Friday, December 8, 2017

Jonah's Dilemma

The story of Jonah begins, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’” Jonah, as you probably know, ran away rather than go to Nineveh. This begins the prophet’s odyssey which includes storms on the high seas, perilous rescue by a great fish, entering the enemy’s capital and ends up with Jonah mad, arguing with God. Quite a journey!

That journey is the point for us.  We’re supposed to take this journey with Jonah and somewhere along the way, discover with an old comic character, “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

Jonah’s story is the story of those whom God calls to partner with Him. At first, we may be excited that God has called us, even though we have to get out of our comfort zones to follow. But sooner or later we face Jonah’s dilemma. That dilemma occurs when we come to the realization that God determines the agenda and His agenda is the only agenda that matters. So, do you continue on the journey with God or not?

Jonah was a prophet who had delivered the word of the Lord before and seen God move according to the prophesy he had given. According to 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah prophesied that Israel would expand her boundaries under the leadership of Jeroboam II. God used this king, even though he was not a very good king, to help rescue Israel from destruction.
As a result, Jonah was probably well liked by the people. His prophecy was evidence God was on their side. Who knows but possibly this was the first step toward Israel achieving the greatness God had promised them. In addition, Israel was experiencing peace and prosperity like they had not seen since the days of King Solomon. Trade increased, people made money and life was good. Other prophets like Amos and Hosea painted a different perspective of Israel’s prosperity. But really, how could you not believe God was favoring you when you saw all the prosperity and dramatic economic expansion?
Still there was this problem off to the east. Assyria, with their capital city of Nineveh, was also growing in power. Anyone could see that as Israel grew in power in the region that sooner or later they would have to confront Assyria. Israel was not threatened yet but they knew Assyria was the enemy. They had bad memories of Nineveh. King Jehu had paid tribute to Nineveh in order to buy them off. No one wanted to go back to the days of shamefully having to bow down to Nineveh’s power.
Besides all that, Nineveh was obviously a people God would not want to prosper. They worshipped false gods and were a brutal people. From inscriptions of that period we learn how the Ninevites treated their enemies. They would take the nobles and flay their skin to drape over the piles of corpses. They mutilated captured soldiers, cutting off their nose and ears and gouging out their eyes while they were still alive. Finally, they beheaded them and put their heads on stakes surrounding the captured city. Those they chose to keep alive had their lower lips pierced with fish hooks on lines and were led back to Nineveh to be tortured, sold into slavery or killed. If it came down to a choice between Nineveh or Israel, surely God would surely pick Israel every time.
God told Jonah to go to these people and deliver a prophesy. So far so good, the word was that Nineveh's wickedness had come up before God. That's prophetic talk that God was bringing judgment. So why was Jonah so upset that he would run from God? Why wouldn't Jonah want to deliver this warning to this great city?
Because Jonah knew a prophetic warning of judgment from God always carries with it the opportunity of repentance. And if these people repented, as bad as they were, God would spare them. He was just that kind of God. Jonah could not let that happen. The only option open to Jonah was to run the other way, not deliver the word of the Lord and that way secure Nineveh’s destruction and doom.
Jonah was trying to control God. He had already made the decision that these people should be judged and no possibility of any other outcome was acceptable to Jonah. He just could not imagine another outcome other than Nineveh's destruction and Israel's advancement.
Before we start to judge Jonah let me ask you something, “Who’s your Nineveh?” Who is that person who has so wronged you that you can’t imagine any other outcome of their life except God's punishment. Or who is that group of people that is obviously so far from God that you don’t want to hear about them unless it is to hear of how miserable their lives have become?
Our “Nineveh’s” are those people we have totally written off and can not even imagine anything for them apart from judgment. They are those we have no time for unless it is to watch them from a faraway spot just so we can observe their lives falling apart. Don't get me wrong. These “Ninevites” in our lives deserve what they get. There is no denying they are toxic people and have so messed up. They have brought on themselves any kind of punishment they get.
But as long as we run from a God who would offer them the opportunity to repent, we are already bound by their behavior and their brokenness. As long as we will not be open to the truth that God’s love for us is also offered to them, we will remain miserable. We will be miserable because our heart is not God's heart. Jonah ends up angry at God with the Lord leaving him with a question: “And should I not be concerned with that great city?”
Jonah said he served God then tried to run away from the God he said he served. Jonah could not allow God to be God. Jonah saw only one possibility for the Ninevites and that was God’s judgement. Why? Because Jonah had been deceived by the lie that for him to be accepted by God others had to be rejected. 
The truth is that the same mercy that God extends to me He will also extend to others through me. For Jonah it was either God rejected Nineveh or there was no way that Israel could be God’s special people. When Jonah's lie was confronted by God's truth...he was caught in a dilemma of choice. Jonah’s dilemma is this: Will I allow my heart to be shaped by God’s heart regardless of how God chooses to respond to others.
The story of Jonah is sadly our story…my story.  We design templates of how God operates and how other people are to be evaluated. Then God comes along and will not fit in with our preconceived notions of who we are, who God is and who the other people must therefore be. God refuses to be boxed in by our expectations and judgements about others.

