). That is, God says, “You wept over it, Jonah. Your heart became attached to it. When it died, it grieved you.” Then God says, in essence, “You weep over plants, but my compassion is for people.” For God to apply this word to himself is radical. This is the language of attachment. God weeps over the evil and lostness of Nineveh. When you put your love on someone, you can be happy only if they are happy, and their distress becomes your distress.

The love of attachment makes you vulnerable to suffering, and yet that is what God says about himself—here and in other places (cf. Isaiah 63:9). In Genesis 6:6 it says that when God looked down on the evil of the earth, “his heart was filled with pain.”6 While this language cannot mean that the eternal, unchangeable God loses any of his omnipotence or sovereignty, it is a strong declaration at which we must marvel.7 Most of our deepest attachments as human beings are involuntary. Jonah did not look at the Ricinus plant and say, “I’m going to attach my heart to you in affection.” We need many things, and we get emotionally attached to things that meet those needs. God, however, needs nothing. He is utterly and perfectly happy in himself, and he does not need us. So how could he get attached to us? The only answer is that an infinite, omnipotent, self-sufficient divine being loves only voluntarily. The whole universe is no bigger to God than a piece of lint is to us, and we are smaller pieces of lint on the lint. How could God be attached to us? How could God say, “What happens to Nineveh affects me. It moves me. It grieves me”? It means he voluntarily attaches his heart. Elsewhere we see God looking at Israel, sinking into evil and sin, and God speaks about his heart literally turning over within him. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hosea 11:8, ESV).]

And God gives us an object lesson as well as we see His love crucified on a hillside outside of the city of Jerusalem.

Last week I mentioned in our little sidebar on anger that anger happens as a result of a threat to something important or precious to us.

Sin happens when we are inflamed with anger, or “quick to anger” and when we “seethe with anger.” Getting angry is not sinful.  Getting angry all the time becoming inflamed and for no good reason is a problem.  Hanging on to anger and letting it turn into resentment and bitterness is sin.

But if anger is a result of something being threatened in us, and it is, how could anything threaten God?

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Could God possibly be VULNERABLE?  What’s more vulnerable than a newborn baby?  What display of love is more genuine than laying down your life for what you love?

It was this amazing fact of God’s “hesed” love; His steadfast love that even extends to lost, and violent, idolatrous, and pagan people that threw Jonah.  He didn’t know how to think about a God Who loves even people who don’t deserve to be loved.

We don’t really understand the profound message of Jonah without the cross.  From a hillside of judgement and condemnation, where Jonah sat, to a hillside of mercy and reconciliation at Calvary.

“Should I not love…?” is the question that God leaves Jonah with…and us as the book ends.  It really doesn’t end.  The reader must put your own ending on the book!

Two things remain to do.  First, let me answer the question asked me by a young lady early in this study.  “Is Jonah in heaven today?” I think “yes,” not because of any evidence we see in Chapter 4 of Jonah’s changing.

But the logical question is, “if Jonah didn’t tell the story in The Book of Jonah, who did?”  Biblical books don’t just “fall from the sky,” bound in black leather and gold-embossed pages.

They are real.  They happen to people.  People relay what happened to them, as in the four Gospel presentations of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Biblical inspiration can be, ultimately, traced back to a real person experiencing something with God in a valid historical context.

Jonah told the story of Jonah.  He told it as a cautionary tale, because I believe that one of the important purposes of this book was to warn Israel how they were missing the point of their existence by refusing to proclaim their God to the pagan and unbelieving nations of the world.

Second, “what are you going to do about the ending of the book?”

It ends with a question.  Let me prompt your thinking with four. Each are taken from one of the four chapters of Jonah.

  1. What thing that God is calling you to do are you running from?  Maybe God is offering you a second chance to do the right thing.  (Chapter 1)
  2. What storms has your disobedience brought into your own life…and those around you? (Chapter
  3. Who are the most difficult people or maybe just the most difficult person in your life to love? (Chapter 3)
  4. What are you angry about?  Where is that anger coming from?  Why are you “angry enough to die?”  Is it right?  Your anger usually reveals an idol in your life… (Chapter 4).

If you are running from God in your life, remember Jonah.  When his running was finished, he ran right into the God he was running from!  I pray you’ll do the same.

The Valley View

The Valley View

by Cayela Moody

It was 5:15 in the morning, when I heard an unfamiliar sound in our bed. Evan found something a child had left behind and was rolling it around in his hand. “What in the world is it?”

“They are marbles. Did you lose yours?”

It certainly feels like it most days. And I know from my conversations with others who are walking this similar journey, I am not alone in feeling this way.

I am embarking on another year of homeschooling and when I put together my schedule this year, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. We have six children, three of which require tutoring and therapies that amount to forty hours a week. I have a route that surpasses most UberXL drivers. It seems so very impossible. When I get overwhelmed, I shrink. I make myself as small as possible. I get very quiet and I wait to hear something, anything, from a God I know is near.

In the quiet I was reassured, but not how I had hoped. The message was simple. This is a valley. Thanks. I already feel like I am losing. I have lost control. That superhero glow has long since faded in the light of foster care and adoption and the chaos that abounds in our home. I feel like I am losing myself, my sanity, even my friends.

A few weeks later, I was watching the kids swim. My oldest daughter, Margaret, came rushing inside. She was whining about a race she lost, and she got very irritated with me. “Are you even listening?”

“You didn’t lose the race. You lost the joy.”

Her eyes followed mine. We both watched as my youngest daughter, who has been deathly afraid to jump in the pool all summer, was taking gigantic leaps into my oldest son’s waiting arms. But that message wasn’t for her, it was a reminder to me. I am not losing in life; I am losing sight of what matters. I focused on the hard and lost sight of the joy.

