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Archive for April, 2013

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Jonah was on a mission.  He was warning men and women who were full of violence, greed, and idolatry that God was on the verge of destroying them for their sin.  Without any props or promises, amazingly, they believed both Jonah and God.  They genuinely repented.  Men who were used to wearing fine linen, enjoying fine dining, and strutting status symbols rid themselves of their pride and idolatry.  They changed their clothes and put on rags.  They fasted in humility.  Not only that, but they do it together – rich, poor, high, and low, they all believe God together.  But what will their leader do?

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth,and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. ~Jonah 3:6-10

The king followed suit.  We’re not in Israel anymore, ladies and gentlemen.  (Remember when Jesus came preaching repentance?!  The leaders of God’s people despised, rejected, mocked, and murdered him!)  But Nineveh’s king repented with his people.  He came down from his throne.  He took off his royal robe.  He mourned his sin and he proclaimed a strict fast hoping God would show mercy.

Then, God relented.  God forgave.

I wonder what would happen if Jonah came to America today.  Would our reaction look more like the High Priest on Good Friday or Nineveh’s king when Jonah came?  Would we who are used to wearing fine linen, enjoying fine dining, and strutting status symbols rid ourselves of our pride and idolatry?  Would we be able to wash the blood of unborn babies, bisexual brutishness, unbridled gluttony, and big business bureaucracy off of our hands?  Would we even try?  Or would we mock, maim, and murder the messenger?  

Friends, we’ve got a country applauding anyone who lives as an abomination before God.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Jason Collins how many fans he’s picked up since yesterday.  Ask me how many I’ll have after I say this.  I’d say it’s high time to break out the burlap, mourn in hopes of mercy, and stop making merry amidst these monstrosities which manage us.

Not sure what to do?  Let’s take a few pointers from Nineveh’s king: 

1. Come down from your throne.  There’s only one person who is king.  It’s not you, your stuff, your sexual preference, your pornography, your pride, or your priest.  It’s Jesus.

2.  Remove your prideful distinctions.  When God judges us, no one will be excluded.  Take off your purple robe and hang it on the cross.  It belongs to Jesus.

3.  Figure out how to fast like it’s Good Friday frequently.  Forgiveness is free to those who find themselves floored by humility.  The sacrifices of God are broken and contrite hearts.

Perhaps God will relent from bringing the judgement we all truly deserve.  Pray.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LznxnuVaG8o

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Jonah had been called to go to a large city full of wickedness and call out God’s coming judgement.  Imagine that for a moment.  Really think about what that would look like for you or I today.  One minute you’re praying piously and studying fascinating truths about God in a temple haven.  The next God tells you to leave your padded pew and godly friar friends to become a herald of doom and gloom.  And your hearers all belong in Alcatraz – no telling how they might take the bad news.  You’ll likely be labeled a mad man and institutionalized or murdered by a mob.  I sincerely doubt it would be fun.  Or easy.  Or desirable in any way.

This was Jonah’s lot.  Little wonder why he ran away.  But God had patience with Jonah’s unwillingness and fear.  He asked Jonah a second time to go and preach to Nineveh.

   Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God.They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. ~Jonah 3:1-5

It’s interesting that God brought Jonah to a place where he had to repent before he went to call others to repentance.  Humility always precedes ministry.

After Jonah repented, God fully forgave.  He didn’t put Jonah on the “not ready to serve me yet” burner.  He didn’t give him a sabbatical waiting for him to get his spiritual pride built back up.  God didn’t relegate Jonah to some spiritually inferior carnal Jew category   No.  God immediately called him to the task he had sinfully refused.  God isn’t in the business of lowering standards to boost confidence or permit lethargic faithlessness.  God is in the business of calling us to obedience repeatedly until we learn to willingly submit.  

And willingly submit in obedience is just what Jonah did…the second time he’s called to preach tot he people he had no preference for.

