Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well.
In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself.
Running from God
Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:
“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)
Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God? We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe.
Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish. Futile is how we might describe such an effort.
When Storms Roar
When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God.
Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life. But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?
Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates.
What about you and me? Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens? If so, note what happened next to Jonah.
Pagans Begging for Prayer
When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet.
There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually.
Getting Thrown Overboard
When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard.
And the Storm Stopped
When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm. Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death.
The Big Fish
As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights.
If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior.
When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus.
Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained.
Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands.
When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan. Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory.
So, are you Jonah? Or have you been? If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you.
Are you ready?
Erdogan, Hussein. Trump, Obama.
What do all the above men have in common? They were all elected rulers of their nations. And the citizens of their nations (Turkey, Iraq, USA) all went to the polls to cast their votes for their choice for their highest leader.
But, there are several deep truths that are often lost when we think about elections for any public office, particularly in America. So with Election Day around the corner, let’s explore these truths and why your vote counts… but for very different reasons than you think.
Your Vote Does NOT Ultimately Decide the Election
Sometimes a negative example can help us illustrate a positive truth. So let me try to do so.
Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, seemed to always win, regardless of his devious nature and evil pursuits. His citizens voted, but their vote did not ultimately decide the election. Saddam Hussein always determined the outcome. This same reality could be said for many evil dictators.
While there is no comparing Saddam Hussein with God, there is a lesson to learn here. God allows you and me to vote freely, but ultimately it is His sovereign, just, and perfect will that determines the outcome. This truth is affirmed throughout Scripture, but here is just one verse that teaches this truth:
“He (God) removes kings and sets up other kings…” (Daniel 2:21)
So if you’ve thought your vote for or against a particular candidate was the reason he or she won or lost, think again… unless you think you can outvote God.
Voting is Your Obligation
So if God choses our rulers, is there really any reason to vote? If His will is going to prevail, what’s the use in my even going to the polls?
We have been given not only a right to vote in America, but more importantly an obligation has been entrusted to us by God. So when it comes to voting, I’m reminded of the verse, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)
In Matthew 25, there is a story told by Jesus about three servants to whom their master gave varying resources to manage. They were each rewarded, or punished, based on how they stewarded the resources they were given. Likewise, God has granted to us the obligation to select those who would seek to rule over us. Failing to vote is shirking an obligation that God has provided to you. Just as the servants received a reward or punishment based on their choices, likewise our vote will carry with it a similar response from God.
Do You Pass the Test?
So far we have established that 1) God, for His own particular reasons, has already determined the outcome of each election, and 2) We should still vote to fulfill our obligation. So if these are both true, does it matter who I vote for?
Absolutely. And here’s why.
Each time you cast a vote for anyone, you are revealing what is in your heart. Your vote for a politician is just like a politician’s vote for a piece of legislation. His vote and yours, reveal what you both value and prioritize.
When we vote, we have the opportunity to affirm good and reject or expose evil as we see in Ephesians 5:10-11:
“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.”
If a would be elected official is known by his “worthless deeds of evil or darkness,” then our vote will either reject or affirm such.
So every time we vote, we are actually being tested by God Himself. We either pass or fail, and there’s no grading on a curve.
When we enter the voting booth, we reveal our priorities. But are our priorities God’s priorities? Are our values His values? Do we honestly seek to align what we are prioritizing with what Scripture instructs us to affirm or reject?
I can personally attest to the fact that as one spends more and more time seeking God’s instruction and direction, many of the issues that seemed to be priorities, as a Republican, Independent, Conservative, or even Liberal, will begin to crumble under the scrutiny of Scripture.
Voting for the “Lesser of Two Evils”
Over the years, I, and many others, sadly defaulted to voting for a candidate we had serious issues with, simply because we disliked his opponent even more. So we succumb to selecting the “lesser of two evils.” But when we do so, we invariably reveal that we do not believe God when He said that “He removes kings and raises up kings.” Or we question God when He affirms that,
“The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; He guides it wherever He pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1)
Invariably, when we vote for the “lesser of two evils” we sacrifice values that we claim are important to us. In so doing we attempt to play “god” with our “lesser evil” choice, even though such candidate likely has positions or values that are at odds with God’s values.
