Preached at Red Mills Baptist Church, Sunday December 29th 2019

It is customary when crossing the year boundary to preach a sermon about fresh starts and resolutions;  sermons of how “this year will be Different”.   And while this sermon may to some extent be consistent with that sort of theme, today’s sermon is not that sort of sermon.

I suppose such sermons have their place, but in my experience, the BIG PUSH to do something new and difficult may work for a while, but that approach inevitably fails.  I’m sure we have all had the experience of making new year’s resolutions like “I’m finally going to be nice to my sister” or “This is the year I will exercise.”   And by a supreme effort of will, we begin to put on “The New Me.”   But invariably, after a week, or a month of moderate success, we fall back into our old ways, no better than before, and perhaps a little worse.  Such approaches fail because the reality is that we do what we want to do, and we only vary from this for a very short time.

The only way we really change, is by changing what we want, or by realizing that we’ve been going about it all wrong, and there is a better way to get what we want.  I have nowhere seen this better articulated than in Thomas Chalmers’ essay “The Expulsive Power of A New Affection.”

Today’s sermon is about forgiveness.  Forgiveness, true forgiveness, does not come easily to us.  And it is all but impossible for the natural man.  But even for the one on whom God has shed his grace, and quickened his heart, it is still not an easy thing.  We find it difficult because deep down, we want something, and to forgive the one who has truly offended us, feels like we are giving up something…something valuable.

But as Jim Elliot, the martyred 1950s missionary, one said “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Understanding how our Lord’s high calling to forgiveness is a blessing will not make it easy, but if we can at least see why this is what we want, we will be strengthened to make real changes.

I’m going to talk first about “What is Forgiveness”, then “The necessity of forgiveness”, and finally, “The Blessing of Forgiveness”.  Let’s turn in our bibles to the book of Matthew, chapter 18, and I’ll read, starting in verse 21 and to the end of the chapter:

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’
30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’
34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

The heart of this passage is forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness towards one another.   But what is forgiveness, exactly?

Let’s start with this working definition:  “Forgiveness is choosing to accept the consequences of another person’s sin”

The slave in this parable had a great debt, 10,000 talents we are told.  To get an idea of just what this means, the value of a talent could be as low as about $16,500 for a silver talent, and as high as  $1.4M for a gold talent. That means this slave owed his king anywhere from $165M at a minimum, up to as much as $14B.  Either way, it was an enormous debt.

But this slave could not pay his debt.

He was in way, way over his head, and there was no way he would ever get himself out.  And all that he was and all that he had would not cover it.

Now, we must remember here, that the King had lent the money to the slave, and he had a RIGHT to be repaid.  The money was really his, only on loan to the slave, and now the slave had lost or squandered it.  The king had a right to the money, and a right to sell the slave, and his family, and all that he had, if the money could not be repaid.  And under Roman law, he could also have the slave executed.

And this is what the king began to do, we are told in verse 25:

But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

This right of compensation is true of you and me as well: when someone harms you, steals from you, or sins against you in any way, they incur a debt.  There is a very real sense in which you have a right to be made whole by the offender.  And it would be unjust of any third party to simply say “be quiet, you have no claim.”  You do have a claim, and insofar as compensation has not been made, and the wrong not righted, it is unjust.

In order to really understand forgiveness, we need to understand that we start with someone who is owed something, be it money, or honor, labor or property, something is owed.  And that person has a RIGHT to what is owed.  In this case, what is owed to the king is so much money, that it can only be satisfied by selling the slave and his family and all that he has.  The slave will be left with nothing, save perhaps his own life.  And seeing just how desperate is his situation, he cries out to the king in verse 26:

So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’

The slave is not asking for forgiveness, at least not in the complete sense, his simply asking for more time.   We are not told if this was in any way a reasonable request.   How much time would it take a slave in the ancient world to come up with $165M, much less $14B?  How long would it take you or I today?   I suspect it was a hope-against-hope sort of request.  No amount of time would be sufficient, he was just hoping to forestall the inevitable.

But then we read verse 27:

“And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”

Do you understand the magnitude of what just happened?   Imagine that someone owed you millions of dollars, maybe billions.  I don’t care how rich you are, that’s a lot of money.   And then this person who owes you all this money says he can’t pay it.  You feel compassion for this person, but that’s a lot of money, and it is going to hurt to just let it go.  It is going to hurt a lot.

When this King releases the slave and forgives the debt, he is giving up his right to demand compensation.

That money is just gone.

Written off.

Never to be recovered.

$165 million, up in smoke.

That means that if this king himself had debts to pay, or projects to do, he would have to this without the $165M.  Maybe some projects wouldn’t get done.  Maybe this king will have to ask for an extension on his loan to another king.  By forgiving the debt he is is giving up his right to that money – he is choosing to accept the consequences of the slave’s sin and renouncing his right to compensation.

So I’m going to expand slightly on our working definition of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is choosing to accept the consequences of another person’s sin and give up, or renounce, our right to compensation.

But to what extent are we to forgive?  What are the limits?  When does it change from being grace to foolishness?

Our passage began with Peter asking Jesus “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

In asking “up to seven times?”, Peter shows he understands the bar is really high – forgive up to 7 times!  Not just the first time, that would be a given if you’re any sort of decent person at all.  And if your brother sins against you in the same way a second time, and asks forgiveness, well, we’re going to forgive a second time, because after all, we are supposed to be really good people right?  But wouldn’t it seem reasonable that by the third time we start to question our brother’s sincerity?  I mean, come on….were you just kidding the first two times?   So by going to seven, Peter is suggesting that we should be really long suffering, forgiving our brother twice as many times as any reasonable person would allow – plus one!

Not to mention, 7 was the number of perfection, or completeness.

Peter probably thought he was being really spiritual.  Maybe he even thought he might have gone too far…wouldn’t you have?

But Jesus does not commend this answer.  Instead he says in verse 22: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  In other words, Jesus is saying “forgive without limit” or “There never comes a time when you have discharged your duty to forgive.”

In 2016, a movie came out, called “Silence”, which was about Jesuit missionaries to Japan in 1633.   One of the characters in the movie, Kichijiro, repeatedly betrays his fellow Christians to save his own life only to return a scene or two later, repentant, confessing faith, and asking forgiveness.  He is a tragic figure, but he represents a vivid picture of what Jesus is commanding here: we are to forgive without limit.  Just as we are to love without limit.

So let’s update our working definition of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is choosing to accept the consequences of another person’s sin renouncing, our right to compensation, and keeping no record of the sin.

The 99th time I forgive my brother is no different from the 1st.

