Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Might Jonah Have Been Pro-Choice?

Reading: Jonah 4  
The other day my wife Donna and I were riding along the Interstate in congested Tampa traffic. On my left, I couldn't help but notice the irony in the bumper stickers on the passing car. One on the back left side of this car read, “War is the not the answer.” One on the right read, “I am Pro-Choice.” The only thing missing to complete the trifecta of modern logical inconsistency would be the “Save the Whales” bumper sticker. But two were enough.
Each of these bumper stickers speaks of a question. “War is not the answer.” This is a sticker I sympathize with because, as I heard President Obama say recently, “Nobody likes war.” With the understood exception of the maniacal individuals that exist in the world—whether the Joseph Stalin's and Adolph Hitler's of the world, or those of the same mindset who have no power—it is safe to say that nobody likes war. But to say, “war is not the answer” presumes a question, and since the question is missing, the implied meaning is, “No matter what the question, war is not the answer.” Even if an Adolph Hitler kind of individual is slaughtering millions of Jews and Christians a nation's answer to Hitler is not war. In other words, “At all costs, killing other people is never one of the answers.”
Now my mind moves across the back of the car, now further ahead, to the right. “I am Pro-Choice.” What was the choice? To “choose” also implies a question. What question was presented to the person who needed to make a choice? It could have been a number of questions, but usually something like, “I am pregnant, and what if I am not ready to have a child?” Or, “... what if I think this baby would destroy my life?” Or, “...what if my mental welfare is at risk if I were to have a child at this point in my life?” No doubt, there are many variations on this. But the point of the bumper sticker is the same: No matter what the question, killing the child in the womb must be one of the possible answers.
By now you might have another question running through your mind: What does any of this have to do with Jonah? I'm glad you asked. This morning I read the ever intriguing book of Jonah. In short, Jonah is told to go preach to the Ninevites—that wicked people who had a history of evil deeds. He was to call them to repentance, warning of disaster that would come if they failed to repent. Jonah bought a ticket on the first ship he found heading in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Why? Because he “knew that You [Yahweh, God] are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster.” (Jonah 4:2 HCSB) He wanted God to destroy those wicked people. For Jonah, at this point, war was the answer...war in which Nineveh was destroyed.
The Lord wanted to teach Jonah something about Himself, and reveal something false in Jonah's thinking about the Ninevites. So the Lord caused a plant to grow up and provide shade over Jonah's head, and Jonah really liked his plant. However, then the Lord caused a worm to attack and kill the plant. This was followed by the Lord appointing a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah along with the scorching sun beating down on Him (without the shade of the plant). Jonah was so downcast that he wanted to die (Jonah 4:4-8) The Lord then confronts the fallacy in Jonah's thinking.
10So the LORD said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11 HCSB)
Jonah definitely would have had a “save the plant” sticker on the back of his donkey. But he didn't like God's pro-life attitude toward the Ninevites. He wanted to choose for the Ninevites whether or not they should live. He did not recognize that every human being (even those who were his enemies) were made in God's image and much more valuable than a plant. He couldn't see past his own comforts and discomforts and recognize the value of human life. Jonah didn't like that God placed the value of human life above the value of choice. Jonah wanted to choose to keep the plant, but kill the people of Nineveh. However, I speculate that Jonah repented and God granted him forgiveness.
Now this is but a minor point drawn from Jonah's story. For a brief look at how Jonah's faith—the faith that led him to flee from the Lord—might actually help us to run headlong into fulfilling the great commission, see If Only We had the Faith of Jonah!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Making Nothing Out of Something with Nothing

