Breaking my Stubborn Resistance: “I Have Every Right!” – Jonah 3 and 4

arrest-attorneyYou haven’t been watching television for the last three decades if you haven’t heard an officer read a man his “Miranda rights.” These “Miranda rights” were enshrined into U.S. law in 1966 after the courts found the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of Ernesto Arturo Miranda had been violated during his arrest and subsequent trial for domestic violence. Ironically, Miranda was later retried and convicted, but not until his name became a household word on nighttime TV. In fact, American English eventually even formed the verb “Mirandize”, that means to “read the Miranda warning to” a suspect (at the time of arrest). Though these rights do not have to be read in any particular order, New York City police order has become the favorite of nighttime television. Most can recite them out loud:

• You have the right to remain silent.
• Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
• You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
• If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
• Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

It is clear by now that as part of being an American, one understands they were born with RIGHTS. In fact, in my lifetime, I think it is a fair observation that rights have been far more emphasized than responsibilities. We know our rights – but many seem hold significantly less regard for their responsibilities. I wonder what would happen if we recited over and over the following, night after night, on show after show:

• I have the responsibility to respect the life, the property and human dignity of those around me.
• I have the responsibility to live up to my covenants and agreements, to do what I promise.
• I have the responsibility to work hard, pay my fair share of the common expense, and not seek to avoid this responsibility or hide my true worth.
• I have the responsibility to pay for what I take, and not to take what I cannot afford.
• I have the responsibility to testify to the truth, without the need to hide my true intent behind steeped and cryptic legal jargon.

What kind of America would we live in if we saw our responsibility in society was touted to be as exceedingly important as our rights? Do you believe our marriages would be more secured, or our mortgages be more properly satisfied? How would this affect our material prosperity? Would we be comfortable running up massive deficits for our children or systematically eliminating the unplanned unborn due to personal inconvenience? Would the number of people that feel they both need and are entitled to greater and greater assistance be increasing, or decreasing? I suspect we all know the answer.

I would love to tell you that believers are not steeped in their own rights. I would love to be able to share that as a result of their rich and real study in the Word of God – they have decided to emphasize responsibility, and not get caught up in the focus on the “rights” they perceive themselves to have. I would love to – but it would not be true. We are well studied in our culture – perhaps too well studied.

God gave us the privilege and responsibility to see the lost world around us through His eyes, and do all that we can to share His love and message of forgiveness to them. Yet, in truth, the focus on personal rights has hindered us. Our sense of JUSTICE has made a lot of us angry – and we think we have the right to be. Our country is being snatched away from us by men and women who have a different vision than one compatible with the Bible or the Bible believer. Increasingly, believers are being framed as intolerant, resistant, and recalcitrant. We who helped set men free in pulpits, pamphlets, and protests – are increasingly seen as the obstacles of freedom. The vision of some can only see us through tainted filters, and we feel justified in our anger at their distortions and constant attacks. In virtually every public forum, believers are being beaten back and blamed for the ills of society, and it makes us mad. The problem is, we don’t have the right to be angry and withhold love – no matter how many people come together to rationalize it. We are commanded to love, and we are obliged to share a message from God – whether it is well received or not.

Key Principle: When our rights are more important to us than sharing God’s message of mercy, self-righteousness and anger replaces love and grace. God’s people lose their effectiveness, and eventually their testimony.

We are in danger of becoming too rights laden – too self-important to do what God told us to do. What’s worse – is that the problem is not at all new. Believers have had the attitude that they had RIGHTS that were more important than RESPONSIBILITIES for thousands of years – long before American Christianity was even on the scene. Let me show you in a story set perhaps as far back as eight centuries before Messiah – found in the story of an angry prophet named Jonah. His anger, his sense of justice, and his focus on his right to make the call that another face judgment are all strands that tie his story together…

Jonah 3:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. 4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. 6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. 7 He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8 “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. 9 “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. 4:1 But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” 4 The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. 6 So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” 9 Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

“God said “GO!” Jonah said “NO!” He ran, and after a dramatic detour, he finally obeyed. Nineveh heard the message of God and repented. Why did Jonah run? We don’t find out until after they repented – it was hatred. Jonah’s deeply bitter spirit wanted Nineveh’s crimes to pull God’s wrath violently down on them. He admitted to God that he had a deep sense of dread over the prospect of Nineveh’s repentance and God’s predictable forgiveness. His Tarshish run wasn’t laziness – it was a sour spirit dressed in the toga and sandals of a man of God. The Lord’s question to Jonah was this: “Do you have a good reason to be angry at My forgiveness?”

Don’t lose track of the purpose of the narrative while reading the details of the story. The story wasn’t written to emphasize the details of God’s message, nor of Nineveh’s response. It wasn’t supposed to become a travelogue of Nineveh’s size and enduring tourist sites, nor a theological primer of God’s decision making processes – those details are only shadows around the real message. This story was about a prejudiced prophet and his bitter reaction to God’s message of grace. The clear intent of the events of the end of the story were for the purpose of God to instruct a man who he didn’t want God to deliver people that he hated. His prejudice was more sacred to him than his responsibility to be a man of God. He ran BECAUSE he thought it was his right to see bad people perish. Their sin gave him a GOOD REASON to skip obedience to share a message of rescue. He preferred them punished.

The truth is this: no one reaches an enemy for Christ – only a friend. As long as I can get away with demonizing and denigrating others while shining a light on sin’s disgusting symptoms– I can justify my inner anger and even withhold obedience to preach my God-given message to them. Jonah did just that. They were cruel, barbaric, and undeserving people. Their language was strange, and their dress was foreign. Their wicked ways were repulsive. God SHOULDN’T love them! How could He? In such an attitude, the messenger became the obstacle to the message.

Let me say it lovingly, but with clarity: If I spend my energy trolling the web for gross evidence of the sins of lost men, regardless of their abnormal behavior or religious label, I will find myself withdrawing from my mission to reach them. If I feed my inner repulsion of the other man’s ways so that anger within ferments into hatred, I shut down my heart and mouth as useful instruments in my Father’s hand. My flesh feeds on anger. In it, I toss away opportunity to allow love and grace to flow through my person – an essential corridor to bring a lost man to God.

Brothers, we hate too deeply and too easily.

I have discovered in my short journey of life, I may find far too many who help feed my anger, my prejudice, and my hatred – because they too are afraid. They are fearful of people who so aptly picture the blindness of the fallen world. They point fingers in panic at such men, who act so thoroughly enslaved to a broken system, their actions stab at my God and my belief system. My angry friend beckons to me: “They offend our way of life and show contempt for things we consider most sacred.” – and my friend is right. They are often even casual with hatred of me – and I am tempted to answer in kind. The problem is that I cannot be obedient to my Master if I will not love them, and I cannot love them if I withhold His message of rescue. Hatred blocks love, and anger denies release. It is not a sin to be resist evil ideas, but it is a sin to hate men – even evil men. There is a place for that battle that is fought in Heavenly places – it is on my knees. Placards cannot do what prayer will. Anger cannot prove irresistible like love will. Why can’t I see it? It is a sin to hate the people I am called to reach. Their rescue should be my goal, not their destruction. To do that, I must face my “good reasons” for being angry.

