What Do You Treasure

malachiiamge

  The book of Malachi flies under a banner of love.  God’s love for us and the condition of our heart for him.  The book opens with God expressing his love for his people and providing the very act of choosing his people as the example of God’s love for them.  It is out of this love, the love of a father, that he addresses the sin of his children.  The main underlying theme of their sin is their lack of love for God.

In today’s text God will talk to us about money.  This is a tough topic especially in American culture.  American consumerism tells us we work hard for Our money, the Bible commands us to work hard, but reminds us it’s Not our money. We are stewards of what belongs to God.  The reason we are talking about money today is solely because we are working through scripture one book at a time, verse by verse.  The beauty of this is that we approach this subject, and these verses in context.  Out of context verses 8-10 of chapter 3 can be used to proof text the “prosperity gospel.”  In context we see that God is talking about money to reveal a heart issue.  He doesn’t just want your money, he wants all of you, and that starts with your heart.
The heart is tied to money.  We spend according to our hearts, where our heart is our money follows.  So as we dive in to the text remember God loves you, and want’s a relationship with you.  That relationship requires your heart.

This message starts off with God reminding them of who he is and how he loves his children.

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  Malachi 3:6 ESV

God is about to rebuke the people of Israel, but starts by reminding them of his mercy for them.  God doesn’t change, we do, and we need to.  Remember back in Exodus when God described himself to us?

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  Exodus 34:6-7 ESV

Because God doesn’t change they are having this very discussion we are reading about.  If he wasn’t merciful and gracious he would have wiped them out rather than sending a prophet.  Also because God doesn’t change what is required here is for the recipients of his message to change, and in this text God gives them an example of how they can change.  He gives a timeless example, one that is not just current but constant.

From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”  Malachi 3:7-9 ESV

It seems to me God goes right to money as the answer of how to return to him because possessions are so near to our heart.  We spend most of our waking hours and bulk of our lives toiling to earn money, to buy possessions.  However he points out here that our money and possessions are not ours, but blessings from God.  Specifically here the Israelites had an agreement with God.  He gave them the promised land, it was a gift that he promised and delivered to them.  He did ask them to give back a tenth of the fruit of the land.  This tithe was to be given to the temple, and went to things such as the upkeep of God’s house as well as the payment to the Levites, the priests.  God here however takes out the middle man and reveals when they do not tithe they do not merely not give to the temple but rob God himself.

God the creator is the owner of everything, all that we have he has entrusted us with.  The people here had worked hard in the fields cultivating the land, raising the livestock, etc but God had given them the land.  We work hard at our jobs, and have individual talents and intellect, but who gave us those talents and opportunities to use them?  God is the owner and he wants us to put him first, and to use our money to be a blessing.

This next section is a bit of scripture that can easily be taken out of context.

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.  I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.  Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:10-12

God gives these people a one time promise here.  In context of the previous verses we see that God was explaining how they could come back to him.  They could return to him by making good on their commitment.  They could return to him by again making God first, and giving him his due.  He promises them here that if they do this he will bless them, and he even gives his reason for doing so; “Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.”  Their neighbors would see them returning to the Lord and being blessed for it, and this would be a testament to the greatness of their God.  This is like positive reinforcement from a father.  Do what you are supposed to and I will affirm you.

This is not a timeless promise, but a one time promise for these people in this circumstance.  So what God is not saying here is give ten percent and you will receive blessings in the form of health, wealth, and happiness.  In fact we are never promised those things, we are promised to be blessed.  However our definition of blessing and Gods look different.  Our greatest blessing from God is his revelation of himself to us so that we might know him and have eternal life.

In the following verses God explains why they don’t keep up their part of the relationship.  They don’t love God because they don’t see profit in it.

Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’  You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?  And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”  Malachi 3:13-15 ESV

This is a message that is surely timeless.  We may live pretty good lives, and do most of what God calls us to and still suffer and have a hard time in life.  The life of a Christ follower is not an easy one, in fact often those who are called evil seem happier and their lives seem much simpler.  They do what makes them feel good and seem to get away with it.  The people here question what good comes from serving God.  They were living in a hard time their faith was being tested and they were questioning God.  This is very applicable to us today.  I know when money is tough for example an easy place to cut is from our tithes.  It’s the one place you don’t get a bill for or an outstanding payment notice.  Giving to God is a choice you have to make with very little accountability.  It is so easy to rob from God, this is also why it is such a testament of our faith when we freely give even when it’s tough.  This shows our heart for him, that we would always give back to him first.  The great thing about giving to him also is knowing that in being obedient we get to take part in his ministry.  He asks them to give their tithes and offerings so that there will be food in his house.  When we give to God through our churches we get to take part in the ministry of the church.  For the Israelites the Levites didn’t have an inheritance of land, they depended on the other Israelites paying their tithes and offerings to support them.  Their inheritance was to do the work of ministry.  For our churches today, they can only function if the body of believers that attends is obedient in giving as well.   Then from our tithes the church is able to minister to the community and employee people in ministry who teach Gods word and train up new leaders to continue the mission.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.  “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.  Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” Malachi 3:16-18 ESV

Here we see that there were those who did see profit in serving God.  They feared God and he took notice.  I love what God says about them next because it shows where Gods heart is, and what he’s seeking from us.  He says they shall be MINE, and that he TREASURES them.  God’s heart is of a father and he loves his children, we are his treasured possession.  The whole redemptive story of God creating us for relationship, mans fall in to sin, then God by grace making provision for our sin and paying the debt through his perfect son Jesus’ death on the cross so that we could be saved by grace through faith covered in the blood of him is about his love for us.  He treasures us to the point he sought after us while we were still in sin.  Oh that we would hold him in high esteem.  That we could put God first before our money, possessions, relationships, health, or reputation.  This scripture also ends in reminding us of coming judgement.  God says he will spare his treasured possession and in doing so there will be distinction between the righteous and the wicked.  Just as their will be those he spares, there will be those he does not spare.  The righteous will be those who acted in faith and served God, and the wicked will be those who did not serve God, who saw no profit in it and chose to serve themselves instead.

My take away from this text is to fear God and serve him.  A very real tangible way that I can give my heart to God is to submit to him and give him my best and my worst.  I confess my sins and repent when I fall short, which will continue to happen till the day I die.  I also give my best, the first fruits of my income, my talents and time as well.  It’s not enough to be a consumer in my church, come listen and worship then leave, I need to support Gods work financially and I need to be part of the work.  I need to serve as a member of the body, whether that is by holding open a door and passing out bulletins a couple times a month, or teaching a class, or helping with technical stuff like sound or lights.  I also need to have a heart for people in the community.  If we go back to verse five of chapter three we find God addressing needs there as well.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”  Malachi 3:5 ESV

God not only calls us to serve the needy, but judges those who don’t.  He calls those who take advantage of their employees, the widow and fatherless, and don’t care for the alien wicked.  He says he will judge them.  He also says that those who do these things do not fear him.  Above anything else God wants our heart, and a heart that is devoted to God is a generous one and loving one.

Process of refinement

How we talk to God reveals our heart for him.  It is good and natural to question someone, that’s how we relate and grow in relationships, however the quantity of questions and tone reveal the level of trust we have and quality of the relationship.  As the tone of questioning turns to accusations we find an unhealthy relationship.   I’ve heard a common question many times “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  This question may sound innocent enough but in truth there are two great assumptions made in this question.  One is that people are inherently good, and the other is that whoever is in charge is not.  People question if God is so good how could he let this bad stuff happen.  What we have to come to grips with is that God is good and we are not.

Humans messed this thing up, God’s original plan looked much different than the current state of affairs.  We were in community with God in the garden, and we were so transparent and open we were unaware of our nakedness.  We chose sin, which separated us from God.  We then hid ourselves in shame and refused to repent.  The result of our sin was separation from the presence of God.  However, from that point God began his rescue plan, his plan to conquer sin and crush the head of the serpent through his son who would come as one of us.  From the seed of Adam Jesus would come and live among us and pay the penalty for our sin and reunite the family.  You see God is so good that even though we don’t deserve it he has fought for us, and because he loves us he pursues us.
Here in Malachi 2:17- 3:5 God answers the people’s questions with Jesus.