But all this begs the question:  Why are we to forgive in this way, and without limit?  Why is forgiveness so important?

There are several answers to this question, the first of which is found here in the text: Jesus commands us to.

In verses 28 – 34, this same slave who was forgiven an impossibly high debt, then deals harshly with another slave owing him the much smaller sum of 100 denarii.  There are 6000 denarii to the talent, so this is a sum of about $300, based on the silver talent, or $23,000 based on the gold talent.   And when the king finds out how this slave treated his fellow slave, harshly and without compassion, even after he had shown him immense compassion, the king was enraged and as we see in verse 34,  he “handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.”

And then Jesus says in verse 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

In other words, Jesus says that if you do not forgive your brother who sins against you FROM YOUR HEART, you will not receive forgiveness from The Father, you will bear the full weight of your own sin.

This phrase “From The Heart” means “from the innermost part of our being” and “without reservation”.  From the heart means that we don’t just say it, but we really mean it.  We need to amend our definition of forgiveness to include ‘from the heart’.

Forgiveness then, “is choosing from the heart to accept the consequences of another person’s sin renouncing our right to compensation, and keeping no record of the sin.

Jesus commands us to forgive our brother.  And that should be enough for anyone who calls Jesus ‘Lord’.

And if this sounds really hard, then you are paying attention, because it really is.  But remember, what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.  We can’t do this on our own, we need God’s spirit.  So if you are struggling to forgive, ASK the Lord to change  your heart so that you can.   We cannot command our own emotions, but we can ask God to.

But there is a deeper reason why we must forgive in this way and without limit: because if you are a Christian, then you want to imitate Christ.  Christian means “little Christ”, and one of the marks of the Christian is that we become more and more like Christ as we mature in our faith.

Consider the following passages:

Matthew 4:19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

To follow is to imitate.  We are to imitate Christ.

Romans 8:29 “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;”

We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

We ARE being transformed into the image of Christ.

And so dear brother and sister in Christ, you have a desire to be like Christ, to imitate him, and be like him.

And Christ. FORGAVE. You.

Like the slave in this story, we each have an enormous debt, a debt that is hopelessly beyond our ability to repay.

The magnitude of our sin cannot be measured only by degree of harm, or the intensity of our feeling.  The magnitude of sin also has to do with the one sinned against.  To kill an ant may not seem like a crime to anyone, because an ant is a small and insignificant creature.  But many more people would consider it a bad thing to kill a mouse that was not in your house.  Still more would consider it a crime to kill a dog or a cat, unless there was significant justification for destroying the animal.  But to simply wound a human without just cause would be regarded as sinful by pretty much everyone. It is a greater sin to sin against a greater being.

God is farther above us than we are above the ant.  God is the greatest, most significant being that exists.  God is infinite, so to sin against God, in even the smallest way, is a sin of infinite magnitude.  And we have sinned against him greatly.

And justification plays into it as well.  In the ancient world, it was understood that if someone killed your brother, you had a duty to avenge his death.  Killing the murderer was not sin.  But to kill another murderer, but one whose victims were not your kin, that would be evil, because YOU had no cause to kill him.  But it would be more evil to kill a person who had committed no great sin.  And it would be more sinful still  to kill someone who was completely innocent of any wrongdoing.  But most sinful of all would be to kill someone who had not only never harmed you, but been good and kind to you.

Even in our sinful, fallen state, God is good to us beyond belief.  He sends his rain on the just and the unjust. By the power of his word, he holds the universe together.  By his grace, we are given breath, and life, and blessing.  He restrains evil, and blesses each one of us.  To sin against one so good to us is a grievous sin indeed.

But we have sinned against God: first in failing to acknowledge Him as our creator, maker, sustainer, giver of life, and source of all blessing.  He has given us life itself, and every breath we draw is by his allowance, yet we have robbed him of his glory and given it to another, whether it be ‘nature’ or ‘the universe’ or ‘ourselves’ or any other thing.

But we have further sinned against him in our violence to one another.  Man was created in the image of God, and when we sin against each other, we sin against God.  So every harsh word, every injury, every murder, is an offense against the God who created that person.

Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:21-22

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

And like the king in the parable, God has the right to compensation.  He has a just cause against each one of us.  And because he is infinite, and infinitely good, our sin against him is of infinite magnitude.

How do finite creatures pay an infinite debt?  We pay it in eternity forward.  This is what is meant by ‘Hell’.  It is an eternity of punishment because of the magnitude of our rebellion and sin against our holy and good God.

But thanks be to God, our God is compassionate.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  — John 3:16

Like the king in the parable, God has taken this enormous debt of ours and forgiven it.  But here’s the thing: in the parable, when the king forgives the slaves debt, he’s out the money.  For him to live with the consequences of the slave’s sin, he was going to have to suffer loss.  Our sin does not incur a monetary debt.  Our debt is a life debt, and can only be paid with an eternity of punishment.

For God to forgive us, to choose from the heart to accept the consequences of our sin, renouncing his right to compensation, and keeping no record of the sin, he had to absorb the consequences, which is why Jesus who is God, and is infinite, had to bear our punishment on the cross.

It cost Him everything to forgive us, and we are to imitate Christ, and so we too are called to forgive without limit, regardless of the personal cost.

But therein lies the power to forgive as well: because God forgave me this immense debt that I could never repay, because I am a recipient of His grace, lavished on me without measure, I am secure in my person, and I have a supernatural power to forgive others of their sins against me.  Sins which, by the way, are much less significant than my sins against God.  Because I am an ant compared with God.  As a finite being, and a sinful one at that, sins against me are of limited magnitude, they are finite.  So in forgiving my fellow man, I am forgiving a very small debt compared with my great debt which was forgiven by God.

I hope I have begun to show how forgiveness, though extremely difficult, is the path we really want to take.  Because Jesus is our Lord, and we want to obey him and we want to be like him, so we take the hard but right way.

And this should certainly be motivation enough, but there is an addition blessing to forgiveness that you may not have thought about.  It’s not as great a blessing as knowing that we are living the way Jesus wants us to, but it is a little more immediately tangible.

We feel that in granting forgiveness, we are giving up something…something valuable.  And this is true, because the sin against us incurs a debt and we have a right to compensation.

But think about this:  even if the king in the parable exercised every legitimate and just means of compensation, it is highly unlikely that he will recover more than a fraction of what he is owed.  The consequences of this slave’s sin are enormous, and the king is going to have to live with these consequences, whether he accepts them or not.  When someone sins against us, we suffer the consequences whether we forgive them or not.  But that unforgiveness plants a root of bitterness that gnaws at us.  It can twist us, and it can come to define us.  When we forgive, the sin against us loses its power to harm our spirit, and we ourselves become freed from its corrosive influence.  It’s a small thing, compared with the joy of pleasing our Lord, but my hope is that it will be a further aide for us in transforming our affections.  Because in the end, we do what we want to do, but the greatest joy comes when we delight in the Lord.