I understood what he meant by the valley. I was wholly focused on a singular definition: a low point. I needed to reconsider the meaning. I imagined myself as a child in my grandmother’s rocking chair. She is crocheting as Elvis sings “Peace in the Valley” in the background. It was time for me to find rest and stillness in waiting for him. I was reminded to look around and find joy in the ordinary. I need to adjust my view from the valley. If I only focus on what life could be on the mountain top, I will miss the miracles in the moments of today.

Psalm 84 speaks of the Valley of Baca, which is translated as the valley of weeping. Verse 10 so beautifully reminds us: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. What a soul filling reminder. Better is one day in the valley with Jesus, than a thousand mountaintop experiences apart from him.

Rushing Fall

I’ll admit it. I’m over summer. It’s been terrible in many ways for some, and intolerable for others. Who would have thought that we would go through summer breathing through cloth masks?  So usually by the first week of August or so, I’m ready for something to look like fall.

Guess I’ll have to settle for pictures though. I don’t have a “leaf trip” to the mountains planned. And nothing changes in Florida, except the daytime highs drop to the upper eighties instead of the mid-nineties.

Maybe it’s not just fall I’m rushing. I’m kind of over 2020. I’m trying to be optimistic that 2021 will be a much better year, but it may have its own level of awful too.

But I want to see kids buying school supplies, and I’m actually kind of excited to have to be waiting on big yellow school buses to start picking up and letting off their eager payload of students. I want to see ONE leaf turn! Just ONE! Anything to say we are moving forward and making progress. Bring on the pumpkin spice scented face masks!

Ok that’s my rant. It’s wrong. We shouldn’t wish our lives away like that. Every day we have on God’s earth is precious, even though not always easy. Each day has its own “new mercies” if we’ll stay tuned in for them. (Lamentations 3:23)

And, as Christians, we are to “redeem the time,” not wish it away. We have an opportunity TODAY, whatever our circumstance, to make Christ known; to enjoy the grace of living in our Creator’s world; to serve a person in the Name of Jesus.

Who knows? This may be our last day… or many, many more years lie ahead of us. Whatever God chooses (since He has “numbered our days”), let it not be said we wasted or wished one away.

Let’s live for Jesus

06 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“An Angry Prophet in the Hands of a Merciful God”

(Jonah 4:1-4)

  • Chapter 1:  Jonah Rebelling and Running from God
  • Chapter 2:  Jonah Repenting and Running Back to God
  • Chapter 3:  Jonah Restarting and Running with God
  • Chapter 4:  Jonah Regretting and Resenting God

Jonah 4:1-10   

“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So, he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?””

(Jonah 4:1-4 NLT)

Oliver Cromwell was sitting for his official portrait that would portray his image to future generations.  In a time when royal people having their portraits done told the artist, “don’t paint the mole. Paint me with a smaller nose, or a taller or thinner profile.”  But Cromwell told the artist to “paint him as he is, warts and all.”  And so that phrase entered our vocabulary.  It means, “this is how it really is.”.  (OR Use high school portrait)

In Chapter 4 of Jonah, we see him portrayed “warts and all.” If we were writing this story, Chapter 3 would have been a great ending.  In fact, if it ended there Jonah would be considered the greatest prophet in Israel!  “From Running to Revival.”  I can see the book title now!

But that’s not how it ends. It moves from Jonah preaching to Nineveh in Chapter 3 to pouting over Nineveh’s response to his message in Chapter 4.  Now, beloved, I will tell you I have spent some time pouting in ministry, but usually it’s because people DIDN’T respond to what I thought was a really great message!  My warts were showing in times like that.    “The heart of the problem is always a problem of the heart.” (Wiersbe). Jonah had a heart problem!  The Bible does not create plastic, perfect people as it’s heroes.  It’s the flawed, the folks with warts.

God does not airbrush or photoshop the characters of Scripture.

Jonah, however, is pouting because they DID respond to the message!  That’s like a concert violinist getting angry because she got a standing ovation or a Christian singer winning a Dove Award and flying into a rage!  Jonah’s name in Hebrew is “dove.” An “angry dove” is an oxymoron.  Even the anger of Yahweh against Nineveh’s evil (3:9) is not described as “very angry.”

Jonah wanted to be able to return to Israel and report, “Well God said He was going to blast the Ninevites.  I told them so.  And I’m happy to report today that He wiped out the whole mess of them!”

But that’s not what happened.  Instead, the whole city repented, and God showed them grace!  Inside of Jonah, however, that was viewed as a failure…not a success.  It was a failure to how he viewed himself.  It was a failure to the ideal of his national interest.  It was a blow to his false idol of Jewish superiority.  Jonah feared this chain of events would result in his being seen as a false prophet.  So, it was also a blow to his self-esteem, his self-identity.

In the things that make us angry, we meet our “bottom line,” which is the thing we worship.  In other words, it is our idol, our counterfeit god.

Nineveh’s Repentance and Jonah’s Collapse

Jonah prays his best prayer in the worst place, and his worst prayer in the best place.

In 4:2, Jonah gives us a classic description of what God is like: (Taken from Exodus 34:6-7)

1). Gracious (merciful)

2). Compassionate (soft like a womb)

3). Slow to wrath (be patient, postpone anger)

4). Abounding in steadfast love (unrelenting, covenant love). “hesed”

One of the strange ironies of Jonah’s message as he promises, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned” is that, while the same words CAN apply to being overturned and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, it can ALSO mean “turning something over—turning it around—or turning it into something new…” like the Lord turning Moses staff into a serpent or the River Nile into blood.  It is a word that means, in English, “conversion.”

