Second Chances (Jonah 3)

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” –Jonah 3:1-2

Jonah 3 is a glorious reminder of God’s grace and mercy. You may read Jonah 3 here: Bible Gateway.

Although God’s deliverance of Jonah involved a fish vomiting him out (Jonah 2:10), he was given another chance to fulfill His purpose. And though Jonah’s heart remained callous in going to Nineveh, he must have been filled with awe that God would still choose him to be the first missionary to a pagan people.

The Bible contains many second chance stories. Here are a couple of examples of God gracing individuals with His mercy.

Aaron

Aaron—Moses’ brother—may have seemed to spend more time on the sidelines compared to Moses. But God still had a high calling on his life. He not only served as Moses’ mouthpiece before Pharaoh, but also served as a pillar of support. When Moses became weary, Aaron helped hold up his hands in prayer as the Israelites waged war against the Amalekites.

While Moses received God’s instructions on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 28) of Aaron’s garment design and his consecration, things began to sour back at camp. Exodus 32:1-5 tells of the Israelites’ rebellion. Moses must have been shocked, but God knew of their rebellious theatrics all along. However, God still gave Aaron a second chance by allowing him to serve as Israel’s first high priest. He would be mediator between God and His chosen people. (The Great Discipline highlights the consequences of those who chose to remain in rebellion, along with the fate of those who returned to God.)

Sarah

God gave Abraham’s wife, Sarah, a promise: She would become a mother of an entire nation of people through her own son. Although Abraham and Sarah displayed extraordinary faith in God by leaving Ur to go to an unknown place, the news that she would birth a son in her old age—after years of infertility—resulted in laughter. After waiting 10 years, Sarah decided to help God out by offering Abraham her maidservant Hagar. The result? An illegitimate son, Ishmael, was born. Although God would still bless Ishmael, the chosen seed belonged to another. Heartache and stress resulted from their decision to forge ahead of God’s time table. But God still blessed Sarah by enabling her to give birth to the promised son (Gen. 17:17-21).

Hopefully you are on track with God’s plan and not slipping down the slide of rebellion as Jonah did, (or dodge God’s directive(s) like I’ve done before). Although there are consequences for our disobedience, I’m so glad God is a second-chance-giver. Yes, He is the Great Judge, but He is also the Master Mender, Beauty-for-ashes Exchanger, and Hope Healer. Restoration is ours when we return to Him. Do you recall a time when God gave you another chance to fulfill something He asked of you?

How Can I Enhance My Prayer Life? (Jonah 2)

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” –Jonah 2:2

Bible teacher, Priscilla Shirer, observes how we can enhance our prayer lives. Three major prayer themes emerge from Jonah, chapter 2: the pattern of prayer, the passion of prayer, and the posture of prayer. You may read Jonah 2 here: Bible Gateway.

Pattern of Prayer

Jonah must have had an arsenal of Scripture stamped in his memory bank the day he cried to God inside the big fish. If he had a scroll tucked inside his cloak it would have been water stained and ruined. But Jonah managed to thread some strands of Scripture from Psalms, weaving them into a personal prayer tapestry to frame his unique situation. Consider the following pairs of verses that share similar terminology or thoughts:

Jonah 2:2—Psalm 30:3

Jonah 2:3—Psalm 42:7

Jonah 2:5—Psalm 69:1-2

Jonah 2:7—Psalm 18:6

Jonah 2:9—Psalm 66:13-14

Our prayers are most effective when they originate from God’s Word. Like Jonah, have we taken time to allow God to etch His Word on our hearts? If so, then we will also have a framework of verses to piece together for prayer in difficult times.

Passionate Prayer

Jonah wasn’t speaking in a monotone manner when he prayed. Did his cry to God echo inside the fish’s intestinal walls? I wonder. The Hebrew word “cried out” is only used 22 times in the Bible and implies intensity of an act reserved only for the most earnest prayers. While fervent prayer is not a guarantee that God will answer “yes”, it certainly seems to capture His attention, (see Exodus 2:23-25 and 2 Samuel 22:1, 4-7).

Raising our voices, however, is not the goal of prayer. God desires for us to pursue Him with our hearts and minds. He doesn’t want our meaningless repetition of words. Intentional prayer must employ our will, mind, and emotion.