The story of Jonah in chapters three and four has a GLARING CONTRAST of two kinds of people. Chapter three pictures a city and its people WOUNDED over their sinfulness, seeking God for rescue. Chapter four depicts a hardened prophet – God’s messenger – overtaken in BITTERNESS and ANGER that God would show mercy to the sin-sick and decadent Ninevite. Let’s take a closer look…

The Desperate Hearers (Jonah 3)

The Proclamation of Judgment (1-4)

God gave the assignment. It included the completion of his journey to face the Assyrian people at Nineveh (3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city.. .3 So Jonah arose and went...).”

God provided the message. The judgment message was God’s Word – Jonah was only to GIVE the message God told Him to give (3:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time…2…proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.)

God included the SCOPE of the task. This was a LARGE city, and Jonah would need to courageously offer a damning message in the face of an enormous threat. (3:3 …Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.)

God had been at work. The people seemed tender and prepared for the message. Jonah wasn’t even part way into the city, and people listened intently. (Jonah 3:4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”)

Ancient Nineveh’s towering gate can still be seen near the banks of the Tigris river opposite the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. In ancient times, it a city of more than 100,000 people – extraordinary for the time. The ruins have been the subject of numerous excavations since the mid-19th century. Beginning with some basic attempts by French Consul General at Mosul, Paul-Émile Botta in 1842, and more aggressive excavations by a famous British archaeologist named Austen Henry Layard – with many others thereafter. The site has been a treasure trove of history. A string of important palatial structures have been found, including the lost palace of Sennacherib with its 71 rooms and enormous bas-reliefs, the palace and library of Ashurbanipal, which included 22,000 cuneiform tablets. Fragments of prisms were discovered, recording the annals of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal, including one almost complete prism of Esarhaddon. Massive gates and mudbrick ramparts and walls were unearthed. The walls encompassed an area within a 12-kilometer circumference. Many unburied skeletons were found, evidencing violent deaths and attesting to the final battle and siege of Nineveh that destroyed the city and soon brought an end to the Assyrian Empire. (adapted from Popular Archaeology, June 2011).

For a city of this size and power, with a reputation for brutality and lascivious lifestyle to simply repent – God was already at work. Often He is. He calls a believer into a situation because He is opening the opportunity to both the person to be reached AND the person through whom He will be reaching the lost one.

The Pattern of Repentance: (5,6)

The people accepted the Word of God as true – He existed and He would act. (3: 5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God…).

The people took responsibility – agreeing with God (believe) about sin. (Jonah 3: 5b “…and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Three actions showed the work of God in them:

• They changed habits (proclaim fast).
• They changed appearance (sackcloth).
• They eliminating distinctions (greatest).

Their leaders REPEATED THIS PATTERN! (Jonah 3:6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.)

Don’t pass this by without a closer look. Repentance is part of coming to God, and being embraced by Him. The arrogant and self-sufficient cannot come to God and receive His pardon or His peace – for they have not truly grasped God’s person and have not seize a sense of the violation of God’s holiness. Only when the people BELIEVED, did they CHANGE. The changes were profound – affecting their LIFE PATTERNS.

Don’t forget there are some rules to the whole idea of repentance. In the moments we have on this subject, let me use the words of others that say it better than I could:

• First, time to repent of sin is limited. “If we put off repentance another day, we have a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in.” – source unknown.

• Second, repentance is an act of inner surrender, not merely “turning over a new leaf” of behavior: “According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act, and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it. Confession of sin and reparation of wrongs are fruits of repentance.” (L. Berkhoff, Systematic Theology, p. 487).

• Third, repentance is a requirement of salvation and rescue: “In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church’s integrity problem is in the misconception “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.” He goes on to say, “It is revival without reformation, without repentance.” (Quoted by C. Swindoll, John The Baptizer, Bible Study Guide, p. 16)

• Fourth, though it happens as surrender within, it can be easily seen without:The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ is as applicable to the right method of judging ourselves as of judging others. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.” -M. Cocoris, Evangelism, A Biblical Approach, Moody, 1984, p. 65.

• Fifth, repentance is not sought as an option among others – it is only truly understood when we see it as our only real option: “Wabush, a town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada, was completely isolated for some time. But recently a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and thus, only on one road leading out. If someone would travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only way he or she could leave—by turning around. Each of us, by birth, arrives in a town called Sin. As in Wabush, there is only one way out–a road built by God himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.” – Brian Weatherdon.

• Sixth, one who repents has the open hand of God as his resource: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.” – Andrew Murray.

The Proclamation to Repent: (7-9)

3:7 He issued a proclamation and it said…

Fast: “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. Change what you are focused on – what you are gathering together for. Meals should be stopped, and mourning should replace them. Be SICK over what we have been. Cast your appetites aside and fall before God.

Mourn: 8 “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth.” Everyone and everything must be made to recognize our dependence upon God above. We are in His hands, and we must mourn our ignorance and hard-hearted forgetfulness of that truth!

Pray: “…and let men call on God earnestly.

Change: “…that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.

Humble: 3:9 “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”

To a nation that worked for itself, and ignored God’s Words and warnings – the message was not some smooth talking “Divine psychotherapy” to help people feel better about themselves – it was repentance.

The message from above was not about how to continue in rebellion but attempt to gain the fruits of blessing – it was about humble surrender. To a people who sought the material over the real, the “quick fix” over Divine exaltation, the “now” over the future – God’s message was simple: “Stop!”

Why? Because God’s message is directed at the real need, not the temporary symptoms. The real need is a change of heart brought on by humble surrender. It is a change of focus from “me” to what God has said. Self-absorbed people aren’t set for a great future. They will violate God’s standards on their way to inflicting great harm to each other – only to end alone and broken. Each man dies alone, and faces God alone. A turnaround is the only real hope – facing both my sin and God’s provision. Yet, in an effort to avoid that turn, men will devise more and more elaborate legislation and administration to help them stem off the results of poor choices, while continuing to walk further from the truth. We are broken, and we need healing. Only God can do that.

The Point of Repentance (3:10)

Repentance implied a change in “works” and repentance demanded a turning from “evil” – but repentance also included a change in penalty. 3:10 “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.”

God relented on the impending doom. The chain of cause and effect was broken by GRACE – God’s unmerited favor. Their humility didn’t cancel out all the damage they caused, but God saw hearts and God pulled back the judgment that threatened them. That was the VERY REASON Jonah got depressed.

The Depressed Prophet (Jonah 4)

The text says that Jonah was DISPLEASED with God’s actions, and ANGRY in 4:1. He offered God a bitter “I told you so!” (4:2). Jonah knew God’s character so well that he could recite Exodus 34 and tell God what He would do if people humbled themselves. God is NOT NEARLY AS UNPREDICTABLE as people who do not walk with Him think He is. God’s character is unchanging, and His Word lacks little clarity when it comes to His love and His standards.

In the face of forgiven Ninevites, Jonah just asked to DIE. A deep depression settled on his soul. That depression started like it usually does – it began when he felt mistreated by someone. (4:1). It was really an issue against the control of God- Jonah didn’t like the way God was working His plan for people. (4:2). His pain led him to the wrong conclusion – the impulse to RUN! Here is the problem: You CANNOT RUN from God (4:3). Even in death, God is still there. Even if you don’t like Him, you will still have to face Him. If you resist Him – He will not budge. In a depressed state of mind, Jonah failed to really hear God’s questions to him (4:4), and failed to see the provisions God had given him. (4:5). It is not in our nature to see God’s hand while we are licking our wounds and feeling abused by God.