Reading: Isaiah 41; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31  
When God made the world, He made something out of seemingly nothing: words—His words, to be exact (Hebrews 11:3). However, in God's interactions in the world He made—the fallen world—He is busy making nothing out of something with nothing. We've been studying 1 Corinthians on Sunday mornings, and I addressed this on Sunday, March 11, 2012. In that message we saw how God had chosen the “nobodies” (the foolish, the weak, the lowly and despised) to “nullify” or “bring to nothing” the somebodies of the world (the wise, the powerful, and the well-born).
27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
God doesn't save the nobodies of the world because they are the only ones interested; they are interested because He chooses to save them. (With Saul on the road to Damascus Christ demonstrates that He can save whom He wills!) He used Moses, the baby sentenced to death and thrown into a river as a last ditch effort to save his life, to defeat Pharaoh—the one1 who sentenced him to death. He used the shepherd boy, David, who was despised to defeat the giant whom everyone feared. Why? Because God gets all the glory. He is the One in whom we should have our confidence; He is the One we should hold up for others to trust in (1 Corinthians 1:31). That is what it means to boast (Psalm 34:2-3 HCSB)!
Isaiah 41, starting with vs. 8, is all about how God will use the nothingness of His people to turn the power of the wicked (that which appears to be something for sure) into nothing. All of this begins with an encouragement to not be afraid. Why might they be afraid? Because in Isaiah 41:1-4, the Babylonian Kingdom is advancing across the land and turning nations into dust. The Sovereign Lord has evidently ordained it to be. But that is only part of the story. While the whole earth trembles, they turn to their man made idols for refuge (Isaiah 41:5-7). This offers no real refuge from their fear. However, because the Lord called His people, and is with them, they are instructed, “Do not fear... do not be afraid...” (Isaiah 41:10).
When Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:28 speaks of God using nothing to make nothing of something, in order that we might not boast in man but in the Lord, it is seems Paul has been reading Isaiah 41. First the Lord tells His people, who will be taken into captivity by the Babylonians, that the seemingly unconquerable wicked nations and peoples of the world will become as nothing.
All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. 12Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. (Isaiah 41:11-12)
Then, the Lord tells them how it is that He will turn the powerful into nothing: He will use the seeming nothingness of His own people.
"See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. 16You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the LORD and glory in the Holy One of Israel. (Isa 41:15-16)
In the previous verse, the Lord addresses them as “you worm, Jacob” (Isaiah 41:14). Now He will take that worm, the lowly and despised, and make them like a threshing sledge. That sledge will reduce the mountains enemies of the Lord into chaff. Chaff is like nothing; something even the lightest wind will blow away. The result? We will rejoice in, glory in, even boast in the Lord!
The weapons we fight with—the Gospel and the life it creates in us—are powerful to the pulling down of strongholds (the powerful of the world and their systems). Isaiah 41 tells us that what seems powerful in this world, all that it worships in its exaltation of the created over the Creator, are wind and emptiness. Their power is a delusion. This is important to remember as we face a world system that endorses and even promotes the killing of children through abortion. While we Americans must vote, and vote for righteousness in this regard, the answer is not in a political party. I would be very depressed if my hope were in the political parties. They too will be as nothing. Their seeming strangle hold on power is a delusion. Our hope is in God and our weapon is to put forth the Gospel, and live the Gospel before others.
Look, all of them are a delusion; their works are nonexistent; their images are wind and emptiness. (Isaiah 41:29)
God is making nothing out of something with nothing. I believe it is safe to say that Isaiah 41:8-29 is fulfilled in the Gospel and church. Paul is confirms this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 as he identifies the no ones as those whom God has called and chosen for this very purpose. What is the weakest thing that identifies you? Have you ever considered that God might just use that to transform the world around you?  Even the seeming powerlessness of suffering can be used by God to change the world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1Whether the same Pharaoh or his heir is insignificant as far as this point goes.    

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ever Afraid to Pray Like You Feel?