Jonah thought he was prophesying the destruction of Nineveh when actually he was proclaiming the Gospel to Nineveh!  “Forty days…and you will become something other than what you are…”

So, in reality here, Jonah accomplished what he was sent to do; to proclaim the possibility of forgiveness and conversion to Nineveh even though he thought, and he had hoped he was proclaiming their destruction.  He thought what he had said did not come to pass, and therefore he would be seen as a false prophet.  God actually made every word that Jonah spoke come to pass!

Jonah’s Response and God’s Question

To Jonah this was a disaster…a great disaster…and he became angry!”

Jonah was angry.  Angry enough to die!  “Very angry,” a term that was not even used when we hear God to describe His anger over Nineveh’s evil!   Jonah was madder than God at Nineveh, and now he was angry AT God for not blowing them off the map.

These people he had so despised now became part of the same participants in the grace Israel had known.  But Jonah did not rejoice in that.  He was angry that God was “compassionate, and slow to anger.”

He was angry at God’s focused compassion for Nineveh.

So, the section before us ends with a diagnostic question which God asked of Jonah.  I want to turn the question to us today:

  • “Do you do well to be angry?” (ESV)
  •  “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (NASB)
  •  “Is it right for you to be angry?” (CSB) and (NIV)
  •  “Doest thou well to be angry?” (KJV)
  •  “Is it right for you to be angry about this?

What makes you angry?  Your answer reveals a lot about your true self.  We become angry over the things that are most meaningful to us.

IS ANGER BIBLICAL?

Many push back on this question of anger, and will quickly assert, “Oh, I never get angry.”  But to say that is very quickly to resign from the human race.  People get angry. Good people and bad people.  Men and women.  Infants and senior adults.

Anger is a God-designed defense mechanism.  It was given to us for our protection, and to make us aware when something is threatening to us.  It is actually more dangerous NOT to be aware when you’re angry than to admit and recognize when you are!

We will sometimes play games with our emotions and rename them.  If we say, “I don’t get angry, I get irritated” or “that frustrates me” or some other euphemism for being angry, we have not solved the problem.  You won’t fix an anger issue by refusing to acknowledge the problem.  And it is a problem, maybe in some ways more for Christians or those who were raised to think anger is sinful.

The Anatomy of Anger

The anger response is built into our created nature.  The fact that Jesus felt anger is evidence that, even a man created with no sin could respond with anger.  Anger is no more sinful than the physiological response of hunger or the need for sex.  But like those, anger can become sinful if we express it wrongly.

But we throw out the baby with the bath water.   We have been taught to believe that, if you feel anger, you are doing something wrong.  More, you are “sinning” by feeling the emotion of anger.  That belief has done a world of damage to otherwise normal people.

A Response to a Threat

When I first started doing work in counseling and even started doing post-graduate work in pastoral care at Southern Seminary, I was still not convinced that anger was normal. I had been well conditioned to “swallow” or “suppress” feelings of anger through my childhood home and even by watching my parents, in addition to being raised as a Southern Baptist in the 50’s and 60’s.  It came from my home and from the pulpit of my church and through the lips of Sunday School teachers and church leaders.

“Anger is wrong,” I was taught.  I was not to feel it or acknowledge it if I did.  I learned my lessons well, and it was not until I started breaking down my body that I finally started revisiting my thinking on this subject.

It was there for the first time that someone in authority told me, “You’re normal if you feel anger.”  This was both freeing and terrifying to me.

I had been taught that anger was almost like a monster inside me that I had to keep locked away in a dark room lest it escape and wreak havoc on those around me.  But as we all know, the things we keep locked away in closets grow in the darkness.  Anger is one such “monster.” Opening the closet door doesn’t “unleash” the monster:  It actually reduces it!

God Gets Angry

One of the more commonly quoted verses regarding God’s anger is

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  (Romans 1:18)

However, there are literally dozens of verses in the Old and New Testaments that reference God’s wrath and anger.  Clearly this dimension of God’s character and nature is not hidden.

Jesus Got Angry

In several places through Jesus’ life, we see the reality of His anger.

The difference is Jesus’ anger was never about Him defending Himself.  It was never self-protective anger.  It was “righteous” because His anger was never used to defend Him.

The Angry Christian

Christians get angry.  All the time.  While the Bible never strictly condemns anger per se, there are some cautions that we need to heed:


BIBLICAL CAUTIONS

  • One who is quick tempered acts foolishly.  (Proverbs 14:17)
  • Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.  (Prov 14:20)
  • One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty… (Prov 16:32)
  • Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense. (Prov 19:11)
  • Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. (Ecc 7:9)
  • A bishop should not be arrogant or quick-tempered… (Titus 1:7)
  • …let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  (James 1:19-20)
  • In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath… (Eph 4:15)

We can draw some conclusions about anger from this:

  1. It is not wrong to experience anger.  Everyone does it.  Some are just unaware that it’s happening.
  2. Anger that flares up (“quick tempered”) is condemned in Scripture.  It is always something we should have control over and not let it become the “beast” that devours us (see Genesis 4 with God and Cain).
  3. Anger that we won’t release is wrong.  This anger becomes resentment and embitters us toward others.  We are “not to allow the sun to set on our anger,” Ephesians 4 tells us.  When Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that “to call someone a fool out of anger” is tantamount to murder, He uses the word that meant “to cling to anger” or “to seethe with anger.”. In other words, holding on to anger is sinful.  We must resolve if possible, the issue that brought us anger.  If we cannot we need to trust God to take this from us as we release it.
  4. The experience of anger is tied to our autonomic nervous system, as are our hearts and lungs.  It happens instinctively and automatically.  You cannot “will” your heart to stop beating.  But you can determine what you are going to do with your anger when it happens.  We are not held responsible for being angry.  We are very much held responsible for how we express it.

