Portraits: Jonah

In his warning to the church in Corinth about the danger of idolatry, Paul used the disastrous examples of Israel under the Old Law in 1 Corinthians 10.1-10 – of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the calf, of their sexual immorality, of testing God, of grumbling and complaining – before concluding with this observation:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction,… (v.11).

Paul desired his audience at Corinth – and future readers – to understand the value of examples. Human history is most often written in episodes, that is, in small snippets of events that took place within the general lives of millions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never had anything written about them. It is in these episodes that the great successes, and the great failures, of history are recorded, while 99.99% of the rest of the actions of men go unrecorded and, largely, unremembered.

But this series focuses on the episodes – and more specifically the episodes of notable characters in Bible history, and what we may learn by what is “written down for our instruction.”

Jonah appears in scripture during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). He was sent to Nineveh as a spiritual envoy – the Assyrians were to be warned of their judgment at God’s hand, and urged to repent. To say Jonah was reluctant would be to overstate the obvious, but we can learn valuable lessons, because here was a prophet who complained when his mission was a success!

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Are our services too long?

There is perhaps not a religious subject that is at once completely carnal, and at the same time prompts more conflicting and passionate points of view. How long should the worship service last?

Short sermons, concert-like productions, and overall brevity are the order of the day. We want our worship with ‘heat-and-serve’ instructions. As Frank Chesser notes, “the hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with philosophy has found a home in the church.” But why?

The old saying “if a man can’t find oil in 20 minutes, he is drilling with a dull bit” is funny, but does it really apply to spiritual matters? If we are intent on drinking sumptuously from the living water that Jesus promised, what place would time ever play? Seriously, can you get too much “living water,” consume too much “bread of life”? I understand the corporate assembly is not the only place where spiritual nourishment takes place – it ought not even be the primary place. But in truth, for a not-insignificant number of folks, the Sunday service is where they get the bulk of their spiritual feeding.

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Portraits: David

In his warning to the church in Corinth about the danger of idolatry, Paul used the disastrous examples of Israel under the Old Law in 1 Corinthians 10.1-10 – of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the calf, of their sexual immorality, of testing God, of grumbling and complaining – before concluding with this observation:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction… (v.11).

Paul desired his audience at Corinth – and future readers – to understand the value of examples. Human history is most often written in episodes, that is, in small snippets of events that took place within the general lives of millions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never had anything written about them. It is in these episodes that the great successes, and the great failures, of history are recorded, while 99.99% of the rest of the actions of men go unrecorded and, largely, unremembered.

But this series focuses on the episodes – and more specifically the episodes of notable characters in Bible history, and what we may learn by what is “written down for our instruction.”

David appears on the stage of Bible history during the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul. Saul appears at the outset to be just what Israel wanted. But it becomes clear within a short period of time that his character is not fit to lead the nation. He disobeys when he hastily offers a sacrifice before going to battle (1 Samuel 13.8-12). And Samuel the prophet makes clear to him in an audience shortly thereafter that he is not the right kind of man to be king…

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13.13-14

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Yes, Jesus is the Christ

Paul writes in Ephesians 3.3-6 how God revealed to him that which was kept secret and hidden from Old Testament prophets and teachers,

how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of the Messiah, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus the Messiah through the gospel.

Names given to Jesus in the Old Testament foreshadowed things to come. One of the most significant of these names was “Messiah.” The word simply means “anointed one.” Messiah is the Hebrew term. The Greek term translated from Hebrew is “Christ,” which has the same meaning: “anointed one.”

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What would people think?

A story I once heard…

A young man slowly navigated his way around the small town square, in search of a parking place. Nervously he noticed the woman driving behind him, tailgating, and – from the looks of it – cursing his slow driving as she honked and gestured vehemently. As he neared a traffic light, as luck would have it, the light turned yellow and the young man put on the brakes. As he did, he cringed for the possible crash, but to his surprise the woman stopped short of rear-ending him. Barely.

He glanced in the rearview mirror to see the woman waving frantically. As she ranted and raved, dropping her makeup and cell phone, her face turned beet red in rage. Just as she was about to get out of the car, there was a tap on the driver’s side window. The woman glanced to her left and was astonished to see a police officer at her window. Embarrassed, she lowered the window. “Please get out of the car with your hands up,” the officer said.

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The real threat

Recently I heard an excellent sermon (by someone else, obviously) about what the Bible says about homosexuality. The presentation was apt and scripturally-based. I agreed wholeheartedly with the contention and conclusions: homosexual behavior is clearly displeasing to God, if scripture is any measure.

However, I’ve also heard and read a number of socially conservative pundits and commentators breathlessly claim in recent years that the Supreme Court decision of a few years ago, giving legal status to same-sex marriage, amounts to a serious existential threat to “traditional” marriage (one man, one woman, for life). That this court decision undermines the nuclear family unit, upon which every successful civilization has been built. Well, in the words of Gen. Sherman Potter, horsehockey.

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The Gospel is enough

Paul wrote in Romans 1:16,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.

It is a verse so common to us, and yet one we fail to appreciate until we see its amazing manifestation.

Over my lifetime I have had the privilege by God’s providence to be able to talk to a lot of people about the gospel. I have no special message or attention-grabbing approach – just the simple gospel truth of Jesus’ saving blood. Sometimes I forget just how powerful a message that is to people who want to hear. Continue reading “The Gospel is enough”

Sin’s deceitful charm

A story recently published in a North Carolina newspaper recounts the tragic circumstances of one Rae Carruth. Carruth was a star football player at Colorado University in the late 1990s. He was drafted into the NFL and enjoyed some early success before injuries seemed to sidetrack his career. But behind the scenes, Carruth’s life was a lagniappe of deceit, indulgence, arrogance, and disaster. His dalliances with drugs, his abusive behavior toward women, and his mismanagement of money were not shocking, but the depth of depravity these problems drove him to cost more than one life. Today, Carruth is incarcerated (though scheduled for possible release later this year), after being found guilty of hiring the murder of his pregnant girlfriend in an apparent attempt to abort the birth of his child. The child was born after its mother was shot, but also after having been deprived of oxygen for more than an hour. Rae Carruth’s son, today 18, has cerebral palsy, and is being raised by his maternal grandmother, who continues to fight off repeated legal attempts by Carruth to gain some element of custody or visitation rights, albeit, for now, only through prison visitation. So far, she has managed to keep Carruth’s son away from his father.

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Believing in Jesus

If you surveyed 100 people off the street and asked them this question: “Who is Jesus?” – you’d get a lot of different opinions. And hardly any consensus, even among religious people. Perhaps this has more to do with people’s attitude rather than evidence about Jesus. How would you respond?

On a past trip to Africa to work with brothers in Mozambique, I was privileged to be part of a Bible study with Samson Mafuta. Our study was with a young woman who expressed an interest in knowing more about the Bible. I asked her if she knew who Jesus was. She replied, “Jesus is the wind.” And so it goes.

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Real hope

It is hard for us not to envy people who have good things happen to them. When something good happens to a friend or family member, we can sometimes become bitter with a “Why not me?” attitude. How do you react when something amazing happens in the life of one of your friends? How did God’s blessings for a friend benefit you?

Consider the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1. There is nothing extraordinary about this couple. He was a priest of God, but not the high priest. They were godly people, but not nobility. In fact, with no children to succeed him, Zechariah was looked down upon, until Elizabeth was found with child. Notice the reputation he had unfairly garnered because of their circumstances:

“Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:25

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