Friday, July 24, 2015

The Jonah Saga: When the "Chosen" Disappoint God

The Jonah Saga:
When the Chosen Disappoint God
Sabbath School Bible Study
July25
Presented at Sligo by the Sea by
Larry R Evans

Reflective Questions

1.              When the chosen of God go contrary to His wishes, God starts all over with a new people and new prophets.  True or False?
2.              God’s mission as described in the Bible is about “going ” not “coming.”  True or False?
3.              The first question a Christian must ask himself or herself is:  “What must I do?  This is what Jonah didn’t do and where he made his first mistake. True or False?
4.              It is possible for “pagans” to have a more realistic belief in God than the “chosen ones” of God who have been schooled in the teachings of the Bible.  True or False?
5.              Jonah needed to experience “Salvation comes from the Lord” before he could offer it to the Ninevites.  True or False?
6.              Jonah ran “from” God and then “to” God but as a missionary/ as a witness God needed Jonah to do something even more challenging.  What preposition would describe that challenge?  How is it different from the other two prepositions?

Our Study

1.              When the chosen of God go contrary to His wishes, God starts all over with a new people and new prophets.  False

The book of Jonah is about a reluctant prophet chosen by God who became as much of an object of mission for God as the Nenevites to whom He was sending Jonah.  God worked to save Jonah though this caused a delay in reaching the Ninevites.
2.              God’s mission as described in the Bible is about “going ” not “coming.”   False

Mission in the Bible is of two types: “come” and “go.”
Come is the main type of mission in the OT.  God intended that the nations would come to Israel because of how He had blessed her.

This is what the Lord Almighty says:“In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.  (Zech 8:23)
3.              The first question a Christian must ask himself or herself is:  “What must I do?  This is what Jonah didn’t do and where he made his first mistake.  False

Jonah knew what he was supposed to do.  What he didn’t know and what the book of Jonah reveals is who God is!  If we begin there we will better understand who we are and what will bring about our own sense of meaning and fulfillment.

4.              It is possible for “pagans” to have a more realistic belief in God than the “chosen ones” of God who have been schooled in the teachings of the Bible.  True

The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish. (v.6) . . . ”This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so. (1:10) . . . Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” (vss 13,14)
The captain ordered Jonah to pray to his God for their lives (v.6). But the only prayer offered aboard the ship was offered by the crew. (v.14)

5.              Jonah needed to experience “Salvation comes from the Lord” before he could offer it to the Ninevites.  True

This conclusion, found in the last line of his prayer comes after Jonah personally experienced salvation three times:  from impending shipwreck, from drowning and from being digested.

6.              Jonah ran “from” God and then “to” God but as a missionary/ as a witness God needed Jonah to do something even more challenging.  What preposition would describe that challenge?  How is it different from the other two prepositions?

Jonah was the first missionary called to “go” and he made some serious mistakes.  Jonah eventually found solace by running “to” God but only after he had run “from” God both geographically and from the people to whom he had been called to minister.  God never expected Jonah to do the work by himself!  God invited Jonah to participate “with” Him is revealing God’s grace to the people of Nineveh even if at the time they were the enemy of Israel.

The mission hardened prophet struggled with his assignment from God.  To help him understand God used three things from nature to reach him.
1.              A castor bean plant – brought shade
2.              A caterpillar that attacked the plant to take away the blessing of the shade.
3.              A scorching east wind that nearly caused Jonah to faint from the heat.

These were measures of discipline not measures of punishment.  They were meant to reveal that God loves all and empathizes with them in their suffering whether it be pagan Ninevites or a chosen people who made more than their share of mistakes.

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (4:2)
This is the very same theme found in Ex. 32-34.   Jonah quotes God’s own declaration of Himself after sparing those who made the golden calf and when He gave them once again the 10 Commandments on a new tablet of stone. 

Conclusion

It matters not whether they be the “chosen voices” for God or the pagan idolaters outside the circles of the church.  All are at the mercy of God who is compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  The great need is for a people to walk “with” God as that message is proclaimed in both word and life.
 


 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Unlikely Missionary: The Impact of a Grace-Filled Life When Living with the Enemy


The Unlikely Missionary
The Impact of a Grace-Filled Life When Living with the Enemy

Sabbath School Bible Study
July 18, 2015
Larry R Evans, Teacher

Introduction

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
—Isa 60:1-3

Sometimes the glory of the Lord is seen best in us when things don’t go the way we think they should, when adversity seems overwhelming and when the principles for which we have given our lives seem lost in the darkness surrounding us. We might be surrounded at the time by those who mock us, distrust us, by political positioning, by votes cast in ways that alarm us, by theological squabbles or by our own personal disasters.  The example of Naaman’s servant girl has a message for today’s generation but more importantly it is a message for you and me.

The Narrative in Brief
If Hitler were alive today and you were his servant would you seek to make his life more comfortable? If you were a Democrat and you served under a Republican leader  (or vise versa) would your personal integrity and loyalty remain intact? Biblically another question is raised in 2 Kings 5 and it is this:  “Is it wrong for a believer to aid an enemy of his or her people?”  The story of the healing of Naaman, the enemy of Israel, raises this question.

