Jonah the … Jerk?

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong, but, really, what was Jonah thinking? He preaches to a doomed city, gets probably the best response any evangelist has ever received … and gets mad?

I’m talking about Jonah 4, which is today’s chapter in the Revived By His Word reading plan. If you’re not familiar with this program, you can check it out here. The commentary by Jim Ayer on that blog today focuses on the remarkable fact that God continues to talk to the curmudgeonly, even nasty, Jonah as long as Jonah keeps talking to God. This is a great point, and one that’s key to spiritual growth: Never stop talking to God, no matter how you feel.

But something else impressed me in this chapter—an unusual side-by-side comparison of how a good God and a sinful human respond to exactly the same event. Now, in case you don’t remember, the event they’re reacting to is the total conversion of an entire city (120,000 people). And this is how the two react:

            Jonah                                                                                     God

   Angry (verse 1)                                                 Calm & respectful (verses 4, 6)

   Harsh (v. 2)                                                                            Gentle (vv. 4, 9-11)

   Vengeful  (vv. 2, 9)                                          Relents from doing harm (v. 2)

   Ill-tempered (v. 9)                                                       Abounding in love (v. 2)

  Bitter (vv. 1, 3, 8)                                                       Gracious & merciful (v. 2)

           Resentful (vv. 1-2)                                                                 Forgiving (vv. 2, 11)

           Self-centered focus (v. 2)                                       Other-centered focus (v. 11)

           Accusatory stance (v. 2)                                 Redemptive stance (vv. 4, 10-11)

 

©iStock.com/GeoM

©iStock.com/GeoM

Take a good look at these two profiles and ask yourself which one you’d rather become. We do have a choice here, because we’re changed by what we behold, and especially by what we admire and worship.

It’s easy to become Jonah the Jerk. You don’t have to look very far to see that this is the default program in our world. People often become harsher, pickier, less understanding, and generally harder to get along with as they get older. If you don’t believe it, try volunteering in a nursing home for a week.

But becoming like God is more difficult and we really have very few role models. That’s why it’s so important that we spend quality time with God every single day—at least.

“Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” 2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV.

How stubborn are you?

©iStock.com/ djedzura

©iStock.com/ djedzura

Anyone who’s ever been around a toddler knows the meaning of the word “stubborn.” To a two-year-old, “No!” means “Try again later when mom’s not looking.”

Although we don’t generally consider stubbornness to be a desirable quality, I have to wonder if it wasn’t one reason for Elijah’s effectiveness. He just kept on praying for as long as it took to get an answer. When the son of the Sidonian widow died, Elijah didn’t pray once, dust off his hands, and say, “Well, I guess it’s not God’s will that he should be resurrected.” Instead, he prayed again. And again. Three times he stretched out over the boy and prayed (1 Kings 17:21).

But three times is nothing compared to the incident on Mount Carmel. God had already told Elijah that He was going to bring rain (1 Kings 18:1). Given the directness of His message, it would be entirely understandable if Elijah had prayed for rain once and headed for home to await God’s timing. After all, faith grasps His promises with confidence, right?

Elijah wasn’t satisfied with a passive approach. Instead he prayed, sent his servant to check for signs of rain, and then prayed again—seven times!

Why did he keep praying? Didn’t he trust God to deliver on His promise?

I consulted some Bible commentaries to see what the experts say about this. All pointed to a human need for prayer and a metaphorical understanding of this event. It wasn’t that God needed to be convinced to come through on His promise. Rather, the people who had just witnessed that amazing miracle on Carmel needed Elijah’s intercession on their behalf.

Remember, these people had been following false gods for some time. Although their idolatry was most marked during Ahab and Jezebel’s reign, they had been moving away from God since the time of Jeroboam. They needed much more than one Wow moment. They needed true revival and reformation—a change of heart. So Elijah continued to plead for his countrymen as the Spirit worked on those hardened hearts. The physical rain came only when the hard ground of their hearts had been readied to receive the spiritual rain.

We face a similar crisis today, and we can’t afford to get apathetic about it. Satan is working harder than ever before to distract us from eternal issues—and he succeeds in waylaying many people. As a world, we’ve been drifting farther and farther from the Father. This is no time for us to shrug our shoulders and adopt and wait-and-see attitude. Like Elijah, we must pray persistently—stubbornly—for revival and reformation. And we must continue to pray—whether it takes a month or a decade.

“You too must be patient and stout-hearted, for the coming of the Lord is near”  James 5:8.

Pastors Are People Too

©iStock.com/Kovalvs

©iStock.com/Kovalvs

Who has the power to shake you to your core?

