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Hosting Shane Willard (2011)

Shane Willard

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Hosting Shane Willard (2011) (Shane Willard)

Light, Life & Increase (Shane Willard)
Forgiveness was never the issue. The Torah was given so forgiven people would know how to live, in order to be blessed. Your forgiveness was unconditional, but your blessing was conditional. You could live your whole life forgiven, saved to the bone, born again, child of God, I'll see you in heaven one day - but yet miss the whole blessing; that you live in darkness, disrepair, death. May you never say again: it's because my father ate sour grapes that I'm like this. No, when someone eats sour grapes, they are the ones whose teeth get set on edge.

Fish and Storms (Shane Willard)
God is generous with His grace, but He's also thorough with His discipline. Jonah did not need to be saved from the fish; the fish was prepared by God to save him. God sends storms in our lives - never to pay us back, but always to get us back. Distress is the force that overpowers intellect, theology, rationale or resistance, to drive us back to the person. Sometimes storms are the very thing that save us.


Light, Life & Increase (Shane Willard)  

Sun 17 Apr 2011 « Back to Top

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Forgiveness was never the issue. The Torah was given so forgiven people would know how to live, in order to be blessed. Your forgiveness was unconditional, but your blessing was conditional. You could live your whole life forgiven, saved to the bone, born again, child of God, I'll see you in heaven one day - but yet miss the whole blessing; that you live in darkness, disrepair, death. May you never say again: it's because my father ate sour grapes that I'm like this. No, when someone eats sour grapes, they are the ones whose teeth get set on edge.

Light, Life & Increase

Ezekiel 18, but before we get there, we have to understand some terminology. Any time that you're looking at any piece of literature, any piece of literature, you want to ask yourself a couple of questions: 1) Who wrote it? 2) who was it written to? 3) how would they have taken it? Are there euphemisms, idioms, figures of speech in the text, that mean something different to them, than it would to us? To put 21st Century English definitions over the top of ancient Hebraic terms, and then say we're right and everybody else is wrong, is ridiculous.

So there's terminology in every piece of literature. We just happen to be studying the Bible today. Now before we get into Ezekiel 18, we have to understand a couple of pieces of terminology. The first piece of terminology is: Light, Life and Increase. In general, in the Hebrew scriptures, these are euphemisms about a realm of life that leads you to wholeness, abundance, completion, shalom, peace - wholeness without one broken piece. This is described with terms like light, life and increase.

In general, it has nothing to do with heaven; like heaven someday, someday we'll get to go somewhere else, and then we'll experience the life of God. No, no, no. The writers of the Bible are always bringing us back to this light, life and increase is available to us here, now, today. In general it's a realm of life described by a decision to live within God's ways - that if you live within God's ways, it brings light, life and increase to you. As a matter of fact, the centre root of the word Torah is the word Ora, which is light. It's: thy word is truth, thy word is light. Light, life, increase.

Deuteronomy 28: I set before you today blessings and curses, life and death. Choose life that you might live. It's not a literal thing, because people who break the Torah, they don't die; and then if they choose not to, they don't come back. It's a euphemism for a realm of life, where life is working for me, and not against me. The universe is pointed in my direction in a favourable way. That's light, life and increase.

The second group of terms that we have to understand, to understand this passage, is: death, darkness and decrease. So life, light and increase is a realm of life that leads to favour, abundance, wholeness without one missing piece - shalom. Death, darkness and decrease is the opposite of that. It has nothing to do with hell. When Ezekiel is writing this passage of scripture, the idea of an eternal hell did not even exist yet. That did not come around until later okay, now don't panic. I'm not taking hell from you okay, I believe in hell alright? It's fair enough. I'd hate to take hell away from a group of people going to heaven, that would be horrible - so just everybody relax right.

But death, darkness and decrease has nothing to do with hell. It has to do with a realm of life that leads you to a pattern of disrepair, in other words: things are unravelling. Things are coming apart. Death, darkness, decrease; they're used interchangeably, so if you see: choose to be in the light, as He is in the light; choose life over death, choose light after darkness. It's not: choose heaven over hell; it's: choose the easier life.

A lot of times we get confused between forgiveness and blessing, and so we think that in the Old Testament they were forgiven by keeping the Torah. They were not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. If you take the whole Torah, it didn't matter. Paul said it this way: Can any person be justified by keeping the law? Absolutely not. He wasn't coming up with something new - he was affirming orthodoxy. The mosaic covenant was never intended to provide forgiveness of sins. They were forgiven, in the Old Testament, through faith in God's faithfulness in a lamb. You are forgiven now, through faith in God's faithfulness in a lamb. It is the same exact thing.

Forgiveness was never the issue. The Torah was given so forgiven people would know how to live, in order to be blessed. The Abrahamic covenant was unconditional, based on faith in God's faithfulness. The mosaic covenant was conditional, based on obedience. Your forgiveness was unconditional, your blessing was conditional. In other words you could live your whole life forgiven, saved to the bone, born again, child of God, whatever word or nomenclature you want to put on it you could live your whole life forgiven to the bone, I'll see you in heaven one day, but yet miss the whole blessing; that you live in darkness, disrepair, death. The realm of these things come over you; whereas light, life and increase was the opposite of that. Now with that in mind, let's look at Ezekiel 18:1. We're going to work through probably the whole chapter, so we're going to do it fast.

The word of the Lord came to me. What do you people mean, by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel? You've got to hate it when God starts a passage that way. What do you people mean, by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel? "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge". As surely as I live, declares the Lord your God, you will never quote this proverb to Me again.

Now quick question: The father eats sour grapes, so it sets the children's teeth on edge. Couple of questions: 1) what did this mean? 2) why is God so ticked off about it? Just to understand where these people are, this is the Book of Ezekiel. The Book of Ezekiel was written to the children of Israel while they were in Babylon. The reason they were in Babylon, is because they were in slavery. Now you've got to understand their history to understand the depth of this. The children of Israel started in slavery. They were slaves in Egypt for 430 years, and then God chooses to rescue them; and He tells them: I want you to be a kingdom of priests for Me. In other words, I want you to show the whole world what life would be like, if God was in charge.

Now to these people, God was someone who frees slaves; so God is calling them to set the captives free. He's calling them to free people from slavery. He's calling them to be a beacon of light, life, and increase. Did they do that? No! This is what 1 Kings, Chapter 10 says. It says: this is the account of the forced labour, that Solomon forced to build the temple to the Lord. So here's a guy who has a heritage of freed slaves, forcing slaves to build a temple, to honour the Lord who frees the slaves.

He failed to see the hypocrisy in it, so God says: no, no, no, no, this is not happening. So they end up back in slavery again, and here's what they were taught: the reason you're in slavery, is because David's son - they wouldn't even say his name at that time - is because David's son failed. Remember the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon and said: you have been placed over Israel to maintain justice and righteousness to the poor and the oppressed. Did he do that? No.

So what they told themselves in slavery was: we're in slavery today, because David's son failed. David's son failed, and that's why we're here; so a proverb ensued: My father ate sour grapes, so it sets my teeth on edge. In other words, the only reason I'm where I am, is because my dad messed up. Interesting, they were in slavery for 430 years, then they were free for 430 years, and then they end up back in slavery; and the prophets, while they're in slavery, start saying things like this: Don't despair, take heart, God is going to send a new son of David!

