Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Punishment and Praise

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

WoW's First Ever Guest Blogger! Bo Irvin

I was recently listening to a sermon on the book of Jonah. As I sat and listened, I tried to count the number of times I have been taught the story of Jonah, oh, and the whale.  While some of you may be unfamiliar with the story, I had the fortunate privilege of being raised in a church where we might hear the story once a month.  I’m continually amazed at how the book of Jonah, though small in size, continues to be one of the most relevant books of the Bible for the present day reader.  Two questions came to mind during the sermon that pricked my heart: Am I running from God’s will (Jonah 1-2)?  Am I running from God’s love (Jonah 3-4)?  Now, let us briefly dive into each of these questions.

Are you running from God’s will?
As I listened to the pastor read through the first few chapters of Jonah, the above question was a natural one to ask in relation to the calling God has given each of us.  Are you truly listening to God's direction for your life or are you attempting to lead life your own way?  In these first two chapters we see several key points in Jonah’s journey that are applicable to all of us: God calls Jonah to preach; Jonah flees from God; God catches up with Jonah; and finally Jonah responds to God with praise.  Sound familiar? How often do we, at least I, react like Jonah when God is attempting to guide us into the path that is most glorifying for Him?

What intrigues me the most about Jonah's story is not that he heard God’s message, or that he ran from God, or even that God caught up with Jonah to finish what He started, but that under these circumstances Jonah expressed praise to God.  Because of his disobedience, Jonah was being punished by God.  He was in the belly of the great fish, yet he responded to this punishment with praise to God.  God’s sovereign work is clear in Jonah's story. There is no other way he could have survived if God was not for him.  Much like Jonah, how many of us have been taken through the most difficult storms in life only to end up on our knees, praising the miraculous work of God?  Many of us have conquered some of the greatest challenges and difficulties life could bring, but we have done so only by the grace of God (not by our own strength).  We must shout praise to God as He, and only He, can save us like He saved and restored Jonah.

Are you running from God’s love?
As I pondered whether or not I was running from God’s will for my life, I also began to question whether or not I was running from God’s love.  What a difficult question for each of us to ask ourselves.  I've heard the question asked a different way: “Will you love those whom God loves?”  Jonah finds himself reacting to a group of people much like I have reacted to people before deep within my heart.  Once again several key points stick out during Jonah’s journey: God again calls Jonah to preach; this time Jonah obeys God and goes; God delivers Nineveh; and Jonah resents the Ninevites.

How many times does God have to tell us to do something before it sticks with us?  For Jonah it was twice (Jonah 3:1-2).  Fortunately for him and us we serve a God of second chances! While there is so much to explore in chapters 3 and 4, I was drawn to the idea that Christians have a responsibility to help unbelievers see that this God, who judges every sin, is also characterized by second chances.  Most acknowledge that this does not mean that we can take advantage of God’s grace and count on an endless number of second chances.

How many times do we run from the call of God on our lives leaving us to question if we truly understand the love that God has for us as His children?  The Ninevites were a hurtful people which is why Jonah felt so strongly that they deserved the punishment and destruction God was threatening.  There are people in our lives every day we may have these same kind of thoughts about, but our relationship with God and our knowledge of His unconditional love should drive us to show them the same unconditional love.  I leave you with three difficult questions I struggled with following the sermon:
  1. What person(s) do you want to share the Good News with because they have been very hurtful to you?
  2. What actions or attitudes do you need to change so that others can see Jesus more clearly in your life?
  3. If you have been disobedient and have been a bad example to others around you, will you confess that sin to God?
May all Christians fall at the feet of our loving, gracious, and merciful God daily to make a great impact for His eternal kingdom!

For further reading...
  • Jonah: Read the entire story.
  • John 3:1-21: God delivers His message of second chances to Nicodemus.

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