Don’t Miss The Joy! Chapter 11

The Enemies of Contagious Joy

Philippians 4:1-9

A precious family in our church suffered the death of their husband and father.  He died unexpectedly from a heart attack.  The family, of course, is shattered by this.

It led me, once again, to asking questions about this current series on Contagious Joy.  Particularly with the text, “Rejoice in the Lord and again I say, rejoice!”  Here’s my thought…my question.  Is the joy we’re talking about robust enough to be present even for a family whose life has been dashed on the rocks?  Can it survive the civil unrest and Covid 19 and political uncertainty and all that flows out of this?

My conclusion is this.  If it can’t I am either preaching it wrong or we are understanding it wrong.  The joy of the Lord is not restricted to our circumstances being rosy.  We don’t need the joy of the Lord when everything’s going our way.  We need it when our lives are shattered.

So, I read our text today with fear and trembling.  I do not want to misspeak or overstep anyone’s pain in this time.  I am not saying that Christ followers don’t hurt.  They do.  They die.

IN the face of all of that there is joy.

Enemies to our spiritual walk abound.  John speaks of our unholy trinity of enemies as, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”  The enemy of our joy can be disunity…in our families or in our church.  But often our enemies are much closer to home and do their work within us.

Today I want us to take a look at three hindrances to our joy.  They are joy-stealers and joy-killers if we do not confront and deal with them.  We hear about the first one as Chapter 4 opens.

ATTACK YOUR ANGER

Philippians 4:1-3

One of the most dangerous enemies to our joy is anger.  Sometimes we keep our anger bottled up inside.  Other times it creeps out say, on the golf course.  One golfer came to play with a new putter. He said the other one didn’t float.  Sometimes, sadly, it can be released on our families and people we care about the most.

Anger itself is not wrong.  Anger is a defense mechanism, and every person on some level deals with anger regularly.  But some allow it to build up and spill out in domestic abuse and conflict in homes, and churches and the workplace.

Dads, your hand is on the thermostat of the home.  You can turn the heat up in your home by not dealing with your anger properly.

What we are seeing in Philippians 4 is a conflict between two women who had a difference of opinion that had damaged their relationship, and then spilled over into the church.  It threatened the fellowship and the unity of the church.

Paul gives us three keys to resolving conflict in these verses.  The first is we CHOOSE to live in harmony.  It begins with your choice that relationships are far more important than always getting your way.

Secondly, we need to CONFRONT the problem.  At some point, if you’ve injured another or you’ve lost your joy because of a broken relationship, you have to confront the problem.  If needed, find a trusted friend who can stand with you as you do this.

One Wednesday night we had a service of prayer for racial reconciliation.  At some point, the church needs to take a stand… not make a political statement… but to be a “fellow laborer” and do the Gospel work of reconciliation.

Finally, we have to show the CHARACTER of Christ as we deal with this conflict.  “Rejoice in the Lord, let your reasonableness be evident to all, the Lord is near.”

Dads, back to you.  Are you gentle in your relationship with your family?  You have a position of Divinely appointed leadership in the home.  That means your voice has a constant amplifier with your wife and your children.

Did you know that almost 90 percent of conflicts in the home happen because someone uses the wrong tone of voice?  Not the wrong words… the wrong intonation.

ARREST YOUR ANXIETY

I have spoken about anxiety already several times in 2020 and began the year with a message on it.  The world has changed since January, but the need for dealing with anxiety has only accelerated in the face of everything that is happening in our world.

Anxiety-related problems are usually rooted in fear.  We fear an unknown future, a declining economy and loss of jobs, an uncertain political climate stoked by civil unrest, and an unseen virus that has killed almost 120,000 people in America and now…its numbers are increasing again.

Anxiety is a joy stealer.  There are no joyfully anxious people.   Some anxiety is a physiological symptom of a deeper problem.  Most anxiety is simply a matter of our being tossed like a cork on the waves of the sea.

It clutters our thinking, obscures our ability to see Jesus clearly, and generally saps our energy and drains us of joy.  It is an enemy that must be arrested!  It needs to be stopped from doing its destructive work.

PRAYER IS ADORATION:  We have a good, good Father!

Easy for me to transition to that.  I had a great, godly, faithful father.  Some folks choke a bit to pray, “Our Father…” or to sing, “Good, Good Father.” I never saw my Dad get angry…

The most frequent word in the New Testament for prayer is the word “proscheuo” which is an act of worship.  Prayer is worship.  When we worship, we don’t worry.  When we worry, we aren’t worshiping.  A part of every prayer time should be our adoration of Who God is, of What He is like, of the things He has done for us.

PRAYER IS SUPPLICATION:  We ask.  Indicates intense asking.

Pray about everything, be anxious for nothing.  “Nothing is worth worrying about; everything is worth praying about.”  E. Stanley Jones used to say, “To worry is to live against reality.”  Only 8 percent of the things we worry about are real.  The other 92 percent are imaginary, “what if” scenarios.  Anxiety clutters our thinking by importing things from our past that we cannot do anything about or imagining the worst-case scenarios of our future which probably aren’t going to happen.  We pray about everything.  “With prayer and supplication, we make our requests known to God.”

PRAYER IS APPRECIATION:  We give thanks.  “With thanksgiving make your requests known…”.

We need to stop anxiety in its tracks.  Let me say again.  There are some realities unfolding in our day that will drive us over the edge if we do not master this.  You can let this blow past you, or you can decide today to arrest anxiety and not permit it to make itself at home inside of you.

