Greatness But Not God-ness

I consider myself a student of history.  I enjoy looking through the lens of the past to see the present more clearly.  After all, the human condition has not changed across the epochs of time.  The circumstances around it have, the people in it have and cultural issues take different shapes in history but the struggles of human existence in a sinful world intersect constantly unbound by time.  I especially enjoy the singular glimpses into the lives of people through biographies.  What I learn about their character, their failures, their timely decisions that played into making them noteworthy individuals is interesting and helpful as I journey onward in my life.

Many of these individuals could be classified as great because of their influence on humanity at the given time and place they existed.  There are also great people in the Bible.  Whether prophet, priest, king or common person there are many that we can single out as worthy of the title “great”.  In Luke 9:28-36, while on the “Mount of Transfiguration”, Peter was quick to acknowledge greatness but also got a startling clarification of the difference between greatness and God-ness…

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

 In typical Peter fashion, he had to say something!  And in any other circumstance it would have been an honorable suggestion to erect three monument-like structures to honor great men.  But one of those three was far from just great…

 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

No doubt, this dramatic moment would have left any of us speechless!  All human greatness combined could not be compared to the God-ness embodied in Christ!  God the Father spoke authoritatively about God the Son.  And when the cloud cleared the Greatest Human Being to ever set foot on the soil of the earth, Jesus, was standing alone before him.  Singled out in His greatness by a wonderful, approving, act of God the Father, the extreme uniqueness of the Savior was magnified.  He was no mere man!

Let’s contemplate today the great God-ness of our Savior. 

Let’s rejoice in the marvelous redemption plan of the Father.

Let’s be sure that the biographies of The Greatest Human Being of ALL Time recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are read (and reread) by us often.

Jonah: It’s not about the fish.

I have a very clear memory of my conversation with Tolata in 1999.  Tolata was a villager of the Malaumandan people remote in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.  He was recalling the major story themes of the evangelistic Bible teaching I had just completed.  He was commendably detailing the great amount of material I had covered in that 5 ½ month teaching phase.  In the chronology, he had gotten to Jonah and how God sent him to Nineveh to share God’s message.  He stopped mid-sentence and said, “You are like Jonah, God sent you to tell us like He told Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh!”  It was a touching moment at a precious time in my missionary career.  However, depending on how you take it, to be compared to Jonah may not be a compliment.

The great fish in the story of Jonah, sadly, distracts from what we should remember about the prophet.  The message of the book Jonah is that God loves to be merciful.  Our repentance invokes His mercy.  Like the people of Malaumanda in Papua New Guinea, the people of Nineveh needed to know they had a reason to repent and that a God of mercy was ready to forgive.

Tolata in 2005 (Village of Malaumanda, Papua New Guinea)

Sadly, Jonah did not want God to be merciful to such a cruel people as the Ninevites.

Let’s be honest and ask ourselves a question; How much are we like Jonah?  If God said to go preach to ISIS, Al Qaida, Boko Haram or Kim Jong Un in North Korea.  Would we? If not, would it be because of fear or, like Jonah, would it be because we really do not want them to experience God’s mercy?

After Nineveh repented Jonah was angry

4:1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

The fact is, Jonah understood God’s propensity to demonstrate mercy. His failure was wanting to control how it is dispensed.  You and I need to firmly grasp the fact we, ourselves, do not deserve God’s mercy.  We must understand our personal unworthiness before a holy, righteous God.

I am unworthy.

You are unworthy. Period.

Our position in Him is nothing less than His mercy and grace benevolently flowing from Him to us.

Jonah forgot this.   As resolute disciples “by the Son” we must not forget this.  The strive for God-likeness can only be rooted in the knowledge of who we really are – deceived, self-inflating, self-protecting sinners that have been touched by God’s mercy. That being acknowledged, humility should naturally follow.

The book of Jonah closes with a timeless object lesson that, apparently, spoke to Jonah more than his own journey to that point and entire nation that had repented.  In the burning sun of a post-repentant Nineveh God allowed a little shade producing plant to whither so Jonah would remember that God mercifully is the giver of all good things (Jonah 4:5-11).  Even a tiny bit of shade for a rebellious, stubborn prophet.

I think it is safe to say, Jonah learned the lesson.  I am thankful that, even though it reflected poorly on him, he was willing for it to be recorded for us. Like Jonah, let’s be sure to learn that lesson too!  To be resolute, active, harvest-minded disciples, we must understand our personal worth is only possible when positioned in His.

The Absence of “if”

A belief in something always results in some sort of response or action otherwise it is just a reasonable theory.

Salvation is more than just theory.  It is something we must receive (John 1:12)

Becoming a child of God produces transformation and that transformation bears fruit.  Hence the famous statement in the book of James that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-20)

The life of a resolute disciple is one that is founded on the ability and actions of a capable Savior.  That capable Savior is able to aid and uphold us in the issues of life. By His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, Jesus has demonstrated the means and the power necessary for us to be and live a life of victory.  Not one in our own ability or power, but in His.  Yet, too often we still struggle with the “if” of the Savior actively displaying that power on our behalf.

Below, in the story of the boy prone to fits of convulsions, Jesus erases the “if” factor regarding the potential for wholeness (both the boy’s and his father’s) …

Mark 9:17-27

21 So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.
23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!”26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

The man says to Jesus, “…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help…”

In hindsight we see the absurdity of his statement.  Jesus would not have been present if front of the man if it wasn’t for His compassion.  And, the power to heal had been displayed multiple times already (and would ultimately be shown in Jesus rising from the dead as proof of His ability).

Jesus responds to the man, “If you can believe…”

Jesus erases the man’s “if”.  Because all power has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18), He tosses it back to the man.

The man’s response is revealingly transparent and relatable… “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”.  I am sorry to say that even after 30+ years in ministry this is still where I live.  I know (and have even experienced) the wonder of the Lord’s presence and power.  Yet, I still struggle to trust it in the issues of my own life.  Can you relate?

Belief: General v. Specific

We believe that God is able but waver in the practicality of life where we live.  But this is where the Lord desires for us to exercise our belief…

  • God can heal marriage problems, but will He heal mine?
  • God has power over sickness, but will He remove my brother’s?
  • God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and all the riches of the universe, but will He help me pay the bills?
  • Jesus won victory over the power of sin, but can He help me stop choosing it in my life?

The man asked, acknowledged and was transparently honest. Jesus rewarded that honesty by healing his son. He took him by the hand and he arose.

Like this man, let’s be real with Him too.  “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief”.

When Jesus is involved there is no “if”.

Decisions and God’s Will

While on a road trip sharing about the work, I was able to visit the very spot where it all began. Though the university that I attended no longer exists and a once vibrant campus sat silently that Sunday afternoon, the spot where I acknowledged to the Lord that I would go and be a missionary looks the same today as it did 37 years ago. Though just a parking lot between the bookstore and gymnasium, it is still a special place to me. There is no commemorative plague. No historical marker. Just a memory-milestone for me of great significance – a decision.

37 years ago I made the decision to become a missionary at this exact spot.

In thinking about that decision, I thought it worth the reminder of the process of determining God’s will in a decision. Here are five steps I’ve used in my life.

  1. Is it in the arena of God’s will? If this concern is not verified in the Scriptures as being in the will of God it is not viable. Stop here. It is not even a justifiable decision to even be praying about. (ie. The consideration of buying a house that will put you in significant debt, move you to an area far away from a church and cause you to work overtime resulting in you neglecting your family…is not God’s will)
  2. Do you sense God’s prompting? Sometimes we need to be open to new areas we have not even considered. Sometimes we need to decide between two good things. God often creates in us a desire once we are open to His will. A curious interest was on my heart the entire week before I made the decision in that parking lot. I did not want to react emotionally so I prayed for confirmation.
  3. Ask God, for clarity. I believe James 1:5 applies here. Ask God for the wisdom necessary to decide His will. He wants you to know it.
  4. Wait. Personally, I hate this part. If you are the type of person who wants it NOW this will be difficult.  But, it is necessary in the process. And, hindsight always proves it to be valuable because God is doing other things behind the scene.  Probably setting up your transition after the decision.  Trust Him in this.
  5. Act. God will make His will known. When He does, don’t hesitate. Make the decision and humbly walk in the confidence of the Lord. Where He guides, He provides and sustains.

What a thrill to consult the One who sustains all life and all circumstance!

Enjoy the journey.