Fortunately, this same God who will not be boxed in by us still comes to us…again and again. Offering us His covenant love as a gift. This same God will come out to us while we throw our fits and get so angry with God that we wish we were dead rather than let our hearts be transformed to have the same love for others that God has for us. 
If you receive that covenant love from God you will face Jonah's dilemma…because God will call us to offer that same of covenant love to others. It’s now our dilemma.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Jonah: Missionary Gone Fishy or What?

The story of Jonah was one of my childhood favorites. When still young enough to be read a bedtime story, my answer to Mother’s question, “So what do you want to read tonight?” was more times than not answered by an enthusiastic, “Jonah!” (My second favorite was “Daniel and the Lion’s Den”.  Any surprise I like action movies?)

Jonah is one of those stories most people have heard of even if they don’t know very much about the Bible. We’ve heard the story primarily from the belly of the whale perspective. We seem to camp out on that part about the whale swallowing Jonah. Never mind that the Bible doesn’t call it a “whale” but a big fish.

Those who do get past three days and three nights in the belly of the whale…uh, fish part usually understand the story to go something like this:

God wants all the heathen to be saved. God calls Jonah to foreign missions and he doesn’t want to go. After being slammed by a storm, thrown overboard by those pagan sailors, Jonah ends up three days and three nights in the belly of a whale/fish whatever. Surprise! Jonah now is willing to go to Nineveh. He goes but he is not happy about it. More surprise…Nineveh repents even down to the animals. Jonah is still not happy with it. Jonah throws a fit under a vine. God is not happy with Jonah. Worm eats vine. Jonah’s not happy. God’s not happy. Nobody is happy. Except we assume the pagan sailors who made it to shore, a big fish recovering from digestive problems and the King of Nineveh, the people and their pets are all happy.

Moral of the story: When God calls you to foreign missions you should go.

Application:  Don’t you want to go?

The story of Jonah is not about Christian world missions. It can and should be applied to our mission work. But just to make Jonah into a recruitment poster for missionaries is to miss the point of the story.

You may have noticed I keep referring to “the story” of Jonah. I do believe there was a historical prophet named Jonah who went to Nineveh (By the way, Nineveh is on the outskirts of a town you have heard about lately in the news…Mosul.) And I personally believe Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days. But to argue with those who don’t swallow the part about the great fish (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) is for both of us to miss the message of Jonah.

The book of Jonah is a tightly knit, carefully woven story. It’s only forty-seven verses in the English bible in length. However, every word and phrase is carefully crafted to deliver a message.

God always wants us to hear His message. He wanted Jonah to hear what He was saying. God wanted Nineveh to get His message. And I believe God wants us to hear His message too.

For the next few blogs we will explore the story of Jonah. There is a message we need to hear about God, ourselves and the people God puts into our lives. Good stuff from a “Matthew Connection” point of view.

Besides…it is one of my favorite stories. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Try It...You Might Like It!

Try It...You Might Like It!

Here is a simple way to initiate praying for other people who you have never met before. Yes, praying for other people. Prayer is powerful and the more we pray for other people the more we will see Jesus move in our lives and the lives of others.

Taking the iniative to pray for people is the best way I have found to make space for God to use me in touching the lives of people.

And yes, I did say praying for people you have never met before. Depending on your background and personality type-- you are either checking in or checking out about now. If you are like most people I know, the idea of praying for people you don't know and have never met before is not your idea of a good time. 

But you will be amazed how easy it is and how comfortable it is when people are approached honestly, clearly and with genuine compassion. Let me outline one way I have found to be able to pray for people I have never met before.

You go out to eat. It is your practice to quietly bow your head and offer a short prayer of thanks before the meal. Here's what I discovered. After my server comes to my table, greets me, asks what I want to drink and then ultimately takes my order, this is what I say. I quietly speak the server's name and say,

"I (we) usually pray quietly before our meal. Is there something for you or someone you know that I could pray for when I (we) pray?"

You are sharing you usually pray before a meal as a normal practice. You let them know you're praying quietly so you're not going to go weird on them. You're just asking how you can include your sever in your prayer.

You're not asking to pray with them. You just asking them if they have something or someone you can pray for when you do pray.

Some of the responses I have heard from servers are:
"Thank you for asking."
"No one has ever asked me that before."
"That's the nicest thing I ever had a customer ask me."

I would say over 90% give me a specific prayer request. The requests range from someone in their family who is sick or a concern about a child. Some ask for prayer about upcoming job interviews. Some are students and have financial needs. Many ask for prayer for their children. I have even prayed for baby sitting needs so a parent can work without worrying about their child being safe.

More than once I have seen server's eyes tear up and share something that had just happened that day. Like a parent just diagnosed with a disease or gone to the hospital. And more than one mom asked me to pray for their teenage child.

Very few have said, "no". Some have smiled and said "No, I'm good" or "Can't think of a thing." My response is to smile and say "that's great, thank you". Those are the server's I love to pray for because I know it is God's timing for me to have them as my server. Here's how I pray for them:

"Jesus, please reveal yourself to (server's name). Show yourself to them and show them how much you love them. And do it in a way they will know it's because of this prayer." It will be fun to find out in heaven what happened as a result of these kinds of prayers.

Here's a response I have heard more than once. "Well, I'm not very religious". I just smile and say, "Neither am I but I do like to talk to God sometimes." Most people laugh and give me a prayer request.

Why am I suggesting this idea to you? Because the more we can share with others in a way that is genuine and natural, the more opportunities we will have to see Jesus move in amazing ways.

Isn't that what Matthew did? He took a normal situation and allowed Jesus the opportunity to step in and reveal Himself. Matthew had a few friends over to his house for dinner to meet Jesus. There were even some Pharasees that made it into the house. And Jesus took the opportunity to reveal that He was coming for the sick and hurting, and not for the "religious" who thought they didn't need Him.

Try this the next time you go out to eat. Now I don't do this everytime. Sometimes it just doesn't "feel right" and I don't do it. Sometimes...well, I just forget to do it. But when I do-- I am always amazed how Jesus uses those situations and surprises both the server and me.

Try it. You might like it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"Disreputable Characters"

Matthew had an interesting set of friends according to Matthew 9:10 MSG. “Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his (Jesus’) close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.” Where did these characters come from? Sounds like they were Matthew’s friends. Later the Pharisees criticized Jesus for setting such a bad example for spending time with such “crooks and riffraff”.

Let me ask a question: if Jesus came to your house or mine, what disreputable characters would he meet there? (I know some right now might respond, “Well, it depends on how many family members were there” but that’s a topic for another time.)

Look at this question from at least two different angles.

One is that we don’t have “disreputable characters” as friends. This is probably true if we have been followers of Jesus for a long time or come from a family of long time Jesus followers. Our friends tend to be nice, cool, respectable, spiritual—you name it. As followers of Jesus, we have made it a priority to not have disreputable characters as friends. You know, our friends tend to reflect to others who we are.

Unfortunately, it is all too often true what I remember a friend saying,

“Non-believers have two problems. One, they either don’t know a Christian or …two, they do know a Christian.”

They don’t know a Christian therefore they can’t hear nor see the good news lived out.  Or they do know a Christian who has such a condemning or negative attitude that these kind of Christians drive people away from Jesus.

If we really don’t have contact with people who are not Jesus followers, we need to find some…on purpose. Not as a “project” so we can set our witness sights on them and “get them” for Jesus. Besides, most people smell out this kind of hypocrisy a mile away. But because we are missing something vital in our relationship with Jesus when we don’t have others to introduce to him.

If you find yourself isolated from people who do not follow Jesus you might ask yourself:
·       “Why am I not serving someone who is not a follower of Jesus to the point that we become friends?”
·       “How did I get so isolated from people who need to hear and see Jesus from me?”
·       “When did I become so isolated that I would have to build some relationships with non- Jesus followers on purpose?”

Granted there are times when dysfunctional people need to be removed from our lives.  Abusers, manipulators, users, etc. But I think we’re seeing something different in Matthew’s case. He had “disreputable characters” as friends because he himself was a disreputable character. A tax collector for the Romans was not on the Jewish list of most favorites. The crowd he ran around with was made up of the outcasts of Jewish society. 

The amazing thing was he had just become a follower of Jesus and was evidently eager for his friends to meet Jesus.  And the truly great thing for us-- Jesus was eager to meet them.

One other angle to look on this disreputable character thing, how hard is it to think of ourselves as a “disreputable character”? I’m finding the times I get closer to Jesus are also the times when I’m more aware of just how much that I am accepted by sheer grace. It’s those times I am confronted with how very disreputable I am without the grace and love of Jesus I find Jesus getting closer to me.

And that self-awareness of how much I am a “disreputable character” helps me extend love and mercy to others. About the time I am ready to write someone off…I am reminded about Jesus being excited to have dinner with me. Me! Not that I’m into that “I’m just a poor sinner and no-good” kind of thing. But I know what good there is in me is not why Jesus loves me.  He loves me with complete awareness of who I am without him. And he loves me…a disreputable character.

So, how many disreputable characters would Jesus find in your house if he came to dinner…there would be at least one.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hitting the Reset Button

We've heard recently about politicians and elected officials hitting a "reset button". The idea is they get to start over, re-focus and pick up where they left off.

Image result for reset button

That sounds good to me so I would like to announce I am hitting the "reset button" for this blog. It's been a while since I have posted but I am ready to get it going again. 

So get ready, <PUSH> there I pushed the reset button on Matthew Connection.

What can you expect on this blog? "Matthew Connection" is written from the perspective of exploring ways to connect other people in our lives with the Jesus we are following. It comes from the story about Jesus and Matthew.

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, "Come along with me." Matthew stood up and followed him.

Later when Jesus was eatting supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharasees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?"

Jesus overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders." Matthew 9:9-13 MSG 

As soon as Matthew started following Jesus, he very naturally saw his friends and social contacts connect with Jesus at various levels. And Jesus evidently appreciated the opportunity to do so--especially when we hear his strong reaction to the questioning of the Pharasees.

Join with me as we explore how we can make "Matthew Connections" in our lives. It would also be great to hear your comments and stories about your "Matthew Connections".

Looking forward to hearing from you. 

(Man, hitting that "reset button" sure feels good.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Matthew Connection: The Flow of Faith

The Matthew Connection: The Flow of Faith: Many are familiar with the story of the woman with the issue of blood.  She

The Flow of Faith

Many are familiar with the story of the woman with the issue of blood.  She's the one who pressed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus' garment and was healed.  But not as many may be familiar with another story where people touched the hem of Jesus' garment. I'm referring to Matthew 14:34-36:
34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
The men of that region recognized a special guest had arrived in their region. Quickly word went out to other villages that Jesus had come.  The people's immediate response was to bring all the sick people they could to Jesus.  This is where it gets interesting.

It says that they specifically "begged" him to let the sick just touch the hem of his garment.

Maybe they had heard about the woman with the issue of blood being healed?  At any rate, they sent out the good news that Jesus had come so all the sick people should come and ask to touch the hem of his garment.  

Notice how Jesus went along with their request. Did Jesus plan on having them touch his gament for healing?  What is key here is seeing that Jesus will meet us at out point of faith and will work with us from there.  The people believed that in touching his garment they could be healed so that's where Jesus started with them.

I could see some ministers today saying, "Oh no, that's not how I do healing ministry.  I lay hands on people, now everyone who wants to be healed line up and wait for me to lay hands on you."  Maybe Jesus could have gone for the more spectacular effect by walking away to the closest mud puddle saying, "Everyone who desires to be made well follow me to the mud puddle."

I think Jesus was responding to the men's point of faith.  They put out the word to come to Jesus and touch the hem of his garment.  The faith of the men led the people to come and expect that if they touched his garment they would be healed.

And what's more, the men, acting on their faith, created an opportunity for the people to exercise their faith. There is a real "flow of faith" going on here.  Jesus has no set "program" but he will respond to faith wherever and in whomever he finds faith.  

This leads me to ask myself, "how often do I express my faith in a way that lets others have an opportunity to exercise their faith?"  Sometimes all someone needs is to hear us speak our faith out loud.  When we speak our faith out loud, that may be just the encouragement they need to step over the line of unbelief into their own place of trusting Jesus for the impossible; and we all know that with faith, nothing is impossible.

But what is this "touching the hem of Jesus' garment" all about?  Basically three things: God's Word, God's Authority and God's Power.

Jewish men typically wore an outer garment with tassels or "tzitziyot" tied to the four courners.  These tassels were made out of white and blue threads tied in 613 knots.  These knots constantly reminded them of the 613 commandments of Moses.  There were 365 prohibitions ("thou shalt not" laws) and 248 affirmations ("thou shalt" laws).  They reminded the man and everone else to walk according to the commandments of God's Word.

Only those with authority could afford these tassels.  The blue thread was very expensive since the source for blue dye came from a gland of a particular snail.  It took 12,000 snails to make up a thimble full of blue dye.  It cost the equivalent of $36,000 to make up one pound of cloth dyed blue in 200 BC. By 300 AD, this same one pound blue cloth would cost the equivalent of $96,000.  (By the way, Lydia in Acts 16:14 as a "seller of purple" would have been amoung some of the wealthiest women in the empire.)

Because of the expense, these tassels came to be seen as a sign of the man's authority. Remember David cut off the edge of Saul's garment and later repented of doing it.  Cutting off the tassel was taking a king's authority.

The power of God is signified in the most interesting way to me.  In Malachi 4:2, it is prophesied the Messiah as "the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings." The Hebrew word for "wings" refers to the outer fringe of a birds wing.  You have seen or seen pictures of an eagle or a hawk soaring in the sky.  You can plainly see the individual feathers on the edges of their wings.  These fringe feathers is what is specifically meant by "in his wings".  The picture is the Messiah will have healing power in the feathers on the fringe of his "wings" or his tassels.

Touching the hem of Jesus' garment is then an expression of faith in God's Word, God's authority and God's power to bring healing.  This simple act was a public sign of faith by the sick person.  Their faith in Jesus as Messiah with the Word of God exercising his authority through the power to heal is their response to Jesus.

But one last thought, it says that "all who touched were healed".  The implication is some sick people brought by friends to Jesus decided not to touch the hem of Jesus' garment?   What a lost opportunity by not following through with a simple act of faith.  

Some of us are at just such a point of recieving our healing.  We know Jesus is present as we hear the Word of God. We hear about Jesus' authority as God's Son and with it the power to heal.  But we stop just short of exercising our faith to recieve his healing touch.  

Others can bring us into an awareness of Jesus.  They can encourage us by their faith.  We are right at the point of making the connection for Jesus to do what He has promised.  But are we one of the ones who touch the hem of his garment or are we like the ones who hold back?