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Showing posts with label Listening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Listening. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Jonah's Really Short Sermon


Introduction
One of the shortest books in the Bible is Jonah—only 4 chapters.  You can read the whole story in less than 10 minutes.  And within the short book of Jonah, is one of the shortest sermons I’ve ever heard.  In fact, it’s only 8 words.  And yet the message was so powerful it caused an entire city to repent and turn to God.  Maybe you think, “Well then, Jonah must have been a very good man!”  You might think that, but you’d be wrong.  Jonah was quite flawed; there was hate in his heart.  And so we see in this story, something I have found to be so true in my own life and ministry.  God is often working just as hard to reform the preacher and He is the congregation who hears the message.

Since the book of Jonah is so short, I’ve invite you to read through the the entire story below and I will add a few comments in italics.  Let me begin by saying Jonah lived in the mid-700s BC (about 2,700 years ago).  He was a prophet from Israel during a time when a city called Nineveh was a great threat to Israel.  

Jonah Chapter One
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
Joppa is the exact opposite direction from Ninevah and Tarshish is all the way over in Spain!  Jonah really did not want to go to Nineveh!  But why?  Many people run away from God.  When He tells them to do something and they don’t want to, they try to run.  Maybe because they’re afraid, or they just don’t want to do it.  When God first called me to be a preacher, I didn’t want to.  It wasn’t part of my plans or my wife’s plans.  But I’m so glad God woke us both up and we answered His call together.  Are you running from the Lord?  Why? We’ll hear why Jonah ran from God in a minute.  But first, let’s see what exactly happened to this run-away prophet.
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” 
This sounds like the story of Jesus from Luke 8.  Jesus and the disciples were in a boat out on the sea of Galilee when a severe storm arose that threatened to sink the boat.  And like Jonah, Jesus was asleep in the boat.  The disciples exclaimed, "How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and do something!"  Now Jesus got up and said peace be still and the storm obeyed.  Let's see what happened in Jonah's story.
Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
I used to think this Jonah was noble to sacrifice his life to save the others.  But now I'm thinking Jonah wasn't being noble.  Maybe he was thinking, “If I’m dead, I won’t have to go to Nineveh to preach!”  But God wasn’t going to let Jonah off the hook.  
13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it.14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
Even through Jonah’s disobedience, God is accomplished great things.  All the sailors, who formerly did not believe and worship God, now were “awestruck by the Lord’s power and offered sacrifices to Him and vowed to serve Him.” 
Only God has the power to command the see and save the sailors.  God made the sea.  He can certainly tell the sea what to do.  When Jesus and the disciples were on a boat in the middle of a storm, Jesus calmed the waves.  Do you see how this shows that Jesus is God?  
Now, what to do with this unfaithful prophet Jonah.
17 Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Three days and three nights.  This reminds us of Jesus, who was also enclosed inside a dark, dark place until the third day.  Jonah's time in the belly of the fish foreshadows Christ's burial inside the tomb.  When Jesus predicted his death and resurrection on the third day, he called it "the sign of Jonah."  
Jonah Chapter Two
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,[b]
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,

    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’
“I sank beneath the waves,
    and the waters closed over me.
    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.

    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death!
As my life was slipping away,
    I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
    in your holy Temple.
Those who worship false gods
    turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.
    For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”
10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

Jonah Chapter Three
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” 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.
When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, 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 all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
10 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’s eight-word sermon had a powerful effect.  It wasn’t the beauty of his words or the way he put the words together in a well-crafted sermon with excellent illustrations.  There wasn't an amazing praise band to drive home the closing points and draw people down to the altar for prayer.  What was it that made his eight-word message so effective?  Two things: 1) The Word of God spoke through Jonah.  Remember, God spoke the universe into existence.  God's Word is powerful!  People often wonder, "Why doesn't God just speak to us in an audible voice?"  Have you thought what you are asking?  God doesn't speak idle words.  When He speaks, a hundred billion galaxies are formed by the vapor of His voice.  And you want Him to speak to you?  Be careful what you ask for.  You are just a speck of dust on a speck of dust, orbiting around a sun that is just a speck of dust in a galaxy that is just a speak of dust in the universe.  A whisper (nay, just a thought) from God might just obliterate you if not perfectly controlled.  That is why God took the form of Jesus Christ--the Word made flesh--in order to speak to you.  And His Word is contained in the Scriptures of the Holy Bible.  Read it and God will speak to you so powerfully it will change you forever, without utterly destroying you,  However, you must be willing to listen.  
And that's the second reason Jonah's sermon was so powerful.  It says in verse 5, “The people believed God’s message…” and they repented.  From the King all the way down to the lowest, they believed and repented.  They set aside their pride, repented, and turned from their evil ways.