Such approach demonstrates a lack of trust in God, in His ability to elevate, or put down a king, and direct the heart of the ruler. But a vote for a “lesser evil” also reveals that we are willing to prefer the temporal (winning an election to advance some political agenda) over the eternal of affirming God’s principles.
So at the end of the day, it’s critical that you vote. But hopefully you’ve been challenged to reconsider why, how, and for whom you vote. The ultimate Judge is keeping score. You and I can pass the test if we seek His ways versus our own.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
It’s July 4th. Again. Every year this day rolls around. And as Americans we relish the privilege to celebrate the day our nation declared its independence from an oppressive master. It was a momentous day. But that first day in 1776 wasn’t the end of the struggle. Rather it was merely the beginning.
What that declaration launched was not an easier life, but in many ways a more difficult one. Freedom does not just happen. No, freedom demands an extraordinary price. That price can even require one’s life. But even if freedom does not demand the ultimate cost, it will still require an extreme sacrifice, if it is to be kept.
As I’ve thought about these truths, relative to our nation and our freedom, there are so many parallels to the Christian life. All of us are born into bondage, and our master from the time of our birth was an opressive, evil one. His dominion extends around the world as he has enslaved the masses since the beginning of time. The price he demands is greater than a portion of your earnings, or even your firstborn. This master demands your very soul.
But, we have a Founding Father, who penned His own Declaration of Independence 2000+ years ago. He sealed His Declaration with his blood. This new Master, known as the King of Kings, is a benevolent king. He is a just man. He is a loving ruler.
But as any Master, this Lord of Lords, also demands our all. He does not accept second place. He does not allow His followers to ignore His requirements. But because He was once just as us (but without sin), He understands our weaknesses and He promises to strengthen us in our time of need. He will be with us, when the evil master and his minions seek to pull us back into their dark dominion. Our King of Kings will walk with us, even in the midst of the fiery trials in our lives.
So as we celebrate America’s Independence Day again, how many more July 4th’s will you celebrate? Could this be your last one? Could it be mine?
But more importantly, have you embraced the eternal Declaration of Independence that was authored when God’s Son, the Prince of Peace, hung on the cross, bore your sins and mine, defeated death, and rose again? Jesus’ death for you and me is the only way we can have true independence from the grip Satan has on all of mankind. But we must embrace Jesus as our Lord, Master, and Savior by acknowledging our own sinfulness and need of Him.
Embracing Jesus is the most important choice you can ever make. And if you chose Jesus this July 4th, you will eternally remember our nation’s birthday as the day you were born anew.
“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:36
This last weekend the nation’s elite journalists came together at the White House Correspondents Dinner, for an evening of roasts and toasts, all under the guise of humor. But while the night featured laughs at the expense of others, Michelle Wolf, the comedian hosting the WHC Dinner, stooped to a new low as she belittled Americans whose crime is simply supporting life over abortion.
While Wolf’s attack was crass and deplorable, what was likely lost in her comments was an inadvertent admission that few pro-abortionists have been willing to make publicly.
It has been a long standing argument from those supporting the taking of innocent life, that the child in the womb isn’t really a child… rather it is simply tissue, just a “fetus” or some other “sub-human” entity. However, those standing on the side of life have accurately referred to the child in the womb as simply that, a child or a baby. Logic would suggest that if a child is a baby outside the womb, she is also a baby inside the womb. And since this is true, then the baby in the womb is as deserving of the right to life as she is the moment she’s in her mother’s arms.
So here’s what Ms. Wolf said:
“He (Mike Pence) thinks abortion is murder,” Wolf said, “which, first of all, don’t knock it ‘til you try it — and when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there…”
Webster defines “baby” as “a very young child.” By her use of the word baby, Wolf acknowledged what her own conscience had no doubt already informed her of. I have no doubt that millions of other pro-abortionists, if they were honest, would also admit the same. That little body inside a mother’s womb is a baby, receiving the same gift of life from her Creator as every other individual walking the face of this earth received.
