Grace Debrief 6/10/18

John gives us a picture of Jesus' skill at relationships in the fourth chapter of his gospel. It's the story we know as "The Woman At The Well." It is rich with the undertones of race, culture, heresy, alienation, and - in the case of Jesus - how to love beyond expectations.

There is so much here. I urge you to read the story. And, if you want, listen to Sunday's message. 

In the end, though, it all comes down to loving people who are different than us and hard to love. Jesus does this because he is God, and God is love. But he also does this as a 100% human being, and he sets the bar high for us.

But high bars are what he wants from us. He has told us that love should be our defining characteristic. Jesus breaks the curve, but through the Holy Spirit, he equips us to love just as extravagantly as he.

Who are you loving that presents a challenge to love? Do you trust God to give you what you need to love even more?

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 6/3/18

Our Kinship Sunday included receiving a new member at Grace - welcome John Keuvelaar! We talked with Tricia Wilson about vocational transitions in her life and how God played a role. We looked into Jesus' words to his close friends about loving one another from John 15. All this along with great musical worship and sharing Communion and a meal. It was a very good day.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 5/27/18

There is one relationship Jesus seems to discourage. No, not just that - he asks his followers to reject this relationship.

It's family.

Luke 14:25-27 is a sample. Hang on - this is rough.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Why is Jesus so down on family? What about having our "focus on the family," or putting "family first," or believing that "family matters?" To listen to Christian radio, you would think that family is the most important thing in the whole world to a good Christian.

All good Christians except Jesus, I guess.

But before you get that divorce, or ship your kids off to an orphanage, or cancel your plans for the big annual family reunion this summer, let's try to get a little grip on what Jesus was really saying.

We can't treat this with any kind of exhaustive explanation here - it would take a book. But let's just say this: in the culture of Jesus, and with an understanding of the terms he uses, it makes a lot more sense. In Jesus' day, family was more like property, and family did not represent duty and responsibility as much as prosperity and influence and security. A person with lots of kids and lots of siblings could relax and feel unconcerned about the future. Such a person had safety and security in the face of potential problems and economic strains. Lots of family meant things would be OK.

Jesus' use of the word "hate," is perhaps a tad strong. It's a relative term (no pun intended), so that "hate" could refer to loving someone less relative to someone you love more.

So, what is Jesus saying? He is asking us to lose our dependence, lose our security, lose our back-up plans with family. Because when we depend on family, we can stop depending on Jesus.

This is what Jesus means when he says, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." In other words, when we put Jesus in the right place - our only true love - all the other loves of our lives will fall into place the way God intended.

Want the best family possible? Give your total, surrendered, trusting self to God.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 5/20/18

We've looked at the scripture, and it tells us that God values relationships, and that we should, too. It tells us that love is the stuff that keeps relationships going and growing, and that we should love everyone and someone.

That's all good until a relationship goes south.

What do we do when relationships hurt?

First - understand this: ALL RELATIONSHIPS THAT ARE WORTH ANYTHING AT ALL WILL HURT! If you avoid being hurt in relationships, you will have no meaningful relationships at all. Trying to get out of a relationship because it's messy, and you're not getting your needs met, and it sometimes seems like you're beating your head against the wall to make it better - - - not good reasons to get out. They're good reasons to keep working at it.

However, there are times when moving away from another person is necessary. This is clear teaching in scripture. Try these passages:  

  • Matthew 10:14-15
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14-15
  • Proverbs 20:19
  • Proverbs 22:24-25
  • Proverbs 13:20
  • I Corinthians 5:9-13
  • Romans 16:17-18
  • Titus 3:10-11

It's shocking! There are times when God says, "Walk away." There are times when the best love you can show in a relationship is love that leaves.