Now you understand there's a gap between the gospels - the Old Testament ends with them in slavery. There's 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament; and then Jesus starts His ministry at 30, so 430 years later the new son of David comes around. Do you understand now why there's beggars and stuff, sitting on the side of the street, going: son of David! Son of David! Have mercy on me. You're reading that, and you're going: well Jesus' dad was named Joseph, and His heavenly father was named Yahweh. Where do they get son of David? What they were talking about was: are You the one that God is supposed to send to minister to the poor? You're that one? If You're the Messiah, You're here to preach the gospel to the poor - and hello, I'm poor!

Son of David - so what was going on in Babylon was this: the present generation was blaming their circumstances on the previous generation. My father ate sour grapes, so it sets my teeth on edge. In other words, the only reason I'm where I am, is because my dad messed up. Ezekiel is bringing something around that's never been said before. Up until this day, it was common knowledge that if your father sins, you have to pay for his sins. If your father messes up, you're stuffed. You're done. It was common knowledge, and Ezekiel says: we're not going to do that this way any more. Ezekiel's pointing out that God is saying: I don't want to ever hear this again - that the reason you're where you are today, is because your dad messed up. It's not true! The reason you're where you are today, is because you refuse to change the pattern your father set up. The reason you're where you are today, is because you refuse to do something about it.

So the exiles, were blaming their exile, on their parents. Is that any different than us today? My parents made destructive choices, so I suffer. My parents chose a path, so I'm paying for it. My parents set a financial path, so I'm suffering. My parents gave me nothing to start with, so I have nothing. My parents were angry, temper-tantrum sort of folks, so I have an anger problem, and I throw temper-tantrums. My parents performed dishonest business, so I'll perform dishonest business. My parents were drunks, so I'll be drunk - and it just sounds... I'm a counsellor by trade. I've heard it 100,000 times, and because I have a counselling background, I could sit with you for an hour, and you could tell me your story about why you are the way you are, and I'll understand. I will. I'll listen to it, and I'll say: you know what? I understand that. Oh, your dad was this way, that's horrible. Your mum was this way, oh that's horrible. Oh so you grew up in this circumstance, oh that's horrible. I understand how you developed to be the way you are. Here's the problem: you're 40! How's that working for you?

Look, you might say: my family had issues. My dad had issues. Well - all dads have issues. If they've got flesh on, and they have to pull their pants up one leg at a time - they've got issues. My dad was a great man, up every day praying for me at 4.30 in the morning, every single day praying for me at 4.30. He had issues. He loved to scare us. My dad was a Vietnam vet, and I think he sniffed something over there that hurt him. My dad would do things he thought it was hilarious to scare us. He'd do things like hide under my bed - I was eight! Eight year olds think the bogey man lives under their bed anyway. Little did we know that the bogey man was actually a white red-neck dude! My mum would come get me up in the morning. Sometimes I'd sit on the side of the bed, and dad would be under there, and he'd reach out and grab my feet! Issues!

My dad has progressively gotten up earlier through history. When I was a kid it was 5.30, then it went to 5.15. Now he gets up at 4.15. I swear if he lives 15 more years he's going to have to eat breakfast the night before. My dad - he got in my closet. My closet opened like this you know, there's a sliding door. He put himself in my closet - on a crucifix. So I get up in the morning to choose my clothes - and there's dad. Issues!

One time dad dropped me off at junior high camp, and there were 108 of us going to junior high camp. That's two full length buses full of seventh and eighth graders. He pulled up next to the buses, and he said: son, I hope you have a really good time, I love you. I said: I love you too dad, and so he leaned over to give me a kiss, and I said: dad, not here, not in front of my friends! He said: okay buddy, have a good time. So I get on the bus, and I think everything's well. Well the whole bus is full, and next thing I know I'm towards the back of the bus, and I look up and my dad was walking onto the bus. What he had done is, he had pulled his pants up about this high. He had shorts on. He pulled his socks up like this, and he had his hips out, and he's walking funny. He grabbed the mic to the bus, and he said: this bus isn't leaving until my Shaney-Waney comes up here and gives me a kiss! So the whole bus started screaming: kiss him! Kiss him! Issues.

You say my dad was a certain way - I understand! You say: my family had tension in it - of course it did. You have a man and a woman trying to live together! Are you kidding me? Like men and women, they're just - I mean you take something like marriage; I mean the Bible has all this advice about it, like there's one place where the Bible says: a person who finds a wife, finds a good thing. There's another place where it says: he who marries doesn't sin, but he's signed up for a life of pain. So Solomon, you've got a guy with 1,000 women going: this is fantastic! You've got Paul going: why bother? Why, because men and women are just different. Even if there's basic mental health, and basically good-hearted, they're just different. Our language is different. A woman cooks a meal, and she tests it before she serves it up, and she's not real happy with it, but that's all we've got, so she serves up the meal, and she says: this is the worst meal I've ever made; and the man says: no it's not. He's trying to help. He's good-hearted.

The woman says: can you believe how much weight I've gained over the holidays? This dress makes me look fat. Doesn't this dress make me look fat? I could tell you - men have no idea what to say. If we agree with you - it's bad; if we disagree with you - we're invalidating your feelings. So we just... So we hear this, and so this good hearted man goes to the Christian book-store, and he's browsing around, and he's looking around and he sees a book: Lose Weight God's Way. He thinks: I'm helping! He brings home the diet book - of course if a woman brings a diet book home to her man, he looks at it and goes: that's nice, what's for dinner? It doesn't bother us at all. If a woman brings a diet book to a woman - what do they do? They make a workout plan, and they work out together.

Men and women aren't wrong typically, they're just different. Language - a woman says: I have nothing to wear. The man says: you have three closets full of nothing to wear, what are you talking about? But every woman in the room knows what she means. When a woman says: I have nothing to wear, what she means is: I have nothing new - let's go shopping. When a man says: I have nothing to wear; what he means is: I have nothing clean, please do the laundry. Two totally different things, same words.

You take something like smells - women like sweet smelling things, flowers, perfume, things like this. You hand a woman a bouquet of flowers, she sniffs it. You hand a man a bouquet of flowers, all he sniffs is $80. It smells like $80 to me, what are you talking about? Two women can go to a candle shop for an hour and a half, and sniff wax and call it fun. It's weird - you never see two men doing that. Hey Leroy, check that out, that's that new chrysanthemum smell, check that out man, that is sweet! Never! Why? Because men like stinky stuff. Women like sweet-smelling stuff, men like stinky stuff - nothing funnier to a group of men than something stinky happening. That's funny. To women - that's disgusting.

If a man plays a rugby match, and he gets all bloody and nasty and muddy; and because he's got to run to a meeting, he puts the clothes in a plastic bag and seals it up, puts it in the boot of his car. Three months later, he's looking for something in the boot of his car, and he finds the bag. Every man in the world knows what he's going to do. He's going to open it up, and he's going smell it. Men do this. Women, you notice if you get your husband to put his clothes in the hamper, if you watch him when he takes his dirty clothes off after a day at work, especially the socks before he throws them in the hamper - he'll sniff it. It's like we have to prove that we've worked for the day. We have like three levels of it too; like we'll sniff it, and we'll go: hey, I think I can get one more wear out this Betty, this is pretty good. Then we've got another level that's sort of like: wheweee! Then there's a third level, that's sort of like: you know what, I think three minutes in the dryer is going to do this just fine!