You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.“  Malachi 2:17- 3:1 ESV
Notice here God states they have wearied them with their words.  Continually through the beginning of this book they question God and complain.  “How have you loved us?”, “How have we despised your name?”, “How tiresome it is,” “For what reason?”, and “How have we wearied him?” He answers how they have wearied him here; by them calling those who do evil good, and by questioning God, which is essentially calling God bad.  I love God’s answer here to “Where is the God of Justice?”  In his answer he reveals just how truly loving he is.  It’s almost like God says, “I’m glad you asked!” Where is the God of justice, let me tell you, “Behold” I’m sending him and just to make sure you don’t miss him I’ll send a messenger to point him out to you.  And by the way, he’s me.  Notice in the text he says my messenger, John the Baptist, will prepare the way before ME, and this Lord you seek, the God of Justice, will come to his temple.  He’s revealing his rescue plan.  However he’s also lovingly reminding them of whom they are and their need to get their heart’s right.
If we look ahead to Matthew Jesus quotes Malachi 3 in revealing John the Baptist as the messenger that was foretold to prepare the way:

Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Matt 11:7-10 ESV
I believe the truth we find in this next piece of scripture is that Jesus both defines us and refines us.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” Malachi 3:2-3 ESV

It seems to me what he is saying about being able to endure or stand when he appears is that no one is righteous, everyone will be found lacking and in need of cleansing.  The imagery he uses here to depict Jesus as coming to purify the priests is not merely coming to wash but a tough process of refinement.  The image of the refiners fire is cleansing through heat.  Precious metals are refined by heating them and melting them, then skimming off the impurities.  The processes of being refined is not easy and often is not pleasant, however the process refines us.  Our faith grows and we are blessed by having sin removed from our lives, our character grown, and ultimately knowing and better reflecting Jesus.
It’s also knowing Jesus that makes this process possible.  It is the children of God that are being refined.  He cares about our character being developed and faith being strengthened because we are in a relationship with him.  Also our ability to be in that relationship stems from his paying the debt of our sin through his suffering on the cross.  Christ then called us to pick up our cross and follow him.  We follow him not just as being believers but in suffering as he did.

Lets go back to Matthew 11 and look at what Jesus said about John the Baptist, and about those that are in the Kingdom of God.

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11 ESV

John was so great that he was compared to Elijah.  He is prophesied as being the next Elijah, who would declare the coming of the great Messiah.  Jesus claims here that John is greater than any of the Patriarchs, indeed anyone who has ever been born.  Here Jesus describes John by God’s definition of greatness:

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jer 9:23-24 ESV

What made John great was not anything he did but his knowledge of who Jesus was.  He knew Jesus so well he could point to him; from the very womb of his mother he revealed the presence of his savior to his mother when Mary went to Elizabeth.  When Jesus approached him to be baptized John knew he was his Lord, and the very one he had been preaching about.  What made John great was Jesus, and Jesus here declares that the very least in the kingdom of God are even greater than he.

  We are greater than John because of our grace of place in redemptive history.  John died before seeing Jesus full glory was revealed on the cross and in his resurrection, however we know it happened.  We can more fully know and understand who Jesus is because we have the whole story, and have seen scripture fulfilled in his death and resurrection.  There is great hope and encouragement in this scripture.  Jesus calls those who know him great, and as we saw in chapter one of Malachi God chooses his children and reveals himself to them, and in doing so he makes us great.  We are not given an opportunity for greatness, we are made great.

I believe part of what we are reading about here is the process of him revealing himself to us so that we can better know and understand him.  That process of revealing himself plays out in our being refined.  Refinement is found in trials and suffering.

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11 ESV

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 ESV

For the people hearing this word I believe the idea of God coming to refine them gave hope and conviction just as it should do for us.  He had already told them their specific sins and called them to repentance, and here is saying I will do the work of refining you.  For us I believe it’s important to know that we too are broken and in need of continued purifying.  I think its also a blessing to know that knowing Jesus is what makes us great, and because we know him we have the opportunity to go through this process.  As a believer and child of God it sets my expectations to know he tells me I will go through trials, and it gives me the hope of knowing they have a purpose.  In going through these seemingly bad times God is continually revealing himself and making us more like Jesus.  He is revealing more of himself in us.  So instead of being surprised or angry and asking why are these bad things happening to us, ask what are you working on in me?  How can I glorify God in the tough situations I find myself? I believe the truth being revealed here is that allowing these painful events in our lives is the loving act of our father.   The result is that we are better prepared to bring him glory.

Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.”  Malachi 3:4 ESV
Here the promised process of refinement will result in their offering once again being pleasing to God rather than repulsing him.  For us our lives are supposed to be living sacrifices, so by continually being refined our lives will be pleasing to him.  This gives us great hope as we find ourselves in times of suffering.
We also see that while his children are refined those who are not his children will face judgment.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”  Malachi 3:5 ESV

Notice here he starts with “then.”  It is after this time of refining of his children that he will come with judgment.  I believe he was using these two acts to describe the first and second coming of Christ.  In the first coming he revealed himself and started the work of refining his children, and in the second coming we will see the final judgment.  At this time he will be “swift,” there will be no more chances judgment will be carried out.  He describes what it looks like not to be his children, and ultimately boils it all down to not fearing God.  This brought to mind the conclusion of Ecclesiastes:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV

Our purpose is to glorify God.  We do that by fearing, or living lives out of awe of God.  If we are his children we will seek to live according to his word and our hearts will reflect his love.

This message applies to how we view adversity.  As Gods chosen children we can look at the tough circumstances in our lives as opportunities to grow closer to God.  We can choose to glorify God in our reaction to these times, and seek understanding from God rather than blaming God and accusing him of being an unloving father.  We also have the joy of knowing that true greatness comes in knowing who God is and that greatness is a gift.  Along with that gift as we walk through life our circumstances draw us closer allowing us to know him more and on a deeper level.  Furthermore as his children it is our duty and purpose to be part of his revelation process to others.  In sharing our story and how the Gospel has been relevant in our life we are able to relate God’s story to others in significant ways.



Did He Say Dung

malachiiamge

  Today’s message is a tough one.  However what I want to remind you is that this whole book was written in the context of a fathers love.  The book opened with God declaring his love, and a reminder that the most loving thing he has done for his people was the very act of making them his people.  He chose them, and now he is rebuking them out of love.  The most loving thing he could do at this point was give them a tough talking to and point out their sin, so that they may repent from their sins.

One thing I love about working through a book is that it forces me to work through all topics within the context the bible discusses them.  If it were not for this it would be easy to steer around tougher subjects and stick with the easier ones.  Today’s message is no easy one.  God is dealing with the religious leaders of Israel who are leading people astray and he focuses in on divorce.  I myself am a divorcee so understand I tackle this subject like any other not out of a spirit of superiority but humble conviction.  I will do my best to expositionally interpret the word of God we find here in Malachi chapter 2:1-17.

In the beginning of the chapter God specifically calls out the priests, and commands them to listen up, and gives a warning of consequences if they do not:

And now, O priests, this command is for you. 2 If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 2:1-4 ESV

What causes us not to listen?  Is it that we don’t hear God’s message, that we don’t understand his word?  This message was specifically pointed to the priests so it seems to me the answer is no.  They received strict education from an early age; they studied the scriptures and commentaries on the scriptures.  The problem even for us today is not whether we know the truth or have heard it, but that we make choices that make us happy or are easier, rather than those which bring God glory.  We don’t want to listen.  In refusing to listen we worship ourselves rather than God.  We choose happiness over Godliness, and this never ends well.  The moment we start worshiping the created over the creator we lose because nothing other than God will fill the desires of our heart, rather they will leave us wanting more.

Next God says that the consequence of choosing not to listen is to receive curses rather than blessings, curses that affect not just the priests themselves but their offspring.  You see teachers and spiritual leaders don’t just hurt themselves when they fail to give right instruction.  They hurt everyone, they cause others to stumble.  They were meant to be part of God’s revelation of himself to his people.  The proper handling of his word and ordinances is a high calling, which needs to be respected and taken seriously.

