Reaching Nineveh

This time when God said for Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, he did just that. When God told him to do that before, Jonah ran and rode and swam the opposite way and right into the belly of a ridiculously large fish. In that fish, Jonah discovered just how much he didn’t want to die and rediscovered his love for God.

So the fish barfed Jonah up on shore after three days, and as Jonah stood with seaweed wrapped around him, undigested fish fins stuck to him, stomach acid and salt water dripping off of him, God told him once again to get up and go to Nineveh.

Jonah got up and went to Nineveh. No shower or wardrobe change. No different state of mind. Jonah was smelly, unkempt, and didn’t want to go. He was (probably) still afraid of being tortured and dying, and maybe he was a little bit bitter about having to go to Nineveh despite the trouble he went through to avoid the errand. But Jonah went. More secure in his relationship with God and having more faith in God, Jonah went to Nineveh.

My dad always said that life is full of doing things you don’t want to do. For example, I didn’t want to get student loans, but I had to in order to go to college. I didn’t want to take a job I needed, but I had to when I couldn’t get one I wanted. I didn’t want to get up and go to work on Monday, but I had to since I’ve got bills to pay, including student loans, which got me the degree that got me my job. And although this isn’t an extensive list of things I have to do but don’t want to, I’m sure you can relate and probably have a few things in mind yourself.

None more so than Jonah, right? But to Jonah’s credit, you can’t really tell it from reading chapter three by itself. “On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’” (Jonah 3:4, NLT)

Jonah’s boldness is really encouraging here. We know that Jonah – a smart, capable man – is not this bold on his own because Jonah’s first instinct and action was running away from it. Had this degree of boldness been active in Jonah without help, the book of Jonah would start at chapter three and the first half wouldn’t exist. Jonah’s boldness is born of his faith in a faithful God. His ability to be bold comes from worshipping and having a relationship with a God intense enough to design and form a fish to swallow Jonah but not eat him. Jonah’s boldness came from his strength in God.

One would think that the Ninevites would react badly to Jonah’s proclamation. Scoff or laugh, beat him, make an example of him. Surely Jonah thought that, although it’s not in the text. That’s not what happened, though. “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” (Jonah 3:5, NLT)

The dreadful people of Nineveh didn’t need a second warning from God. They stopped what they were doing and went into repentance mode. They fasted, and I imagine that the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was a powerful empire, had plenty of good food. They put on burlap, not because it was fashionable and comfy but because it was just the opposite. Changing the outside from flashy and lavish to basic and minimal. The texture and thickness would’ve caused them a lot of discomfort, making them hot and itchy (and causing other problems through the combination of the two). It’s the concept of repenting through suffering.

The king hears Jonah, and instead of saying he and everyone else is crazy, the king does something remarkable. “…he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’” (Jonah 3:6-8, NLT)

The king joined his people. He believed and recognized the character of God. He believed He could and would destroy them. He identified God as powerful. He also believed God could be compassionate.

Not only did he tell his people what to do physically, the king told the people to put an end to what caused God to be angry with them. He told them to change inside and out, and it was a change he was going to make with them.

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NLT)

Just as the king suspected it: powerful and compassionate. No destruction, no desolation. Forgiveness.

The same forgiveness we see in our lives. Oh, I’ve never murdered anyone or taken land, but I’ve killed moments and stolen joy. I’ve wounded people and added bitterness to the world. God’s had to forgive me for a lot, just like the people of Nineveh. He’s replaced hurt with healing, replaced bitterness with blessings. If you’ve never experienced this, you’re missing out on an offer that is still extended to you. It’s not too late, and you’re not too far. If God can reach Jonah in a fish and Nineveh in its sin, He can absolutely reach you.

By Carrie Prevette

Advertisements

Go and Give

Sunday was Vision Sunday at Abstract, which is a Sunday when Pastor Alan talks about the vision Abstract has always had, gives an overview of our history, and discusses our vision and goals for this year.

As a member of Abstract, I like Vision Sunday because I enjoy remembering how God has used people to further His Kingdom and to see the directions He’s leading us in as a church. As the church blogger, Vision Sunday puts me in a weird spot. People who attend Abstract and read the blog know that my posts usually relate in some way to the previous Sunday’s sermon, but what relatively few people know is that there are also many blog readers who don’t attend Abstract. Some are friends of mine who are curious about what I have to say. Some are people who are browsing the internet and happen upon this blog or who did so and have since subscribed to it. So I’m in an unusual position of wanting to satisfy all of my readers while not simply repeating the last Vision Sunday post. But not to worry; God’s worked this out.

Alan said something early in the sermon that struck a real chord with me. What’s sort of interesting about it is that I’ve heard him speak along these lines plenty before, but for some reason, it sat really differently with me this time. Alan was talking about attending and volunteering at another church prior to starting Abstract. This church is huge and was growing weekly, but it wasn’t where Alan was supposed to be. Alan said that he thought, “This is amazing for these people, but this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Isn’t that something? A movement of God being enjoyed by a servant of God, yet it wasn’t right.

It reminds me of Philip in Acts 8. (I encourage you to read the entire chapter as my summary for the sake of time and content leaves out an interesting story within the story and is much less colorful.) Philip is preaching in Samaria, and everything is going great. Conversions and miracles are happening, and Peter and John come to see and help. Then as all this is growing, God tells Philip to go south. Philip is obedient and does just that. He ends up in Ethiopia, where he meets a man of much authority under the queen. Philip explains and delivers the Good News, and the man becomes a believer and is baptized.