The city was huge.  The text says it took him three days to go through it with his message.  It’s estimated that Jonah walked twenty miles a day for three days calling out God’s impending judgement.  Forget 26.2 with added security marathoning friends.  This guy was called to an ultra-marathon in the heart of the worst ghetto in history…alone.  No one should say God doesn’t call us to work when we believe.  Does work save us?  No.  Are we called to work diligently in obedience?  Always.  

And the people of Nineveh believed God.They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. ~Jonah 3:5

The Ninevites didn’t lock Jonah up in the psych ward.  They didn’t murder or make fun of him.  The people of Nineveh believed God.  God’s amazing grace is seen when his people obey in faith against all odds and obstacles.

God calls us to serve our families, our churches, our friendly neighbors, and even our surburbian friends, but believe it, he calls us all to serve the lost, too. And serving lost souls is not easy.  It’s not usually comfortable, fun, or even desirable.  Many times it’s risky, sacrificial, painful, and humiliating.  But that didn’t stop Jesus.  Don’t let it stop you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAWeHo8E70E

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Jonah’s sin had been found out.  Everyone knew that he was guilty.  He prepares to pay his wages as he submits to being thrown overboard, doubtless relying on God’s mercy like never before.

Remember, this is a godly man.  This is a guy who prayed, fasted, and worshiped like nobody’s business.  Yet he finds himself opposed to God where the rubber really meets the road.  So God, in his mercy, brought him to a place where he could see his sin, recognize his need, and deal with his anger.

This is the condition we must be in if we expect God to show up.  We always need him, but it’s not until we know we need him that our hearts are truly right before him.  When he brings us to that place, he does not leave us there alone.  He does show up.  Just ask Jonah.

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. ~Jonah 1:17

Jonah had no more running to do.  He had no more time to sleep.  There was no room for excuses, delays, or scapegoats.  Sink or swim was Jonah’s only choice now…and it’s hard to swim in a raging sea.

In just four little words, God saves.  

“And the Lord appointed…”  

When Jonah was guilty, spent, friendless, and finished, God provided.  Jonah had absolutely nothing to offer.  Matter of fact, neither do we.  That is when God saves.  That is when Jonah responds.  

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. ~Jonah 2:1-10

Notice, Jonah recognizes God’s provision as God’s salvation.  Dude is still inside a fish.  He ain’t exactly sippin’ champagne on the Carnival Cruise-line.  Nevertheless, Jonah knows that if it weren’t for that whale, he’d be toast already.  He’s like… “I was totally deserving of death.  I was ready to drown in my sin.  But you raised me back to life.  When I remembered you, God, you saved me.  All other gods are worthless.  You alone save.”

Then he was freed from his bondage (Jonah 2:10.)

It seems to me that this religious renegade had a few things to learn.  

Not one of us has anything to offer in exchange for salvation.  It’s not until we see our own sin and helplessness and recognize our utter need of God’s continual mercy that His provision truly becomes our salvation.  We must trust that provision (Christ) positionally for quite some time before we are literally freed from all sin and actually redeemed as forever flawless.

Freedom will never come as a result of religion.  It will never grace us while we are yet renegades, either.  Freedom is found in figuring out that we’re nothing more than free-falling failures who will persist in frustrating futility apart from a Father who forever falls down to fix us. 

God, help us not to forsake your steadfast love.  Remove our indigent idols and save us from both religion and rebellion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oni0tO_HN30

 

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When I was a little girl we spent a lot of time at my grandfather’s house.  Daddy, Pappy, and sometimes my uncles would play music together.  Once it got dark outside, there wasn’t much for a little girl to do there.

There did, however, just so happen to be a cement floor in the kitchen and a pair of old roller skates that were just my size.

Every time we were there I’d lace up those old skates and zoom from one end of the kitchen to the other for what seemed like hours.  Eventually, I kinda got the hang of it.

Sometimes Daddy would take me to the real roller skating rink.  We held hands.  Every time I lost my balance he’d pull up on my hand and keep me from falling.  I loved roller skating.

