Thursday, June 27, 2013
The Book of Jonah is, I think, one of the most action packed, quick moving short stories every written. It is a story of “smack down” justice and hard headed anger resulting in temper tantrums that seemed totally unforgivable. And, yet, God forgave and didn’t even “fire” Jonah from his job. The moral of the story is that God will use us even when we do not want to be used and He will forgive us for our stupid rebellions and angers and will continue to use us in the days still ahead of us. But there will be consequences as He turns us back into the right path. What an amazing, unfailing love He has for us! What a story.
Here was this one Prophet, serving God during the time of the kings, who was picked out to do a special job for God. A job that God already knew he would hate doing. He was firmly entrenched in preaching and teaching the Word of God to the rebellious Israelites and enjoying serving God in this way. He was proud of the work and of God’s grace and mercy that was always available to these, God’s chosen people, should they turn from their evil ways and come back to Him. Now God asked him to do the unimaginable: Take My Word to the evil, gentile people of Nineveh. “No God! Not that! No! Please, no!”
The story of Jonah goes by so fast that it is easy to miss the deep, substantial truth about God that is revealed there. In just the first chapter, Jonah experiences a lifetime of God’s determination. And it seems to cover just one day in the life of the recalcitrant prophet. When God achieved His purpose Jonah finally lets us know what the problem was. He hated the Ninevites and was totally, determinedly against those evil people receiving the Mercy of God.
Somewhere in here, there is a lesson for us all about judging God’s intentions. Saying to God that His idea is a bad idea is to be a fool, even as one who believes that there is no God. Jonah knew the extensive powers of God and he knew that if the message was heard, the people would come to God for Mercy and they would be given that mercy. He wanted no part of it. He hated them. In the lesson this was called prejudice, but I see it as an angry reaction in judgment of God’s judgment based on actual circumstances of the relationship between the Ninevites and the Israelites. No! That is a no, no! We are not to judge God’s intentions or purposes.
I bring this up because once again I was challenged on the free-will issue. Those who believe in free will stand right on the edge of challenging God’s judgment. I have mentioned before that I know and realize that we are born with “will” but I do not believe for a moment that it is free. It always has a price. It certainly had a price for Jonah.
Those who bring up the subject often are edging on constantly thinking that in the end, God will have made some mistakes and allowed some of His specially chosen people to perish because they did not willfully seek and come to God. Or, that they have not heard and therefore are innocent of not answering God’s call. And they use this thought to excuse themselves from believing that God is in complete control of whose heart hears Him calling and whose heart is hardened against Him. They also use it to comfort themselves with the erroneous thought that all people, in the end, will be somehow forgiven and saved because God surely would not send the innocent to hell. If He happened to miss someone who wanted to know the truth and come to Him, that would be totally unacceptable, so our belief that the only way to God is through faith in Christ must be in error since some have not heard of Christ.
It breaks my heart to realize that they find no comfort in knowing for sure that God will never make a mistake and will never fail to accomplish His covenant promises. They seem to be questioning God’s judgment about how to complete and satisfy His own promises. They are not able to relax and enjoy the Omni powers of God concerning themselves only with what God wants them to do during “this” day, right now; then moving on to do what His will is for them, knowing that God is taking care of the rest.
Jonah had a will and he expressed it very clearly. God showed Jonah that He was in control and Jonah would do what God wanted him to do. So Jonah did what God asked, but completely reluctantly. It makes me wonder how he sounded and looked as he walked through the city. Did he look like a man defeated in his own will and pouting about that? He surely did not look joyful in the possibility that these people might be saved. And he apparently never did express joy or thanksgiving to God about them. But he kept his job and went back and told this story to everyone for the lessons they must learn from it. He was, after all, a prophet (preacher/teacher) of God.
So how are we doing with the knowledge that God, Himself. has given us? My friends felt that God must have softened the hearts of the Ninevites before Jonah came, but there is no reason for us to have to believe that. We can be joyful and excited about the fact that this was the biggest response to the mercy of God ever recorded in the O.T and maybe ever anywhere for a three day evangelistic tour through a city. There were hundreds of thousands of people who turned to God at this time, even the King of the totally putrid Assyrian Empire. (Read more about this empire in Nahum, another minor prophet in the O.T.) They were evil, they plotted against God and they were hit with the lightening bolt of God. And then they repented and turned to Him, because that was what He had in mind all along. And Jonah knew that would happen and rebelled at he very thought of it.
