Monday, November 25, 2013

What Type of Repentance?

I have been doing a Monday morning post on the message from Sunday morning, but this morning is on the evening message from Jonah.

There are things I like about Jonah (what's not to like about a guy being swallowed by a great fish because of his refusal to obey God?) and there are things I don't like about Jonah (like how the book ends on a question and Jonah does not respond to show he finally understood what God was up to), but there are things I love about Jonah, too! I love that I can see myself in its pages. There are days I can see myself in the picture of a man running from God - a man who resists putting into practice what God has revealed. There are days I can see myself in the "woe is me" attitude when Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard. There are days I can see myself in the tired and tender repentance as Jonah sat in the belly of the fish. There have even been days when I see myself in the brooding Jonah from chapter 4. (shudders)

But yesterday we were in chapter 3. And, as the rest of the book, we see Jonah being compared in his responses. Jonah and the sailors in ch.1, Jonah and the Ninevites in ch. 3, Jonah and God in ch. 4. And once again, Jonah shows up less than favorable. Another reason to like Jonah. Jonah is real. In ch. 3 we see the results of Jonah's repentance in ch. 2. The first thing we see is the Word of the Lord coming a second time to Jonah. Why? God told Jonah what to do, Jonah repented "I will pay that that I have vowed. . ." and God cause the fish to vomit Jonah out on dry land. Jonah didn't need God to tell him what to do, he knew it already. But Jonah's repentance was a works based repentance. A repentance of action. And a works based repentance needs reminders. It needs rules - lots of rules. It entails a very legal response to what has been asked. Jonah went, according to the Word of the Lord, and Jonah preached, and Jonah hoped with all of his might that the people of Ninevah would ignore his preaching. Jonah hoped that despite hearing the message God had given him, that God would still have to destroy Ninevah. But he DID what God wanted him to do.

We can all have that response at times. "I'll do it, but I'm not happy about it!" But do you know where this type of repentance leads? It leads to bitterness, . . . every time! Look at Jonah chapter 4 - "It is better for me to die than to live." Bitterness. Why? Because God is a God of mercy. Yeah, that always makes me upset, too. God's mercy frustrated those who have a works based repentance. When we have that mindset, we see ourselves as worthy of God's mercy, and others (who aren't like us - you know, they don't dress as nice as us, go to church 3 or 4 times a week, they don't follow the very good rules we follow in our lives) are undeserving. (*side note* this is definitely not a post about rules being bad - self-imposed rules followed out of a love for God and a desire to please him and grow are wonderful things!) And it leads to bitterness. Just ask Jonah, or the Pharisees, or the prodigal son's brother, . . .you get the idea.

Then we have the response of the Ninevites. A true, heartfelt repentance. The King hears and responds - and not just with a decree for his followers to obey, but with a getting down in the ashes and sack cloth and a humility that is amazing for a pagan king. The king isn't following a list of rules, he doesn't say "Every male needs to be circumcised!" He just desires the people to humbly come before God, and put away the violence and turn from their wickedness. Did he read Micah 6:8? Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God? No, he just responded out of love and from the heart. And despite not following a set of rules, he ended up where the law would have guided him to be if he had read it! Rather than a desire to exalt self, the king desired to exalt God! And instead of bitterness, this repentance brings hope "who knows if God might turn. . ."

And God does turn - the third repentance in chapter 3 of Jonah. God repented of the evil He said he would do. This is the mercy of repentance - and it occurs every time a lost sinner turns to God in repentance. God turns from the punishment He declared "For the wages of sin is death," and through the blood of Christ replaces it with "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Repentance that leads to repentance? Yes, please!

Want to read the story for yourself? Here it is:

You can find the message that this post summarizes right HERE!

Monday, November 18, 2013

When is it time to look to God?

It would be interesting to take a poll and ask people "When do you look to God?" and "When do you think other people look to God?" I imagine the results would be interesting to be able to note the difference between what people answer for themselves and what people answer for others.

But a more important question is "When do I look to God?" There is more to the passage we covered Sunday than just verse 13 of James 5, but it contains what the answer should be:

"Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms."