How do you do that? Here are some tips:

  • Start with assumption that God is in it.  What is God's purpose for this relationship?
  • Pray.
  • Seek counsel. DO NOT MAKE ANY PERMANENT CHANGES IN A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITHOUT SEEKING THE ADVICE OF AT LEAST THREE GOOD, CHRISTIAN FRIENDS, PASTORS, OR COUNSELORS!
  • Attempt reconciliation. (Matthew 18)
  • Pray some more.

If you're uncomfortable in a relationship, it's OK. That comes with the territory. If you're bored in a relationship, get over it. If you're tired of a relationship, work on it. If you're not getting what you want in a relationship, stop being selfish and start giving your all.

But, when it's time to walk, do it the right way. Even Jesus said there are times to dust off your shoes and move along.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 5/13/18

Want to hear an audience of women groan? Speak from Proverbs 31.

If you haven't read it in a while, go grab your Bible and take a look, starting with verse 10 and going to the end. I'll wait.

 . . . . . . . . . . . .

Yeah. Now you know why women aren't excited when someone wants to preach to them about how to be the perfect woman. Especially a man.

Proverbs 31 wasn't written to make you angry, Mom. It was written to let you know this: You are not a second-class citizen in God's Kingdom. He believes in you. He invented you. You can do anything.

I think Proverbs 31 has another purpose - to push the rest of us to do whatever we can to help, support, encourage, and do whatever we can to help the women in our lives achieve God's best for them. Read the passage again, but this time ask this while you read: What can I do to support the moms in my life to be all God wants them to be?

Here are a few I picked out:

  • Honor her value. 
  • Trust her. 
  • Respect her strength.
  • Support her generosity. 
  • Listen to her. 
  • Cheer her success. 
  • Give priority to her relationship with God. 

Don't throw Proverbs 31 around like a weapon. Instead, pay attention to your chance to help the women in your life find their God-given purpose and do it with all their hearts.

 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 4/29/18

Jesus agrees with a conniving lawyer in Luke 10 that loving God with everything you've got and loving your neighbor is what God asks from us. But then the lawyer tries another trick question: Who is my neighbor?

It's a good question, and one that - whether we know it or not - we ask and answer everyday. Because we all need to know who we are to love, and we make choices daily about who gets our love.

Jesus answers that question by telling the story we know as "The Good Samaritan." You can remind yourself of the story by reading through Luke 10. But let's jump to the point: The answer to "who is my neighbor" has little to do with who we love and everything to do with HOW we love.

It's been noted that in this story, Jesus asks us to love everyone. But he also asks us to love someone.

In other words, there is should be no limit to our love; everyone is the object of that love. No one is disqualified, no one is excluded.

But the simple truth is that we cannot practically love everyone. Even Jesus couldn't love everyone. But all of us can love someone - the person in front of us.

If we believe that God ordains our paths - that he directs our lives and plans what will happen to us - then we must believe that God puts us in the path of people everyday. Those people are the "someones" he asks us to love.

At the end of the story, Jesus tells the lawyer to love like the Samaritan loved - "Go and do likewise." Go be like him.

So do it. Love everyone. Love someone.

Go and be like him. 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 4/22/18

There is no clearer example of how Jesus valued relationships than the touching and instructive story John tells in his gospel in chapter 21.

Jesus has shown up alive to his disciples twice at this point, but they're still having trouble making sense of everything. Peter declares he's going fishing - which was his occupation before Jesus changed things up. He and others take the boat out and cast their nets. They work all night but catch nothing.

Early in the morning someone calls from the shore, "Cast your nets on the other side!" Speaking from experience, fishermen are not keen on this kind of advice. But these guys do it anyway.

Of course, as soon as they do, the fish fill the nets to over-capacity. Peter, recognizing that it was Jesus that gave the advice, jumps out and swims to shore, where Jesus has prepared breakfast for everyone. (Have you ever considered the culinary skills of Jesus?)

To understand what happens next, we need to remember a few backstory elements:  Jesus called Peter the first time by giving him a miraculous catch of fish. Jesus had predicted that Peter would betray him three times. During Jesus' last hours, Peter did just as Jesus said he would, and after the third denial their eyes locked as the guilt and remorse flooded it's way into Peter's heart.

