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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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How Dare You?

This is a short story about a little girl.  A girl without a name.  A Jewish slave girl, taken captive by the Syrians 1000’s of years ago.  But first, let me tell you about another little girl, one who few have heard of yet recently saved so many.

In 2004, 10-year-old Tilly Smith was vacationing on a beach in Phuket, Thailand. At some point during the beautiful, sunny day the sea began bubbling “like on the top of beer.” As others watched out of curiosity, Tilly remembered her recent lesson on tsunamis in her geography class.  An early warning sign? That the water would froth and suddenly recede.  

Tilly pleaded with her family to escape the beach. Her father took her warning seriously and went back to the hotel to bring it to the attention of the staff.  Her mom, however didn’t believe her.  Out of fright and frustration she announced,  

“Right, mum, I’m going. I’m definitely going. There is definitely going to be a tsunami.”

Tilly’s father, impressed by his daughter’s conviction, alerted an on-duty security guard, and the authorities quickly evacuated the beach. The Smith family and all the beach goers sought refuge at their hotel, just minutes before the tsunami hit.

Throughout that day, tsunamis in Southeast Asia killed nearly 230,000 people.  But Tilly’s persistence saved the lives of every person on that beach.

She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5:3

This was the pleading voice of the little Jewish girl.  Her new beginning began in a strange land as a slave.  Taken captive by King Aram, living in the house of Naaman, commander of the army.    Naaman, although an impressive warrior and highly regarded by the king, was stricken with leprosy.  And this little girl, far from home, was urged to tell her mistress about the healing powers of the prophet Elisha, the man of God.

Without fear, without thought of not being believed because of her youthfulness or gender or race or faith, this no named child saved a man both physically and spiritually.  She doesn’t appear to harbor malice toward her captor.  She shows the love and mercy of God.

As for Naaman, he was urged to take this little child’s advice and travel to a far off land in search for a cure.  With the prophet Elisha’s help, Naaman became a follower of the one true God.  He too took this gift and quietly weaved it into his surroundings, eventually converting the royal household.  

“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” Luke 4:27

When Jesus spoke these words in the Nazareth synagogue he was thrown out.  How dare he speak of saving gentiles!  How dare he encourage the saving of their enemies – ones who had taken them as slaves?  Yes, how dare He?  How dare Tilly think she knew something that could save so many?  How dare this Jewish slave girl share her God’s love for everyone?

I can only imagine how grateful Naaman must have been toward this little slave girl.  I can only imagine because she’s never mentioned again.  Her new beginning, as her master’s first guide in his steps toward salvation, had to have brought that household so much joy.  Just like Tilly will always know how much of a difference one person can make.  

How dare we all direct just one person toward the loving grace of our Savior?  Who are we to give others the gift of a new beginning?  To have our own beginning as a servant of Christ? How dare I, a person of lowly origins, share in the hope and salvation of someone?  How dare you?

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Tears

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 know the text doesn’t say it but I can only imagine the tears flowing from the father and mother in the story of the prodigal son.  In fact, the King James version says “he fell on his son’s neck” in a dramatic display of joy and love.  Awhile ago, my family brought me to tears of joy with a surprise visit from my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen in months.  I heard the front door open and thinking it was my older daughter I made my way toward the front of the house to tell her hello.  When I realized it was my younger daughter I was overcome with tears and unable to speak.  I stood there sobbing in her arms.

It may seem strange to be thankful to God for tears but without them our world would be so vanilla.  I’ve laughed until I have cried with friends and family.  I’ve cried out to God, thankful for His grace and salvation.  I’ve wept at the birth of my daughters.  And yes, I’ve cried those tears of sorrow, of loss, of anger, of desperation.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Psalm 126:5

So often we must weep, live in hard times before we can experience the full glory and blessing of God.  It’s why James tells us we should consider it joy to experience trials.  Because those trials produce good fruit in us.  And that fruit becomes something for us to share.

