God, Jonah, and the City (Part Three)

Jonah 1:3-4

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up (1:4 NIV).

We see in the book of Jonah God’s awesome compassion for people everywhere. This includes cities of people, cities where we might encounter much wickedness. This is not because city people are more wicked than suburban or rural people. Humans are sinful wherever we live. I have observed great wickedness in the burbs and the country. We see much wickedness because there are many people in the city, who take pleasure in each other’s sin (cf. Romans 1:32). An avalanche of sin can more easily occur. Yet in his mercy God chose to show his matchless mercy to wicked Nineveh.

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (1:4 NIV). Jonah will later explain his reason for his disobedience (4:2). It was a terrible reason, and we will look at it in a later post. Now, let’s concentrate on the facts of his defiance of God’s word. In doing this, we seek to learn from his errors. Our sins tend to develop in patterns. They start from our hearts, and then we do similar actions.

When we sin, we seek to avoid God’s presence. Jonah ran away from the Lord… He wanted to flee from the Lord. We see this pattern as early as Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:10). The pattern is sin, guilt, fear, and hide. When we feel guilty, we don’t want to be in God’s presence or with his people. If someone begins to be absent from your local gatherings, they could be working or ill or caring for someone or other legitimate reasons. However, their absence could indicate that they are running away from the Lord. Let’s reach out to one another if we see this happening.

When we sin, we find circumstances that are favorable to our flight from the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence (1:3 CSB). Jonah was intent on one thing, though it was the wrong thing. Being focused and zealous is good, if you are headed in the right direction. Otherwise, you simply run farther and farther from where you ought to be. Jonah went to a port, where he could find a ship that was going in the opposite direction from Nineveh. And surprise, he found one! Too often we hear of people praying for something that is contrary to God’s word, and when they find circumstances that aid their rebellion, they piously claim, “I prayed about it, and God answered my prayer!” Please don’t play such games with God and his people. The Lord knows what you’re doing, and wise Christians living in obedience do also. Also, when we find the circumstances we want, we will pay the price to pursue them. Sin can be a costly endeavor.

When we sin, God will pursue us (1:4). When he comes after us, there is no predicting what he will do. Yes, this ought to scare us. Think of the warning connected with the Lord’s Supper. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:29-32 ESV). The Lord will discipline his genuine children (Hebrew 12:4-11). No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful (Hebrews 12:11a CSB). We should rejoice greatly, because often the pain of discipline received is far less than we deserve. But none of it is enjoyable. God cares about us. He cared about Jonah and his mission. The Lord sent a great wind. The true and living God can use all creation as sheriffs and marshals to go after his wayward people.

Let us learn from Jonah. God cares about the people set apart to his glory. He will not let us remain comfortably in our sin. He wants us involved with him on his mission. What is God now doing in your life to get you involved?

Grace and peace, David

A Proper Response to Correction from the Lord

img_39452 Chronicles 19:4-11

People usually do not respond well to correction. This failure stems from our self-will, pride, and laziness, as well as other sources. A child might be intent on doing the same wrong action, even when mom and dad strive to set them on a proper path. Who of us as teenagers did not think that we knew more or understood our life better than our parents and teachers. We all can be very lazy, especially when it comes to reading the word. I try to encourage people to read the word together. For example, this week our assignment is to read Galatians three times. In the Bible in front of me, Galatians is only eight pages long. Eight pages times three equals 24 pages. Yet this can seem like climbing Mt. Everest to those that are, to put it bluntly, spiritually lazy and self-indulgent. All right, perhaps that bordered on being rough, but we all need some encouragement to become spiritually active, and not only in reading God’s word.

Jehoshaphat did respond well to the correction he received from the Lord through the prophet. Let’s look at two core components of his response. Jehoshaphat response flowed from God’s corrective encouragement to him.

  • He turned from helping the wicked to restraining them through building up an effective legal system. To put this in biblical counseling lingo, Jehoshaphat did his homework. God gave him an idea, and he worked it out in his way of life.
  • The values he built into them agreed with those of his heart that sought the Lord. Observe how he told the judges that they “are not judging for man but for the Lord” (19:6). He wanted the fear of the Lord to be on them (19:7), and he wanted them to “serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord” (19:9). Here was a good desire of Jehoshaphat: to reproduce godly values in his people. He wisely began with the leaders of the people, who in turn would be able to more directly influence the people. Most people are not convinced by broad public statements, but through private discussions with people committed to the right values.

We must seek constantly to build core biblical values into the spiritual DNA of everyone in our local gatherings of believers in Christ. Then when you leave your gathering, you should seek to reproduce those core biblical values in other people. Therefore, go out every week with the gospel, living it, telling it, and building groups or networks of people through the gospel. Picture your local body of Christ meeting on Sunday morning. At the end of the meeting, your gathering “sneezes”. We all go out carrying the message of the gospel to see it reproduced in the lives of others.

What attitudes and actions did Jehoshaphat desire to see develop in his people? He acted to build some core values into their spiritual DNA.

  • He wanted them to judge carefully (19:6-7). Now a cynic might say, “How dare Jehoshaphat even say this, because of his careless alliance with Ahab? How dare he talk about judging carefully?” My friends, by God’s grace people can repent; that is, they can change their minds and then live in conformity with God’s truth. Jehoshaphat’s correction by the Lord provided him with a renewed perspective on life.
  • He wanted them to serve as judges “for the Lord” (19:6). He desired them to think of God as their boss and final authority. This is essential for the way we live on our mission in the world (Colossians 3:17, 23). Whatever your job, you are Christ’s ambassador. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).
  • He wanted them to judge in conformity with God’s holy character (19:7). To do so is to be godly, or to use another New Testament idea, Christ-like. We go into the world to show the glory or surpassing worth of God. By not being unjust, partial, and by avoiding bribes, those judges would be godly; they would be acting like God.
  • He wanted them to sense their accountability to God (19:7-10). They must serve in the fear of the Lord. Jehoshaphat had learned that God corrects those he loves. He wanted his officials to be mindful of this reality. God does correct, and we will give an account to him one day (Romans 14:11-12; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10). The Lord intends for the reality of judgment to spur us on in godly attitudes and actions.
  • He wanted them to act with courage (19:11). Here Jehoshaphat drew on a rich stream of biblical exhortation (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:6-9; 1 Chronicles 28:20). Boldness is essential in serving the Lord (Acts 4:29, 31; cf. Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:20).

Here are five biblical values to build into your spiritual DNA and so see them reproduced in others. As you live a gospel-focused life, serve the Lord wisely, as an ambassador, godly, as one who must give account to God, and boldly.

What clashing desires are ripping you apart? Please take action today to come clean before the Lord. Be “your own Jehu” and write down what you know about yourself as you sit quietly in the presence of God. Though you have clashing desires and need to get them resolved in a godly way, where can you serve the Lord? You see, we really believe that we all have some messes in our lives, and that it is people in need of change that God uses to help people in need of change.

Grace and peace, David

An Example of Discipline

img_39352 Chronicles 19:1-11

“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Yes, I heard those words too many times from my dad when I was a boy. I would think, “Yeah, right. I’m the one who is getting spanked!” I also thought that teachers received some special pleasure from putting red marks on my papers. But now through long experience I know this: One of the tough parts of being a parent or teacher is the need to correct one’s children or students. Yet we must do it out of love. This is the reason that God disciplines his dearly loved children. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NIV). Let’s think together about the substance of the correction that the Lord gave to Jehoshaphat.

But first, here is a brief analysis of his sin. Notice the parallel structure in the prophet’s charge. Jehoshaphat had helped the wicked, meaning his multi-level alliance with Ahab. Perhaps the term “wicked” would expose the evil of his action to Jehoshaphat. But in typical Hebrew communication pattern, Jehu restates the matter to bring out what Jehoshaphat had done. He had loved those who hated the Lord. Consider the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:24). The Lord expects the full devotion of our love; his holy jealousy is aroused when we give it to others. Now was Jehoshaphat completely “gone” at this point? Far from it, as the next statement by Jehu the prophet makes clear (19:3). Jehoshaphat had yielded to clashing desires that wreaked havoc on his life. Yes, he loved the Lord, but his heart was on a wild chase to fulfill other desires, and he had to face up to how this was ripping him apart.

The prophet announced corrective action by the Lord. Jehu did not give details, but as we see from the next chapter, a vast army would come against him. Jehoshaphat had been fighting the wrong battle, and so now he would have to fight a battle he didn’t want. The fact that the Lord mercifully bails you out of some consequences does not mean that he will get you out of all consequences. God disciplines the children he loves (Hebrews 12:4-11).

The prophet acknowledged what Jehoshaphat had been doing well (19:3). The Lord knew that Jehoshaphat would need encouragement, especially as he went through discipline. It is amazing to me that evangelical Christians have not been very good at showing mercy, though they claim to love mercy. If someone sins or fails, we have been too quick to write them off, instead of working with them through their struggles. However, the Lord commended him though he had seriously sinned. He encouraged his faltering child about two good things he had done.

  • He had rid the land of Judah of Asherah poles. In doing this Jehoshaphat was keeping the first and second commands of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 5:7-10). He had done right actions.
  • He had set his heart on seeking the Lord. In doing this, he was living in conformity with the first great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). He had shown right attitudes.

Point: The Lord used the good in Jehoshaphat in order to restore him and to build better things into his life. The course of our lives should be on a trajectory toward the better. To help do this, plug Psalm 27:8 into your way of life. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek (NIV).

The Lord is the God who delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). You may experience God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. He died and rose from the dead in order to be very merciful to sinners like you and me. Right where you are at this moment, you may forsake the wrong desire that has been wreaking havoc in your life and return to the Lord. Do not delay.

Grace and peace, David