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

The Bigger Story (Part One)

IMG_1012Ruth 4:13-22

Good morning, dear friends! So how are you today? How do you like your life now? Are you content? Or are you really wishing for more? Are you feeling discouraged or depressed? Does it seem like the Lord cares? Or do you feel that he has forgotten you? Sometimes we may wonder. We might pray something like this: “Father in heaven, I believe that you are Lord of heaven and earth and that you have the absolute right to do whatever you want to do. But what in the world are you doing? This hurts so much! Why are you doing this?”

“The explanation for much that takes place in our lives lies well beyond our own lives, and may be hidden from us all through our lives! For God does not mean to touch only our lives by what he does in us; he has the lives of others in view—even those yet unborn. That is why life can seem so untidy for the people of God. He has not yet finished his business” (Ferguson, Faithful God, p. 145).

We must fully understand that we are part of the story of God’s glory. Life is not the story of your personal happiness or mine; it is not about you or me. It is God’s story, but because it is God’s story, our lives have meaning and significance, even if we are people like Ruth and Naomi. Their lives seemed to be ruined, but God brought them into his story, and now we get to see their part in God’s bigger story. Let’s think about three truths that become clear in this last section. We will focus on the first of these today.

Consider the Lord’s power. The Lord enabled Ruth to conceive (4:13). This can seem very strange to American people, who assume that people are in charge of everything. It actually portrays a very shallow acquaintance with life. If you doubt my words, think of the many couples who cannot reproduce.

Reflect on the earlier part of Ruth’s story. Ruth had been married once and had not been pregnant. If she had borne a child for Mahlon, we would not have had this story. She fits in the “barren wife” theme that is in the Scriptures (Sarah, Rachel, Elizabeth, etc.) This reminds us that God is the source of life: “and life comes from God” (words from the praise song, “You are God”). We need to restore this viewpoint in our thinking. For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. (Psalm 139:13-16 HCSB).

God makes us and prepares us for the mission he gives to us (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). You are significant in the context of the plan of God. God has made you what you are in order to serve him in your family, your church, your nation, and the world. Sadly, the godless have no sense of purpose; their life is meaningless; weep for them if you understand!

As God gave fruitfulness to the land (1:6), so he gave fruitfulness to Ruth (4:13). This was in answer to the prayers of the people at the gate (4:11). The women also prayed that Ruth’s child would become famous in Israel (4:14). As we shall see, that prayer was also answered. Prayer is one of God’s means toward fulfilling his purposes. We do not have, because we do not ask God (Matthew 7:7-11; James 4:2c).

This is important in the life of your local church at this moment in time. In a time of great uncertainty, your local assembly may be struggling. You need to trust the Lord to adapt and to have boldness to do new things for his glory. The past is past. Stir up one another to fulfill the mission that Jesus gave us (Matthew 28:18-20). In the midst of troubles, think on the new opportunities that God provides. We all need to walk by faith with our Risen Lord, and realize that he rules over everything for the good of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). We need to think and act prudently, and we need to pray fervently. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. (James 5:16b-18 HCSB).

Grace and peace, David