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His Mercy

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Proverbs 25:2

Heavenly Father, King above all kings, you know my sinful heart and yet you love me.  You know my sinful ways yet you love me.  You know my idolatries that I struggle to get out from under yet somehow you forgive me and love me.  I reach out to you Lord in all your mystery and glory and thank you for the mercy only you can give.  Amen

I was asked in a study to write down all the reasons why I pray.  I listed thankfulness, requests, intercession, praise and repentance.  I was then asked to circle the reason that comes up most in my prayer life.  I have to admit “repentance” wasn’t one of them.  Thankfulness is probably the most frequent expression I find in my prayer life.  And it’s usually related to blessings – not for keeping me from the fires of my sinful ways.

A few years ago, I finally grasped the concept of God’s mercy with this helpful saying, “Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve and grace is when you get something you don’t deserve.”  Boy, should I be constantly thanking God for His mercy!  

"Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions." Psalms 51:1

The problem is we sometimes lack of awareness of our destructive swaths we create through sin.  Realizing that, we should find it even more amazing that God gives us believers His mercy.  He doesn’t always save us from earthly consequences but we know that when Jesus returns to judge the earth we won’t be thrown into the fire.  What a glorious and loving God!

God has not asked us to wander bewildered by our transgressions and consequences.  From beginning to end He has set the stage for our success.  Through first giving us the Law, therefore defining sin, then sending Christ to teach us about God, how to live the Christian life and best of all, cleansing us of eternal punishment, He has taught us how to align ourselves with His ways.  The Holy Spirit, which He left to dwell in us, provides us a daily conduit to keep us on track.  

Friend, He thought of everything because He is our Glorious God!  His mercy is our safety net.  He knew we would struggle, and boy do we ever!  Maybe you, like me need to tune in better to the Holy Spirit before we pray today.  Ask Him to search our hearts and minds, like only the King of Kings can do.  Have Him show us those corners of our life that seem blind to us.  Let His glorious light shine to cleanse you.

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Our Father

“ In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen

Awhile back I was listening to a podcast that broke down how and what to pray.  They started with what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” (Luke 6:9-16) the beginning of which was my prayer for today.  They looked at the use of the word “Father.”  Our Christian faith is so unique in this view of our most Holy God.  We don’t pray to some mysterious, unattached, non-relational being.  In fact, one of Jesus’ missions while on earth was to show believers this new relationship – that of a loving father.  

I have read other people change the word “Father” to “Daddy,” and that seems to go a bit far as the pastors on the podcast also agreed.  It’s almost too familiar, without the reverence God deserves.  While others who have been terribly hurt by fathers or father figures may go to great lengths to dismiss even using a father reference at all.  But God is always seeking to realign us with His kingdom – not the world of sin.  Jesus draws us into this new relationship showing us what God’s glorious Eden will look like when we arrive.  And it is full of love, kindness, grace and forgiveness.

20 “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

I’m not sure if there’s any better story in the Bible to describe God’s role as “father” to His adopted children than the one told of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When I heard a pastor speak on it, especially verse 20, it transformed me.  You see, the father didn’t meet his son halfway, he didn’t make him come all the way to the house.  He didn’t even first require repentance or repayment.  “While he (the son) was a long way off…”  When word came, probably from people on the outskirts of town, that this wayward son was coming home, his father lifted up his tunic so he could run. He ran to his son – filled with compassion and love.  

God seeks us.  He yearns for us to believe – without needing us at all.  How beautiful and glorious is that?  I recently read in a study that we aren’t all God’s children.  Yes, you read that right.  We are all made in the image of God; but can’t all call Him “Father.”   We must at least start that journey back to Him as the prodigal son did.  He realized he needed the protection and blessings of his father. 

Friend, the day we told God, “I believe in you and I believe you sent your Son to free me of my sins” we received our adoption papers.  He wrote us into the will for the inheritance.  Whatever type of father you’ve had on the earth pales in comparison to the one who has adopted you into His heavenly kingdom.  I, for one, count that the most glorious blessing of all.

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The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Lessons from Cherith

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21

He’d been a drug addict and alcoholic for at least the 35 years I knew him.  In fact, this lost uncle was my husband’s main reason for why he never touched drugs in his college days.  My husband saw the path of destruction his uncle created throughout their family.  This uncle, my mother-in-law’s youngest sibling, took the road so many addicts follow.  They demand help, make others feel guilty for not rescuing them, promise to do better then start the cycle over and over again.