God literally calls their work crap, and tells his priests he will spread it on their faces, then throw them away with it.  God didn’t pull any punches here he told them what he thinks of their offerings, and goes on to include their instruction.  To us these words seem extreme but to the original recipients it was more so.  The priests had to maintain a very strict high standard of cleanliness.  So the idea of having waste spread on their face was huge.  This would not only be unpleasant but would make them ceremonially unclean, it would disqualify them from taking part in the rituals of a priest, and would be a visible sign of their disqualification.  They would have to go through a whole process of cleansing in order to regain the ability to perform the functions of their job.  It seems to me that is exactly what God is saying here.  I will disqualify you!  You are not taking your position to heart, and this is what it looks like to me, now listen up or I will be rid of you.

In five through nine he told them what he is looking for in a spiritual leader:

My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.

Malachi 2:5-9 ESV

Character is important to God in his people and especially in the teachers of his word.God had blessed them with life and peace, which were blessings from God.  The word fear here means reverence.  The priests feared God, that is they revered him as great and followed his commands out of that sense of awe and respect.  Here they treat him with disdain.  If they feared God they would be following his commands.  Their faith would play out in their walk, in how they did his work.

Clarity is also important in a spiritual leader.  We can’t afford to be vague, we must speak truth clearly.  The word of God properly handled will do the work God has intended.  Here God said the truth that was on his lips lead others away from iniquity.  In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 it says:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB

Scripture is the word of God and is meant to be used to teach us how to live out our faith.  The job of the spiritual leader is to clearly teach the word of God, as they are the messenger of God.  Then God goes on to say that they have not done this.  They have done the opposite, and for that he will humble them before the very people they serve.

Next, God points out another sin the people of Israel have done which he calls an abomination.

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!” Malachi 2:10-12 ESV

The Israelites had intermarried with non believers, and in doing so they had profaned the name of God.  We find scripture warning us not to do this both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  It seems to me the reason is that God is protecting the legacy.  Who we marry is an extremely important decision.  If we date or marry an unbeliever we put ourselves at risk of falling into temptation, for example King Solomon, and we put our future children at risk.  It is hard enough to teach our children our faith but if we align ourselves with someone who doesn’t share it we show them our faith wasn’t our top priority.  As we teach them scripture they will even see God’s warning not to do so, as it is in 2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” and in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NASB “ You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” The two do not belong together. 

  As Christians we believe we are fallen and in need of a savior, and by the grace of God Jesus, God in the flesh, lived a perfect life then offered himself as atonement for our sins by dying on the cross, then rose again conquering death.  By his death we receive the gift of eternal life, and as God’s children our purpose for living is to glorify God and live out the purpose he has for us to reach all the nations preaching this good news.  If we believe this, and are living this out, and seeking to leave a legacy of faithfulness how can we align ourselves in the most intimate relationship with someone who doesn’t agree with that which guides our entire purpose?  This would be cutting our own legs out from under ourselves.  I’m preaching to myself as much as I am to any other single.  Friends I believe it is better to stay single than to put ourselves in a relationship where God will not be glorified.  It is easy to get caught up in searching for happiness, or settling out of loneliness, but what is of utmost importance is Godliness.  Searching for happiness at the cost of Godliness is heading for sure destruction.

Next God addresses divorce in Malachi2:13-16:

“This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and him who covers his garment with wrong, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” Malachi2:13-16 NASB

Here God is judging them because of their faithlessness to their wives.  God is not making a blanket judgment on all divorces here. He is speaking in context of a specific kind of act that is going on here.  The men of Israel were divorcing their wives with out cause, and treating them treacherously.  The text is not specific in how they were treating them treacherously or why they were divorcing them but it is pointing out that they did not have just cause.  In the ESV translation the word faithless was used rather than treacherous, indeed in divorcing them they were being faithless to the covenant they had made with their wives.  Their reasoning was obviously not to glorify God.

I think an important point to make here is that as the text says in the NASB “God hates divorce.”  I remember hearing Mark Driscoll preach on this and he said the last thing I thought was going to come out of his mouth and the most wonderful thing I needed to hear at that point, as it was around eight months after my own divorce.  “Yes, God hates divorce, but he doesn’t hate divorcees.” He went on to say that God hates divorce because he’s a loving father and that even divorced people hate divorce.  It’s true, divorce sucks.  God’s plan was to form this beautiful relationship where man and woman would have intimacy; they would be one flesh and be companions.  They would be a team, to work out their common purpose and share in their identity as God’s children together.  The plan was never that these two who became one would rip apart and become two again.

There is just cause for divorce, Jesus said “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matt 19:9 NASB

However I believe based on Jesus teaching on love and forgiveness that even when we do have valid reason it should be out of necessity rather than desire.  That is to say we should not get divorced because we want to, out of anger and unforgiveness, rather because we have to due to the hardness of the offenders heart and their unwillingness to repent and redeem the relationship.

In this case however God was chastising these men for their obvious sin of discarding their wives for selfish desires.  Also take note here that God says “not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit.”  Then he warns to take heed of the spirit and not do so.  It seems to me that a heart filled with the grace of God, and the fruit of love could not deal so treacherously with the one person we align ourselves with so intimately.  We are commanded as believers to treat everyone with love, this absolutely should extend to our spouses.  In John 13:35 it says: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our love for one another is how we would be known as his disciples.  We are called to love, both God and each other.

The chapter finishes with God pointing out their hypocrisy in light of all he just addressed.

You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, How have we wearied him? By saying, Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them. Or by asking, Where is the God of justice?” Malachi 2:17 ESV

In spite of all they have done they called themselves good and claimed God delighted in them.  Now it’s easy to point fingers and think lowly of them here, especially after hearing God lay out their sins.  But as believers this side of the cross we are all a part of the royal priesthood, and we to have sinned in the eyes of the Lord and make light of our sins.  For me this was a great opportunity to consider my own life, and be humbled.  I need to constantly remind myself of the mercy God shows me on a daily basis, and seek to live out my faith in a life that glorifies his name.  In how I act, in the condition of my heart, who I date or marry, and in how I treat that person if God is so gracious as to bless me in that way.

As it says in Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Let us live lives that don’t make sense to the world, but that glorify his name.



Honoring Our Father

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In the opening part of Malachi God starts with love, he establishes that the most loving thing he has done for his people is make them his people.  He is their adoptive father, who chose them and in choosing them made them a great nation.  I think it’s important to dig into what God means by great because often we think of God’s blessing or the term great on more of a prosperity level.  In this text also this seems to be the reason the Israelites are not taking their faith seriously.  Their nation has lost its grandeur and power, they have rebuilt the walls and temple but are still suffering.  Bottom line, they don’t feel great.  They are measuring God’s love in a tangible worldly perspective.

In Jeremiah 9:23-24 God defines greatness not through the worldview of man but in knowing and understanding who God is.

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jer 9:23-24 ESV

Combine how God defines greatness with his establishment in Malachi 1:2 that he has shown his love by making them his people and we get a new perspective on blessing and what it means to be God’s people.  Being his does not mean life will be easy or we will find success in the way the world defines it.  We are not even given potential for greatness when chosen by God, but the mere fact that God reveals himself to us and allows us to know him is what makes us great.  In making us great we are able to live out our faith in a way that brings glory to who God is, and he continues to reveal himself to others through us.  That is an amazing opportunity!  To be chosen for a purpose to bless the world with the knowledge of who God is.

Yet as we will see in this passage these people do not appreciate their position as his chosen people.  They were taking him for granted and merely going through the motions of fulfilling their duties, rather than living out their faith in love for their father.

‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you” Malachi 1:6a NASB

He has told them he is their father, and in a father child relationship especially at this time a father would receive honor.  This society was patriarchal, the father was the head of the family, and was revered.  He both cared for and led the family.  Here God is saying I am your father, why do you not treat me as such?

He then goes on to explain the offense, how they are dishonoring and disrespecting him.  They were taking the sacrificial system lightly.  In fact they were completely making a mockery of it.  They were offering unworthy animals as atonement for their sins.