Reading: 1 Samuel 1
Hannah's prayer of 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is fairly well known. It is often cited as the background for Mary's prayer in Luke 1:46-55. It is a magnificent prayer. There is another of Hannah's prayers that is much less known and much less talked about. Yet, I suggest to you that there will be times in your life that this prayer may be more important for you to know about.
13Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”  15“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  17Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1 Samuel 1:13-17)
This prayer was far less refined and wasn't nearly as polished as the prayer of chapter 2. It was also far less acceptable to our religious sensibilities. First of all, her affect was such that Eli considered her drunk. The reason? She was deeply troubled. Have you ever been so deeply troubled that your affect might appear as one who is drunk? Hannah was pouring out her soul to the Lord and whatever was inside came out in troubling ways that matched the sorrow of her soul.
Drunk” was Eli's perspective of what might be the cause; Hannah tells us otherwise. “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” The Christian Standard Bible reads, “...from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” The ESV reads, “out of my great anxiety and vexation.” In the previous verse, she said, “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.” Do you ever pour out your soul to the Lord? Have you ever poured out your soul before the Lord and when it came out you discovered a depth of anguish and resentment; a depth of anxiety and vexation; a soul full of grief? If you have, did you fear that you had blasphemed God?
Hannah, whose name means “encamped against,” or, “bent down,” was one of Elkanah's wives. It seems in the story line that the Lord is the One encamped against her (1 Samuel 1:5-7). She had much reason for her vexation of soul, her anguish and resentment. Peninnah, the other wife of Elkanah, whose name meant “chief,” was truly positioned as “chief” over Hannah, as far as the blessings of this life go. And Peninnah never hesitated to rub it in. When Hannah poured out her soul, there was some ugly in there and that ugly came out. Yet, even that was an expression of her faith in God. She would not remain quiet and pretend that God was not part of the equation.
Hannah's prayer was a lament. One scholar defines a lament, “To lament...is to refuse to accept things as they are, to protest God's continued silence, and to press God for deliverance.”1 The scriptures are full of laments. The psalms, the book of Job, the prophets (one whole book is named for laments, Lamentations) the Gospels even have them. Hannah refused to accept the seeming reality that God was encamped against her! She refused to accept God's continued silence. Elkanah's weak theological help (“Am I not gift enough from God for you?”) was not sufficient. Hannah would settle for nothing less than deliverance.
God doesn't rebuke us for bringing our fears and anxiety to Him, he reminds us that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). God doesn't rebuke us for even bringing our resentment to Him. I might suggest that sometimes our biggest problem with resentment is that we don't bring them to Him. When we are instructed to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” we are going to have to face our resentments right then and there while we are praying.2 God is not ashamed to associate Himself with those who refuse to be satisfied with a “whatever will be will be” attitude in the face of this world's brokenness (Hebrews 11:16).
God invites us to pour out our souls to Him (Psalm 62:8; Lamentations 2:19). And just as with Hannah, God answers prayers of lament (1 Samuel 1:17-20). Answers to laments are often that from which much more polished and refined prayers like 1 Samuel 2:1-10 grow. The prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 may be more famous, more fit for public consumption, and less offensive to our religious sensibilities, but it was not more effectual with God. God answered Hannah's pouring out her heart in anguish and bitterness of soul, and God will hear your prayers poured out to Him in times of deep trouble. Even your dissatisfaction can be an expression of faith in God when it refuses to accept a deaf, silent, or unjust god, in place of the Living God. May we offer more prayers of lament in this broken world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Ellington, Scott A., Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament, pg. xi.
2I often find myself pausing before I can pray that line, or in the middle of it and saying, “Hold on, Lord, maybe not just like I forgive... maybe Lord, I need some real help forgiving. Help me forgive....”. It forces me to face any resentment or unforgiveness that is there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Joseph and His Technicolor Likeness to Jesus

