Archive for Relationships

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 4–Integrity

I am hurt and lonely.  Turn to me, and show me mercy.  Free me from my troubles.  Help me solve my problems.  Look at my trials and troubles.  Forgive me for all the sins I have done.  Look at all the enemies I have.  They hate me and want to hurt me.  Protect me!  Save me from them!  I come to you for protection, so don’t let me be disappointed.  You are good and do what is right.  I trust you to protect me.  (Psalm 25:16-21 ERV)

 

 

The words of King David ring true for many today, especially teenagers.  It is so easy to feel isolated and alone at that age.  In many cases, these kids actually ARE isolated and alone.  Sometimes it’s in their own heads, and sometimes it’s external, as a result of normal social inclusion/exclusion rites, or worse, as a product of bullying.

 

I notice this especially with girls.  Gossip and rumor-mongering are bad enough, but today’s technological advances have made hateful talk accelerate to light speed.  Couple that with this generation’s reliance upon/addiction to their mobile devices and it becomes nearly impossible to get a positive thought in edgewise between all of the notifications.

 

So what’s a parent to do?

 

I believe that it all starts with integrity.  Integrity and uprightness, or honesty, is all we have left when everything else is taken away.  This is true for adults as well as teens.  If we lose everything–our jobs, our loved ones, our material possessions–then what is left behind?

 

Only our character.  Who we are really behind all the masks, the social constructs, the rumors and the legends.

 

So who are we really?  If you lost everything except your life today, what would you have left to rebuild your life upon?

 

If you are a person of integrity, that is, you say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say you are going to do and finish what you start, then you have all you need.  Because you are a person that others can trust and rely upon, then trusting people will do that.  If these are the kind of kids we want to have, then these are the kind of parents we need to be.

 

So our primary goal is to be the kind of parents whose children look to us as David looked to God in the above passage.  Obviously, we are not perfect like God, but we are created in His image, which means that we have aspects of His character woven into our DNA.

 

When my children are up against it, I want them to know that they can look to me for help.  I want them to know that I will forgive their mistakes and give them room to grow.  I want them to know that they have somewhere to turn when it seems like the world is crashing down on them.  I don’t ever want to let them down.  I want them to trust me to take care of them, even when they are older and don’t really need me to do that anymore.

 

But the only way I can be that kind of a father is to remember that I have a Father who does all of these things for me.  And so do my kids.  So it’s not really me I want them to trust, but God.  His integrity is flawless and will go on forever.  If I can point my kids to that, directly or through my own rudimentary example, then I will be giving them what they need to survive and overcome whatever comes their way.

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 3–Love is a Verb

 

This is My commandment, that you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you.  No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.  (John 15:12-13 AMP)

 

Our kids’ generation is not immune from the error of past generations trying to pass love off as a feeling.  Love is an action word.  It is the act of sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others.

 

It seems that the first thing to go when a child loses his or her innocence is the ability to love.  Not the ability to feel, but the impulse to give sacrificially without thinking about it.  I believe that this is because kids in our American culture are so habituated in getting that it doesn’t even occur to them to give.

 

Remember, a child’s “reality” is limited by his or her perception, just as an adult’s is.  But the less life experience you have, the narrower your perception.  Children don’t instinctively know the difference between perception and reality, so it isn’t ever going to occur to them to test their worldview.

 

Where this becomes problematic is if they think that the world revolves around them, they will assume that to be true until they find out otherwise.

 

Another stumbling block for kids once they reach their adolescent years is their growing self-reliance.  Growing up is inevitable, and becoming more independent is generally a good thing as one gets older.  However, because kids don’t know what they don’t know, it is very easy for them to get in over their heads when trying to do something themselves.

 

Because they have not yet mastered their pride, if indeed they are even aware of it, it is also not in the nature of most adolescents to ask for help, even when they are completely overwhelmed.  Sometimes, it seems that they gravitate more toward the drama of being in a mess than in actually finding a solution to their problem.

 

I think this is why it is frequently so difficult for older kids to show love.  1 John 4:19 reminds us that we love because God loved us first, but unless you know that, you can’t act on it.  To live out a life of love effectively, you have to allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit of love.

 

Now when was the last time you met a teenager who wanted to be controlled by anybody?  They are just reaching the stage of life when they can finally do things for themselves, and now we’re telling them NOT to think of themselves, but others?  No wonder they get confused, which of course, cranks up the drama even more, which throws them right back into the cycle of attention seeking about their confusion rather than helping them move forward with solutions.