Jonah Chapter Four
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
So now we see the real reason why Jonah tried to run away.  He wasn’t scared.  It was much worse.  He hated Nineveh.  He would rather see all the people in that city die than have them repent.  That’s not a very holy attitude; it's awful.  Jonah was just as broken as the Ninevites.  The human heart is full of evil.  God is constantly reaching out to us (even preachers and prophets) and calling us to repent and let Him fill us with His love.
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,[a] not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
Man, Jonah’s got some real issues.  Bipolar?  Depression?  Anger issues?  Suicidal?  However, God loved Jonah and even used him and to this day Jonah’s story is in the Holy Bible.  I guess maybe there’s still hope for me and you.
But what about all the other people out in your community?  What about your neighbor?  The person ringing up your groceries in the checkout line?  The police officer who pulled you over and gave you a ticket?  The mechanic who cheated you?  That guy in church who really annoys you?  Is there any hope for them?  Does God love them too?  Maybe, just maybe, God’ is calling you to love them enough to “Get up and go to” them and preach His message of love.  What is God calling you to do?  Will you listen?  Will you obey?

Monday, March 26, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 4 - Listening vs. Scoffing

Introduction
            On Sunday, we had a confirmation ceremony at my church.  Three young "confirmands" completed a six-week course on the basics of Christianity and then chose to publicly confirm their faith in Jesus Christ in front of our congregation on Palm Sunday.  I was so proud of these three young people between the ages of 11 and 12.  They were very attentive throughout the course--listening and learning. 
            Jesus said we should emulate the faith of a child (like my confirmands who were so attentive to learn and accept Jesus by faith).  Their attitudes are quite a contrast to the religious leaders when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week before Passover.  You can read the full Palm Sunday story here in John 12:12-19.  Although crowds of children and ordinary people were amazed by Jesus' teachings and the miracles (even raising Lazarus from the dead after he'd been in a tomb for four days), the religious leaders scoffed.  They couldn't or wouldn't believe in Jesus.  Even though they espoused to worship and serve God, they dismissed God's Son as a fraud.
            Jesus knew there would be many who scoff at our faith. It doesn't matter to them that we have experienced the life changing power of God or that our faith in Jesus has changed our lives forever for the better.  They will still scoff and dismiss us and our beliefs.  Many will even labor to destroy us because they feel threatened by how we live and what we teach.  Always remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16-20; we are sheep living among wolves.

Matthew 10:16-20
16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.[a] 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The Amazing Rise of Christianity and the Scoffers Who Dismiss It
            Though the religious leaders of Jesus day tried to get rid of Jesus and then his followers, Christianity grew exponentially.  The persecutions, arrests, and murder of early Christians only caused believers to move to new cities where they persisted in teaching people about Jesus Christ and more and more people became followers.  The Christian faith would have died with it's leader Jesus if it was only of human origins.  Since, however, it was God's plan for His people, the Christian faith endured and today more people follow Jesus than any other religious leader.
            There always have been and always will be those who feel threatened by true Christian faith and just want to explain it away.  Even today, when a passionate church or Christian movement grows rapidly, there are scoffers who try to blow it off saying, "There's nothing to it.  It's just a fad and it will fade away."  When John Wesley led a revival of the Church of England in the 1700s, people dismissed the early Methodist movement as a bunch of religious fanatics.  However, people's lives were truly changed.  Drunks put away their liquor, thieves became honest men, Christians gave to the poor, visited the sick and dying and those who were in prison.  The whole fabric of society in England and America was changed for the better as Christians took their faith in Jesus seriously and loved God and their neighbor with their whole hearts.  Yet even then, there were people who scoffed; and there are people who scoff at vital Christianity today too.  "There's nothing to it," they say.  "They're just a bunch of religious fanatics and hypocrites."
            Proverbs, the book of God's wisdom, teaches again and again that scoffing is the enemy of true wisdom.  We must guard ourselves and maintain a childlike faith and not become scoffers like the religious leaders of Jesus day.  So in this blog, I want to examine the difference between scoffing and listening.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:1 – A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a scoffer doesn’t even hear it.

Scoffing - Lus לוּץ or Liys - לִיץ
            No, I'm not talking about scoffing down your food!  The Hebrew word for scoffing (Lus or Liys) literally means “to make mouths at.”  Scoffing is to speak with a sarcastic tone, to deride, mock, or scorn.  Scoffing is like the stereotypical teenager rolling their eyes when their parents give a lecture because, you know, "my parents are dumb and know absolutely nothing."  When we scoff, we don't listen.  We've decided a person is not even worth listening to.  And so, we can't learn from them because we've already decided they have nothing worthwhile to offer.

Listening - Šâma' - שָׁמַע
            The opposite of scoffing in Hebrew is Sama.  It means to hear.  However, it's more than just detecting sound.  Sama means to hear intelligently, carefully consider, and to listen and obey.  The only way to learn is to listen, deeply contemplate what you've heard, and put it into practice.
            If we are to be truly wise in this wolf infested world, we've got to stop scoffing and start listening.  So I want to give you some practical advise on how to avoid being a scoffer.  Listen to these principles.  Remember and put them into practice in your life.

