“Sovereign and Good”
“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)
What comes to your mind when you think about the story of Jonah? Perhaps the lasting imagery is one of a fantastic fish with a big appetite. Maybe you think of a stingy prophet. The abrupt end of the story of Jonah leaves us leaning in and looking for closure. Whatever lasting impression comes to mind, I’d like to chime in with my own. Our God is a sovereign God who is good to the core.
Either attribute without the other would leave us wanting. If the Lord were sovereign without goodness, we would be fearful of His will for us. If He were good, but not sovereign, He would be reduced to wishful thinking that is impotent. There is one key word that is repeated four times in this account that helps us to see His sovereignty. The Hebrew word is “manah” and it is translated to mean “appointed” or “provided” in various translations. It is found in Jonah 1:17 and 4:6,7, and 8. These passages help us to see that the Lord “appointed” a fish, a plant, a worm, and a wind to draw Jonah and the people of Nineveh back to God for their good. The Lord is sovereign over all creation and this account demonstrates this powerfully. While the final verse seems to conclude the story rather abruptly, it does leave us with enough insight to peek into the heart of God. His sovereignty is well demonstrated throughout this narrative, and His goodness is most pronounced in the final verse when His concern is directed to the 120,000 people of Nineveh … and even the cattle!
It seems that Jonah was “angry enough to die” over the loss of a plant, yet he did not share the same heart for God’s people. The story’s bizarre ending forces me to draw my own conclusions about what Jonah values, what God values, and ultimately what I value. Does my heart reflect that of a stingy prophet or a good God?
“For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.” Romans 15:27
Near the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul is updating this Christian community that he has never met on his travel plans. He fully intends to visit Rome soon, but first he must get the offering he has been collecting from churches all over Greece and Asia to the poor believers in Jerusalem. After that, he will stop by to see them on the way to Spain. So, he gives his travel itinerary. But today, I want to focus on what he said about the offering he was taking.
The Gentile Christians were pleased to give, but Paul says that they “owed” the Jewish Christians because of spiritual blessings they had received. Indeed, the Gentiles were now blessed to be under the same blessing and covenant of Abraham as his actual descendants. And in Paul’s economy, a debt of gratitude should flow from that. I think we still “owe.” We have been given every spiritual blessing through Jesus Christ so we should be willing to share with others. Think of this today. How much have you been blessed and therefore how much do you owe?
Friends, haven’t you any fish? John 21:5
This might seem like a random question and one that on the surface might not seem to apply to your life. You may not like to catch or even eat fish. However, after digging a little further this question has huge implications to your life today.
Here is the context: Jesus has risen from the dead and has appeared a couple times to the disciples. However, the disciples are still in a state of shock and not sure what to do. So they decide to do something familiar during this time of crises – go fishing. They caught nothing all night.
“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish? No, they answered. He said, throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (John 21:4-6)
At this point the disciples realized it was Jesus. Peter could not wait to reach the shore and jumped in the water. The rest of the disciples followed towing the overloaded boat with fish to the shore where Jesus was waiting with a hot fire and breakfast (bread and fish).
The instruction to throw the net on the other side of the boat was a simple step of faith. Often times this is what Jesus asks of us. He asks us to trust him in the little decisions in life. More often than not it is in our everyday work and play where Jesus shows up and wants us to trust him. Too often we want to wait to include him in the big decisions. Jesus is more interested in the simple trust with our day to day activities. When this type of faith or trust becomes a habit then the big decisions will take care of themselves.
There are so many learning lessons from this simple step of trust. 1. They see Jesus. 2. They make a big catch of 153 “large fish” 3. Jesus prepares a fire and breakfast. 4. Jesus provides money for living with the extra fish. 5. The text says that the “net was not torn” providing further evidence of Jesus taking care of them. Jesus provides spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally, and monetarily! This all comes from a simple act of faith in daily living.
Prayer: Father, help me to trust you in the simple things you ask of me today. I believe you will provide everything I need. Amen.
“…Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.” Nehemiah 13:2b.
