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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reflections on the book of Jonah - chapter 3

In this chapter Jonah gets a second chance.  It starts very matter factly.  It is as if nothing has happened.  God speaks to Jonah and tells him to go to Niniveh and he will tell him what to do next.  Jonah does it without hesitation.  God has just given him a second chance.  Why? God does not tell us.  He wants to. Period. Does God need to give us explanation for everything He does? No.  He didn't give the answers to Job. He doesn't here either.  Does God always give second chances? when I was reading Surprised by Grace the author says God doesn't always give second chances. He gives examples such as Ananias and Saphira in the book of Acts.  It is true if we see second chances as part of events, big events in our lives.  But I believe we get second chances every day.  Lamentations 3 says that it is because of God's mercy that we are not consumed. They are new every morning.  Every day we get to start anew and have a choice to live for God or live for ourselves.  God's mercy makes this possible. It is not because of us that we get second chances, it is because God has compassion on us and remembers that we are just dust. He is a compassionate Father (Psalm 103).  He cares for all of us even when we do wrong.

This is the case here.  Jonah gets a second chance as a rebellious child that he is but also Nineveh gets a second chance.  Jonah begins to speak the message. He had to walk three days worth saying, "In forty days God will bring you down." Nothing is said as to what they needed to do. I wonder if he was just selecting what to say or if he said more than that.  I imagine that he was just walking and saying it without much passion.  Some see him passionately speaking out but I doubt it.  He knew that God was giving them a second chance and he did not want them to have it. After all, he knew that the king was a vicious man who had killed so many in battle, even children.  He had killed people and skinned them. He had no reason to like them.  Do we not feel the same way about some people we know?

What happened next probably blew Jonah's top off (as we shall see later).  People believed the message, believed in God and repented (the putting on of ashes, torn clothing symbolizes this) of their evil ways. Even the king heard the message and believed and repented of his evil ways. He even proclaimed a day of fasting and calling out to God that perhaps would move Him to not destroy them.  God hears them. God chances his mind (repents). He saves them. Not often do we have a whole city turning to God but it happened here.

It strikes me how God uses imperfect people.  He used Jonah even with his disobedience and bad attitude (bad personality).  He can use me. He can use you. He gives us his mercy every day to start anew. Today!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Disagreeing with Jesus

I don’t often disagree with Jesus. This was the case the other day when I was reading Matthew 6:25-34.  I have read this passage many times. I have heard sermons about it many times. I have read commentaries about it.  But recently God has been pointing out some things I have never seen before.  I couldn’t believe that I was disagreeing with Jesus when I came to this passage. 

In this chapter Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray.  He also points out the danger of storing treasures on earth by hoarding material things and the evil of loving money.  Then he tells them,
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (NIV)

So I said to Jesus, “I don’t worry about what I have eat. I have plenty of food. I don’t worry about what I have to drink. I have plenty of water. I have that.  I don’t worry about what I will wear. I have plenty of clothes.”
I felt good. I can trust Jesus on this. But I went on, “I need…this Lord and this! And you didn’t promise that here so I can worry about it, right?”

As I read on I realized he meant more than just the basic necessities. We shouldn’t worry about anything from which our subsistence depends. He says,
“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (NIV)

“Yes, Jesus I know you know them but you are taking too long to answer them.”

And he says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)

“Ok, Lord so I should just look for those things that honor you, seek the spiritual things? And then you will give me those things as well. That’s easy for you to say because you are not in my shoes. We live in different times. You didn't need much then. It's a complex world.”

“So what you are saying is that I should just not worry period and trust you?”

I knew the answer!

Thoughts on the book of Jonah - Chapter 2

Continuing the thoughts on the life of Jonah.  At the end of chapter 1, God “appoints” a fish to swallow Jonah as he is thrown in the ocean.  The purpose was not to kill Jonah but to protect him.  As Tchivdjian in the book  Surprised by Grace states “The fish’s belly was not Jonah’s prison or death chamber, but only a temporary hospital for his soul and protection for his body from the ocean depths. It’s good for Jonah to be here. God ensures that his unworthy servant is made fully aware of this undeserved deliverance.”

