Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jumping Ship and Landing in the Grace of God

God makes His plan.

We run.

We change direction. It's our life, right?

We do it our way.

He takes our new life and creates beauty from our mess.

We see Him work. We see Him move. We feel His presence.

Then again we step back and circle the desert. We go round and round.

He stops us. Time is altered. His grace finds us.

We are persistent and disobedient, but God is forever reconstructing the plan. The purpose is the same. To bring us to Him. He forever gives us time to learn, to settle in and brings us to remember to pray.

You know, I think I can connect with Jonah. Can you? Such a short book compared to others, but one that packs a mega lesson. You can't run from God! 

Jonah was kind of prideful. He was called to Nineveh to warn those living there. He more or less looked at God and said, "Are You kidding me? You wanna save them? Those people? You want muah to go there?" Did Jonah think he was better? Was he just filled with fear? Maybe he held contempt for these people. but who were they? Lets be real. They were sinners. Just like you and me. Just like we are called to reach out and go, we stay behind and lets be even more real. We can think of every excuse under the sun to say, "Nope, not me", to God, and feel as if we are confident. 

Jonah didn't just squat a spot and park it. He ran in the opposite direction he was being called to go. Oh, how well I can connect. I have felt the Lord's calling and I have stood in my fear or anger or whatever held me back at the moment and thought I could make a better selection. There is no better plan than the Lord's. 

Jonah runs and hops aboard a ship. He goes below deck. The storm begins to brew. The crew is horrified at what's happening. Had there never been a storm like this one? There had to be something different going on that the crew would be so fearful of their lives. Perhaps the storm of a lifetime. 

The captain goes below and pulls Jonah from his sleep. I can imagine the anger and fear of this captain hissing at Jonah. And here is skittish Jonah acting as if he has no idea why such chaos is taking place around him. Been there with Jonah? We make our choices. Not wise ones. We think we're in the clear, but then out of no where come the consequences. The funny thing is, when those consequences hit, we aren't shaking our head in wonder. We know exactly what's going on. This is the part we hate to face. This is where we learn to let go of the Jonah pride and in doing so we find a humble heart, seeking God's forgiveness. 

"Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart." Jonah 1:4

Everyone is calling upon their god. They are realizing nothing is happening. Jonah is surrounded by angry men who are too scared to admit it and they are hurling question after question to Jonah. He has to be to blame. No one else could bring on this chaos. Hmm..How often have we thought the same about our own situation? Perhaps those around us facing trial? There has to be someone else to blame. In this case the crew is right. God has come to call on Jonah. 

Another lesson I find is that the load they were carrying was too heavy. Yes, they were tossing everything in sight off the ship, but until they found the cause the storm was not ending. They were being tossed in every direction. When chaos surrounds us, it's not always our fault. Sometimes, the reason points directly to us. But no matter the reason there are always lessons to be learned. 

They tell Jonah to pray to his God. How do they save themselves? Again, isn't this what we are often worried about? Saving our self in the midst of chaos? Jonah tells them to toss him over. Can you imagine? Jonah either must face these angry men or the raging sea. He chooses the sea. Little did he know that big fish would be awaiting him for dinner. I bet that fish's name was Consequence. 

So, Jonah ran in the opposite direction. He boards a ship and heads to the very bottom. Oh, mercy. That still wasn't low enough for Jonah to fall before he learned. He ended up in the belly of a fish in the depths of the sea. He is at the bottom of the bottom and he still hasn't figured it out yet. Yes, I have been there right along with him. Oh, how long it takes us to learn. But there in the lesson is the sweet grace of God. 

Ah, now Jonah still hasn't gotten it. Three days in the belly of whale has a way of changing a person, don't ya think? Three days brought God's people from death to life! Praise Jesus! Jonah is about to learn the lesson of redemption. 

Jonah begins to pray. Ya all, there is prayer and then there is prayer. 

"I called to the Lord in my distress, and He answered me. I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice." Jonah 2:2

"As my life was fading away, I remembered Yahweh. My prayer came to You, to Your holy temple." Jonah 2:7

Wow! Praise Jesus! 

Jonah was meeting God at his deepest point and that is about as real as it gets. We can never fall so deep that God cannot reach us and bring us back. I love Jonah's prayer. He lets out all of his fear and lays everything out for God. He surrenders. Finally, he surrenders and what he finds blows Jonah away. Well, the whale spits him out right onto the sandbank of the sea. Vomit and yuck cover Jonah. But the grace of God is about to wash him clean. 

"Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will  have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Romans 8:35-39

At the end of Jonah's prayer he says, "but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord!" Jonah 2:9

There Jonah is, coughed up on land and not looking his best. Ah, but that doesn't change the love of God! Jonah hears the call of God again. This time his feet follow the calling. Nineveh is waiting. God is watching. Jonah proclaims and Nineveh listens. Jonah follows and God saves. 

But Jonah still has some issues going on in his heart. His journey isn't over. He still has some lessons to learn. He must let go of his pride and anger. God is compassionate and merciful and these are lessons Jonah's heart finds. 

Jonah has anger directed at just about everything in his path. He is saved from the depths of the sea, from the belly of a fish, and now he is still battling anger. Another lesson I learn from Jonah? He isn't comfortable. He's a complainer. Aren't we the same with God's calling? We don't want to face struggle and we certainly don't like to face discomfort. It's hot and Jonah is wishing he was dead. He even asks God to just take his life. (Jonah 4:3) 

God appoints a plant and it grew to give Jonah shade while he rested. That is mercy, friends. God is still working in the heart of Jonah, but yet, his head is a bit tough. Another trait I too carry. Stubbornness is not pretty when being called to move. Picture that two year old in Walmart who is screaming and having the fit of a lifetime that is bringing horror to their momma. 

But see, Jonah was happy in the shade. He was finding comfort. So, what does God do? He sends a worm to eat up that tree and a wind that would scorch Jonah. (Jonah 4:7-8) God has already asked Jonah if he should be angry and now here He is again asking him. Jonah speaks up and I can hear him now shouting a big O' YES!!! (Jonah 4:9) 

The lessons just keep coming! Friends, the lessons from our God never cease. He never gives up on us. He wasn't about to give up on Jonah. 

"So the Lord said, "You cared about the plant, which you do not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?" Jonah 4:10:11

Friends, God cares! Did you catch that? He cares about people and animals. He cares about His creation. He isn't wanting anyone to perish. He is calling everyone to come to Him. He wants to use us as His vessels. That isn't something we take lightly. We should be humbled and honored to be called. Who are we to say where we should go and who should hear the message? It's one for all to hear and God often calls us to the most unexpected places.

"For there is one God and One mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself-a ransom-for all, a testimony at the proper time." 1 Timothy 2:5-6

"The Lord does not delay in His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9


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