Now, during breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times (THREE TIMES), "Peter, do you love me?"  And three times, Peter answers, "You know that I love you." 

It's clear what is going on here. While Jesus and Peter had already met, things were still not resolved. Jesus valued this relationship so much that he engages in this amazing process of restoration - he restores that relationship.

But that's not all. It wasn't enough to confirm that Peter's love for Jesus was intact. Jesus wants Peter to do something with that love. Something big. Something supernatural. Something beyond anything Peter could ever imagine. With each question and each confirmation, Jesus adds, "Feed my sheep."

Here's what Jesus asks from Peter: You've seen the extent of my love for you. And you've chosen to return that love. Now take that love and spread it around everywhere, to everyone.

He asks nothing less from us. 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 4/8/18

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus cares about relationships.

We all agree that he cares about our relationship to God. That's the "greatest" commandment. It's also why Jesus came to us. He is God, and his birth, life, death, and resurrection all point to God's ultimate desire to have a relationship with us. If he wasn't interested, none of that matters a whit.

Jesus also cares about that second commandment. Like the first, it is essential for what God has planned for us. Our relationships with other people matter to God, and Jesus is very interested in giving us what we need for that to happen.

We talk a lot at Grace about that first commandment. But we want to take some weeks to concentrate on the second one. How do we enlarge our love for others? What does Jesus tell us about those relationships?

Here's why God wants us to have good relationships with other people:

  • He created us to be relational. From the very beginning, "it is not good for a man to be alone." We thrive only when we are in relationship with others.
  • Relationships are God's tools for growth. God uses relationships to build us into the people he wants us to be. EVERY RELATIONSHIP IN YOUR LIFE, even the difficult ones, are God's growth equipment.
  • Relationships are God's pop-quizzes. How we deal with those around us can be a gauge to show how we are doing spiritually. Our walk of faith shows up first in the relationships we have.
  • Relationships are God's way of keeping us heading in the right directions. Like signs on a trail, or that voice on our Google Maps, the various people in our lives are used by God to point the way.
  • Relationships are God's primary means of communication. We all want to hear from God, and God sometimes uses the Bible to do that. On some occasions, God will even communicate with us directly - that "still small voice," or that nudge of the heart. But we often fail to listen for the voice of God within the relationships he has strategically place in our lives.

If relationships are all that, and if we really believe God is orchestrating the relationships of our lives, we need to give careful attention to those relationships with the intent to give room for love to grow.

 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 4/1/18

The cross of Jesus is scandalous. It disturbs our sense of right and wrong, and challenges us to face off with truth.

Paul describes the cross of Jesus as insanity. He describes it as a scandal, or "stumbling block." Startling, outrageous truth can do that. It can catch you up short and make you stumble.

The scandal of the cross is not that it wasn't true - it's that the truth itself is folly - a scandalon - a stumbling block.

What makes the cross of Jesus scandalous?

  • It tells the truth about our pride. 
  • It tells the truth about God's grace.
  • It tells the truth about a life of faith.
  • It tells the truth about our future.

But the biggest scandal of the cross is this:

You and me.

We are the scandal. It's for our sake that he came, he lived, he suffered, he died, he came back alive again. We are the reason. Our sin is the reason. His redemption is the reason. His grace is the reason.

The scandal of the cross is this: He loves us. In spite of ourselves, he loves us. 

Oh beautiful, glorious scandal!

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 3/25/18

Jesus was a sinner magnet.

This steamed some of the religious authorities around him. They thought he shouldn't be hanging with riff-raff. They also may have been jealous that Jesus was attracting a bigger following than they were. Jesus gained the reputation as the one who "ate with tax collectors and sinners."

And he was fine with that. Jesus was attracted to sinners. And sinners were attracted to him. On the surface, it makes no sense. I don't know about you, but the person who is "the holiest one in the room" is not my pick for someone to be around. And for Jesus, who is God-in-the-flesh holy, to be considered the friend of sinners seems like a scandal in the making.