That's us, because we like stinky stuff, and every man knows if you get the bag of dirty clothes out the boot of your car and you sniff it - if any of your friends are around, they owe you to smell your stinky things. They have to - oh check that out! That is something! We all share, and then whoever smells my stinky thing - when they have a stinky thing, I owe them a courtesy sniff, to smell their stinky thing - and men do this. That's why, if you're ever in downtown Hastings, stuck at a red light; and you see four men in a car, and three of them have their head out the window, and the last one's in the back seat just laughing - he just cashed in on his courtesy sniff. That's all that's happened.

So when you say: my family had tension - of course it did. You had a species that was designed by God to like sweet-smelling things, trying to coincide with a species who loves stinky stuff. There's tension. Men and women are just different. Your mum had issues, your dad had issues, there was tension in all of our homes; but at some point - this is what Ezekiel's saying - at some point, we have to make a decision to live in the light and not in the darkness. You can't say: my father ate sour grapes so it set my teeth on edge - forever. Where does that lead you? Where does that go?

Next verse, Verse 4. For every living soul belongs to Me, the father as well as the son. Both alike belong to Me, but the soul who sins, is the one that will die. In other words, the one who goes away from God's ways enters the realm of death. It's not a question of: who belongs to God, and who doesn't belong to God? That's not the issue. Every living soul belongs to God. You want to know if you belong to God? Are you breathing? Yes. Are you using God's name to keep you alive? Yes. Are you held together by His word? Yes. So whether you realise it or not, you sort of belong to God right? God says: the whole universe belongs to me. The question isn't: who belongs to Me and who doesn't? It's the one that will choose to receive and enter into My ways - the ones who do that, will live. The ones who don't, don't. The soul that sins is the one that will die; and there's this long explanation that we won't read, but there's this long explanation. Let me just summarise it in Ezekiel 18.

It says: let's suppose there was a righteous man, and that righteous man entered into the ways of God, and entered life; but that righteous man has a wicked son, who does detestable things. Will that man inherit the righteousness of his father? No. For the sins he's committed, and for choosing to live outside of God's ways, he'll enter the realm of death. But if that wicked man that has a righteous son, and that righteous son turns away from the wickedness of his father, will he inherit the wickedness of his father? No, he will surely live for choosing to live God's ways.

So Ezekiel says: if there's a righteous man, he enters the realm of life; and then if he has a wicked son, he enters the realm of death. If he then has a righteous son, he enters the realm of life - but you are not stuck. In other words, the question is: am I predetermined, or can I make my own way for my life? Can I make my own choices? Can I choose life over death, or is death and life chosen for me? Ezekiel says no, no, no, you can choose.

See, one of the arguments you hear is: well its common-sense, that's just how we do things. Listen, if you ever use the excuse "that's just how we are", it's never for a good thing. You never hear: I'm just funny, that's just how I am. I'm just kind, that's just who I am - deal with it. No, it's always: I have an anger problem, that's just who I am. It's the stuff we do. Sometimes common-sense is very helpful, and sometimes common-sense is destructive. We wash our dishes around here - that's helpful. We bathe once a day - helpful. If you're here, and you don't bathe once a day, try it, be great. We pick up after ourselves, we talk to each other a certain way.

Sometimes common-sense is destructive. Everyone does shady business, everyone does that. Everyone cheats on their taxes, everyone does that. Everyone sleeps around, it's the weekend right, hello! Everyone sleeps around. Oh everyone gets wasted on Saturday, everyone does that. So any time you're using words like this, we have to determine: are they light, or are they dark? Are they life, or are they death? Are they increase, or are they decrease? Then he goes into this incredible explanation, that I could not say any better than him, so I'm going to read it, Ezekiel 18:18.

But his father will die for his own sin, because he practised extortion, robbed his brother, and did what was wrong amongst the people. Yet you ask: why does the son not share the guilt of his father?

Now you've got to understand, it was common knowledge in that day: if the father sins, the son shares the guilt. God says: we're not going to do it that way any more. Why does the son not share the guilt of his father? Since the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to keep all My decrees, he will live. The soul that sins is the one who will die. In other words, when you make a choice to exit God's ways, you enter into the realm of death. If you make a choice to enter into God's ways, you enter the realm of life. The son will not share the guilt of his father, nor will the father share the guilt of his son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked man will be charged against him - but if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he's committed, and keeps My decrees, and does what is just and right, he will live, he will not die. None of the offences he's committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he's done, he will live.

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord. Rather am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live. I love it. He says: no matter how far down the road you think you are, no matter how far down the road of darkness, death, decrease, no matter how far down that road you are, you are one decision away from entering light, and none of that being remembered, and the universe working for you, that life, light and increase can be released over your life - because God takes no pleasure in people staying in darkness.

It's not like God's in heaven looking at a train wreck fixing to happen, and thinks: I can't wait for this happen. No! He wants us to change tracks so that we can live - but if a righteous man - Verse 24 - but if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? No. None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty, and because of his sins he's committed, he will die. Yet you say: the way of the Lord is not just. Hear O house of Israel, is My way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin he'll die. For the sin he's committed he will die; but if a wicked man turns from his wickedness he's committed, and does what is just and right, he'll save his life.

Obviously this is euphemisms, otherwise you'd have people dying and resurrecting all the time. He's saying: look, listen, no matter how far down the road of righteousness you get, you can't ever rest on your laurels. You have to die daily, pick up your cross and die daily, stay in the light. But no matter how far down the light you get, you're one decision away from entering back into darkness; and no matter how far down the darkness road you get, you're one decision away from entering back into the light. Stay in the light. Choose life that you might live. May you never say again: it's because my father ate sour grapes that I'm like this. No! The reason we're like this, is because at some point we made a choice to perpetuate the horrible darkness that had been perpetuated, and we chose not to stand against it.

Because he considers all the offences he's committed, and turns away from them, he will surely live and not die; yet the house of Israel says: the way of the Lord is not just? Are My ways unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? Therefore house of Israel I will judge you, each one according to his ways - in other words: not your father's, yours. Repent. Repent is a word that just means to turn. It's the word Shuv. It just means to turn. Repenting is less: I'm sorry Lord; and more: I will not tolerate this from myself one more day. It's turning back to God's ways. Turn away from all of your offences, the sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourself of all the offences you've committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the sovereign Lord. Therefore repent and live! Look at Verse 31 again. Rid yourself of all the offences you've committed and get a new heart and a new spirit.

Let me close this out this morning with a couple of application points.

1) all of us are shaped by our history and our heritage. All of us are. All of us are shaped by our history and our heritage. This theme of getting a new heart, and a new spirit, is a theme all through Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 11:18 it says: they will return to it, and remove all of its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart, and put a new spirit in them. So all of us are shaped by our history and our heritage. All of us, our thoughts are formed about what's normal and what's acceptable. Why is it that some people grow up with certain things totally unacceptable; and other people can do the same thing, and there's no heart to it at all? It's because of how we grow up. We're shaped by our history and our heritage, but all of us are faced with an opportunity to choose light, life and increase; instead of death, darkness and decrease. We have to be brave enough to take our family history, and put it up against the mirror of God's ways, and ask ourself the question: how is it working for us?