Paul said if we will simply do these things, then “the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”

ALTER YOUR ATTITUDE

My grand darlin’ McCail has now moved in with me for a few months while her Mommy and Daddy build a new house.  They came with her.  She had a new doll that looked real…creepy real.  For some reason unknown to all of us, she threw it downstairs and its head broke off.  Last night, after we had gotten ready for bed, she looked at me and said, “Poppy why did I throw my doll down the stairs?”

The things we do have mostly to do with the things we think.  Negative thoughts lead us to do negative things.  In fact, in an article I read last week, persistent negative thinking actually can lead to dementia!

But Paul doesn’t just say, “Stop thinking negative things.”  Instead, he gives us a list of positive things to replace them with.  “Think positive” is better than “don’t think negative” …if we remove something from our thoughts, nature abhors a vacuum.  Something will fill that void.

What we dwell on in our minds shapes us and is reflected in our external person.  In other words, we will always act and do like what we think about.

Biblical transformation does not come until we enter that process of “renewing our minds.”  Romans 12 tells us we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Recovery groups refer to our negative and wrong thinking as “stinkin thinkin.”  This is the core of most addictions and substance abuse issues.  We think ourselves into it.  Nothing is more influential to human life than our thoughts.  So, the Gospel goes after how we think.  Gospel-transformed people think differently.

One person said, “we need to let the mind of the Master become the master of our mind.” What does that look like?  Paul shows us here:

You may be thinking, “well, that’s all well and good.  I’ve tried to think good thoughts.  I’ve tried to stop thinking bad thoughts.  But nothing changed.”

Ok, here’s the thing.  Everything in these verses, first of all, is addressed to Christian people.  That means not just religious people or people who go to church and try to be nice folks.  Let me go back to a phrase I used a moment ago:  Gospel-transformed people.  You notice phrases in these verses: “whose names are written in the Book of Life.”

“Rejoice IN THE LORD…”. “guard your hearts and minds in CHRIST JESUS.”  “The God of peace will be with you.”’

All of these benefits, all of these promises are available within a relationship with the Son of God Who is Jesus Christ.  Apart from that relationship they won’t work.

05 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

JONAH: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“Revival in Nineveh”

Jonah 3:5-10

So far, we have traveled through some rough miles with Jonah.  In Chapter 1, we meet the prophet, who was well-known and well-respected in Israel.  He received an assignment from God that he really didn’t want to accept, so rather than go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and the largest city in the world of that day, and preach Jonah booked passage to Tarshish…in the opposite direction.

But as Jonah ran from God’s assignment away from a “great city,” he found himself in the middle of a “great storm” and ultimately in the belly of a “great fish.” His trajectory was downward, which is the only option you leave for yourself when you run from God.

While in the fish, in Chapter 2, and yes, I believe it was a real fish…Jonah came to his senses and came back to God.  But his repentance and turning and obedience were not complete.  In Chapter 3, after being spit out of the “the great fish,” Jonah is back on dry land and running toward Nineveh.  Like the prodigal son, Jonah came back to where he started and was welcomed by a gracious Father.  Then, he got a second chance to do what he should have done the first time.

Now, we want to turn to the balance of Chapter 3.  It is here that we see Jonah coming to Nineveh, speaking God’s message, and the surprising response of the Assyrian city.

JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE

The call to REPENT

Jonah came with a clearly spoken, Divine mandate from the Lord.  God had said through Isaiah, “My Word will not return to me void…it will accomplish that for which I had sent it.”   The New Testament tells us that “the Word of God is active and cuts like a two-edged sword, dividing even the joint and marrow.”

When we speak or communicate the Word of God, we release something spiritually that we cannot see.  I do not think the power of the Bible is in the printed pages of a book produced by a publisher.  The fact that activists burnt Bibles in Portland does not diminish the Word of our Lord.   It is still “truth without any mixture of error” and it has a spiritual power that changes hearts and minds and lives as those words enter our heart.  We do not worship a book; we worship the God Who inspired the Words in the book.

Jonah unleashed a power when he spoke obediently what the Lord had told him to say.  He repeated it verbatim!  The results were staggering.   If we want to see our nation transformed and healed and brought back to God, it will be through releasing and proclaiming and obeying God’s Word…not through political or military or economic means.  It is “‘…not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.”

If our world isn’t changed, it is because we’re trying to adapt to and be liked by the culture and minimize the power of God’s Word that has been given to us.  Jonah did not go to Nineveh and run for political office, or start a social services program, or begin to lobby for change in the law.   Nothing wrong with any of these, but true heart-change and a new direction will come only as we speak God’s truth to a culture that prefers lies.  Substantial and lasting change will not come any other way.

The need to WARN

One pastor has suggested that there are over one hundred verses in the Bible that involve warning.  I did not count them all but there’s a lot!  Paul spoke about warning in Acts 20:31. It is a ministry of the church, but it’s also important that we do this with each other.

Jonah’s message was basically a warning to Nineveh from God…” forty days…”  He warned them.  They heard him.  We need people who are bold enough to warn us when our life is heading in the wrong direction. You’re not judging.  You’re warning.  You don’t hate someone when you tell them, “the bridge is out” …you love them.  Every person has blind spots.  But often our pride and independence won’t let us hear and heed those warnings.

We need warnings in life…railroad crossing signs, yellow lights, wet paint, and every medicine bottle has a section on it labeled WARNING.  We may not read them or heed them, but if we’re wise, we will.

JONAH’S WARNING AND NINEVEH’S RESPONSE

The response of the PEOPLE.

The city of Nineveh stopped and mourned at Jonah’s message and preaching.  This city was “great” in its history, founded by Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. (Genesis 10:39) It was a city of great influence through art and culture and commerce.  It was great in its size, approximately sixty miles at its widest point.  One wall alone had a circumference of eight miles!  But it was also legendary and great in its sin.  And yet God called out to them through Jonah to repent.  And from King to cattle, they did!