Don't misunderstand: Jesus didn't condone sin. Just because he was a friend didn't mean he advocated a debauched lifestyle. In fact, Jesus' most consistent sentence spoken to the sinners he encountered was, "Go, and sin no more."

But yet, the magnet still worked. Why? Why d-id sinners flock to Jesus?

* They knew he loved them.

* They trusted his judgment.

* They understood that he understood.

* They believed he could rescue them.

* They were desperate for hope.

Jesus still attracts sinners. And sinners, once they understand who Jesus really is, are attracted to him. Maybe that's you. It's certainly me.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 3/18/18

When we ask, WWJD?, are we really prepared for the answer?

Usually, when we think about becoming like Jesus, we focus on things like his love for people, his mercy, his care for the underdog, his servanthood. We don't think about his anger.

You'd have thought that when Jesus began his ministry, he'd do it within the religious structures of his day. Instead, he pushed against that structure, and especially its leaders. He shocked them with his aggressive, cynical, and cutting diagnosis of their hypocritical, power-hungry authority.

Want to know how Jesus feels about bad religion? Read Matthew 23. 

You can sum it up simply: Bad religion makes Jesus sick. He hates it. And he calls it out whenever he finds it.

Still want to be like Jesus? Our spiritual sniffers need to be calibrated like his - to smell the stink of anti-grace religion that oppresses and abuses and puts people in bondage. We need to be prepared to call it out, to protect and rescue people who are caught in religion's grip, and provide healing.

We also need to start the process with us. We need to turn over the tables of religious hypocrisy in our own lives, and become people devoted to the grace of Jesus.

 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 3/11/18

What is our concept of Jesus? 

If we see Jesus as just an average joe, someone who gets along with everybody, would be a great guy to hang out with, a best friend who would pick up the tab at the Big Boy for lunch, we are not talking about the Jesus in the Bible. The Jesus we see in the Bible is not average, not static, not passive, not the kind to blend in and be nice. The Jesus of scripture is not tame; he is wild and radical and makes people squeamish.

What we think about Jesus is critical. We need to get it right. But it's not comfortable.

Even the beginnings of Jesus were full of provocation and scandal. That's why we have so much information about the birth. Normal people are born, and we really don't know that much about it. Can you name where George Washington was born? Can you tell me who was in the room when Abraham Lincoln was born? But with Jesus, the details are so outrageous, they were worth writing about and remembering.

This is not "away-in-a-manger" stuff. Here's just a very short list of the scandals surrounding the birth of Jesus:

  • The virgin birth. This baby did not have an earthly father. And his mother and "father" weren't married when he was conceived. BAM! - What a scandal!
  • The incarnation of Yahweh. This baby was 100% God and 100% man. Never happened before or since.  
  • Lowly circumstances. Consider the first two items above, and then think about where and when and how Jesus came into the world. Outrageous. 
  • Planning and particularity. Yet this was not some random birth. Those happen every day. This was not accidental. This was a particular birth to a particular mother on a particular day in a particular place. Provocative.

From the very start of his earth-journey, Jesus was surrounded by things and people and events that make you shake your head. What's up with all this? And what does it have to do with me?

Here's what happens when Jesus enters the world:

  • He smashes our expectations. He is not what we expect a messiah/savior to be.
  • He challenges our assumptions. He does not let us think wrongly about himself or his father.
  • He makes us uncomfortable. He pushes us to decisions we'd rather avoid. His very presence calls us to alter our course and follow him.
  • He joins our predicament. By coming to be a human, Jesus enters into the damage of sin and death. 
  • He guarantees our trust. By becoming a man, Jesus proves to us that God understands; that he can know and take action on our defeats and struggles.

From the moment he was conceived, Jesus set off a chain reaction of outrageous and scandalous love. Love for you. That's why you can trust him. Could you really trust yourself to any other?