When Jonah couldn’t get God to respond to his request, he sulked. He sat on a hill and got pre-occupied with HIMSELF. A depressed person spends much of their time occupied with personal comfort and satisfaction. (4:6-8). God sent the plant to comfort, then the worm to inflict. It is not in comfort that God’s Word is best heard – but in desperation. Self-sufficiency kills dependence. Need sharpens the ear to God’s call. From God’s voice, Jonah got the hard challenge:

4:9 “…Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?

God has a message for the stubborn, depressed and angry believer: I will keep teaching you (4:9). I will keep softening you because I need you to see the world the way I see them (4:10-11).

Why do you suppose God gave us one of the sixty-six books in the library of His love to depict a believer who was embittered, rights-bound, and justice dependent – a man with standards that gave him self-justification to withhold love to others and obedience to God above? Could it be that God knew the peril to the cross that would come in the hands of believers like US today?

We watch our TV and we become angry that God won’t smite the ungodly and bring peace and prosperity to our land anew. We hunger for the destruction of those we are called to LOVE. Something is wrong!

We forget that God never promised us that the world would HELP US bring the Gospel to the world. He never said that a believer should anticipate a government that will speed him on his way. It is time for the church to understand that we cannot sustain cultural Christianity any longer – we need real surrender to Christ. We need real love for God and real compassion for lost men and women – no matter how they act, what they wear, or where they live.

I want to finish with a simple statement by a former police officer, now a preacher:

When I was a police officer, I responded to several traffic accidents, some of them with very severe injuries. At the scene of these accidents there are three groups of people, each with a different response toward those involved in the accident. The first group is the bystanders and onlookers. They are curious and watch to see what happens but have little active involvement. The second group is the police officers, of whom I was one. My response was to investigate the cause of the accident, assign blame, and give out appropriate warnings and punishments. The third group is the paramedics. They are the people usually most welcomed by those involved in the accident. They could care less whose fault the accident was and they did not engage in lecturing about bad driving habits. Their response was to help those who were hurt. They bandaged wounds, freed trapped people, and gave words of encouragement. Three groups – one is uninvolved, one is assigning blame and assessing punishment, and one is helping the hurting. Which group are you in?” (Pastor Larry Sarver, taken from sermon central illustrations).

When our rights are more important to us than sharing God’s message of mercy, self-righteousness and anger replaces love and grace.

Breaking my Stubborn Resistance: “House of Mirrors” – Jonah 2

distorted,jpgHave you ever been inside the carnival “house of mirrors”? The idea of a “house of mirrors” or “hall of mirrors” appears to have originated as an extension of the visit of then Governor Peter Stuyvesant to the Palace of Versailles north of Paris in France in the mid-seventeenth century. Peter went to discuss colonial land agreements and was amazed at the Baroque architecture in general, and in particular the so called “hall of mirrors” in the palace. He determined to bring this amazement to the newly founded colonial city of New Amsterdam, which he later built and charged one Dutch gulden for admission. In time, the oddity became a part of carnivals and amusement parks. The basic idea was to build a small maze of mirrors including some that were bent and distorted with convex or concave curves that would give the visitors odd and confusing reflections of themselves. It was an exercise in deception and obstacle.

I mention this because there have been times in my life that have been filled with confusion and obscured views of reality. Things looked to me like I was gazing into mirrors of a fun house – but it was NOT fun. You see, in those times I was not right in my heart, and I was running from God’s conviction. When I snatch away my soul from God’s uses in my arrogance and selfishness, I am forgetting God and running from His care. In those days, I am unable to see clearly for a time, things in my life as they truly are. I see life through dark glass, and I see myself in the bend of a convex or concave fun house mirror. I am deceived and darkened inside. What holds me back from swift repentance is the deception of the distorted images. Some aid for the lies come from the enemy who feeds into me more trickery – making complex the return to the arms of my Creator. He finds in my fallen flesh an ally, abhorring the discomfort of guilt and being trained to instinctively avoid any humbling. In my broken and fallen state the simplicity of the process of return to God is obscured.

The problem isn’t new to me- and it isn’t unique to you, either. Long ago, the prophet Jonah found himself in the bottom of the ocean, in the belly of a fish – with a seaweed headband. He learned it didn’t matter what he had done – he could repent. It didn’t matter where he was at the time – God would hear. It didn’t matter how he felt – his distress could be resolved. It didn’t matter how much time he felt he had left – the proximity of the grave need not slow his restoration. It did not matter how far from God he felt – the deepest sea was but a minute distance from the hand of an ever present Creator. In the end, he held a life changing prayer meeting on his knees in a fish – because he saw through the distortions he had followed. He recognized the singular truth of it all:

The only wall separating me from God in sin is the one that I built. Humbly, all I need to do is take it down…

Key Principle: The way back to God is not a long one or complex one – but I must understand and respond as God requires.

When I resist repentance, I allow false walls to keeping me from repentance:

Most of what holds people back from repentance is really well camouflaged deception –distorted ideas about God and tangled images of what He truly desires. The enemy feeds us trickery – making complex the return to the arms of our Creator. Our fallen flesh, abhorring discomfort of guilt and being trained to avoid any humbling, obscures the simplicity of the process of return to God. We make things harder than they are because a mirage makes repentance look tougher than it truly is. Let’s see what God’s Word says to clarify the simplicity, and blow away the fog:

First, it doesn’t matter what you have done, you can turn back to God.

Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed…

Jonah knew God, and Jonah HAD times in his life sometime of real obedience. People may have KNOWN he was a prophet – that isn’t clear. What IS clear is that he knew the voice of God, he knew the call of God, and He knew the purpose of God for his life – and he didn’t want any part of it. He ran from God – as if that were even possible. The truth is that is what makes his character to so common – so believable. He didn’t just hear from God and march lock step into his future. Those kinds of stories only work in the surreal Sunday School environment. Here is the real “kicker” to the story: Even when it was apparent that God wanted him to turn around, in the rocking of the boat and the wind on the water – Jonah opted to get tossed into the water rather than turn the boat and drop to his knees. It wasn’t until he found himself on stomach gases for life support, and suffered the supreme humiliation of a seaweed headband that he re-thought the course of his life –but then, I guess you would too.

The fact is that it simply didn’t matter what went before. Jonah, just like you and I, was born into the world at enmity with a Holy God. He had to START a relationship with God intentionally. That same relationship required obedience to make his life work. Without following God, finding God will only make you miserable. Let me explain:

When Jonah was born – he needed a relationship with God – because he wasn’t ready to face God. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a nice guy, and it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a good guy – it means he was not acceptable to an absolutely Perfect and Holy God. Many people without a relationship with God do nice things. They give to the less fortunate. They recycle. But that isn’t enough. After the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden – the sinfulness of man excluded him from walking with God without a restored relationship. That is why the Bible says that “all are sinners” and “there is none righteous”. It doesn’t mean that “there is no one nice” and “no one pleasant”. The issue in those passages is our acceptability before a spotless and Holy God. That was provided for all of us by God at Jesus’ death on Calvary.