Nineveh did not become converts to Judaism or “Yahwists” through Jonah’s preaching.  That much is clear.  The “believed God” but knew little of Jonah’s God.  When they referred to “God” it was translating the Hebrew word “Elohim” which could apply to a number of spiritual realities. They did not become people of the covenant by their repentance. But Nineveh was heading fast for the cliff.  Their injustice, oppression, wickedness, and notorious cruelty had begun to do what any culture does that builds itself on the wrong foundation.  Those qualities of injustice, cruelty, oppression, and victimization of the helpless was also being inflicted upon their own people.

Historians tell us that this neighbor upon neighbor violence, oppression, robbery, murder, and assault was rampant in the streets.  When you raise an army that are specialists in these kinds of activities and then bring them home without a war to fight, they naturally will turn on each other and the surrounding population.

Nineveh was teetering and eroding away.  Their soothsayers and spiritual leaders were noticing portends of disaster in things that were happening in nature through a rampant famine, disease, and unnatural weather phenomenon.

Add the social deterioration to this, and they knew something bad was about to happen.  They were telling the people as much. Perhaps that prepared their hearts to be open to a lone Jewish prophet shouting, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be no more…”. The “king” was likely not the King of Assyria.  Nineveh was not even the capital city of Assyria.  Had the King of Assyria repented, he would have called the entire empire of Assyria to repent.

As it was, the voice of the prophet was directed specifically to Nineveh.  And likely, the use of the word “king” was speaking of a governor appointed by the king but who spoke with authority for him.  It was not unusual for ancient eastern cultures to refer to their leader in that way.  But the ruler of Nineveh, and every citizen and even animals, were brought to their knees by this proclamation.

I cannot imagine this, having never been a part of a true spiritual awakening in which God ‘s message has stopped commerce, impacted government and the economy, and swept through in power.     I grew up in Kentucky, where the Second Great Awakening took place in camp meetings in the woods as a circuit riding preacher would come, people would create a clearing by cutting down trees and turning them into seats lined up (don’t complain about uncomfortable pews).  The meetings would last for hours and go for weeks, people wouldn’t even go home.  It impacted how my home state still does church!

A spiritual awakening swept Ireland that was so intense it shut down the mining industry because the mule trains that hauled coal out of the mines stopped. The animals were so accustomed to being cursed and abused by those who ran them that they didn’t know what to do when the operators returned to work, now with Jesus in their hearts, and they stopped cursing!

Those awakenings called God’s people back to being what God had intended them to be.  In America, they called Christians back to the foundation of our nation as a Christian nation.  They were calls to repent and to believe God’s Word.

We have a rich history of spiritual awakenings in America, and throughout the world.  Most of the educational institutions, social reforms, and hospitals in America began out of those awakenings and still affect us as a nation today.

The last true “spiritual awakening” in America and, in fact, through most of the world took place in the 1970’s in a former Methodist church that worked with hippies in California.

Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, decided to allow the long-haired, unwashed, barefoot, young people to come to his church sanctuary and play their music their way.  Some churches had already thrown them out because of their unkempt appearance, and smell, and music and bare feet, the oil of which was destroying the carpeting in their buildings.

Smith simply ripped the carpeting out!  And the kids flooded in by the hundreds and hung around outside as he taught them the Bible verse-by-verse.  The church fed them, gave money to some to travel back home, and just one-by-one won them to Jesus.  A movement began, called “The Jesus Movement.” Proud to say, Baptist pastors and churches were some of the first to open street missions in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco!  I was saved in the middle of that, in December of 1974.

When the nation of Israel was called to repent by the prophets, it was to remember their calling as the people of God and the people of the covenant. The prophets called the people back to what they were at the beginning.

When Nineveh repented it was to turn away from idolatry and injustice and cruelty and oppression and back to God Who had created them.  Repentance is the key to getting us out of the prison of sin.  The Bible is our rehabilitation.  (Eric Mason)

There is, in every person, the ability to know there is a God.  They have even done research on what is called “The God Gene” in people.  It’s in our DNA.  The Bible say so , “What could be known of God is plainly revealed to them,” which means that people who refuse to believe in God (probably refuse to believe in what God has told them to do) are acting in conflict with their own created nature.  The Ninevites knew they were out of alignment with the God they only knew as “Elohim.” Jonah introduced them to “Yahweh,” God of Israel and Maker of Heaven and Earth.

NINEVEH’S REPENTANCE AND GOD’S FORGIVENESS

Does God change His mind?

God cannot and will not act in conflict with His own counsel and will and Word.

We will never see a scenario in which God says, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”  God will never “walk back” a decision as though ill-advised or ill-conceived.  When the Ninevites repented, His forgiveness was in alignment with the His already revealed will: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

It is impossible for God to lie.

1 Samuel 15:29 says, ‘[The God of Israel] does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.’

It is impossible for God to change.

The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘It is impossible for God to lie’ (Heb. 6:18), and Paul refers to ‘God, who does not lie’ (Titus 1:2).

It is impossible for God to violate His Own will. 

When Nineveh repented, they turned directly into the will of God Who said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and Who desires all men to be saved.

The repented toward God.  They believed God.  And God forgave.

Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 10

THE CONTAGIOUS JOY OF A PASSIONATE PURSUIT

PHIL 3:12-21

“Not that I have already obtained this (vv 10-11) or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own (“apprehended”  “laid hold of”) .   Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel, decided in 1952 that she wanted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, about 26 miles. No woman had ever done that before. It was very foggy when she started her swim, and she couldn’t see. After 15 hours in the water (yes, you read that right), she looked up at her mother in the little boat beside her and said, “Mama, I can’t make it; I can’t go any further.”