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The Call of The Husband

Preached at Red Mills Baptist Church on Sunday, May 19th, 2019

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33 (NASB)

Whenever anyone gets up to preach the word of God, and especially to God’s people, and especially when standing in the pulpit, he takes on the role of spokesperson for God.  We who stand here say “this is the word of the Lord! This is for you to believe and obey.”

And so it should be apparent to anyone who gives it any thought, that the preacher must of necessity be preaching to himself as well.  Because we who stand before you, at best are communicating God’s words to his people, and we are among his people.  And so in bringing this word to you brothers and sisters … a very solemn word, a word that may bring with it a sense of conviction … in bringing this word to you, I bring it to myself as well.  Under the best of circumstances, God himself is the preacher, and you and I are both hearing from Him.   I have by no means ‘arrived’.  My feet are clay, and I struggle to fulfill the command of God as it is laid out here for us all, and you and I, all of us, fail.  Miserably at times.  We are dependent on His grace, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

When speaking of the differences between men and women in the context of the home, the church, and in the larger society, we who take a complementarian view often find ourselves having to spend a lot of time defending the biblical teaching on gender roles: of a woman’s submission to her husband, of how the elders must be men, etc. etc.

We live in such times that the biblical teaching on men’s and women’s roles is so at odds with our culture, that it seems we have to be constantly re-laying the groundwork in this area.  And what the scripture is saying about authority and submission is so at odds with the wider world, so out of step with where our culture is at, that we do indeed have to take the time to re-orient our thinking on this subject if we are to stand up for biblical truth in a world that hates it.

Today I want to talk about something which I think is slightly less controversial:  I want to take some time today to talk with the brothers about our calling as husbands.  Today’s passage is not completely without controversy, because there are those who want to deny gender distinctives altogether.  But whereas talking about how women are to submit to, and respect their husbands causes backs-of-necks to bristle the world over, speaking about how a husband is to love his wife sacrificially causes a fair bit less hand-wringing.

But I think much of the heat this topic generates comes from the fact that we have a problem with hierarchy, and with authority, and with submission.  But notice that hierarchy, authority, and submission exist WITHIN the Godhead: God the Father SENDS the Son.  The Son willing goes, in obedience to the father.  The Son is LED by the Holy Spirit, and later the Son SENDs the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Father then gives everything to the Son. You see authority and submission between the members of the trinity even though they are all equally God…equal in power, majesty, and glory.  All equally worthy of worship.

And because God exists as a trinity, love and relationship are intrinsic to the nature of God.  And so, this submission and authority we see in the trinity actually flows out of their love.   So too, whenever we in love for God, fulfill our biblical roles within a God created hierarchy, we imitate God.

So now let us turn our attention to the call of the husband.  And while these verses are directed primarily at husbands, the applications apply to all of us.

Paul tells us here in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are called to be towards our wives as Christ is towards his church, which is HIS bride.   We don’t have to think about that too long or too hard before we start to realize that this is an extremely high calling.

Let’s look at our passage to see how Christ loved the church to see how we are to love our wives.

The first thing Paul mentions is that Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER. (Eph 5:25)

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,

We understand that Christ went to the cross and died to save his people, the church.  And that tells us right away that we are called to lay down our life for our wife.  But that is way too glib a way of describing what’s being said here.  It is too short a sentence to describe such a world changing truth.

Remember, Christ was in heaven, enjoying unbroken fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  Then, in obedience to his father, he was born a man.  He left the throne room in heaven to be born in a stinking stable – in a feed trough for cattle.   He identified with us by becoming human. He walked not just in our shoes, but in our skin.  And he suffered all the indignities of human existence so that he could be a high priest who understands our condition from the perspective of one who has lived it.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  (Hebrews 4:15 NASB)

You see, Jesus completely accommodated himself to our need.   In every other religion, a man conforms himself to God and then, if he does that well enough, God accepts him.  But Jesus completely accommodated himself to us, to our need.  He became a man, lived among us, taught us, led us, died for us, rose for us, and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the father.  He came not to be served, but to serve.

“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NASB)

Let me ask a rhetorical question:

How far should we go in loving our wives?  To what extent should we change our priorities, our plans, our ambitions, not to mention our preferences and desires, to accommodate the needs of our wife?

If Christ is our example … there is no limit.  We husbands are called to subjugate our needs, our wants, our dreams….everything..for our wife.  Of course by this I am not saying that we should love our wife more than we love Christ.  But rather, insofar as we love Christ, insofar as Christ is our Lord, insofar as we are trying to imitate our Lord and walk in a way pleasing to Him, He calls us to love our wives without limit. To put it another way, to the extent you hold something back from your wife, you are withholding it from Christ himself.

Does your wife need you carry something?  Carry it…

Does your wife need comfort?  Comfort her.

Does your wife need you to give her your undivided attention?  Give it to her.

Does your wife suffer in any way?  Seek to relieve her suffering.

“How much is too much?” you might ask.  And while I realize that our own physical limitations do impose limits, there really is no limit.  Just as Christ completely accommodated himself to our needs, so too we husbands are called to completely accommodate ourselves to the needs of our wife.

Paul goes on to say that Christ gave himself up for the church “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”.  (Eph 5:26)

Our primary spiritual investment is to be in our wife.  In other words, just as Christ cleanses us with his word, so too we are to cleanse our wives with the word of God.  Just as he gives us pure spiritual food, so we too are tend to the spiritual needs of our wife.  Christ ministers to us, and we are called to minister to others, to speak to one another with psalms and spiritual sayings.  And nowhere is this more true than between a husband and wife.  There is no more important ministry for the Christian husband.

But what if your wife is more spiritual than you?  What if she has been better taught, and knows the word of God better than you?  What if she has is more spiritually mature than you?  Well then, brother, you have big task ahead of you.  It is upon you then to study, and seek wisdom, and grow spiritually so that you have something to offer to this precious person whom God has entrusted to you.   You cannot relinquish this responsibility.  But if you are lacking in this area, ask the Lord for wisdom, which he promises to give, without finding fault.  And as men we must seek out each other’s company so that we can encourage one another to grow in this area.  But brothers, we must tend to the spiritual needs of our wives, she is our first ministry.

