Tuesday, October 12, 2010

FISHBELLY

  FISHBELLY
A. Brother
©2009 Narrowgate Publishing

TEXT: The Book of Jonah

          We who believe in Christ spend valuable time ringing our hands over the world’s ways, when we should be putting our hands to God’s plow and not looking back.  This is because we really don’t understand or believe in the true Sovereignty of our God over the world.  We think somehow all this is too much for Him to handle, and that He is constantly surprised by the evil that surrounds us.  Our faithless fear is unfounded.  God is sovereign over the earth, and indeed, He is never surprised. 
          We especially tend to ring our hands over our own sins, which of course need to be repented of in mourning, and with great regret.  But once repented of and turned from, these sins must not hold us back from the plow.  We must put our hands to God’s work once again without hesitation.  God is still on the throne, and His work still needs to be done in His Way.
          Brethren, don’t we realize that God is sovereign over the ways of men, including men like us who sin and do foolish, sinful things?  The Bible is full of examples for us of men who were called by God, then ran away or fell into sin, and then after they returned to the Lord, He called them to finish what He wanted finished.
          Let’s look at one example in Scripture together, and be encouraged about our own situation, no matter how grim it might seem.
          Jonah was called by God to go to a big city and preach repentance to the evil people there.  He had the clear call, the instructions.  He knew what he was to do.
          Yet Jonah was not willing to do what God asked him to do.  Jonah ran in the opposite direction.
          “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship headed for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”  --Jonah 1:3
            Jonah disobeyed God’s original call on his life and ran away to do other things.  This was premeditated sin.  Rebellion.  Refusal to do what God asked him to do.  We have no idea what Jonah’s motivation was.  Maybe he was busy with business.  Maybe he was just lazy.  Maybe he was afraid of the Ninevites, because they were powerful, and were the enemies of his people, the Jews.  Maybe he didn’t want to declare the truth of God to these people, because he hated them.  Maybe he didn’t  like the weather or the food or the music over there in Assyria.
          But for whatever reason, Jonah chose to run. 
          This is important.  You heard the word chose.
          We must see that Jonah, like us, chooses what he will do or not do.  We all make choices, and Jonah, like us, was responsible before God for his own choices.  Even his sins. 
          A long time ago on television, there was a comedian named Flip Wilson playing a character named Josephine.  This crazy woman with a big wig on would do stupid things all the time.  After someone discovered whatever she’d done and said something to her, she would yell defensively at the top of her lungs, “The devil made me do it!”
          Well, we don’t get to say that.  Actually, we can say it all we want, it’s just not going to get us out of responsibility for our own choices.  So Jonah chose to run away, and we all know what happened.  The ship became caught in a great storm, and Jonah, in his sin, slept soundly through his shipmates’ terror, and had to be shaken awake.  So how badly do we think Jonah felt about his running away?  Was he torn by grief and shame?  Was he in agony of heart over running away from his God who’d called him?  I guess not.  He was in a deep sleep while his sin caused everyone around him fear, anxiety, and extra work.
          This is so like us.  We reconcile ourselves to our bad decisions.  We run from God’s call, then sleep.  We feel badly about our sins for about an hour, then spend our time trying to figure out excuses to give the Lord about why we couldn’t do what He originally asked us to do.  “The devil made me do it!”
          Jonah got up when they woke him, but still didn’t take responsibility.  The sailors asked him to pray to his God for deliverance, but he didn’t even do that.  He was still angry, still running, and he’d rather go down and take everyone with him than obey that order that God had given him.  He stayed silent, though he knew why the storm was raging, and why this ship was in trouble.
          Finally, they forced his hand, by casting lots.  And out of the entire ship, one man was chosen as the reason for the storm.  YOU KNOW WHO.
          Now the sailors do everything humanly possible to save the ship.  Yet the storm rages, and nothing they do matters. 
          Because God is in the storm.  It’s a God-storm, and it’s for a specific purpose.  It is no accident.  God is active in the affairs of men, and God wanted Jonah to do something, and God wanted us to learn something.
          So the sailors finally ask Jonah what to do to save the ship.
          With a heavy sigh and exaggerated pathos, Jonah finally tells them the truth.
          “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm.  I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”  --Jonah 1:12
            So here was this Hebrew who knew the truth, and when finally forced at gunpoint to face it, he went from silent rebellion straight to fatalistic resignation.  He didn’t call out to God and repent.  He just felt sorry for himself and was willing to commit suicide rather than fall on his knees and admit how wrong he was to run away.  He may have wanted to impress the pagan crew with his brave admission of guilt, and seem a martyr.  He may have just gone straight to depression because of his low self-esteem.  He may have hated God so much at that point—it’s God’s fault for giving me this impossible task, after all, He’s the one who asked me, and He knew I would run away, yet He still asked me, and so it’s all His fault!—that he was willing to die to show God how mad he was.
          Who knows?  Does it really matter?
          No.  That’s the point here.  Jonah’s story is meant to instruct us about a much higher truth.  That’s why the Bible doesn’t go into Jonah’s feelings and motivations.  The fact is:  God called Jonah, and Jonah, for whatever reasons, ran away from that call.
          So then, does Jonah bravely stand up, walk to the railing, climb up and stand there for a minute, then wave to the watching crowd and jump into the churning waves?
          No.  He makes the crew throw him overboard.  They must do the work for him.  They are terrified of having his blood on their hands, so they continue to try and save the ship themselves.  All this time, Jonah is sitting on his duff.  He isn’t bailing, he isn’t climbing the rigging and helping cut it down.  He isn’t comforting the other passengers.  He’s just feeling sorry for himself.
          Poor me, he thinks.  God has to ask me to do the impossible, and then when, because of all my weakness and my fear, and the terrible parenting I had as a child, and the poor education I received in school by that one teacher who didn’t like me, and because my childhood sweetheart went off with that other guy, and because my mom hated my dad, and because Uncle Abraham was a drunk and slapped me around, and because the other kids made fun of me, and….and….and….excuses flooded in, and his thinking was centered on himself.  Not on God, or Nineveh, or the people on the ship who would perish with him.  HIS THOUGHTS WERE ON HIMSELF.
          This is the core of our sin—SELF.  Jonah is consumed with self.  He is an inner-facing man, who constantly thinks of God and the world in terms of how it affects him.
          So in crisis, where do his thoughts turn?  Is he suddenly going to become a selfless, courageous, sacrificial man?  No.  He’s going to be who he really is.  In the big things, Jonah will do what he did in the small things.
          But here is an important point.
          GOD DIDN’T GIVE UP ON JONAH.  GOD KNEW ALL ALONG WHO JONAH WAS, AND HE INTENDED TO HAVE JONAH FULFILL HIS CALL. 
          No matter what it took.  Because God loved Jonah.  And God loved Nineveh, and wanted the people of Nineveh to repent of their sin, and have life in Him.
          This true story of a man in rebellion against God’s calling is meant to show us that God is sovereign over believer’s lives, even when those chosen ones run away from God’s call.  That God will pursue us to the ends of the earth.  That our feelings and our wrong thoughts and our rebellions and our sins may lead us in wrong directions, but God’s faithful power on our behalf is what matters.
          God desires to complete His calling in us, and to empower us to do His will, no matter how late in the game.
          GOD DIDN’T SEND THE STORM AS PUNISHMENT FOR JONAH’S SIN.  HE SENT THE STORM AS A MEANS OF GETTING JONAH OFF THE REBELLION BOAT AND BACK ON THE ROAD TO FULFILLING HIS CALLING.
          When the sailors threw Jonah overboard a big fish came up and swallowed him.  And finally, in dank, foul-smelling Fishbelly, Jonah took the time to face himself.  He looked at himself, and saw the sin, and the rebellion, and the ugliness of his character.  He saw how God had been gracious to him, and allowed him to live, and to repent, and to change.  He saw how God was not rescinding his call, but giving Jonah time to become humble enough to fulfill it in God’s Way.
          Was Jonah perfect from then on?  Of course not.  He was like us.  He was a man, and later, even after seeing the Ninevites be turned successfully from their sin by his own obedience to God, Jonah became angry at God for giving the same grace he’d gotten in his rebellion to the rebellious Ninevites.  Jonah went into a deep depression and wanted to die, just because he felt God was being too lenient on the wicked.
          But the point is this:  GOD KNEW AHEAD OF TIME THAT JONAH WOULD RUN AWAY FROM HIS CALLING.  YET GOD CALLED HIM ANYWAY.  AND GOD BROUGHT THE STORM, AND GOD BROUGHT THE FISH, AND GOD WORKED WITH JONAH IN SPITE OF HIS SIN AND REBELLION TO FULFILL THAT CALLING.
          God didn’t give up on Jonah, and say, “Well, I guess I made a mistake here.  I sure messed up in choosing him.  Wow, am I ever surprised!”
          God is Lord, and knows it all.  Before it happens.  God is never surprised at our sin.  He chooses us anyway.   And He waits for us to respond to the storm, respond to our time in Fishbelly, come to our senses and repent and turn back onto the road to Nineveh to help Him love and save the world.