Her mother tried to encourage her, but, after swimming for another 55 minutes, she gave up and got in the boat.  A couple minutes later, she discovered she was half a mile from the coastline.  When asked later why she quit, Chadwick said, “It was because I couldn’t see anything. If I could’ve just seen the coastline, I know I would have made it.”

Two months later, she got back in the water, and not only did she swim from Catalina Island to California, but she also beat the women’s world record for that distance.

And the men’s.  By two and a half hours.

Interestingly, the second time she swam, it was even foggier than the first time. She could not see anything. When reporters asked her about it afterward, she said, “I was ready this time. And it’s really simple: I kept a picture in my mind of the shoreline. Even though I could not see it with my eyes, it was ever before me. I never lost sight of the California shoreline, and so I felt like I was always closing in on it. As long as I lived for the picture in my mind, I could keep slogging through the fog of my challenge.”

What is “the picture in your mind” that you are running toward?  Is there an overarching goal, an all-consuming passion that encourages you when you are weary, and picks you up when you’re discouraged?  What’s awaiting you when you get where you are going?  Goal… life not just journey

In this part of Philippians, Paul is telling us what it was that drove him forward through trials and difficulties and pain and deprivation and persecution.  It was what kept him focused on the race when a normal person would have dropped out.   One author called this paragraph “an explosion of spiritual longing.”

Sometimes the fog of our circumstances, or even our being blinded by pain or seduced by the pleasures of the flesh or of this world, are enough to keep us from the joy God has for us; from the glory of finishing the race God has called us to run.

From this part of the letter, God’s Word points us to three things that need to keep us oriented to the goal set before us.

First, we see the importance of:

Pressing On:  This One Thing

We have notoriously short attention spans.  Microsoft research discovered that human attention span has dropped from 12 second to now about 8 seconds.  Your little goldfish flitting around in its bowl, on it’ way ultimately to that great white Bowl in your bathroom, has an attention span of 9 seconds!  You know why?  Because goldfish don’t own cell phones!

We cannot focus.  We have become spiritually ADD.  I am rushing this morning because, well, I’ve already lost some of you.  Our sermons, due to moving to digital services, have to kind of wrap up in about twenty-five minutes.  Let’s be real.  If you’re sitting down in front of your computer screen or gathered around your radio while you’re watching us this morning, you’re a minority.

But the price we pay for trying to give attention to so many things at once has a spiritual consequence.  It is the inability to find the ONE THING God wants us to focus on.  This one thing…   Paul said, “I press on…”. I am running toward one goal, not many.  His goal?  “The high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Few men were more productive than Paul, but he was productive because he knew what his priority, his “one thing” was. We try to do so much in an anxiety-ridden hurry.  CS Lewis said, “the future is something every person reaches at 60 minutes per hour, no matter who he is or what he does.”

Paul was reflecting back on the day in his life when the risen Christ “seized” him; “apprehended” him like one who was running away; but it is stronger.  He “seized me” with the intent of “owning” me.

Paul could be joyful because he knew his “one thing.” He did not chase squirrels.  He did not get distracted.  When you know the “one thing,” that allows you to say yes to important things and no to things that are just distractions.  When you know the length that God went to pursue you, to “apprehend you” and then to “own you,” it pushes every other priority out of your heart.

Maybe you had that at one time.  You were awe-struck that God would “seize” you and “own” you, but you’ve let other priorities and other problems and struggles squeeze the wonder out of you.

Letting Go:  What Lies Behind

Moving forward in the way Paul describes for us is dependent upon our ability to do one thing well.  But doing one thing well-meant letting go of a lot of other pursuits, and labors, and even some of earth’s joys.  Our brains really don’t forget anything.  We are capable of creating 80 memories per second for 75 years.

If you are going to pursue Olympic gold, you have your goal set clearly before you.  But pursuing that goal means you have to let go of a lot of other things that distract.  Olympic athletes do not participate in much of normal life that a middle or high school young person would know.  You “let go” of that.  You don’t go binge on pizza, or attend prom, or kill a Friday night at a ball game.  When you find that one special person in your life, you “let go” of all the other options and opportunities.

So, you set your goal.   You run.  You swim.  You ski.  You practice and give up sleep to do that.  You eat an Olympic diet, not filled with junk food.  You let go of the things that would hold you back.  You say “no” to things other people say “yes” to.

But it’s not just that.  Paul was talking here about letting go of accomplishments from the past, and of pleasures in the present, but also of past regrets and disappointments.

“Besetting” sins are sins that entangle you and keep you from running the race well.  (Hebrews 12). Sometimes it’s the guilt of those sins that hampers us. When we drive, at least when we drive cars that don’t have backup cameras, we use the rear-view mirrors. But if we spend too much time looking back it will wreck you as you go forward!  What does the runner do?  He “forgets as he runs.”

REACHING FORWARD:  A Worthy Goal

This is the picture of the runner about to reach the finish line…victory is just a few strides away…the goal line is less than ten yards and a touchdown is about to happen…. what does the athlete do?  He “leans forward….” straining toward the finish line.

Paul’s heart was set on heaven.  CS Lewis said, “If we aim at heaven, we get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth, and we get neither.”

What are you “aiming” for?  Paul was pressing toward a heavenly home where his citizenship was, and toward receiving a glorious body, (“who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory…”).  The Bible says, in 1 Corinthians 15:53 (NLT): For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. The way that it is now is not the way that it shall be.

04 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

The God of the Second Chance

Jonah 3:1-5

Well we left Jonah last week drying out on some beach probably near God’s destination for him:  Nineveh.  After three days and three nights in the digestive tract of a fish, Jonah would have been something to see.  Skin bleached white by the gastric juices, clothes mostly dissolved, and smelling to high heaven, Jonah stumbled out of the water blinded by the bright sunlight.  We aren’t told whether or not there were witnesses, but it was a pretty humbling arrival!

