Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Resilient Hope

Devotion: Jonah 2:8-10

Human beings are remarkably resilient. A few months back I became somewhat obsessed with reading the horrific first-hand accounts of living in ISIS-occupied Mosul by the Mosul Eye. A particular entry from June 2016 talked about the high cost of living and the low wages. As I read through the entry I kept expecting the journalist to report that people were simply giving up, yet the final lines speak of people working longer hours to survive. In the midst of atrocities, violence and horror, in the midst of starvation, destruction and war, in the midst of persecution, oppression and injustice, people were simply trying to find a way to live. The good news is life is returning to Mosul--and the Christian witness there is back. I believe this resiliency is born of our innate sense of hope.
There is something in human nature that holds out hope. Whether we are in financial straits, in the midst of war or, perhaps, in the belly of a monstrous fish, we hold out hope that things will improve. Spiritually-speaking, our hope derives from a sense of alienation from God. Something in the sin of Adam creates a longing for what was lost, namely, an intimate, personal relationship with God. The Good News of the Gospel is that God desires to restore that relationship with us in Jesus Christ. While our petty hopes in our current circumstances may vary, the true hope of the Gospel is firm. Our hope and resiliency aims and prepares us for the Good News. This is exactly Jonah's point at the end of his prayer:
"Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land." -Jonah 2:8-10 ESV
Jonah knows there is only one true God, YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who delivered Israel out of Egypt. We know that this same God, the Triune God (Father, Son, Spirit) is the very one who raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. To worship any other god, giving devotion and allegiance to that which is not YHWH, is to actually forfeit and abandon the real hope of God's steadfast, faithful, covenant-fulfilling love.
While we may not bow down to carved, graven or other physical objects as the manifestation of a deity, we still bow down to ideas and concepts. Instead of trusting the Lord, we hope against hope that we will pull ourselves up by spiritual bootstraps and fly right. Instead of surrendering to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we try really hard to be good moral agents who can get it right if we just put in enough effort. Instead of connecting with God in His Word as He ordains we attempt to find God in nature or thought and pretend that it makes no difference. God is sovereign (hence Jonah is cooling his heals in the belly of a fish) and He ordains His own revelation and worship. Jonah understands this and so he vows in prayer to worship God in the way God ordained (prayers of thanksgiving, sacrificial animals marking the fulfillment of his vow). As Christians, we understand that the old covenant system of worship came to a final and dramatic conclusion with the death of Jesus (see Hebrews 9:11-12), ushering in a new era of worship the relies upon the faithful self-sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. Regardless, we too are to worship God as He commands and find our relationship with Him is restored and strengthened in that worship.
At any rate, Jonah finally concludes and understands that if he is to live, it will be by the Lord's own salvation. No one else can help him. Jonah knows enough of God's character (this will come up again in chapter 4) to understand that God does not desire the destruction of His creatures, but their salvation. Jonah knows first-hand that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. His prayer concludes with the declaration that salvation belongs to YHWH, implying that outside of Him there is no real and lasting hope. Jonah's faith is well-founded as the Lord causes Jonah to be deposited on dry land. On a humorous note, I cannot imagine how bad Jonah stank and how long it took him to wash that stink out of his hair.
We are created for a intimate, personal relationship with God. When we all fell in Adam, we lost that relationship. God has moved in history, culminating in the ministry of Jesus Christ, to re-establish that relationship. Our hope, misplaced or well-placed, is an artifact of that desire for God that ultimately and only is fulfilled through salvation in Christ Jesus alone.

Our song this week is "Your Love" by Chris Howland featuring Sajan Nauriyal. Admittedly, it is a little different than what many are used to hearing, but the lyrical content is spot on.