So on this I agree with Michelle Wolf. The baby outside the womb is also a baby inside the womb. The life held in the mother’s arms moments after birth is also a life moments before, when she is held in the mother’s womb. So if we can agree on this truth, then can we not also agree that all life is deserving of protecting and nurturing?
Finally, God’s Word, the Bible, has something to say about what Michelle Wolf did this last weekend when her words spoke what her conscience knows. In Romans 2:15, we read, “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.”
At the end of the day, God has made each of us so that our own internal conscience affirms to us certain basic truths. What could be more basic than the truth that a baby is deserving of love and life, regardless of where she makes her home?
Easter… A week has passed since the day that people around the world celebrated the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a day of victory and triumph. But unlike other holidays, which come and go until a year later, the truth of Easter is one that followers of Jesus should acknowledge and celebrate every day of the year.
The disciples had spent nearly every day with Jesus, for the three years leading up to the crucifixion. He had become not just their constant companion and Friend, but also their Teacher and God. So when Jesus fulfilled His own prophecy, and arose from the dead three days after His death, the disciples’ grief turned to joy and exhilaration.
The example of the disciples over the next several weeks following the Resurrection, is one from which we could all learn. As we read in the Gospels of the interactions between the followers of the Messiah, and Jesus, we see men and women who were continuously joyous at being reunited with their Savior. But their joy and celebration was not limited to a singular day or even those few weeks. Rather, “He is Risen” became the Truth that defined the rest of their lives.
That Truth also became the reason that fishermen became apostles, uneducated men became giants in the faith, and those dozen men ignited a worldwide spiritual flame that would never be extinguished. Even agnostics and unbelievers who heard them were astonished at these unlearned men, who had spent three years with the Author of Life. Within years though, that truth of the first Easter morning ultimately sustained them as they were eventually martyred by a world who rejected them and their risen Savior.
Fast forward though a couple thousand years to our present day. We just finished up another Easter week. But is Easter over for you? Was it just another holiday? Was it merely a time to spend with family and friends, and perhaps a quick visit to an Easter service somewhere? Or are you like the early disciples, whose lives were forever changed by their resurrected Savior?
If you profess Christ, then remember that He is Risen today too, and He is ever present with you as He was with His disciples, regardless of the circumstances or trials that might momentarily overwhelm you. But if you are walking this life apart from the Messiah who defeated death when He arose from the grave, then I urge you to open your life and heart to the One who not only died for you and me, but who also arose to give us that same victory over death.
He is Risen… Today too!
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
If you’re alive, troubles will come. If you’ve been alive long, you’ve seen a lot of troubles. Some are our own doing and some are simply a part of life, and may be completely unrelated to anything you or I have done. How you or I prepare for and respond to those troubles though, can make all the difference in the world.
Do you just float along, and deal with troubles as they come?
Do you dread troubles, fearing them, as a howling storm headed your way?
Or do you understand that troubles, like the setting sun, will come? If so, you prepare yourself properly; building your character; developing relationships; drawing close to God; cultivating that one-on-one time with the One who sustains everything by His very Word.
If you do prepare for life’s storms, you will be like majestic hardwood trees that stand strong and erect, driving their roots deep into the soil, finding the water far below. It’s a known fact that as the wind blows against a tree, the tree responds by driving its roots deeper into the soil.
Because of their years of preparation, these trees can and will withstand the storms that will undoubtedly come their way; winds, rain, storms, lightning. Sure, they may bend during their times of trouble. They may sway. They may even lose branches. But if they are tied into the very foundation that enables their strength, they will stand to see another sunny day, and grow even stronger from these storms, preparing them for the next trials that will certainly come.
Are you and I going deep in our relationship with God? Do we seek the “living water” that God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ? