Losing What You Never Had

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. We're almost done dear ones! This is the last part of our Jonah series! I pray you've been encouraged, convicted, and refined through our Bible study of this wayward prophet. We looked through Jonah's hissyfit in our last installment. I pray that my attitude is never quite so juvenile as Jonah's, however I'd best not look too closely...

Let's take a final look at the God's goodness and His sovereign will in the last chapter of Jonah.

 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die,and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah is angry at God. As we saw in the last installment, he's throwing a hissyfit when things didn't go as planned. And yet, in this passage we see God still providing good, rest, respite to him... even in the midst of his disobedience and angst. God made a shade vine grow over him. His grace overflowed in a very physical way- and Jonah relished in it.

He was refreshed- and yet a change of heart didn't occur despite God's provision. Has God ever provided goodness, even in the midst of your disobedience? How did you respond... with joy and heartfelt change of attitude? Or perhaps with continued selfish entitlement? How often are your feelings affected by whether things are going well or not?

The shade ended, the hot winds blew once again... and Jonah sank further into his resentment of God, even going so far as to say "I'm so angry I wish I were dead." Whoa! Ungrateful much?!

Jonah demonstrates here what so many of us still struggle with today. This strange idea of entitlement, that God somehow owes us something. That the good things in life we deserve and are owed. I liken it to my children at Christmas- they wake up and find presents under the tree for them. They don't necessarily deserve them, they've been lovingly picked out just for them just because I love them. They surely didn't earn or pay for them, they were purchased with my money through my hard work. The gifts are freely given... and often (depending on their behavior) they are freely taken back. How often after receiving a great present have I found my boys fighting over them, resulting in me taking them back for a time. They pitch a fit, they cry hysterically, they bemoan how unfair it is that I took "their" toy away. How quickly possession occurs in their little minds. What they do not understand is that me, as 'sovereign' mom, gave them that toy and I can just as quickly take it away.

You see the picture here? As the scripture states, the shade provided Jonah was not of his doing, it was God's grace. It was not tilled or nurtured by him, it was through God's gardening that it grew. It was God's gift to give and to take away. Yet so quickly after it appeared Jonah claimed it as his own- his very own, his precious (cue Gollum voice...)

How quickly do you claim God's goodness in your life as your 'own'... your deserved gift? How quickly do you close your fist around the present He gives you, and cry out in frustration and angst when He takes it away? Health, wealth, children, cars, houses, possession, spouses, everything. We received NOTHING of our own volition. It is ALL through the Father. His to give, His to take away.

Unlike Jonah, who received a stern reprimand from God about his attitude, dear ones we must learn to hold our palms open at all times to the Holy One- both in the receiving of His gifts, but also in the easily giving back to Him when He takes away.

It's all by His hands that we give and receive. Let us keep open hands and open hearts in the good times and the bad.

Spiritual HissyFits

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans.  We've got 2 lessons left to go- stay with me! There's SO MUCH good stuff in Jonah! I hope you're learning as much as I am! Click here for lessons one, two, three, and four! YAY! Ninevah's been saved! As we read last time, they all (from top to bottom) repented and mourned. They changed their ways and God relented from His promised destruction. What an awesome thing! What a glorious testament to God's power! What bragging rights Jonah just earned for listening and obeying! I'd be strutting around with bells on proclaiming what a marvelous thing just occurred!

Pretty sure Jonah was too... (4:1-3) "But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry {wait... what?!?!} He prayed to the Lord, "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

If I didn't know better, I'd say Jonah just threw himself a spiritual hissy-fit. (For being a bit of a fraidy-cat, the man clearly had no worries confronting the God of the universe....yikes!) It is fascinating to me how, at the pinnacle of his success, Jonah is wallowing in his own selfishness; he was actually MAD about God forgiving them! And this from a man who not 2-seconds earlier in the story was himself running away from God. I'm guessing he didn't see the parallels in his own life...

As much as I'd love to point fingers at our wayward prophet's hypocrisy here, three more would be pointing back at me. I'm not going to belabor the obvious point. Rather let's do some self-evaluation-

The question here is this, what "Nivevites' in your life are causing you to stumble and throw a spiritual hissy-fit? Who has done you wrong, or what enemy do you have that has found God... and how do you feel about it? Anyone come to mind? How are you taking the news of their repentance- with skepticism, with joy, with anger (like Jonah), with thanksgiving?

I admit there's been a few over the years that I had a hard time accepting into God's family. It's just the truth. But as we'll read about in the next installment, the problem of dealing with our new family-members lies directly with us... in our hearts, between us and God. Meditate on the following for a bit and search your thoughts (and more pointedly, your behavior!) on them...

Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Start working on that now dear ones- search your heart and get it right with God. Instead of Jonah, use the Ninevites as your example. Hear the word of the Lord and repent, confess, and make it right with Yahweh. I'm right there with you!

When the Worst Teach the Best

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans. Click here to read the first, second, and third posts in the #JonahSeries?  

It is no wonder that Jonah ran away from going to Niveveh. These fierce-some people were no strangers to violence- especially against Jews. Without belaboring the point, let's just say they HATED each other- and killed each other as often as possible. God telling Jonah to go evangelize them, saying that his God- Yahweh God- was going to smite them in a few days time, was nothing if not a suicide mission. I liken it to God telling one of us to go deep into the heart of ISIS and letting them know that God (the Hebrew God) is going to wipe them away.

Ummmm... no. We'd be lucky to get past the border without being slaughtered.

And yet, in the third chapter of Jonah, after his 'come-to-Jesus' time in the whale, we see him doing just that. Walking steadfastly into enemy territory- to a people who hate his people, a culture who know nothing of his God, a nation of violent warriors... the worst of the worst. But Jonah proceeds. (You gotta give it to him in the courage department.) The whale spits him out on dry ground and he steps obediently across the border to enemy territory.

Can you feel your pulse quickening? Mine sure does thinking about it.

From chapter 3 verse 3- So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Wait... what? Back up... Just like that? The entire city believed God?

I'm confused. Anyone else?

Let's go back to ISIS- you go in, walking at least a days journey (and I'm sure looking over your shoulder with every step- just waiting for the bullet in your back... or worse), you're still alive and in one piece, you give the message (still alive...), these enemies of God actually listen (still alive).... and the entire population believes you (aaaand, you're still alive!) People this is an astounding story! Think about what it's actually saying. A violent and depraved culture, who is 'bad enough' that God Himself actually takes a personal and active interest in (meditate on that for a second..), hears one man tell them one thing and they believe. They mourn, They repent. They change.

Wow. Just WOW.

How often do we children of God resist the tiny things He's trying to correct in us. Though sin is sin is sin in His eyes, very often we're not exactly dealing with murderers here. Our sin stands the same against the Nivevites- though I imagine ours rank a bit more bland in the sin department. And yet we push against His gentle correction. We tug at the boundaries of what is acceptable. We resist His guidance.

These Nivevites with their violence, hatred, idolatry... you name it... put us to shame too often in the obedience department. I think their utter dropping and repenting of their sins is a huge example to us- not only in their wholeheartedness but in their immediacy. They heard the word and they immediately repented- not the next day, or next week, or 'sometime soon'- they dropped everything and repented, begging God for mercy.

They heard the word and changed.

The worst of the worst is one of the best Biblical examples I can think of to teach the 'best' of us. Surely if the Ninevites can surrender it all to God- in spite of their wickedness- then we as actual children of God can do the same.

If there is something God is trying to correct in you, if there is sin that needs repented of, if there is a word you've been given by God... hear the message and change!

Salvation Situation

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans. Go here to read the first and second installments in my #JonahSeries. So we're into chapter 2 of Jonah by now, and I wanted to share something that hit me profoundly during one of our devos this last summer. Although I had always thought of the whale in the Jonah story as one that was sent as punishment for our wayward sailor... a dear friend of mine had always thought of this giant as something completely different.... a savior.

Let's take a look...

Jonah has been thrown overboard, Though the physical storm on the seas immediately stops raging, Jonah's storm is just now beginning. Though the sailor's lives are now safe, Jonah's is now very much in peril. His storm has just started- he's in a pretty bad place. Out in the middle of nowhere, miles from land, sinking like a rock. Death closing in second by second.

Verse 5, "The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever..." Yes, Jonah is most certainly on a fast track to the bottom of the ocean. Certain death.

And then comes along a great beast of the sea, who swallows him whole. And suddenly, though his situation may have become significantly more odoriferous and dark (I mean, let's face it, having personally never been INSIDE a whale before, I cannot speak to the living conditions, but I imagine them as less than ideal) Jonah is ALIVE. He is no longer actively dying. What an unusual turn of events!

Jonah is suddenly smack-dab in the middle of a salvation situation.

Verse 7, "When me life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple... . But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord."

Jonah's prayer in the belly of that big, 'ol whale, which makes up the entirety of chapter 2, is nothing if not an obvious and immediate recognizing that this fish has saved him. Literally. Though I had not noticed it before, Jonah did immediately. He went from dying to living because of the whale. It wasn't a punishment at all, it was his salvation. As he says in verse 6, "... yet you brought up my life from the pit." I think it's no stretch to think here that not only was God bringing his life out of the pit spiritually, He was very physically bringing a behemoth from the deep to save Jonah's life.

Look back on the storms of death and chaos that have (or still are!) surrounding you. Where is the whale? What does your salvation situation look like? Do you need to reexamine those dark places in your past with a new outlook? Perhaps God sent a big, smelly, fishy, slimy whale to save you. Have you been looking (as I did) at the creature as a punishment or a savior?

Salvation Situations rarely look or feel like we think they will. More often than not there's rot, decay, blood, bones, sweat, and tears involved. But if we look more closely, we see the meager beginnings of change, growth, strength, and renewal. We see life! God often uses unusual saviors for us, I regret that we probably see them in their obvious form instead of the spiritual work they've been sent to do.