O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?  Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. ”  Malachi 1:6b-8 NASB

God created this system out of grace to provide atonement for their sins.  When he gave them the law, the ten commandments, he gave it to point out their sin, so they would understand their separation from God.  Then he gave them this system so that by his grace they could act in faith in performing these sacrifices to pay the debt for their sin by the blood of a worthy sacrifice.  To profane this system was to spit in the very face of God.

For us today as Christians this looks like saying your a Christian, saying that you’re sins are covered but not applying that truth to your life.  They still called themselves the chosen people of God, but didn’t live it out.  We do the same thing today.  We are glad to accept the idea we are going to heaven but we don’t study his word, serve the needy, or spread his redemptive message.  Even worse we take our faith for granted and live lives that resemble our culture more than our family.  A sign of a true relationship with God is a life that proclaims God’s redemptive love in both word and deed.

Then God drives the point home.  They take the worship of God lightly, but then when they need him they expect grace and favor.  We do this too right?  We don’t take our faith seriously, we aren’t really living it then we ask of God, or pray to him when we need him.  All of a sudden when we need something we call out father father and expect him to serve us.

But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you. “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.  But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.”  Malachi 1:9-12 NASB

Here God is basically saying when you serve me halfheartedly you profane my name, and it would be better you didn’t serve me at all.  A person that calls them self a Christian but doesn’t live it just makes God look bad.  It would be better they didn’t label themselves as such so people wouldn’t attribute their actions with his holy name.  This is brutally tough but true.  As God’s children we represent him in the world.  Now this is not saying you have to be perfect, because we can’t be, that was why he gave them the sacrificial system, and at our present point in redemptive history he gave us the person of Jesus.  Our lives don’t have to be perfect to reflect God, we just need to be genuine in our faith.  We need to mourn our sin, and continue to struggle with our flesh.  This heart attitude flows out of a love for our father.

The statement God is making here in the text resembles Gods word in Revelation 3:

“‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Rev3:15-16 NASB

Again God’s instruction is “don’t be a faker!”  Be or don’t be, do or don’t do, but you can’t sit in the middle, you can’t have it both ways.  You’re either all in or all out.  Again this is not a matter of works but a matter of the heart.

He then closes chapter one with a warning against lying to God in the giving of offerings.

You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD. But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.” Malachi 1:13-14 NASB

Here the people were complaining about how hard the sacrificial system is to follow, and are annoyed at having to go through this process.  Again their heart is not in the right place, and their offerings mean nothing to God.  He then goes further to bring about a curse.  It’s bad enough to offer junk to God and for their heart to be in the wrong place, but he addresses those who would pass themselves off as righteous, try to make it look like they are doing right but deceitfully and purposefully hide their sinful acts.  These people were making a vow that they were observing the system in the right way, then when the time came to give the offering they gave a lesser animal and kept what they promised to God for themselves.

This brought to mind the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5.  In the end of chapter 4 the people were selling their property and giving the proceeds to the disciples to distribute to those in need.  Then Ananias sold his property and kept some money back before offering a lesser amount to the disciples.  The fact he gave less than all he had was not the problem as Peter states the property was his before he sold it, and the money was his before giving it.  The problem was he lied and stated that the amount he gave was the full sum.  His intention was to look good in the eyes of man, not to give an offering to the Lord.  Just as God cursed the swindler in Malachi, he struck Ananias dead on the spot when caught in this lie.

Over and over in this text God is addressing the heart.  If we love him as our father we will honor him.  That love will overflow into all areas of our lives, and our worship will be real.  A loving relationship with our heavenly father results in an attitude of desiring to serve him.  For me this is a very convicting text.  Often I give God the leftovers rather than the first fruits.  This is true of my time, money, and heart.  My application is to evaluate my actions and how I live out my faith.  I desire to live in a way that brings God glory, not just for the eyes of man, but from the heart.



A Fathers Love

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Often we tend to allow the circumstances of our life to dictate our relationship with God.  I don’t necessarily mean that we give him praise when things are going well because truth be told we often forget about him in those times because we don’t “need” him.  However when times are tough we tend to blame him for not loving us, for not being fair or just.  When life doesn’t go our way we get upset with God rather than continuing to worship him.  If we only worship him if we are getting what we want is it him we are really worshiping in the first place, or is it ourselves we are worshiping?

This book was written to the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, and God was correcting matters of their heart to prepare them for four hundred years of silence before the coming of the Messiah.  The book of Malachi is a message sent out of love.  God the loving father spoke to his children, the people of Israel.  It was written after the people had returned from exile and had rebuilt the temple.  The people had been home for over one hundred years and were worshiping their one true God again, but their love for him had waned.  However God was still pursuing them, and in this instance love was addressing where they were messing up.

The very first verse of the book is key, and very important for us to take note of as we interpret scripture as a whole.

“The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi”Malachi 1:1 NASB 

This is God’s word not Malachi’s.  Again and again in scripture we are told that the whole of the bible is God’s word, and as it was his word he had an intended recipient for his message and an intended result of them hearing it.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17 NASB

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  2 Pet 1:202 NASB

His intended recipient here was his chosen people, his children, then the people of Israel.  Today we can find application for all believers.  As his children he starts with a kind word of love.  “I have loved you.”  The response from his children is “How have You loved us?”  For his answer God goes way back in their genealogy to Jacob and Esau.

I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob;but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Malachi 1:2-3

His answer is that he loved them by choosing them to be his people.  Even while these two boys were still in their mothers stomach God chose one over the other:

But the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it is so, why then am I this way?”  So she went to inquire of the Lord.  The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.” Genesis 25:22-23

God’s point here is his love is shown by the mere fact that they are his people.  He could have chosen anyone, but he chose them and they knew their history.  They knew even before Jacob they descended from Abraham who God also chose, not based on his own merit.  He came from the country of Ur and a people of idol worshipers, but God chose him and he followed God in faith because of God’s love for him.  All of scripture is a story of God choosing people through whom he would work out his redemptive plan for all mankind.

He chose them, he taught them by giving them his commandments and a sacrificial system to pay atonement for their sins.  In this system they received God’s grace through faith covered in blood.  In Egypt he instructed them to kill an unblemished lamb and paint its blood on their doorways and they would be saved from the plague of death on their first born sons.  He offered them this gift and instructed them on how to carry it out.  In doing so they acted in faith because of the grace he gave them.  Then he set up an ongoing system of sacrifices, which would act as a temporary atonement for sin until Christ’s final sacrifice which would cover all sins forever.

For us today, by the grace of our place in redemptive history we can look back on the fulfillment of the promise he made to these people.  We have the knowledge that the messiah did come and he was the perfect sinless sacrifice that paid the debt for our sin, and that as he said he rose again conquering death for good.

Paul also speaks into what God is saying here also using Jacob and Esau as an example in Romans 9:10-16:

When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, “the older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  What shall we say then?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Here Paul makes the same exertion as is made in Malachi but he brings it forward to include gentiles.  All which God calls, elects, chooses become his children, the mere fact we are his children shows his love for us.  And it is out of love that he sent this hard and good message to Israel then, and to us now so that we may receive instruction on how to live out this relationship with our heavenly father.

Continuing on in Malachi verse 4 to say:

Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.” Malachi 1:4

It seems to me the pronoun “we” is key in this verse.  God is in control, not man.  The called had just as much control over their situation as the uncalled, and no one can change their position outside of the will of God.  The people of Edom could not rebuild on their own regaurd, they needed God’s favor, his mercy.  This brings to mind the people of Nineveh.  They did not receive blessing because they made better choices but because God chose to have compassion on them, and through his compassion they were able to act in faith.   Faith that if they repented he would relent and show them mercy, but just like Jacobs path started with God choosing him, Nineveh’s the same way.  Paul sums this up well in Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph 2:8-9 ESV

We are saved by grace through faith, and it is not of our doing but his.

For Israel at this point in the message the application is no matter what your current life circumstance is, the fact that you are my people shows I have loved you.  Whether you suffer famine, drought, disease, or persecution, anything short of damnation is a gift and the fact you are mine is a sign of my love.  God never promised them life would be easy but he did promise they would be his people and he would be with them, and that should be enough.