We also aren’t told how much time lapsed between Jonah’s arrival and God’s call.  The text simply says, “Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…” (3:1), as if to say, “Jonah, now do I have your attention?”  But I want us to notice that there’s a lot of grace evident in that second calling.

JONAH’S FAILURE AND GOD’S GRACE

Some have drawn a comparison between Jonah’s story and the parable of the prodigal son.  In Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, a man has two sons.  The younger came to his father, asked to cash out his inheritance, and he left home.  He squandered “all of his money” in reckless behavior until all of it was gone, along with his new “friends.”

Starving and alone, on rock bottom, the young man took a job feeding pigs and eating the food they were eating.  Dear ones, there aren’t many things that smell more nauseating than a pig pen…unless maybe it’s how you smell after three days inside of a fish!

The younger son and Jonah had both “bottomed out.” They had fallen down as far as someone could fall.  Both had nothing left to their name but ragged, smelly clothes.  The younger son decided to “come home” and throw himself on the mercy of  his father. He confessed his folly and his ignorance and his sin, and the father “placed a robe and a family crest on his finger” and threw a great party for him, saying “this my son who was dead is now alive.”  It was resurrection language.  Jesus compared Jonah’s coming out of the fish alive as a resurrection!

The prodigal son got a second chance that he didn’t deserve.  The prodigal prophet did too.  Chapter 1 and 2 of Jonah, Jonah is like the younger son.  Running, disobedient, away from the presence of his Father, and then going down, down and down to the lowest point on earth.  We remember Jonah’s downward journey: Down to Joppa, down to the belly of the ship, down into the water, and finally down inside a fish.  When we run from God, down is the only direction we can go!

It doesn’t matter how far we fall.  God is ready to receive back any person who will come truly repentant and truly yielded to Him.  We all need grace, we need a second chance.  And some of us today know exactly where Jonah was, and exactly where the prodigal son was.  Broken, alone, messed up, and maybe reeking like the garbage of the world.  You need a second chance…or a third, or fourth…

JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE

So now we see a second time, Jonah is given an assignment from God.  I am certain hearing the voice of God again was reassuring to Jonah.  After all, when he left for his trip to Tarshish he effectively quit his job!  We are given no indication that God spoke anything to him while he was inside the fish.

But now, as the Word of the Lord came to him a second time, Jonah went to Nineveh instantly.  Nothing in God’s plan had been altered.  God still wanted a message brought to Nineveh.

It is an act of compassion and grace that, before God ever brings judgment to a people or a nation, He always sent a messenger first.  God warns, and then He acts.  “The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The “win” for God, if you would, is not that He acts in destructive force against sinful people, though He can and He has, but that people are given every chance to change course if they choose.

Let me say it this way.  God could have just blown the Ninevites into oblivion if He wanted.  They certainly deserved it. Our nation deserves it.  We are guilty of systemic sin.  It is everywhere, in every institution, and in every heart.  He owed Nineveh no warning, but He gave it just the same because God is compassionate and merciful and gracious.

“So pastor you’re saying then that God wouldn’t send me to Hell without warning me first?”  Did you know that one of the most common Google searches during these months as we have gone through the pandemic is, “Am I going to go to hell?”  640 million Google searches on that.  SO what I’m saying is this.  If your life is not where it needs to be before God, and if you do not repent and trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord, as your only hope, you will die in your sins and you will go to Hell.  Forever.  No chance of escape.  Now, you’ve been warned.

But if you will turn away from your rebellion and sin and return to the Father, you will be forgiven.  You will be given a second chance!  That is what the Father really desires.  “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” God said.

That message of grace is what Jonah went to Nineveh with.  He went to warn them of judgment that would fall if they did not turn away and turn to Him: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”

Jonah obeyed.

JONAH’S HEART AND GOD’S PATIENCE

Jonah obeyed.  But we find later that Jonah’s heart was not in it.  In the first chapter his disobedience was clearly open rebellion.  In the third chapter, his sin was half-hearted obedience. Jonah had not truly repented.  Maybe he went because he made a vow to God that he would while he was inside the fish. (“What I have vowed I will pay…” 2:9)

Jonah was a racist prophet.  He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth.  It was entrenched in him.  He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to his country.  It’s a tragic thing when a Christian loses his heart for the lost of the world.  When we get complacent in our spiritual life the first symptom is we lose our desire to see lost people come to the Lord.

Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more eager for God to wipe them off the map.  People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal.  But he hated them.  How much?  Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out and to take it personally and sulk when God didn’t.

None of that changed in Jonah’s attitude, even after his time in the belly of the great fish.  He was still racist and prejudiced and filled with hatred.  He wanted God to fry these people while he sat on a hillside and watched the show.  It is true that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but Jonah certainly was ready to!

The parable of the prodigal son does not end with the son’s return.  There was an older brother in the story too, who had stayed behind with his father and continued doing his duty.  This is actually the main point of the parable.

And when his younger prodigal brother returned home, this older brother didn’t rejoice.  He was resentful.  He was angry that everyone was celebrating his prodigal and sinful brother’s return.  And he wasn’t about to go to his party!  He believed the Father owed HIM a party because of his obedience.

You know folks, there are two ways we can run from God.  One is, like the prodigal, by running into the world and into a sinful lifestyle.  The other is, like Jonah and the older brother, to run into religious practice and performance that makes us believe God owes us.  There’s a lot of “older brothers” in the church today.

Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.

God is a God of second chances.  Almost everyone greatly used in the Bible was a recipient of that honor!  God gives second chances, and maybe you need one today.

If so, His arms are open wide for you to come home too.

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