 

Because God is love, if you are showing love, people see God through you.  The sooner we teach our kids how to look outside themselves, the easier it will be for us to help them shape their worldview into a view that actually has some WORLD in it.

 

 

Fishers of Men: Part 2–Track Record

 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

 Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?  My time hasn’t come yet.”

 His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.  The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine.  He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first.  They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely.  You kept the good wine until now.”  This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.  He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11 CEB)

 

Jesus hasn’t even had a chance to start teaching or building into these guys who are following Him.  His disciples have only just met Him and have literally not had time to do anything but get to this wedding, perhaps chatting a bit on the way.  They really didn’t have any way of knowing for sure at this point what they were getting into.

 

But then, Jesus reveals His glory to His new disciples by changing the water into wine.  From that point on, the fishermen were themselves hooked.

 

Now go back to the passage at the beginning of Part 1, where Simon (now called Peter) and Andrew drop their nets to follow Jesus full-time.  This event takes place A YEAR after the wedding at Cana.

 

So Jesus wasn’t just walking along the beach casting hypnotic spells on ignorant and gullible people.  First, they knew their scriptures well enough to know that a Messiah was coming.  Second, John the Baptist had pointed them directly to Him.  Third, they had seen Him perform a miracle firsthand.

 

So by this time, Jesus had an established track record with these guys.

 

Luke 5 goes into much more detail than Mark 1 about what Jesus was doing at the lake that day.  He wasn’t just walking along; He was teaching people at the water’s edge.  Then He gets into Simon’s boat, and has him take it out into the lake a bit, so He is better situated to teach the crowd.

 

Afterward, He has Simon go out deeper into the lake and let down his nets.  This doesn’t make sense to Simon, because they hadn’t caught anything all night.  Nevertheless, Jesus already has enough of a track record with Simon that he does it anyway.  This is what happens:

 

They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart.  Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me!  I am a sinner.”  Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught.  His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid!  From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.”  The men pulled their boats up on the shore.  Then they left everything and went with Jesus.  (Luke 5:6-11 CEV)

 

They left everything.  Think about that for a minute.  Think of your job, your family, your house, your friends, your community—everything that makes your life what it is.  Is there anything, or anyone, that could make you leave all of that behind you?

 

If you said no, then consider these words of Jesus:

 

Those who love their father or mother more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Those who love their son or daughter more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Whoever is not willing to carry the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life.  Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life.  (Matthew 10:37-39 NCV)

 

These fishermen were ready to become man-fishers.  They were expectant, they were vigilant, and they were patient.  And because of this, we are still talking about them 2,000 years later.

 

So what about us?  Are we ready?  Are we willing to drop it all and go fishing?  Does Jesus have enough of a track record with us that we would follow Him wherever He would have us go?

 

If your answer is yes, then it’s time to go fish.

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 3–The Desires of our Hearts

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

 

This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without wondering what it would be like to be able to rub a magic lamp and have a genie pop out to grant your wishes?

Unfortunately, many people have looked at that verse above, keyed in on that last part, and subsequently transformed God in their minds to little more than a genie in a lamp.

If you’ll notice though, this verse is a conditional statement. To get the desires of our hearts, we must first “take delight in the Lord.” So maybe we should be focusing more on what that means instead of our own selfish desires?

To “take delight” obviously means, “to enjoy.” But what is it we should be enjoying exactly?

It is the relationship that we have with God as our Father.

In this life, we may have great memories of time spent with our dads. Dad can be our fishing buddy, our baseball coach, our source of worldly wisdom, etc. Many people, of course, have never been able to have a relationship like this with their fathers, but many of those wish that they had.

The relationship with our heavenly Father is different though. He is Abba, but He is also Adonai, which means, “Lord.” As Lord, we serve Him, but as Daddy, we serve Him out of grateful love, not just reverent fear.

When we realize that our service to God is not to avoid punishment but to please our Daddy, then the service itself becomes a joy. God isn’t looking for slaves to command. He wants His kids to look up to Him as if to say, “Did I do a good job, Daddy?”

To be able to hear God answer in the affirmative, we would of course have to have done what He wanted us to do. And to have doing God’s work be a delight instead of a chore, we would first have to WANT what He wants.

Looking at it this way, we begin to see that “the desires of our hearts” have little to do with our desires, but more to do with our hearts.

When we trust Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, He begins a transformation process inside us, gradually conforming us to His image. As we change, our hearts change to become more like His. As we see things more and more from His perspective, we begin to want what He wants—for ourselves, for others and for the world.

Once we get to this place, it is much easier to discern what God’s will is. THEN, when we pray, knowing that our will is in agreement with His, He gives us what we ask for, because it was what He wanted for us in the first place.