Last night I had the pleasure of being the puller.  The girls and I went roller skating.  Mia did pretty well all by herself.  Addie and Maylee spent a lot of time on the floor, though.  They needed a puller.

I did my best to hold their little hands, balance all three of us, and keep them from falling.  They did fall often, but they didn’t feel often.  The brunt of their falls were absorbed by my strength.  By the time they hit the floor, the impact was as gentle as a tender tap.

I couldn’t help but think of my heavenly Daddy, too.  When it gets dark, I always begin to hear his rhythm and melodies streaming from the next room as I practice the best techniques on staying upright.  When we get to the real test, he’s always right next to me, holding my little hand.  Being the untrained, unskilled, and immature little girl that I am, I tend to fall a lot, but the pain is absorbed by his strength which pulls me from every punishment and ever keeps me from falling flat on my face.

As much as I loved them, it wasn’t my roller skates that gave me confidence and joy when I was small and afraid.  It was Daddy’s hands.  Remembering that can make me a puller instead of a faller when the circles of life get dark.

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~Jude 1:24-25

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FspAl-LDUUE

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Before I write anything, I just have to say, if you are a police officer, thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

I can’t tell you the last time I spent five hours watching the news.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent five hours watching the news – until yesterday.  I told my oldest daughter that I’ve never seen anything like what happened in Boston happen in America.  I reminded her of the world she’s inheriting, as I have so often done before.  I went through the list of probable persecution preps.  

“Remember what I told you about when you grow up?  How you may not have the freedoms we have now?  You have to know what you believe, why, and live the truth no matter what happens.”  

“I know, Mom.  I will.  And if a stranger tries to steal me, call the police, right?!”

“Police, yes.  We love the police.  They’re the good guys.  Aren’t you thankful that there are men protecting us every single day?  Some countries don’t have that.  In some places, the police hurt the people.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

I pray for a better reality for her, her sisters, and her generation, but day by day I realize the extreme importance to teach her how to be wise, diligent, and prepared for the worst.  I don’t shield her eyes from reality.  I let her watch the news with me.  I tell her what evil people do as I shield her eyes from make-believe worlds of fantasy.  I refuse to let Hollywood deceive my child and render her defenseless.

We opened our day praying for the people of Boston and studying Ecclesiastes 4:4 –  “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.”  What an illustration as we watched one million people refrain from attending work.  

We closed our day thanking God for law enforcement and remembering John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  If my children learned one thing yesterday, it was how valuable police men really are.  

There’s nothing quite like watching men rally to the degree they did yesterday for the safety and well-being of other people.  Everyone wanted to see the good guys win – and this time the good guys were actually the good guys.  I guess that’s why the Bible says, And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Imagine what we could do if we were all rooting for the same team every day.

Next time you see a cop, thank him for his service to you.  If he stops you for speeding, thank him for protecting you.  Be respectful.  If he gives you a ticket, thank him for correcting you.  Send him a gift card with your payment.  These men are invaluable.  They wake up each morning willing to die for you.  Treat them accordingly.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. ~John 15:13

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rf_UV0TAjM8

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With 19 days and counting until I set out to run the Pittsburgh Marathon, I consider Boston.  I recount the past year.  My thoughts turn to Newtown, Aurora, and our very own Western Psychiatric Hospital.  I try to console myself thinking, “At least my kids are home schooled.”  One less worry, right?  But then I remember the warning about the man in the van trying to snatch kids out of their yards in my neighborhood from yesterday.  I remember how I felt sitting in the movie theater watching Batman after Aurora.  I recall a night I sat with my newborn baby for hours waiting on paperwork in the very space where a shooter opened fire at Western Psych.  I realize that all attempts to feel secure are vain.  No place is truly safe.  I have a choice to make.  I can stand around singing, “I Miss Mayberry” and hope we somehow teleport back to a time when it was safe to leave the front door open and let children play outside alone, or, I can sing another song.  One that recognizes the world in which we live – complete with bombs, baby-snatchers, and brokenness beyond belief – and I can go in faith knowing that no matter what evil transpires today against me, my family, or those just like me, my God is still in complete control.  It goes like this:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing

A mighty fortress.  A bulwark.  Our helper.  Mortal ills may prevail, but they are just that – mortal.  They will pass.  My God is immortal and he will help me in all circumstances.

