Jonah: A Love Story

I love how my #BibleReadingPlan brings together similar themes throughout the Bible. Yesterday’s theme was God’s compassion . . . even for our enemies.

Jonah 1-4 #BibleReadingPlan

I started in Jonah. This is a story I thought I knew inside and out since the time I was a kid in Sunday school. Jonah ran away from God; God pursued him; big fish ate him. He finally obeyed God, but was mad and pouting. I’ve been Jonah a million times.

But yesterday I discovered something different in the book of Jonah.

Why was Jonah so reluctant to go to Nineveh and so mad when God didn’t destroy the Ninevites? Nineveh (located in modern-day Mosul, Iraq) was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Going back even further in childhood Sunday School lessons . . . remember Noah’s three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth? After the flood they got off the ark and went out to re-populate the world. Ham’s descendants built the city of Nineveh.

Nineveh and the Assyrian empire were enemies of Israel. Nineveh was the capital of the most powerful empire in the ancient world. Throughout the Old Testament Assyria attacked Israel and had taken it captive (2 Kings 17) and was known as a ruthless nation (Isaiah 10).

Dr. Simon Anglim, a historian in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, wrote:

The Assyrians created the world’s first great army and the world’s first great empire. This was held together by two factors: their superior abilities in siege warfare and their reliance on sheer, unadulterated terror. It was Assyrian policy always to demand that examples be made of those who resisted them; this included deportations of entire peoples and horrific physical punishments. One inscription from a temple in the city of Nimrod records the fate of the leaders of the city of Suru on the Euphrates River, who rebelled from, and were reconquered by, King Ashurbanipal:

I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.” Such punishments were not uncommon. Furthermore, inscriptions recording these vicious acts of retribution were displayed throughout the empire to serve as a warning. Yet this officially sanctioned cruelty seems to have had the opposite effect: though the Assyrians and their army were respected and feared, they were most of all hated and the subjects of their empire were in an almost constant state of rebellion (185-186).

Psalm 83 #BibleReadingPlan

Yesterday’s reading also took me to a song asking God to destroy Israel’s enemies. There was a group of countries that were plotting to wipe out Israel. They wanted to destroy even the memory of Israel’s existence. They had signed a treaty as allies with the purpose of destroying Israel. The list of countries that had signed the treaty included Assyria. 

In Psalm 83 the author is crying out to God to destroy these enemy countries:

“O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed, like chaff before the wind! As a fire burns a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storm; terrify them with your tempest. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O LORD. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Let them die in disgrace. Then they will learn that you alone are called the LORD, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.” Psalms 83:13-18 

God saw the evil in Assyria. He knew what they had done to Israel in the past and the destruction they would do in the future. He had heard the prayers from Israel for the complete decimation of Assyria.

But our God is merciful. Loving. Patient. Compassionate.

When Jonah looked at Nineveh he saw ruthless enemies who deserved to die.

But when God looked at Nineveh he saw “120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals.”  (Jonah 4:11).

God had Compassion.

And he chose to send Jonah to give these enemies a second chance.

Jonah didn’t run from God because he was scared. Or lazy. Or jealous.

Jonah ran away because he hated Nineveh. He wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He would have rather died than see God showing compassion to Nineveh.

When the people of Nineveh repented and turned from their evil ways God showed them mercy.

“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.” Jonah 4:2 

The book of Jonah isn’t just a story about a man spending three days in the belly of a big fish. It isn’t just about a man running away God. It isn’t just about Jonah complaining and a worm eating his shade plant.

The book of Jonah is about God’s compassion for humanity.

It is about God’s slowness to anger and His eagerness to forgive even the worst offenders.

The book of Jonah is a love story.

 

 

 

 

 

God is . . .

Merciful

Compassionate

Slow to Anger

Filled with Unfailing Love

Eager to Relent and Not Punish

Mercy: compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence (Dictionary.com)

Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. (Dictionary.com)

Anger: strong emotional reaction of displeasure, often leading to plans for revenge or punishment. * (God is slow to having this reaction)

Love: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person (Dictionary.com)

“God Is Love. ‘Agape’ the love theme of the Bible, can only be defined by the nature of God. John affirms that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God does not merely love; he is love. Everything that God does flows from his love.” *

Relent: to soften in feeling, temper, or determination; become more mild, compassionate, or forgiving. (Dictionary.com)

* Definitions from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, unless otherwise noted.