What about us. Are we willing to take God at His Word that He will have His way in the outcome of all of this mess we see? Are we willing to look to Him each day for our own opportunities to do His will that day and leave the rest firmly in His hands, letting Him make all the decisions for our lives and for others? That is what He wants from us. Does any of this make sense to you? I hope so, because our Joy in the Lord is rooted in our trust and willingness to let Him have His way in ALL things. He has not, does not, and will not ever make mistakes. May we always trust in that as His firm truth.
Have a wonderful day of peace in God’s blessings to us, His beloved. And may we be blessings to others for His sake.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
How aware are we of our conscience? Mildly, very much, not at all? The sentence that brought me to this question was a simple statement that I could not quite get right as I read it: “What did God leave us? …a conscience.” My head had jumped ahead to, ”conscious” and it kept trying to twist the two together so that I could not reach a conclusion about which word to use. Has anything like that ever happened to you and forced you to pull out, shake your head, and start the sentence all over again? I always feel like a dog “shaking off” the water of his bath until he is ready to start again with his roaming and playing.
As I was shaking off, I considered the possibilities: He did leave us conscious. That is true. Adam and Eve were quite conscious, not dead on the ground after they sinned, and the human race has continued to be quite conscious ever since. But this sentence says that in the battle of good and evil (God and Satan) “He left us conscience.” Our primary tool against falling into evil is our conscience and the entire race has one. The question is, how conscious are we of our conscience?
Adam and Eve certainly were very conscious of their conscience as seen by the fact that they suddenly realized they were naked. They also realized there was something wrong about that. Then they had to try to cover themselves and hide from the view of God. Their conscience was an overpowering motivator for their actions.
So… How conscious are we of our conscience. Is it alive and well in us providing a tool for God to use in directing our actions, or have we lost contact with it. Have we perhaps buried under, say, “convenience?” Our conscience tells us we should take a step toward helping another person, but our “convenience” tells us it would be easier to pray for them instead.
Or, maybe our conscience is telling us we are addicted to a habit of some sort (and we are talking a “not necessarily bad” habit, here) but we proclaim that we are calming ourselves from the daily stress of life and it is soothing to do this. And, actually, this is usually something that keeps us from meditating on God, or spending quality time with family as we sequester ourselves into our habit.
Or, perhaps we are hiding our conscience under the heading: It’s what everybody is doing. Sounds a little teenager-ish doesn’t it? But there are many, many teenage adults out there: Doing what everybody else does; following the herd. Some of us just don’t want to grow up. We still feel that growing up takes all the fun out of life.
And, what about that naked thing? How conscious are we of nakedness? Summer is coming. What will we be wearing in the name of summer comfort? Will we let our conscience guide or have we become so unconscious of our conscience that we don’t have a clue about where that may be? Will we once again claim the cover of “everyone else does it?” The baring of skin has come a long way over the years, but there really is a line or two that we should not cross. And we know it and we ignore it and allow ourselves to become less conscious of our conscience.
God “left us conscience.” I guess the question for us is how hard do we fight against that conscience? How many tricks do we use to excuse the behavior that goes against that conscience?
It’s kind of funny, maybe a little ironic, that we beg God often to tell us which turn to take, what choice to make, how to get where it is He wants us to go. And, yet, we try desperately to ignore the very voice of truth that He left with us right inside our own minds. We want “fleeces.’ We want signs and wonders. We want a miracle verse that will tell us everything we need to know. But we do not want to listen to that “inner self” called conscience, which He, Himself, gave us for a general guideline to following His will. And, this tool is a tool of the Holy Spirit within us which He tries to use for our sakes and for Christ’s sake in helping us find our way.
May we all live our lives as people with a conscience, as God intended us to do. And, if our conscience has been consciously subdued under abstract thinking principles, may we confess that and seek His help in rebuilding awareness of what He wants us to know and learn from the conscience He gave us. For Christ’s sake, Amen.