i'm not good at playing clarinet.

I've been listening to a sermon series on Jonah (Beau Hughes - Village Church). It is so good. Two down, two to go, and I can barely make myself wait to listen to the next one so that the previous one can really sink in.

My senior year of high school, I decided that Jonah was my favorite book in the Bible...I said it was because I could relate to his rebellious nature. It's still my favorite book, I think, but not for the same reason. My prior reason was very self-focused; I liked reading the book because I could relate. Now I like the book because of how I see the character of God, and the message of the Gospel.

It is so good.

Jonah, when you strip everything down, is all about sin and grace. People sin. God shows mercy and grace. Every time. Even if you're the people of Ninevah - historically speaking, some of the worst and immoral people of their time, even in non-Jewish eyes. And even if you're Jonah, and you know better, and still sin.

Not only did Jonah know better, but he was a renowned prophet. Renowned. That means he had a history of hearing Truth from the Lord, speaking that Truth to people, and then watching it come true...time and time again. This is the guy that ran away from God.

A couple of things that I've learned:

1. There will always be a ship to Tarshish.

Jonah knew what was right; he knew he had to go and warn the people of Ninevah. But that was hard. The people of Ninevah were cruel and might hurt him. And there was an easy and ready way out - the ship to Tarshish. What is my ship to Tarshish? It may look a little different every time, but as well as you know yourself, Satan knows you better...and he will recognize patterns of weakness in your life, and send a ship your way. I need to know that ship when I see it, and run from it. I don't want to be standing on the dock when it shows up.

2. His grace is the only important thing...ever.

This is a little harder for me to explain. I'll start with a word-picture that Beau Hughes used in his sermon and expand upon it a little. Picture an orchestra - a world-class orchestra with every instrument imaginable. And the conductor knows what he's doing...he's been doing it for years. In fact, he put together this orchestra from the beginning, and he knows exactly who is in it. He knows how well they play - individually and together. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and has organized them accordingly. He is good at directing his orchestra, and he has the full piece of music in front of him. He doesn't even have to look at it; he knows it so well.

Sometimes members of the orchestra make mistakes; that happens. Nobody plays perfectly every time. But they try every time. And the conductor directs them knowing that they make mistakes sometimes...like I said before, he knows their weaknesses. He knows that when it's time for the strings to come in, he has to emphasize that point or else they'll miss their cue. He knows that the trumpets tend to get carried away if he doesn't warn them before they need to cut off. Sometimes the clarinets get distracted by the deep sounds of the bassoons, but the conductor knows this and asks the bassoons to lower their sound, and sometimes moves the clarinets to another section.

The conductor knows everything. He knows, and he works out the music despite the problems, using each section's strengths and abilities. He doesn't expect perfection.

He does, however, expect everyone to follow the music that he has composed. When the saxophone strays from the music and starts off on a solo that wasn't scripted, the conductor is not happy. Here, the conductor must take action. You see, the saxophone is trying to be the conductor - trying to write in his own part. But the saxophone is just a saxophone, and not the conductor. He must either go back to playing his part and reading the music the conductor has written, or leave the orchestra. There can only be one conductor.

God is the same way...He doesn't expect us to be perfect. In fact, He knew we would never be perfect, and so sent Jesus as propitiation for our sins. He does look at our hearts, however, and if we're not following His way, trying to read His music, He must take action.

Jonah stopped playing the right song. He ran to the ship to Tarshish, and started belting out a solo - one that would be the biggest mistake of his life. He tried to rewrite the music.

Why did he try to rewrite the music? This is the key part.

Jonah 2:4 says, "...That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. "

Jonah started writing his own music because he knew that God was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Jonah wanted judgement. God always desires mercy. Always. And God has been and is so faithful to show mercy and grace, that Jonah refused to obey God, knowing that God would come through and show the wickedest people of his time love and grace.

What a beautiful realization and understanding of our God. I may not always hit every note, but He knows....and He helps me along. He gives me that extra cue, and moves me to a section where I can only see Him. And if I start to get a little arrogant, and bust out into my own solo, He'll stop the music and draw my eyes back to Him, back to the music that He has written.

"I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."

I'm not very good at playing clarinet. Oh but He knows.