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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

But I Don' t Wanna! - A Meditaion on the Story of Jonah

A different focus presents itself each year when we read the story of Jonah. This simple story has so many lessons to teach. As I considered the story and what I would say about it this Yom Kippur, two more angles suggested themselves to me, both of which we all need to consider on this, the holiest and most introspective of days in our calendar.

The first angle is this: This story shows how God is willing to forgive some people whom we are not willing to forgive. This was certainly true of Jonah—he was not willing to forgive the Assyrians, and the people of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, Nor did he want God to forgive them.

Now, it would be too easy and not at all useful for us to then draw a parallel and say, "Should we then forgive the Nazis for what they did? Is God ready to forgive them? " I doubt it, and of course, that is too big an issue. It is also a really "safe" issue because it is so global. Let’s bring it down to ground level, to where your rubber meets your road.

Are there people in your life you hold grudges against? I am sure that for most of us the answer is "Yes."

One way to know this imagine the sound of your own voice finishing the following sentence. "Well, I’m sorry. But . . . ." Usually after such a beginning, what follows is a justification for an attitude or action that should not be defended!

The question our tradition asks of us then is this: Do you imagine that God is on your side in this grudge? Do you honestly believe He agrees with your perspective? Do you find yourself not caring what He thinks on the matter? Have you stiff-armed the Holy One out of this matter because your grudge is so precious to you that you will not let it go nor allow Him to pry it from your hands?

Why are you so threatened by this issue that you refuse to open the door to this person? Would you want someone else to treat you in this manner over a matter or matters of similar gravity to the one(s) you are festering about?

I’ve got bad news for you. Generally speaking, our grudges stink. And the longer we hold on to them the more the drag us down, hamper our spiritual lives, and the more they twist the delicate parts of our inner being that are meant to be forgiving and godly. In other words, when you bear a grudge, you get deformed.

So don’t think of whether you ought to forgive the Nazis or the Islamo-Fascists today. That is a waste of time and energy. And it is so very safe. Think about some area where you are being petty—yes, you! And realize that God knows about it. He also knows that the pathway out of pettiness is the pathway to growth in godliness, to greater peace of heart, and to the release and reassignment of all that energy you have been devoting to refusing to do what you know in your heart of hearts needs doing—that is, forgiving that person.

I was at a conference once, and I don’t remember where. It was when I first became interested in and committed to prayer for the sick. Two very nice people came up to me, definitely retirement age, a husband and wife. The wife was the sweetest kind of blue-haired white Angli-Saxon grandma with a nice smile. The husband was a nice quiet fellow who proceeded to tell me that his wife had some sort of abdominal pain or some sort or another that kept her from sleeping well and that the doctors had looked into things, and nothing was wrong. They had also received prayer for the matter and nothing got better. As is my habit at such times, I prayerfully listened to them and sensed I should ask her this question. "Is there somebody in your life that you are refusing to forgive, someone against whom you are holding a grudge?" She paused for a moment, smiled sweetly and said, "No, no one I can think of!" I still felt the leading of God to ask the same question, and again the answer came back the same way. However, I had an inner hunch that this might be the issue, and didn’t feel God had given me any other insight to share with them. I prayed briefly for the lady, that God would reveal matters to her on this issue, and let them go

The next morning they came to me smiling, and one or both of them reported to me, "You know, it came to us last night! Some years ago our daughter married a man we could not approve of, and I have never forgiven her or him for getting married." I think she might have said also, "I haven’t spoken to him now in years!" Clearly, this sweet blue haired old lady was carrying some crud in her gut. And when she let go of it, guess what? No more abdominal pain.

You may not be a blue-haired lady, but do you have crud you are carrying around? And what is it doing to you? How is it twisting you? How is it contaminating your relationship with God and with people? Are you carrying a grudge where it is not really likely that God Himself would take your side in the matter? Isn’t today the right time to cut it out?

And equally inconvenient angle of the Book of Jonah is the examination of Jonah’s own repentance, which is reluctant, messy, and comes in stages.