After David conquered Syria, Damascus broke free of Israel’s control.  The leader of the breakaway group was Rezon and Scripture tells us that he remained an “adversary of Israel” (1 Kings 11:25).  Three generations later the Syrians were still sending raiding parties into Israel (2 Kings 5:2). 

It was during one of those raids that a little Israelite girl was kidnapped, taken from her home, her family and her sense of security.  Her name is not recorded but we do know she became the servant of the wife of a Syrian general by the name of Naaman.  No doubt he was considered an enemy of Israel and it is likely that his orders led the raiding parties that captured the young Israelite girl.  She must have asked many times “why me” but despite her questioning and circumstances, her faith and values remained in tact.  Her faith and influence did have an influence in this foreign land and upon this Syrian general. Naaman was a powerful and wealthy leader but there was one limiting factor that hindered him.  He had leprosy. Little did he realize that the girl captured in one the Syrian raids represented not only a cure for his leprosy but his way of viewing the world around him was about to be radically changed. 

The Israelite girl had no official status but she helped change the course of history.  Naaman and his wife must have recognized her faithful service.  Seeing the impact of the dreaded leprosy upon the family she said, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria!  He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:3) Those words of belief put into action a series of events.  Naaman reaches out to the very king from whose land the servant girl had been taken.

Naaman makes the journey to Samaria.  Prior to his arrival by at least a few years, the prophet whom he sought had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha may have been renowned but it must have still been difficult for Naaman to come humbly into Israel.  That alone must have been humbling but when he arrived, the prophet Elisha never came out of his house but sent a message to the Syrian general: “Go wash in the Jordan” and you will be healed.  The Jordan is a dirty river.  There were better rivers in Syria!  Furthermore he was to wash seven times!  Naaman was infuriated and was about to walk off but his own servants convinced him to stay and follow through with the instructions given to him by the prophet of the young servant girl.  Once, twice, thrice . . . then after the seventh time Naaman was healed.  From the enemy of Israel came a powerful testimony:  “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” (v.15).  Amazing!  From his heart came the desire to give but the prophet of Israel refused to accept lest the very grace of God that healed Naaman would be diluted.  Elisha stood firm.  He would take no payment for what God had done.  Unfortunately his servant saw an opportunity and misrepresented not only Elisha but the God of Israel by accepting gifts from Naaman. Such an action threatened the very opportunity that God had worked out to reveal a lasting hope in the foreign land of Syria. The leprosy of Naaman became the leprosy of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant. The gift of grace that Gehazi was to have shared was exchanged for the very burden for which Naaman had sought deliverance.  Heavy is the responsibility upon those who misuse the gifts for their own advantage that God has entrusted to them.

Reflective Questions from the Narrative
[Where in the narrative do the following questions find an answer? Explain why you think so.)

1.              Our greatest hope can sometimes be buried in the very circumstances that bring despair.  (2 Ki 5:2).  True or False?
2.              God is not bound by using those with degrees or human recognition to build His kingdom.  (2 Ki 5:2-4) True or False?
3.              Elisha revealed his own spiritual flaw by asking Elijah for a double portion of his spirit.  (2 Ki 2:9).  True or False?
4.              Belief must be accompanied with compliance if it is to be effective. (2 Ki 5:11-14)  True or False?
5.              Grace is a trait of God taught in the New Testament and not in the Old and is illustrated by the sternness of OT prophets (2 Ki 5:16).  True or False?
6.              Greediness among God’s servants can cheapen the grace He wishes to make manifest to the world. (2 Ki 5:19-27)

Reflective Summary

Four primary characters emerge in this story and each one has a bearing upon the mission of God.

The Hebrew child had been instilled with principles that were not altered when she was removed from family and he homeland.  Little did she know that her witness would touch the heart of a king but it did.  The power of a witness does not reside in pomp and ceremony, degrees or public recognition.  It is the presence of God residing in His people that provides the power of witness that the world needs.

Naaman may have been a powerful general but he became teachable when leprosy struck.  What seemed like a tragedy became the very avenue to a hope that would restore life.  The once stubborn leader was impacted by the belief of a kidnapped young girl living in his home. Grace in God’s witnesses shines wherever it is and regardless of the circumstances.  Stubbornness and pride nearly cost Naaman the life he so eagerly sought. Belief and compliance blend together in response to the God who cares and who brings hope regardless of one’s race, religion, nationality or station in life.

Elisha’s asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit was the same as asking for an eldest son’s inheritance (Deut. 21:17) which in essence was asking to carry on the father’s name.  Is it any wonder that Elisha refused to accept anything from Naaman that appeared like a payment for the ministry he provided.  He was representing the Father’s name and in that name was the grace-filled character of God! “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isa. 55:1)

Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, sought to take payment for the mercies God had given and then lied about it when asked by Elisha.  He had lived in the presence of Elisha, he had seen God do might works but in the midst of these blessings he failed to develop the spirit of self-denial.  What should have been a time of praise and celebration for what God had done turned into an opportunity to grasp the wealth of the world.  In his effort to satisfy his own greed he put at risk the mission plans of God.

We close with the scriptural passage  with which we began our study:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
—Isa 60:1-3