Journey with Jonah – #6

“But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

JonahAngry enough to want to die?

Jonah was not the first servant of God to say “Kill me now!” Samson said it at one point (Judges 16:30); so did Elijah (1 Kings 19:4). Since then, tens of thousands of pastors have probably had similar moments on Mondays!

Jonah hits a low point, and will hit it again (Jonah 4:8) before the story ends. And the reason? God was simply too gracious and too compassionate.

Jonah wanted to watch fire and brimstone rain down from heaven and annihilate the Ninevites. Instead, God turned their hearts toward Himself, and spared them. Jonah cannot bear it. His personal sense of justice felt violated. And so he points his finger at God and says, “I told you so. I told you that if I came and preached that they would turn to You, and You would spare them. That’s why I headed for Tarshish. I’m so angry with You that I’d rather die than live to watch this!” (Jonah 4:2)

Revival breaks out, and Jonah cannot rejoice.

I remember a conversation in a church one time when we discussed how we would “manage” any outbreak of the Spirit during or after a service. “All things should be done with decency and in order.” We weren’t angry, but people felt fearful.

Another time, someone off the streets wandered into a service and said yes to Jesus when an invitation was given, and people felt awkward and uncomfortable and quietly hoped it wouldn’t happen too often.

Historically, revival has always been messy. People’s lives get turned upside down. Strange phenomena take place. Charlatans and spiritual salesmen show up. The real and the fake get mixed up.

Nineveh turned to God, and Jonah turned away from God. After a short stint of running with God, Jonah now ran ahead of God. He wanted to tell God how it should be and exactly what should be done. He had the plan, he knew what should happen, and he wouldn’t be happy unless God followed the script precisely.

This last chapter in the short story of Jonah gets me every time. This is the chapter I have seen replayed too many times. Running ahead of God.

How different it is when we walk in step with the Spirit rather than run ahead of Him. Are we able to embrace the chaos of revival and the plans of God, even when we want otherwise? Are we truly as gracious and compassionate as Christ?

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Journey with Jonah – #5

“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord … and the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast…. When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then He relented concerning the calamity which He declared He would bring upon them.” (Jonah 3:3, 5, 10)

JonahMiracles happen.

In chapter 1, Jonah ran from God and ended up in the belly of a fish. In chapter 2, he runs to God (in prayer) and the fish vomits him onto dry land and Jonah begins his second chance. God is always “the God of the second chance.” Now in chapter 3, Jonah runs with God and travels to the dreaded Nineveh. And a miracle happens.

Against all odds, the cruel, vicious, and feared Assyrians (Nineveh served as their capital city) turned to God. Who could imagine? Certainly not Jonah.

I doubt that he preached very enthusiastically. All we know is that he said, “In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) It’s unlikely he climbed the highest rooftops and belted out the message. Far too dangerous. Yet, God empowered that simple word and drilled it into the hearts of those ancient warriors, and they turned to Him!

When we run with God, the unexpected becomes commonplace. When we obey His leading, declare His Word, and yield to His guidance, violence changes and lives get turned around.

Need a miracle? Can’t see your way forward? Scared to death by what you are facing? Run with God.

God’s Presence changes everything. It saves; it delivers; it transforms. When we respond to His Presence, invoke His Presence, and become Presence-bearers in our marriages, families, and communities, He makes a difference.

Everything gets overturned in the “with God life.” People stop worrying and discover new reserves of peace, joy, and hope. The “with God life” produces more patience and kindness. When we embrace the “with God life” we don’t have to seek His will; we simply prove it (Romans 12:2) because we live in it.

Perhaps the weakness of the Church today lies in the failure of the people of God to practice the Presence of God, and to run with God into culture. We’ve allowed fear to turn our heads and move our feet towards Tarshish. God receives no glory when we board ships and head the opposite direction. Will we serve as prophetic voices to our culture, despite its hostility and antipathy?

Perhaps today, Jonah 3 stands as an invitation to a “with God life” marked by the supernatural. Let’s keep our eyes open.

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Journey with Jonah – #4

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish….” (Jonah 2:1)

JonahPeople have prayed in many strange places, but none stranger than the belly of a great fish. The mind boggles. Yet, once Jonah quit running from God, the sailors tossed him overboard and a great fish (appointed by God) swallowed him. Then he started to look to God. Jonah prayed.

Many people turn to God in times of crisis. But what do they say? How do you pray when words fail you?

Today a dear friend let me know about the passing of his father-in-law this morning. He emailed me these words:

“He was two weeks short of 95. We were with him yesterday afternoon, and in the evening more family joined together to say goodbyes. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer and some psalms and said a blessing over him. My wife was alone with him this morning when he passed. He will be missed, but leaves a legacy of quiet, steady, and unassuming faithfulness. We think of psalm 116. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.”

Kevin has continued a long tradition, all the way back to Jonah and beyond.

As Jonah languished for three days and nights in the dark belly of that over-sized fish, he prayed. He prayed … the Psalms.

In the mere 8 verses which record his prayer, he recites phrases from Psalms 3, 5, 16, 18, 22, 30, 31, 42, 50, 69, 77, 116, 120, 142, and 143. When his own words failed him, he utilized the prayers of Scripture to express his anguish, distress, repentance, faith, and hope.

So many followers of Jesus begin their Bible with the Gospels. Yet, the classroom of prayer sits in the middle of our Bibles, with 150 lessons we call the Psalms.

Benedictine monks read these Psalms — all of them — each month. In doing so, they learn a different language; a language marked by both raw feeling and faith; a language filled with both emotion and reason; a language that gives voice to the deepest cries of the human heart and the highest aspirations of the human spirit.

Jonah prayed the Psalms.

He turned his face again to the Lord, and repeated words which the Lord Himself had inspired. And as he cobbled together the words and phrases from centuries past, his soul drew a single conclusion: “Salvation is from the Lord.” (2:9)

How are your prayers? Shallow? Hollow? Empty? Short?

In sadness and sorrow, in joy and in delight, the Psalms have consistently shaped the souls of God’s people.

As Kevin and his family find solace and hope through this inspired poetry this week, perhaps some of us would benefit from a stint in the classroom, too.

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Journey with Jonah – #3

“Then the sailors became extremely frightened and they said to Jonah, ‘How could you do this?’ For the men knew that Jonah was fleeing from the presence of the Lord….” (Jonah 1:10)

JonahMost of don’t run from the presence of God. If anything, we simply drift away.

We don’t usually jump on ships and head to the utter reaches of the earth. We don’t generally stand in defiance or board planes in the opposite direction. We don’t practice blatant disobedience or open rebellion. It’s much more subtle and much more gradual than that. And therein lies a great danger.

It’s obvious that the Church faces enormous challenges in our day.

In the 1950s, the Church held a place of honor in society. In the 1960s, its institutional structures were challenged and people wanted something more. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Church became embroiled in “the culture wars” as it faced increasing hostility and loss of influence. In the 1990s and 2000s, the the Church lost both its majority and its authority in culture. And now we face political, legal, and social opposition like never before.

But the greatest challenge we face is not measured by external factors (like political lobbying or protests) but by internal factors (the hearts of God’s people not fully aligned with the heart of God).

When we fail to walk in the Presence of Christ and model the Presence of Christ, we have little to sustain us and even less to offer to others. Without the living Lord guiding us, comforting us, encouraging us, and empowering us, we have nothing but self-effort, memories, or traditions to hold onto.

Contrary to what we may hear from the fear-mongerers among us, our greatest threat is not the Ninevites of our day … but our own failure to walk closely with Jesus.

Jonah shocks us, because who in their right mind would attempt to outrun God? Surely none of us. But perhaps we have simply neglected His Presence. Complacency and apathy have crept up behind us, folded us in their arms, whispered for us to remain silent and still, and encouraged us to blend in and be careful.

And we’ve listened. In essence, we’ve boarded the ship with Jonah.

Might there come a day when those around us will cry out against us, “How could you do this?” In the midst of life’s great storms, people intuitively and innately know to reach beyond themselves. And in those moments they will look to us with earnestness and desperation hoping that we are walking closely with God, not drifting aimlessly from Him.

What will they see in us today?


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Journey with Jonah – #2

“The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.” (Jonah 1:4)

JonahThe National Weather Service sometimes miss their weather predictions, but they can always explain what is happening. High and low pressure systems, storm fronts, arctic blasts, inversion layers, and tropical jet streams. Everything has a rational reason behind it.

What the NWS cannot predict or explain is divine intervention.

In the Bible, God sends drought and rain. He hurls storms in judgment and calms storms just as easily. Sometimes He delivers a withering and burning sun. Other times he afflicts people with twisters and destructive winds. He uses weather to catch the attention of people.

Even Jonah’s story is replete with divine orchestration of the weather. As the reluctant (and sleeping) prophet tries to flee from God, the Lord creates a swirling and threatening cauldron around the ship, tossing it like a toy in a bathtub.

When did we last think of God controlling the weather, specifically to teach us something about Himself? In California we’ve been praying for rain for the past three years, but how has the drought drawn us closer to God?

In an age when we can build waterproof homes, pipe water for hundreds of miles to meet our domestic demand, hunker down with plenty of food and warmth if we get snowed in, and turn on air-conditioning if it’s hot outside, weather has become an inconvenience rather than a spiritual tutor.

Are we missing something? Has our Western affluence and convenience blinded us to God at work in and behind the natural world around us? Perhaps so.

In Jonah’s story, it didn’t take the sailors any time at all to each cry out to their own god (1:5). When they finally woke Jonah and confronted him, he did not hesitate. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you.” (1:12)

Perhaps their spiritual sensitivity challenges our insensitivity.

We watch the news for updates on hurricanes, tornadoes, and El Nino, but few of us imagine God stirring it up. Does this speak to a larger issue?

If God no longer wields the weather (in our minds), does He really manage the natural world at all?

The first chapter of Jonah’s story turns out to be less about ancient superstition and more about modern blindness. Let’s pray for eyes to see. Perhaps today we’ll find the world around us — the sunsets and weather systems, the flora and fauna — really is a divine classroom.

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Journey With Jonah – #1

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” (Jonah 1:1-2a)

JonahJonah gets a bad rap. Who can blame him for running?

Most of us would feel anxious if God asked us to head to the most violent, drug-infested, pimp-controlled neighborhoods of our inner-cities, and stand on a street corner taunting the gangbangers and hustlers. That’s not for me, thanks. Yet, Nineveh posed that kind of threat to a Jew in the ancient world.

Maybe we’d head the opposite way, too.

However, two things leap from the opening verses of this story. On the one hand, Jonah knew the Lord well enough to know His voice. On the other hand, Jonah thought he could out-run God. It’s strange.

Perhaps that’s what endears him to me.

I’m drawn repeatedly to Jonah’s story because it mirrors our stories in so many ways. Faith and fear. Prayer and despair. Obedience and selfishness. Wonder and anger.

Fickle Jonah reflects so many of us. And yet, in the ups and downs, the good and the bad, the triumphs and the failures, the plan and the Presence of God winds its way relentlessly in the background. That was true for Jonah. It’s also true for us; all of us.

Feel like running away? Afraid of what Christ might be asking of you? (“Go here, say this, do that.”) Facing enemies who seem ready to smite you at a glance? Look to Jonah.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai. And the word of the Lord continues to come. It comes to specific people with specific names and specific families. And it’s a specific message. It comes to each of us. What do you hear?

The four chapters of this tiny book, nestling between Obadiah and Micah in the Old Testament, reflect what happens when we run from God, run to God, run with God, and run ahead of God. The seasons of our own lives seem to vacillate between these chapters.

For a little while, I invite you back to about 800 B.C. to ponder the life of a hawkish prophet whose name means “dove.” Let’s Journey with Jonah.

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He is Risen

Friends, so many of us have shared this journey of Lent together. THANK YOU!

ResurrectionToday we honor the Son whose obedience took Him to the Cross and through the grave. Today we give glory to the Father for His love, grace, and mercy in sending the Son. Today we praise the Holy Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead that we might be the people of hope.

His resurrection assures us of our own. The Son of God and the children of God will share this powerful experience! And so we might rightly taunt death as Paul did: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is our sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)

He is Risen!

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