God is Love

That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Joel 2:12-13 

Benefits of Daily Bible Reading

Prior to the end of 2015, I didn’t read the Bible every day. I’d read other devotional books or Bible studies that usually included reading a few verses. I was rarely reading whole chapters in the Bible. Let alone whole books. Most of my quiet time consisted of reading what other people had discovered in their quiet times.

Then everything changed.

  • I was frustrated with the lack of progress I was making in become more Christ-like. I know Jesus wants me to be loving, patient, kind, etc. But I wasn’t seeing any changes in my life. I was a Christian . . . so why wasn’t I becoming more like Christ?
  • I read “The Divine Mentor: Growing Your Faith as You Sit at the Feet of the Savior”  by Wayne Cordeiro (More here).  Basic premise – spending time reading and studying the Bible everyday is the key to life transformation.
  • My church small group voted to read through the Bible in 2016. I decided to get a head-start and begin in 2015.

Here are the tools I use:

  1. Bible Reading: I use the YouVersion app and read the Bible on my phone.  I like it because I can highlight verses, read a passage in another version (NIV vs. NLT), create pictures from the verses, etc. Lately, I have found myself getting distracted on my phone. It seems like the minute I start ready the Bible an all-important Facebook notification pops up. I may be switching back to my actual physical Bible soon!
  2. Bible Reading Plan: Last year I used Wayne Cordeiro’s “Life Journal Reading Plan”. This year I am using Skövde Pingst’s “The BIBLE in a Year” plan. Both have been great – they include some New Testament, Old Testament and usually either some Psalms or Proverbs. And remember, you don’t have to start a plan on January 1st. I started in November 2015. Start today!
  3. S.O.A.P. Journal. In The Divine Mentor Wayne Cordeiro explains the S.O.A.P. method of journaling while reading the Bible. I’ve adapted it a bit. My journal includes my own personal journal, my prayer journal and my daily SOAP. In this video Wayne explains the method (and it doesn’t hurt it is filmed in Hawaii – I think I could spending hours doing S.O.A.P on the beach!).
    • S: Scripture
    • O: Observation
    • A: Application or Action
    • P: Prayer

Personally, reading the Bible every day has been the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. I’m finally seeing my life changing – from the inside out. No, it hasn’t happened at the speed I’ve wanted. And sometimes I get in a slump. But I am seeing changes. Slowly and steadily.

Here are a few passages that also explain the importance of reading the Bible.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.Psalms 119:105 

Instruction for the kings of Israel:

When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.   Deuteronomy 17:18-20 

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. Joshua 1:8 

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 

 

 

In a Slump

I haven’t written my blog for a while. I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual slump. I’ve still been doing my daily Bible reading, but nothing seems to sink in. I’ve been doing my SOAP . . . but the “A” (Action) has been lacking.  I’m distracted.

I read the Bible on my phone on the YouVersion app and lately in the middle of reading I’ll get a text (or remember a text I “need” to send) or receive a Facebook notification and soon I’m 20 minutes deep into social media and my Bible reading is forgotten. And then by the time I get back to the Bible my mind keeps wandering back to social media.

Looking back over my journal the last few weeks some lines I’ve written stand out:

  • “I am irritable” (July 7th)
  • “I am worn out” (July 6th)
  • “Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say that I am a Christian . . . not because I’m ashamed of Jesus but because I’m ashamed of the terrible job I do showing His love to others” (July 5th)
  • “My mind is distracted by social media, TV, etc. I don’t have peace” (June 29)
  • “I am having a hard time focusing and praying right now” (June 27)

Interestingly, just a few days before my “slump” started I had attended a Bible Study on “The Invisible War” by Chip Ingram. The study I attended was on prayer. We are in an invisible war and we need prayer at all times. Our prayers should be constant, intense, and focused.

Satan hates when we pray.