For us the point is the same.  The fact that God has chosen you, that he sent his son to pay the price for your sin on the cross, making you a co-heir of the kingdom of God shows the father’s love for you.  Because of this truth you should have joy in your life despite any circumstance you encounter.  Also because of this mercy and love that you have been given love should be your response for your father.  Love that pours out for him in every area of your life, not out of obligation but out of thanksgiving and appreciation for the relationship he has bestowed on you as a child of God.

This section ends in verse five:

Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!

In this verse he was referring to his handling of Edom, their inability to thrive without God.  For Israel his handling of these people was a reminder of their need for God, and that he is ultimately in control.  Like their father Jacob they should continue to seek after God’s blessing regardless of their circumstances.

For us it seems to me this is a reminder there are no self made men.  We cannot “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.”  We may make progress by the world’s standards but we will never truly find fulfillment outside of the blessing of God.  This blessing is a big picture blessing.  It gives us a purpose in the here and now with a vision of the future.  We are not simply blessed to be his people, but to be a blessing to the world, and part of that is living as his children so that others would see evidence of our father in us.



Everyone Needs Compassion

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This is the final post in the series on Jonah. I appreciate studying through scripture in the context of whole books of the bible because it allows me to understand and interpret Gods message in the context that he inspired it. It is my desire to be mastered by his word rather than seeking to master the word and use it to give a message I come up with. I find that by working through pieces of scripture in context I am better able to receive and communicate the heart of God that he has revealed to us through his word. All that God has inspired in his word is true. Some of the truths are easy, and some are hard, but all are true and by working through it in order it keeps me from navigating around the harder truths while presenting these truths in proper context.

In the story of Jonah we observe God passionately pursuing the redemption of man to himself. God gave his messenger the mission to reach the evil people of Nineveh. In doing so God wasn’t only pursuing Nineveh but was working on the heart of his messenger.

In this story God didn’t merely willingly forgive those who chose to repent, but pursued them before they even had the thought to repent. We observe God pursue sinful people and bring about heart change through tough life experiences. In the case of Jonah, while he was choosing to disobey, God sent a storm, then provided salvation in the form of a three-night stay in the belly of a fish. Later he got very specific using a plant and directly explaining his heart for the lost people of Nineveh. For the pagan sailors it was the storm that threatened their lives then the miraculous ceasing of the storm when they obeyed the words of Jonah to throw him overboard to appease his God. Finally for the people of Nineveh God used the threat of destruction given by a man who was their enemy, and I can only imagine what Jonah looked like after three days in the belly of a fish and a trek from the ocean to the gates of Nineveh. Nevertheless it took the impending threat of destruction to cause these people to repent and humble themselves in submission to the one true God.

Lets look at the text of chapter 4:

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?””  ESV

In the beginning of chapter four Jonah had a conversation with God. The prayer found here is in stark contrast to the prayer we find back in chapter two. Going into this prayer the Ninevites were in harmony with God while Jonah was against God. In verse two the very character of God we normally take refuge in Jonah is angry with; “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” 4:2 NASB It’s one thing for God to be gracious and merciful to those Jonah believes deserve it, but the idea God would extend this to Jonah’s enemies made him furious. He would rather sin against God than see God bless his enemies. Continuing into verse three his words mirror his prayer in chapter two where he was grateful his life was brought up from the pit and his fainting soul was revived, however in this prayer he would rather die than see God extend the same mercy to Nineveh.

Jonah’s description of God of being gracious and compassionate comes right out of Exodus 34:6-7 when God described himself: “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 lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness 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.” NASB  Jonah knew this, he knew God and yet in this area of Jonahs life he refused to submit to God.  At the close of this prayer God interacts with Jonah and asked the rhetorical question “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

The writer intended you to read this account in the context of the whole story. Having already read the previous accounts of Jonah we know that Jonah has sinned against God and God pursued him and had mercy on him. In Jonah’s previous prayer he thanked God for this and came to the conclusion that Salvation comes from God alone. If salvation comes from God it is Gods to give not ours. We also need to understand that Israel was God’s chosen people, but not for the purpose of just being his, but to be his blessing to others. His intention was to use his people to carry out his redemptive plan as seen in Genesis 12:2-3; “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  It wasn’t enough for Jonah to just preach Gods message to his chosen people of Israel, God also wanted to use Jonah to reach the people of Nineveh.  God’s chosen people (Israelites) were blessed to be a blessing, not just to be blessed, and through them all the families of the earth were to be blessed, ALL, including Nineveh.

Today this has application for us. Just as God chose Israel to bless the people of the world he chose us to do the same. Just as Jonah was called to go outside of the borders of Israel, we are called to go outside the walls of our churches. In the great commission (Acts 1:8) Jesus commanded us to take his message to our neighborhoods and extend it out to the rest of the world. We cannot decide who deserves to hear God’s message, we must pursue everyone for the purpose of them being restored to God.

Next in the text God gave Jonah a lesson about compassion through a plant:

“Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?””

In verse five Jonah went out to see what would happen, which leads us to believe he still hoped God would destroy the city. While sitting in his small structure God again showed his control over nature in causing a plant to grow up for the comfort of Jonah, to shade him from the sun as he rested there. Jonah took great joy in this plant and the comfort it provided him. Next God appointed a worm to attack the plant the very next day causing it to wither away leaving him exposed to the sun, then God appointed a scorching east wind causing Jonah to feel faint.

Here God provided a physical lesson first, then spoke to Jonah explaining the lesson. God asked Jonah if he did well to be angry over the plant, and Jonah affirmed his position. He then explained that Jonah was angry about the death of a plant that God caused to grow and that lived for a mere day, then compared the simple plant to the city full of people. He used an idiom here: “persons who do not know their right hand from their left,” which meant people who were morally and spiritually unaware. If Jonah would pity the plant should God not be show pity for these people? Also, in driving his point home to Jonah God adds in there were also many cattle in the city. If Jonah had pity on a plant, maybe he would take pity on the livestock that were spared from destruction as well.

God was teaching Jonah a lesson in compassion. Like the plant we are his creation, but is man not more important than a mere plant? In Genesis two we can read the account of the creation of man. We were made to work the land, and given the task maintaining God’s creation. In fact man was made in the very image of God. How is it that we can easily show pity for God’s other parts of creation and yet have a hard time showing pity on man? The most important cause God has given us is to further his mission of restoring man to a relationship with their creator God. He doesn’t need us to complete this mission but he desires to use us. He wants for us to have a heart for the morally and spiritually unaware, and tasks us with making them aware by proclaiming the good news of the final work of Christ which redeems us to God through faith by grace covered in his blood.

An application I draw from this portion of scripture is God’s heart for the lost, and his call for us to proclaim his good news to all people. For me specifically I feel God pointing out the people on the fringe, those who we in the church family might look down upon, or easily dismiss because they don’t come to us. For me this is a reminder that God calls us to go to them, to love on those we find tough to love, to pursue those we don’t think deserve Gods grace and mercy. The truth is none of us deserve God’s mercy and grace. We are all broken and all fall short, yet God has called us to go to everyone, even Nineveh!



Reluctant Obediance

JonahAndTheCity_FBCover

In the third chapter of Jonah we see a picture of reluctant obedience.  Jonah finally submits and obeys God’s command to go to Nineveh and speak out against them, however his heart is still not in the right place.  He didn’t go with the intent of helping them; or guiding them in the right direction.  The way in which he carries out God’s command to speak to these people looks very different than how he would have spoken to his people(Israel).  Reading this chapter brought to mind how a child would obey a parent when directed to do something they have to do but don’t want to do.  Many a times I have found myself telling one of my children to apologize to their siblings then watched as they rolled their eyes, mumbled I’m sorry and weakly hugged them.  They weren’t approaching my directive with the heart to restore their relationship but out of obligation.  They knew if they didn’t obey me there would be a consequence. At these times I find myself having to say you missed the whole point.  Yes they obeyed the words of my instructions but not the heart of what I was asking.  My desire was for a restoration of the relationship not mere obedience.   With Jonah it seems to me God was trying to teach him a lesson in loving his neighbor, and doing the work of God.