You might be tempted to say that the verse only covers 2 situations - affliction and merriment. But the concept of putting two extremes in one verse, and two fairly vague extremes (what type of affliction? persecution? Family troubles? unmet expectations? . . .) and having the answer of both extremes be to tell it to God really tells us that anywhere in between has the same answer too.

How about you? Are you afflicted this morning? Are you merry? Are you somewhere in between? James tells us you can talk to God about it - He wants to hear what's on your heart. If you can't find the words to say, dive into the psalms! If you're feeling it, David wrote a poem about it to help bring your attention back to God and express it to Him.

What a friend we have in Jesus, 
all our sins and griefs to bear! 
What a privilege to carry 
everything to God in prayer! 
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear, 
all because we do not carry 
everything to God in prayer. 
Have we trials and temptations? 
Is there trouble anywhere? 
We should never be discouraged; 
take it to the Lord in prayer. 
Can we find a friend so faithful 
who will all our sorrows share? 
Jesus knows our every weakness; 
take it to the Lord in prayer. 
Are we weak and heavy laden, 
cumbered with a load of care? 
Precious Savior, still our refuge; 
take it to the Lord in prayer. 
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? 
Take it to the Lord in prayer! 
In his arms he'll take and shield thee; 
thou wilt find a solace there.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Scripture Reading & Memory Challenge for 2014

This blog's purpose is to take the things of life that might get us down and refocus our attention on God and be an encouragement. A challenge we will promote for the coming year at church fits into that category as it challenges us to fill our minds with God's Word and hide it in our hearts. There is no greater cure for discouragement and difficulty than the pure, clean water of the Word of God.

It is still early, but I wanted to share the challenge over here to give time to prepare mentally for the challenge. I anticipate (no guarantees, ok?) posting weekly on the verse(s) I have picked to memorize and would welcome feedback from anyone else joining in the challenge. Feel free to share the challenge as well, it is posted plenty early enough to get others on board.

The basics are to read the assigned book (or books) for the week, pick a memory verse, write it on a 3x5 card, or digitally save it to whatever electronic device you want to keep a file in, and then memorize it, reviewing the verses as we add to it through the year. By the end of the year, or shortly thereafter, the goal is to memorize 66 verses of scripture - one from each book in the Bible. While you may already know some verses from a book, I would encourage to learn a fresh verse, at least one that you can't say from memory currently (like John 3:16). If you already know a whole book, obviously you cannot find a verse you don't know already, but pick one for your file for review anyway.

The weekly assignments would look like this: (Don't be scared) 
Week of:
Jan. 5 - Genesis
Jan. 12 - Exodus
Jan. 19 - Leviticus
Jan. 26 - Numbers
Feb. 2 - Deuteronomy
Feb. 9 - Joshua
Feb. 16 - Judges
Feb. 23 - Ruth & Psalm 1-30 (Memory verse from Ruth only)
Mar. 2 - I Samuel 
Mar. 9 - II Samuel
Mar. 16 - I Kings
Mar. 23 - II Kings
Mar. 30 - I Chronicles
Apr. 6 - II Chronicles
Apr. 13 - Ezra & Psalm 31-60
Apr. 20 - Nehemiah & Psalm 61-90
Apr. 27 - Esther & Psalm 91-118
May 4 - Job
May 11 - Psalm 119-150 (Memory verse from any where in the Psalms)
May 18 - Proverbs
May 25 - Ecclesiastes
June 1 - Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)
June 8 - Isaiah
June 15 - Jeremiah
June 22 - Lamentations
June 29 - Ezekiel
July 6 - Daniel
July 13 - Hosea & Galatians
July 20 - Joel & Ephesians
July 27 - Amos & Philippians 
Aug. 3 - Obadiah & Colossians
Aug. 10 - Jonah & James
Aug. 17 - Micah & Titus
Aug. 24 - Nahum & Philemon
Aug. 31 - Habakkuk
Sep. 7 - Zephaniah
Sep. 14 - Haggai
Sep. 21 - Zechariah
Sep. 28 - Malachi
Oct. 5 - Matthew
Oct. 12 - Mark
Oct. 19 - Luke
Oct. 26 - John
Nov. 2 - Acts
Nov. 9 - Romans
Nov. 16 - I & II Corinthians
Nov. 23 - I & II Thessalonians
Nov. 30 - I & II Timothy
Dec. 7 - Hebrews & Jude
Dec. 14 - I & II Peter
Dec. 21 - I, II & III John
Dec 28 - Revelation

The challenge will be posted again around the end of the year, but be thinking about whether you'd like to join us.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What do you treasure?