I have a friend whose 90 year old mother confesses to not remembering the last time, if ever, that she has cried.  What that means is she hasn’t participated fully in the gifts of life.  With each winter season in our lives we are so often rewarded with the spring, a time to bring  us great joys.  I want to go from this life knowing I have cried many tears from laughter, thankfulness, joyous surprise, beautiful surroundings and more.  I heard a Christian teacher say, “If you want the joy of Sunday’s resurrection you must first have the tears of Friday’s crucifixion.”

I’m so very grateful to God for giving us the outward ability to show our emotions.  To show those we love how much we love them, even after they are gone.  I’m looking forward to the day I can cry tears of joy when I see Jesus’ face watching for me from a long way off.  I know that when I get close enough, I will fall into His arms weeping, filled with joy.

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30 Days of Thankfulness

Join me starting November 1-30 as I go on a journey of lifting up thanks to God! I hope you will enjoy these short, daily thank you notes to our one and only Holy Creator who has blessed us all so richly forever and ever! You can also follow along on the Emboldened podcast! Find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more!

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Amazingly Grateful

Throughout this year the message I keep getting from every Christian source is to grow in my faith I need to learn about God’s character.  And to know God’s character we need to go to the one true source – His Holy Word.  The Bible is the most amazing reference book.  It changes every time you read it.  I’ve looked at the same passages at various times this year and discovered something new each time.  Even the simple verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) carries so much information.  It’s about trust, it’s about slowing down, it’s about getting quiet.  It’s also about placing God above all and realizing He is God and we are not.  

When viewed not only in context but also within the historical perspective the meanings grow even more.  Today in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving – a now much maligned holiday.  To some it’s been twisted to represent the killing of native Americans.  To others it’s about the first Europeans working with the natives to survive.  While others simply celebrate the opportunity to be with family.  Here’s a bit of this day’s true history:

“Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Native American who greeted them in English. 

Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days.”  — History Channel

You see, we can make up what we think the first Thanksgiving is about but when we truly are interested in finding out the facts and the historical perspective it takes on so much more meaning.  Taking a national day to “Give Thanks” didn’t become official for many years later and it was more about just that – giving thanks for the blessings God has bestowed us.

I asked my friends and family to share verses from God’s Word that have special meanings for them on this day of Thanksgiving.  To show appreciation and to give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed on us these thousands of years – written in His Holy Bible.  Take a moment to look each one up and see if you find something new that speaks to you! And feel free to add your own in the comments.


“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 

I have had this written on my cupboard door since the beginning of my cancer trial this year.  To me says it all and I was cured!! Thanks be to God – Beverly

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

When the trials come, I know I can endure them because Jesus has already overcome the world. – Brennen

“Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

It’s very intimate to me. – Janet

“To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.” Isaiah 54:9

Gods covenant of love and peace with us! – Madison

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

This is one of my favorite scriptures but a little ironic in a funny way because it’s said during Catholic mass, followed by the priest’s instruction to “show one another a sign of peace,” or in other words, say hi to the person sitting next to you. This always caused me anxiety at church because I’m kind of an introvert, but once I just let the words flow over me, especially in times of stress in daily life, I can sink into the peace of God’s love which is His gift to every single one us. – Laurel

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged, For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

When I recite this, I am reminded that I am not alone and I can feel strength from God coming back into me! – Betsy

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Prov. 3:5-6

This is comforting to me. During my immature Christian days, I thought God expected me to solve my own problems. Thankfully, he does not expect me to do this alone! God designed me to depend on Him and wants me to pray to Him because he knows what is best and will gladly answer my prayers and guide my decisions. I trust God more than anyone else when I need direction and answers. He knows me way better than I know myself . . . . what a relief and comfort! – Anita

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

It’s a promise of hope and joy and peace not only to just survive but to thrive.  God wants us to thrive and enjoy life. – Todd

“My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27

Because Jesus knows me! Little ol’ me. He knows me by name and I am special to him. — Andrea

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To Be Amazingly Singleminded

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Matthew 12:22-28

I love the part in these verses that states, “Jesus knew their thoughts.”  How amazing is it that right now, this very second, Jesus knows your thoughts?  He knows the thoughts of believers and non-believers.  What would He think about your thoughts right now?  Are they focused on the worries surrounding the election in the United States?  Are they worried about new virus-related shutdowns?  Are your thoughts of your precarious finances or your failing marriage?  Or, are they thoughts of how God has come through for you before and today is no different?  He has shown the way; he has opened doors before and this issue you face right now can be placed securely in His hands.  

