Christianity 201

February 7, 2014

Am I Like Jonah?

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Byron Myers is a Texas teacher who posts at Weekly Devotional Thoughts. Click here to read today’s devotional and learn how to purchase his writing in book form.

Jonah 3:10-4:2  When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.  But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.  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.

For years, I was taught that Jonah ran away from God’s call because he was afraid of the people of Nineveh. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that Jonah was not afraid of the people of Nineveh, but afraid that God would be gracious to such an evil city and its people. The people of Nineveh were evil to the core and brutal to those they defeated. They beheaded men and stacked the heads outside the city. They skinned people alive and laid the skins on the walls. They impaled men with spears and left them standing for all to see.

The belief is that Jonah did not want the city of Nineveh to repent. Jonah knew that God was gracious and would forgive. So, Jonah ran. I catch myself feeling like Jonah. I watch as many deny God, deny His law, mock His goodness, continue in a life of sin expecting God’s grace to cover, etc. What do I want for those? Many times I want God to smite them with His power and might. I want God to punish and show them who He is. Yet this does not match the Gospels and Jesus teaching that I should go and “make disciples”.

There are certain sins that tend to bother me more than others. Some sins, I have a tolerant attitude toward and have compassion for the “sinner” around. Other sins, however, trigger a strong reaction in me. I will avoid the offender like a plague. Yet, all sin is equal in the eyes of God. All sin separates us from a Holy God. Jesus even pointed out to the Pharisees; those without sin, to cast the first stone. I recognize that many times I am like Jonah and do not want those “sinners” saved. From that recognition, I realize that for much of my Christian life, I have made my morality and judgment my Christianity.

Growing up in this materialistic culture, I have fought the immorality I have observed. I have been hurt by it, jealous of it, and afraid of it. Therefore, I have built this moral life with an attitude that I would not be like “that”. And, out of that self-righteous morality, I have become condescending and judgmental at times. I am not saying that I shouldn’t be moral. I am not saying that I should not hate sin. But, I have built my Christian life off of this morality and not a Spiritual walk. So, am I like Jonah? Do I avoid being Jesus to others because of my morality and judgment? Do I run the other way when God places people in my life that I have strong opinions about their morality?

Where do I go from here? One, I need to learn from Jonah. If God is calling me to face what I have strong feelings about, I am not to run. Look how that turned out for Jonah. God knows best and He loves His children; to the point of giving them a chance to repent. Two, even though my morality is based on Biblical truth and that truth is right, I am to set aside my personal judgment for the sake of the Gospel. The key is to be honest about my opinion without pushing the “sinner” away with a judgmental, self-righteous attitude. I’ve been on a theme lately of loving relationship. Love the person(s), looking past the sin without condoning the sin. All the while, I must realize that my life is full of sin, just different sin.

I am challenged by this balance in order to reach more for Jesus. I am thankful that stories like Jonah are in God’s Word to help me to see my life and how I need to improve.

Questions/challenges:

1. What are some of the sins you cannot stand?
2. How do you handle those whose lifestyle you disagree with?
3. Where do you feel like Jonah when it comes to God’s mercy on others?
4. Where are you like Jonah; running from what God is calling you to do?
5. Pay attention this week to your “sin” triggers. Notice how you feel. Find the source of why that triggers you. Notice whether or not you want to be like Jonah or are willing to step in where God may be calling you. Ask God to show you a clear direction. Take it.

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March 21, 2013

The Vulnerability of God

The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15 (NIV)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living….

…17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ,,,

…“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate…

Today’s reading is an excerpt from a sermon by a radical Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Radical is a bit of an understatement; you can read more about her and watch a video of her speaking to a youth rally at this Thinking Out Loud article from last July.   Nadia blogs at The Sarcastic Lutheran, where you can not only read today’s full text, but also listen to this brief sermon (about ten minutes) on audio. To do both, click here.  Nadia begins with a story of a time she thought her child was missing; and continues…

…[I]t’s vulnerable to have a child.  To create or adopt a child is to leave yourself vulnerable to a broken heart in the way nothing else can.  Which is why I started wondering this week about the vulnerability of God.

There is much talk out there about the strength of God and the mightiness of God and the awesomeness of God.  But what of the vulnerability of God?

That God would breath into dust and create us in God’s own image….that God would bring humanity into being as God’s own beloved children was to leave God’s self vulnerable to a broken heart in a way nothing else could have. What a risk God took creating us. Giving us enough freedom to be creators and destroyers.  Giving us enough freedom for us to make a mess of everything and act as our own Gods and to also trust in God and love each other…

…I’ve always heard this parable, one of the most famous stories in the Gospel, titled the Parable of the Prodigal son.  But out of everything we could say this story is about – why do we say it’s about the wasteful extravagance of the younger son? Why is that the focus when it’s not even that interesting?

I mean, It’s actually common for young people to leave home, waste their lives and their money for awhile until they have no other option but to come home to the parents they didn’t treat very well when they were leaving in the first place. Maybe we make this a story about the wasteful stupidity of the younger son because it’s a story we are more familiar with than the alternative, which is this: if the word prodigal means wasteful extravagance, then isn’t it really the story of the prodigal father?

Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to give his children so much freedom?  Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to discard his dignity and run into the street toward a foolish and immature son who squandered their fortune? Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the father to throw such a raging party for this kind of wayward son?

But, see, I love that kind of grace.

I personally love that Jesus tells this story of the prodigal father in response the to Pharisee’s indignation that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and prostitutes because, when it comes down to it, give me a church filled with awful sinners over a church filled with pious Pharisees any time.

Some of us might find the grace the father shows to the younger son to boarder on offensive, but the thing that really gets me in this story is how wastefully extravagant the Father is toward the older son.  The kid who never left him.  The one who has always done everything right.  The kid who is clean cut and went to college right out of high school and came back to work in his father’s business.  The kid who always signs up to do jobs at synagogue but resentfully notices all the slackers who show up and never help at all.  The kid who feels entitled. The kid who can’t stomach going into a party to celebrate the return of his screw-up of a brother.  I can’t stand that older brother even as I cringe at the ways I may be a little bit like him.  You know what’s wastefully extravagant in my book?: the fact that the Father says to that kid “all that is mine is yours”.

What risk God takes on us. Children who waste everything in dissolute living.  Children who begrudge grace being extended to people who so clearly don’t deserve it. But this is a risk born of love. God risks so much by loving us which is why, tonight anyway,  I prefer calling this the Parable of the Prodigal Father.

Because it is here we see that your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources.  But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue.  It is not determined by being nice, or being good or even, and I struggle with this, but it’s not even determined by how much you do at church.  Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God.  A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. Amen.

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