PURSUED: Compassion Equation

So far we have seen how much Jonah has struggled with trying to figure out the equations which God applies to his creation—the equation of his forgiveness and the equation of God’s value in his creation, and as the book of Jonah comes to an end, the conclusion brings to the forefront

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Compassion Equation (9-11) But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”Sometimes just like Jonah, it is easy to look at the things that we don’t like around us as a hurdle to overcome, when God sees people and problems as a platform for his loving kindness and compassion. God is more just—calling us to a higher level of holiness than we could ever imagine and yet simultaneously, he is more merciful than we can ever grasp. There is a biblical saying from Judges, “that people did what was right in their own eyes.” Yet, we see from the eyes and words of God a standard and equation that is beyond ours. Continue reading “PURSUED: Compassion Equation”

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PURSUED: Value Equation

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With Jonah’s forgiveness equation out of balance, his anger growing, we see the root of his problem, no pun intended (Check out earlier chapters of PURSUED)…

 

The Value Equation (Jonah 4: 5-9) Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”Jonah was holding out hope in the back of his mind, that maybe, just maybe, God would hear his grumblings and bring the city down to the ground. As he waited God miraculously provided a plant to shade the prophet, alleviate his discomfort, and as the worm chewed to the root, the real problem with Jonah’s heart became clear, again he decreed his go to line- ‘it would be better for me to die than to live.” The value equation was out of whack; find the plant more pertinent than the lives of people. Just how valuable is one life?

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Ethicist Peter Singer argued not very valuable, “Surely there are nonhuman animals whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans.” That value equation is being lived out–worldwide 42 million lives are aborted before they get a chance to prosper.

Several years ago a fragile young woman expecting her first child was under the care of Dr. Joe Wheeler. About a month before the baby was due it was discovered that the baby was in a breech position which caused the doctor great concern as he knew of difficulty of such a delivery and the high death rate involved. Continue reading “PURSUED: Value Equation”

Pursued: Great Equation

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Humans have devised many scales of measurement. We measure height or length in terms of inches, yards, and meters. Most of us probably grew up being measured against a wall, seeing our progress. We measure the distance traveled by home-runs and hurricanes.  We weigh objects in pounds and ounces. We divide time from millennia all the way down to nanoseconds (one-billionth of a second). We measure temperature down to absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin or minus 459.7 degrees Fahrenheit)

But you may not be aware of these strange measurements:

  • The Smoot: As almost every MIT student knows, a smoot is a unit of length equal to five feet seven inches. In 1958, a 5 foot 7 inch tall fraternity pledge named Oliver Smoot agreed to be used to measure the Harvard Bridge which connects Boston and Cambridge. After repeatedly lying down on the bridge and having his position marked in chalk, it turned out that the bridge was 364.4 smoots (and an ear) long. Google now offers the option to measure anything in smoots.
  • The “Just a Moment”: Whenever somebody asks you to do something and you reply “just a moment,” don’t think you’re being sneaky by not giving them a precise time. You’re not. A moment was a measurement of time used during the medieval period that’s roughly equal to one and a half minutes.
  • The Scoville: The Scoville Scale is used to measure the amount of capsaicin in chilies, because it’s important to know the exact temperature of the inferno that’s raging in your mouth. For example, the Scolville rates a pimento (100-500), cayenne pepper (30,000-50,000), the Carolina reaper (1,000,000), and law enforcement pepper spray (5,000,000) on the scale.

Despite all our attempts to exact specifics and precision, our attempts to measure God or put our relationship with God into an equation comes up drastically short. Today we find that God’s grace, power, and Christ’s riches are beyond our measuring instruments, but it doesn’t always keep us from trying. In our sermon series PURSUED, after Jonah’s great escape and great exchange and Nineveh’s great embrace with God—today we come across an equation which has the ability to blow your mind.

Remember what’s been happening in the earlier chapters of Jonah. He has unsuccessfully run from God, found the process by which God’s discipline and mercy were applied to save him and renew his mission, and after a day’s walk into Nineveh, the wicked and wild people did the unfathomable—they repented, embracing God’s love rather than their evil. It is Jonah’s response tells us that his first equation is out of whack:

The Forgiveness Equation—(Jonah 4:1-4) But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”Jonah is not angry because he is judging God mistakenly, but because his perception of God is accurate. In his anger he quotes from Exodus 34 when Moses had asked to see God’s glory and presence, and from within the crevice of a rock Moses watched God pass by. Jonah throws God’s closeness back in his face. He’d rather die than see the people of Nineveh live. Jonah had run the numbers in his head—the forgiveness equation was clear—their sins far exceeding their saintly acts—they weren’t deserving forgiveness, reprieve, relenting, and yet God’s compassion had exceeded Jonah’s call for their destruction.

