Sunday, 13 June 2021

Jonah – Part 2 – Fact or Fiction?

We are not told what Jonah had promised to God, but it must have been something along the lines of agreeing to speak out whatever prophetic message the Lord gave to him.  Many of us have made promises to God and this prayer of Jonah is a reminder for us to review those vows. 

(Please start by reading Jonah 2)

Source: Bret Hammond
Discussions persist as to whether it is possible for a man to survive inside a whale. Scientific minded people will point out that it is not possible for a human to pass through a whale oesophagus, and if they did, they would quickly die from drowning, crushing or from strong stomach juices. There is, however, an account of a sailor in the late 19th century whose whaling boat was capsized by a sperm whale they had harpooned. All but two of the men were rescued and returned to the main ship, the ‘Star of the East’. James Bartley was subsequently found and rescued from the animal’s stomach as they cut it open, some fifteen hours later.  It is said that his skin was bleached, he lost his hair and he was nearly blind, but he lived another 19 years. The story circulated around newspaper articles for 100 years, until in the 1980’s someone decided to check out the truth. Records revealed that the Star of the East was not a whaling vessel and there was no-one on board by the name of James Bartley. 

There are many other seafaring yarns and hoaxes which don’t allow the facts to get in the way of a good story, and the name Jonah is still considered to be bad luck to any seafaring crew. But let us look at the Biblical account. It says at the end of chapter 1 that the Lord appointed/prepared/provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. So why should we doubt that God, who created all things (Jonah 1:9), is able to make whatever sea creature He wants to fulfil His purposes at the exact time of His choosing?

At this point we should overlook some of the Sunday school stories and pre-conceived ideas and look at the text. It seems to me from the language that Jonah actually died and was then resuscitated; ‘out of the belly of Sheol’ (Jonah 2:2) – Sheol in every other scripture is the place of the dead; ‘The waters closed in over me to take my life’ (Jonah 2:5)  – drowning; ‘at the roots of the mountains’ (Jonah 2:6a) – deep sea; ‘I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever' (Jonah 2:6b)’ – no return, but…‘yet you brought up my life from the pit’(Jonah 2:6c). This is the language of one who has passed away but has been brought back again for a purpose.

Source:Angela Arndt
Some eight centuries later Jesus was being challenged by the Pharisees who demanded a sign. In Matthew 12:38-41 He answered; ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here’.

So, Jonah was a sign. He brought a message of repentance to bad people, but he himself had to die and be restored to life to demonstrate God’s authority over life and death. God confirms His Word with miracles. This sign points forward to Jesus who was to die on behalf of sinners and to be raised, not just for a few more years but for all eternity, into heaven, in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24).

Jonah ran away from the presence of God and died trying to spare his own people of Israel from the ravages of the Assyrians. He was brought back to preach repentance to those undeserving of mercy. Jesus died bearing the burden of all the sins of all mankind. He was resurrected and restored to glory where He intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25). Jonah’s was a brief restoration to temporal existence, possibly bearing the evidence of his ordeal, but Jesus was resurrected to his new body, permanent and indestructible, yet still bearing the marks of His suffering. Nevertheless, Jonah became a sign of greater things to come.

Hidden in that dark, cold and lonely place Jonah repented saying in Jonah 2:9 ‘what I have vowed I will pay’. We are not told what he had promised to God, but it must have been something along the lines of agreeing to speak out whatever prophetic message the Lord gave to him.  Many of us have made promises to God and this prayer of Jonah is a reminder for us to review those vows.

The moment Jonah repented and vowed to pay up on his promise the power of heaven came down and the shout ‘salvation belongs to the Lord’ went up, the fish heard the voice of its Creator, spat out the prophet, and Jonah was back on dry land.

Next week:  Nineveh – Innocent or Guilty?

Be Blessed.

Author: John Plumb

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday, 6 June 2021

Jonah – Coward or Hero?

The cost of obedience to God’s call may be even greater than the cost of disobedience.  The question we might ask ourselves today is this: ‘Am I prepared to hear God’s Word and to act on it, whatever the consequences and whatever the cost?’