Reading: Genesis 42–45   
“No matter how many times I read it, the story of Joseph is never boring.” That is what I told my wife this morning as she was walk through the living room. I had been reading this account once again. The emotion of the story and the drama are captivating. Yet the powerful ways it points us to the Savior—the many ways Joseph is a type, a shadow, of the One to Come, the Messiah are what capture me most.
Joseph was the favored son, the son whom Jacob loved most. He is the one we are all drawn to as we read the story. The others, by and large, turn out to be scoundrels. Joseph dreams a dream of his father, mother and brothers all bowing down to him. In time, this will come to pass. Yet when you read the story it doesn't take long to discover that Joseph was the one who suffered most in this story. His father suffered too—the grief associated in the suffering of his son.
Why did Joseph suffer? In order to save the scoundrel brothers. The righteous for the unrighteous. Joseph was favored and chosen to serve his family. But that favor and choosing meant suffering for him. His suffering meant salvation from famine for the rest of his family. In order to accomplish their deliverance, he was sold for twenty pieces of silver. He became a slave of Potiphar, which eventually led to his being imprisoned. This wasn't merely a weekend of suffering; this was years of suffering. It seemed as if everyone had forgotten Joseph (Genesis 40:23); it may well have seemed as if God had forsaken Him.1 However, God remembered Joseph, and this led to Joseph being put in charge of all Egypt.
Joseph's brothers come and we read,
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. (Genesis 42:8)
These were his very brothers. They had sold him into slavery, and yet they had so forgotten him that they did not recognize him. Certainly he had changed. Certainly they did not expect him to be alive, and, if alive, they would not have dreamed he would be in charge of Egypt (though he had dreamed something like that and told them). Likewise, when the Savior came,
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)
Though they had been told of Him by the prophets, and though He fulfilled the pattern of the One whom God would send, they did not recognize Him.
When Joseph did reveal himself to his brothers we read the following:
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” (Genesis 45:4)
Jesus came as the One sent by the Father (e.g. John 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-38; 6:29, 57; 7:16, 33; 8:16, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 12:44-45; 16:5; 17:3), and He was sent to save lives (John 3:16-17). And just as Joseph was sent ahead to preserve a remnant, to save lives by a great deliverance, so Jesus was sent ahead of us to preserve us by a great deliverance!
My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?   3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”  5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:2-6)
Joseph was the way to their deliverance. It was through his being sold as a slave, through his suffering injustice and the hardships of prison, it was through his rejection by his own brothers, that they now had deliverance from famine. Likewise, Jesus is the way to our salvation from perishing in our sin. It is through His being sent by the Father, through His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, His suffering injustice in a sham trial, His rejection and crucifixion by His own, that we now have deliverance from death itself. He has gone ahead of us, through death to glory in order that He could make ready and available a place for us in eternal life!
As Joseph sent his brothers away, he had one last thing to say to them before their journey.
Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don't quarrel on the way!” (Gen 45:24)
Likewise, Jesus, when He was leaving, knowing we too had a journey before we would join Him again, left us with similar instructions:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) (See also, John 15:12, 17; 17:23)
Let's pay attention to these instructions for the journey on our way to meet up with the One who has gone before us and is preparing a place for us.  Joseph should help us recognize Jesus!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1The application to Christ is clear: He came as the chosen One, and because of that He suffered to save us. However, there is a secondary application, which Paul seems to understand quite well. We too are now chosen by God and beloved (Colossians 3:12), and as such we too are called to suffer and share in this aspect of Christ Himself. This suffering, and long-suffering, will also be a means of bringing help to others. Joseph was the likeness to Christ before He came; we are to be the likeness of Christ after His coming.   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Great Commission: Spreading Joy Wherever We Go

Reading: Psalm 32   
Does it strike you as odd that my title describes the Great Commission as “spreading joy wherever we go”? Maybe you are running through the Gospel accounts of the commissioning of the disciples and trying to think if there is a reference to joy. If that is not odd enough, how about that I am writing a devotional on Psalm 32 and referencing the Great Commission? But it came to me as I was read Psalm 32 this morning...
1How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
2How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit! (Psalm 32:1-2 HCSB)
Forgiveness of sins produces joy. It might well be said that our joy as believers is directly proportional to our realization of just how forgiven we are, and just how much we've been forgiven. We are as joyful as we are forgiven and realize it.
We see this in Luke 7:36-50, the story of the woman in Simon's house who washes Jesus' feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. The point there is directly made between forgiveness and love. He who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). But one has no doubt in reading the account, that though she was weeping, they were tears of joy. This was a joyous love—like that of a bride on the day of their wedding. This joyous, even weeping for joy, love is directly proportional to just how much we know that our sins are forgiven.
So, as I read these verses it struck me that one way we could express the Great Commission is that we are called to spread joy wherever we go.
46He also said to them, "This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48 HCSB)
So, as believers in the Lord Jesus, not only are we filled with joy and peace in our believing (Romans 15:13), we have the privilege and delight of being able to spread that joy wherever we go as we proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. No wonder the angel said it this way, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luk 2:10) And no wonder that my favorite Christmas Carol (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) repeats the refrain,
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
Increase your joy by contemplating the glorious good news of having your sins washed clean in Jesus Christ. Increase the joy of the world by spreading the tidings of comfort and joy in Jesus Christ!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

(For more on the connection between joy and forgiveness read How Joyful Are You?)