An Unsettling Grace

Whoops! Got invited to go fishing and forgot to update Wonderwhat. Sorry about that. This Sunday we will be doing our final study in the book of Jonah. What a fun ride this has been! We’ll be reading all of Jonah 4.

Does a movie with really happy ending ever cause you to be furious enough to want to die? I’m going to suppose not. At least I hope not. That would be attitudinal behavior that would warrant some professional intervention, wouldn’t it? Yet that’s very much like what we’ll read about our prophet in this final installment of our study.

What reason does Jonah give for being so mad in v2? Why do you think God’s grace and mercy are  so upsetting to Jonah? Have you ever struggled with the idea that God really, really loves that person who did something terrible to you, and would forgive them if they repented? What ways do you find to reconcile God’s justice and mercy?

What does the vine God appointed represent to you? If Jonah built a shelter to get shade from the sun – why do you think God provided the plant? What does v6 say that God gave him the plant to save him from? The Hebrew word that’s translated “discomfort” in the ESV is “re’eh”. It appears 306 times in the bible and 112 times it’s translated at a different word. Follow the previous link to find out what it’s translated as 112 times. Does that change your idea about why God provided the plant?

If you were to summarize what God is trying to get across to Jonah as a stand in for all of  God’s people, what would that message be?

I hope you’ve like this study as much as I did! Hope to see you on Sunday!

 

Beginning Again, Again

This Sunday we’ll be continuing our study of the little book of Jonah – reading chapter 3.

Have you ever felt like you’ve messed up too many times and it feels almost insincere to start asking God to forgive and set you a new path. I hope you haven’t, because I can tell you from my own extensive experience with those feelings that it’s not at all a fun place to be. The encouraging thing is, the Bible is filled with people who have experienced just that – people who mess up over and over again and yet God is quick and ready to turn their story around. Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter (and all the other disciples for that matter), Saul/Paul…and the list extends out from them to include a lot of the heroes of church history.

Jonah is a stand-out in that crowd. Jonah gets a chance at beginning again – again and again. If we’re right in reading this story as a satire and Jonah is a stand in for God’s people – there is something really comforting about chapter 3.V1-2 of chapter 3 are almost identical to v1-2 of chapter 1. They both start the same way – except the words “second time” are thrown into the mix. V3 of chapter 3 is where the real departure occurs – Jonah doesn’t run but instead obeys. If we started reading Jonah’s story in chapter 3, would we even know that Jonah had disobeyed the first time around? What is the tone of this opening? What does that tell us about God’s attitude toward our past failures? How often do you still hang on to past regrets that God has clearly no interest in reminding you of? What steps can we take to live with new beginnings in view?

V4-9 are funny and intentionally astonishing. How long does it say it took to walk Nineveh end to end? How long did Jonah walk? What does that indicate about him to you? What is missing from his message, in your opinion? It’s five words long in the Hebrew – and yet it gets results like nothing else ever recorded in scripture, or Israel’s own history…or even Jesus’ ministry for that matter. Jonah didn’t go far or say much – why do you think that was? If he was only half committed – how do we explain the powerful results? What does that tell us about the source of our ministry’s effectiveness?

V10 is supposed to read like a record scratch ending. God did WHAT? But…but, the Assyrians did so much evil and violence before…yet when they leave that and set out to sync up with God’s values, their future changes. Who is it that we consider beyond redemption? How does this verse challenge our understanding of God’s willingness to redeem?

I sure am enjoying the story of Jonah – hope you are too! See yez’ Sunday!

 

 

The Cost of Running

 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

…From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase, 

And unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat – and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet –

‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

~The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our study of Jonah and we’ll be covering all of chapter one. Jonah has four main acts or movements. The first is in chapter one, where Jonah runs from God. In this part of the story we see Jonah’s determination to go as far away from God’s calling on his life as he can, and the cost of making that run. As the character from Thompson’s poem realizes – when we run from God, all the things we chase after for fulfillment will betray us. God won’t let them satisfy us. That’s not meanness on his part – it’s mercy.

In v 4-6 we see a contrast of actions. What are the pagan sailors doing? What is Jonah doing? Who is it that reminds Jonah what he should be doing? Compare the words of the ship’s captain to God’s original command to Jonah. What significance do you find there?

Jonah gets exposed as the epicenter of the storm in v7-10. When Jonah explains that his “occupation”, or job, is to fear (revere and serve) Yahweh we see a clear contradiction between his job description and his present way of life. The sailors catch it too. “You’re supposed to serve the God who made the sea, but instead you’re running from Him…….on OUR BOAT!?” When our culture tells us that what we do privately is our own business and has no bearing on others – do you believe that? Do you really believe that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? What sort of ways can you imagine that our resistance to God’s way of life affects those around us?

In v11-16 scholars are divided about what’s happening with Jonah. Some believe he’s coming to his senses and repenting because he feels bad for the sailors he’s brought into this. Others see this as just another move away from God’s original calling, to go to Nineveh. What do you think – is he repenting or not, and why? Have you ever made a move to fix an immediate crisis without really dealing with the root problem? How well did that work for you?

In v 14 we have the first prayer offered to God. Who does it come from? What seems significant about that to you?

Finally, in v17 we get to the big fish! What do you think – is the fish a judgment or a mercy…or both? Remember the Hound of Heaven – “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me”.

Hope you’re liking this study – I’m really enjoying it! See you Sunday!

Jonah Introduction – Bailing on Real Life

jonah webHey – this Sunday we’re going to start a short study on the book of Jonah! Fun! We’ll be concentrating on an introduction to the book, and then reading over v1-3.

What do you know about Jonah – I mean, without Googling it right away. Just off the top of your head, what do you automatically associate the book of Jonah with? We’re going to challenge the assumption that the fish is the the main point of this story.

Just to get ready for what we’re going to be discussing – you might want to get familiar with the Assyrians, whose capital city was Nineveh. If you actually took the time to watch that video – you saw some pretty gnarly details about these folks. Given some of that information – why do you think Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh? Have you ever found yourself at a crossroad where you recognized God’s design for your life was distinctly different from your own? What is the greatest temptation you face at a time like that?

Jonah was told to “get up and go” – and he did. Just not to the place he was sent to. He didn’t stay where he was, so he could say he was being obedient – but he still was doing his own thing. In what ways or circumstances do we try to put a spiritual veneer on our own self-interests?

Jonah is not just a children’s story – it is hard hitting and will get us fairly uncomfortable as we explore it. But in the end, we’ll discover a God who’s mercy is beyond our ability to comprehend and a world of second chances on the horizon.  Hope to see you this Sunday!