Now even though the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God made it possible for me to have a relationship with God – it still requires my deliberate acceptance of His gift. No one is saved without knowing it – they choose to surrender to Jesus and let Him pay their way to acceptance before God. No one gets a relationship with God without asking for it intentionally and believing in His conditions truly.

What about Jonah? Jonah didn’t get a relationship through Jesus – since he predated the Master. Yet still, salvation was always by God’s grace, accepted through faith. Jonah had to choose to know God. Jonah accepted that God looked past his sins when he offered a sacrifice on schedule. Jonah’s salvation didn’t come from the animal he killed – but from his acceptance in God’s Word that this act would satisfy God – because God’s Word declared it so. Salvation is about acceptance of God’s terms – and not about how good or worthy I am. It is about belief that what God said is true. That has never changed.”

Wouldn’t it be great if knowing God was the same as FOLLOWING God? Sure, but it isn’t. Jonah KNEW God, but Jonah wasn’t WALKING WITH GOD. Wait, does that mean he sinned too much to call on God? Not at all!

God is only a word away from one who will humble themselves – there are no wrong times to call on God!

It doesn’t matter where you are, you can turn back to God.

Jonah 2:1 “…from the stomach of the fish,”

There are probably no other testimonies in this room more unique when it comes to “weird places I have prayed” – but the stomach of the fish wasn’t too far from God for Him to hear the prayer. In fact, the fish was prepared by God as the personal repentance CHAPEL for Jonah’s restoration.

Let me ask you: “Do you need a personally prepared chapel to get back to your knees?”

What will God have to do to get you to really be ready to fall on your face before Him and recognize that following Him is the only way you will ever accomplish what you were meant to complete? You may not need much of a reminder, but I will offer this – God didn’t meet Jonah until he was at the bottom of the sea and in the middle of a fish. The place stunk. The place wasn’t pleasant. That is what running gets you – a fish motel. When your life stinks, and the view around you is half digested waste – remember this – God is waiting to hear from you.

One young man who sat where you sit right now didn’t want to follow God. He walked away from a God that saved him. He knows God, but he didn’t want to follow him. Now, from a jail cell, he wished that he would have listened. He thought he was untouchable, and now he has nothing but God. Another young woman I know grew up with a fine testimony. She got out in the world and went crazy for a time. Now, with three children from two different men, she is facing a terrible disease. Her life has been stripped away because of disobedience…

I am not trying to scare you. I wish I could – but sin is far too strong for my words to really be effective. What I am trying to do is caution you. Running is hazardous to your health. When you figure that out – no matter WHERE you are – drop to your knees and turn back to the God that made you.

It doesn’t matter how deep you are in it – He can hear you. There are no wrong places to call on God!

It doesn’t matter how you feel, you can turn back to God.

Jonah 2:2 “…and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me…”

Some people stress out early. We have to give some credit to Jonah for his high pain tolerance. Jonah got truly stressed only after the long “voyage to the bottom of the sea”. On the ship he was able to sleep. Now he was well rested and fully crushed. He was completely broken inside and his prospects for the future outside clearly looked like NOTHING AHEAD. It would have been easy to simply accept that there was nothing more to do than lie down and let the fish juices do their work. Can we call this DEPRESSED? Even without my clinical education – I don’t think it is too much a stretch. In the end, it didn’t matter how he felt – God was ready when HE was ready.

It doesn’t matter how LOW your heart has sunk – there are no feelings that can block God from hearing your heart beat.

It doesn’t matter how much time you think you have left, you can turn back to God.

Jonah 2:2b “…I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.

The Hebrew word “Sheol” in this case is an idiom for the grave – as in “from death’s door”. Jonah didn’t believe that Nineveh was his future. Jonah didn’t believe he had a future in this life… I have thought of this passage when I sat at the bedside of dying friends. I remember a young man in Ft. Lauderdale who was watching AIDS take away what was left of his body. His lifestyle choices brought him low – right into Hospice care. At that time, I worked with patients that did not have a church or Pastor, but requested spiritual care. He was a neat guy, and life choices aside – I truly liked him. As we watched his weight descend steadily and his infections rage – I asked him repeatedly to turn to God. He kept saying: “It is too late, I am nearly dead.” Sadly, one day it was too late.

While you breathe and can respond to God – you still have hope.

It doesn’t matter how far from God you are, you can turn back to God.

Jonah 2:3 “For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me.

You can feel like God took you to the woodshed. You can feel crushed and disciplined by God’s mighty hand. Even so – you can still turn to Him. He is not a man that harbors our wrongs when we have hurt him. Listen to what God said about Himself – this is His own Divine autobiography:

Exodus 34:4 “So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; 7 who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.”

God said it clearly: “If you want restoration, I am ready. If you want to challenge Me, fight Me and try to get your own way – I am also ready. Remember, God isn’t too far away. The only wall keeping you from restoration to God is your own stubbornness!

When I face reality, I tear down the walls of deception, grasp the truth, and return:

I recognize it is God’s right to judge the violation of His Word and Person

Jonah 2:4 “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

When you really come to God – standing before Him you will very quickly see that you are NOT GOOD. No one who truly worships leaves feeling big in themselves. At the foot of the cross there are no tall men and women. The presence of the Holy One makes all of us who are unholy bow down. We know why Isaiah said when he saw God: “Woe is me! I am a man undone!” Worship is, and was intended to be an act that pulls our selfishness out like stuffing from an old ripped teddy bear. We aren’t supposed to feel big in God’s presence – we are supposed to grow to stand BECAUSE of God’s presence.

He resists the arrogant, but takes the one who is aware of his own brokenness, and lifts his spirit with mighty and powerful grace. He has the right to judge me – and when He declares me righteous because of the payment of Jesus, my eyes well up with tears. I am not GOOD, but I am now FULLY ACCEPTED.

I recognize the reality of my utter helplessness apart from God – be humbled before God.

Jonah 2:5 “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever…:

At the bottom of the sea and inside a fish is a wise time to conclude that you have no hope unless God shows up. It is a good time to review the choices that got you there. It is a good time to feel TRULY HELPLESS – because YOU ARE! Americans aren’t given to seeing the truth about our own condition. We prefer to live life with the image of wealth on borrowed money, and success based on a never ending series of overestimations we come to later call “bubbles”. Just remember this about bubbles – they burst leaving nothing because they are really much of anything even when we see them floating. They are an abstraction – and so is our view of ourselves a lot of the time.

Stop for a moment and really look at your life. I don’t care how much you have made, you are ONE ILLNESS from having a bill you cannot pay. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have, none of them can keep you from aging, getting sick, and eventually leaving this life. It doesn’t matter how many people know you – our current graduates cannot even name more than a few of the US Presidents of the past – so the likelihood that you will be remembered is pretty slim. We are one breath from helpless – and yet we live like we are kings and “strut our stuff” like the Mummers on Broad Street – feathers flying.

Remember this: If you think you are GOOD ENOUGH to deserve God’s help, you aren’t seeing the truth yet. If you can’t think of any reason why God would want to take your calls – He is waiting to hear from you!

I recognize God is being merciful in salvation – I am NOT deserving.

Jonah 2:6b “… But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.

I am not truly ready to follow God with my whole heart as long as I believe I can manage and fix things apart from Him. If I believe I am clever enough to break into Heaven – I am deluded. MacGyver and duct tape won’t do for this episode – I am going to need Him. Chuck Norris can’t break the door down!

God has to open it… and He doesn’t budge for the self-satisfied.

I recognize the true source of the problem – forgetting God.

When I wake up from self-delusion, and the spiritual smelling salts of the Word do their work in me, I will see it clearly. I will recognize that I FORGOT GOD WAS GOD. It happened in daily choices that were so simple, I missed them:

First, I neglected prayer.

Jonah 2:7 “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple.

As fish food Jonah was ready to pray. At the port, he was paying the fare with resources God enabled him to gain. Jonah didn’t NEED to pray when he didn’t WANT to hear the answer – and that is why he didn’t. Could that be the problem with prayer meetings now? Are we unconvinced that we need them, or could it be that we really don’t WANT God to deal with us in such a quiet and focused setting?

Second, I became as unreliable as one who doesn’t really believe.

Jonah 2:8 “Those who regard vain idols, Forsake their faithfulness,

Jonah makes the point that pagans aren’t reliable, because their gods aren’t real. Could that be the problem? Could it be that I really don’t believe what I say I do? Maybe simple doubts mixed with the powder of self will is the perfect recipe to keep me from truly following God!

Third, I became more selfish and unthankful.

Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving…

In the fish, Jonah says that he will return to obedience and return to thankfulness in the process. Could that be my problem? Am I unwilling to do what God has said, and frankly a bit ticked off that He won’t let it go?

Finally, I justified my actions as I cheated you out of what I promised you.

Jonah 2:9b “…That which I have vowed I will pay.

You can hear it in the tone of Jonah’s statement – he hasn’t been WILLING to give God what was HIS DUE. He didn’t want to surrender all of himself to God. He wanted to hold back a part of his life. Just a small part… like his future. Oh, yes, and his travel plans. Oh, and also his ministry – just that…not too much. Do you see how quickly we slip into justification and ROB GOD of His due?

I recognize the ONLY HOPE is in Him.

Jonah 2:9b “…Salvation is from the LORD.”

Finally, Jonah recites the truth! As long as I kept thinking I could fix things myself, I kept going DOWN, and away from the peace and strength found in following you.

My rescue depends to WHOM I am willing to reach! Jonah said it repeatedly…

• 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God
• 2:2 I called out of my distress to the LORD
• 2:6b “… But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
• 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You…Salvation is from the LORD.”

If you came to this lesson hoping that encouragement and blessing would mean that you would hear that you are self-sufficient and personally special – I am truly sorry. This hasn’t been your message. There are places you can go and be affirmed, but I am not sure that is what most of us need. Our salvation isn’t going to happen in our own hands. God WILL deal with us, but not if we think our hope is found in GOOD FEELING. He will not move in to build up those who are already too big for their spiritual britches.

• If I am depending on God for my walk – I am hungry to listen to His Word.
• If I am depending on God for my walk – I am not satisfied unless others are being blessed by my gifts and abilities.
• If I am depending on God for my walk – I am excited to seek Him for my future. I refuse to make up my mind and then tack His name on the process.

In my return, God restores my life and I surrender to His purposes.

Jonah 2:10 Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.

As Jonah finished his prayer of surrender, the fish got an upset stomach. The journey wasn’t wasted – God got him much closer to where he needed to be – both on land and in his heart.

Don’t miss an important part of the story though. He wasn’t deposited back on the land to run his own life as he chose. He was SAVED to SERVE. God delivers a man for the purpose of SERVING HIM in obedience. God did not send him back to ship he was running on, but onward to the place of his mission! I DON’T KNOW if he kept the seaweed headband. I don’t know if he walked into Nineveh with prune-like bumpy skin, and white from digesting juices. I don’t know how, if it is even possible, he got rid of that awful smell. What I do know is that fish cleared up his eyesight. Jonah could see clearer than he had in many days. Following God wasn’t complicated – it was just hard.

The way back to God is not a long one or complex one – but I must understand and respond as God requires.

Breaking my Stubborn Resistance: “Smacked into Reality” – Jonah 1

night drivingIt has probably happened to you a number of times in the past. You were on a long drive in the car, and you were getting tired. The sun had long set, and the lights of the road were making your eyes weary. You weren’t really falling asleep, as much as you seemed “entranced” by the road ahead. The rhythm of the engine’s hum, along with the steady intervals of the reflectors on the road drew you into a stupor that settled in your mind as you saw the brief flash of one bright yellow lane marking line after another reflecting from your headlight. You had a good distance between you and that car in front of you, and you occasionally checked your mirrors to see the cars following you. The steady thump of the breaks in the road beneath you sounded like a drummer keeping time… thump, thump, thump. Just as you began to drift in your mind with the sound, there was a sudden change. The car in front of you suddenly applied its breaks. Like an electric shock that shot through your body, an adrenaline shock wave snapped you into reality, and your foot instantly moved from the accelerator to the break. For the next moment, the chemicals in your body brought a clarity that had not been there in hours. Even after the danger had been neutralized, you noticed your attention to detail on the road was significantly heightened. We may not like to admit how much of the time we are driving with much of our mind on something that has nothing to do with the road or the car. We float around the roadways, and often are fairly out of touch with the reality around us.

It isn’t only in driving that we lose track of the real and fall into a stupor, drifting along. Some of us have been doing it financially. We have been working and spending, working and spending… and suddenly some major appliance failed, and we got our neck snapped into the reality that we hadn’t been saving – and now the rains were falling on us. Maybe some of you can identify with the reality check you discovered when you pulled out a pair of jeans and realized that the only YOU that could wear them was twenty pounds ago! That brief encounter with the ghost of waistlines past brought a painful awareness to you – a change needs to come soon!

Our nation has rippled with a series of body blows that have left our markets shaken and our pockets emptier. The “tech bubble” was followed by the “housing bubble” and is now being followed up by the “government balloon”. While we continue to spend more than we make as a people, our country continues to take in more goods than it sends out each month, and our legislators slump into a stupor, watching the lights of the deficit numbers pile up without any sense that impending doom looms ahead. The same people that hunger for greater entitlements, grouse at lower paychecks, being somehow duped into believing that taxing a few thousand millionaires would pay all of our bills – and then the paychecks rolled out last week, and 77% of working Americans got a reality check. There aren’t enough dollars in rich hands to pay all the benefits to the rest of us. Reality is beginning to set in, but many are still watching the lights…

The problem with reality is that it is stubborn. No amount of emotional affirmation will change my waistline. The equation of truth is found in what I take in through food, and what I expend through physical exertion. The simplicity of the equation stubbornly insists that I take in less of what is adding to my girth and expend more energy in ways that will properly shape my body. Here is the truth: I don’t want to. I want dessert, and I don’t want to exercise. No matter what else I say – the issue comes down to the will. In our modern world, if you give a man something he wants to do, and he will find a way to do it; give a man something he hates to do, and he will work out a way to avoid it, make it sound tremendously complicated and somehow victimize himself in the process. He will claim metabolic rates as he scarfs down bacon burgers. He will do all he can to divorce his own chosen behavior from the outcome – making the problem intractable and out of his reach. Only when the red lights go on in his face, will the snap into reality surge through him.