Jonah spends three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. In Jewish custom three days and three days do not necessarily mean three full days.  This event is quoted by Jesus and it foreshadows his death and resurrection (Matthew 12:40).  God in his Sovereignty not only appoints a fish to protect Jonah but also to teach us something that was yet to come.  He wants to teach us about Jesus. Jesus would come. He would die and be buried for three days and three nights but on the third day, he would rise.  Jonah was a shadow of what was to come.

What is Jonah's  response? Jonah prayed! I try to picture what it was like to be inside the fish.  Dark. Smelly. The movement of the internal parts of the fish must have been scary. The slime all over his body. What else to do? Pray. What is our reaction when something bad is happening in our lives? When we fear death? When we go through difficult circumstances? Jonah prayed! We can pray!
What is he thinking? He is thinking he is going to die.  He is in the place of the dead (Sheol).  But God has heard him (he mentions this twice). He believes that God will save him (or perhaps has already saved him from the ocean).  He understands that what is happening is God’s doing (“you cast me into the deep”). The words “your” repeat over and over in this prayer.  He is grateful to God. He believes that salvation is of God. When we pray do we believe God will answer us? Are we grateful to God? Do we believe that only God can save us?

God speaks to the fish and it vomits Jonah out. This amazes me. God speaks to a fish. God is an incredible God. The act of vomiting also shows God’s displeasure towards Jonah. But he has shown grace by saving him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thoughts on the book of Jonah Ch. 1

I have been reading a book called Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. I came across it reading a review. It has led me to read, think and dialogue within me (and even with God) the book of Jonah. I will not be reviewing the author’s book, there are many out there. But I will present some of my thoughts and some point of views contrary to what I am reading in the book Surprised by Grace.
It is interesting that Jonah means dove. A dove according to the ESV is a symbol for “Israel as silly and senseless.” Much like Jonah. Son of Amittai means “son of my faithfulness.” It is as if God was already telling Johan how He saw him.

The book opens very briskly. God speaks to Jonah to go to Niniveh and tell them about their evil. Niniveh was the capital Assyria and was North of what is now Baghdad. We know that God is a compassionate God but we also know He is just. Why Jonah refuses to go and immediately decides to run away from God’s presence is something we are not told. I find the tenor of these verses comical. I can picture this in my mind. God says go to Niniveh and Jonah goes the opposite way to Tarshish. He runs as fast as he can and gets on a ship. Comical because who is he fooling? He knows he can’t run away from God. It is very childlike, or maybe he is just acting like a dove, silly and senseless. What does God do? He could have taken care of him. He could have punished him; instead he will teach him a few lessons and make him see his foolishness. Very much the way God deals with us when we act silly and senseless. We think we can run away from Him, that we can hide from Him.

Jonah gets in the ship. But God raises a great wind (God is sovereign, Lord of heaven and earth) that causes the ship to almost break up. The mariners are not believers in Yahweh (God) but at this point they all start praying for their lives. In their desperation they turn to chance and superstition. They roll the dice to figure out whose fault it is what they are facing. And you guess it. It falls on Jonah. While they do this Jonah is sleeping like a baby. They wake him up and begin to question. Jonah admits he is a prophet of God who is running away from Him. He realizes it is his fault. I believe Jonah is a believer in Yahweh. He is not a pagan. He has been a successful prophet (2 Kings 14:23-28). But he has rebelled against God. He doesn’t agree with what God wants to do. I think he knew that if he spoke the Word of the Lord in Niniveh, people would turn to Him. He was full of prejudice. He should have understood God’s grace. But we are like him as well. We think we know better than God. We think we know who deserves to be a Christian and who doesn’t.
They ask Jonah what they ought to do. He tells them to cast him in the ocean. I don’t know what he is thinking. But I think he wants to die. The men don’t do that immediately. They try to get away from the tempest without resorting to throwing this man in the ocean. Then they pray to Yahweh. It is my belief that these men have become believers of Yahweh at this point. They ask forgiveness for “killing” this man who they will throw into the ocean. They offer sacrifices to God. As soon as they do this, the tempest stops.

It is interesting to me how God uses those who are called his “servants” or followers even when they are foolish. He uses Jonah in his rebellious state to proclaim His name to the sailors. He uses us even when we are rebellious. God also uses those who are not believers to show us mercy and compassion. The sailors cared for Jonah and tried to save him. But Jonah didn’t care about them or about Niniveh.