Practical Application
            First, always try to think the best of others and be respectful.  When you mock someone, you dehumanize them.  When you look at someone on the other end of the political spectrum and say (or think in your heart), "They're just a bleeding heart 'libtard' who doesn't know anything!", you are no longer thinking of them as a person.  They aren't a child of God to you anymore; they're just a label, an enemy on the wrong side of a war.  You do the same if you say (or think), "They're just a backwards thinking conservative clinging to their guns and religion."  You are scoffing at someone's deeply held beliefs and writing them off as unworthy of your mental attention and respect.  And if we go down that road too far, it doesn't take long before we arrive at genocide and holocaust. Once you stop seeing people as worthy of love and respect, it's a lot easier to just see them as problems to be eliminated.
            And here's the thing, mocking people will affect all your relationships negatively—even unintended ones.  When you mock your boss, your employees, your co-workers, or anyone you dislike or disagree with, it bleeds over into your relationships with people you really care about.  Soon you'll find you're being sarcastically disrespectful with your spouse, your children, and your friends.  You just can't seem to help it and you don't know why.  When a scornful spirit takes residence in your heart, it poisons everything that comes out even when you don't want it to.
            So be humble and empathetic.  Try to understand how others feel and why they think the way they do.  You don't have to agree with them or condone their actions, but you do have to care about them and love them.  You have to respect others if you want others to respect you and take you seriously.  People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

            Second, keep an open mind.  You can learn from anyone—even those you disagree with and those who are just plain wrong.  You don't have to agree with a person or point of view to learn it and understand it better.  And if you have learned an idea you disagree with, you have still learned something.  I have often found listening to someone I disagree with helps me better understand why I believe what I do.  Usually, I learn more from those I disagree with than those I do.
            There is a way you can be right and still be wrong.  Does that seem like a contradiction?  It's true, you can be right and still be wrong.  How?  Well, how you disagree is as important as why you disagree.  If you disagree and do so by belittling, disrespecting, or scoffing, you actions are wrong even if your ideas are right.  God doesn't want us to be scoffers--even if we believe the right things.
            One example of the right way to disagree is a time Rev. Billy Graham (a Christian evangelist) met with Woody Allen (a self-professed agnostic).  They had a delightful conversation about their opposing views on television several decades ago.  Graham disagreed quite frankly with Allen and clearly articulates his position and yet also does it with grace and love.  Graham makes it very clear that he loves and respects Woody Allen even though they disagree.  Allen obviously appreciates and respects Graham for his attitude.  You can watch the exchange on video here.
 
            Third, listen more and talk less.  Remember God gave you two ears and only one mouth, so you ought to listen twice as much as you talk.  Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:10 says, "People too proud to listen always get into drama, but those who listen to counsel wisely avoid it."  And Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 18:13 says, "Speaking about something before fully listening is just stupid and brings humiliation."
            You already know your point of view, but you only “think” you know someone else’s.  It’s not going to hurt you to set your own point of view aside for a few moments so you can really listen and understand someone else’s.  Just listening and truly understanding another's opinion (even if you deeply disagree) is an act of respect and grace that ought always to be part of the character of godly people.  And if it is, people are more likely to respect and listen to you.
            Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 15:5 says, "A fool rolls their eyes when their parent tries to teach them, but a smart person is careful to listen and learn."  Sometimes, when our heart is not right--when a sarcastic, mocking spirit is deeply imbedded in us (because of the topic or the relationship or our stage of life (teenager!!!  parents!!!))--it’s best for us to just keep silent.  If our heart's not right, no matter what we say, it’s gonna come out wrong.  Our tone will be wrong.  Our body language will betray a mocking spirit even if we aren’t aware of it.  So, just keep silent. Pray about it.  Ask God to help you give the Holy Spirit time to change your heart so your words (when you finally do speak) will flow from a pure heart and not a scoffing spirit.
 
Let's Change Our World by Letting God Change Our Hearts
            Our world is full of mockers, scoffers, and sarcastic, scornful attitudes.  The last thing we need is for Christians to be the same way.  Perhaps, Jesus is calling you to repent of your scoffing, so you can listen and learn and become more Christ-like than you are today.  I know He's calling me.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Proverbs Day 10

Read Proverbs 10
Some people talk too much.  Listening is a precious gift to both the listener and those to whom they listen.  Listening is how we learn.  Talking is how we teach, but we need to be careful because we are usually not as wise as we think.  We really don't know that much and even what we know we don't know as well as we think.  And when we talk too much about things we don't really understand, we just reveal our ignorance, waste time, and we might even lead people astray.  Listen to my paraphrase of Proverbs 10:8.

A wise person listens to instructions, but someone who babbles on and on without having a clue will be thought of as an idiot.

And also verse 14:

A wise person soaks up all the knowledge they can, but a babbling fools is too busy talking to learn anything and might walk right off a cliff.

You can always get more information if you listen. You can always gain more insight if you listen.   You can always see things from a different perspective if you listen.  You can always learn more if you listen.  You can usually find out what you need to know to make a wise decision, say the right thing, or do the right thing if you listen.  But if you are too busy talking to listen, you are walking a dangerous road.

Prayer
"Father, help me to listen more.  Help me to learn from You and from those You send my way to teach me.  And keep me from babbling on about things I don't really understand.  Amen."