          Brother or sister in Christ, what rebellion are you in today?
          What ship are you taking in your flight away from His calling?
          Or what beach are you lying on, wet and tired from your exile in the fish’s belly, thinking how you can’t fulfill your calling because of God’s anger against you?
          If you are running, stop.  Fall down and repent, and God will forgive, and God will turn you from your rebellious ways.  He will give you back your original call.
          If you are in flight, land.  Kiss the ground and prostrate yourself before the God who loves you.  Listen once again to Him and His call.
          If you are discouraged and hopeless, lying on the beach after being vomited onto dry land, your sins evident to God and everyone, and your task looking impossible, humble yourself under God’s hand, and at the right time He will fulfill His Word to you.
          Throw away your worthless pursuits and begin to pursue God with every fiber of your being, and every moment you have left in this life.
          Remember Jonah’s words from Fishbelly.
          “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You.  What I have vowed I will make good.  Salvation comes from the Lord.” 
                                                                                         --Jonah 2: 8,9

          In this time, call to mind:

          1.  GOD KNEW YOU BEFORE HE CALLED YOU.  HE IS NOT SURPRISED BY YOUR REBELLION AND SIN.  HE CALLED YOU KNOWING YOU WOULD RUN AWAY.

            2.  GOD SENT THE STORM TO BRING YOU BACK, NOT TO PUNISH YOU.  THE STORM, THE FISH, THE TROUBLES AND TRIBULATIONS ARE DESIGNED TO SHOW YOU GOD’S UNENDING LOVE FOR YOU. 

            3.  GOD’S CALL HAS NOT CHANGED.  HE KNOWS WHY HE MADE YOU, AND YOUR CALLING IS STILL ACTIVE.  GOD EXPECTS YOU TO GET UP OFF THE SAND, WASH THE SEAWEED AWAY, GET DRESSED, AND HEAD TO YOUR NINEVEH TO FULFILL WHAT HE’S ASKED OF YOU.

            4.  REJOICE IN THE LORD AND HIS LOVE.  HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU, BECAUSE HIS POWER IS MADE PERFECT IN YOUR WEAKNESS.  YOU MAY HAVE NO IDEA HOW HE WILL MAKE A WAY FOR YOU TO FINISH WHAT HE STARTED, BUT HE WILL DO IT.
         
         

2 comments:

  1. A.Brother,

    I am so glad I didn't read this in the morning, which I usually do. I needed this tonight! I, like Jonah, am having rebellion and angst festering in me at my place in life or at what I am asked to do. So much so that I am physically feeling it, I am sick, I am tired, I felt sorry for myself and I was down. Mostly I wrestle with the prospective inconvenience of living a Christ centered life, asking myself, why me, how me, what did I do to deserve this...me..me..me...me. As this story shows and you so eloquently put, it isn't about me, IT IS ABOUT GOD ALONE. I feel blessed to have God love me so much that he allows me to be in storms like I am in, molding me. This will teach me what God has been trying to get through my thick skull my whole life, my calling. It reminds me of a great teaching I heard from my Pastor once. The blessing is in the breaking. The lesson is based on the feeding of the 5k, not necessarily Jonah, but there are similarities. That story isn't about bread or fish, it is about God breaking us so we can feed the masses, as he has called me or us to do. As you say, sometimes the God Storm is God forcing us to act no matter the consequences. Thank you again, I am praying for you and your family and everyone at work.

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  2. Hey, brother, thick skulls need special time at The Place of the Skull, Golgotha, as I've posted today. Mine is especially thick, and has taken repeated work by the Lord to get through. As you know, I'm stubborn, hardheaded, stiffnecked and until recently refused to go to Nineveh. But the spiritual rewards are incredible for those who obey. Let's persevere together...

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