We must take responsibility and repent from these things, so that we can enter life instead of death, light instead of darkness, increase instead of decrease. See this is something that is different. Ezekiel's different than any other writer, and you can see that all through his life. He did crazy things, like lay naked on his front lawn for 140 days - 70 on one side, 70 on the other, so his tan was even - unbelievable the bravery. One time God told Ezekiel to make food with poop; and he said: well if God said it, let's do it. So Ezekiel's better than all of us, because if I came in here today and said: I've had a word from the Lord, and we've got a project, and the ushers are handing out buckets... like it just isn't going to happen right? Ezekiel's different than a lot of other people. What we tend to think is, and I say amen to this in some cases, we tend to think: if I could just get spiritually-healed, then my behaviour will line up; and there are a lot of cases that that applies.

If I could just get spiritually healed, then my behaviour will line up, and come into the light. In other words, I need to get spiritually healed first, and then my behaviour will come around. Ezekiel - and yes, amen, there are a lot of good applicable things on that - but Ezekiel has an entirely different take on it. Ezekiel says: if you rid yourself, and by faith trust that God's ways are the best way to live; that the reinforcement found in that behaviour is going to give you a new heart and a new spirit anyway.

In other words, to other writers it was: get a new heart and a new spirit, and then your behaviour will line up. Fine, you can make a good case for that, and sometimes that's very applicable - but Ezekiel brings hope for those of us who might be struggling in that other area. He says: oh, you want to get healed? Here's what you do: by faith, step out and choose to live in the light. Choose God's ways. Choose by faith to let your behaviour line up, and when you by faith let your behaviour line up with God's ways, God is faithful to give you a new heart and a new spirit.

So to Ezekiel it's not: get healed, and then your behaviour lines up; it's actually: by faith living God's ways, and taking responsibility for your own actions, that there's something that's healing inside that action itself. I love the heart of God here.

Remember that the setting is exile. These people would have been marched from Jerusalem to Babylon. Anybody under the age of 25 would have been castrated, because you don't want people reproducing too much. You don't want slaves reproducing too much. Their king's eyes would have been pulled out, and their temples would have been destroyed - these people were in pain.

Some pain that you go through, you just can't get healed from. Now I want you to hear me, what I say about this. Some life situations are so horrible - get healed from that, really? Some betrayal is so disorientating, healed? Come on. Some abuse is so bad, healed? Some financial situations are so - healed? Don't think so, and that's what Ezekiel comes about, that gives so much hope. Ezekiel is saying: God doesn't want to heal your heart; God wants to give you a new one.

In other words, He doesn't want to patch something that's broken, and put it back together. He's just going to take the whole thing out, because some things - can we be honest - just need to be thrown out and rebuilt altogether. He says: if you want your life rebuilt, here's what you do: by faith, take responsibility, and choose to live God's ways; and when you choose to live God's ways, then light, life and increase gets released over you. And when that gets released over you, the reinforcement of the behaviour itself will give you a new heart and a new spirit, for God is faithful to do that.

May you never say again: my father ate sour grapes so my teeth are set on edge. May we quit making excuses, and laying blame on the previous generation; or for that matter, anybody else. No, when someone eats sour grapes, they are the ones whose teeth get set on edge. Just because someone else ate sour grapes, does not mean your teeth have to be set on edge.

I bless you today to have the courage to step into the light, to have the courage that no matter what your family tree says, that you can step out of darkness and into light. You can call darkness 'darkness', and let God deal with that; and let God give you a new heart and a new spirit. By faith, may you have the courage to step out, and behave and live in God's ways; and may life, light and increase dominate your days for the rest of your life.

I bless you today to handle your money God's way. I bless you today to handle your tongue God's way. I bless you today to handle your actions God's way. I bless you today to be people of integrity. Come on now, you guys can do it. I speak motivationally, I speak prophetically into your spirit. If you're here today, and you don't know if you could do it: yes, you can. I set before you today blessings and curses, life and death - choose life, that you might live!

It doesn't matter if your father ate sour grapes. It doesn't mean your teeth have to be set on edge. Light, life and increase are therefore yours for the taking; and if you're here today, and you need a new heart, there's a way for it.

Let's pray together. Lord, we honour You and we love You. We proclaim You are king. We're humbled by You. Jesus, I stand before You now on behalf of all of us, and say: here's my heart, and here's its darkness - I choose light. Now would You honour Your promise to give me a new heart, and a new spirit. Would you mend it all up, throw it out, and just put a whole new one in there. We love You Lord. If you need in on that prayer, I just pray that you just lift your hand or open your heart up to God, Lord I believe and I agree with every person for a new heart and a new spirit. We choose Your way. Amen.

Prelude For those of you who don't know me, I've had the incredible opportunity to be mentored by a pastor who just happens to have his rabbi training for the last 10 years, so we come at it from that bent. I also have a master's degree in clinical psychology so if you're sort of messed up in your head come back there as well, we've got something for you. We use the profit from that to help us with our mission for Tsedaka, for generosity, for taking care of the poor and the afflicted, and also ministering in places that can't afford it.

So if you come back there to the resources table afterwards, I'll be back there today to say hello, and you could pick something up that will change the way you look at God forever, and in so doing you will also help me put food in people's bellies that can't eat, so enjoy it back there. We also have our online mentoring up and going, so if you'd like to come into an online classroom, and learn how to see the Bible like my rabbi taught me, we've got that up and you can pick up a flier at the back.

Fish and Storms (Shane Willard)  

Sun 17 Apr 2011 PM « Back to Top

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God is generous with His grace, but He's also thorough with His discipline. Jonah did not need to be saved from the fish; the fish was prepared by God to save him. God sends storms in our lives - never to pay us back, but always to get us back. Distress is the force that overpowers intellect, theology, rationale or resistance, to drive us back to the person. Sometimes storms are the very thing that save us.

Fish and Storms

Jonah, Chapter 2. I really got into the Book of Jonah, and as it pertains particularly to Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. It's the day that they realise that all of their sins are forgiven, and so it's the holiest day of the year; and yet on Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah was the required reading. You can learn a lot about yourself in there. I landed on something this afternoon from there, which I'm going to share it tonight, and this draws from my series: Running From God.

I want you to turn to Jonah 2 - it's the story of Fish and Storms. Now let me just give you some quick introductory observations about the Book of Jonah in general. When we run from God, we run to the strangest places. We never run from God to something better. We never run from God to something good. We tend to run from God to very strange places. I ran from God, and I entered a life of drugs and alcohol, and it ended up ruining my life. Yeah, not good. I ran from God and I got into this that ruined my life. I ran from God and I ended up in jail. I ran from God and I did this. It's never good stories.

Typically it sounds something like this: I ran from God; and when I ran from God, I also ran from everyone in my life who was a source of wisdom and truth. I also ran from every place in my life that was a source of wisdom and truth, so we all run at times. A couple of things we learn in the Book of Jonah is this: God is patient, but He's also pragmatic.