And yet, sometimes things STILL don’t go the way we expected.  So what does that mean?

 

(Come back for Part 4—(Un) answered prayers)

 

 

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 2–Ask, Seek and Knock

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and the door will be opened.  (Matt 7:7 TLB)

 

Sometimes, that seems too good to be true.  God really gives us anything we ask for?

 

If that were the case, then it would be all too easy for us to make selfish requests of Him.  Just as James and John asked to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand, it seems logical that being tapped into the greatest power source in the universe could make us a tad greedy and ambitious.

 

So why does Jesus tell us to ask then?

 

If you think about it, when do we ask anyone for anything?  It’s when the one we are asking either has or can get something we want but don’t have.  When Jesus tells us to ask, He is simply giving us permission to do so.

 

Along with asking, Jesus tells us to seek.  He tells us this to let us know that God not only can be found, but He WANTS to be found.

 

For this reason, Jesus also tells us to knock, not just once, but persistently and insistently.  Jesus is basically giving us carte blanche to be a pest in seeking out God and petitioning Him with our requests.

 

He is telling us that we aren’t going to wear God out or bore Him to death by bothering Him with our concerns.  This is because God wants us to see Him as someone that we can approach.

 

But really. . .ANYTHING we ask for?

 

It is clear from the context that it isn’t so much the substance of our entreaties to the Lord as our motivation for asking that is more significant.

 

Remember, we are not God’s spoiled brats, but His adopted children.  He chose us for His family, but we also had to choose Him as our Father.

 

The very nature of the relationship that Christians have with God is one of complete submission.  We ask of Him because He has not only the power and authority but also the WILL to give us what we ask.

 

However, the more we are in submission to God, the less likely we are to ask for something selfishly.  If our primary motivation is to please Him, then we would be more likely to ask for the kinds of things that He would want us to have.

 

(So what kinds of things are those?  Come back for Part 3—The Desires of our Hearts.)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 1–Adoption

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask.” Mark 10:35 WEB

 

James and John have historically gotten kind of a bad rap for this quote. It sounds like they’re just boldly strolling up to Jesus and saying, “give us whatever we want.” When you consider that what they ask for next is to sit at the places of honor, at Jesus’ left and right hand, when He comes into His kingdom. . .well, that doesn’t do much to help this misunderstanding either.

 

The Greek word rendered “ask” in most English translations is aiteo. This does not signify asking as an equal or with the sense of entitlement. This word shows humility and respect. They are making a request of someone who is clearly above them, yet has given them permission to ask.

 

As bold as this question was, it definitely displays a comfort level that James and John have with Jesus at this point (even if their mother did put them up to it). They know Jesus well enough to know that He would not mind them asking for a favor, yet they ask with the reverence and respect that their master is due.

 

So what kind of a relationship do we need to have with God to ask Him for a favor? The one we already have, if we have put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

 

You see, you have not received a spirit that returns you to slavery, so you have nothing to fear. The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. (Romans 8:15 VOICE)

 

Paul is the only writer in the Bible to use the Greek word hyiothesia for this concept of adoption. By God’s choice, we are given the rightful position of sons and heirs, though we do not come by this position naturally.

 

Because God has drawn us this near to Him, we are indeed in a position to ask Him for whatever we want.

 

(But does that mean that we will GET whatever we want? Come back for Part 2: Ask, Seek and Knock)

 

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DN=: Part 6–Judgment

 

Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

 You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

 If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

 If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

Romans 2: 1-13 The Message

Sorry for the long quote there, but I wanted to point out two phrases in the very same passage: “Judgmental criticism” and “righteous judgment.”  Both phrases have forms of the word “judge” in them, but they are very different.

 

It should be clear from the context that righteous judgment belongs to God alone, for God alone is righteous by nature.  Because of His unattainable righteousness and holiness, He alone has the authority to judge in the sense of meting out justice for our sin.

 

As we have talked about in Part 3, righteous DN= self-righteous.  The only way that a person could attempt to judge another’s destiny would be from a position of self-righteousness.

 

But as we have also discussed, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.  How then can the unrighteous judge anyone?  Indeed, they have already been judged themselves, not only for the sins they themselves have committed, but by the greater sin of attempting to push God out of the Judgment Seat which is rightfully His.

 

This is the difference between judgment and being judgmental—it’s all about who is passing the judgment.  God is qualified and has the authority to judge sin.  We aren’t, and we don’t.

 

EXERCISING JUDGMENT DN= BEING JUDGMENTAL

 

Although self-righteous, judgmental criticism is a problem for all people, the distinction between God’s judgment and man’s judgmentalism is relatively clear.

