Your Idols Exposed!

-Are You Aware Of Your Idols?

For the Prophet Jonah, it doesn’t appear that he was aware of his “idols” until God exposed them! He had been a faithful minister of God’s word to his people; and, to his family! But, when God’s Word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, his idols were exposed— his national pride, his family; and, even his present ministry was more important to him than obedience to God’s will! That’s the definition of an idol! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that— your idol has been exposed!

-What’s Your Idol?

Is your job or your home or your kids or grandkids off limits to God? Are you unwilling to let God take them to a foreign field to share the gospel with a foreign people? In your heart, is God free to use your kids; or, grandkids, as He wills? Or, are you demanding that they stay close to home? Are you willing to let God change your job? Are you willing to let Him move you? What if it was God’s strategy to move some of us to a “lesser” part of town? Oh, we couldn’t do that—it’s not “SAFE”! There’s your idol: SAFETY! Or, perhaps, racism might be the underlying idol! There was some of that going on with Jonah. He saw his people (Israel) as better; or, more deserving than the Ninevites, to whom God wanted to send him!

-Fleeing From The Lord’s Presence!

And, so, it says that Jonah determined to “…flee from the Lord’s presence…” (1:3). And, he found a ship to take him! Listen, Satan will always have a “ship” waiting in the harbor, to take you away in the opposite direction from God’s will! But, for Jonah God used a big fish to intersect with His disobedient prophet; and, get him back on course to Ninevah where he preached God’s word; and, the Ninevites repented; and, turned to God. The 3rd chapter, of Jonah, ends with these words:  “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (v.10). 

-Merciful & Compassionate God!

So, Jonah responded to their spiritual revival by shouting praise to God, right? No! In fact, it says, “Jonah was greatly displeased & became furious. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful & compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love & One who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” 4:1-3. Really? That just doesn’t seem possible that a prophet, of God, would become furious with God for saving an entire city! Now, there was an underlying reason for Jonah’s anger! He was prejudiced!

-The Sin Of Prejudice!

For God to make us useful, for His kingdom purposes, He has to unmask all of our prejudices also. Jonah had swallowed some bad doctrine! He believed that God was “FOR” Israel; and, He was “AGAINST” everyone else! All the wicked people, of Ninevah, for example; whom, God intended to save by Jonah’s preaching of the gospel. It’s that scandal of grace! Our prideful flesh wants to believe that the gospel is for “good people”…. like us! Like our nation! Jonah was offended that God would extend grace to a wicked people like Assyria! He was prejudiced against them! We need to beware of the danger of national pride, church! I fear that many, in the American church, have been trekking down that slippery slope over the last 40-some years! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation; or, religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group! That’s our calling!

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

God, Jonah & A Big Fish Too!

-Trying To Run From God!

If you’re at all like me, you have a hard time passing up the story that is the book of Jonah. I find myself identifying with Jonah in several ways! Not in the most obvious, of course; I’m not a prophet in the Jonah sense of the word! I’ve never received an oracle from the Lord! I’ve never been thrown into the sea by a bunch of sailors; or, swallowed by a big fish! But, I have tried to run from God! I have been reluctant to go to a new place of ministry!

-Leaving The Deep Roots!

Sara & I were almost newlyweds when we moved across the country to do ministry in Denver, CO. We started our family there; and, for the next 20 years we did youth ministry, adult ministry; and, we owned 2 different businesses! But, the Spirit of God began to stir a desire in my heart to sell the business and become a lead Pastor at a local church somewhere. So, we began to pray about where IN DENVER the Lord would have me to pastor; because, I was very reluctant to leave Colorado! After all those years we’d developed some deep roots. I loved Colorado— I still do— but, God had a way of preparing us to go where He was leading! Once He depleted our savings, God broke my will; and, moved us here, to Sioux City, IA.

-Feeling Too Comfortable!

So, in a small way, I get Jonah’s response, in v.3, of the opening chapter:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.’ However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. 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”.  In Jonah’s mind, there was nothing great about the city of Ninevah for many reasons! He was comfortable where he was; and, clearly, he wasn’t on the same page with God on this one! God would have some work to do in Jonah to change him. We need the message of Jonah; because, if we’re all being honest, we all look a lot like Jonah! And, the same kind of “spiritual surgery” that Jonah needed, we need!

-God’s Sovereign Directive!

Jonah’s story reveals how God includes us in His disciple-making work; and, then prepares us for it! Until we submit to God’s Sovereign directive, for our lives, we’re going just keep getting swallowed up by one big fish after another, like Jonah. So, let’s talk about God’s Sovereign will & plans for you. The greatest fulfillment you will ever realize, in your life, comes only from obeying Him! We tend to operate life with this weird idea that God’s plans for us just aren’t going to be as satisfying as our plans are; like, obeying Jesus and sacrificing everything for Him will be a drag & a burden to us.

-His Commands Are Not A Burden!

The Apostle John addressed that sentiment:  “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commandments. Now His commands are not a burden” 1 John 5:3. It’s no burden to love God & obey His will for your life. God has created you! He has downloaded the best path for your life into your heart by His indwelling Holy Spirit; and, your plans will never offer you the meaning in life that you long for! The best path for Jonah was the road to Ninevah; NOT, the boat ride to Tarshish that he chose for himself! And, because he rebelled, God would need to apply some pressure to get him back to the best place possible for his life; which, was the center of God’s will. Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples; and, we’re living in disobedience if we’re not doing it! And, the blessed life you’re looking for is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of your life in God’s work in other people! We’ll talk more about Jonah next post!

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.