Jonah had been asked originally to speak out to the people of Nineveh and disobeyed by running from God as we found in chapter one.  He quickly found he couldn’t escape God’s calling for him as he found himself in a storm then the belly of a fish.  Because of his relationship with God and God’s pursuit of him he confessed his sin, and repented for his disobedience as we found in chapter two.  In chapter three we are faced with a messenger of God who takes no pleasure in speaking God’s message.  He did as instructed and no more.  In context of the book the picture we have is Jonah saying fine, I was wrong to disobey.  Here I will go and do just as you asked, because I have to.  He was obeying God’s instructions but his heart was still to see his enemies suffer.

Let’s look at the text in chapter three:

Jonah Goes to Nineveh

3: 1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 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. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:1-4 ESV)

In verses one through three we see God command Jonah a second time and Jonah obeys.  Then some details are given in the end of three and verse four.  God tells us the specifics of the size of Nineveh.  This great city is a three days journey in breadth.  That’s a huge city with a vast population.  Now to be clear historical data shows the measurements of the city were not a three days walk from side to side.  It is thought to either mean the greater area including surrounding villages or that it would take three days to reach all of the people included in the city.  However the text tells us this then says “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  According to the text Jonah walks one days journey into this great city then he gave his message.  He went a third of the way necessary, and it doesn’t say he was giving the message along the way, in fact it says he walked a specific distance, period.  The word “then” was used in the NASB or here in the ESV they use “and.”  This is important because the words and syntax used are the “word” of God, which he inspired the writer to use, and here following the words and structure I believe the heart of Jonah is conveyed.  He walked in a third of the way and proclaimed God’s message.  Then that’s the last we hear of Jonah in the whole chapter.  Chapter four tells us that he was still in the city, however there is no more account of him doing anything other than observing.  

The amazing thing about this chapter is we get to see God do an amazing miraculous work through a reluctant messenger.  God works through Jonah in spite of Jonah.  God didn’t need Jonah to do this work, he wanted Jonah to be apart of it, and wanted to teach Jonah through it.

At this time we shift from our focus on Jonah to the people of Nineveh.  He gave his message and the people responded:   

5 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 ESV)

This is a great example of true repentance.  Believing God was the first step.  They didn’t just believe him, they took action based on the message, and their action was that of submission.  They fasted and put on sackcloth.  The wearing of sackcloth was a cultural practice done out of mourning and humiliation.  All of the people “from the greatest… to the least” did this.  That is an epic revival, especially considering these people!  These people were renowned for their cruelty and evil.  Apart from the grace of God it’s likely people like this would have laughed at Jonah and slaughtered him for his very words.  Yet they were driven to humility and submission by their believing God’s word.

Next we encountered another character in the story, the King of Nineveh.  This man was the ruler of this great and terrible city; however when the “word” of God reached him his response was immediate.  He arose from his thrown and removed his symbol of leadership, humbled himself and took action to save his people.  Here is the account of the King:

The People of Nineveh Repent

“6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 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, 8 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. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

Not only did the King remove his robe which was a sign of prestige, and remove himself from the thrown which was a sign of power, where he ruled from, but he put on sack cloth which was a sign of humility and mourning, and he sat in ashes.  Here we see the King do the exact opposite of Jonah.  Jonah who was a messenger of God responded to God’s word first by disobedience, then by reluctant obedience and doing just enough to have technically obeyed God.  The King who was not even one of God’s chosen people(the people of Israel) responded immediately, and he wasn’t given any instruction yet he was moved to action.  The King not only personally repented but his heart was for his people. He issued a proclamation that his people would humble themselves and be in a state of mourning.  No person or beast was allowed to eat or drink, and all were ordered to wear sackcloth.  Most important here is the fact that he encouraged his people to call out to God, and turn from their evil ways.  So his proclamation was that his people would humble themselves, call out to God and repent.  The text said that he did this out of hope.  Hope that if they were repentant God might have mercy.  This gentile got the point, his heart was changed, and he understood what it was to serve his people.

The text then gave God’s response to the people of Nineveh:

“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 3:10 ESV)

The people of Nineveh were saved by God’s grace, through faith.  An interesting point here is that God chose these people.  He chose this city of wicked people for Jonah to take this message to.  He could have chosen to save anyone, and indeed there were many other neighboring cities to Israel that he didn’t chose, and who didn’t repent and come to God, but by his grace he chose this one.  The fact he did chose the city was the reason they repented.  Had he not sent Jonah there the people wouldn’t have heard the message, and the circumstances wouldn’t have occurred in which he worked in their hearts to repent from their ways and follow him.  It seems to me that this is an example of God’s sovereignty.  The people of Nineveh couldn’t save themselves, God provided salvation.  This echoes Jonah’s prayer in chapter 3:9 “Salvation is from the Lord” not from man, not from Jonah.

Just as God provided Jonah with a fish, he provided Nineveh with Jonah, and he ultimately provided everyone with the person of Jesus.  Just as God relented and had mercy on Nineveh, he has mercy on those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus, who paid the price for our sin by his death on the cross and conquered death by his resurrection three days later.

I just want to say I have personally found studying Jonah to be both enlightening and convicting.  My Seminary professor  Todd Miles told us last semester that we should approach the word of God with expectation.  We should expect to hear from God as we read the text and study his word.  We can expect this because just as God inspired the writing of scripture he also helps us to interpret it.

The first couple times I read through Jonah I found myself thinking Jonah was ridiculous.  How could someone who God spoke to not obey?  How could he be so indignant and run from God because he didn’t like the people of Nineveh?  However the more I read it I considered how I respond to God’s word.  Do I always obey?  Similar to God’s call for Jonah  to preach to Nineveh, he has called me to love my neighbors(Lev 19:18, Mat 22:39), and through the great commission(Acts1:8) he has called me to take his word to my neighbors, my city, and the ends of the earth.  These are but two examples, because of our grace of place in history we have the whole of God’s word in the Bible and I am sure I could come up with many more examples of me not obeying and even reluctantly obeying.  I certainly have my own Nineveh’s, and I even have people I love who I haven’t spoke God’s word to.  I am no better than Jonah, and reading his account has been a rich time of reflecting on how God has called me, and my own need for obedience.  I pray my obedience would be out of love for God and the people he has called me to, not just to obey but to have heart transformation along the journey.



Salvation Belongs to the Lord

JonahAndTheCity_FBCover

Have you ever found yourself in an utter mess and known it was your fault? You were caught dead in your tracks, nowhere to run, and no denying it. This is where Jonah found himself in the end of chapter one. Jonah had been asked by God to do a task and he ran from his presence. Not long into his journey God sent a storm after Jonah. When asked to pray to his God by the sailors it doesn’t give account of him saying anything to them. Maybe he thought he could still sit this out. Then the sailors decided to cast lots to find out whose fault this terrible storm was. When the lot fell on Jonah he finally caved. They asked him for his whole story and he confessed. He had already told them he was running from God, now he confessed to be a Hebrew, to be one of the people of the God he was running from, and his God is the creator. When asked what they should do to appease his God Jonah offered himself, and in doing so he took the blame for the wrong he did in running from God. In doing this Jonah offered himself as the sacrifice for his sin, and God accepted the sacrifice and calmed the storm, but he also provided a great fish to save Jonah.

I have gone back into chapter one to set the stage for chapter two of this story. In chapter two we find a prayer from Jonah from within the belly of the fish. Because this book is a narrative of the account of Jonah we can’t look at any piece as an individual, but as a part of the whole story. Jonah’s prayer is reflective of what he had done, where he had been, and what God had done in him up to this point. He had turned and run from God which almost resulted in death, but at the last minute God had grace on him and provided salvation. Salvation in this case was inside the belly of a large fish. If we look at the text it goes from Jonah being swallowed by a large fish in chapter one:

“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.”, to the opening of chapter two starting with the word “then.” “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish,

Even after being caught, and confessing what he had done, and offering himself to pay the penalty for his sin it took him three days in the belly of the fish to pray to God. Jonah had to sit in his situation for a while and stew on it. He had confessed, but he had not repented yet.