(Please start by reading Jonah 1 - the whole chapter)

Source: Heart of Mesa
When the Word of the Lord came to Jonah and what did he do?  He ran.  God had told him to go to Nineveh, some 500 miles north-east of his hometown, but instead he headed for Tarshish, a couple of thousand miles to the west.  What triggered such terror for this prophet of the Lord and why such flagrant disobedience?

The year is 760BC, and the Hebrew people are a divided nation – Judah to the south and Israel to the north.  Both kingdoms have suffered from idolatrous and power-hungry leaders, but northern Israel has been particularly afflicted, and their territory whittled away by surrounding enemy states. God has sent the prophets Elijah, Elisha, and later Amos and Hosea to remind them of the results of repeated apostasy and rebellion against God’s commands. But, to a despairing nation, Jonah brings a message of hope; 2 Kings 14:26-27 ‘For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash’.

Jereboam II, though yet another godless despot, was able to take back lost territory, quadrupling the size of Israel and ushering in a time of unprecedented prosperity through trade.  All of which was foretold by Jonah the prophet. 2 Kings 14:25 ‘He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher’. So, we don’t know why God chose Jereboam as deliverer, but we do know that Jonah had impeccable credentials as a prophet of the Lord, yet he still ran.

Source: Redbubble
Now imagine Jonah’s journey from Gath Hepher to Joppa. God could have blocked his way at any time, but our prophet made it to Joppa, had the money for the expensive fare, and found a ship going the way he wanted to go. What was going on in Jonah’s mind?  From the text we know that he was no coward; later telling the sailors to throw him into a storm-tossed sea, and later still telling God that he was not afraid to die. We can only imagine the reasons for the turmoil in this man’s mind as he walked the 60 miles to Joppa.  

As a prophet, Jonah had been given a glimpse of what was to come.  Within a generation the Assyrians (whose vast capital city was Nineveh) would cross the newly established borders of Israel. They would come with vast armies bent on conquest through new levels of barbarism, for whom cruelty was a beaurocratic policy for subjugating every populace in their path and annihilating every culture not their own.  Everything that Jonah knew and loved would be swept away. His future family, his people and his tribe Zebulun would be ravaged, brutalised and deported, the borders gone and the brief success of northern Israel as if it never happened. Isaiah 10:5-6 ‘Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets’.

Jonah could do nothing to prevent God’s plans.  Worse still, he is being called by God himself to preserve the future tormenters and oppressors who will commit atrocities against all he cares for. He knows God as the God of mercy, he knows the Ninevites as the thugs they were, and he knows what is to come for his people, and he would rather be drowned than have to deliver that message. I imagine on that road to Joppa he’s asking a different question: ‘Why me?’ Here is a man who was prepared to do anything to save his people, even to die so they might be spared, and who points forward eight centuries to one who will.

The cost of obedience to God’s call may be even greater than the cost of disobedience.  The question we might ask ourselves today is this: ‘Am I prepared to hear God’s Word and to act on it, whatever the consequences and whatever the cost?’

Next week we ask the question: Jonah – Fact or Fiction?

Be Blessed.

Author: John Plumb

May God bless and enrich your life

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Saturday, 29 May 2021

Everything that can be shaken will be shaken.

So, while there are many things that we can or should no longer take for granted, we know that we can rely one hundred percent on the Lord and on the truth and total reliability of His Word.

Life has changed so much for us all because of the pandemic and It’s amazing how we manage to adapt and cope. I’ve been thinking about the many things in life that I’ve always just taken for granted until this last year or so. Just the ordinary and simple things like going freely into each other’s homes, giving someone a hug, chatting to a neighbour without standing 2 metres apart, going into a shop without wearing a face mask and so on. I’ve also realised how I’ve automatically depended on the good aspects of life in the UK.