At different times in our lives we tend to treasure different things. Around 8 years old, my bicycle was probably one of my most treasured possessions. At 16 years old, it was a piece of paper and then a card that said I had the priveledge to drive an automobile on the road. It is funny how, while I still enjoy riding a bicycle, the bicycle has slipped in its standings. And how that card in my wallet is appreciated, but not really treasured as it was 25 years ago.

All that proves is that the things we treasure change during the course of our lifetime, as they should, and 'things' tend to change the most in their relative value to us.

Having officiated at several funerals, a common thing I have noticed about most people at funerals is that they tend to value people over petty objects or disagreements at a time of loss. And people tend to be more focussed on things with spiritual value as well. It seems obvious that would be the case, afterall, with the death of a loved one, we are reminded of how short life is, how fleeting the time is and how temporary our ownership of things is. A funeral tends to strip away all the shiny objects from our view and help us see things more clearly.

The solution to keeping the right focus is not to ratchet up our attendance at funerals. This would be a temporary fix until we grew so accustomed to it that it would no longer phase us. The solution is to build our system of value on things that matter.

People matter.

If you have the opportunity to pocket an extra $100 by cheating someone (without them knowing), would you do it? $1000? $10,000? If we value people, the amount won't matter. No amount of zeroes following a dollar sign will move us. We often hear that "Everyone has their price." For that to be true, some poeple's price must be astronomically high. I don't think it is true. I think it is possible to value people so much that no dollar figure can cause you to cheat someone else. I have seen it in action, haven't you? I hope others see that in me.

I may not have labourers that work for me that I owe a paycheck in the sense James speaks of, but I need to pay those who I contract to serve me. Pay what I owe, tip my servers at restaurants, even make sure the government gets what I owe it. And I need to make sure I do not cheat others for my benefit. They may not be able to get back at me, but their voice will be heard:

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. - James 5:4

Just an encouragement to make sure to value the things that matter today. People matter.

Monday, November 4, 2013

When the present isn't the future you imagined

We all have dreams for what our future will look like. Sometimes, the present we enjoy is better than the future we imagined, but often, we get derailed by aspects of our life that don't match what we envisioned years earlier.

The other day, there was a conversation in our house about what a certain child had thought about what the future would look like for them. The child said that they hadn't really thought about it. Another child piped in to remind them that they had indeed been talking about future plans, so the first child said "I can't remember." When the second child chimed in "I can remember" the first child responded with "You better not!" It was funny to hear that the children had been talking about what the future would hold, but might be embarrassed to have their hopes for the future revealed.

It got me wondering what types of things my kids have pictured for the future. How much of what they hope for will become a reality? How will they handle the challenge of unmet expectations? And then the really big question - What are they learning from their father about handling detours or problems in life?

I hope they are learning what we read in James chapter 4

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

I hope when life interrupts my plans, when the unexpected comes in life, even when I talk about what plans we are making for the future, I hope they learn to leave room for God in their plans. My present is not the future I imagined when I was growing up, nor the present I imagined 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, probably not even 10 years ago. But it would be hard to imagine a better place to be in my life. I never guessed I would have 8 children. I never would have planned on living in the country. But God is better to me than my plans were. That's a very good reason to say "If the Lord will. . ." when I talk about my plans. That's a very good reason to take the unexpected challenges and detours in life with joy rather than frustration. I hope my kids pick up on that, I hope to show them more of that this week in the way I handle what comes.

Keep looking up! It only gets better!