Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Religious and non-religious people alike have heard the story of “Jonah and the Fish.” But has this fairy tale fame distracted us from the deeper meaning and purpose of this powerful little book?”

Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city located in Upper Mesopotamia.  Its archeological ruins are situated on the east bank of the Tigris River, opposite the modern-day city of Mosul in northern Iraq.  Nineveh is counted among the oldest and greatest cities of antiquity.  At one point in its long and often sordid history, it was briefly the largest municipality in the world. Founded by Nimrod, the Bible first mentions Nineveh in the Older Testament book of Genesis chapter 10, verse 11:

11 “From that land Nimrod went to Assyria, and built Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah”. (Gen 10:11)

Nineveh would go on to prosper for thousands of years and eventually become the flourishing capital of the sprawling Assyrian empire (2 Kings 19:36).  It was home to the likes of King Sennacherib who reigned during the time when Hezekiah was the King of Israel and the prophet Isaiah was alive on the earth.  In fact, Sennacherib is credited with making Nineveh a truly splendid city complete with the famed “palace without a rival” (c. 700 BC).

Several books of the Bible’s Older Testament reference Nineveh including much of the writings of the Prophet Nahum and the books of Zephaniah and Jonah.  But in spite of the splendor ascribed to this once great metropolis, the scriptures declare it to have been a wicked, extremely cruel and perverse city.  Numerous prophecies predicted that the Almighty would ultimately see that it was laid to waste.  And In time, it was.  But not before the Ninevites were offered a window of opportunity to change their evil ways.

And that brings me to the Biblical book of Jonah; a diminutive Older Testament manuscript (just 48 verses) unique in that it focuses more on the life and times of the messenger (Jonah) than it does on the message he was to deliver.  It is a fascinating story.

Thought to be one of the earliest Older Testament prophetic voices, Jonah was a Galilean from Gath-hepher in Zebulun.  When the Divine Spirit of the Almighty came to Jonah and told him to go and warn the violent and decadent Ninevites of their impending doom, he rose up in stubborn disobedience.

You see, Jonah was a zealous Jewish nationalist.  The Assyrians were the sworn enemies of Israel and he hated them.  Jonah did not want Nineveh to repent; He wanted the Ninevites dead.  To him, these Assyrians were a major threat to the national security of Israel and the worst kind of human trash.  Offer them hope through repentance?  Forget about it!

When God told Jonah to go and prophesy against Nineveh, Johana fled to Joppa and then hopped on a ship sailing for Tarshish (which was in the opposite direction of Nineveh).  In essence, Jonah tried to escape his responsibility to obey God by attempting to run from his presence.  Can anyone say futile?  Think about it, how does one hide from a God who is all seeing and all knowing?  I think the Psalmist put it best when he wrote:

7-12 “Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit, to be out of your sight?  If I climb to the sky, you’re there!  If I go underground, you’re there!  If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, you’d find me in a minute—you’re already there waiting!  Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!  At night I’m immersed in the light!”  It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12 MSG)

Nonetheless, Jonah set out to evade his Divine calling by hiding from the Divine being who had called him. Sometimes, I wonder how many of us are just like this wayward prophet – trying to escape our accountability to the Creator simply because we don’t like our assignment. Sure you can run – but you can’t hide.  God still holds us answerable to Himself, regardless of how hard we try to ignore or deny Him.

At any rate, Jonah ends up on a ship, thinking he can now just calmly sail off into the sunset.  Not gonna happen.  The Spirit of God causes a great storm to batter and buffet the ship (1:4).  Everyone on board now faced disaster.  The crew tried throwing their cargo overboard to lighten the load.  That didn’t work.  Finally, being superstitious pagans, they decided to cast lots to see why they were at the mercy of this raging storm.  Guess who got the short straw.  Yup, the lot fell to Jonah.

When we run from God, His response is more likely to be stormy and upsetting than quiet and subtle. He knows how to make us miserable. And it makes those around us miserable as well.” Tullian Tchividjian

So, the prophet comes clean.  He had already told the captain and crew that he was hiding from his God (1:10). He said they would now have to toss him into the sea if they wanted to be saved.  At first that seemed like a bad idea to the sailors – even pagans can have morals.  Instead they tried in vain to navigate their ship to dry land.  In the end, the seafarers reluctantly threw him overboard, but not before they shouted out to Jehovah (Jonah’s God) saying, “don’t hold us responsible for his death, for it is not our fault – you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons” (1:14).