Satan wants us distracted. He wants our Bible reading and prayers to be a half-effort. He wants us to just go through the motions or not at all.

When I let myself slide in my prayer life and Bible reading I can see the effects in my actions and attitudes. I become irritable and unloving. I don’t have peace.

Is it a coincidence that I made a conscience decision to get more focused in my prayer life and then – BAM – suddenly a million distractions seem to pop up every time I sit down to pray and read the Bible?

I doubt it.

Satan doesn’t want me praying and applying what I read in the Bible. He knows that amazing things will happen if I do. This race is not a sprint . . . but a marathon.  I will have distractions and pains along the way. But I need to push through. Persevere. Run the race before me.

“Get behind me Satan”.

Set my sights on Jesus.

Onward.

 

 

Resisting the Schemes of Satan

Knowing the schemes of Satan and putting on the Armor of God. #armorofgodstudy #DailyBibleReading @PriscillaShirer

Last night I read an article about a man whose teenage daughter went missing. After an extensive search, involving the police and the FBI, they found her.  The girl had been sold into the sex industry.  Her father explained that several years ago a man had found her online and started to prey on her. The man figured out her strengths and weaknesses. He lied to her about his identify. He groomed her. He was patient and cunning. This complete stranger spent two years building a relationship with her for the sole purpose of getting her to willingly follow him. This was his full-time job – recruiting kids to be sold into the sex industry. Grooming and selling one child into sexual slavery meant  a $150,000 – $300,000 profit for this predator.

This father told his story as a warning for other parents. He implored them to be vigilant in guarding their children’s online activity and to become educated on the schemes of online predators. These predators are smart, manipulative and secretive. And many parents think their children are safe at home when there is actually terrible danger lurking behind their screens.

 

 

cell Phone girls.jpg

My #DailyBibleReading this morning included 2 Corinthians 2. Paul was writing to a church and one line in his letter really stood out to me – especially in light of the story I had read last night:

so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11 NLT

Satan is like that online predator – patiently manipulating and lying to us. Tempting us. Trying to outsmart us.

Paul said that the church in Corinth was familiar with Satan’s evil schemes.

But am I familiar with Satan’s schemes? No. Usually I am completely unaware.

2 Corinthians 2-11.jpg

How often do I look at a person or a situation as the enemy? I usually blame a human – or even God – as the cause of my hurt or temptation or frustration; without ever considering that my real enemy, Satan, is behind the screen, manipulating the situation.

To another church Paul said:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NLT

How can I be fighting against and protecting myself from evil forces if I don’t even know their schemes? 

One thing I love about my #DailyBibleReading through Bible.com or the YouVersion App is the easy ability to study deeper into a topic. In the “Search” bar I looked up “Satan” and started reading through the Bible verses that came up to have a better idea of Satan’s schemes so I can identify them in my own life.  This link will take you to the search if you’d like to read through the list on your own.  Some of my observations are below the picture.

Bible.com search tool.png
Bible.com Search Tool

Just like the father whose daughter had been sold into sex slavery explained, intellectually knowing the schemes of predators isn’t enough. I need to act. I need to protect myself and my family.

How can I protect myself from the schemes of the devil?

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 6:11,13-18  NLT

  1. Truth: Satan is the father of lies. We need to know what is true and what is a lie. And not fall for his lies.
  2. God’s righteousness: To protect my heart, I need to obey God. I need to flee sin. And cling to God’s goodness.
  3. Gospel of Peace
  4. Faith
  5. Salvation
  6. Word of God: #DailyBibleReading, meditation, memorization
  7. Prayer, Prayer, and more Prayer

Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite Bible Study authors and speakers. Recently I had the opportunity to see her in person during her Fervent Tour (which I highly recommend). She talked quite a bit about the Armor of God during the event, which was very helpful in better understanding the Armor of God and recognizing Satan’s strategies and combating them.

She also has a whole book and study on the topic:

Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer:  

I haven’t done the study, but hope to. Here is a link to a video with the first lesson of Armor of God Bible study. The promo is below:

 

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for this Bible Study taking place locally – I would love to participate with a local of group of women studying how to put on the full armor of God and be ready for battle.

