Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Jonah

Like other Bible stories we were told as children, we can almost quote the major points of the book of Jonah in our sleep:

  1. God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh
  2. Jonah says no and runs the other way
  3. Jonah gets swallowed by a huge fish
  4. Huge fish spits Jonah onto dry land
  5. Jonah decides to obey God this time and go to Ninevah

The old saying is that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  In this particular context, we might say that “our familiarity with the story of Jonah makes us complacent when challenged to dig deeper and wrestle with all God wants to show us through this book.”  Why?  Because we tend to believe there’s nothing else in the story we haven’t heard before.

Like speeding through a beloved vacation site or national park, the story of Jonah must be slowed down –way down, allowing us to see everything we’ve missed due to traveling too fast.

What we discover, when we slow down, is that the story of Jonah is replete with nuanced biblical principles and truth.

Permit me to share with you just one.

In chapter 1, we find Jonah in a boat headed for Tarshish with a bunch of sailors who have no idea that he is trying to run from God (which is futile.)  In response to Jonah’s blatant disobedience, God sends a tempest over the Mediterranean Sea that causes these seasoned sailors to fear for their very lives.  (side truth: our sin never only affects just us.)

Verse 5 states,

“All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.”

Tossing their supplies overboard didn’t help.

The 4th century theologian, Chrysostom, made the following piercing observation:

When I read that I paused – and my heart constricted.

Almost immediately, I found myself replacing Jonah’s name in Chrysostom’s quote with my name.

And I thought deeply of the weight Jesus bore on the cross – for my sin.

Lord, no one in history could bear the weight of my sin and depravity. 

You could. 

You did.

Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Obadiah

The shortest book in the Old Testament, Obadiah’s message is directed toward Israel’s neighbor – and “brother”Edom.  But, even though the book comprises a mere 21 verses, it is not surprising to see how many vital truths, principles and warnings God gives through  this prophet.

For instance, for centuries, Edom had mocked Israel’s failures, gloated over their misfortunes and refused to help them in times of need.  In response, God, through Obadiah, says to Edom:

“You should not have gloated when they exiled your relatives to distant lands. You should not have rejoiced when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune. You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble.”

Haven’t you, at one time or another, celebrated when someone who’s hurt you is suffering?  Me too.

But I’m reminded of Jesus’ hard teaching:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”

“Well, that’s my favorite verse in the Bible,” said no one ever.

Ambrose was a 4th century theologian from Milan.  He also knew how hard this teaching is – which is why he pleaded with God to give him a compassionate heart for his enemies:

Translation: Ambrose is simply praying, “O God – may i never become numb and callous to the sheep you’ve called me to shepherd. Keep my heart soft and attentive that I may rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Application for pastors/church leaders/small group leaders: I get it. For 36 years I’ve been doing it.  Pastoring/shepherding is hard work. Because it’s relational. (By the way, if you don’t like people – and you’re a pastor – find a new career.) And sometimes – me included – you just want to disappear. You’ve run out of patience, empathy, etc.,… the well is dry. It’s at those “moments of truth” we have to take a deep breath, take inventory of our lives, and refocus on Christ and how he loved people. No pastor in history has been more in demand than Jesus. Yet Jesus maintained his intimacy with the people by means of maintaining intimacy with the Father.

You can’t give what you don’t have. Even Jesus knew that.

In the words of the great theologians, The Righteous Brothers, don’t lose “that lovin’ feelin’.”

Love to you all, Nick

 

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Amos

One of the reasons God sent Amos to the northern kingdom of Israel was to rebuke them for their disregard for genuine worship of God.

We can’t fool God.  He knows the difference between a fact and a fake.  Genuine and pretentious.

It is easy to skim over the biblical passages citing God’s abhorrence of fake, ritualistic worship. But we should heed them with great fear.  In Amos 5:21, God thunders,

I hate, I despise all your pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

One scholar offered commentary on why God used both “hate” and “despise” to describe his disgust for pretentious worship.  He states:

Two Hebrew words here combine to express the attitude more forcefully than either could by itself.  The result can be translated, “I reject with utter hatred.”

May our worship of the Almighty be always humble and sincere.  nw

 

 

 

Church. Does it really matter?

“Someone tell me why actual church attendance is needed. What’s wrong with me watching it on tv, my device, etc? I mean, that’s better than nothing, right?”

Yes. That’s better than nothing.

Most of the time when someone asks the very-common question, “Is going to church all that important?”, the response will include a passage out of Hebrews:

“…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”  (10:24-25)

But, if I may offer some biblical insight and unpack this topic a little more…

Jesus was not haphazard about the metaphors he used. And, when describing us, he purposefully used sheep – who, by God’s own design, exist in flocks (community). This is the way they are hard-wired. And it’s the way we are hard-wired.