At first he refuses to go to Nineveh. It takes being swallowed by a great fish for him to do so—and when he recognizes that his very life is at stake if he doesn’t obey, he repents and goes. God had to hold Jonah’s feet to the fire. Jonah’s rebellion had pushed God aside. And God pushed back using the storm, and Jonah’s being cast overboard, and the great swallowing fish to get Jonah’s attention and to cause him to repent.

Have you pushed God aside in your life? Is there something you have known for a long time that God wants you to do, or to stop doing, and yet you refuse? Have circumstances in your life broken down so that you think that maybe God is pushing back? Is there some area where an immature part of you is saying "But I don’t wanna?" That’s what Jonah did, you know. He is quite immature in our story. He sits down and sulks outside of Nineveh to see what might happen and tells God, "I just want to die!"

Again, is there some immature place in your life where you are refusing to do what you know you should, where you are saying to God and to life, "I don’t wanna>" and where you are holding fast to your immaturity?

Will God have to send storms, and great fish, and abdominal pain into your life for you to get the point? Or are you willing for Him to help you "wanna"?

Our New Covenant reading today touches on this dilemma. It speaks of how we can know what we should or should not be doing, but find ourselves habitually refusing to do what is right, and doing what is wrong instead.

14 For we know that the Torah is of the Spirit; but as for me, I am bound to the old nature, sold to sin as a slave. 15 I don't understand my own behavior - I don't do what I want to do; instead, I do the very thing I hate! 16 Now if I am doing what I don't want to do, I am agreeing that the Torah is good. 17 But now it is no longer "the real me" doing it, but the sin housed inside me. 18 For I know that there is nothing good housed inside me - that is, inside my old nature. I can want what is good, but I can't do it! 19 For I don't do the good I want; instead, the evil that I don't want is what I do! 20 But if I am doing what "the real me" doesn't want, it is no longer "the real me" doing it but the sin housed inside me. 21 So I find it to be the rule, a kind of perverse "torah," that although I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me! 22 For in my inner self I completely agree with God's Torah; 23 but in my various parts, I see a different "torah," one that battles with the Torah in my mind and makes me a prisoner of sin's "torah," which is operating in my various parts. 24 What a miserable creature I am! Who will rescue me from this body bound for death? 25 Thanks be to God [, he will]! - through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord! To sum up: with my mind, I am a slave of God's Torah; but with my old nature, I am a slave of sin's "Torah."

Here, Sha’ul describes the dilemma of a person knowing and even delighting in God’s standards, but yet finding at work in him an inner stubbornness that avoids doing what he knows in his heart of hearts he should be doing. There is an immature, rebellious principle at work in the human heart that, confronted with the right path, will stubbornly insist, "But I don’ t wanna!"

The problem is, this is no joke, no more than being dead meat in the body of a great fish was a joke for Jonah.

No, it is deadly serious. Not only can this destroy and derail our spiritually usefulness, it can actually cost us our life sooner or later!

"The old man" is the human person locked into a losing battle with this inner principle, the human person not plugged into the resources of release made available through Yeshua the Messiah. Rav Sha’ul finished his account on a note of praise, beginning by describing this fruitless wrestling match between our best selves and that stubborn, resistant principle raging in all of us. Here is what he says, again. ". 24 What a miserable creature I am! Who will rescue me from this body bound for death? 25 Thanks be to God [, he will]! - through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord! To sum up: with my mind, I am a slave of God's Torah; but with my old nature, I am a slave of sin's "Torah."

It appears that what Sha’ul is saying here is that through the Messiah, rescue resources, resources of release, are made available to us. By crying out to God in the context of faith in our Messiah, His disarming of the sin mechanism can become apparent in our lives, so that we will find through the Holy Spirit, the resources to bypass that "I don’t wanna" reflex, and with the help of God, to just do it!

I have given us a number of assignments for this High Holy Day Season to which I now add another. Today, prayerfully search your heart and answer this question: "What is one area or issue in your life where you have been saying, ‘But I don’t wanna!’ to God? What is that area where you need to give in to the Holy One."

May you cry out to Him and through the resources of the Ruach haKodesh, and faith in our Messiah, may you give in and just do that thing God requires of you, bypassing your "I don’t wanna."

Otherwise, on this Yom Kippur, prepare for a fish dinner. But it just may not be be you who eat the fish.

It may be the fish that eats you.