When I was young, I noticed that my mom always shooed us kids outside when one particular woman from the church came visiting. Naturally, this made me curious. What did they talk about—some fascinating adult topic that kids weren’t supposed to hear?

So one day I sneaked close to the screen door, staying out of sight but within earshot. The woman was seated at the dining table with my mom, a cup of coffee in front of her. And she was absolutely excoriating one of the church elders, reporting on some ghastly sin he had supposedly committed.

My mother hates gossip and repeatedly tried to cut the lady off, but she wasn’t having much luck. When the woman finally took a breath, my mom tried to steer the conversation in another direction. The woman exclaimed rather indignantly, “Margie! Didn’t you hear? Doesn’t this just make you wonder? Doesn’t it shake your faith in him … in the church … even in God?”

Now you should know that my mom was actually quite a new Christian at this time. What’s more, the woman challenging her was one of the so-called pillars of the church. Nevertheless, my mom replied at once, “Oh, no—not at all! My faith isn’t based on what Elder — does. It’s based on Jesus and what He’s done.”

I’ve never forgotten that simple statement. Church pillars, celebrities, even pastors are just people. They make mistakes. They may be hypocritical. Some may even be full-time hypocrites. And in this age of cameras everywhere, social media, and TMZ, mistakes are less likely than ever to be successfully covered up.

So if we look to these people as models of behavior, we will be disappointed. If we look to them to ground our faith, we may even shaken. But if Christ is our model—if we are grounded in him—the mistakes of others can’t shake our faith.

“There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself” 1 Corinthians 3:11, REB.

The Final Judgment — Good News?

©iStock.com/alphaspirit

©iStock.com/alphaspirit

What images pop into your head when you hear the term “Judgment Day”? Standing all alone before a great white throne, your knees knocking together? A wrathful God holding you over hell’s hungry flames? A gigantic balance that weighs your good deeds against your not-so-good deeds?

Many of our ideas about the final judgment are still rooted in the odd mixture of superstition, Roman mythology, and partial scriptural references that come to us from the (aptly named) Dark Ages. But how do these notions compare to Scripture?

Never without an IntercessorMorris L. Venden discusses the Final Judgment  in Never Without an Intercessor: The Good News About the Judgment (Pacific Press, 1996). I recently ran across this 159-page book in a used bookstore. I found it engaging, strongly based in Scripture, and surprisingly easy reading for such a heavy topic. And, as the title suggests, the conclusion is good news. More

Update – Keeping the Faith

DSCN0543I received word back from Pacific Press regarding publication of the second book in the Race trilogy, Keeping the Faith. Seems it cleared their editorial staff but not their sales staff. Translation: No. (A nice no, as nos go, but still a no.)

So I’ll be doing some prayerful research and regrouping — I’m just not sure where to take this book from here. I’ve known for some time that I need to get more savvy about book sales and marketing, because I’m truly terrible at sales. As a kid, I was always the sap that ended up buying everyone else’s candy bars rather than selling my own. It’s generally seemed wiser (and less expensive) for me to stay away from that particular field since then. But since this book has twice been tripped up at the marketing level (rather than from a deficiency in the writing), I’m guessing that’s where I need to look for a solution. I just hope I don’t buy too many candy bars along the way!

 

Handling Hostility

©iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

©iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

I’ve never understood politicians. Why would anybody want a job where, no matter what you do, somebody’s sure to complain and call you names? Talk about a hostile work environment!

Apparently running a country was just as tough in David’s time, and it sometimes got him down: “The enemy has pursued me, crushing me to the ground, making me live in darkness like those long dead” (Psalm 143:3, HCSB).

In David’s case, there was probably some literal pursuing, crushing, and darkness involved. Still, we’ve probably all shouldered similar burdens—unjust loads placed on us by other people’s anger, jealousy, or misunderstanding.

Maybe we can learn something from how David handled the problem. He left some clues about his method in the rest of Psalm 143: More

Knowing God’s Will

 

©iStock.com/dcdp

©iStock.com/ dcdp

Knowing God’s will is key to living a life that is both blessed and a blessing. But how do we know what His will is? Unlike the characters of The Race, we don’t have electronic devices that make His voice audible to us, so His leading isn’t always as easy to perceive as we’d like.

In “Determining the Will of God,” Pastor Doug Batchelor presents the most complete discussion of this topic that I’ve found to date. In less than an hour, he examines both trustworthy and questionable methods of learning God’s will, as well as some general principles to be aware of. I’ll summarize the trustworthy methods, but you can watch or listen to this talk for yourself here: More

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