The NHS has been there all my life and whenever I’ve needed a doctor or medication it’s been available. So, when I got toothache, around the time of the first lockdown last year, it was a bit of a blow to realise that I couldn’t see my dentist. I had to make do with a phone call and being advised to take paracetamol. Praise the Lord for paracetamol (Thanks go to Israel for that), but it’s another thing I’ve just taken for granted. Now I wonder, will it always be so readily available?

And there’s something else I’ve tended to take for granted about life here. When it comes to Christians being seriously persecuted it has usually been in far distant places like China or North Korea. But I don’t think it’s wise to take anything for granted about that anymore. You may or may not know that just a few days ago a 71-year-old church pastor was arrested, taken to the police station and detained overnight after, in his open-air sermon, quoting from the book of Genesis about what God has to say about marriage. When I was a teenager back in the sixties I remember taking part in open air gospel services on Margate seafront. That was in the days when there were masses of holiday makers there. We had to risk being heckled, but it would never have crossed our minds to think that we could be arrested for talking about what the Bible teaches or quoting from it. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us about the things God will shake (Hebrews 12 v 26). Part of that verse is a quotation from Haggai, who says:- “This is what the Lord Almighty says:- “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2 v 6-7). We long for the day when Jesus returns, but we know that the shakings come first, along with all that we read in Revelation about the end times. So, all the shakings of this last year help to make us all the more aware that we need to be prepared for more to come. 

I was sorting through some files full of old paperwork recently and I came across some notes that I wrote when listening to Lance Lambert speaking. We were privileged to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles in 2008. Lance was speaking back then about the increasing chaos in the world. He talked about the climate changing and about financial and economic chaos. He said that it was not the devil, but God behind it. He described it as the beginning of a meltdown and said there can be no turning back. He said that the Lord will shake everything that can be shaken in the end times “so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12 v 27). He said that the Lord’s purpose was to bring the antichrist out of this turmoil and thus hasten the coming of the Messiah. He reminded us that the place where our treasure needs to be is in the Lord Jesus, unfading and eternal, and of our calling to be witnesses in a world that is hastening to destruction. Lance lived to a good age, but went home to the Lord several years ago, so he didn’t live to experience the pandemic, but what he said seems very relevant now. 

Coming back to the theme of taking things for granted, I realise that another thing that I’ve always taken for granted is the availability of God’s Word. We have at least a dozen Bibles in our house in a variety of translations, along with lots of good and edifying Christian books. But the day may come when Bibles are confiscated, so let’s keep making the most of having them so freely now. Psalm 119 talks about hiding God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119 v 11), and the better we know the Word, the better equipped we will be, “having done all, to stand.”(Ephesians 6 v 13). 

So I’ll finish with a couple of Scriptures that are good to meditate on in view of the shakings that we may yet have to face. Psalm 46 is probably well known to us all, but it is well worth holding on to in these days. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. - - - - Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46 v1-5, v10.) It’s a good Psalm to learn by heart. 

Psalm 18 is a bit long to learn by heart, but the first few verses are a tremendous reassurance of where our security lies. “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18 v 1-2).  

And lastly, one of my favourite verses:-“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”(Proverbs 18 v 10).

So, while there are many things that we can or should no longer take for granted, we know that we can rely one hundred percent on the Lord and on the truth and total reliability of His Word. Since His Word tells us that He is the one who is doing the shaking, we can rest assured that He is in control. Whatever else shakes He remains unshaken and unshakeable!  As we’ve heard many times of late, we just need to keep abiding in Him. When many things are being shaken it may feel as if we are in an earthquake zone, but the Lord remains THE SOLID ROCK beneath our feet. Hallelujah!

Author: Hilly Burridge

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Sunday, 23 May 2021

Remember, Remember

They claimed to know God, but their teachings were based on traditions and second-hand interpretation. When God in flesh appeared in front of them, they knew him not. Would we?

I have 3 sisters. I can still remember their names. But it is well known that when conversation goes back to days when we had family holidays or stories about us potato picking or turkey plucking then Richard will remember nothing.  When I returned to work with my friend John on his farm after a break of several years, he hoped that I would remember the location of water pipes that I had helped to lay across the farm. He was disappointed!