Once Jonah was tossed into to the briny deep, Jehovah the Almighty calmed the stormy seas (1:15).  The good ship and crew were now safe (and they quickly decided to follow Jonah’s God from now on).  “Fine, fine, you say, but what about Jonah?”  Calm yourself, I’m getting there.

To save Jonah from death by drowning, the Lord dispatched some form of monster fish to swallow the rebel (1:17). I know what you’re thinking, “monster fish…really?”  Look, we are dealing with the Creator of all things here; do you truly think he would have a hard time doing this?

Anyway, for the next three days and nights, Jonah endured an unscheduled adventure in a very large sea creature’s gut.  It was during this ordeal that our defiant rebel had the Older Testament equivalent of a “come to Jesus moment”.  He changed his mind (repentance) and asked the almighty, all powerful creator of all things for help (he prayed).  God caused the sea creature to swim toward land and there it puked Jonah out onto dry ground somewhere along the shores of ancient Palestine (2:10).  I guess even giant sea creatures can’t stomach disobedient prophets. (Teehee)

What happened next is truly remarkable.  The now regurgitated Jonah is told by the Almighty once again: “Go to that great city, Nineveh…, and warn them of their doom, as I told you to once before!” (3:2 TLB).

Hmmm…, seems the assignment wasn’t going to change.  This time however, Jonah obeyed Jehovah and went to Nineveh.  As a result of his warnings, the whole population fasted and sincerely repented. God spared the city as an act of His mercy toward the ignorant and non-discerning people who lived there, and life, as they say, went on.  But Nineveh’s day of reckoning was merely deferred for a season. Eventually, their wickedness returned and in the end judgement befell the Assyrians.

Listen to these words from the ancient prophet Jeremiah:

Whenever I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be taken up and destroyed, then if that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will make a certain nation strong and great, 10 but then that nation changes its mind, turns to evil, and refuses to obey me, then I, too, will change my mind and not bless that nation as I had said I would.”  (Jeremiah 18:7-10 TLB)

At this our most desperate hour of wickedness here on spaceship earth, let that also be a warning to the Nations of the world.

A Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble.” ― C.S. Lewis

There’s more to our tale of course.  Jonah was not pleased at all with Nineveh’s turnaround.  He told the great Jehovah,

2 “O Lord, is this not what I said you would do while still in my own country? That is why I ran away to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a kind and loving God Who shows pity. I knew that you are slow to anger and are filled with loving-kindness, always ready to change your mind and not punish. So now, O Lord, take my life from me. For death is better to me than life.”  (Jonah 4:2-4 NLV)

Poor Jonah, the proud, stubborn, disobedient, unfaithful, grumbling prophet with a bad temper, was now also a very unhappy camper.  You know something, if the Almighty is willing to work with this guy – there is hope for all of us.

How did God answer Jonah?  He questioned his anger.  Read the end of the book and you will discover how Jehovah used a simple object lesson with a giant gourd and a parasitic worm to make a very cogent point:

11 “… should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons not [yet old enough to] know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle [not accountable for sin]?” (Jonah 4:11)

Our Creator is merciful.  He wishes no one to perish – especially the innocent. When Jehovah beheld the Ninevites at that point in human history, He saw 120,000 people in utter spiritual darkness (“children who don’t know their right hands from their left.”)  His compassionate understanding of the human condition provided them an opportunity to repent and abandon their wickedness.

Jonah’s story is also filled with object lessons for you and me.  To begin with, our modern world is filled with Ninevites.  This is not the time for people of faith to sport condescending attitudes of superiority toward the spiritually ignorant or immature – grow up – you’re the only Jesus some will ever see.