 

What is not as clear as it needs to be, however, is the difference between judgmentalism and exercising sound judgment.

 

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion. Proverbs 3:21 NIV

 

One of the complications of the English language is words with multiple meanings.  “Judgment” is one of those.

 

God will sit in judgment of us all; therefore, we should not stand in judgment of one another.  Yet we are to preserve sound judgment?  How does that work?

 

It’s really not that difficult when you stop to think about it.  If your judgment is toward a person and stems from motives of criticism and self-righteousness, then you are being judgmental.  This is the bad one.

 

However, if your judgment is focused toward an action or situation, and is based upon wisdom, common sense or sound reasoning, then this is the good kind.

 

Where the problems arise, is when a spirit of offense prevents the person being judged from distinguishing between the two.

 

If someone attempts to shame you for your sin, make you feel like a bad person, tells you you’re going to Hell, calls you a name, places a group label on you, or blames you for something for which you are not directly responsible because of your association with that group, then that person is being judgmental, and your offense is justified.

 

If, however, the other person is attempting to help you correct your behavior respectfully, sharing from his or her own experience a bad result from their having done something similar, calling you by your own name, looking you in the eye, emphasizing the solution instead of the problem, but most importantly, is focusing on the behavior without attempting to analyze your motives or your character. . .then you need to work past the emotional reaction of offense and listen to what you are being told.

 

Chances are this person knows something you don’t.  And they are exercising sound judgment, without being judgmental, by telling you that.

 

(Coming up next, STORYTIME! Going to do something a little different for Part 7–Hatred.)

 

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination

 

 

Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins.)

 

In other words, discernment is God’s B.S. detector.

 

Have you ever known someone who saw something fake or sinister in a person’s character before anyone else did, and was later proven right?  Have you ever had a friend who told you what you were thinking when you couldn’t even explain it yourself?  This is discernment at work.

(Remember back at the beginning of this series when I talked about people talking in code?  I didn’t forget about that.  From here on out, we’re going to defuse political correctness one code-bomb at a time.)

 

Another word with a meaning similar to discernment, in the literal sense of having the ability to distinguish differences, is discrimination.

 

While discernment is a spiritual gift, given by God to whomever He chooses, discrimination is a natural skill that can be learned and developed by anybody through careful observation and judicious contemplation.

 

It would seem, then, that discrimination should actually be a positive thing, since being UN-able to recognize differences would be a sign of a lack of intelligence or observance.

 

Nevertheless, this word has gradually become associated with “bigotry,” even though those two words really aren’t connected.

 

 DISCRIMINATION DN= BIGOTRY

 

There’s a big difference between distinguishing the differences in people and treating people differently.  Paul wrote:

 

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 The Message)

 

And also:


[In this new creation all distinctions vanish.] There is no room for and there can be neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, [nor difference between nations whether alien] barbarians or Scythians [who are the most savage of all], nor slave or free man; but Christ is all and in all, everything and everywhere, to all men, without distinction of person]. (Colossians 3:11 Amplified)

 

In making these statements, Paul is instructing these early churches that although the Church is made up of all kinds of different people from different backgrounds, it is much more significant that Christ is our common ground.  Being the original Truthseeker, Paul discriminates by noting the differences, but does not show favoritism, because Christ does not show favoritism.

 

Looking at it this way, we can clearly see that bigotry is defined by emphasizing differences with the motive of boosting one’s own status over that of another based solely upon those differences.  Bigotry may START with discrimination, but it ends somewhere else entirely.

 

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?  In a word—labels.

 

Whenever you refer to another person with a label instead of their name, that’s a pretty clear sign that you are crossing over to the dark side of discrimination, because you are now seeing that person not as an individual, but as part of a subset of humanity, most likely one to which you do not belong yourself.

 

Once you have identified the difference and affixed a label to it, the emphasis of that difference comes naturally.  From there, it’s a very short walk to bigotry, simply because our human nature is to justify ourselves, and the easiest way to do that is to lower our view of others.  Labels just streamline that process.

 

So how does discernment fit into this?

 

From the definitions we have already discussed, discernment is essentially God-level discrimination.  But since we have already seen that God sees all of His followers as equal in Christ, then it should be obvious that the purpose of discernment is not to enable bigotry by labeling humans and dividing them into groups.

 

Discernment is not about judging character or outward appearances, but rather motives and the behavior that arises from them.  Which leads me to my next DN=.

 

(After vacation, I will return with Part 6–Judgment)

 

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”