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!

Healthy Relationship Essentials!

Not A Good Dating Candidate!

What are the essentials that contribute to healthy relationships? And, what kinds of things are harmful & destructive to our relationships? Early on, in our friendship, my wife Sara saw me playing in a softball game while we were attending college. And, well, softball just wasn’t my sport! I had played baseball growing up; so, I was used to over hand pitching that might hit 80 mph or more! I just lacked the necessary patience to wait on an underhanded, slow-pitched ball. Well, I struck out; and, I was embarrassed & mad at myself! So, I did reacted with great maturity—I slammed the bat on the ground in anger! A really stupid thing to do! Well, Sara would tell you that after observing my college-aged temper tantrum that this guy was NOT a good dating candidate!

-Overcoming 1st Impressions!

But, she didn’t really know me very well at the time. She was someone that I had noticed the 1st time I spotted her on campus. But, I was dating someone else at the time; and, a pattern seemed to develop that either I was dating someone and she was free; or, she was dating someone and I was free. But, when that magical moment happened when I was free from dating someone; and, she was free from dating someone; that, I asked her to go out with me; and, she agreed! But, it would take some time for her to overcome those 1st impressions watching me smash a bat into the ground after striking out. She had to grow to trust me! To trust my heart! To trust that when I got angry I would never physically take it out on her! I might take it out on a baseball bat; but, it wasn’t in my nature to be a brawler with her; or, with other people.

-Trust Is Essential!

Trust is essential to any healthy relationship, isn’t it? If you study up on any relationship advice, for marriage partners; or, for just being a good friend, trust is always listed as a requirement along with honesty & communication. Relationships are healthy where there is respect, transparency & vulnerability. Where there is commitment, empathy & kindness! And, it may surprise you that all of that is also true about your relationship with God. We think we all struggle, at least a little bit, to think of God in those terms because He is Spirit; and, we are flesh, right? So, how do we relate to Him?

Relationship With God!

I think that’s why God, the Son, coming in the flesh is such a big deal! For more reasons than the Gospel, Jesus fleshed out, for us, who God is! We know God better because Jesus walked on the planet He created among the people He created. Our relationship with God does not depend on our faithful ministry to Him; but, on Jesus’ faithful ministry to us on the cross! Over the next few posts, I’d like to invite you to look at the Old Testament book of Isaiah with me; so, that, we might grow together in our understanding of what a relationship with God looks like.

Just A Normal Guy!

From what we know of Isaiah, he was just a normal guy; married with children; and, trying to live out his faith during a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. The nation had rebelled against God’s theocratic rule! The northern half had already been conquered by Assyria; and, Babylon would soon rise to power and sweep away the southern half of the nation. So, God calls Isaiah in the midst of that mess; and, makes him a prophet to the Jewish people. And, the book of Isaiah records the visions & the oracles that God gave to Isaiah to deliver to Israel.  I hope you’ll come back to visit my posts over the next couple weeks! It’s my prayer that you might come to learn more about God’s character; so, that you might  grow in your relationship & your walk with Him! God began revealing Himself to us in Genesis 1— in the beginning— and, He continues to reveal more of Himself in the balance of Scripture; including, the book of Isaiah!

The Return Of The Exiles

-The Life Of A Refugee!

We see the pictures on the nightly news or our online news sources; and, though pictures may be worth a thousand words, they can never adequately portray what it’s like to be exiled from your native land & to flee as a refugee to a foreign nation! The stories are horrific! The greatest fear, as a parent, is to be separated from your children in such a setting; although, in some cases, where the conditions are brutal enough, parents willingly hand off their children to someone else with the hope that they might survive & have a better life! Most of us, living in this country, simply have no point of reference or experience to draw on when it comes to living like an exile or a refugee!

-Israel’s Refugees From Babylon!

And, while some of the world’s current refugee crisis has similarities to the time of Israel’s exile— as recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles— there are many differences! The majority of exiles today are leaving war-torn nations by their own will, seeking refuge in a safe, neighboring country. Israel’s exile occurred against their own will when, the foreign nations of Assyria; and, then Babylon, swept in like a flood & plundered their homeland; and, then exiled them off to serve as slaves! For Israel, their exile was the more bitter because they had no one to blame but themselves.

-Israel Broke Covenant!

God had covenanted with them to bless them in the land—that He gave them—if they would obey Him & keep His commandments! But, He had also promised a curse if they broke covenant with Him; and, that’s exactly what they did! They abandoned Yahweh & chased after other gods; until, finally, Yahweh abandoned them! The 137th Psalm was written as a lament by those who endured the exile, the slavery & the human trafficking in that day:  “By the rivers of Babylon,” they cried, “there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing:  ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ they mocked.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” That’s how the book of 2 Chronicles ends!

-Exiled To Babylon!

It reads that King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, “…deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.  So, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years; and, God’s prophecy, through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. It was during those 70 years that the Medo-Persian empire overpowered Babylon!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

From there, the book of Ezra picks up the story of the exiles:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing” Ezra 1:1. That verse includes 2 significant details! First, that Jeremiah’s prophecy, of a 70-year exile, was completed in the first year of King Cyrus’ reign in Persia! And, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation! I would encourage you to make a note in your Bible, right there, that says, “Here is an example of God’s Sovereignty over the world.”  Cyrus wasn’t in control! Persia wasn’t in control either! God was directing traffic here! He put it in Cyrus’ mind to issue the proclamation we’ll look at next week!