I suspect we have all used those words: “don’t you remember …..” , often with exasperation. Indeed, Jesus used those words with his disciples as they tried to figure out what he was talking about. Here is the passage in Matthew 16:1-12 

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested Him by asking Him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Pharisees and Sadducees unusually come together in this passage with the intention to test Jesus. Their views and teachings were very different to each other, but they chose to unite against Jesus. Jesus was drawing many of their people. His teachings, His miracles and His compassion were talked about throughout the country. But now this coalition of sceptics were goading Jesus to perform a sign. Jesus had silenced this same temptation in the wilderness: ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Theses religious leaders chose to ignore all the witnesses, the thousands who were miraculously fed in the countryside by Jesus and his disciples. 

When Jesus replied to the leaders, He made it clear that they watched and interpreted the appearance of the sky believing that it would happen. But they were unable to accept the significance of Jesus's ministry. 

However, I want to look at the response of the disciples. We read that they tried to equate Jesus’s warning about the yeast of the Pharisees with the fact that they had forgotten to bring bread. Jesus comprehended the entire situation. ‘ of little faith’ well that could apply to all of us. The disciples were talking about having no bread, talk that robbed their faith. “Do you not understand? do you not remember..”  Jesus continued with rhetorical questions to direct their attention on to the miraculous feeding of the thousands, in particular how he provided for them personally.  The detail was important. It sharpened the memory, it brought things into focus. And faith began to grow. Now they saw the whole situation differently: Jesus was their shepherd, leading and feeding them. The religious leaders, who should have been tending the sheep, were refusing to believe the miracles and hence, hardening their hearts against Jesus. Moreover, they were actively teaching the people to do the same. Indeed, if Jesus’s closest disciples so quickly forgot the miracles and their meaning, then the crowds  were likely to  put these matters to the back of their minds amidst the hardship of everyday life.

Jesus had described the teaching of the leaders as yeast. It was able to work through and influence the whole of a persons life. The terrible outcome of their teaching is made plain by Jesus (for example in Matthew 23). Previously, Jesus had compared his teachings about the kingdom of God to be like yeast that is worked through a batch of dough. So, we today, can understand that the teaching we follow, will have a profound effect upon our lives and those we interact with. Jesus said of the Pharisees and Sadducees : “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand”.  They claimed to know God, but their teachings were based on traditions and second-hand interpretation. When God in flesh appeared in front of them, they knew him not. Would we?

Finally, let us rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith brings clarity; it brings Jesus clearly into the picture. But without remembering and understanding, faith will eventually become lifeless. Let us encourage one another to remember, to understand and to give God the glory.

(PS Our buddy group is going to study a book: ‘Remember’ by Richard Gamble)

Author: Richard Windridge

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday, 16 May 2021

Attending to what is important?

What do we need to do differently individually and collectively to seek the face of the Lord for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

Source: Twitter
I am in a dilemma really – sitting here wondering how to start this blog and where it will lead? When I was at work in my last real job (I worked as a contractor for two stages of my ‘working life’ so I am talking about being employed here) I had a team of 46 people working on healthcare projects. We needed to work closely together so I/we used every opportunity to develop teamwork and good communication. One of the things that we did was to develop this teamwork around three principles. The principles themselves are not important here, but on my last day when we were having a ‘leaving party’ one of the lead members of the team said, ‘what are those three principles that we were supposed to be using to guide our teamwork’!?

Well, I was frankly in the words of my generation ‘gob-smacked’! What?! There I was thinking that I was being a pain by ‘keeping on’ - trying to remind people of these principles for the last couple of years or so at every opportunity - and here we were after all this time with one of the team leaders (and a much-respected colleague) who couldn’t remember what they were! It was a lesson at a number of levels but the simplest one was that in the jumble of life and all that we have to respond to, we can’t remind ourselves often enough about what is really important.