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 3/4/18

A great day all over the place!

We shared a worshipful Kinship service where sang out strong with the Band, learned more about Lynda Pero, encouraged and prayed for each other, and participated in Communion. (And all whilst being bombarded with the smells from the kitchen!)

The potluck was GRAND! (Requests have been received for recipes for Savannah's Peanut Butter Cake, whoever made the Layered Salad, and the Ramen Noodle Slaw!) Thanks to Nancy Meyer, the Leadership Team and spouses, and everyone who brought and shared their bounty of good food.

Our Annual Meeting was healthy and productive. I'm really encouraged by the effort to strengthen our Nursery! Please get behind this with whatever you have to offer! Thank you to the Leadership Team for your guidance, and to those who so quickly and efficiently mobilized.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 2/25/18

We don't appreciate pity.

"I don't want your pity" is a statement against pretend concern. We don't like it when someone looks down on us, thinks we are weak, and feels sorry for us because we don't have our act together.

That kind of pity is something we avoid. But we dare not avoid the good kind of pity. The pity of God.

Because we live in an individualistic culture, words like "pity" are negative. Most modern translations of the Bible exchange the King James Version's "pity" with safer terms like "compassion" or "concern." And those words certainly describe part of what the pity of God is about.

But we need to acknowledge this: using the Biblical version of the word, we all desperately need the pity of God. I want it. I need it. I'm dead without it.

The last two verses in the book of Jonah (4:10-11) contain the word pity. God says to Jonah, "You had pity for the plant." It was a nice, shady bush that God had prepared for Jonah, and Jonah found happiness in its shade. But God also caused a worm to wither the plan so that it died. And Jonah was angry. He was angry about the plant, and he was angry that God had spared the people of Nineveh from overthrow.

God said, "If you can have pity for the plant, certainly I can have pity for the people of Nineveh."

Pity is directed toward an object of weakness, and pity is the need to make concessions for that weakness. Because of sin and its consequences, I am a broken, weak human being. I cannot produce the goodness I know I need in my life. I don't have it in me to be as holy as is required by a holy God. That's why I need his pity.

Don't think for a moment that the pity of God is just him feeling sorry for us. Yes - pity is based on emotion, and there's good evidence that God somehow, someway FEELS that emotion. But it doesn't stop there, stuck on a feeling. God's pity (like all good pity) results in action to accommodate and fix the weakness. God's pity extends beyond his concern for us and into action.

The action of God's pity is what bridges the incomprehensible gap between justice and mercy. It is God's pity that solves the problem - that if God shows mercy he is not just, and if he executes judgment he is not merciful. The pity of God is God reaching into this dilemma, reaching into our broken and sinful condition, and providing the answer.

And the answer is Jesus. It always is. Jesus is the pity of God in living, breathing form. He is the answer.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 2/18/18

In Jonah 4 we get to the heart of the matter. Jonah is angry - very angry - that God decided to pull back on his threats to Nineveh. Jonah wanted God to let them have it. But he knew God was compassionate and merciful, and he just KNEW! that God would change his mind and let these criminals off the hook. That's why Jonah didn't want to go in the first place. And that's why he's angry now.

Jonah wanted justice on his terms. We all do.

In 1984, Bruce Cockburn, one of Canada's greatest song writers and musicians, wrote a song reflecting his feelings after visiting the front lines of Guatemala's civil war. The song is called, "If I Had A Rocket Launcher." And it is exactly what Jonah was feeling about the situation.

If Jonah had a rocket launcher, he would have used it against Nineveh. But God would not let him. Instead, God spared the people of Nineveh when they turned to him and repented.

You'd think that would have made Jonah happy. But he was still steamed. His extreme emotional state belies the possible first-hand experience Jonah may have had with the violent and merciless Assyrian army. He wanted someone to pay; he wanted justice. But God showed grace.