Jase Roberston, of the Duck Dynasty fame, writes in his book Good Call, that when they discovered that his daughter suffered from cleft palate, they changed their attitude from “why us?” to “why not us?” That significant switch of perspective allowed them to face their daughter’s future with a fresh dose of faith and trust in God. He and his wife, Missy, embraced the story of the man born blind in a more personal way, holding onto the words of Christ with a newfound personal conviction: “…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:3b
Struggles produce resiliency and character when viewed through the lens of Christ (see Romans 5:3-4). Painful trials make you more compassionate and allow you to minister to others who have battles to face (see 2nd Corinthians 1:3-7). But no matter the tough spot you might find yourself in, remember the fact that God can turn a curse into a blessing. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.
“Come and See”
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come”, he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. John 1:35-39
John 3:30 records John the Baptist, in reference to Jesus, announcing “he must become greater; I must become less.” John’s whole life mission was to point people to Christ. We see a glimpse of that in John 1:37. John sends two of his beloved disciples to follow Jesus. He lets go… he becomes less. In verse 40 we find that one of these men was none other than Andrew, a future disciple and the brother of Peter.
We see Andrew and his companion leave John’s side and begin to follow Jesus (literally). Jesus, feeling their presence turns and asks them “what do you want?” Of all the responses they could’ve given, they ask “where are you staying?” to which Jesus replied “Come and see.” I wonder if Jesus was smiling when he said it, I’d like to think he was. I’d like to think that simple question and ensuing invitation to join him would change Andrew’s life forever.
Jesus doesn’t give them an answer but he does give them an invitation. He invites them to come along to see for themselves… to join the adventure… to be near him… to sit by his side. In the process, they’ll get the answers they’re searching for but only in the context of proximity and intimacy with Jesus.
No matter what questions you have for God today… questions about past hurts, broken relationships, unexpected let downs at work, struggles in parenting or marriage, unforeseen sickness… over time He’ll give you the answers you desire, but He’s always going to reveal them to you as you “come and see” alongside him. Jesus rarely shouts answers from afar but he always whispers the just right answer when we sit with him.
“Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” (Proverbs 19:18, ESV)
I love the book of Proverbs. One of my routines is to run to this book in those rare times when the Scriptures seem stale or His voice seems faint. It is the kind of practical wisdom that just jumps off the page and helps me to re-engage with the Father in times of spiritual drought.
Did you notice the reasoning for discipline in our key passage today? There are two phrases worth noting as we reflect on this text. First, we are to discipline “for there is hope”. The NIV might have a clearer expression of this by saying, “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope”. It is never too early to discipline, and it is meant to bring fullness of life to the child. In fact, this understanding helps the second half of this passage makes sense. “Do not set your heart on putting him to death” suggests that discipline does not limit the child or provide unreasonable barriers. Instead, those who fail to discipline “set their hearts on putting the child to death” by giving too much freedom without proper boundaries.
We want the best for our children and God the Father wants what is best for us. Discipline is a critical component in this training regimen. We are wise to recognize how the Father disciplines us in times of need. As parents, we “set our hearts on bringing them life” when we discipline. How is discipline expressed in your home? When was the last time you recognized the loving discipline of the Father in your life?
“A Turned-Back Heart”
“Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:37).
God is in the restoration business. Since Genesis 3 and that original sin story, God has lovingly and tenaciously reclaimed what is rightfully His. He has done this, is doing this, and will continue to do this through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Elijah’s battle against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel must have been a sight to behold. Today’s verse holds the contents of this prophet’s petition to the God who reclaims everything. Don’t forget the divine math in play that day. 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah stood against one man of God. Our LORD of Lords and King of kings did answer Elijah’s prayer. Fire poured down from heaven and consumed this prophet’s burnt offering. Some very wise Bible students have remarked that if God has a favorite word, His favorite one is “mine.” God is reclaiming heaven and earth, even when it doesn’t look like it, but He is especially reclaiming the human heart.
I have stood on Mount Carmel and looked over that beautiful and expansive valley below. I have wondered what went through Elijah’s mind on that faith-filled day. So much was in the balance. God is always the One who initiates every reclamation project, including you and me. Our response is essential, but we must never forget that He alone initiates a turned-back heart. By faith, we agree and submit to His purpose and plan, but God, Sovereign and Almighty, makes it all possible. “Today, Father, you have made my heart turn-back to you. I yield, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”