Saturday, January 24, 2015

The pouting prophet

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 4:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "But it (God's relenting from the disaster He said He would bring on Nineveh - Jonah 3:11) displeased Jonah exceedingly and he became angry." Jonah 4:1

At a church conference I attended some years ago, I heard Rich Wilkerson sum up each of the church offices in a catchy way.

Apostles: Entrepreneurs who start new things for God.
Evangelists: Salesmen—"You need Jesus."
Pastors: Encouragers—"Everything is going to be okay."
Teachers: Always looking for the teachable moment.
Prophets: Concerned with keeping things in the right category—"That's just not right!"

Isn't that last so Jonah! After preaching, he camped outside the city—his front-row seat for the fireworks—but they never came. And so he said to God (my paraphrase): I told you so! I knew Your merciful nature. That's exactly why I ran away to Tarshish—because I knew in the end You'd change Your mind.

Then God gave this pouting prophet an object lesson from his own reaction to circumstances. When a fast-growing vine sprung up providing shelter from the sun, he was happy. But when a worm nibbled at it till it died he had pity on the plant, simply because it affected his own comfort. In this way God showed him his shallowness and how very different Jonah was from God, whose compassion went way beyond a plant to embrace all people (as well as animals - Jonah 4:11).

How readily we too get hung up on our own ideas of how God should work and like Jonah get swept into self-righteous anger when things don't happen according to our little prophetic 'that's not right' categories. A sidebar article in my Bible leaves us with some advice on how to neutralize such an attitude:

"Do not allow anger or pride to remain in your heart. They led to Jonah's disobedience. Turn away from these attitudes, and seek to have God's character of mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness and lovingkindness" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have Your heart of compassion and pity on the people around me in the spirit of being a fellow traveler. Help me to be a conduit of your mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness, and love to everyone around me. Amen.

MORE: God's patience with His Jonahs

"...God not only treats Nineveh with pity and mercy, but also treats his stiff-necked prophet that way too. He is slow to anger and ready to relent in his wrath toward Nineveh, and toward Jonah" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org. (Read all of "Should I not Pity That Great City Minneapolis.")

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 23, 2015

God wants YOU

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 2:1-3:10

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message I tell you.'" Jonah 3:1,2

God went to great lengths to get just the person He wanted—Jonah—for the job of preaching to Nineveh. When this reluctant prophet ran the other way, God followed him. When the sailors tossed him into the sea, God protected him. From the belly of the fish, God heard him. When that fishy time-out was over, God talked to his host and the fish tossed him. Then God gave him a second chance.

I have found something similar about God's assignments. They come with a quiet but weighty persistence. My excuses don't sway Him. He just listens to them and then when I pray, Lord, give me something to do, whispers, I've already given you a job. Just go and do it.

But what if we feel we've really blown it and disqualified ourselves from ever being used by God again? Leslyn Musch reminds us we can:
"Ask God for a second chance. You may have disobeyed the Lord to the point you believe He can no longer use you. Look at Jonah! There is hope for you too. Ask God's forgiveness for your sin, submit to His will for you. Draw near to Him through worship; praise Him for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Tell Him you will follow Him full, and do it" - "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.
Are you dithering over following through on a job God has given you, hoping, perhaps, that He'll change His mind and give it to someone else? You'd better not count on that. God has amazing tenacity (as Jonah would testify). If He's picked you as the person for a job, He wants you for the job. Better to obey than to hang back and find yourself in a Jonah spot.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for second chances. But it's probably better not to need them. Help me to listen and obey when You first give me a task to do. Amen.

MORE: The secret battle
"The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him. Until this is done, I lose every time. The battle may take one minute or a year, that will depend on me, not on God; but it must be wrestled out alone before God, and I must resolutely go through the hell of a renunciation before God. Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 27th reading.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Extending mercy to your Nineveh


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammitai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.'
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3a


Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria—Israel's longstanding enemy. Various times in the Old Testament we see the Assyrians raiding Israel, ravaging the countryside, and taking its citizens captive. There was no love lost between Israel and Assyria.

Jonah, nationalist that he was, was obviously aghast at God's assignment. Perhaps his reluctance was tinged with fear for his own well-being. The Assyrians were not noted for their humane treatment of enemies.

But one gets the sense that he was mostly outraged that God wanted to share any part of Himself with his nation's rank enemy. That he, Jonah, would be an instrument in bringing such an intention to pass was, to him, unthinkable. And so he ran the other way.

It's worth stopping here and asking, but wouldn't God's righteousness and justice demand that the Assyrians be punished for their harsh treatment of Israel—the apple of God's eye? However, God, thankfully for us all, is not only just and righteous but also merciful. He wanted to give the Assyrians of Jonah's time an opportunity to repent.