Posture of Prayer

My kids and I have this unspoken understanding. When I pretend to pull a string up from their heads at the dinner table, they know I mean, “Sit up . . . shoulders back . . . stop slumping!”

The posture of prayer is the third major lesson we learn from Jonah. Being in dire straits, one would think Jonah’s prayer would be for deliverance. However, his prayer isn’t for deliverance, but rather a prayer of deliverance. Jonah gives thanks in the midst of his grave condition. Unsure how God will deliver, Jonah determines—God willing—that he will go back to the holy city and participate in the thanksgiving offering. His posture would be “with a voice of thanksgiving.” Jonah intends to not only give in the animal and cereal sacrifices, but also with a verbal sacrifice of praise.

While we are no longer under the Old Covenant with the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament temple, we can still offer God a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). 

Finally, Jonah’s deliberate prayer ends with “Deliverance is from the Lord” (NRSV). Shirer writes: “The Hebrew word used for deliverance is a derivative of the name Yesuah . . . . The Christian reader who hears this conclusion to Jonah’s prayer in its original language cannot miss this word that sounds so much like the Hebrew name of Jesus which has meant deliverance and salvation for the peoples of the world.”

What a beautiful reminder: Salvation and deliverance come from the One true Lord and Savior, Yesuah.

If you have been following Pastor Cliff Purcell’s podcasts on “The Lord’s Prayer”, here is another great message about praying (and wrestling) for God’s will: A Family Conversation – Week 5 (Feb. 11, 2018).

Jonah and the Slippery Slope of Sin

So they said to him, ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?’—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.” – Jonah 1:11

Jonah was the only prophet recorded in Scripture who ran away from God. Priscilla Shirer (Jonah, Navigating a Life Interrupted), writes: “When he first started running, Jonah in essence stepped down from his prophetic office and went down to Joppa—geographically down-hill. He found a ship and went down to it. His descent didn’t stop there. Once on board he went down into the hold to get some sleep (1:5).”

After getting stuck in a web of consequences—including being thrown overboard, swallowed by a big fish and tangled in slimy seaweed—Jonah learns it would have been much easier just to obey in the first place.

So how does a successful prophet/person spiral downward so quickly? The same way any of us spiral down the slippery slope of disobedience. It begins with a justified thought: I’ve worked hard all week, what’s a little flirting? . . .  Maybe I didn’t tell the whole story, what they don’t know can’t hurt . . . . If my boss knew that I barely make ends-meet he wouldn’t care that I pocket a donation now and then.

The justified thought followed by a justified action initiates the descent. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out sins’ negative ripples affect not only the one being disobedient, but also affects surrounding lives.

After Jonah finally told the sailors he was running from God, the sailors reeled not only from the storm, but also reeled for life saving answers. Shirer writes: “We easily become paralyzed by fear or guilt when our lives seem to whirl out of control. A glimpse at our lives with all of their spinning parts can make us dizzy with disgust at the mess we may have made. It’s easier to just sit, soak, and be sour. That’s what the enemy would like. He’d prefer we get lazy, complacent, and apathetic with distance between ourselves and God’s best. But if, like the sailors, we see the connection between our chaotic circumstances and our own decisions, we must ask, ‘Now what?’”

So what should we do when we find ourselves in the belly of our consequences? In last week’s post, Jonah’s Unhallowing of God’s Name, Jonah had finally answered the sailors’ questions about his identity. His answers, along with his actions, parallel important New Testament teachings for reconciliation with God.

Steps Toward Reconciliation with God

Acknowledge our sin (Jonah 1:12) – “I acknowledge my sin to You … I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin,” (Psalm 32:5).

Accept God’s discipline (Jonah 1:15) – “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes . . . .  I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me,” (Psalm 119:71, 75). God doesn’t discipline for sport. Rather, He wants to prepare us for His purposes by reviving and realigning us.