An application I believe we can take from this story is that both are needed, confession and repentance. Jonah had to confess who he was and what he had done not only to God, but to the people his sin had affected. Then he had to change, he had to get right with God, and this prayer is where we see Jonah do that work.

His prayer begins with his reasoning for why he prays and state he is in at the time:

“2 I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of sheol(death) I cried, and you heard my voice.”

In his prayer he had hit bottom, he was praying out of desperation, and almost the point of death, and even from there God heard him. It seems to me he finally realized he could not run from God, and that’s a good thing. God is always there.

Throughout his prayer Jonah showed his knowledge of Gods word. In his prayer he quoted scripture. In doing so he was gospelling himself, and this is a great example of how having God’s word in our heart has real life application. He couldn’t look up applicable scripture while residing in the belly of the fish, he had to know what God’s word said in order to apply it to the circumstance he found himself in. In verses two, three, and four he reflects on Psalms:

“I called out of my distress to the Lord, And he answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice” Jonah 2:2

– “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple” Psalm 18:6

“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.” Jonah 2:3

– “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me” Psalm 42:7

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

For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You Psalm 31:22

In his prayer he quotes scripture and reflects on how it directly connects with where he finds himself in life. Next in verse six Jonah will use the imagery of bars closing in on him to symbolize death, separation from God, and God rescuing him from death:

“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.” Jonah 2:6

You can also find references to this in: Job 17:16; 38:17; Ps. 9:13; and Isa 38:10

Jonah sums it up in nine. He has expressed thoroughly how God has saved him and then he finally submits to God and claims God as being in complete control.

“But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” Jonah 2:9

He had nothing left, all he had was his voice, and he was thankful for the Lord, knowing his prayers have been heard. Life comes from the presence of God, and he was confident, “thankful” for that.

At the end of the prayer Jonah’s relationship to God had been restored, however God’s work in his heart was not finished. If so the story would have finished there with Jonah agreeing to go to Nineveh.

It’s not the purpose to just receive God’s blessing of grace. His purpose is for us to receive his blessings and not allow them to terminate on us, but to be his blessing for others. We are blessed to be a blessing, we have been given a purpose. Jonah had been saved to go speak God’s word for Nineveh, so that they would be saved. He was given life so that he could offer life from God.

I love how God works in his scriptures. Here in a Narrative of the life of a man we can see evidence of how God worked in Jonah’s life, find real life application for our lives, and see imagery in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus in the New.

Just as Jonah was sent to save the evil people of Nineveh, Jesus was sent by God to save mankind. Jesus pointed back to Jonah, and claimed him as a foreshadowing of himself. In Matthew 12:39-41 we read:

“But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

Jesus claimed Jonah as a sign resembling himself, and God’s provision. Just as God provided the fish to save Jonah God provided Jesus to save his people, and just as Jonah rested in the belly of the fish for three days, Jesus would rest in the grave for three days then rise from the dead. Both the account of Jonah and Jesus proclaim God’s provision of Salvation.



Live it

A common theme we find continually in the bible is purpose. God has a purpose for your life, blessings have purpose, and suffering has purpose. God even created us for the purpose of having a relationship with us. Then the rest of the Old Testament thru the New Testament tells of God’s pursuit of us and restoring the relationship with us he had originally intended.

The passage of scripture we will be studying today is found in Colossians 2:6-7. This passage is a command to live our lives according to Christ’s teaching. A foundational statement of our gift of Christ precedes the command. Then the command is followed by an explanation of how to live it out.

In order to understand the points in this passage it is important to know the context. The book of Colossians is a letter, so just as you wouldn’t pick up a letter and start reading from the middle and expect to understand what’s being said, it is assumed when reading verses six and seven of chapter two you have already read everything leading up to that point. The Apostle, Paul, wrote this letter to Christians living in the city of Colossae.   He was addressing the mixtures of beliefs with the Gospel, and bringing them back to the simplicity of it’s message. Then giving them application for their lives, how to live in light of the Gospel message.

Here is the Text we will study today. “6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”ESV

The overall message of this text is a command to live out our faith, “walk in him”, I love the way the message translates this text, “6…You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him.” Msg Live Christ, this brings to mind the idea of being his hands and feet, being Jesus in the flesh for those we come in contact with.

The command “walk in him” asserts that we receive Christ for a purpose, not just so that we might have the knowledge of the Gospel but that the Gospel is meant to be transformational for our lives, that we would be changed, and that we have an obligation, a job to do as part of the Christian movement, “a purpose”. We are not called or commanded to know, we are called to do. We have a mission, God’s mission, the mission Jesus gave to us before ascending into heaven. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples they would receive the Holy Spirit, and would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. The word “witness” used in the original Greek here can be translated as a spectator, a legal witness who’s testimony would hold up in court, or a martyr; someone who had such faith they would be willing to lay down their life for their faith. This is our mission to Live Christ, and to do so throughout the world.  In order to be on mission, and to follow the command of living Christ we first need to have Christ. This leads us back to the text.

The beginning of verse six is the foundational statement of our having received Christ. Lets unpack what that means. In verses thirteen thru twenty-three of chapter one he both established the preeminence of Christ and clearly explains the gospel.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

We were in a state of sin, and actively seeking it, and the perfect person Jesus who was fully God took our place, paying our debt and moving us in to his kingdom.

I am thankful for the clarity of scripture. Paul lays everything out for us very plainly and in a way that is easy to understand. He tells us what it is that we receive in Christ, commands us to live according to this message, then in verse seven he tells us how. The NLT says “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Being rooted in him is having a firm foundation; in Matthew the parable of the house built on the rock depicts the need for a firm foundation:

Build Your House on the Rock Matthew 7:24-27

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Once you have a firm foundation of who God is and what Christ accomplished for us on the cross you can build your life on that knowledge. A faith that is strong bears fruit through actions, James 2:14-18 tells us:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

With this knowledge and life application we cannot help but live in a state of thankfulness. Understanding how our lives apply to the gospel message we can be thankful for both the easy and hard events in our lives.

Often in scripture we find repetition for both clarity and emphasis. This statement of how to walk is just that. Back In verses ten thru twelve of chapter one Paul describes four ways we are to walk in the Lord. He said we are to bear fruit, grow in knowledge, be strengthened, and give thanks to the Father.   In verse twenty-eight he gives the goal of his ministry; to proclaim Christ, preaching and teaching so people would mature in their faith. It seems to me this is speaking back to growing in knowledge and being strengthened. The goal is for people to be changed and continue to grow so that they can join the mission of spreading the gospel.

It all comes back to purpose. We receive Christ so we can walk in him, we walk in him so Christ will be proclaimed, and our lives can point to Christ leading others to Christ.

In my life I have seen God use both the good and the bad for his purpose of proclaiming himself. I was saved when I was a child, but still strayed in my walk as I grew older. As a teenager and even as an adult I struggled with lust, pornography, and being physically intimate before marriage, and I did all this after receiving Christ. My own sin reminds me I am in the process of redemption but while I am still in the flesh I will struggle with sin even though my heart is to serve God. I don’t still struggle with the same sins but I will continue to struggle with some form of temptation as long as I live just as even Paul struggled with sin.

Consider Romans 7:13-25 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

This scripture is a comfort to me because we see even Paul who was an Apostle of Christ still struggled with sin. Even though we receive Christ and are called to live Christ we are still imperfect and will stumble. But the command and call is still to strive to live according to the word, not to give in to our struggles.

I have also seen friends struggle through rejection and divorce yet their faith remained unwavering; in fact their faith grew. God used suffering and sin to draw his children back to him, and point out sin in their life, and cause their relationship with God to grow stronger than it had been before facing suffering and hard times.

We can also grow in good times if we are rooted in our faith. We can seen blessings as having come from God, and allow those blessings to be an opportunity to bless others. For instance economic blessings may be an opportunity to bless others. The blessing of a home may be an opportunity to extend the gift of hospitality to our neighbors and create opportunities to love on others through a meal, or a party.