In our minds, grace and justice are mutually exclusive. For instance: in your mind, pick a recent criminal from the headlines. Can you see that person? Now, if I'm the judge, and I show that person grace, and let them go scott-free, then justice is diminished. On the other hand, if I throw the book at the criminal, then grace is not served.

That's our way of looking at things, and it was Jonah's way of looking at things, but it's not God's way. God is not confined to our measurements of grace and justice, and he can be perfectly just and altogether merciful all at the same time without diminishing one or the other or his character in the process.

In Jonah 4, the prophet is exposed to that lesson directly. (You'll want to read the story). Unfortunately, we are not granted the picture of Jonah having learned his lesson. We have to assume he is left to wander back home to Northern Israel with his prophetic tail between his legs and smoke coming out his ears.

But it didn't have to be that way. And it doesn't have to be that way for us, either. Trust God's grace and justice to work in tandem EVERY SINGLE TIME to produce the outcomes God desires.

And put away your rocket launcher.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 2/11/18

Jonah finally decided he'd had enough storms and enough time in the belly of a fish. So, when God came to him a second time, telling him again to go to Nineveh and preach against the city, Jonah did it.

Jonah preached as he walked the city. He preached the prophetic message that God would cause Nineveh to be overthrown in forty days. But before he could get even one-third of the way through the massive metropolis, something amazing happened. THEY BELIEVED WHAT HE SAID.

When you read Jonah chapter three, you'll see: They listened, they bought-in, they repented of their violent and wicked ways, they put on sackcloth and went without food. The mayor of the city called for everyone to sit in ashes and to give up food and water and to make sure their animals (THEIR ANIMALS!) wore sackcloth and fasted from food and water, too.

They turned and decided God was right, they were wrong, and they would believe him. And so God turned and decided they were sincere and he pulled back on his plans to have the city overthrown.

Jonah - reluctant though he was - was used by God to win over the worst, most atrocious capital city of the time. And God changed his mind.

I know that some of us are thrown by that thought. That God would change his mind. I get it that questions start rolling around our brains about God's sovereignty, his control, his unchangeableness. Those are BIG QUESTIONS.

But don't let the questions obscure the surprise: THEY BELIEVED AND TURNED.

AND THAT'S A STRAIGHT-UP MIRACLE ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 1/28/18

Jonah's prayer in chapter two of his book reflects his heart.

The common view of his poem is that it is a turn-around point for Jonah where he comes to agree with God about God's will, and determines to do things God's way.

But that's just not true.

I've always preached and taught that same thing about Jonah 2. But I've also always felt that this poem was -  off. It just didn't seem right. It had a hollowness, an empty core that really didn't end up where it should.

Now's a good time to get out your Bible and read Jonah 1 and 2. See if you agree. 

I just don't have the space here to cover all the reasons why I think this poem is disingenuous. But I think the biggest problem is this: Jonah never utters a word of repentance; he doesn't mention his running away at all - he never admits he was wrong, and never agrees to go to Nineveh. In fact, he says the opposite: his intention is to head to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices there. (You may want to listen to the message to get the whole story: Click Here.)

Let's just leave it at this: Jonah is still ducking from God's desires, and instead of running, he hides behind fake faith.

This is such a ornery temptation. We run from God's will, and we get caught. Then we try to feign a quick and easy come-around to somehow trick God into thinking that everything's OK, we're just fine, and we can handle things from here because we've got our spiritual act together.

Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus says that this kind of fake faith makes him puke. It's no surprise then, that after Jonah's attempt at proving his self-righteousness, God has the fish vomit Jonah onto dry land.

Let me apply this passage very simply and concisely: DON'T MAKE GOD VOMIT because of your pretend piety. 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 1/21/18

We like to think that our decisions are our own - that we can choose to go our own reckless way, ignoring God's desires for us, and that we are the only ones who will have to deal with the results. It's not true.

The first chapter of the book of Jonah describes what happens when we choose to go in a direction different than God's will. The consequences are not isolated to just us. They spill over to those around us.