Ask for forgiveness (Jonah 2:2) – Repentance has two parts: 1) Confession means to agree with God about any rebellion or sin we harbor and ask Him to cleanse us; 2) Change means to change our attitude, mind, and actions . . . turn away from the sin and turn toward God. Although Jonah’s heart still didn’t align with God’s heart, his actions finally complied with God. Sometimes we just need to step out in faith and allow God to help us align our hearts and feelings in time. I love that no matter how far we have slipped, or how much time we’ve lost, God is faithful and completely forgives (1 John 1:9). He is the master of taking our messes and shaping it into something beautiful, replacing the old with fresh life in Him.

Act on God’s direction (Jonah 2:9; 3:3) – Many commentators believe Jonah 2:9 is the heart of the book of Jonah since he decides to obey God’s directives. After being spit out on dry land, Jonah realizes that Yahweh has preserved his life through a fish named “grace”. “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” Shirer writes: “True sacrificial obedience would cost Jonah something more than just a one-time decision to go to Nineveh. Likewise, we must be willing to obey the small details along the pathway to obedience to the Lord as well.”

Has God’s divine interruption revealed anything you are holding on to too tightly? Is there a goal, comfort, ambition, or sin He is asking you to release? If so, release it to the One who loves you and knows you best. Then go where He is leading.

While Jonah 1 records everyone praying except for Jonah, chapter 2 records a beautiful prayer of Jonah crying out to God. The bulk of his prayer highlights the depths he sunk both spiritually and physically.

For more on prayer, specifically unwrapping the Lord’s Prayer, you may listen to Pastor Cliff Purcell’s podcast here: A Family Conversation – Week 4 (Feb. 4, 2018). Blessings!

The Magi Visit the Messiah, Matthew 2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” –Matthew 2:1-2

I realize most of us have heard this story many times. But I thought I’d share a short summary of what stands out the most to me at this time. You may read Matthew 2 here: Bible Gateway.

The wise men—after traveling thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews—responded with worship and costly gifts. They gave of their best. Bible students see their gifts as a symbol of Christ’s identity and what He would accomplish:

  • Gold – a gift for a king
  • Incense – a gift for deity
  • Myrrh – a spice for a person who was going to die

The Magi’s approach to simply worship God for who He is stands in stark contrast to many people’s approach today. Our culture tends to breed expectations of God that center around us: our comfort and convenience. How often do we expect God to seek us, explain and prove Himself, and then bless us with gifts?

Joseph received divine guidance to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt so Herod couldn’t kill Jesus. Like Joseph, are we receptive to God’s guidance? Are we preparing our hearts to discern God’s leading by spending daily time in His Word and in prayer?

The following music video is for all my drummer friends (and those of you who just like drums) Merry Christmas!

 

Does Jesus’ Genealogy Matter? (Matthew 1:1-17)

“Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.” – Matthew 1:17

I’m beginning the book of Matthew during my devotional times, which seems appropriate with Christmas around the corner. This Gospel book links the Old and New Testaments by referencing many links to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. While 400 years had passed since the last Old Testament prophecies, faithful Jews were still waiting for the Messiah.

Because a Jewish family line proved whether or not a man or woman was chosen as God’s own, Matthew’s opening presentation of Jesus’ genealogy would have held a fascination for his Jewish readers. The first of many proofs to connect Jesus as the Messiah is evidenced with Jesus Christ being a descendant of both King David and Abraham, as the Old Testament had predicted. But Matthew takes it a step further by writing that God did not send His Son to be an earthly king—as the Jews hoped—but a heavenly king. Unlike King David’s kingdom, Christ’s kingdom would never end (Isaiah 11:1-5).

Forty-six people whose lifetimes span 2,000 years—all ancestors of Jesus—are listed in the first 17 verses of Matthew, chapter one. Here is the record of Jesus’ Genealogy: Matthew 1:1-17.

What I love about this record is the fact that all of Jesus’ ancestors were different in their experience, spirituality, and personality. The Life Application Study Bible notes: “Some were heroes of faith—like Abraham, Isaac, Ruth, and David. Some had shady reputations—like Rahab and Tamar. Many were very ordinary—like Hezron, Ram, Nahshon, and Akim. And others were evil— like Manasseh and Abijah.”

Reflect

God is not limited by human sin and failures. Just as He used a variety of people to bring His Son into the world, He continues to work out His purposes through all kinds of people. How has God used you in the past? How does He want to use you now?