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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Me, But Not You (Jonah)

Do you have any jokes in your arsenal where you can remember the punch-line, but not the joke? This seems to be a frequent occurrence at family gatherings. Someone in my family will blurt out a punch-line in the middle of a conversation that makes us all laugh, but then someone will ask, "How does that joke go again?"

Or perhaps you tend to remember the joke, but not the punch-line. This seems to be a more common experience with the Bible. Not that the Bible is filled with jokes, but many stories in Scripture are very memorable. We know the characters, the details, and the outcome. But very often, we forget the punch-line. We lose sight of the reason the story was given to us in the first place. This happens with the Prodigal Son, the Exodus, and the Cross.

But the story of Jonah and the whale might take the prize for the best known story with the least known application. We know Jonah ran away when God told him to go and prophecy to those bad guys in Nineveh. We know a huge storm trapped the ship which Jonah sailed on, and that superstitious sailors threw him overboard. We know about the giant fish that swallowed him whole and kept Jonah in his belly for three days. We may even know that Jonah escaped all this, finally went to Nineveh, and that the city repented and was spared God's judgment.

Fascinating story. But what's the point? I believe it actually has very little to do with the fish. There's some deep irony in this story. You see, Jonah is also mentioned in 2 Kings 14. In this account, Jonah prophecies about some successful land reclamation during the reign of Jeroboam II. We also discover that Jeroboam II was an evil king, yet God did good things on Israel's behalf, choosing to show mercy to His people. In spite of their rebellion, God chose to be merciful and compassionate because this was his nature. And Jonah saw it all.

Jonah was well aware of God's nature to show mercy and compassion. But when God shows mercy and compassion to Nineveh, he is outraged. His complaint against God is to say, "I knew it! I knew you would be merciful and not destroy Nineveh! That's why I ran away!" (ch. 4) So when God shows mercy to Jonah and his people, Jonah is okay with that. But when God acts the same way to others, Jonah's not so sure.

Isn't that our tendency? We want God to be forgiving of our weaknesses and short-comings, but we kind of like the idea that God will judge the weaknesses and short-comings of others, particularly of our enemies. The fact that God feels the same way about them as He does about us can be a hard pill to swallow. But this is the lesson of Jonah- that God will show mercy and compassion to whomever He chooses. Our role is not to judge and determine who should and should not receive this mercy, but to faithfully proclaim this message everywhere.

On your journey, may you be the kind of person that hopes God will treat others just like He treat you. May we long to see His mercy and compassion on display all around the world, even to our enemies.



Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sticking Up for You (Obadiah)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are verbally attacking someone, but at the same time totally aware that it has nothing to do with them? Oh, I'm not talking about the kind of moments where we've had a bad day and so we yell at our dog (or our kids). I'm thinking more about moments like this.

The other day, I was tinkering on some project in our garage while the kids were playing out in the cul-de-sac. We live in a neighborhood with lots of other young children, and in general this makes for good times with lots of playmates. But some of these children have, shall we say, less than involved parents in their lives. The behavior they exhibit would suggest they live with very few, if any, boundaries.

So on this day, I watch my three-year old daughter Maddie playing happily with her tricycle, wheeling her doll around the circle. At one point, she drops the doll, and so gets off the trike to go back and pick it up. In that nano-second, one of these aforementioned children runs over and jumps on her toy. In that moment, I feel something rising up within me. I feel some righteous indignation on behalf of my daughter and so I rushed out to her defense. No, I didn't yell or lose my cool, but in one of those very stern voices that only fathers can produce, I instructed this boy that this was not okay. I told him that he was being rude and not respecting the property or the feelings of others.

But the whole time I'm having this one-sided conversation (maybe 30 seconds at most), I realize in the back of my mind that this has nothing to do with the neighbor boy. I honestly don't see it as my role to parent him or teach him right and wrong. This whole scene is occurring because I want my daughter to see her dad coming to her rescue and caring for her by defending her from others.

By now you may be asking yourself, "What in the Sam Hill does this have to do with Obadiah?" You see, the book of Obadiah is exactly the same way. Most of this amazingly short book deals with a prophecy against the nation of Edom, the descendants of Esau and thus relatives of Israel. God has some pretty dire warnings for them, but I can't help but think that these words were never intended to actually reach Edom.

No, these words were for Israel. This is God sticking up for His kids. It appears that Obadiah is written shortly after the downfall of Jerusalem and the resulting exile of her people. The Jews are taken to a distant land and must find themselves wondering if God has deserted them. Obadiah's message was God's way of saying, "I have seen everything they did to you and I will pay them back. Not only that, but I will rescue you and bring you home once more. Trust me to do this."

So, wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you will know the God who rushes to your defense. A God who sees the unfair blows life has leveled against you and promises to make things right again. We may not be able to see how that could ever happen, but God continues to work His good plan in your life because that's the kind of God He is. A God who is always sticking up for you, His kid.

Journey with Him today-