In this respect Mary keeps coming back to mind; Luke 10:41-42 where Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’. (In sitting at Jesus’ feet and seeking a deeper relationship with God she was not only 'letting down’ her sister by not helping her, but also breaking a cultural norm about the role that she was expected to take given the circumstances of the day). It causes me to think about how difficult it is for us to abandon our normal patterns of behaviour to seek the Lord’s face. 

How important does something need to be to cause us to make real changes to the way that we live? Let’s think about something that we might do that breaks our own cultural norms or current behaviours in response to the Lord telling us to ‘seek His face’; Psalm 27:8 (ESV) ‘when You said, Seek My face’, My heart said to You, Your face, Lord, I will seek’. (Our minds do readily respond to the Lord sometimes, don’t they? It’s easy to mentally get that God wants us to seek His face or to be convinced of a biblical principle. It’s quite another to alter the way that we behave or radically change something in our lives to enable us to respond to what the Lord asks?

Source: Christian Art Gifts
For example, it’s not too hard to understand why the Lord has been teaching us to abide in Him, the true vine. We get that it’s only in the vine that we can we get the sustenance that we need and remaining in the vine is the only way that we can walk with the Lord day by day. But how do we abide? It isn’t understanding the words that brings us into this relationship with the vine, it’s the Holy Spirit that brings us in to the relationship. Let’s apply a test. The scripture is John 15:5,7&8 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing… If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, you will be My disciples’.

I guess if we can tick the boxes:

√ asking what we desire, and it being done for us and 

√ bearing much fruit to the glory of God the Father 

… then there is no need to be alarmed? But if we are more like; ‘without me you can do nothing’… then are we really abiding?

Often the bible’s answer to things that are not right, is to seek the face of the Lord. In the New King James version, the word ‘Seek’ appears 310 times not including all of the related words like ‘inquire’; these are not all referring to ‘seeking the Lord but a good many of them are. There are a number of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) words that are translated as ‘seek’. 

In Psalm 27:4 David seeks after the Lord with delight: ‘One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire of His temple’.

In Jeremiah 29:13 the prophet is answering a question as to why the Lord has not answered: ‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart’.

I suspect that Mary’s heart was seeking in the manner of Psalm 27 – with delight she was seeking the face of God and establishing her relationship with Him.

In the Laodicean church of Revelation 3 the Lord is urging people to seek His face because He was revealing to them the massive gap between where they thought they were and where they in fact were in His sight – miserable and poor and blind and naked

In the early 1900s, when God was pouring out His Spirit in a new way in churches in different places, three Godly men quite independently declared that in ‘about 100 years’ time’ there would be a similar outpouring. They said that the difference this time would be that it would not be identified with any one person/individuals and that it would be global. In response to this I am reminded of Daniel. Once he saw through prophesy that the years of exile were ending, he sought the face of God to make that word a living reality.

So here are three reasons (not the only ones) for us to seek the Lord for a fresh outpouring of His Holy Spirit:

- As Mary and David, with a deep hunger and delight at knowing the Lord – for the sheer love of Jesus and wanting His name to be honored and lifted high.

- Because we know that something is wrong and are desperate for the Lord to move in power for the sake of the church and those who have no knowledge of salvation at all.

- If we hear (as Thelma reminded us not long ago) the sound of ‘moving in the mulberry trees’ and recall God’s promises to pour out His spirit when His people rise up and seek His face and are convinced that this is the time of our visitation, then we will seek His face for a fresh outpouring. 

I think that this message is coming to us again and again through different people not just so that we will understand it but so that we will live in it. What do we need to do differently individually and collectively to seek the face of the Lord for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit? We need to remember that God rejected the Jews of Jeremiah’s time because they did not seek Him earnestly and in truth. Sometimes we need reminding again and again so that we determine what’s important and change accordingly?

Me with a quenchless thirst inspire,

A longing, infinite desire,

And fill my craving heart.

Less than Thyself, oh, do not give,

In might Thyself within me live;

Come, all Thou hast and art.

                                           (Charles Wesley)

Author: Chris Pearson

May God bless and enrich your life

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