Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Kind of Prayer

Though I like the way Jonah prayed in Jonah 2:1 (“prayed”), I love the way he prayed in 2:2 (“called”). Let me explain.

The Hebrew word “pray” in 2:1 has more of an official sense to it. Nothing wrong with this kind of praying (like the secret kind of praying mentioned in Matthew 6), but it is just more routine. Scheduled. May be we call it disciplined praying.

The word “called” in 2:2 has the connotation of a 9-1-1 call attached to it. “This is an emergency!” is the idea behind this word. Maybe we call this disaster praying. And who of us hasn’t prayed that way, eh? Sure, we all have at times. Truth is, I have often discovered that disaster praying can often be my most effective communication in certain situations. I’m cutting to the chase and begging God for help! No pretense, show, or religious jargon; I’m drowning and all I can do is cry out, “Help me God!"

Kind of reminds me of the story of three pastors who, while at the office one day, were talking about prayer in general and the appropriate and effective positions for prayer. As they were talking, a telephone repairman was working on the phone system in the background. One of the pastors shared that he felt the key was in the hands. He always held his hands together and pointed them upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second suggested that real prayer was conducted on your knees. The third suggested that they both had it wrong--the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on your face.

By this time the phone man couldn’t stay out of the conversation any longer. He interjected, "I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended forty feet above the ground."

Jonah would agree.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

American Idol

Fox’s hit show “American Idol” just kicked off another season, and the title is more fitting to our country than most of us realize. Sure, Fox is spotlighting the next hidden music star – thus the title – but most of us do far more than that when it comes to american idols.

As one of our elders described in this past week’ study group, idols are far more prevalent than we realize. They’re not just a graven image or statue; they can be anything we place in front of God’s call to us … anything we run to that’s not in line with God’s will … things we obey that shouldn’t be obeyed … things we trust to save us instead of trusting and obeying Jesus. As Mark Driscoll notes, idols are nothing more than “functional saviors.” They provide a temporary and false sense of security no doubt, but nonetheless, we continue to turn to them. And many of us have more of these “functional saviors” than we want to admit.

Jonah had one: the ship! And he referred to it in chapter 2 when he talked about “clinging to worthless idols.” Or “vain” idols as another translation puts it. Either way, the sailing vessel was Jonah’s “functional savior.” Jonah trusted the ship to save him. To hide him. To take him where no one could find him. The ship was his escape; his getaway from God. In a word, his idol.

I’ve got some. And so do you. Things like food, shopping, exercise, control, possessions…you can take it from here. Regardless of the name you put on it, it’s really an idol. And it’s worthless to actually save you. They’re no different than that ship headed to Tarshish – useless and vain.

And the end result? The bottom of the sea. Clinging to a "worthless" idol only leaves us crushed and crashed. Instead of following the idol to the end of the line, let's abandon our "functional saviors" and run to the only True and Faithful Savior -- Jesus!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

But God!

I bet Jonah loves big fish! Oh, maybe he didn't prior to being engulfed whole, but afterward? You know he did! How could he not once he realized that the one who swallowed him was actually his lifeline. Only hope. Salvation. A God-send of mammal-like grace!

That great fish is the "But God" of Jonah's life. It's when God stepped in and interrupted things for no other reason than God's own mercy and grace. No doubt the fish is a picture of salvation -- God's grace undeserved. It is truly the "But God" moment that redefined who he was. Isn't that what God does -- redefine us? He interrupts us in a way that never leaves us the same. Hallelujah!

Remember your "But God" moment? I do. Not only the prime one -- when God saved me in 1978 -- but also other ones when God gracefully injected himself into my stubborneess and pride to further along my sanctification. Ah, gotta love all those divine interruptions. (And I'm sure there are more on the way!)

As you think about yours (past, present, and future), check out these articles/links about some other "But God" passages in the New Testament, like Romans 5:6-8 and Ephesians 2:1-7.


They will really increase your gratitude for the "great fish of grace" that interupted your life. And I'm sure it's a whale of a tale!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The End is Where It Begins

God hears us best when we are at our worst. And I’m sure the belly of a great fish was the worst praying environment Jonah could imagine. Yet, it was exactly where he needed to be: the end of his rope. That’s where God wants us – at our end! But the end is the one thing we avoid at all costs. Perhaps that’s why so few of us really have powerful prayer lives – we’re rarely at the end of ourselves!

Remember the prodigal son? Luke records that his best decision occurred “when he came to the end of himself.” Yes, his decision to go back home was only reached when he finally saw how far away he truly was. Let’s remember that the way back starts with this fact: God hears me no matter how far away I am or how deep down I go. And he always meets me right there –at the end of myself. That’s where he wants me, for then he can take me back home his way, not my way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ways We Run

Running from God isn’t always easy to spot. It’s not like we wear a sign that says, “Running from God. Watch out!” So what does it look like in 2009?

Perhaps we run by staying busy. You know, the ole’ overcommitted syndrome.

Or maybe running is seen in how we avoid others. Or issues. It’s hard to deal with something or someone if you never face it.

I think sometimes running is seen in how we try and control others. If we’re louder…stronger…bigger…well, maybe that will just keep them down.

Running is probably evidenced by discontentment, a strange restlessness that indicates we “still haven’t found what we’re looking for.” So we chase the latest trend or fad. But we’re really not chasing anything; we’re running away from something.

Regardless of how it is seen, it happens. And probably in all kinds of ways. I just hope to be able to spot it quickly in my life so I won’t find myself in the belly of a great fish! That’s not where I want my running to take me! :)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why We Run (2)

When we run from God, it reveals something about us. It is an outward indication that something is wrong inside. What was Jonah running from? What was he afraid of? Success! And I don’t mean an external type of “I made it” image. I’m talking about success in what matters most – soul success. He knew that God’s salvation would override the sin of the city, and instead of embracing the inevitable spiritual success of others, he sabotaged it by running. What a shame that when God needed a missionary, Jonah went AWOL and was more like a “missing-ary.”

Why We Run

What made Jonah run from God? Think about it – when he heard God call, he went the opposite direction of the place to which he was called. And fast! He ran from God’s will, not to God’s will.

Without going into the details of the book, I think Jonah ran for many of the same reasons we run: fear! But what was he afraid of? Personally, I think he may have been afraid of…

… the size of his assignment. Jonah was a prophet in the northern kingdom (Israel) during a time when there was lots of success. There wasn’t much spiritual depth during those years under Jeroboam II, but at least he was doing what he knew how to do to in a place that was “comfortable.” His work as a prophet among his people was something he could get his hands around. But when the call to Nineveh came, I think the magnitude of this call was more than he expected.
… the location of his mission. Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s enemy, Assyria, and they were known for their terror and inhumane torture, especially toward the enemies. ‘Nuff said.
… the opinion of others. A rebellious nation like Israel would not respond well to the news that their prophet was going to preach to their enemies. And Jonah wasn’t probably looking forward to the scorn he would get by doing this.
… the nature of God. If Jonah knew, after he delivered the news of Yahweh, that God’s judgment was immediate, he probably would have gone. But he knew God was compassionate and merciful, and that if repentance was the response of the Ninevites, God would forgive them. And he didn’t want that! Can’t you hear him – “I knew this would happen!” So he ran!

Sounds like me. Us! I’ve run because I have been afraid of those kinds of things as well, haven’t you? Something seems too big. Too risky. Too miraculous. Too dangerous. So we run. It’s a sure sign we’re scared. Afraid. Oh, that I’d learn to run to the call, not from it. That I’d chase obedience, not comfort. That I’d follow hard after God, not try and hide from him.

Next time I want to run out of fear, I think I’ll run out of fear. (No, that’s not a typo).

Friday, January 2, 2009

One Little Book...One Big Prayer

Jonah, one of 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament, is a book of only 48 verses. That’s shorter than some chapters in the Bible! Yet, this little book contains a massive message: God values people – all people – and he wants us to value them as well, especially those who do not yet know him!

For my fellow FFC-ers, I am praying this message will blanket us individually and collectively. I am praying we see people, more than ever, just like God does! And if my guesstimate is correct, when we’re done with this series, you’ll probably agree with me that this will have been our greatest emphasis yet on evangelism and compassion. And for a church who has been outreach-focused from the beginning, whose constant posture is a set of outstretched arms, whose DNA is marked with Matthew 28:19-20, that is saying something!

But that won’t happen without a price: Many of us will find ourselves exposed! We’ll discover that our reasons for being quiet or uninvolved or lazy are actually only excuses. God will do to us what he did to Jonah – he will bring us to the mirror of himself and say, “Love like me.”

God was bringing Jonah to that place! To that place where he could no longer hide, no longer run, no longer wander from what God was doing to him and through him. God was performing a heart transplant in Jonah! You see, Nineveh was already in God’s heart, and he was making sure Nineveh got in Jonah’s heart. That’s’ right – God was putting people in the right place on Jonah’s priority list. God was helping Jonah value the right things – people!

This spiritual surgery is highlighted in the last two verses of the book (Jonah 4:10-11), and these two verses tie it all together and give us a glimpse into what God was doing all along.

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’"

It’s a rhetorical question, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” And so should we!

Oddly, we don’t know the end result of this spiritual surgery; Scripture never tells us how Jonah responded. But we do know the heartbeat of the surgeon, don’t we? God values people, and he wants us to as well. Yes, he wanted to redeem Nineveh, but he also wanted to refine Jonah. That’s what God does, isn’t it? And I’m praying God will do both to and through me and you – redeem and refine!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This Year

Call them commitments. Call them decisions. I like to say that, for believers, new year’s resolutions are God’s continuing sanctification process in seasonal terms. That’s why we put the prefix ‘new year’ onto many of them.

For me, I have been sensing God’s work in two main areas for some time, and I know he is going to concentrate on these two things in the coming months: Less indecision, more compassion. That’s my New Year’s Resolutions.

And yes, I think these two are tied together at times. Often I’ll see a situation and know deep inside I ought to do something (the kind of compassion described in 1 John 3:18), but too often I analyze myself right out of action. I debate the circumstances and evaluate people’s motives while I’m deciding (actually while I’m choosing not to decide – indecision!), and usually by the time I have tried to think through every angle, I have simply missed an opportunity.

And don’t think compassion only means an ‘emo’ response that makes someone drop a dollar in the homeless man’s bucket. I’m talking about the kind of compassion that yes, loosens my grip on things, but more likely tightens my grip on relationships. Yep, the kind of compassion that makes the call, writes the letter, drafts the email, or says the word…

…to the friend who is struggling spiritually but you never want to talk about it ‘cause you know it might get messy. Take more of your time. But deciding to get compassionate may be the best decision you could make for both of you in 2009.

…to the family down the street who just got bad news about an illness, a lay off…something like that. Yep, it may mean you’ll be asked for help, advice, a ride. But what’s wrong with that? Avoiding them just allows the selfishness to sink deeper. Decide to get compassionate and ask two simple questions: “What’s going on?” and “How can I help?”

…to the “stranger” who just happened to bring up the topic of church while you were checking out at the bank or store or restaurant. The best compassion is to help them make a step towards the right kind of church. So don’t shrug off the opportunity or sail by with some weak line about “religion” in general. Tell them your story and encourage them to get involved in yours. Decide to get truly compassionate about the expressed need and invite them to church. You never know what one invitation might do.

So there you have it -- My New Year’s Resolutions. My 2009 goals. My annual commitments. I just look forward to seeing how God is going to deepen my character this year as his sanctification process continues no matter what we call it.