We are, by human nature, tribal.

There is a reason the apex of punishment within our prison system is isolation.

Biblically – and psychologically – we need one another.

It was Solomon who rightly said,

“Two is better than one. For when one falls the other can lift the other up. But woe to that person who has no one to lift them up.”

For this reason, Satan hates Christian fellowship, and will do everything in his power to prevent it from happening. To keep us isolated. Alone.

When is a sheep most vulnerable? When they’re separated from the flock.

Let’s take this topic one step further before I close. (Sorry – I sound like a preacher. I can’t help it. )

People can get lost in a crowd (“big church”). But we connect intimately in community (a small group).

I stumbled across the quote below on my Twitter feed. 19th century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, is one of my favorites. Note his words here as to the vital spiritual nature of community and fellowship within the Body. Where do people find community and fellowship?

They find true believers fellowship (koinonia: κοινωνία, cf. Acts 2:42) best in the small group.

That’s where they connect with people on a deeper level.

That’s where they begin to open up and feel safe.

It’s the relationships they make within the context of the small group that keeps them coming back.

Find a church. Find a small group.

We need each other. Faults, failures and all.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

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Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Joel

Following a devastating locust invasion – unprecedented in its scope of damage – God instructed Joel to use the locusts as a living illustration of the judgment to come on Judah if they did not repent of their luke-warm, indifferent approach to God.

In Joel 2:25, God says to Judah,

“I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.”

This is an extraordinary statement because God doesn’t say he’ll restore “stuff”, but “years”.

Can God actually restore joy to our lives that pain and heartache have stolen from us over time?  What about the broken-hearted spouse who’s just ended a 20 year marriage?  Or, the guilt-ridden addict who, after spending most of their adult life in chemical bondage, has finally decided to get clean?  Or, the grieving family whose son took his own life after losing his battle with depression?

Can God “restore” the “life” we’ve lost.

God says, emphatically, “I not only can – I will.”

From the moment we put our trust and faith in Christ, the “restoration” is put into motion. 

Some of us see tangible evidence of “restoration” here on planet earth.  (Job’s livestock and wealth were restored to him twofold on earth.) Others of us won’t see restoration until we leave this planet. (Job’s children who were lost in 1:18-19 were restored to him in heaven.) But the promise of restoration remains – and is in effect.

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, our redemption and restoration is now possible.  The risen Jesus Christ – restored to glory after being broken for us on the cross – was our preview of the restoration to come.

Hallelujah!  Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Hosea

Hosea beautifully – and frighteningly – describes God’s loyal/covenant love for a stubborn, rebellious people.

Like any parent who loves their child more than anything, God uses Hosea to warn Israel of punishment to come so as to protect them from horrible pain.

They refused to listen.

Below is a beautiful quote from the 5th century theologian, Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

Always keep in mind: even God’s judgment is driven by his love to get us to snap out of our prideful behavior and return to his love and protection.

In her powerful retelling of Hosea, Francine Rivers, in her book, Redeeming Love, beautifully illustrates the loyal, patient love of God for us.  Michael (who represents Hosea) tells Sarah (who represents rebellious Israel),

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

 

Why is there Something Instead of Nothing?

The Christian graduate student organization I was a part of at Texas Tech University invited Dr. Michael Strauss to speak in 2015. I was given the privilege of sitting down with him over lunch and visiting with him personally. It was dialogue that strained my intellect, to say the least.

I continue to correspond with him from time to time, as well as subscribe to his blog.

I’m passing along his latest blog because it concerns my favorite physicist who holds to an atheistic worldview, Sean Carroll, a physicist at CalTech. Carroll is brilliant. I admire him greatly as a physicist.

During my grad studies at HBU we were required to watch one of his debates with Christian apologist, William Lane Craig. While Carroll didn’t necessarily “win”, he was quite convincing to anyone with a purely naturalistic worldview.

In Strauss’ recent blog (linked below), Strauss slowly dismantles Carroll’s arguments for “Why there is something instead of nothing,” the proverbial “Achilles heel” for naturalists.

As I visited with a young atheist a few weeks ago about my essay regarding C.S. Lewis’ and David Humes’ opposing arguments for miracles, it all comes down to one’s presuppositions. What’s alluring about Carroll’s presuppositions to naturalists is his acute intellect. But, as we know, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”

This is heady stuff. Enjoy Dr. Strauss’ blog here.

Nick