God told Philip to leave an entire city that was moving toward the Kingdom of God and prospering to go meet one man. It would’ve been easy for Philip to disobey God and stay where God was obviously active, but he didn’t. It was a great spiritual awakening for many in Samaria, but Philip wasn’t meant to stay, and because he listened to God, a soul was saved that wouldn’t have been otherwise.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT) reads, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”

You’re important. You’re important to God and His Kingdom. There’s a role here somewhere that only you can fill. You can reach people that I can’t in a way that I can’t. Your life and how you let God shine through you is unique. The way God designed your mind and personality was done with love and purpose to set you apart and make you the only version of you that there ever will be.

You have a gift. I don’t know which of the many spiritual gifts it is, but I can guarantee you’ve got one of them. If you don’t know which one it is, find out. Try different things. Try being a greeter at church or serving food when your church has a meal. Help out with a kid’s ministry or a nursing home ministry. Start a Bible study or join a prayer group. Look at ministries and programs outside of the church. You’ve received a gift so that you could give to others. Do so.

Figure out where God wants you. Try different places. Pray. Read your Bible. Seek advice from those you deem wise and/or close to God. And remember to follow God’s heart, not your own. You may be having fun in your Samaria, but there could be something far greater waiting for you in your Ethiopia.

I want you to feel empowered and encouraged. I hope you’ll listen to God and be ready to do whatever He asks of you. Mostly, I pray that you would understand how loved you are by God (and me) and how crucial you are to God’s plan.

By Carrie Prevette

Look At What You’re Doing

The book of James is my favorite book of the Bible.

My loving brother, who makes fun of me for not reading that much or that fast, would probably tell you that it’s because James is fairly short at only five chapters. But that’s not it.

I love the voice James uses throughout his book. A potentially dorky thing to say, but hear me out. I’ve found that every translation of James I’ve read (which, granted, isn’t many) James’ overall tone is very wise yet sassy in places. He sounds like a man who knows what he’s talking about because he’s experienced a lot. He’s passing on his knowledge in a direct way that the common man would understand. In some ways, reading James reminds me of sitting down and listening to a cool, older man talk – someone like my dad or a few Philosophy and Religion professors I had in college. And I find it amazing that the tone has managed to endure and transcend so many translations. It says something marvelous about how James originally wrote it and what he originally wrote.

I could list all the verses I like out of James, but it’d be easier on both of us if you just read the entire book. I’ll give you my top three favorite parts of James. James 1:17 is just beautiful imagery regardless of what translation I read it in. As I’ve discussed before, I have a history of letting my words get me in trouble, and James has some great things to say about that. Finally, James talks about proving your faith through actions, which is very important.

James 2:14-20 (NLT) says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’ You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”

I’ve heard this scripture used to argue that salvation can be earned through actions, but that’s not what James is getting at here. James is not saying that doing good things creates faith; he’s saying that doing good things is a product of having faith. People don’t volunteer at a soup kitchen and wake up the next morning a Christian because of it. However, someone might choose to demonstrate their faith that way. (It’s not to say that all people who do good things are Christians. I’ve met loving Atheists, kind Buddhists, and good-hearted Muslims. While good deeds are a vehicle to demonstrate faith, that’s not their exclusive function. One can be a good person yet not be a Christian.)

James seems pretty adamant that faith without works is useless and/or dead. He says it a couple of times in this scripture. And he makes a very compelling argument. If I was cold and hungry and someone said, “See ya! Oh, and good luck!” I wouldn’t say, “Wait! What’s your belief system? I want to follow it.”

We hear it so much, but it’s the truth: the world kind of sucks. If our actions don’t stand out in a positive way from everything else that’s happening, God’s not in it, which implies that our faith is terrible or nonexistent.

Claiming something and proving it are extremely different.

It may sound odd, but we prove our love for God and our faith in Him by our service to others. I could quote verse after verse from the Bible where Jesus or God or someone else says to love others, to be kind to them, to help people out. But for the sake of time and space, I’ll leave you to look those up on your own if you so wish. So when we serve others, we’re obeying God, which is cool and is a priority. The great thing about service is that it’s more than obedience and us just being nice. It’s an opportunity for others to see God in us.

If I were to see someone doing something fantastic for people out of nothing but the love in his or her heart, I would want to find out what the source of that love is.

Sunday, Alan said, “How I serve and love is a direct reflection of what Jesus has done for me.”

It called to mind another scripture that I’m rather fond of. In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited to eat dinner with a Pharisee, and Jesus takes up the offer. He goes to the guy’s house and eats. This woman with a not-so-spotless reputation finds out and joins the party. She kneels down, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, showers His feet with kisses, and puts some expensive perfume on His feet as well.

Of course, that gets the Pharisee’s robes in a bunch. He mumbles under his breath, “If this man was who He says He is, He’d know who was touching Him!”

Jesus tells the Pharisee a story of two people who each owed a guy money, one 500 pieces of silver and the other 50. Neither of them could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts (I wish the government would have such mercy on me with my student loans). So Jesus asks, “Who do you think loved him more?”

The Pharisee responds, “I guess the one who owed the most.”

Jesus tells the Pharisee that he’s right and proceeds to point out every gift and courtesy that the woman at His feet gave Him that the Pharisee didn’t. In verse 47, Jesus says, “I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (NLT).

Consider how much love God has shown you. Now consider the love you’re showing God and others. Are you frugal with your love, time, and efforts or are you giving them freely and, if possible, lavishly?

God is a God who gives back, who’ll fill you up to the point of spilling over. If you give love, God will give it back to you with interest. So you’ll be able to give even more and grow. And the more love that’s going around, the better off the world will be.

By Carrie Prevette

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