Does the same problem of drifting from reality happen in our spiritual lives? Sure it does. Jonah the prophet from Gath Hepher in the Galilee, was a man who had drifted from spiritual reality. He was a follower of the God of Abraham. He knew God, and was known by his neighbors as a man that heard from God. He was not just an average believer; he was verbally called upon by God to accomplish a specific work. Yet, he was in desperate need of a smack into reality.

Key Principle: When I forget Who God really is, I live like He isn’t watching and doesn’t know what I am doing. Even as a believer, I lose track of reality and buy into the illusion that my life is my own.

The situation began with a believer who heard God’s Word clearly and understood how to complete the task.

Jonah 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

The issue wasn’t that God hadn’t spoken (1:1). This is why it is so utterly important for the world to try to carpet bomb the Bible with suspicion and attack. If God has spoken, then I am no longer a victim – I must choose to set aside my rebellious “do it my way” nature and follow Him – or face the consequences. Man would rather be a victim than have to stand before a clear choice of following God. He would rather say “truth is complicated” and “truth cannot be surely known”. He would rather philosophize and theorize than open his heart to the simple truth – the Creator has told us how we got here, why things are the way they are, and what He will do in us if we open ourselves to Him. Our response is our responsibility.

The issue wasn’t ignorance of God’s specific will and direction (1:2). God told him exactly where to go and what to do with his life. In point of fact, God’s Word is a blessing to the obedient, and an indictment to the rebellious. What has that to do with us? Consider this: God has made clear both the message of salvation for lost man, and the clear missive for those who desire to follow Him in a believer’s walk. His path is not so unclear. He may not have said “Go to Nineveh”, but is that the problem, really? Has he been unclear about your sensual desires? Has He made His commands unclear about honesty and integrity, so that you are unsure if lying or cheating is correct? I believe if you look with honesty at your life, you will find that God has been clear about the issues that are causing many, if not all, of the stir in your life.

  • God’s will, clearly stated, is that we abandon all religious hope, and cling to the Cross for salvation alone. If you are trusting in anything else – a Sunday School pin of attendance, a past aisle walk of commitment to Jesus, a holy momma growing up – but you haven’t begun and followed a true, surrendered heart relationship with Jesus, you are kicking against God’s clearly stated intent.
  • God’s will, clearly stated, is that we walk as believers in purity. If you are sneaking open a website to feed your sensuality, trying to find ways to cover your tracks so that you will not be embarrassed and caught – you are kicking against God’s clearly stated intent.
  • God’s will, clearly stated, is that as an obedient and maturing believer, you deliberately identify your spiritual gifts, and faithfully be at work using them to their fullness for God’s work in this community. He hasn’t been unclear about that. Yet, many believers will file in and out of churches today, and think that because they punched the card for a hour, and because they gave a dollar – God is satisfied.

What I am saying is that we are kidding ourselves if we think that God has not been clear about most things we encounter. The principles of God’s Word, properly applied by an open heart that has been filled with God’s Spirit through trusting in Jesus Christ as Master and Savior confound walking in constant confusion. Confused believers are usually in one of three conditions:

Rebellion: They are acting like they don’t know what God wants, but they aren’t truly open to His nudging, because they don’t like the implications of His commands.
Ignorance: They are unsure of the content of the Word, and aren’t getting the principles that apply to their situation. They need prayer, study, and patience.
Pain: They have been attacked by the enemy – some in an enduring memory of the past, and some in a powerful attack in the present. The confusion of war has fogged their view of truth. They need assistance, healing, and love.

The issue was the will to do what God said (1:2). The implications would have meant incredible sacrifice, offensive distinctiveness, and lead to less comfort and immediate satisfaction. Knowing what God said is helpful – surrendering to DO what God said is right. Far too many believers KNOW more than they are willing to DO.

The believer that didn’t truly recognize Who God is thinks an alternative strategy will work in life.

Jonah 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

The verse revealed four critical errors in Jonah’s thinking in this verse (1:3):

First, there was IGNORANCE of God’s character and nature: Jonah didn’t take into account that you CANNOT flee God’s watchful eye.

Second, there was OBSTINANCE in Jonah’s heart: Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction of the stated calling of God – west instead of east.

Third, there was OBLIVIOUSNESS to his increased troubles: Jonah didn’t sense the catabasis of his life… “going down, going down, going down.” Jonah was slowly being digested by sin long before he was being slowly digested by a fish – he just didn’t see it.

Fourth, there was WITLESSNESS about his wallet: Jonah thought he could afford to “pay the fare” – but it was much more than he could ever afford! He thought a few pieces of silver were all the world would cost him. Mutiny from God costs everything. It will cost you an open relationship with God and replace it with guilt. It will rob your planned future by God, and replace it with a patched life of guilt at best or a broken life with a seared conscience at worst. It will cost your reputation as a faithful follower of God, and leave you stranded between hypocrisy and suspicion by those around you. It will imperil your very life – and it will give you satisfaction only for a short time.

The perilous troubles were God’s way of pointing the believer back home to Him – but a rebel is often too consumed with his own desires to notice.

Jonah 1:4 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. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”

God isn’t willing to let people walk away easily (1:4). It is HARD to kick against God. People do it inside LONG before they do it on the outside –so we don’t always see how long it has really been going on. No man suddenly becomes base. No marriage suddenly falls apart. No one suddenly decides to lie, steal, or murder – these are but a symptom of an ongoing rebellious process already deeply rooted in the heart. The Bible is replete with examples that God brings troubles and personal afflictions to pull rebels back. For Jonah, the “great wind” was God’s doing. Enough of the pansy God that is the happy genie in the bottle preached across America today. If you are sick and you are running from God, I would like you to be open to the idea that sickness may be FROM GOD. If you are working harder and harder and falling more and more behind – I’d like you to consider that God may be trying to get your attention deep inside. Your wife or husband may not know the issue – but YOU do. God isn’t going to let you talk the talk and inside rebel – without fighting back FOR you, by positioning things AGAINST YOU.

My rebellion brings peril to those around me (1:5). John Donne was right: “No man is an island”. We live with the whirlwind effect of the rebellion of those about us – and they live in the effect of our rebellion. Our lives are intertwined. When a Sunday School teacher allows lust to develop in his heart, an adulterous or fornicating affair with another member is the fruit – but that is just one fruit. The broken hearts of the other students – something that may take years to unfold – are more fruits of the same tree. One of those very students may grow up to be a rock star that pulls the hearts of a generation from God’s Word in defiant rebellion – or maybe a President or Congressman that does the same. The mistrust that develops in the hearts of others in the scene will plague them and keep them from growing in Bible studies for years to come. Jonah’s fellow travelers were imperiled by his rebellion and his presence. Think about this: a rebellious believer in the presence of the world makes the situation WORSE than if they people never knew a follower of God. It is often much more difficult to reach people in a post-Christian west than in the still untouched pagan jungle. The rebellion and misdeeds of believers has doused the flames of the Gospel and cooled our ability to reach others at home. This is why the enemy spends more time tempting, teasing, and attacking the believer, rather than simply steering the course of the unbeliever. One affects the destiny of the other.

Rebellion from God is both exhausting and numbing (1:5b). In the confluence of our own desire to shut off sensitivity to God and things spiritual (read: truth) along with the aiding process of the enemy’s attack to keep pushing us in our rebellion – we lose our sensitivity to dangerous behaviors. We lose our sensitivity to the effects of our actions. We sleep while others panic about us. The stupor of the long drive overtakes our once sharp reflexes. Make no mistake about it, when we are walking in rebellion, our self-sensitivity increases and our care for others decreases. Our taste for self-indulgence overtakes our longing to help and assist others around us. Sin envelopes the heart and we become more and more selfish – often numb to the real affect our rebellion is having on our deportment and character.

What becomes obvious to others still strangely feels manageably hidden by us.

Jonah 1:7 Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Men have no real device to discern the origin and purpose of troubles –so they will stab in the dark when troubles come (1:7-8). What if we dug into a school shooting and saw a generation ago a father that was caught up in pornography? What if he raised a son that had a hardened and inappropriate view of women that played out on his wife? What if she, a victim of abuse, raised a son that was ravaged by mental illness – and she did so both alone after a cheap divorce? What if the pain she suffered caused her to hunger for weapons in the closet? What if those weapons were used to kill twenty-six people in a school? The bullet-ridden bodies of those sweet children would be directly connected back to a man, forty years ago, buying a Playboy magazine. No one would be able to see that – they would only sit and wonder how such troubled youths develop. They will blame the mechanism of the gun, because they won’t stop the pornography and they want cheap and easy no-fault divorces. They will be wholly unable to connect the dots between one generation and another. Lost men, even expert lost men, have no real ability to recognize root causes – because addressing them would strip us of some of our deepest held sinful practices. Taking the guns will do much less than putting a stop to easy divorces a generation from now – but they can’t see that –they WON’T see that.

Others often see and feel the results of our sin long before we recognize what we have done (1:9-10). Isn’t it funny how the men around Jonah connected the dots between his rebellion and their peril much more quickly than did the dulled Jonah? That is the effect of sinful rebellion – it dulls our perception. The more we do it, the duller we get. We can be rocking in the midst of a storm and make little or no connection between our run from God’s Word and our current jeopardy. Here is a secret: Others see it. They may not tell you, but they sense something is very wrong long before you tell them.

• Did you notice the fact that Jonah was verbally prepared to recite that God was Lord over Heaven, sea, and dry land? If he truly understood the implications of that, to where did he think he would run? Knowing the Bible isn’t following the Bible. Knowing theology isn’t living the truth. A man or woman of God must hear this warning: If you think your knowledge of God substitutes for your obedience TO God – you are woefully mistaken. If you think WORK for God will substitute for a WALK with God – you are a sad believer… and your substitution may have convinced you, but God is not tricked, and those close to you know something is very wrong.

• As the boat was tossed, did you also notice how intolerant people around Jonah became with his hypocrisy? They were incensed because he was fleeing from his own God (1:10). The world forgives lascivious behavior faster than hypocrisy. They would rather you claim no belief that proclaim the truth of a God you do not serve. Remember that! Better to say nothing about your witness for God’s salvation and His Word than preach Christ and live self. Of course, the real design is to live and proclaim His mastery over the universe AND your choices – but that should give us pause. The disobedient believer is often used by the enemy unawares to block seekers from the truth – because men instinctively abhor hypocrisy.

Reality smacks us when we realize that our secret is now obviously exposed – and there is no sense trying to hide our wretched state.

Jonah 1:11 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. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.” 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.

At the moment the sin is exposed, the obedient believer should know what he or she should do (1:11-12a). Jonah said, “Put some distance between us.” How much simpler to say, “Turn the ship around and I will ask forgiveness for running!” Nope. Get AWAY from me. Jonah sees his guilt, admits it openly, but fails to see the POINT of the trouble. The ship could go back, and the men could be saved as he turned to obey. Stubbornly, he went down into the sea, letting the cold water rush around his still disobedient and resistant soul. The passage is clear that the MEN sought God, not Jonah. He was fixed on HIS SIN and HIS PUNISHMENT – but not on the open hand of forgiveness.

In rebellion, we re-create God as a harsh caricature of Himself (1:12b). Just as Jonah told the men to throw him overboard, he should have seen how dumb an idea that was. Believers that know God is not happy with them can change that in a true act of surrender. They cannot control the seas, but a good start would be to pray. Did Jonah pray? No, he simply told them to toss him into the deep blue sea – because he wasn’t ready to drop to his knees alongside them. Instead, he was convinced that God wouldn’t forgive HIS sin. His was too big, too obvious, too dark.

• Do not buy into the lie that you cannot be forgiven. God is ready to accept the broken pieces of your life if they are submitted by one who is truly broken and ready to be healed by God.
• Do not delay in dropping to your knees amid the crashing sea of problems in your life. The waves aren’t there because God hates you, or is mad at you.

“The waves are crashing into your life to get you to turn the ship around and drop to your knees. Stop running!”

God can use even the defeated believer to show His power and care.

Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. 17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

Only God could take a rebel and make them an effective object lesson for Him (1:16). God alone can feature a failure as His prized witness! The Bible is full of men who had all the qualifying marks of failure:

• Consider Abraham – that lied about his wife and out of fear nearly let another sleep with her before God sent a sickness to stop that from happening.
• Consider Jacob – whose lies and schemes, together with his mom, are infamous to Bible students.
• Consider Moses – ex-con murderer and runaway spoiled prince – made into the leader of God’s people.
• Consider Gideon – great leader of armies called by God while fearfully hiding in a hole.
• Consider David – schemer, killer, adulterer, politician – and featured song-writer of Scripture.

The list goes on and on… Don’t even get me started on the disciples, Paul or Timothy. Can we not see it? God specializes in taking broken lives and making them examples of His grace, His love, and His forgiveness – and He will do it with you – if you let Him!

Even though the believer defied Him, God had the fish prepared (1:17). It wasn’t a comfortable experience, nor was it a desired one – but it was a life-saving planned experience. It offered Jonah a second chance that he wasn’t even seeking yet. He needed marinating with chewed fish before he would come to his senses. In all honesty, what he needed is what we all need – a show of force by God on our behalf. When the believer is running, he has come to believe that God is AGAINST HIM. It isn’t true, but it IS often his perspective. By God showing up powerfully, that believer is smacked into the reality… God DOES LOVE ME. He DOES still want me enlisted to do His will. I am NOT DONE.

Though it really applies after the vomit experience of Jonah 2:1, think about one more truth before we go: The look and smell of the “second chance believer” is distinct – they are weak in self and strong in understanding of God’s nature and power. When you meet them, you will know them by their scars, their serious understanding of God’s work…these are people that know WHO God is, WHERE God is, and HOW God loves and forgives. They may not be obvious in stature, but they will be in tone – if you listen to them. Remember..

When I forget Who God really is, I live like He isn’t watching and doesn’t know what I am doing. Even as a believer, I lose track of reality and buy into the illusion that my life is my own.

Principle Approach Studies in the Book of Jonah

OK, so I am new at blogging! I was trying to put my teaching notes on the web for my students, and finally someone let me know a faster way to do it! I can put the outlines in pdf format and make them instantly available! Who knew? Probably everyone but me.

Anyway, the story of the prophet from the Galilee, Jonah of Gath Hepher (near Nazareth) is the story of a believer who plunged into rebellion and its accompanying behavioral depression. There is hope! Here are the four parts of the study in one easy to read, print or teach format!

The Principle Approach: “THE STORY OF JONAH”

Four Acts of a Drama on one who wants to “cut their own path” and not follow God’s call for their life.

ACT ONE: Song of the Pouting Prophet (Walking Away From God’s Best for You)

God has a desire for your life. He made you with specific gifts, talents and abilities – the way you are. Unfortunately, many of us spend a large amount of time running from right (because we feel doing wrong will somehow empower us with freedom) and following our call (because we have better plans for ourselves than God appears to have).

Quick outline:

  1. Will Disclosed (vv.1.2) — GOD MAKES HIS WILL KNOWN WHEN WE FOLLOW HIM.
  2. Way Declined (3) — GOD’S WILL IS CHOICE NOT COERSION.


7. Wrong-doer Detained (17)

 Application: Are YOU a pouting prophet? …an innocent bystander? …or are you in the mainstream of God’s desire for you??

ACT TWO: The Pickled Prophet: Finding God the “Hard Way”

When I kick against God, He makes life harder. It isn’t because He doesn’t love me, it is because He DOES. Look at some principles from this prophet.

1. The classroom of the prophet’s prayer (1-6).

Principle #1: It doesn’t matter: a) where you are (1); b) how you feel (2); c) why you are calling (2); d) what you’ve done (3) …YOU CAN FIND GOD!

Principle #2: Finding God involves: a) a commitment (4); b) helplessness (5); c) acknowledgement of God’s control (6)

2. The confessions in the prophet’s prayer (7-9).

Principle: Four areas of disobedience: a) “forgot God”; b) neglected prayer c) believed lies -“you can run from God…”; d) lost thankfulness

3. The completion to the prophet’s prayer (9b-10).

Principle: God only delivers a man for the purpose of SERVING HIM. God did not send him back to ship he was running on, but onward to the place of his mission!

Application: What must God do right now in your life to become your highest priority? What has God called you to do; Are you busy about His work?

ACT THREE: The Preaching Prophet: “The best kind of broken heart”

I. The Prophet Preaching Repentance (3:1-4b)

A. The Commission of the Prophet (1,2)

B. The Cooperation of the Prophet (3,4a)

C. The Call of the Prophet (4b)

II. The People Understanding Repentance (3:5-9)

A. The Pattern of Repentance: (5,6)

1. agreeing with God (believe) about sin.

2. changing habits (proclaim fast).

3. changing appearance (sackcloth).

4. eliminating distinctions (greatest).


B. The Proclamation to Repent: (7-9)

1. Don’t continue in present lifestyle.

2. Change focus: look UP!

3. Understand HIS control.

III. The Perfect One Accepting Repentance (3:10)

Repentance implies: a change in “works”

Repentance demands: a turning from “evil”

Repentance includes: a change in penalty

Application: Have you “repented” of sin? Are you ready to agree with God about your sin, change habits and lifestyle to conform to HIM?

ACT FOUR: The Praying Prophet: “Fighting the Battle of Depression

Principle: JONAH TEACHES US THAT DEPRESSION IS A BATTLE EVEN FOR THE Follower of God! God includes in His Word insight in dealing with DEPRESSION:

  1. Jonah had an understanding of the character of God (4:2b) and a developed theology, yet he became depressed.
  2. Even when Jonah did the “right things” (preach in Nineveh, pray, etc.) he still became depressed.

Depression begins when we feel mistreated by someone. (1)
Depression is really an issue against the control of God- we don’t like the way HE is working the plan. (2)
Depression usually leads to the wrong conclusion. (3)
Depression is usually associated with (accompanied by) guilt. (4)

A depressed person fails to see the provisions God has given. (5)

A depressed person spends much of their time occupied with personal comfort and satisfaction. (6-8)

3.  God has a message for the depressed believer:

a. understand that GOD is at work in all things to teach us (9).

b. allow GOD to redirect your feelings for HIS purpose (10).

c. open your eyes to many who are LOST around you! (11)

There’s a job to be done!!!

Jonah 2: I Can Be Restored!

When you have walked away from God’s best for you, there is a way back to total restoration in your walk with God. Jonah offers a model of restoration in four stages:

1. The classroom of repentance (vv. 1-3). Principle: Recognize it doesn’t matter where you are (v. 1); how you feel (v. 2a); when you are calling  (i.e. “at death’s door”, v. 2b); how far you have sunk because of what you’ve done (v. 3)…YOU CAN FIND GOD when you choose to turn back to Him! It is incredibly important to remember. Sin isolates us and drives us to hide from others. In the classroom of repentance, I learn the lesson of my need – restoration. Standing alone in the cold, I can see there are no “God-forsaken” places or people!


2. The causeway of repentance (vv. 4-6). Principle: Understand that finding God involves a commitment to face God (v. 4); recognition of our utter helplessness when living in self will (v. 5); an acknowledgement of God’s control and desire (v. 6). The longer I live the more I am convinced that sin can never be satisfied by placating and feeding – it is insatiable. If I want victory, I am going to need to face my hardness and admit it before God so that blessing will again be renewed.


3. The confession of a repentant heart (vv. 7-9). Principle: Examine the areas of disobedience that brought you to this place. In Jonah’s case he “forgot God” (7a); neglected prayer (7b); believed lies (“you can run from God…”v.8); lost thankfulness (9a); forgot to obey his vow to give God his life (9b). Sin doesn’t make us HATE GOD, it makes us FORGET GOD. We act like He doesn’t see us where we are!


4. The completion of repentance: a renewal (9b-10). Principle: God delivers a man for the purpose of SERVING HIM in obedience. God did not send him back to ship he was running on, but onward to the place of his mission! He has a purpose for us, and He knows what He was buying when He redeemed us. He is not surprised. It is not for myself I have been redeemed, but for my Redeemer. The longer I live, and the better I know Him, the better that truth sounds.

Jonah 1: Finding God's Best For You

God has a divine purpose for struggle in the life of a disobedient believer. We can heed the example of a model, or we can pass through the painful process. The only ways we learn are by experience or example. Jonah modeled for us nine important principles to finding God’s best:

  1. Will Disclosed (1- 2) – Principle: God makes His will known when we follow Him.

  2. Way Declined (3) – Principle: We must understand that God’s will is a choice, not coercion.

  3. Wind Developed (4) – Principle: God often disrupts our lives as a way to get our attention, not to hurt or punish us. We must take heed early!

  4. Wares Destroyed (5) – Principle: Those around us are affected by our disobedience, for God deals with the believers as a testimony to all. Choosing to walk away from God endangers others.

  5. Wayward Disturbed: (6) – Principle: God may call upon you to be a testimony even when you are walking in disobedience. This is designed to bring you back to Him!

  6. Wayward Disclosed (7-10) – Principle: In the absence of the knowledge of the love of God and relationship with God, people respond only in fear of the power of God. Even in judgment, God reveals our relationship.

  7. Wayward Disposed (11-15a) – Principle: We cannot “rescue” another from their personal responsibility to follow God. When they know what must be done to reconcile the relationship, we should not attempt another path.

  8. Watchers Delivered (15b-16) Principle: God desires to use a believer in obedience, but He can and will use the testimony of disobedience to reach some.

  9. Wrong-doer Detained (17) Principle: Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is a time of waiting and reconsidering our way. God sometimes prepares detours to help us settle down and recount where we have been.

At the end of the day, we can heed the example and avoid the painful experience of needing to “detour” our lives!