In my visits to my husband’s hometown, we’d have infrequent contact with his uncle.  But we would hear of his begging his own mother for money and complaining of how “lucky” and “privileged” everyone else in the family were because they weren’t always so down on their luck.  To be fair, this man bore the brunt of being the youngest child of an alcoholic philanderer.  As for my in-laws, they gave money, moral support, food, and more for much of his life.  But after a number of run-ins with the law and intolerable behavior toward my husband’s grandmother, the uncle found himself eventually with backs turned.  Enough was enough.

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22

Let’s face it, we are only human.  We get our feelings hurt.  We often seek to protect ourselves from harmful relationships.  We don’t want to be taken advantage of and have our kindness thrown back at us with vitriol.  Like many of Jesus’ expectations of us the concept of forgiveness is not so easy for us sinful humans.  We get to the end of our rope.  We have no more tears to shed.  

I remember when my loving, caring mother-in-law said to me one day a few years ago, “I’m done.  I’m tired of being blamed for his problems.  I’m tired of being taken for granted that we will always help.  I’m angry how he treats our mother.”  And really, could anyone fault her?  But the thing is, I knew deep down she didn’t mean any of it.  I knew if her brother came again with hat in hand she would help.  Because she knew that Jesus would do the same for her.

25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:28

We can be thankful we haven’t been assigned the task of God’s prophets to administer final judgements like Elijah had to (although one day two of us will be called to do just that). In the Old Testament, we see time after time the people turning their backs on God after so many warnings. And he sent his prophets to speak truth and judgement. His final truth-speaker was His Son, Jesus. But this prophet came to tell us when we seek forgiveness and to forgive we receive eternal forgiveness from God, even when we mess up over and over. You see, Jesus doesn’t just want the one who needs forgiveness healed, he wants us, the forgiver to be healed.  Because when we place our own lives under God’s microscope, we each have a heck of a lot that needs forgiving.  We each are blessed with the incredible gift of coming with our own hat in hand to the Lord and asking, “One more time, please Lord.  Forgive me.” And He does.  

I’ve been fortunate to witness the healing power of forgiveness in a few people’s lives.  My friend Andrea will forever be changed simply by forgiving a family member for past hurts and asking for forgiveness for how she has hurt others.  My own relationship with my parents has required me to forgive them.  And although the situation can still be painful, I now have the healing strength which forgiveness affords to help me pray for them each day.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

I started this message about a man so broken from addiction.  A man who most would say was without hope, without the peace from God.  But God is a miracle worker as we all know.  So, after another stint in prison about a year ago, my husband’s uncle finally said, “Enough is enough.”  He turned to God for forgiveness and healing.  When he got the news that his oldest sister was now riddled with cancer he came immediately to be by her side.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the same opportunity to watch such a beautiful miracle unfold before my eyes.  To see God’s hands work like no other.  To experience the full promise of God’s grace and love descend upon a room.  We met in the lobby of the hospital, just the uncle and I.  His mind and eyes were clear. He looked so healthy!  His demeanor was clearly different.  I took him up to his sister’s room and we sat and chatted.  I felt like I should leave the room and give them some alone time when suddenly he took her by the hand and with tears streaming down his face he asked for forgiveness.  He asked to be forgiven for the destruction he caused, the pain, and for all the lost years that could’ve been different.

My mother-in-law thanked him immediately.  She said, “I needed to hear this.  It hurt so much when you blamed me for your troubles.”  And they wept.  For the next two weeks I witnessed this man stand guard outside her room, praying and participating in her last days.  I listened as he asked the rest of the family for forgiveness.  And saw them weep from the healing love of God.  I watched as he helped lift his sister’s lifeless body onto the gurney for her final road toward home.  He was in pain but was healed.  He was washed in sorrow but cleansed from forgiveness.  And he knew he was loved.

Who do you need to forgive right now?

Who do you need to ask for forgiveness?  

It’s time for healing.