It's easy to shrug off the story of Jonah as one of another era and so irrelevant to us. But wait. Is it really?

I'm reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch women who, years after her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, came face to face with one of her former captors—her Nineveh, so to speak. That day God asked her to extend mercy and forgiveness to him. She did, and came to a place of new freedom and understanding of God, who is not only just and righteous but also merciful.

I ask myself, what is my Nineveh? What is yours? Will we answer the call of God's heart to extend His mercy to it?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your mercy to me. May my heart echo the merciful thrum of yours as I interact with those who have treated me badly. Amen.

MORE: Man Overboard by David Denny

California poet David Denny has written a wonderful book of poems about just this story. Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion (Wipf & Stock, 2013) does a wonderful job of exploring God's compassion (on Nineveh, the Assyrians and Jonah), and Jonah's outrage. My review of the book is HERE.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Living with questions

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 37:1-24

TO CHEW ON:
"God thunders marvelously with His voice;
He does great things which we cannot comprehend." Job 37:5


After Job's three elderly friends are done speaking, a younger man, Elihu, joins the conversation (Job 32-37). Our reading today is the end of Elihu's final speech. His argument (quoting from my Bible's Introduction to Job) is:

"... God is greater than any human being; therefore a person has no right or authority to require an explanation of Him. He argues that some things that God does are humanly incomprehensible. At the same time, Elihu suggests that God will speak if we will listen. His emphasis is on the attitude of the sufferer, that is, an attitude of humility allows God to intervene .... Elihu's appeal to Job is: 1] to have faith in God Himself rather than demand an explanation; 2] to change his attitude to one of humility" Charles E. Blair, Introduction to Job, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 645.

In our reading, Elihu refers to the mysteries of nature—the grandeur of thunder and lightning, the cycling of rain and snow, the capriciousness of clouds, the instinctive wisdom of animals in response to seasonal changes.

What strikes me about several of these speeches is how closely Job and his friends observe nature and the seasons. They attribute its enigmas and splendours to the mind and intention of God. In today's chapter Elihu describes them in glowing terms: "thunders marvelously .... great things .... wondrous works of God .... awesome majesty .... He is excellent in power."

So much of what they say still expresses our awe of these things.

But what about when nature does more than put on a show for us while we're watching from the safety of our homes? Because when hurricanes and tornadoes bring devastation and floods, when lightning sparks wildfires burning homes along with vast tracts of forest or grass, when earthquakes destroy communities forever we, along with Elihu, are also puzzled:

"He does great things which we cannot comprehend...

"He causes it to come
Whether for correction
Or for His land
Or for mercy
" - Job 37:5,13.

Are there any answers to the theological and existential questions Job and his friends have been grappling with? Our consecutive readings in Job end here, but the Bible account continues with God's reply to Job (and his four friends) in Job 38:1-41:34. It's an answer well worth reading for our own lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, I find it uncomfortable to live with questions. Help me to wait for Your answers and to recognize them when they come. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

God our teacher

Teachder's desk with apple
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 36:16-33


TO CHEW ON:
"Behold, God is exalted by His power;
Who teaches like Him?
Who has assigned Him His way,
Or who has said, 'You have done wrong?'" Job 36:23


Though I continue to find Elihu's pompous, I-have-all-the-answers attitude grating, he does make some wise observations. One of them is that God teaches. As we look through the Bible at a sampling of verses about God teaching, we see that His instructions come not only through difficulties but in other settings as well.

He teaches us how to do our work.

  • He promises to teach Moses how to do his special assignment of leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 4:15).
  • He also gives lessons in more everyday tasks like how and when to plant and harvest certain crops (Isaiah 28:26-29) and how to choose the right way that will lead to profit (Isaiah 48:17).

He teaches about the future (Daniel 8:19).

God's school is lifelong learning that begins in childhood (Isaiah 54:13), carries on into youth, and the old psalmist begs God to continue to teach him into his "old and grayheaded" years (Psalm 71:17-18).

God teaches:
  • Through signs and wonders like the Israelites experienced in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:36).
  • Through His word - Psalm 119:26, 66, 135.
  • Through His Spirit - 1 Corinthians 2:12.
  • And, Elihu would insist, through the events of our lives, good and bad (Job 36:22,23).

The best students have a teachable spirit.

  • God teaches the ones who fear the Lord, according to David (Psalm 25:12).
  • However if there is sin in our lives, we may need to repent in order to again hear God's voice (Psalm 32:1-5; 8-9).

God's teaching is for everyone.
  • It's for the Jews: Isaiah sees the "Day of the Lord" when Israel will willingly go to God's house to be taught in His ways and how to walk in His paths (Isaiah 2:3).
  • But it's for other nationalities too. Micah prophesies a day when the desire to sit under God's instruction will pull in citizens of many nations (Micah 4:2).

Let's open ourselves to the favour and blessing of God's instruction
(Psalm 94:10-12; 119:135).  For we ignore it at our peril (Jeremiah 32:33,36).


PRAYER:

Dear God, please develop in me a teachable spirit and keen ears to hear Your instructions. May it truly be lifelong learning. Amen. 

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Resisting the temptation of pat answers

man with questions
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 36:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Then He tells them their work and their transgression—
That they have acted defiantly.
He also opens their ear to instruction,
And commands that they turn from iniquity." Job 36:9,10


In the beginning  of his fourth speech, Elihu lectures Job about a purpose of suffering that Job's other friends have left out: that it is instructive.

God despises no one, Elihu insists (Job 36:5). He doesn't preserve the life of the wicked (Job 36:6) despite what Job thinks (Job 21:7). Rather, God speaks to the righteous person through his or her suffering (Job 36:9) in that way alerting them to sin so they can repent (Job 36:10). If they do, prosperity will result (Job 36:11). If they don't, they are doomed (Job 36:12).

Though what Elihu says may contain general truth, his cut-and-dried explanation that this is why Job is suffering is inadequate. We see how wrong he is when he applies this to Job (the first part of tomorrow's reading—Job 36:16-18). For as the heavenly prologue to all these speeches has told us, Job's suffering is neither punishment nor instruction but a demonstration and proof to Satan of Job's integrity (Job 2:1-6).

If Elihu is teaching us anything it is that we need to temper our defense of God, always leaving room for what we don't know. To us earth-bound humans there remains mystery in His actions or lack of them. Though the Bible is clear in its description of God and what He is like (love, omnipotent, omnipresent, righteous, just, holy etc.) we will not understand the outworking of these attributes in our lives and the lives of those we love, until we see Him face to face and "…know even as we are known" - 1 Corinthians 13:12.

PRAYER: Dear God, when I or my loved ones suffer, I long for explanations. Help me to avoid the temptation of giving myself and others pat answers because, frankly, I don't see what's happening behind the scenes and what You are accomplishing through these hard times. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Leaven alert

Yeast cells
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'" Matthew 16:6

We can't help but smile at the little comedy of misunderstanding near the beginning of today's reading. Jesus had just had an encounter with the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducess where they goaded Him for a heavenly sign. His reply cut to the bone: "Hypocrites...a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign..."

Then He and the disciples got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee. When they reached the other side, the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread.

Into that setting Jesus interjected, "'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'"

I can just see the wheels trying to turn in the disciples' heads: What does that have to do with anything? They tried, among themselves, to connect Jesus' statement with their present lack of bread.

But that wasn't the connection Jesus wanted them to make. So what was He talking about?

Not physical bread. His words in Matthew 16:8-11 show us that. Even the literal-minded disciples realized by the end of that conversation that Jesus was warning them not about some literal brand of leaven to avoid, but false doctrine.

It wasn't a specific teaching that Jesus was referring to either. Because the Pharisees and Sadducees beliefs contradicted each other. According to the study notes in my Bible:

"The Pharisees had a strong commitment to the Law as interpreted by 'the tradition of the elders.' They were strong ritualists and were legalistic.


The Sadducees came from leading social families and were rationalists and materialists. They rejected "the tradition of the elders" and denied the supernatural, including the possibility of a bodily resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees are best known for their mutual hostility" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1320.

Jesus was, it seems to me, warning them about the leaven of false doctrine of any kind.

Leaven or yeast, is a fungus that we add to bread dough. In the right conditions just a little grows in a matter of several hours to permeate a large lump of dough. Its presence is evident by the air bubbles that make the bread light and fluffy.

False doctrine is like that. Just a little imbalance or false teaching can quickly work its way through our whole teaching about God, resulting in aberrations as dissimilar as the cults and Christian liberalism.

How do we know when truth has been mixed with leaven? By getting familiar with teaching that is pure—that is, by immersing ourselves in the Bible. As we get to know its message from cover to cover, we will not be easily lured away by doctrines of a bloodless atonement, or angelic guides or any other leaven-permeated diversion from what Peter confessed later in the chapter: "You are the Christ the Son of the living God," or the simple gospel that Paul preached: "...Jesus Christ and Him crucified" 1 Corinthians 2:2.

PRAYER: Dear God, please sharpen my spiritual awareness so I will recognize the leaven of false teaching. Please guide me into truth by Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Today is the day the church celebrates the Confession of Saint Peter. It begins with this prayer:

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Liturgy for this day

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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