Today, take a look back and spend some time thanking God for the whales in your life. Thank Him for the big, slimy, wild, smelly, wet creatures that He sent to save you- swimming miles and miles of treacherous ocean, braving wind and sea while you are stowed safely inside to bring you to a new land. "And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land."

Between God and Jonah- When Rowing to Shore is a Very Bad Idea

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans. To see part 1 of this series, click here. Still in chapter 1, I hope you've had a chance to read through this very short chapter. If not, here's a quick link. Read it aloud to yourself. See what strikes you as you read it. I'll be right here...

Okay, so Jonah... or rather, as I did with the first #Jonahpost, I want to talk about the sailors again. Oh man, those poor sailors! I think they must have been rather perturbed to find themselves the innocent bystanders in the middle of this cosmic, supernatural show-down between God and Jonah. Except they weren't bystanders at all were they? They were smack-dab in the middle of a very real storm, with very wet rain, very huge waves, very blustery winds, on, as the NIV says, a "tempestuous" sea. Their lives were in danger in a very real way. And all because this crackpot Jonah decided to run away from God on their boat.

This mariner would be less than amused.

Yet how often do we find ourselves in the middle of a massive storm of someone else's making that suddenly becomes very much our business. The waves meant for them- blast us. The winds meant to blow them away- encircle us. The rain meant for them- saturates us. And before we know it, someone else's storm has become one that consumes our own lives.

Let's see how our mariners are doing.

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

The verse here that gets me every.single.time. is 13- despite having very clear instructions on how to obediently and swiftly exit stage left the sailors "INSTEAD... did their best to row back to land" (emphasis mine.) Whoa! Wait a minute. I'm confused. At what point did these poor saps think it was a good idea to get between God and Jonah? They had instructions. They knew what to do. And yet they took it upon themselves to save him. Suddenly the sailors decide that they have some weird responsibility to save Jonah from the wrath of God... and they actually try to fix his situation.

I would love to point fingers here, though I think that 4 others would be pointing back at me.

Haven't we all, even in the middle of someone else's storm, tried to row them to dry land? As dangerous a place as it is, we have chosen to insert ourselves into (what we consider) a solution to somebody else's issue with God. We boldly and recklessly stand between them and God Almighty thinking we have a better solution, a better way to shore, a better idea of how to fix the problem.

Arrogant much? And extremely costly- both in time and lesson.

It's time to throw our Jonah's overboard dear ones. As hard as it sounds, we have to remove ourselves from the supernatural battle (i.e. spiritual lesson) going on. Jonah's storm of disobedience does not give us permission to become his salvation (more on that in the next newsletter!)

Notice that the storm stopped ONLY once the sailors obeyed instructions- which involved throwing him into the sea. The storm affecting them so mightily came with Jonah and immediately left with him as well. I can only imagine the same effect can be had when we listen to God and obey His instructions to us about the Jonah's in our lives.

You may be asked to throw him overboard, you may be asked to row him to shore. But take care to listen and obey. So often these storms not of our doing involve our very intentional 'sacrificing of him to the seas' in order to be walking in our own obedience.

Search your lives dear ones and see if you're trying to row a Jonah to shore. It's a hard oar to hold, a dangerous position to be in. Inserting yourself between God and a Jonah is a very precarious position to be in.  Ask God for the courage and wisdom to throw him overboard if that's what's necessary.

What gods are you crying out to?

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans.  You’ve heard the term ‘drink of choice’- that one drink that brings calm, comfort, a sense of happiness and contentment– today I want to talk about your god of choice. Highlighting one of the most hard-hitting sections of Jonah chapter 1 is verse 5, “Then the mariners were afraid and each cried out to his own god” (ESV). This takes place in the middle of the storm, Jonah is <conveniently> down in the hold snoozing away while the rest of the sailors were doing their darndest to not sink. They were scared, anxious about the waves, worried for their ship, fearful for their very lives. Scripture tells us they prayed, no– they “cried out” to their various gods. Notice the little ‘g’ here. They ran to what they knew, what they felt comfortable with, what they thought could bring them peace…. Except those prayers didn’t work.

I won’t belabor the point here except to say this- When you are anxious, stressed, fearful, worried, or overcome by the storms in your life what god(s) do you cry out to? It’s a hard-hitting question that took me into the middle of June before God gave me my answer. What god bring you joy, comfort, relaxation, stress-relief.... peace? What or who do you run to in times of angst?

Gods (little g) can take the form of many things or people– the obvious examples could be drugs, alcohol, gambling… however what about our spouse? Our best friend? Work? Sleep? Shopping? Oils? Google? Books? A certain game, a tv series, or a favorite celebrity? Even seemingly innocuous diversions can be a god in our world if we run (i.e. cry out) to it or them first (or too much!)

I was convicted mightily after 3 weeks of prayer about this when God showed me that my particular god of choice is MYSELF. I run to ME far too often, far too much, I am far too self-reliant. I can do it, I’ve got this, I can handle it, I don’t need help. I am my own little god. Ugh! Speaking of Jonah, that one was a really hard one to swallow!

So, dear one, be in prayer…. Who or What god do you cry out to? I’d love to hear from you and maybe we can tackle this little god thing together.