Perhaps the most import takeaway today is this: trying to hide from our Creator doesn’t discharge us from obedience to His will.  If we are called and chosen by the Almighty; we will be pursued by His Divine Spirit.  You can refuse Him outright, chase your own self-interests and agendas, and even fill your life with abundant distractions – but you cannot silence His call.  God will relentlessly dog your trail.  He will disrupt your diversions and frustrate your selfish plans until He has your attention.  It seems to me that it would be most prudent to obey Him promptly rather than squander precious time and talent by running away from your destiny.

On the other hand, you can continue to be like Jonah.  Maybe life as fish bait isn’t that bad.  But, I think not.

Master of this universe; Creator of all that we see, please help  keep us from the shallow spirituality and personal pride that can so easily lead us astray.  Help us to listen to the voice of your Spirit and the redemptive call of our Liberator Jesus.  Help us learn what it really means to surrender to you and say, “not my will, but Yours be done.” Amen

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher. © 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta,
all rights reserved. For more information write to: Insight Today, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656

This may surprise you.

God is not interested in how much we can do for Him. I don’t remember when, but somewhere along the pathway of my years I became enlightened with this important truth.

Let me say it again: God is not interested in how much we can accomplish for Him. (Or about how much “stuff” we can cram into our day – but we’ll save that for another lesson)

Think about it, God created the world in 7 days with just a few words of his power. I hardly think “getting things done” is an issue for Him.

Watching some of my fellow Pilgrims, you’d never know this truth existed. If you ask me, their lives are way too full of activity. Listen, I fully comprehend how a schedule that is bursting at the seams with day-to-day undertakings can cause anxiety. However, it is amazing to me how some Christians can’t see the folly in being all “stressed out” and then claiming their stress is a result of doing the Lord’s work. What happened to:

3“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is kept on You, because he trusts in You”  Isaiah 26:3 New Life Version

Busier is NOT necessarily better. Doing lots of Good things is not the same as doing your GOD thing.

So what have I learned?

God wants two things from me:

  1. Do only what He asks.
  2. And do it only when He wants it done.

The rest of the time I am free to Love Him, to love others and to learn to love myself (remember, we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves). As a result, I am able to live more fully in His Joy and I am at liberty to exist as the unique vessel that the master potter is sculpting.

Do you know what God wants the most from you?

YOU!

Get it? Just as you are, God wants you.

Life with Him is a partnership and a journey. “In Him”, we fulfill His purposes through our lives.

I would like to issue a challenge.

I challenge you to embrace who you are in Christ. (Forget anyone else.)

I challenge you to do all the “peculiar” stuff that defines you. (By the way, peculiar is synonymous with weird! Ha-ha.)

I challenge you to be true to yourself and to stop listening to the voices coming from the world around you claiming to know what is “right” for you!

And, I challenge you to trust that little voice inside of you (the voice of your spirit) that ever whispers to your soul. You are filled with the Holy Spirit of God Himself. He will show you everything (including what is right for you). If you need to make changes – He will let you know. And remember, His teaching voice is calm, life giving and encouraging.

Are you up for the challenge?  I hope so.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

Charles H. Spurgeon   (1834 – 1892)

“There are some professing Christians who can speak of themselves in terms of admiration; but, from my inmost heart, I loathe such speeches more and more every day that I live. Those who talk in such a boastful fashion must be constituted very differently from me. While they are congratulating themselves, I have to lie humbly at the foot of Christ’s Cross, and marvel that I am saved at all, for I know that I am saved. I have to wonder that I do not believe Christ more, and equally wonder that I am privileged to believe in Him at all—to wonder that I do not love Him more, and equally to wonder that I love Him at all—to wonder that I am not holier, and equally to wonder that I have any desire to be holy at all considering what a polluted debased, depraved nature I find still within my soul, notwithstanding all that divine grace has done in me. If God were ever to allow the fountains of the great deeps of depravity to break up in the best man that lives, he would make as bad a devil as the devil himself is. I care nothing for what these boasters say concerning their own perfections; I feel sure that they do not know themselves, or they could not talk as they often do. There is tinder enough in the saint who is nearest to heaven to kindle another hell if God should but permit a spark to fall upon it. In the very best of men there is an infernal and well-nigh infinite depth of depravity. Some Christians never seem to find this out. I almost wish that they might not do so, for it is a painful discovery for anyone to make; but it has the beneficial effect of making us cease from trusting in ourselves, and causing us to glory only in the Lord.”  – Charles H. Spurgeon   (1834 – 1892)

Charles H. Spurgeon was an anointed orator and prolific author. His sermons were said to hold his listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where he was the Pastor for 38 years. He was also known for his outspoken opposition to the open-minded and matter-of-fact theological tendencies in the Church of his day. (Hmmmm)

Spurgeon did not mince words when it came to his disdain for self-centered Christians or as he put it, “professing Christians who can speak of themselves in terms of admiration”.