PS: Happy Birthday to my amazing, handsome, loving, forgiving husband 🙂

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A Useful Servant

If you ever talk to a non-Christian and they give you the line, “The Bible is just some old book written thousands of years ago and society has evolved since then,” you might want to share the story of a slave named Onesimus, which means “Useful.”  Not the Onesimus in the book of Philemon – we’ll get to him later.  No, the Onesimus of 1716.  It shows God’s total sovereignty over this world and how He weaves His way throughout all time.  He works through all of us to complete His plan – whether a believer or not.  The story of the black slave Onesimus shares striking parallels to the Bible’s slave written of in the New Testament.  

Puritan minister Cotton Mather of Boston was gifted a slave by a parishioner in 1711. It’s believed Mather changed the slave’s name to Onesimus. And like Philemon’s slave, Onesimus was considered a liar and a thief by his master.  But in 1716, Onesimus told Mr. Mather something he did believe: That he knew how to prevent smallpox. He shared with his master how in his home country people would rub pus from an infected person into an open wound on the arm.  This would cause mild symptoms and would inoculate the person against smallpox.

Mather was fascinated. He verified Onesimus’ story with that of other enslaved people.  Mather, while attempting to spread this great news during the smallpox epidemic, was vilified.  How dare he take the word of a slave? A black slave at that? But Mather pressed on. Combining efforts with physician Zabdiel Boylston, the two inoculated their children and enslaved workers.  They then began inoculating other willing Bostonians.  Of the 242 people they inoculated, only six died—one in 40, as opposed to one in seven deaths among the population of Boston who didn’t undergo the procedure.

While history doesn’t give much credit for Onesimus being a key part of the development of immunizations, he can be found in the story.  Like Naamans’ Jewish slave girl, his desire to be useful and seeking a better relationship with his master saw him sharing a cure for so many.  

"It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me." Philemon 1:9-11

How useful are we to God?  How are our new beginnings lived out for the world to see the glory and gifts of God?  For the Boston slave Onesimus, he appeared to never have accepted his master’s Christian religion.  He did, however, buy his own earthly freedom by giving Mather enough money to purchase a different slave.  But for the Bible’s Onesimus, who stole from his master and ran away to Rome, his freedom was purchased for him.  Once by Jesus, when he, after being discipled by both Philemon and Paul, accepted the Lord as his savior.  And his earthly freedom was paid for by Paul who stated, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”  (v 18)

Paul exhibited a great lesson of our faith in Jesus, to stand for those who cannot stand on their own.  And in doing so, lived out an example for Philemon to follow.  If Philemon believed in what Jesus taught, not just believed “in” Jesus, he knew he must live out the fruits of the spirit – kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, etc.  This was no small feat.  Just as in the world of the 1700s, slaves were a valued commodity.  And allowing a slave to run away without punishment was bad enough, but to allow a thieving slave (like both were) to do so was unheard of.   Mather suffered public humiliation by accepting his slave as an equal partner in curing a deadly disease.  Philemon was certain to suffer the same fate from other slave owners if he accepted Onesimus back as an equal in Christ.

But what about the Bible’s Onesimus?  Where does he fit in God’s plan?  Notice that our worldly sins and crimes are not erased without any repercussions.  Paul did not say Philemon should just welcome Onesimus back with all debts forgiven.  A crime had been committed and it needed to be repaid by someone.  

Onesimus took a number of steps in his life to become useful to God.  He first sought out Paul in Rome when his life had become a mess.  He accepted Jesus as his savior.  And like the first 3,000 Christians, he sat at the feet of a great teacher to learn about Christ and his expectations of us.  He then, apparently, asked to go home and face Philemon, his old master.  

15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. Philemon 1: 15-16

We can only imagine the scene of Onesimus and his fellow travelers arriving at Philemon’s door.  Hat in hand.  A posture of humility most likely.  Asking for forgiveness.  He became God’s instrument to help others learn how to forgive, how to love, and how being a Christ follower transforms us.  My friend Andrea has been the person in my life to model forgiveness.  I’ve watched how she has forgiven well-trod hurts and has been eternally grateful for receiving forgiveness.  By seeing her transformation, it has helped to transform my heart.  She has been very useful to God!

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps are well known by many.  And placed in a Christian context may help some of us to follow in Onesimus’ footsteps to being fully available for God’s purposes.  To be “useful” in our new beginning.  With a few minor edits, those 12 steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over (sin)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that (God) is greater than ourselves and can restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God (forgive) all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove(/forgive) our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to (all sinners), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Jesus paid the price to be our intercessor, our kinsman redeemer.  We are accepted by Him in full.  But it’s now up to us to do the work to live out being acceptable to Christ each and every day with our new beginning.  