The “people were astonished and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’”  How often when God paves the way to solutions we might not have ever dreamt, that we even ask the question, “could this be Jesus?”  Or do we stand firm in single mindedness and state, “Thank you Lord.”? The Pharisees were so afraid of losing their power and control they wanted to be convinced that Jesus was healing with Satan’s power.  And although when our prayers are answered we might not think Satan had something to do with it, how often do we just shrug and think of it as a coincidence?

I’ve written before of the struggles I have with my parents.  They are non-believers.  My father has stated he is an atheist.  And to put it mildly they are miserable.  They lead small, scared lives.  I was led this year to pray vehemently for them.  When I pray for them, I imagine the wall they have securely built around themselves.  A nice, sturdy brick tower.  I’ve asked God to break that wall down, to soften their hearts.  I know I can’t do it.  It must be God’s actions.  And last week I had the chance to see their faces peeking through a few bricks that had been displaced.   I’ve offered to assist them during this difficult time of isolation.  I’ve brought them meals, puzzles, a Kindle.  I’ve offered to buy a meal service for them.  But each time I’ve been met with annoyance.  But last week I received a desperate text from my mother.  She explained they haven’t been eating right and are very lonely.  So, I made up some meals and delivered them.  They were so grateful.  That may sound normal.  But grateful isn’t normally in their vocabulary.  I lost track of how many times they thanked me.   As I drove away, I caught myself thinking like someone of this world – “well, finally they allowed me to help.  I could’ve been doing that all along.”  I forgot that this was not my doing.  A few blocks away I stopped my car and I prayed.  I prayed a grateful prayer to the Lord on High – the only way those bricks could’ve been removed.  I don’t know if my parents will reach through and try and shore up those bricks again.  But for that day, that moment, I thanked God for allowing me to do His works and be His hands.  It was truly amazing.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

James 4:6-8

We can’t continue to have one foot in for Jesus and one foot out.  Because that equation is actually both feet out.  In math, a positive times a negative is always negative.  The covenant with God is based on trust.  And when we vacillate between trusting Him and not, we allow Satan or worldly “solutions” to chip away at our peace. 

Patterns are pointers.  They can very much reveal where a person is headed.  Positive patterns tend to produce productive outcomes.  Negative patterns can’t help but produce negative impact.  Obedient patterns tend to produce closeness with God.  Disobedient patterns can’t help but produce chaos and destruction.

Lysa Terkeurst, Trustworthy

So, when take for granted the miracles that Jesus works in and around our lives, what we are saying is we don’t trust that it’s Him.  Think of King David.  He was promised the kingdom but not only was it many years before he was made king, he had a target on his back by King Saul.  Put yourself in his shoes.  Many of us may have just given up and thought either God was lying or we misunderstood.  And, at the moment David had a chance to kill King Saul, he sought God’s counsel and remembered His promises.  But what if on the day he were crowned he said, “Finally, I struggled and I fought and I accomplished this.”   David instead said,

Because of your promise, and according to your own heart you have brought about all this greatness to make your servant know it.  Therefore, you are great, O Lord God.  For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

2 Samuel 7:21-22

Take a moment and read the full text of 2 Samuel 7:18-29. You will read of a man amazed by the greatness of God.  A man amazed by the goodness of God.  A man amazed by how God is so trustworthy.  May we, this week in the midst of our fears and struggles and joys be so amazed.  May we stop the car, sit down, stop thinking and look up to the heavens and say “I trust you fully God and I know that it is YOU at work.  I thank you for prayers fulfilled.”