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

We have but one foe.  His name isn’t Kim Jong Un or James Holmes or Kermit Gosnell or Adam Lanza.  His name is Satan.  He is the one who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy with his great power, craftiness, and influence over those who know not God.  He is armed.  He may often use a missle, a gun, or a bomb in the hands of a man, but his weapon of choice is always the same – hate.  Never take up his weapon.  

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

We are no match for this enemy.  We will always lose if left to fight him ourselves.  But God choose the right man to help us.  He has already won on our behalf and a day of reckoning is coming soon to all of those who fight against his good will.  We need not take revenge.  Judgement will come.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

Demons fill our world with threats, creating fear and unrest in us all.  But God teaches us to fear nothing but he alone.  His truth will be seen in us in the midst of tragedy, chaos, and tears.  Spreading his truth matters infinitely more than my living in comfortable circumstances.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

Though Satan rules this earth as prince, Christ rules the entire universe as King.  Do not be afraid of devils.  God is greater.  Call on Him for salvation.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

His name is above all names.  The devils may take our material things, our families, and even our own lives, but God’s truth remains forever.  Believe it.  Cling to it.  Live in it.

I don’t need a bunker or a fort.  I won’t avoid a marathon, an airplane, or a movie theater.  My Fortress stands in front of me wherever I am.  If I live, I live in Him.  If I die, I die in Him.  Thank you for reminding me, Mr. Luther.  A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bONV_YZCKdg

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There is a fearful storm at sea.  The sailors do not know the God who has brought it.  Jonah, who does know God, has been found responsible for God’s anger as well as their dangerous position.  Knowledge doesn’t satisfy God’s wrath, though.  Sacrifice does.

 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea,and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. ~Jonah 1:11-17

Knowing who is responsible is one thing.  Being willing to submit ourselves in repentance no matter what the cost is quite another.  Here is where we see Jonah’s godly character surface.  Yes, he sinned.  He rebelled against God.  He lacked love and compassion for his fellow man.  He hid and slept when he should have been teaching others the ways of the Lord.  But notice Jonah’s willingness to humble himself in true repentance.  Notice his willingness to take full responsibility for his own sin.  Notice his willingness to sacrifice himself, even to death, for the sake of others.  Ungodly men don’t do those things.  Jonah looks like Jesus – who was willing to humble himself and to die, not for his own sin, but for ours.

Not only that, but notice that when Jonah repented, despite the fact that he had sinned and that they all knew it, his very presence among unbelievers leads them to salvation and trust in the One True God.  How do we know?

They display conviction over offending Jonah’s God and it drives them into prayer to Jonah’s God.  Despite their fear, they, too, submit to God’s will.  Throwing Jonah overboard is hardly something they feel comfortable doing.  It makes no logical sense.  But these men believe and they act against their own wills in faith.  And their obedience to God bolsters their new-found fear of God as well as their foxhole faith (Jonah 1:16.)  By the end of the storm, we find these men sacrificing to God and making vows to him.

Finally, God uses a fish to save Jonah and he gets his spiritual eyes back therein.

Funny how God tends to have his way no matter what we do to stop him.  Jonah set out to avoid bringing mercy and salvation to unbelievers.  He ended up bringing mercy and salvation to unbelievers on his way to bring mercy and salvation to unbelievers.  (Jesus did the same thing.)  That’s gotta mess with a dude’s theology, huh?!

Don’t just know you’re guilty.  Knowledge of guilt doesn’t save, it damns.  It’s submitting ourselves to God’s will in repentance no matter what the personal cost that makes us look like Jesus.

“The more sinners humble and abase themselves, judge and condemn themselves, the more likely they are to find pity both with God and man.”  ~Matthew Henry

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LKD-XQjEHs

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