Another lesson from the Book in general is that: God is generous with His grace, but He's also thorough with His discipline. The judgement and the discipline of God is a reality. The problem with it, is that we a lot of times miss the heart of it; that throughout the scriptures, the judgement and discipline of God was always meant to bring about fruitfulness. It was always meant to somehow save the soul at the end of the day. Even Paul in the New Testament - give him over to Satan. That sounds pretty bad. Give him over to Satan, so that his soul might be saved in the end. Sometimes God lets us feel the consequences of what we're doing fully, so that ultimately we come back to Him.

Ezekiel 14 - this is scary - if you approach God with an idol in your heart, He'll answer you according to the idol. Whoa! In other words, if you approach God already knowing what you want Him to say, and you're approaching Him in a manipulative sort of way, then He'll answer you according to the idol, so that you may experience what that idol brings, and ultimately be brought back to Him.

In the New Testament, the person in heaven, it says that his works were burned up. His soul was saved, but yet through fire, that God's judgement is always intended to bring. I could give you 25, 30 scriptures, that even with Sodom and Gomorrah, when you think of Sodom, I mean God never destroyed something so permanently as Sodom correct? I mean you talk about burning up, sulphur, fire and smoke rising. Yet in the Book of Ezekiel it says that God restored Sodom - so the judgement of God is never intended to be permanent. As a matter of fact, God says: My anger will not contend with man forever. Because why? Man couldn't handle that. Isaiah 57, He says: I saw the ways of man, I was enraged by his sinful greed, and I hid My face in anger from him - yet he kept on with his wilful ways.

In other words, I saw the ways of man, I hid My face from him in anger, yet man kept on with his wilful ways. Then it goes on; I have seen his ways, but I will heal him anyway. The discipline and the correction and judgement of God is always thorough. But the discipline, correction, judgement of God - it's always an attempt to get you back, without paying you back. God is generous with His grace, but He's thorough with His discipline. Now with that in mind let's read Jonah 2:1.

From inside the fish. Now at the end of Chapter 1, it says that God prepared a fish. The word prepared in Hebrew there is Manah, which means this: what comes from something as one kind, continues from the same kind. What comes from something is one kind, and continues in the same kind. Let me make it a little more living bible-ish.

Well before Jonah was prepared for God, God was prepared for Jonah. In other words, in order to maintain our sanity, one of our God concepts has to be that God is smarter than us - that He's always out-fought our rebellion; that whatever plans A, B, C, D, E, F and G, whatever we can come up with, God always has the answer. He always has a way back. He always has a fork in the road we can take. He always a plan to rescue us; so God prepared.

The tone of the Book of Jonah is humour - it's meant to be a joke. Jonah thought he could flee from God... (Laughter). Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord, and so the writer here, whether it's Jonah or whether it's a narrator, says: but God was prepared all along. So from inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord his God, and he said: in my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and He listened to my cry. You hurled me into the sea, into the deep, into the very heart of the seas. The currents swirled about me, all Your waves and breakers swept over me. I said: I have been banished from Your sight, yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.

See the pattern: I've been banished, yet there's going to come a time where I can come back again. The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me. Seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down, the earth beneath barred me in forever. There's the concept - the earth beneath barred me in forever.

Was he in the belly of the fish forever? No, he was in the belly of the fish for three days. The concept of forever in the ancient Hebrew world did not exist, and this is what I mean by that. The concept of forever meaning: hour after hour after hour after hour after hour. The word translated forever is the word Olam, which is an intensity of an experience. It's to the vanishing point. I got to play golf at Cape Kidnappers Friday and that was really cool. When I was playing Cape Kidnappers the time flew by - that's the word olam, like it's an intensity of experience, where it just seemed like you got lost in time.

It's also true negatively, like have you ever been sitting in class, and it was so boring that the second hand just seemed to never move? So essentially Jonah's saying this intensity of experience was huge. It buried me forever. But you brought my life up from the pit oh Lord my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You, and my prayer rose to You, to Your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs, but I with a song of thanksgiving was sacrificed to You. What I have vowed I will make good, for salvation comes from the Lord. And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Now there's a lot going here. Just a couple of initial application points and observations...

1) we all want others to live God's way. There's something inside of us, that we all want other people to live God's way. When we someone backing away from God's way, there's something in us that goes: no, no, no, no, no, that's not right. We all want other people to live God's way - compassionate, merciful, honest, have integrity, be nice to people, generosity. We all want to see people act that way, and although we want others to live that way towards us, there are times when we live outside of God towards them. Sometimes our heart is to have everyone else within God, when we ourselves are not doing that as well. So an initial application point is to ask ourselves: where do we want other people to treat us differently than we're actually acting? That's number one.

2) Sometimes we schedule our surrender to God for: after our plans are done. You ever done that? Sometimes we schedule our surrender to God for: after our plans are done. That's what Jonah did. It wasn't that Jonah didn't believe in God. It wasn't that God wasn't his Lord. It wasn't any of that. God asked Jonah to do something that he wasn't willing to do. Jonah says: you know what I'm going to do? I'm going go to Jaffa, and then I'm going to go to Tarshish. Tarshish was at the end of the known trade route. It would have taken one whole year to go to Tarshish and back.

To travel the world for a year, you have to have money, you have to have means, you have to have opportunity. Jonah's saying: listen, I hear You Lord, but I've got some plans, and after my plans are done - then I'll come back and surrender to Your plan, or at least I'll consider it.

Maybe you're on that journey as well? Maybe you're on a journey with or from God, and you're having to turn down the volume of your conscious so you can cope? Is there any place that you know you're running from God, and can know this; if it's any place in your life that you have to turn down the volume of your conscience just so you can cope with it, that's where we find these moments.

These moments normally lead us to a moment where we can't imagine the chaos, or manage it, and we have to quit running. We know the day of reckoning is not escapable. We know that the direction of our lives is bringing it to a head. It's not that we don't believe in God, it's just we have some deals that we're going to do, and after that we'll get in alignment with our values. So we schedule our surrender to God for: after we're done with our plans.

In Jonah's situation, it's not that he doesn't understand. He hears, he understands, he says no. He was called to Nineveh, he went to Tarshish - a year long journey. Now a couple of thoughts:

1) God is generous with His grace. You look at the story of Jonah, and every single step of the way God was stepping in, whether it was to provide a fish, or whether it was to command the fish to vomit up, or whether it was to turn the hearts of the Ninevehvites back towards God, so they didn't skin Jonah alive when he showed up. Whether it was anointing the worst sermon ever preached in the history of the prophets, whether it was providing a vine, whether it was all these lessons - God was generous with His grace.

2) God was thorough with His discipline.

3) God sends storms in our lives - storms and fish - never to pay us back, but always to get us back.

Now let's look back at the scripture, and I want to sort of break down some of the key ideas. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God - this is Verse 1 - and he said: in my distress I called to the Lord. How many of us are driven back to God in our distress? You're staring at a pregnancy test? Are you thinking about money? Are you thinking about pursuits? Are you thinking about plans? Are you thinking about dreams? No - what are you saying when you're staring at the pregnancy test? Oh God, help me! You're dealing with something. You've been hiding something, so you pick up the phone to dial the number to confess something, before someone found out what you've been hiding all along - dear God. You're waiting on the results of a medical test - oh God. You're walking out of the job office with a pink slip. See distress is the very force that overpowers intellect, theology, rationale or resistance. We can have all of our arguments lined up about: why God is this, or why God is that, or why God isn't this, or why God isn't that. Sometimes all it takes is a little distress to get us out of all that, and drive us back to the person Himself.

So in the Book of Jonah, God listens and responds to the desperate cry, of desperate people, who are in desperate circumstances of their own creation. How nice is God? He listens to the desperate cry, of desperate people, in desperate circumstances of their own creation, that's how nice He is. This is something we miss about God. We think that there's no way we could come back to Him, given how we've treated Him and ourself; but in the Book of Jonah, as well as the rest of the Bible, there's a constant invitation: come back, return, repent.

Repent and return are the same exact word. Return, repent, come back; there's a better way to live, no matter how far down this road you've gone. There's a better way to do things. Some observations about storms and fish:

1) unexpected crisis in our lives reveal who we really are. This is a conclusion to the story of a man who was going to the end of a trade route of the day. It would have taken him a year. He had options. He had money. In Jewish history, he had means; so here's a man with means, money, some sort of power, a bit of a name, and God tells him to do something. He says: I want you to deal with this. I want you to deal with this darkness. You don't have to fix it; just go there and name it. He says: I'm not going to do that. The word Jaffa means beauty. The word Tarshish means wealth. Jonah ran from what God told him to deal with, in a pursuit of beauty and wealth.

He had options, but in the belly of the fish there were no options. He ends up in the belly of a boat, and then gets thrown into the belly of the ocean, and ends up in the belly of a fish - this does not turn out well. In the belly of the fish, Jonah doesn't have wealth, or at least it doesn't matter. He doesn't have prestige, at least it doesn't matter. He doesn't have a name. In the belly of the fish, in Jonah's case, the storm and the fish drove Jonah to a place where it was just him and God; and that forced him to deal with things about who he really was. It forced him to stick in there, and forced him to answer hard questions. Storms reveal the real you.

2) Storms also change the perspective of the value of things. Storms, fish - they change your perspective on the value of things. The Rabbis teach that all of us can find ourself in the Book of Jonah and isn't that true? Have you ever gone through something that, after you got through it, what you thought was important before, actually wasn't that important any more? A good friend of mine was here this weekend, and he just came through throat cancer, and he's completely clean and in full remission. He had stage four throat cancer. He couldn't speak for 18 months. Part of the treatment for the throat cancer is: he has no saliva for the rest of his life; so right now all of you can draw saliva up into your mouth. If I was to say: I want you to picture a nice lamb shank, with good mushroom gravy, and maybe some lamb, mint sauce - you can draw that into your mouth. We take it for granted, because we've had it our whole life, until it's stripped away from you. We were talking about it, and he said: when I was in that hospital bed in the Gold Coast, and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it or not, all kinds of things came into perspective that weren't there any more. I used to think this was important, and now I'm realising it's not important at all. So in one sense, unexpected crisis can force us to deal with who we really are. In another sense, unexpected crisis actually re-values things in our life, and sometimes we need that to happen.

3) Unexpected crisis exposes a lack of faith - a weak point maybe we need to deal with. Sometimes we might think we have faith, until we face something bigger than it. There's this incredible story about Jesus and the disciples - this storm comes up, and Jesus is sleeping. The disciples wake Him up, and they say: don't You even care if we perish? Don't You even care if we perish? In the Hebrew version of that gospel, this is what it says: Don't You even care if we're eternally separated from God - which is a bit of an exaggeration don't you think? But in the middle of the storm, we tend to overreact. We tend to be irrational. We tend to make something big out of something small. All kinds of things start going on physiologically.

I've told you this before, but it bears repeating. In crisis and moments like that, if we get angry, or panicked, or anything like that, an enzyme is released in our brain,, and it tells all the blood to go to our major muscle groups to prepare for a fight, or to run. When that happens, we lose 25 per cent of our IQ. When you lose 25 per cent of your IQ, you're really close to retarded! You can't make a decision. You can't complete a sentence. You do things that, when you look back on it, you go: what in the world was I thinking! If you're here tonight and you're married, and you get in an argument and things escalate, both of you get angry - essentially you have two mentally-retarded people trying to solve a problem.

It's bad!

So the fish and the storm, they: make us deal with who we really are; they change the value of things; they expose a lack of faith. What about when we someone else is going through something, and we see the faith they exhibit? It's moving! Think about the last person you knew who fell unexpectedly ill, but even in the middle of a disease, they used words like: I just feel peace; I have joy; I have confidence. That's moving, and it motivates us. It motivates us to do what? It motivates us to put our list away. Have you ever seen something on TV, or heard someone's story, and it made you think: what am I complaining about?

I saw a guy on Dr Oz the other day, and he didn't have health insurance, which in America is a real problem. He didn't have health insurance, which means he couldn't afford treatment; and it started out with a little lesion on his lip, and then it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Finally, when he was on Dr Oz, this thing was like this on his mouth, and it was lip cancer. It was cancer in his mouth right there, and you should have seen this guy. It was not fixable by the time he got there. I saw that, and I thought: what am I complaining about? There was a woman - my dad runs a grief group. My dad's wife, her daughter died very prematurely. She died of a brain tumour. She was diagnosed on a Friday, and she died on a Monday - it was that quick - my stepsister, and so as a result they now minister to people in grief. So they run this grief group, to help people deal with the pain of grief, and try to get them internally healed, and help them deal with the emotions involved in that.

There was a lady in my dad's last grief group that had lost four of her five children, and you look at that and go: that's not normal; and you think: wait a minute, I might need to put my list away. I was in Port Elizabeth, and there was this single mum, and we were handing out food. We ran out of food to hand out, and this lady came and we had no more food. I told her, I said: listen, we have to find you something, so I was looking through everything, and I looked through everything. What I found in the back somewhere was a quart zip lock bag of peas, and that's all I could find. I came out, and I handed her this quart size zip lock bag of peas - tears welled up in her eyes. She had six children behind her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she said: thank You Lord, we can eat tonight. I thought to myself: what's on my list? What's on my list? There's always stories. There are these motivational speakers - have you seen the guy with no arms and no legs that can make a sandwich? Pretty cool!

There's this preacher named David Ring. Early in my life, he changed my life. He was born with cerebral palsy, and you look at someone's story, and you ask yourself: what are we complaining about? Sometimes unexpected crisis in our life does things to us, but unexpected crisis in other people's lives, and we see how they handle it, also does something in us. There's something that's healing in suffering. In other words, don't miss the opportunity to make the most of a good crisis! I listened to these stories, I saw these people, I saw the guy on Dr Oz, I'd heard about this lady in my dad's group. Then I asked myself: what kinds of things do we complain about? Someone didn't speak to me, they were mean. The Cable guy is late. The trady didn't show up on time. They never fixed that road in a way that doesn't hold up traffic. The things that we complain about, the things on our list get exposed in the middle of fish and storms.

So storms reveal a lack of faith, by showing the faith of others. Have you ever seen someone's faith, that revealed your lack of it? Have you ever seen someone's generosity, that exposed your greed? There's been times when I've been working on generosity in my life, and building it around my life, and being more of a giver, and more of a giver, more of a giver. There was a moment last year where I thought: man, I'm feeling pretty good about where I am with this. Then I turned on the TV one night, and there was a show called Extreme Home Makeover in America. I don't know if it comes on here, and there was this couple up in Pennsylvania, and they were feeding like 15,000 meals a week out of their back kitchen, and like their floor was falling through the ground. Their children were having issues with holes in the walls and all of this stuff, and Extreme Home Makeover came in and they started asking the guy, they said: how much do you make a year? He said: oh, we make $140,000 a year - which is hardly poor - and yet there were holes in the floor.

They said: $140,000 a year, why wouldn't you fix this floor? Why wouldn't you fix that hole? He said: if you saw what comes through here every week - if I fix this floor, that's hundreds of meals I can't feed. Someone's going to go hungry so I can have a floor, are you kidding me? Where would my priorities be? When he said that, I went - I'm just going to go faint now. So here's a guy on $140,000 a year, and his family was living on $40,000 and they gave $100,000 of their personal income to feed people who can't eat. That is righteousness, so as much generosity as I had thought I had built around my life, when I saw that, it exposed some existing greed still left in my heart. Sometimes fish and storms expose the things that need to change.

So fish and storms, unexpected crises reveal who we really are. They change the value of things. They expose a lack of faith, and they expose flaws in our perspectives. Jonah's prayer's very interesting. When you read Jonah's prayer, it's all direct quotes from different psalms. I cried to You in my distress; that's Psalm 18 and Psalm 120. Waves and breakers were coming over my head; that's Psalm 132. I was deep into the realm of the dead; that's Psalm 120. Up from the pit You brought me; that's Psalm 30. Salvation's from the Lord; that's Psalm 3. Jonah at least had his word down. He's in the belly of the fish, and where does he turn? He turns to the word. He turns to the life-giving; he turns to light, life, increase. He turns to this, and he begins to repeat this over and over and over again, and when he wrote or narrated this, he said: this was the essence of what I prayed. All of these things are direct quotes from psalms.

I think this might have been Jonah's last prayer, but it was hardly his first. I think when you're thrown out of a boat into an ocean, you get swallowed by a big fish, the first words out of your mouth aren't necessarily inspired of God. But when he knew he had to write it all down, he gave a compilation of his best effort; but nonetheless his prayer - think about prayers. We have all kinds of prayers. We have thanksgiving prayers. You could think about this in terms of giving grace for a meal. What is it, to say grace for a meal? There's a couple of aspects to it: 1) bless this food; in other words, if there's anything poisonous in it, let it go good in my body - which doesn't mean so much in New Zealand, but in Fiji it takes on a whole new connotation, right? In some places you go, it's like: wait a minute, hold on, let's get this out. The other connotation of blessing the food is what? We're eating Lord, may we always be aware that there are people who aren't, so thank you. There's a thank you, sort of.

There are also petitions, like asking God for things. This prayer - other kinds of prayers are screams for help, but think about this. This is how eloquent Jonah wrote this: Father, I've just been swallowed by a large marine mammal. I am smelling things that you can't imagine. I'm going to be passed through its bowel shortly, which is going to be quite unpleasant. Please, if it be Your will, rescue me Lord, save me from this hot, dark, smelly dungeon, oh great and powerful God. Do we pray like that? No. In the belly of a fish, we scream incoherent thoughts for help with God. Sometimes the belly of the fish is the very thing that helps us get real. We quit saying things like: oh bless you brother. Isn't God great? We quit doing things like that, because unexpected crisis forces us to get real. It forces us to say things like: you know what, I'm in so much pain last night, I didn't think I was going to make it - and it actually helps us deal with darkness.

Sometimes the fish is the very thing that helps us deal with those things. We tend to think that Jonah needs to be rescued from the fish. That's how it's taught: God rescued Jonah from the fish. Actually when you read the story, it was the fish that rescued him. The fish, the storm, the crisis, is what saved Jonah from himself. It made him deal with himself. It put things in perspective in his life. It changed the value of things. It changed his perspective. It drove him back to the word. Jonah did not need to be saved from the fish; the fish was prepared by God to save him. In Jonah's prayer, it's not a prayer of lamentation, or really help. By the end of it, it's a prayer of thanksgiving. It's a thank you for the salvation that God had brought him. In reality the fish brought him salvation.

See we tend to want to be rescued from storms and fish, but often times they're the very things that rescue us. They save us from ourselves, and they save others from themselves. In the Book of Jonah, it starts out with two wills: God's and Jonah's. By the middle of the Book of Jonah, you've got one will: God's. By the end of the Book of Jonah, you have two wills again. Essentially, the Book of Jonah ends with a question: should I not be nice to 120,000 people, Jonah? The Book of Jonah starts out with two wills, God's and Jonah's. In the middle it's just one will, God's. By the end it's back to two wills. Essentially the Book of Jonah ends with a cliff hanger: are we going to have part two? Do we need to go through something like this again, so that we can lose ourself, that He might increase?

Sometimes storms are the very thing that save us. Perhaps the lesson is not: God, get me out of something; it's: God, thanks for saving me from me. It's: God, thank You for going through this with me. How many of you have said: Lord, save me from losing my job. I don't want to lose my job! Actually losing your job could be the best thing for you. What if losing your job is what propels you to start your own business, and you end up doing well, that you would have never had the guts to do yourself? You know why I'm here today? I'm here today because I lost my job! Actually I was in a very unfortunate situation, where a church hired me and then couldn't pay me; which is really unfortunate, because they offered me quite a good salary, and then I went to pick up my pay cheque and... ah we don't have it; to which I said: do you have some of it? Nope, we were just believing God brother. I'm going: well that's nice. Does your belief have food attached to it?

They were not bad people. It was just an unfortunate thing, and it put me into a very unexpected crisis - no job, $1,600 in the bank. The place that I had left had already replaced me; and I'm driving back across the country, not knowing what in the world was coming next. I got six hours down the road. You know how far it is to drive across America? Very far! Had a lot of time to think. I got six hours out of California, and my phone rang, and it was Clark Taylor. I hadn't talked to Clark in, I don't know, five years. He says: is this Shane Willard? I said: yes. He said: Shane, this is Clark Taylor. I said: hey Clark. He said: listen, about three weeks ago, God started dealing with me about having you come and be the keynote speaker at my pastor's conference, and I'm sorry it's taken me a little time to get to you. I just wanted to see if you were free, to which I said: yes, I'm quite free!

He said: it's my first pastor's conference, I don't know what the turnout's going to be, so you're going to have to pay your own way here, and we're going to believe God; and I'm like: that'd be fantastic! I had $1,600 in the bank, the plane ticket was $1,580. We put that in there, flew across the sea with $20; and there were 70 pastors there, and they all but one booked, and here we are. So I tell that story to say: what I thought was a disaster, was actually God saving me from something. It was actually God providing!

So the prayer: God, save me from losing my job! Well okay, I'll go there with you; but maybe losing your job might be the best thing for you. Save me from this family crisis. Maybe the family crisis has saved you? Save me from this divorce - well maybe it saved you. Lord, save me from this idea of moving away from my home town. Umm, maybe actually it saved you.

See storms and fish are a lot like fleeing from the presence of the Lord. Jonah was trying to get away from the presence of God, yet the whole rest of the book is about Jonah and God - so did Jonah succeed? Listen to Verse 3: You hurled me into the deep. YOU hurled me into the deep. Hang on, think about the story. Who hurled Jonah into the sea? The sailors. Jonah has clarity in the belly of the fish. He says: no, no, no, it wasn't the sailors that did it, YOU did it. Jonah sees clearly in the middle of a storm, in the middle of a fish, sometimes that's when you see things the most clear; which leads me to this question. When did Jonah actually repent of where he was going? Like was it in mid-air over the side of the boat? Was it when he actually hit the water? Was it going down the gullet of the fish? The answer is: I don't know; but you do know this: it was way before three days. Jonah changed his tune way before three days. God is generous with His grace, but He's thorough with His discipline. You start looking at the discipline of God - wander for 40 years in the wilderness. At what point in that 40 years do you think they said: we got it Lord, can we go back now?

Seventy years in exile, all kinds of things. Good parenting is equating rebellion with pain. My dad had a belt and - don't feel bad for me, I needed it. And trust me, all of us wish yours would have done it more, probably. Okay, so he would do this. He hardly ever had to hit me, hardly ever. Every now and then he gave - well in general he never gave me a spanking I didn't deserve, and it was never over the top. It was appropriate discipline, but what he did is, he attached pain with bad behaviour. Once sufficient pain was attached to bad behaviour, there were moments where I'd start to cross the line, and all he had to do was take his belt off and set it down, and before he ever had to discipline me, I changed right then! Can I get an amen - how many of you know what I'm talking about right? The belt itself, not the act of discipline but the belt itself, brought about the change in behaviour.

See sometimes we need storms and fish to act as belts in our life. Essentially it acts as those moments that go: umm, ahh, do we need to pull this out? We have to start though with the supposition that God is kind, and He is loving, and His judgement and discipline is never forever. It's always meant to bring about correction for greater fruitfulness, just like a dad. It's called classical condition. God's discipline sometimes goes far beyond what is necessary to teach the lesson, so that we'll never go there again.

Verse 8: Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You. What I vowed, I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord. See Jonah is pointing out something: in the middle of unexpected crisis we cling to God, not to the things that we were pursuing other than God. We don't cling - in the middle of a fish, in the middle of a crisis, in the middle of a storm, we don't cling to the plan. We don't cling to the money, we don't cling to the position, we don't cling to Jaffa, we don't cling to Tarshish. We cling to God. What we pursued instead of God is not worth what we lose.

In our distress, we do not cry out for what we were pursuing - the person, the standard of living, the deal we were working, no - we cry out for God. Sometimes the storm and the fish is what we exactly need. It's not that we need saving from the storm and the fish; it's that the storm and the fish is what's saving us. The storm and the fish is actually saving us. Let me close this tonight with a couple of application questions:

1) Is there any place in my life that I need God to rescue me from? Is there any place in my life that I look at, and I say: God, I really feel like I need You to rescue me from this?

2) Is there any way that it is actually rescuing me? Is there any sense of it, that it's actually rescuing you? Maybe it's forcing you to deal with the real you? Maybe it's forcing you to name your darkness? Maybe it's bringing things to the surface, maybe it's bringing emotions up that haven't been brought up for years and years and years, and you're not going to go forward in wholeness without bringing it up. Maybe this thing you need rescuing from, is the very thing God is using to rescue you. What do you need rescuing from? Is there any sense that it's rescuing you?

3) is there anything in my life that needs to be value-shifted? Don't feel bad - Jonah was one of the heroes of the faith, but everything in his life needed to be value-shifted. Jonah was a racist bigot. He was not a very nice person. He actually wanted God to destroy a group of people, four days after he was rescued from the belly of a fish - not very good. You can't celebrate your deliverance from a fish, by hoping other people get swallowed! Come on, that doesn't work - and the whole reason he didn't want God to be nice, was because the Assyrians weren't Jews. He's a racist. What in your life, is the fish or the storm trying to value-shift? In other words, don't go through the fish and storm without getting out of it what you need to get out of it. What is God saving you from? What needs to be value-shifted? Where does your perspective need to change?

Let me ask one last question. Is there anything in me that needs to be swallowed, in order to become new? Jesus equated Jonah's three days in the fish, with His three days in the tomb. In other words, sometimes things need to be swallowed, in order to be made new. Jesus said it this way: If a kernel hits the ground, unless it dies, it can't come up new.

I came here this week with a progression of thought, a way of hopefully moving this congregation to another place. I hope that it's been a blessing to you. I hope that we were willing to relearn the love of God, and we sort of saw Genesis in a new light - that we don't owe God anything, that we don't have Babble. I hope we learned some things about how we handle our money and our treasure. I got a tremendous response this morning about light and dark, and choosing light, and not blaming other people for where we are.

My last question to you is this: whatever you're going through, in terms of fish and storms and unexpected crisis, what are you going to get out of it? What needs to change? What needs to be moved? What needs to be swallowed, so that life can become new for you? What are you believing God for? What are you believing God to do in you - not in the circumstance, circumstance of whatever - what are you believing God to do in you? Are you willing to name it now? Just between you and God, are you willing to name it? Are you willing to tell God: this is what I need, this is what I want to be made new. I want to be made new in this area. This is darkness in my life. This is disrepair. Lord, I thought the fish was what I needed saving from; actually the fish is saving me. This is what I need to deal with.

I bless you tonight, with the courage to deal with those things, in a way that some places call it an exhortation. I exhort you, I challenge you, to take a moment, look deep down in side, and don't waste the crisis. If you're not in a crisis right now, good. When the next one comes, don't waste it! Likely you don't need to be saved from the crisis; likely the crisis is saving you. I bless you tonight to be able to find the love of God, even in a crisis. I bless you tonight to deal with your darkness.

Let's pray together. Lord, we love You and we honour You. We proclaim You're king. Lord Jesus, I give you my life fresh and anew. I ask You to be my Lord. Forgive me for the places in my life, that I've turned down the volume of my conscience, to deal with it. May I never turn down the volume of the voice of Your spirit. Lord, let Your spirit speak strongly. Right now across this room I ask that Your spirit begin to speak to the hearts of people. May there be a bravery that comes over this place, to name the darkness, to deal with it, so that we don't keep going through fish and storms over and over and over again. Let's deal with it.

There's a real sense of the presence of God in here. Lord, just right now, I pray you would speak quietly into the hearts of people: this is what needs to be made new. A later writer said it this way: God makes all things new. Just right now let a spirit of newness come over you, a new heart, a new spirit, a new commitment to live in the light. Let that rest over you - a new commitment to be more aware of the needs of people around you, a new song, a new dance, a new story, a new life, a new everything.

If you get on this prayer, maybe you want to just whisper this underneath your breath: Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my spirit. Would You make all things new? Would You make all things new? Lord, thank You for my fish, thank You for my storm, thank You for my crisis. May I get the most out of it. May my suffering or crisis, or fish or storm, may it inaugurate something of creativity, and life, and newness in spirit, in Jesus' name. Amen.


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