News for You:

  • The new youth director position is ready for applicants. If you know of anyone who is qualified for the position, please contact the church.
  • For the month of April, we will be doing a diaper drive for Care Net. Please bring in size three diapers if possible, thank you!
  • All men are welcome to join the Men’s Bible Study on Mondays at noon, they will be reading from Judges!
  • Are you interested in hosting a small group? We are gearing up to launch our next small group session and could use your help. Please contact Pastor Bill if you are interested.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jonah's Exile

Devotion: Jonah 2:4-7

Jonah's experience in the fish is cast in the same light as exile. Exile is being forcefully removed from one's home and being sent to live in a place not of one's choosing. This idea seems far from most Western readers who are used to at least some autonomy of movement and settlement. Outside of the Western world, however, displacement and exile are still quite common. Refugees and others displaced by violence, war and famine are akin to exiles and perhaps this prayer of Jonah helps to empathize with their plight.
"Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. " -Jonah 2:4-7 ESV
The journey in the fish is an exile for Jonah. The prophet stands removed from all that he knows and from all familiar environments. He is utterly cast out and cast down. He has no frame of reference for his experience. In short, Jonah is lost.
When lost, I was always taught the best thing to do is to stop moving. Jonah has stopped moving by force. He is stuck inside the fish, facing what must seem to him as certain death. Yet, Jonah still prays in hope to the Lord for deliverance. The modern and ancient exile can resonate with that idea. I had neighbors in seminary who were exiles of a sort from Iran. The family had to flee Iran or face the death of the husband because of his conversion to Christianity. What always surprised me was that in spite of that death sentence looming over him, the family still longed to return to their home. Jonah must believe, at least in part, that his life is at an end, yet he still longs for home.
The longing of Jonah is specifically to see the temple again. The temple was the heart of the religion of Israel so long as it stood. The prophet not only desires to be free of the fish, but to return to the place where God's glory dwells (1 Kings 5:10-11). Jonah knows he is in exile, but his longing is not merely for freedom, but for the Lord, the very one that caused his plight in the first place. His vivid description of his descent poetically retells his drowning experience or perhaps his journey in the fish. At any rate, that experience brings him into the realm of death. Jonah ought to be dead, and he knows it. It is only by the hand of the Lord that Jonah can pray at all from the fish.
Each of us still faces the final enemy of mankind, namely, death. While death is defeated at the cross of Jesus and triumphed over in his resurrection, we still face it in our earthly lives. For Christians, death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-56), but it is still thrashing about and making a nuisance of itself. Jonah recognizes that his journey in the fish is his death. Jesus will pick up on this idea in his references to the sign of Jonah (e.g. Matthew 12:39-40). Death is like exile for us all, yet it is not devoid of hope. Death removes us from our familiar life and thrusts us into an unknown place.
Jonah looks to the Lord in his plight for deliverance from death. He recognizes that his miraculous survival can only be the doing of the Lord himself. Jonah has no where else to turn, so he turns to the Lord for help--the very same Lord that had caused him to be tossed into the sea in the first place. Once more, the theme of suffering and redemption are both attributed to the Lord. It may have been the Lord that caused Jonah's exile, but it will also only be the Lord who can save him from that same exile. Jonah's remembrance of the Lord and his heartfelt prayer remind him that the Lord is the deliverer of His people and the personal savior of those who turn to Him.
For the Christian we need to see a few things in this portion of Jonah's prayer:
  1. We need to be compassionate and empathetic toward those in exile. Displaced peoples are to receive our prayers and support. We long for a day when no one will be forced from their homes for any reason and I believe we can start to see that ultimate goal in our world today in God's grace and providence.
  2. Everyone is alienated from God and death is the final exile for those who do not trust in Him. Jonah turns to the Lord in his plight, but his experience is seemingly rare these days. Too often, angry fists are shaken at heaven, if one even thinks to consider God at all. We look for practical, earthly solutions attempting to politic our way out of trouble. Yet, for Jonah it is the supernatural and the spiritual that are the way forward. The Lord supernaturally preserves his life despite his circumstance and Jonah prays for further deliverance. Our lives are providentially preserved by God and I believe this should lead us to seek the Lord in spirit and in truth for help.
  3. Jonah finds his hope in the deliverance of the Lord he had so far experienced and this gives him reason to hope in the further salvation of God. We need to give witness and testimony in our own lives to the deliverance the Lord has already wrought in our lives over sin, death and Satan and point to further salvation when Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead. We can speak of God's salvation in broad terms, but our witness and evangelism must be punctuated with personal examples as the Lord is not merely the deliverer of His people, but our personal savior as well.
While the Lord may have caused Jonah's exile, the Lord is Jonah's only hope for deliverance. We cannot fix our own exile, but we can turn in faith to the Lord who is more than able and, in Christ, is more than willing to deliver and save us.