The forgiveness equation isn’t rare—we pull it out all the time when we feel wronged, weighing the good that someone has done against the bad, an invisible scale sealing the fate of what the future of a relationship will look like. We pull it out when we think of welcoming back an absent parent into our lives, rebuilding with a spouse that crossed the line, renewing a friendship when they stabbed us in the back. A man was telling a companion about an argument he’d had with his wife. “Oh, how I hate it,” he said. “Every time we fight she gets historical.” “You mean hysterical,” replied the friend. “NO, I mean historical,” he insisted. “She drags up everything from the past and holds it against me!” (Daily Bread)

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If you ever watched the sitcom FRIENDS that ran in 90’s and early 2000’s one episode had Monica and Phoebe trying to figure out how to cut out of their lives an old “friend” who annoyed them immensely with her fake British accent and snobby and arrogant comments. An online magazine by thee name of New Health Advisor offered helpful tips on the “9 Ways to Cut People Out.” Continue reading “Pursued: Great Equation”

Great Embrace Over Nineveh’s Evil

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Jonah’s journey, like ours was a tool in changing the minds of the people he preached too, God presented a situation which demanded an urgency which leads to action, and in their response we see the character of God revealed in:

 God’s Great Embrace instead of the People’s Great Evil (Jonah 3:9-10) Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. In the second century a heresy started to creep into the church when Marcion of Sinope claimed that the God of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) wasn’t the same as the God of the New Testament. He determined that the God of the OT was a God of justice and anger, but here in the midst of the OT, we see God both fully just and fully loves. His justice and love conditioned on our response to his Grand Offer of new life, our urgency at grabbing the grace presented. We get a picture of a GREAT EMBRACE, with life and death hanging in the balance, God welcomed a people who had nothing going for them into relationship. God was not solely the god of Israel but reminded Jonah he was the God over all creation. When we are getting something GREAT from God, we are able to turn down things of this world.

GRACE as one author penned it is simple- God’s Riches AT Christ’s Expense. God lavishes his love upon us. When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his guilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.

The judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty?” When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars — a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.” Continue reading “Great Embrace Over Nineveh’s Evil”

Pursued-Urgency and Unbelievable

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Our story of Jonah’s journey continues, a day’s walk into the city, surrounded by a people known for their ability to make other humans suffer, and this prophet knowing what could happened bravely opened his mouth. He proclaimed a message of…

Urgency Which Brought Unbelievable Action- (Jonah 3: 4b-8a) proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.Jonah gives the people of Nineveh an urgency that hadn’t felt before. He highlighted a reality that we can sometimes ignore fully. Making no decision is a decision in its own right. Sitting on the fence between following and falling away is still a seat that requires a ticket. Oddly enough, with Jonah’s hatred for this foreigners and fomenters of violence—they responded how he feared with sudden and serious repentance. This is a big deal that the decree calls on the people to fast—sackcloth replaced the fine clothes of prosperity; ashes took the place of Astarte. Nineveh was the center city for worship of Astarte the Goddess of fertility, where we get the word Easter. Yet, instead of turning to fruits of a harvest, the people turned from all that could be considered Astarte’s crop, sitting in the ashes as an outward sign of personal and national repentance.

A young solider shared his experience sitting on the hard wooden bleachers at Fort Benning while attending the United States Army Airborne School. Continue reading “Pursued-Urgency and Unbelievable”

Pursued: Great Embrace

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Think for a moment about the greatest hug you ever got. I’m not talking about those half-hugs you sometimes get from people you don’t really know, or just know in passing. I’m not talking about those awkward half handshakes/ half hugs where you pat each other on the back, but think to the bear hug that got you off your feet, the full body embrace, and the hug where you held nothing back. It is amazing how powerful a hug can sometimes be, knowing you aren’t alone, and feeling that someone else cares. Ironically, there are even online support groups with the name: I NEED A HUG. A quick scroll through the posts showed people in need of hugs for all sorts of reasons: bad day at the doctors, could really use a big long hug.” / Another young woman wrote: I just admitted myself to a mental hospital; others were feeling ignored by family, some were having a bad day, others were dealing with sadness and frustration. Each person regardless of their circumstances didn’t want to feel alone. Over 8,287 people joined the group searching for an embrace. As you think back to your experience with a hug, I’m betting that the longer you had been absent, the more distance you had covered literally or figuratively, the harder life had been, the greater the embrace.

Today, it is as we continue in our sermon series called PURSUED that we find this is true on an even larger scale. Jonah’s had a pretty adventurous journey. His great escape ended with him being thrown overboard and his great exchange showed him God’s grace (check out earlier posts). As Jonah headed to Nineveh in Jonah chapter 3,  the stage was set for a GREAT EMBRACE with the cruel and sinful people.

God’s Heart & Convincing the Jury (Jonah 3:2-4a) 2Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city… God was persistent in his call that Jonah needed to go to Nineveh using almost identical words as Jonah 1:1-2. The commission to “Go to the great city of Nineveh” was actually  a common idiom [she’s pulling my leg] meaning literally, “Nineveh was a great city to God.” It reinforces a common theme throughout the book, that God’s heart is for pursuing those who are far from Him. After 3 days in the single occupancy of a fish’s stomach, the city of Nineveh must have seemed all the larger to Jonah, but he didn’t completely leave behind his experience.  In fact, many postulate that Jonah most likely carried with him the signs of his struggles—skin that was discolored as a result from the gastric juices inside the fish- a man who stood apart and demanded a hearing. Continue reading “Pursued: Great Embrace”