Charles marveled at the wonder of his own salvation. I like his dichotomies:

  • I have to wonder that I do not believe Christ more, and equally wonder that I am privileged to believe in Him at all
  • I have to wonder that I do not love Him more, and equally to wonder that I love Him at all
  • I have to wonder that I am not holier, and equally to wonder that I have any desire to be holy at all

Me too, Charles. Me too.

Spurgeon laments that, “In the very best of men there is an infernal and well-nigh infinite depth of depravity. Some Christians never seem to find this out”.

How true.

We are all depraved. At home with our self-absorption and imagining our every desire should be met. I, Me & Mine. I think we’ve forgotten that we are the “creature” not the “creator”. I am a created being. What can I really know about myself that God does not already know?

It just so happens that I have been blessed with a life filled with affirmation (and, sometimes admiration as well). I regularly experience showers of kind and flattering words. To be honest, I like it. Who wouldn’t?

But the longer I live, the more necessary I find it to expose the ugliness of my own depravity. I recognize the treachery of my heart (human nature) and my propensity for wickedness. The duplicity inside of me exposes not only my appetite for sin but my ability to excuse it. Openly acknowledging that I will always struggle with the “sin-nature” is liberating. It reminds me that I am at the mercy of my Heavenly Father every day and makes me grateful for the grace He has shown me.

The Apostle Paul understood this very well. He said,

12-16 I am deeply grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ (to whom I owe all that I have accomplished) for trusting me enough to appoint me his minister, despite the fact that I had previously blasphemed his name, persecuted his Church and damaged his cause. I believe he was merciful to me because what I did was done in the ignorance of a man without faith, and then he poured out his grace upon me, giving me tremendous faith in, and love for, himself. This statement is completely reliable and should be universally accepted:—“Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners”. I realize that I was the worst of them all, and that because of this very fact God was particularly merciful to me. It was a kind of demonstration of the extent of Christ’s patience towards the worst of men; to serve as an example to all whom in the future should trust him for eternal life”. 1 Timothy 1:15 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

Paul looked at himself as being among the worst of men. He attributes his rescue to the Mercy, Grace, Faith and Love of God. Jesus Christ, he says, entered this world to rescue bad people. Like Paul, we are all bad people in need of reclamation.

Paul also observed that it is human nature to know what is right and yet to still often practice evil.

21-25 “When I come up against the Law I want to do good, but in practice I do evil. My conscious mind whole-heartedly endorses the Law, yet I observe an entirely different principle at work in my nature. This is in continual conflict with my conscious attitude, and makes me an unwilling prisoner to the law of sin and death. In my mind I am God’s willing servant, but in my own nature I am bound fast, as I say, to the law of sin and death. It is an agonizing situation, and who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my sinful nature? I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord”.   – Romans 7:24 -J.B. Phillips New Testament –

Who on earth can set me free from the control of my sinful nature?

Who indeed. Clergy, Governments and Gurus are all useless when it comes to freeing the human spirit. There is one solution. Freedom comes only “through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

 1-2 “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are “in” Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.” – Romans 8:2 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

God has secured my drifting heart to Himself through Jesus Christ. He has shown me the way out from under the weight (vicious circle) of religion and its laws. In Jesus, I have found a new “spiritual principle of life”. I am now in right standing with God simply because he loves me. I am no longer a prisoner of my fallen nature. That malevolent side of me is still lurking inside but the Holy Spirit in now in control. The power of the Holy Spirit has made me free from the power of sin and death. As long as I continue to walk in harmony with the Holy Spirit my wicked nature is kept in check. I can do all things because Christ strengthens me. I am nothing without Him.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.