The story plays out like this: Jonah hops on a ship heading away from "the presence of God." God sends a storm and the mariners on board begin to know they're in trouble. They have the spiritual sense to discern that someone on board is the cause of their problems. They each pray to their own gods for help. All but one.

Jonah is asleep. While the others on the ship are fighting for their lives because of one person's sin, that one person is asleep in the hull, oblivious to the dangers his choices have caused.

This is so much like us. When we disobey God, we're often the last to come to terms with the collateral damage we've caused. It's easier to sleep it off.

The amazing thing about this story is how very full of grace it is. Think of how God orchestrated this whole scene . . .

  • The right ship. The port of Joppa was no doubt filled with ships ready to set sail. God planned that Jonah would embark on this one.
  • The right storm. This storm had to be frightening enough to bring God's desired result, but not strong enough to capsize the boat.
  • The right people. God set Jonah on a boat with mariners who were at least spiritually sensitive enough to know that the problem was a moral one, not a natural one.
  • The right message.  This is one of the most amazing parts of this story: Once Jonah is tossed overboard, the sea becomes crystal-calm. The mariners know exactly who is responsible for their salvation - the God of Jonah. So they begin to honor and worship Jonah's God!
  • The right fish.  Of all the creatures that Jonah could encounter on the vast and teeming ocean, God sends just the one which could devour Jonah without actually DEVOURING JONAH!

All of this shows this one thing: God can take our extreme disobedience and turn it into an amazing expression of his AMAZING GRACE!

But please don't take that to mean that God wants us to get on the wrong boat.

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 1/14/18

Sure, Jonah was a prophet. So we can distance ourselves, I guess, by saying "That kind of thing is only for prophets."

But what, really, is a prophet? At the core, it's someone who has been called by God to listen to him, do what he asks, and be a spokesperson for God, delivering a message to people who need to hear it.

Yep. Not at all different than being a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

We have evidence in other scriptures that Jonah took his role as a prophet seriously, and delivered the message faithfully. It was a message of grace to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (You can find it in 2 Kings 14:25).

So now, God asks Jonah to head to the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, and tell them that God is not thrilled with them. Jonah spends little time considering the request, and heads for the coast where he catches a boat to Tarshish. (Read Jonah 1:1-3).

Why Tarshish, you ask? Because the seaside village near the Straights of Gibraltar on the Spanish coast was AS FAR AWAY FROM NINEVEH AS JONAH COULD GET.

Why did Jonah run to Tarshish? Is it because the Spanish Riviera was beckoning with special mid-season rates and an open bar? No.

Jonah ran away because he didn't want to do what God asked him to do.

We all make the Tarshish run when we don't like God's will for us. His will is really not a red line on a linear map of the timeline of our lives. His will is really not just found at the REALLY BIG INTERSECTIONS of our lives, when a BIG HAIRY DECISION is pressing. God has given us, let's say, 95% of his will for our lives right there in the Bible, in black and white. It's not some strange foggy mystery; it's clear choices that he's asked us to make.

Just like Jonah. God's direction for Jonah was not ambiguous or open for debate. It was clear. It was understandable. Most of the time, for all of us, that's how God delivers his desires for our lives.

But we run. Why? Honestly, there's no answer that makes any sense except that we don't like what God is asking us to do. So we find our Tarshish and we buy a ticket and we run. We run as if we can get away from God's will for us.

But here's the truth: 

Psalm 139:7-10

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

 

Beth WiseComment
Grace Debrief 1/7/18

Yesterday was our annual Grace Stories service! Thanks to Zane and Judy for sharing their stories of God's grace and guidance. 

Next week we start a series on the book of Jonah. Have you ever asked, "What's God's will for my life?" or "What does God want me to do?" or even, "Why would God ask me to do THAT?!"  Jonah is a great story that packages up some answers to those questions and helps us to understand the heart of God and his desire for each of us. Please be sure and get in on the first message!

 

Beth WiseComment