The application to all of us is to understand what we have received in Christ, to understand the Gospel and to allow the truth of the Gospel to transform our lives. We receive Christ with a purpose, and by living Christ we accomplish that purpose. Go now and be his hands and feet. Continue to read scripture so you can understand the Gospel well enough to communicate it to others. Don’t just tell others the Gospel, but live the Gospel. Serve others, and form relationships with others so you can share the truth of the Gospel with them in the context of their lives.



Our compassionate God who pursues us

JonahAndTheCity_FBCover

The Story of Jonah much like the whole bible is not the story of a man, but the story of a compassionate God in pursuit of his people. This story in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the future Gospel Story of Jesus. But unlike Jesus the prophet Jonah was an imperfect messiah being sent by God to save people from their sin.

Jonah was sent by God to call a sinful people to repent of their sins and in doing so they would be saved from destruction. He would willingly offer his life for the pagan sailors.  Jonah unlike Jesus was an imperfect sinner, offering his life in payment for his own sin, to calm the storm he brought in in their lives, while Jesus who was without sin offered his life as payment for our sin to restore our relationship to God.  Like Jesus in the grave, Jonah was in the belly of a fish in the depths for three days. Afterwards he would come back and preach a message of repentance, which God used to save the wicked people of Nineveh.  By our grace in place this side of the cross we can look back in the Old Testament and see this picture among others of Jesus and his atoning work in the New Testament, which helps us see how the Old and the New work together to tell the story of Gods work to restore the relationship with his children.

This is a very broad overview of the story of Jonah. Contained in the story we see the heart of God, desiring to save a people who do not deserve his grace. We also see God’s pursuit of his child that is actively working in his ministry.  God see’s the condition of Jonah’s heart, he has a lack of compassion for sinners.  God calls Jonah to give the message not only to save Nineveh but to minister to Jonah, to do a work in Jonah’s heart.  The beautiful thing about this story is God is the only hero, the man in ministry is just as messed up and broken as the people he ministers to. We don’t like to admit this, as the people following our religious leaders we put them on a pedestal and idolize them for their gifts of wisdom and teaching, but Pastors and leaders are just as broken as the people they serve, and just as in need of the grace they teach about.

In order to understand why Jonah did not want to offer a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh it’s important to know who they were. The Assyrians were enemies of Israel and were legendary for their brutality and cruelty. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and a powerhouse in the Middle East during the time of Jonah. While Jonah was prophesying however, they were in a weakened state, which obviously brought the people of Israel great joy as the relief from attack allowed Israel to grow in strength.

So while Assyria was waning in power God called Jonah to go preach a message of repentance. Now when I say God called him it’s not like the call we think of when someone says they are called into ministry or feel called to move to a certain place. In Verse one of Jonah it says:

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it”

God spoke to Jonah, he spoke and gave him a command. Remember Nineveh was a neighbor to Israel and one of their greatest enemies. And what does Jonah do in response to hearing the word of God? The bible is full of hero’s right? People to look up to and aspire to in our walk. Just for clarity sake that question was rhetorical.  The answer is No, the Bible is not full of heros, it’s full of broken people with messed up lives, but a loving God who pursues them, has mercy on them and extends grace.  He doesn’t always give them a cleaned up easy life in return, but he does offer them purpose and ultimately offer them eternal life.

Jonah doesn’t just refuse to do what God said, he ran in the opposite direction. Verse three talks very specifically about Jonah’s response.

“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the Presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid a fair and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”

He ran from God! When I was younger hearing about this story I thought Jonah ran because he was scared of these barbaric warriors but I am going to give you a spoiler here. Let’s look forward to Chapter four. Jonah does eventually go to Nineveh and they do repent and God spares them, and this is Jonah’s response:

“1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

Jonah didn’t want to go to these people because he didn’t want God to spare them; he didn’t believe they deserved God’s compassion. The truth is no one including Jonah deserves God’s compassion, but God is passionate about pursuing people who don’t deserve it.

At this point Jonah is worse than the Assyrians, because he has a relationship with God, and in disagreeing and running from God he was saying he knew better. He was actually idolizing himself over God. The words used here are important because they are inspired from God. It doesn’t just say he ran from God, but he ran from the presence of God, he separated himself from God. In doing this he was saying I don’t want to do your work, and I don’t even want to be near you.  Jonah ran to his death, both spiritually and metaphorically in the belly of a great fish. But God had mercy on Jonah and pursued Jonah, just as he intended to use Jonah to pursue the Assyrians in Nineveh and give them life.

What happened next is a great example of God not only using suffering to bring us back to him, but causing it in order to do so. God’s response to Jonah running from him was to cause a big storm at sea. Jonah’s sin didn’t just affect himself but the men on the boat with him. The text says the storm was so great that the ship threatened to break up. The lives of these unsuspecting mariners were affected as well. But God did a beautiful thing here with the mess Jonah caused. He used Jonah and the storm to reveal himself to these pagans. The mariners were afraid and cried out to their god’s to no avail. Then they looked for Jonah and found him asleep in the boat. They woke him up and ask him to cry out to his god, then they casted lots to try to figure out who was to blame. At this point Jonah couldn’t hide anymore, the lot landed on him and the men started to push him for information. Who’s fault is this? What do you do? Where are you from? And Jonah confessed he was a Hebrew and he served the one true God, the Creator, and they were afraid because he had told them he was running from God.   They knew then that this storm was caused by the one true God.

Jonah’s answer to the problem was to offer himself as a sacrifice. “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, “ he said “for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” Jonah 1:12. They tried to fight the storm a little more then they did as Jonah instructed, and when it worked they offered a sacrifice and made vows to the Lord. Had Jonah not disobeyed, and God not sent the storm this wouldn’t have happened.  In the words of Max Lucado “One man’s intentional evil God uses for eventual good.” Lucado was talking about Joseph and how God used his brothers sin in selling him off into slavery to ultimately save his people and the nation of Egypt from a great famine.  In this story God used Jonah’s disobedience and sin to reveal himself to these pagan mariners.

Now this portion of scripture was a narrative, a story of what happened in history. This story was both a foreshadowing of Christ’s work and death for us, and a continuation of the story of God pursuing his people. In this story we can draw applications for us today.

One of the first things that came to mind as I was reflecting on Jonah being called to speak to Nineveh was Jesus command to love our neighbors in Matthew 5:43-47:

“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same.”

Also in Mark 12:30-31 we find:

 ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

God was calling Jonah to love his neighbor, specifically his enemy. He told him to minister to them, and used him to serve them. This revealed a heart issue in Jonah; he refused to love his neighbor and ran from God.

Like Jonah we are called to love. Not just those we think deserve to be loved and receive God’s mercy, but those who we think don’t deserve it, those who are hard to love. The point here is that what we think is not important, the truth is none of us deserve anything short of damnation, we are all hard to love, but God is pursuing us and commanding us to pursue and love everyone.  We can find these people in our families, in our neighborhoods, even in our churches. It is our calling, our responsibility to serve these people as well, and to be Christ in the flesh for everyone.

I believe this is true for two reasons:

First everyone is important to God. He is God and he chooses who will receive his grace and mercy not us. We are commanded to take his message to ALL people and ALL nations, and let him do the work in their souls.

Second our heart is important. He calls us to love the hard to love, which in reality is everyone including ourselves,  because that is the heart of God. God loved us when we were still in sin, and he pursued us; and paid the penalty for our sin in order to restore our relationship with God. The sign of a transformed heart is LOVE, and true love is not dependent on the one it is bestowed upon, but the one giving it. God wants a changed heart for his people.

The application I came away with specifically was that I don’t want to be like Jonah as I start my walk in ministry. As I grow in knowledge of the bible while studying in seminary I desire God to grow my heart and give me great compassion for all of his people. I want to pursue people on the fringe, as Jesus did. I pray that rather than condemning people living in sin I would have compassion on them and as a pastor I hope to seek relationships and love on people where they are much like Jesus did.  He went to the wells, and the shores, and the houses of tax collectors, chasing after the lost sheep rather than waiting for them to come to him, and passing judgment on them if they don’t.  Also, I realize I myself am broken like Jonah and in need of God’s grace as much as the people I minister to. I need to preach the Gospel, the story of Gods redemptive love, to myself as much as others need to hear it.