In verse 27, Paul talks about beauty:

27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

Christ found us with no beauty of our own.  We have nothing with which to recommend ourselves to him.  And yet we ARE beautiful because Christ, in placing his love upon us, makes us beautiful.  I think it is more than ‘he declares us beautiful’, he makes us beautiful.   We are not what we once were, nor are we yet what we shall be.  But we have all been changed by his spirit, and one day, the transformation will be complete.

I think the admonition here is both to help our wives to be beautiful, and to find our wives beautiful.   On the one hand, in our spiritual ministry to our wives, we are to guide them in righteousness and holiness, so that she is ‘adorned with good works’ as Paul describes in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

But I think we are also called to find our wives to be beautiful.  That is to say, we are to adore them, to be captivated by their love, to be delighted by them.   This goes way beyond simply being faithful to our wife.

When our kids were young we were aware of this program aimed at teens and pre-teens called ‘D.A.R.E.’, Drug Awareness and Resistance Education.  Now I’m sure this is a wonderful program that does a lot of good, but I could not help thinking … “Is this really the goal … to keep kids off of drugs … that just seems like way too low a bar … don’t we want our kids to become strong, wise, and good?  Don’t we want our kids to serve the Lord, find a godly spouse, and raise another generation in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”  Not doing drugs just didn’t seem like a high enough of a goal to me.

And remaining faithful to our wife is way too low a bar as well.  We are to DELIGHT in our wives.  Consider this exhortation from Proverbs 5:18-19:

Let your fountain be blessed,

And rejoice in the wife of our youth.

As a loving hind and a graceful doe,

Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;

Be exhilarated always with her love

Notice the word ‘exhilarated’….we are to be EXHILARATED with the love of our wife.  There is supposed to be passion between us.  Or consider these passages from the Song of Solomon, chapter 4:7,9

“7 You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you”

“9 You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride; you have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes, with a single strand of your necklace.”

By the way, married couples really should read the Song of Solomon; it is about the love between a husband and a wife, and it is about Christ and the Church.   In reading the Song, you will see how you cannot diminish the significance of one meaning without diminishing the other.  To understand marriage, you have to understand Christ and the Church.  And to understand Christ and the Church, you have to understand marriage.

So if the passion has gone out of your marriage, get it back.  Love one another fiercely.  We aren’t playing games here.  We could probably do a whole sermon just on this point alone. We are called to LOVE our wives.  It should be evident to a watching world that we find our own wife beautiful and that our heart belongs to her.

Lastly, Paul tells husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies.” (Eph 5:28-30)

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;  for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

After what he has already said, this may sound redundant, but I think Paul says this here just in case we spiritualized the previous exhortations to such an extent that there is no practical application.  Here Paul makes it very concrete: love your wife as you love your own body.   Do you care for your body, do you feed it, wash it, tend to its comforts?  Do the same for your wife.  Do you treat your body with respect?  Do the same for your wife.

See you your wife’s physical needs.

Provide for her.

Care for her well-being.

Protect her from harm.

In closing, Paul talks about the two becoming one flesh and that he is really referring to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)

FOR THIS REASON, A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

I think there are many meanings here, the most obvious one being that Christ is one with his church.  But he is also saying that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.  Which means that we are making a statement to the world about Christ and the church with our marriage!  We might be making a true statement, and we might be making a false statement, but we are making a statement.  With our marriage, we are saying  to all who see ‘this is what the relationship between Christ and the church looks like’.

Jesus our savior, the bridegroom, the husband, emptied himself of all but love for our sake.  Husband: that is what a watching world should see in you.

In other words, your marriage isn’t just your marriage.  Ultimately, it is not even about you and your wife.  Your marriage is a ministry, an object lesson, and a declaration of what you believe.  It is the crucible of your sanctification, and your primary field of ministry.

The call to women to submit to their husbands is a difficult one, because their husbands are just clay vessels.  We fail, we make bad choices, and we sin against our wives, and our children. We fail to live up to the high calling of Ephesians 5:25-33.

Let’s just put that out there:  women, God is asking you to do something that is really, really hard.  And apart from His grace and provision in your life, it is impossible.  And while this is what God calls you to, and there is a blessing in obedience, because of the sin which fills every human heart, I feel it is my duty here to remind husbands that the wife’s obedience to God, and submission to you, is between her and God:  you do not have the right to demand it.  Yours is offer that brotherly encouragement and support you would offer to any brother or sister in Christ to do the hard things that Christ commands each of us to do.

Similarly, the call of the husband to love his wife sacrificially is made more difficult by our wife’s sin.  And just like the ladies, we are called to this call without regard to the difficulty.  Even if the affection is gone, even if we have a wicked wife, we are called to love her has Christ loves the church.

Apart from the grace of God, to love this way is impossible.  But we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

And as I said to the husbands, is it not for you wives to demand this sacrificial love from your husband … that is a matter between him and God.  Yours is to offer that sisterly encouragement and support you would offer to any brother or sister in Christ to do the hard things that Christ commands each of us to do.

So men, to love your wife as Christ loved the church is to die to yourself for your wife’s sake, it is to nurture her spiritually, and to be captivated by her love.  And the manner in which we do this makes a profound statement to our children, our families, and the world.  In loving our wife as Christ loves the church we are preaching the gospel and giving witness to the sacrificial love of Christ.


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Buying a Fiat 500 Abarth

In early December, my venerable old 1997 Toyota Camry finally gave up the ghost.  Having served us for about 200,000 of her 310,000 miles, she threw a connecting rod.  Let me just say, that this was one of the best cars ever made.   The Camry was so reliable, so well balanced in features and performance….all I can say is, I will miss having so trusty a car!

But then we had to figure out what to do next.  Obviously, I need a car to get to work.   And my wife needs a car too.  With the Camry gone, we were down to one car and had to get another.  My personal favorites have always been Porsches.   Ever since I was very little, I have loved the 356’s and 911s.  For a short while, I owned a 1967 Bahama Gold 912…this was a GREAT car — it got 30mpg, ran very reliably, needing almost no repairs in the time I had it, handled great, and turned heads wherever it went.  On the flipside however, it was loud, you couldn’t drive it any kind of weather (because it was a piece of history), and my wife hated it (even though she though it was a very cute car).

How we came to the decision to buy a new/used Fiat is a story in itself, but let’s just say it was the right balance of affordable, cute, fun to drive, economical, and endorsements from friends who had one.

One the advice of a good friend, I decided I would buy only in NY, so I called the nearest NY Fiat dealership — Fiat of Larchmont and asked to speak to someone in sales.   At this point I still had a number of questions about the cars.  For one thing, what did ‘Pop’, and ‘Lounge’ mean?  Which cars had the convertible top?  What sort of warranty was there?  What is the 500L?  I was pretty sure I wanted a turbo and a convertible top, but that was about as far as it went.

Now look, friends, when I go out to buy a car from a dealer, I have this expectation, reasonable or not, that the sales person is going to be absolutely bonkers about their car.  I expect that they are going to know everything there is to know about their car, why their car is better than anything else in its class, and why I should buy one right now.   I want to buy a car from a person who loves what they’re selling!  Because if the sales guys isn’t passionate about their product, why should I think it is any good?   I don’t expect to hear a salesperson give vague answers to specific questions.  Ok, so maybe the sales guy wasn’t very technical.  But he could of at least said “gee, I don’t know, let me find out the answer to your question.”   But unfortunately, the sales guy in Larchmont either didn’t really like Fiats, or didn’t really want to sell any cars, because he did not have answers to my questions and showed no interest in finding them.

But I still wanted to buy a Fiat, and in NY, so I called Fiat of Manhattan.   But this time, when I got connected to the receptionist, I asked “Do you have anyone on staff whom you would describe as ‘passionate’ about cars?”  “Oh yes,” she replied.  “I’ll connect you to Guiseppe.”   And friends, Guiseppe did not disappoint.

Not only was he able to tell me what was the difference between Pop, Lounge, and Sport, but he also could tell me the specs on the Abarth, and by the way, he’s got one right now that he would love to show me.

I could tell right away that I was dealing with someone who loved his product.

So the next day, my son and I got on the train and headed off to Fiat of Manhattan.  We met Giuseppe, and he gave us a test drive in a 2015 Nero Black Fiat 500 Abarth with 270 miles on it, explaining all the cool features (like Sport mode!) and generally getting us acquainted with the car.




I probably should have looked at other cars, but the Abarth was so fun, sooo good looking, and since it was technically used, was available for better than %20 off of MSRP.   How do you say no to a deal like that?   Besides, convertibles are no fun in winter.

Now it is February, and I like the car even more than when I bought it.  It is the most delightful car I have ever owned, and my wife loves it too.   Now what could be better than that?

Thanks, Giuseppe, for being so knowledgeable and helpful, and for helping me to get a car that both my wife and I love to drive!

And to you my friends, if you are looking for something small, stylish, and fun, check out the Fiat’s.   If have any questions about Fiats, or if you are in or near NY, talk to Giuseppe Salvitti at Fiat of Manhattan.  And if you are in Orlando, talk to Andrew Tartaglia at Fiat of Orlando (I was in town and dropped into the Fiat dealership and he and I got to talking — definitely a man who is passionate about his product!)




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A God Of Love

The book of Jonah is, no doubt, familiar to all of us.   We know about his commission to preach to the Ninevites, his disobedience, the great fish, and his later obedience to God’s call.   Many of us with children have seen the Veggie Tales ‘Jonah’ movie. There is much we could say about Jonah, as every aspect of this little book is heavily laden with spiritual treasure.   We could talk about Jonah as a negative example due to his disobedience. We could talk about the great fish, or Jonah’s prayer, or we could talk about Jonah’s prejudice, as we see in his response to God’s sparing of the Ninevites.

But the book of Jonah is not primarily about Jonah; it is about God.

We see in the book of Jonah, a God who loves pagan sailors and does a great work among them.   We see a God who loves the wicked people of Nineveh and brings them to a place of repentance. The book of Jonah shows us an intimate relationship between God and his appointed prophet. We see a God who loves Jonah, despite his disobedience, and chastens his child as a father does his beloved son.

The book of Jonah shows us a God whose love is great beyond our comprehension.

The book of Jonah is about a God who loves us with a fiery passion that knows no limits.   It shows us how God’s love is deep and personal, and how we who are his can have CONFIDENCE the he will NEVER leave us nor forsake us.

Before dealing with the text of Jonah, let us address the question of the nature of this book: is Jonah simply a parable, or is it history?   Did the events of Jonah really happen? Or is it simply a nice story that shows us important spiritual truths without actually purporting to describe events that happened?

Obviously, the bible contains both sorts of narratives.   The life of Jesus is clearly presented as historical fact, as is the creation, the exodus, and many events in the lives of the kings of Judah and Israel. But what about the Song of Solomon? Proverbs? The parables of Jesus?   These are presented to us as true statements that are not historical narrative. They are true, but they are not meant to be taken as actual accounts of things that happened.

So what about Jonah? Which type of book is this? How are we meant to take Jonah?

Many would claim that because of problems they have imagining what kind of sea creature, from among all presently known sea creatures, could have actually swallowed Jonah and kept him alive for 3 days, the book of Jonah must be simply allegory or parable.

However, there are several facts which point to the book of Jonah being historical fact, which I think outweigh this objection.   The first is that this objection is easily addressed by simply saying that this was a miraculous event, like Jesus walking on water, the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth, the taking of Enoch, and many others.   We do not have to ever see direct physical evidence of the fish described to believe that “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” We may one day have direct proof, or a modern example of this happening. But even if we never do, it is no more difficult to trust the scripture in this matter than it is to trust it in weightier matters.

But the bible itself clearly presents Jonah as historical: There are two passages which point to the historicity of Jonah.   The first of these is 2 Kings 14:25:

“In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty- one years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. He restored the border of Israel from Lebo- hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.”

We read here that Jonah had a father, whose name was Amittai. He lived in Gath-hepher. Jonah lived and ministered during the reign of King Jeroboam II, son of Joash, king of Judah.

Jonah was a real person.

The second biblical text which points to the historicity of the book is Matthew 12:38-41 wherein Jesus refers to the events of Jonah as real:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here…

Jesus refers to Jonah, his 3 days and nights in the belly of the fish, and the repentance of the Ninevites all as real events. Notice especially how in verse 40, Jesus says “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”   In other words, the historicity of the resurrection is equated with the historicity of Jonah’s time in the fish.   Jesus did in fact spent 3 days and nights in the heart of the earth, and so we know that Jonah spent 3 real days and nights inside the belly of a real fish.

The book of Jonah is HISTORY.

Now let us look at the scripture. Please open your bible with me to the book of Jonah and we’ll start with chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah, to preach in Nineveh. And what does Jonah do? He heads in the OPPOSITE direction!

“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

Jonah heads to Joppa where he boards a ship bound for Tarshish, which was about as far as you could go in those days from Nineveh.

We find out later why he did this but, for now, let us just let his disobedience sink in.   This was not an oops. This was not a man struggling to have victory over sin in his life, this was the man of God saying “NO!” to his Lord.   This is raw, naked rebellion. And while this rebellion does bring chastisement from the Lord, what is truly amazing here is the limited scope of that chastisement.

Wouldn’t you expect God to blast Jonah with a bolt of lightning? Shouldn’t the earth open up under him to swallow him up, never to be seen again?

God would be Just to pour his wrath on Jonah, and that is what we might expect, but that is exactly what we do not see.   God sends a great storm to the ship, which threatens to break it up. This is the beginning of God’s chastisement of Jonah, but it is not wrath.   God is rebuking his prophet, not destroying him.   Jonah is going to live through this, though it will be very difficult for him.

But now look at the sailors:  they worship a variety of Gods (v5), they use divination in an attempt to extract information from God (v7),

Yet despite their pagan sensibilities, they seem to be moral men, insofar as they attempt to row back to shore, rather than kill Jonah. When they realize that they must throw Jonah overboard, they call on the Lord and pre-emptively ask his forgiveness and pardon.

Then an amazing thing happens: after they pray and throw Jonah overboard, the sea stopped its raging. The men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” Now I am not saying that the Lord granted them a spirit of repentance and saved them, though that is possible. But clearly the Lord showed them lovingkindness in sparing them and the ship, in showing his greatness to them, and in giving them a fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).

God, in his mercy, showed LOVE and COMPASSION on these idolatrous, divination-using sailors. The full extent of his love for them we do not know, but we see here a glimpse into the heart of God.

Chapter 2

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

yet I shall again look

upon your holy temple. ’

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit,

O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away,

I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Oh the deep, deep love of God!

In this prayer, we see that God’s chastisement was having its desired effect. Rebellious Jonah, encased in a great fish, prays a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord along with a promise to obey.

God used a lot of force in Jonah’s life to get him to this point. Some commentators even say that between chapters 1 and 2, Jonah actually dies, only to be resurrected.   That may be, but whether he comes close to death or actually dies, the point is the same: God was not content to leave Jonah in his rebellious state. God has a mission to the Ninevites in mind, but he is also concerned about Jonah.   God will make Jonah his loving, willing, servant, and he will stop at nothing to accomplish his purposes in Jonah’s life.   Both his purposes for the Ninevites and Jonah will be accomplished.

God’s love for Jonah is not conditional upon Jonah’s obedience, rather Jonah’s obedience is ultimately guaranteed because of God’s love for Jonah!

Let me say that again…

God’s love for Jonah is not conditional upon Jonah’s obedience, rather Jonah’s obedience is ultimately guaranteed because of God’s love for Jonah!

And this is how it is for you and me too. Brothers and sisters, is God bringing chastisement into your life? Are there storms? Have the sailors cast you overboard?   If so, know first that if you are in Christ, this is not God’s wrath – it is your loving father bringing you to a place where you know him more fully, delight in him more completely, and obey him out of love.

Romans 8:1 says,

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Old testament believers may not have known the name of Christ – they were looking forward to their salvation, while we look back to it.   But God’s people, old testament and new, are all saved in the same way. And just as it is God who wills and works our salvation today, he willed and worked it in Jonah’s day.   And since we are His workmanship, created in Christ for the good works which he preordained that we should walk it, we WILL walk in them!   And if we resist God’s good purposes in our life, he will take us through WHATEVER IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW LONG IT TAKES to transform our hearts.

And so, while not all suffering is God’s chastisement, for those of us in Christ, none of it is wrath. Your disobedience and rebellion does not shake his love for you, but it will bring his loving hand of correction upon you. A storm. A fish.

But if you are in Christ and God is chastising you, let me encourage you brother, or sister… He chastens those he loves; listen to his chastening. Humble your heart before him. He is accomplishing good things in your life, not bad.   Trust him. Because your heavenly father loves you so very much, and knows you so well, that he will bring everything into your life that is needed to teach you what he wants you to learn.

Oh! The DEEP DEEP LOVE OF GOD! Oh how he loves you and me!

Chapter 3

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days ‘journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

The first verse of chapter three of the book of Jonah is one of my favorite verses in the bible: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time,”’

God was not done with Jonah!

You or I might have said, “Well, that’s it for Jonah…now let’s use someone else”, but that is not what God said. God’s purposes for Jonah were just as important to him as were his purposes for the Ninevites. And God’s purposes for you are just as important as his purposes for Jonah.

In chapter 1, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai and Jonah said ‘no’.

  • God would have been just to destroy Jonah then and there, but he did not.
  • God would have been gracious to allow Jonah to live, but with an unchanged heart, but he did not.
  • God would have been generous to allow Jonah to live with a thankful repentant heart, but to never speak through him again, but he did not.

Instead, God poured his love on his prophet by allowing him to live, giving him a heart of repentance, and then commissioning him a SECOND time to take his word to the Ninevites.

It reminds us of the time when Jesus re-instates Peter after he had denied him three times:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”

“Feed my sheep.”

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). If you belong to the Lord, no power in heaven or earth can snatch you away. So Christian, if you have messed up royally, do not think that God is done with you and has no further use for you.   You are precious to God, you are a trophy of his grace, and you are His workmanship: his purposes in you can not and will not be thwarted.

But this chapter also tells us of God’s love for the Ninevites! Despite the terseness of the message he delivers, and Jonah’s apparent reluctance to deliver it, the Ninevites, from the highest to the lowest, REPENT! The king declares a fast for man and beast, and they humble themselves before the Lord!

And when God sees their response, he relents from the disaster he had planned!

Were the Ninevites saved unto salvation? Many would say ‘no’, but I think there are two things which suggest that this was a true transformation of the heart.

First, God relents. God knows the heart, and he would not be satisfied with mere outward conformity.   Furthermore, such a transformation can only come from God, because apart from God’s intervention, natural man hates God.

Second, Jesus says they repented. Remember our passage in Matthew 12:

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here…”

But even if their repentance is not the kind that leads to salvation, it led to God relenting from the disaster he had planned for them.   God showed here immense compassion on the Ninevites.

Chapter 4

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle.”

And now we see most intimately the tender heart of God as well as the motivation for Jonah’s disobedience. Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord because he KNEW that God was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”   Jonah KNEW that God would be gracious to the Ninevites, and Jonah HATED the Ninevites.   They were a powerful, brutal people, whose cruelty was known by all. They were the enemies of Israel and Judah, and Jonah wanted to see them destroyed.

Perhaps Jonah thought that if fled to Tarshish, perhaps he could at least forestall their repentance and so perhaps God might still pour out his wrath on them. Perhaps he was even willing to suffer the wrath of God himself, if it would bring about Nineveh’s destruction. And he is so upset with seeing the Ninevites spared that he asks God to take his life!

“Do you do well to be angry?” the Lord asks in verse 4.

There are two things which amaze me about this question.   The first is how gentle it is. This same God who sent a storm to shake Jonah out of the ship bound for Tarshish now almost whispers to Jonah: ‘Do you do well to be angry?’   It is not even quite a rebuke, just a question. It comes from a heart that desires that his hearer would learn something.   It sounds exactly like a parent talking to a young child “would you want to be treated the way you just treated your sister?” The question, asked at this point in time shows us a God who is sooooo patient with us. It shows us a God who only uses as much force with us as is needed, and who delights not in our destruction but in our restoration.

And Jonah’s response, or lack of one, is the second thing which amazes me about this verse. Jonah is now obedient, but his heart is still against God’s purposes for the Ninevites.   Doesn’t he remind us of the child who promises to hold their breath until we relent? Jonah is having a temper tantrum, a fit. He is stamping his foot and holding his breath, and doing everything he can to change God’s mind.

And so God appoints a plant and a worm to teach Jonah.   And in the conversation that follows we see once again into the wonderful heart of our God.

“It is better for me to die than to live.”   Jonah is angry to have lost the plant which shaded his head.

“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”   The question is simply meant to establish the fact that Jonah’s anger is because of the loss of the plant.

“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” This time Jonah answers – perhaps he feels he is on more solid ground to be angry for the plant than he was with his anger over God’s mercy to the Ninevites.

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle.”

“SHOULD I NOT BE CONCERNED?”   This is the plea of God to Jonah as he entreats him to see the world as God sees it. This world and the people in it are God’s creation, for which he has labored. His justice requires that he punish wickedness, but he takes no pleasure in their destruction.

“Should I not be concerned?”, the Lord asks to Jonah.

“Should I not be concerned? There are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…” There are CHILDREN there Jonah! Shouldn’t I be concerned at least about the children? They don’t know their right hand from their left, they don’t know right from wrong, should they be destroyed too Jonah?

God LOVES the Ninevites and wants to spare them! He is not content to leave them as they are but is doing a great work among them so that he will not have to destroy them.

And God LOVES Jonah and is not content to leave Jonah’s heart where it is, focused only on the good of the Jews, but he wants to expand Jonah’s vision and show him his heart of compassion on all kinds of people and that no people, no matter how wicked are beyond his reach!

This little book shows us so much of the tenderness of God, his loving-kindness, his long suffering nature, his gentleness, and his compassion.

How can we read this book and not fall deeper in love with our savior!

The book of Jonah ends with God having the last word. We do not see the subsequent transformation of Jonah’s heart, but I believe that transformation did in fact take place, because in order to write so candidly about the state of his own heart, Jonah had to in fact see and repent of his own prejudice and hatred. I am confident that after the events of this book, Jonah came to see how wrong he was to be angry. I imagine him breaking down and crying before the Lord as he realizes how good God is to be good to the Ninevites, and how wicked he was to oppose that.  I imagine God speaking to Jonah on some later day, saying “write it all down”.

I hope that those of us in Christ today will have gotten a deeper sense of just how good God is, and in seeing that, have grown more in love with him.   But if you are not in Christ today, I hope you too have seen just how good God is.

He is so good that he will not allow sin to go unpunished, though he takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.

He is so good that just he called to the Ninevites, he calls to you today.

He is so good that he sent his Son to die on the cross in payment of our sins, so that his justice would be satisfied and he could show mercy on us.

He is so good that if we will repent of our sins, and trust Jesus to save us, he will save us!

Lastly, Jonah is upset because he doesn’t want God to show mercy to an entire people group whom he hates. I think this speaks to the intrinsic tribal nature of the human heart – we divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. But all men are made in God’s image. And people from every tribe and tongue will be among the saved people of God.   And so, just as God loves people from every people group, we too must see the people we meet in the world as potential recipients of God’s grace, no matter what ‘group’ they come from. Every man, woman, and child that you meet in this life may possibly spend eternity with you. And we need to pray for people groups, that God will pour out his mercy on The Muslims, The Homosexuals, The Liberals, The Wealthy, The Poor, Entertainers and Celebrities, My Extended Family, The People on My Street, Politicians, or any other group we tend to write off. If the Ninevites were not beyond God’s mercy, and if you and I are not beyond God’s mercy, then no one is.

Should we not be concerned?

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RIP, Mr. Williams

For those of us who grew up with the comedy of Robin Williams, we felt as if we could be friends.   We knew that if ever we were to meet him, he would make us laugh, and we would enjoy each other’s company.  And so his passing feels for so many of us like the death of a friend.  Not a celebrity or a comedian,  but a friend.

So long, Robin.  You will be missed.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

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Stranded in Pittsburgh: Uber to the rescue

These last few months I have been traveling a lot for business and one of the universals of business travel is that if you stay in a big hotel in the downtown of a big city, there will always be cabs swarming around.  Typically they’ll be lining up in the morning outside the hotel waiting for the army of business travelers going about their business in the city.  So when I booked my trip to Pittsburgh PA in April of this year, I decided that since I was staying downtown and since the office I was visiting was a mere 15 minutes away from the hotel, I would not need to rent a car.

Arriving in Pittsburgh in the evening, I took a cab from the airport, went to bed and didn’t get up until the next morning when I got ready to go to visit my client.

I was there to do training, and typically on the first day of training I arrive an hour early just to make sure all the details are ironed out: is there a projector in the room?  Do I have network access?  Can I get IN the training room?  So on this day, I was done with breakfast by 7:30 so as to be onsite by 8.  I stopped by the hotel concierge and asked for a cab.  A few minutes later, I went out the front door, but to my chagrin and surprise, there was no cab waiting.  Glancing quickly up and down the street, I suddenly noticed that there were no cabs cruising the street (maybe this is just a side street, I mused).  So I went to the corner, and to my horror found that there were no cabs to be seen in any direction.

Feeling like I had stepped into some alternate universe, I returned to the concierge and asked him,

“Say, what is the ETA for that cab?”

“Just a minute…” he answered.

The concierge called the cab company and after about 5 minutes of phone-tree navigation reported that he did not know the ETA, but that the cabbie was on the way.  Now I knew I had fallen into an alternate parallel universe!  This must be some sort of cab-crazy day here in Pittsburgh, I thought.  No cabs on the street, no eta…there must be a Star Trek convention in town or something, I thought.

Now it was nearing 8:00AM.  I knew I wouldn’t be onsite by 8, as I had hoped, so I sent of an email to my client telling them that I would arrive in time to start the training at 9:00.  8:10 came and went and still no cab.   At 8:15 the cab pulls up (remember, I had called for this cab at 7:30am).  I jump in and give the address.

“Where’s that?” asks the cabbie.

“WHERE’s THAT!?!?,” I scream (in my head).  This can’t be a real cab driver.  It must be her first day, or she’s escaped from prison, killed my real cab driver, and now she’s going to kill me!  How can you be a cab driver and say “Where’s that”?  Don’t they beat that question out of you in Cab Driver Boot Camp?

“I don’t know….” I replied.   No matter how little the cabbie knows, I was sure to know less about where things are in Pittsburgh.  She at least had gotten to the hotel, even if it took 40 minutes.  I was not about to be the one who lead us to the wrong side of town.

The cab driver apparently had GPS and was able to get me where I was going in about 15 minutes.  And figuring that I would have to go through this same deal the next day I asked her for a business card so I could call directly and early in the morning.  She gave me a company card and wrote her number on it as well.  Thanking her, I paid the fare (including a nice tip), got out of the car and went in to see my client.

As we were getting ready for class to start, I made small talk with the students and told them about my taxi nightmare to which several students replied, “Oh, we’ve got Uber and Lyft here in Pittsburgh now.”   I had heard of these companies, but never really felt inclined to use them because a) I rarely take cabs, b) when I do I am in a strange city, and c) it just seemed kind of strange to get in an unmarked car with someone I had never met.

The training day went well.  Afterwards I had dinner with my client, who then dropped me off at the hotel.  I checked out both Lyft and Uber and found out that Lyft only lets you create an account using Facebook, which is an immediate showstopper for me (see my previous post, Goodbye, Facebook).  So, I signed up with Uber.

I still wasn’t planning on using Uber.  The idea of taking a ride with a complete stranger just seemed to weird for me.  I’m generally pretty comfortable with weirdness, but this was way out of my comfort zone.  But then, aren’t you getting in a car with a complete stranger when you take a cab?  Yes, but….isn’t a cab just…..safer?  Logic was no help here.  My mind drifted back to a recent trip to Chicago where on the way home from the airport (in a cab), I heard a POP and the cabbie ducked his head saying ‘the guy going the other way is shooting out of his car!’  Of course, this had nothing to do with my cab, or the driver, but it reminded me that there there are so many dangers out there that we are not even aware of…

The next morning, thinking I had figured out how to deal with Pittsburg taxis, I called my driver from the previous day at 7:20, allowing them 1 hour and 40 minutes for her or her proxy to get to my hotel and then get me to the office by 9:00AM.

Wrong number.  Oops.  Should I have left a bigger tip?

So, I called the cab company.  After a few minutes of hand-to-hand combat with their phone system I reached a live person.

“I’m at <hotel/> and I need to get to <destination/>.  How soon could I get a cab?”

“Well, we can’t give you a time when he’ll be there…”

“So how would I know when to expect him?”

“Hmmm, we’ll have him call you when he’s on his way.”

“Ok,” I said.  I gave them my cell number, ate my breakfast, and waited.

And waited.

At about 8:00AM I pulled out my phone and launched the Uber app.  It was really cool. It knew immediately where I was, showing my current location on the map as the pickup location.   This normally would not be impressive on an iPhone, but given the inability of the cab company to do half as much, I found this very encouraging.  Even better was the fact that as I zoomed out just a little, the app showed little black cars on the map in my vicinity with how far away each one was.  The nearest car was 8 minutes away (how’s THAT for an ETA)!

Still, I was reluctant to dive into the pool.  I decided to give the cab driver a few more minutes to let me know he was on his way.  Now it was 8:15.  Dipping my toe in once more, I checked Uber.   The little black cars were all moving around on my map of Pittsburgh, and the nearest one was still just minutes away.  Still, I wasn’t quite ready.

At 8:30, I still hadn’t received a call from the cabbie or the cab company so I took the plunge.  I entered my destination for a fare quote and clicked the ‘Request’ button.  Uber began immediately to give me updates:

Your Uber is 5 minutes away…

4…  3…  2… 1….   Your Uber has arrived!

The app had a picture of the driver, the make and model of the car, and the license plate number of the car that pulled up in front of my hotel at exactly that moment.  I got in the car, and the driver took me straight to my destination.  We chatted on the way and I learned that my driver was an out of work banker who drives for Uber whenever he does not have temp jobs.  I also learned that Uber drivers have to have a late model car in very good mechanical condition, it takes about two weeks for Uber to complete background checks on prospective drivers, and the drivers and their cars are insured by Uber when they are carrying passengers.

Since then, I have used Uber on several occasions, most recently to get back to my hotel in Boston from the suburbs.  In every case, the car was clean, and the driver on time, courteous, and friendly.  In the future, I think Uber will be my ride of choice wherever I go.

I tell you all of this because tomorrow, the Pennsylvania PUC is considering whether to allow Uber to operate despite a July 1 cease-and-desist order from two administrative law judges.

The people of Pittsburgh can’t get a cab to save their life and so Uber and Lyft come in to fill the gap, making substantial investments and taking on risk, when Judge Mary D. Long and Jeffery A. Watson say ‘no’.

So if you, like me think there should be more options for transportation-starved Pittsburghians,  take the following two actions:

  1. Sign up with Uber and use my promo code: wjja8.  You’ll get your first ride free, and if you use Uber again, I get a free ride </shamelessSelfPromotion>.
  2. Call or email one of the PUC commissioners below and tell them they should let Uber operate as they have been.

By the way, I still have not gotten that call from the cabbie in Pittsburgh.

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Goodbye, Facebook

Below is an email I sent out to some of my friends and family a few weeks ago.  When I sent the email, I deactivated my FB acct.  Today I deleted it.

Hi Folks,

As many of you already know, I don’t like Facebook.   It is hard for me to articulate all of the reasons why I feel FB is destructive, but the article below touches on many of them.

In a recent conversation I had with my son, I realized the inconsistency of maintaining a Facebook account at all (I got one so I could hear from some of you).  I think in retrospect that was a mistake, because the simple act of maintaining an account lends support, and I really don’t want to even lend support.

Let me be clear:  I think Facebook is destructive to our privacy, destructive to our relationships, and exists only to serve itself.   Participating on Facebook ultimately hands over a vast power in our life to a hostile enemy.

I’ve put this off for far too long.  I regret to announce — this is The End.  I am going now.  I bid you all a very fond farewell.  I don’t expect I shall return.  In fact, I mean not to.



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