Music from Tina Boonstra, "I Think I See You Now"

News for You:

  • The new youth director position is ready for applicants. If you know of anyone who is qualified for the position, please contact the church.
  • For the month of April, we will be doing a diaper drive for Care Net. Please bring in size three diapers if possible, thank you!
  • CPC is looking for a part-time nursery attendant while Emily Gonzalez is on maternity leave. If you, or anyone you know is interested, please contact church staff.
  • All men are welcome to join the Men’s Bible Study on Mondays at noon, they will be reading from Judges!
  • Would you like to serve on the CPC Service Team? We meet every other month to discuss ways to share Christ’s love for us in our community. Please contact Dolores for more information.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Course Correction on Suffering

Devotion: Jonah 2:1-3

There is a current in the church that goes something like this: "If I am suffering, it is because I am not loved by God, maybe because of something I did or maybe because God is not loving." As a pastor I rarely hear this idea expressed quite so starkly, but I do hear it in the tone and desires of those I talk with in discipleship and shepherding. On the surface the idea is initially attractive because it gives the sufferer either control or excuse. To explore this, let's take some examples from the Book of Job.
On the one hand, the sufferer could claim that the pain is brought on by his actions, words, attitudes or thoughts. To end suffering means changing behavior under this false idea. The sufferer corrects the wayward actions, word, thought or attitude, bringing himself back into line with God through faith and the suffering ends as he is restored to the love of God. Further, this bankrupt thought has a built-in defense mechanism, namely, if suffering does not end it must mean that further alignment still needs to take place. The sufferer is given false-control over his circumstances and can fall back on blaming himself when suffering does not end. What's worse, the love of God becomes a fee-for-service, meaning it is earned by right behavior and not a gracious gift. This idea is found in Scripture being taught by Job's companions (see Job 11 for example)--and it is damned as heresy by God (Job 42:7-9). Job, for his part, rejects false-control and even proclaims, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face" (Job 13:15).
On the other hand, the sufferer could claim that God is unjust and/or unloving. There is no way to end suffering in this false way of thinking, but it does give the sufferer an excuse. In essence, the sufferer can say to himself, "I am good person and do not deserve what is happening to me. Since God is in control, I am a victim of His capricious actions. Woe is me." Here the sufferer does not so much seek to be restored to the love/justice of God (like Job), but rather rejects that God is loving and/or just at all. This is the attitude of Job's wife when she tells him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die" (Job 2:9). Job, for his part, will not give in to his wife's bleak outlook on the Almighty. Though the Lord is responsible for his suffering, Job will not acquiesce to his wife's despair. Instead, Job asserts, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25-27). Job will not give up on God's love and justice, but believes that even if it should mean his death, he will be resurrected at the coming of a Redeemer and will know the love and justice of God anew.
And this brings us to our passage in Jonah. Jonah has fled God's call, been captured by God in his storm, thrown overboard and consumed by the giant fish. Chapter 2 is set in the belly of the fish and there we read:
"Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me." -Jonah 2:1-3 ESV
Jonah views his life as forfeit. In the belly of the fish, being kept alive by supernatural means, Jonah thinks it must be like being dead. So Jonah does the only sensible thing a man in his position can do--he cries out to the God who put him there in the first place. This is where the modern thinker on suffering goes astray so often. In either trying to cease control or make excuse, the sufferer fails to turn to the God who brought on the suffering. Gone from the modern thinker is the notion that suffering can (though not always) be productive.
Jonah's suffering is just (he fled God's call) and loving (God is bringing him back to his call). The suffering of Jonah in the belly of the fish is a course correction, to bring him back to God's will. While I cannot say that all suffering is meant for that purpose, I think as Christians we would do much better to consider that possibility first than resorting to the inadequate explanations/solutions discussed out above. Jonah recognizes that his suffering comes from the love and justice of God and serves God's purpose. We would do well to consider the same.

This is Wendell Kimbrough's rendition of Psalm 69.

News for You:

  • The new youth director position is ready for applicants. If you know of anyone who is qualified for the position, please contact the church.
  • For the month of April, we will be doing a diaper drive for Care Net. Please bring in size three diapers if possible, thank you!
  • CPC is looking for a part-time nursery attendant while Emily Gonzalez is on maternity leave. If you, or anyone you know is interested, please contact church staff.
  • All men are welcome to join the Men’s Bible Study on Mondays at noon, they will be reading from Judges!