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I Will

So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. Matthew 1:19

We left off our study of new beginnings with a cliff hanger of sorts.  There sat Jonah on a hill wishing he were dead.  And God reminding Jonah that He cares for all people of the earth, especially the ones “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”  Thank goodness for that because there are many days I feel and act like one of those foolish people!  If left to being helped out of my fiery pit by unloving, sleepy Christians, I would surely find myself in the depths of hell.  But for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  And those that submit themselves not only to their will but do so out of love.

So, we leave the Old Testament with many more stories of new beginnings than I have shared.  And with hope that Jonah finally grasped God’s message of works without love is empty and useless.  But here’s the thing about our guidebook for life, the Bible, God’s holy Word, there’s 1000s of connections back and forth between the ancient stories in the Old Testament and the newer history of the New Testament.  Which leads us to the first new beginning we encounter in the book of Matthew.  Another Noah.  Another servant of God who is the way maker for the world’s new beginning.  The connector from the old ways to the new.  A man who, like Noah, was considered “righteous” and faithful to God.  But first, let me share with you a modern story of another righteous man who helped shepherd in a new beginning for one small child.

Epworth’s Children’s Home received this first-hand account from a foster parent in 2017 about his experience in becoming a foster father:

“Our family has been fostering a boy since October 2017. Yesterday our foster child had a court hearing to determine what step to take as far as his custody goes. I haven’t shared a lot about the whole foster experience because I have been afraid, to be completely honest. Afraid because fostering has been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. Not because the child is difficult – it has been hard because of my heart. Ever since he came into our home, I have been terrified of becoming too attached and having my heart broken when he would eventually leave our home. I have been terrified of giving him all of my love, my energy, my grace and my compassion. I was sitting in the courtroom listening to the different parties discussing and debating the best course of action for the child’s future, when I started shaking. I began to realize this is the moment! The moment I decide to completely expose my heart to the potential of pain, or keep my walls up. It was absolutely terrifying! I started hearing a small voice inside that I could no longer ignore, and it was telling me to fight for this child. I realized I was willing to do anything for him.

“My walls started to crumble around me. Then I heard the judge call my name. He wanted to know if I wanted to adopt this child. I wanted to scream “Yes! He is my son!”, but I think I said something a little less dramatic like, “Yes sir, we are working on becoming licensed for adoption for this child.” I then heard the judge say that he is ordering termination of parental rights and opening this case for adoption. The weight of this decision is not lost on me, but it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had.”

But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20

Joseph was our Lord’s foster father.  As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he had every right to not only publicly shame Mary for her “adultery” but also to have her stoned to death!  Before the angel even spoke to him, however, love, kindness, compassion took over and he decided to quietly divorce her.  Think of how Jonah would’ve responded.  Surely God would’ve had to intervene to save Mary’s life from Jonah’s anger.

After Joseph obeyed God’s urging to complete his marriage vows to Mary, his troubles surely were not over. Like Noah, he would’ve faced public humiliation.  The knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy in the small village of Nazareth would have spread like a wildfire.  And yet he stayed the course.  He stayed faithful not only to Mary but to God.  He didn’t, by all accounts do it begrudgingly like Jonah.  He took up the mantle of “foster father” and protected his family, raised his son as his own.  His new beginning was as father to someone else’s son.  An earthly role model.  A shepherd, like Noah, for what was to be all of humanity’s new beginning.

Joseph and the unnamed servant girl who helped Naaman (2 Kings 5:3) also have a lot in common.  They were faithful.  They had a heart for God.  They stepped up to help when they could’ve taken a different path.  Their small steps were a gift to many.  And they both are but a few lines in our history.  Joseph’s last mention of him doesn’t even use his name.  Jesus is 12 years old, immersed in the teachings at the temple and his parents are frantically looking for him.  His mother chastises him and says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:48)  After that, Joseph fades away.  Most likely, he passes before Jesus begins his adult ministry.

And yet we remember him each Christmas for his shepherding, protecting, and faith.  We should all add a bit of thanks to Joseph each day we pray in Jesus’ name.  Because like so many faithful servants of Christ, He obeyed out of love.  He didn’t ask or require that “thanks.”  He didn’t harbor ill will for having to endure hardship.  He put his head down, his hands out and his heart lifted and said to God, “I will.”

I want to share with you the rest of the letter written to Epworth Children’s Home by the foster father:

“I will end with this. This is especially for you guys and fathers. If you feel God tugging at your heart to become a foster parent, listen! There will always be a reason to not become a foster parent, but if your main reason is that you are scared your heart will be broken, then you especially need to do it. Foster children need someone who will be heartbroken over them. They need someone who is going to stick by them when things get hard. They haven’t experienced that. They need someone to love them and be gentle with them when they come over and hit you in the face with a maraca and break your glasses (not that I have ever had that happen, that is completely hypothetical, of course!). They need someone who is going to be faithful to them and strong for them in their weakest moments. I am by no means perfect in any of those, but I am strong in my faith, and it provides me the love, strength and grace that I need. Fostering has made me more dependent on God, in everything, and that is good. Ultimately, I am a foster child who was adopted into His family, and I am fully loved.”

Amen.

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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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Mercy

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life.  Mistakes that have hurt my husband, my children, others I love, friends, strangers and even myself.  My sins pile up each day, the cessation of which I seem wholly unable to accomplish.  And I’m not alone.  

We are a fallen, sinful lot, us humans.  If we were to take a moment, right now, to think about last week, how many times did we tell a lie, no matter how small?  How many times did we demand to be first, rather than last?  How many times did we put our pride over another’s need?  How many days have gone by that you haven’t forgiven your mother, sister, friend or even that stranger who cut you off on the road?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Psalms 51:1

There have been a number of attempts over the years to try and convince society that original sin is just a myth.  That man is really a naturally good person.  In the 1800s a man by the name of Robert Owen decided “none are or can be bad by nature.”  So, he set out to create a utopian, socialist society in New Harmony, Indiana.  That experiment lasted just three years before it collapsed.  The reason?  Sin is not the result of some outward set of problems or circumstances that cause us to  “go bad.”  No, it’s because we are by nature sinful.  One only need to look at the answers to my questions at the beginning of this post!

Someone was talking to me about the concept of “being true to our authentic self.”  It was in reference to accepting immoral behavior as good and right.  But I have to tell you, my “authentic self” pops through quite enough already and gets me into plenty of trouble.  I’m just incredibly thankful that at the end of each day as I lay my head down to sleep, I can ask for mercy and forgiveness.  And it is given freely.

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A Plan for Us

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d get married.  Partially because I just wasn’t raised thinking about marriage and partially because I was the product of a marriage based on very little respect for each other.  For many years, God allowed me to live my life in sexual sin.  I went from one man to another, sometimes only passing through in the night.  But God always has a plan for each and every one of us.  For me, that plan included being given the gift of a wonderful husband. 

In our early years, my husband and I weren’t faithful followers of Jesus.  But he, at least, had a Christian background from which to draw.  When I look back over our first 10 years of marriage I can see where I am grateful for that tension of knowing some of what God expected from us as a couple.  I say “tension” because whenever we live outside of God’s narrow path we can either 1) live like we don’t have a clue that what we are doing is ungodly or 2) have some concept of ungodliness which can then pull us into learning more.  We will be judged in the end so I’d rather not be oblivious to my sins and take the opportunity to work on them!

In our marriage we struggled for control.  Control of who would be the head of our household.  Control of our finances.  Control over long term decisions for our family.  Over discipline of our kids.  Over our time management.    Looking back, I was only doing what I had learned in my family home.  A weak father figure gives way to a power vacuum.  On the other hand, my husband came from a strong, godly father-led family.  And so the back and forth went on and on.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  Genesis 3:2-3

There’s a lot of talk in feminist circles and the media about the “patriarchy” and how men shouldn’t “keep women down.”  But from the beginning God had a very clear plan for women and men.  Women were to be the “helpers,” assisting their Adams to be the best men they could be.  Like a good golf caddy, this is no job to take lightly.  Yet we arrive at Genesis 3 and Eve immediately forgoes her heavenly role.  Instead of seeking wisdom from her husband she is drawn to the words of the serpent.  The fleshly desires pull her farther and farther away from God’s plan. 

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Genesis 3:12

And the result?  As you can read above the entire plan is turned upside down.  Eve takes the lead and Adam falls into a weak position of blame.  Eve is punished by God for her role in the Great Fall with painful childbirth and the knowledge that men will rule over her.  But when you read the punishment of Adam, he receives a harsh future that effects every area of his life.  

I have to be honest and say that every marriage I have been around that was in serious trouble was a direct result of this upside down relationship.  That’s not to say there aren’t men who disobey God’s command to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25).  But so often in our modern world and as a result of the feminist movement which started in the 70s, women have jostled or demanded control in their relationships. Like all actions that go against God’s holy plan we see the results with weak husbands and overbearing wives.  And wives who underneath it all desire a man to stand up for them, to take charge, to love them to the point of sacrifice.  

Women of God, the idea of submitting to our husbands or future husbands does not mean we are second class citizens.  You’ll notice in Genesis 3:16 Eve’s punishment was to have men rule over her.  Therefore, it wasn’t God’s plan for men to “rule” over her in the first place.  Thankfully Jesus came to give us a new covenant, reminding us that although there is still a hierarchy of responsibility, every person is of equal value. A helper doesn’t mean you are less than the one being helped.  It’s taken me awhile to truly understand this.  What it means is we trust God’s plan.  And if we have chosen wisely, we trust our husbands who also trust God.  We trust them to take care of the family business.  We trust they will have our best interest in mind.  We trust they love us so much they want us to be content. 

If our husbands are not trustworthy in those areas or men of faith, who are we to blame?

He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3

King Solomon was considered one of the wisest men of all time.  Yet it was his wives that managed to turn him away from God, to lead him astray.  Our role as our husband’s life caddy is so important that we can’t let what the world says about feminism and submission sway us from following God’s plan.  A good and godly wife holds so much sway over her husband.  And the world laughs at us thinking a bigger paycheck or fancy job title is what’s most important.  Our work in helping our husbands will take us a lifetime — much of the time simply modeling godly behavior, control over our emotions, showing love, showing faith in the Almighty and our men.

Eve’s veering from God’s plan, leading her husband to a great sin, can make me so angry at times.  But then I think about the times I placed myself above my husband and ask for mercy.  It took a lot of intentional work on my part to step back and encourage and teach my husband how to place himself at the head of our family.  He didn’t think I needed him, ever.  

Friends, whether you are a husband, wife, or not yet married we must stand resolutely against how the world wants to define marriage.  We can’t let the world define what “submission” looks like in God’s world.  His great plan for man and woman, joined together in harmony is just the example for what is the final plan.  The ultimate marriage between Jesus and His bride will be full of love, joy, beauty and compassion.  Let’s start today with making those fruits part of our earthly marriages.

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Our Quarrelsome World

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

There’s certainly been a lot of “quarreling” the last 20 years in the United States and the world in general.  These last few years have seen a steady rise in conflicts.  Conflicts used to be among countries.  The most troublesome trend seems to be that now more than ever they are among neighbors.  

We live in a world where all bets are off when it comes to social niceties.  One article I read reminds us of some of the following “old fashioned etiquette rules”:

  1. Don’t point
  2. Don’t curse
  3. Dress to impress
  4. Stick to tasteful topics
  5. Cover your mouth when you cough
  6. Avoid private conversations in public

All of those, plus the others I haven’t listed, are to allow for a calm and peaceful and respectful social environment.  But a cell phone video I saw the other day is just one example of how we’ve thrown so many of these out the window.  

The video, taken by a woman shopping at Target, shows an older man following her and pointing at her.   He has a mask on and a sticker stating, “I’m vaccinated.”   His issue with her? She isn’t wearing a mask.  Now, this post is not about the pros and cons of mask wearing. And in this instance wearing a mask was not mandated in that store.  It’s about his approach and her response.  This man had many choices prior to harassing this woman.  If he was really worried about getting sick he could 1) stay home and order on line or 2) avoided being near the woman.  Interestingly enough he didn’t seem to be doing any of his own shopping.  It appeared he was there to “catch” people without a mask.  

What does this have to do with being a Christian?  What does it have to do with being resolute in Christ?  Our choices each and every minute of the day define what type of Christian we have chosen to be.

In our verse today we are reminded to be kind to everyone.  To teach gently without resentment.  We are all most likely familiar with the term being a “Karen.”  That’s someone who is a tattle tell, a modern day Pharisee.  This man was being a Karen.  And he certainly wasn’t succeeding in teaching anyone anything positive.  Yet the new social norms say this is ok.  We are to vilify those with whom we disagree.  We may not all be Westboro Baptist Church members standing outside the funerals of homosexuals with messages of hatred but how many of us in the last year have made disparaging remarks about people who 1) don’t wear a mask or do wear a mask, 2) aren’t vaccinated, 3) voted for a different candidate, 4) don’t like shutdowns or do like shutdowns, and on and on. I’m not talking about private conversations with friends or family members.  I’m talking about in public and social media.  I’ve clicked on people’s profiles who have written horrible things and they proudly state they are Christians.

And the woman?  She wasn’t successful either.  She just kept arguing with the man.  She could’ve 1) smiled and moved on since he wasn’t physically threatening her 2) put a mask on to make him feel better 3) left the store and come back later 4) called security 5) invited him over to talk.   So many choices for both.  But they chose the least peaceful route.

I, myself, have gotten wrapped up in issues and have deleted comments I realized were not in keeping with my desire to walk well in my faith.   And so, I reflect back on that cell phone video taken in Target.  I ask myself which person in that video am I?  The Harasser?  The Victim?  The Bystander?  In fact, I’ve been all three.  But as a follower of Christ, I’m learning He wants something completely different of us.  He wants us to be the peacemaker.  He wants us to do things so different that it shocks people.  Our Jesus–directed actions in this quarrelsome world need to be set apart.

When we get annoyed, outraged, hurt, abused, Jesus tells us to respond differently.   He first wants us to be responsible for our own words and actions (James 3:6).  He then wants us to be gentle, not angry and resentful.  Truth doled out without love will never be received how we intended.  

I picture myself the subtle Karen, rolling my eyes at people wearing two masks as they walk outside at a park and I need to stop and have compassion for their fears.  I imagine myself in a store being spoken to harshly by a customer for not wearing a mask and instead of responding in kind, draw on the Holy Spirit asking for peace.  This isn’t just about these current large issues.  It’s how we respond in all life’s situations.  Do we lash out, with uncontrolled emotions, seeking to justify how we feel?  Or do we use wisdom and compassion to guide us?

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  James 1:19-20

The temptation is so great to join this new quarrelsome social environment.  It’s easy to blast a comment at someone.  The devil loves an angry Believer.  But if we remember that Jesus stands by our side, we can be resolute in living the Christian life He expects of us.

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The Power In Us

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:13

How glorious would it have been to live when Jesus was physically here on Earth?  To sit at the Sermon on the Mount and hear His words directly from His mouth?  To be in a busy marketplace and bump into Him – turning to see directly into His face?  Isn’t it amazing how He spent so little time here with us yet the impact has been so astounding that even our days are marked by when He arrived?  And when He ascended, the gift He left behind is something for which we can never be thankful enough.

“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  John 14: 15-17

When you study the Bible you see how Jesus and the Holy Spirit touched lives even before the time we say God became fully human.  Their presence is woven throughout the Old Testament.  So it’s not as though they were created suddenly.  God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all spoke the world into creation and have placed their holy hands on our lives throughout history.

So, today specifically I praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit and for being our constant intercessor, our inner voice, our God whisperer.  

It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to pray when we don’t know what to pray – because the situation has gotten so dire.  It is the Holy Spirit who whispers to us to get up and do God’s work.  It is the Holy Spirit who partners with us when we need rescue.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  Romans 8:26

I shared with my BSGs in the past that when I’m really stressed or worried I have a difficult time praying.  My mind is so jumbled and full of negative thoughts I can’t seem to quiet it down.  One of my BSGs responded saying, “I’ve just cried out, “help me!” when I don’t know what to say.”  That’s great advice.  It says it right there in Romans 8.  The Holy Spirit will help us pray.  Will give us the words to speak to God. 

Friends, God is so beautiful and loving that He didn’t leave us orphans.  He didn’t leave us grieving because He left us with a piece of Him inside of each of us.  I once heard a Christian teacher say that we don’t need to attain patience, kindness, love, etc.  We already have all those imputed through the Holy Spirit that lives in us because we believe.   We just need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us release those gifts.  To help us pray the words to fight back against the devil.  To whisper to us “love this person right now.”

We need to believe that God has given us the access to this awesome power.  And once we do that, we should pray to unleash it with all its glorious might.