How about you? What has been your experience in putting on the Armor of God and being aware of and combating the schemes of the devil?

Am I Loving?

Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a Barometer of my Love Life

#DailyBibleReading

The love passage.  One of three Bible chapters I have ever memorized (along with Psalm 23 and Matthew 5). It is a beautiful passage about love and about what really matters in life.

1 Corinthians 13-13.jpg

But what does it look like in practical terms?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬3 NLT

I can go to church and spout Bible verses and knowledge; but if I am not loving the people in the church it doesn’t matter.

I can go to Bible studies and spend time reading the Bible and praying, but if it never penetrates my heart and changes me . . . there is a serious problem.

I can write a check to a charity or volunteer at a food pantry, but if I turn around and am mean to my husband and kids and co-workers, my “good deeds” don’t count.

The number one “good deed” that God wants to see – and that should be naturally flowing out of me if I am spending time with Jesus and focusing my attention on Him – is Love. Not perfect love because we aren’t going to be perfect until heaven. But if God is filling us we should gradually be becoming more loving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NLT

I don’t think these verses are a threat or a list of actions for us to attempt, but more of a barometer for us to examine ourselves. Is Jesus’s love in us, flowing out to others?  Over years spent with Jesus, am I becoming more loving? Am I becoming more like the list above?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11‭-‬12 NLT

Like a child growing up, change doesn’t happen right away. And I won’t be perfected until after death, but right now I should be becoming more like Jesus. If I am spending time with him on a daily basis, praying, doing spiritual disciplines like memorizing Bible verses, fasting, and meditating; I should be maturing. And the best way to tell if I am maturing? If I am becoming more loving.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.                                           1 Corinthians 13:8-10

When reflecting on my life, if I see I am becoming a more loving person I know I am on track.

If I don’t see growth in this area – if I am not becoming more loving or if I am going backwards –  I need to make adjustments in my life and make sure I am spending my time, mental focus and energy on what matters most: Jesus. Reading the Bible, praying, praising him and meditating on his words. I can’t change myself to become more loving, but when I am full of Jesus, his love will natural seep out of me.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

 

 

Love: The Greatest Thing

1 Corinthians 8-2-3.jpg

Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. 1 Corinthians 8:2‭-‬3 NLT

In my #BibleReadingPlan I’m currently reading about King David in the Old Testament and Paul’s letters in the New Testament. David and Paul are my favorite mentors in the Bible, along with Mary of Bethany.

  • King David: He was a very flawed man, but still loved God passionately. He was an adulterer. A murderer. A song writer. A lover of many women. Even as king had no problem dancing and singing in the streets to praise God. His kids were screwed up. They killed each other. Raped each other. His heart broke for his children and he wept for them. No matter how many times he stumbled and fell, no matter how dark the valley or cave he was hiding, he always returned to God.

 

  • Paul: He hated Christians and hunted them. He watched as Stephen was stoned to death for believing in Jesus. And then God stopped Paul in his tracks. Quite literally. God opened his eyes and showed him that Jesus was real, and Paul believed. He changed his whole life and committed it completely to following Jesus. He was beaten. He was a letter writer. His life was spent traveling and preaching. He was church planter. A prisoner.  He encouraged and corrected. He was loved by many and hated by many. He was executed after 30 years of serving Jesus. He was a lover of the gospel and lover of the church. His greatest love in life was Jesus.

 

  • Mary of Bethany: Mary was a sister to Martha and Lazarus. Jesus was her friend. She trusted him and loved him. And she understood that spending time with Jesus and loving him were more important than anything else. She wasn’t ashamed to express her love for Jesus – even when others criticized her for it. She sat at Jesus’s feet, which was controversial because that signaled that she was a disciple, a role typically just for males. She washed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. Also, controversial.  She didn’t care what others thought of her, she just wanted to love Jesus. She understood the importance of being with Jesus and expressing her love of him.

What can we learn from these mentors?

  1. To love God
  2. To praise and worship God – no matter who criticizes us for it
  3. To make time with God our #1 priority
  4. To love others
  5. To share God’s love with others

1 Corinthians 13-13.jpg

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT