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July 8 UPDATE from Pastors/Elders

June 17, 2018

Jonah's Prayer

Can a prayer during a crisis be filled with thanksgiving? Listen or read to find out.

Mike Gerhardt, 06-17-18, Lessons in Leadership, Jonah 2:1-10. Jonah's prayer. From the opening scene of the sitcom the Andy Griffin Show, Fishing and Fathers seem to go together. My dad was the greatest fisherman I've ever known. Here is a picture of my son Eric with a bass and son Trevor with his first big fish a tarpon. Today is not only Father's Day, but it is the first weekend for Bass Fishing in New York. So, what's the biggest bass you ever caught using a rod and real? 8 to 12 pounds? Al McReynolds pulled this striped bass from the Atlantic, fishing at night off a jetty in Atlantic City in 1982. It's 78 lb. 8 oz. and earned an International Game Fish Association record! The biggest fish ever caught with tackle and line an IGFA record was a white shark at 2,664 lb.! Alfred Dean caught the beastly shark off Australia in1959 using a porpoise as bait.

There is another great fish that is part of history. So far in our story Jonah, God's prophet, from the Northern Kingdom Israel, was instructed to go to Nineveh to preach against that corrupt and violent city. But Jonah got a one-way ticket on a boat in the opposite direction to Tarshish. Trying to run away from God is like the little boy who answered the phone with a whisper: Hello. Who is this? Whisper: Jimmy. Pastor: Jimmy, this is Pastor Mike, may I talk to your mom? Whisper: She's busy. May I talk to your dad? He's busy. How old are you Jimmy? Four. Is there anyone else at your house? The police. May I talk to them? Their busy. Jimmy what are they all busy doing? They're looking for me!

Trying to hide from your family in your own house is like running from God in His universe. You can't get away from God's loving reach. Chapter one and two go together in parallel: The Sailors: Crisis on the sea 1:4; Prayer to Yahweh1:14; Deliverance from the storm1:15; Sacrifice and vows offered to God 1:16. The Prophet: Crisis in the sea 2:3-6; Prayer to Yahweh 2:2,7; Deliverance from death 2:6; Sacrifice and vows offered to God 2:9. This and the chiastic way in which chapter one was written lead us to believe the author wanted us to easily remember the story. Ancient literature and story was passed on by oral tradition more than by reading from scrolls, since most did not know how to read. Mnemonics like these were used to remember. We remembered last week that Lost People Matter. So, God prepare (KJV) or assigned a huge fish for Jonah. This is no fishing tale. This isn't Geppetto with his lantern and boat floating around in Monstro waiting to be rescued by the almost real boy Pinocchio. This is one big fish. Could it be a whale? Not necessarily. Could Jonah survive in the bloated stomach of a huge fish? Many stories of living inside a fish for 72 hours have been suggested. Personally, I’m sure it can be explained with one word - miracle. Did Jonah live to tell about it? Yes, he did. With half digester fish, sea weed entangling, gastric juices burning his skin, as well as being in a dark, cramped, slimy, belly of a fish, he survived!

A CALL FOR HELP (v 2-3) Jonah speaks to God from his pain. Often the most meaningful prayers are the most urgent ones. This prayer by Jonah was not a plea for deliverance for there were no petitions in it. In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. The prayer is called a psalm of thanksgiving. Jonah was thankful to God for using the fish to save him from drowning. Jonah prayed from the fish’s stomach, but it was written of course after he was expelled. Realizing the fish was God delivering him, Jonah worshiped and praised God for his mercies, delivering him from a watery grave.

A visiting admiral asked some enlisted men: What would you do if another enlisted sailor fell overboard? One answered: I would sound the alarm and toss him a life preserver, sir. What would you do if an officer fell overboard? At this the enlisted sailor paused and ask: Which officer, sir?

Are we to choose who we will share the good news with? Our friends or our enemies? Jonah is now understanding he must obey the word of the Lord.

A CALL FOR HOPE (v 4-6) I will look again toward your holy temple…you brought my life up from the pit.  You can hear the hope Jonah has in this prayer, even in this horrible place. Even in the dark we can still see the light. I sure don't know what it is to be in the stomach of a fish for three days and three nights. But before being saved I had many severe phobias: fear of the dark, fear of loud noises, fear of heights, fear of water just to name a few. My worst was claustrophobia: the extreme fear of confined places. I was privilege to go caving with my son near Brewster NY in a creative place called Green Chimneys, complete with a great swamp, farm and wild life center. The high ropes course and zip line were great but only the beginning. In the afternoon we went caving or spelunking or potholing as it is called in the UK. We went down, down, down into a water wormhole carve through stone. One thirty-inch round hole was about 25 feet in length. With our helmet lights on, we funneled in one after another crawling on our bellies. I was directly behind a large frightened woman, feet touching my helmet and my feet were touching another's, when we stop. Someone in front of the woman did not want to continue. There were conflicting cries of backing up and moving forward and I was literally in the middle of it. Though it was only a matter of minutes, I almost lost it. Can you imagine 72 hours in a cramped dark space. No wonder Jonah prayed, but his prayer was not like I thought it would be, certainly not what I prayed in that cave: GET ME OUT OF HERE. Jonah understood that God will never forsake us. It was a prayer of gratefulness!!
A CALL FOR HEALING (v 7-9) I will sacrifice to you…I will make good (and go to Nineveh). Jonah calls out to God for healing his life, not just physically but spiritually. Remember why Jonah ran from his commission to preach: he didn't like Nineveh. Lifestyles of non-believers can be easy targets for Christians to complain about. Whether it's their language, their music (or rhythmic noise as I once described it), their lack of respect for authority, or their sexual preferences; we Christians can write off whole segments of the very society God has called us to love. Instead of making a difference, the church has a reputation for judging and condemning everyone. We need healing from the disease of judgmentalism. Are we more concerned with lifestyles than with broken hearts? Are we more concerned with outward appearances than with heartfelt faith? Are we more concerned with reputation than with reaching out? Like paint from a cracked can, all these attitudes seep out of judgmental feelings, out from the halls and parking lots of many churches, and lost people can smell it passing by. I am blessed to serve a church that loves people no matter what their circumstances. Let us keep it that way. Let us keep our hearts open and before the Lord to love like He loved and to give like He gave. Even while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. Our natural tendency is to homogenize our surroundings and our acquaintances so that they are virtually indistinguishable from ourselves. But this is not a healthy environment for the Body of Christ. In order to remain fit, we've got to stretch and grow, reaching out and welcoming everyone to meet Jesus. Jonah's prayer reflected a lesson learned.

There is a painting by William Hunt from 1853, of Jesus knocking on an overgrown and unused door. Sometimes there's a caption: Behold I stand at the door and knock, from Revelation 3:20 If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. The door doesn't seem to have a handle, so the Lord will not barge in. He waits for an answer.

D.T. Niles observed something different: Why is Jesus knocking…why has he come with a lantern…He has come to invite the occupant to come out with him to take that lantern all over the world. When Jesus comes to us, he comes not merely seeking entrance into our homes but also and primarily seeking to take us out of our homes - ourselves, our closed lives, our restricted spheres of interest.

We need think more about being a light to the darkness. Some lessons in leadership I have learn are: Don't wait until you're swallowed by a fish to have a heartfelt talk with God. It's OK to think that the difficulty you're facing may be God letting you get tangled up in seaweed just to get your attention. So, give him attention. Give thanks in all circumstances, even from the pit of someone's stomach.

One more: pray if your life depended on it, for it does.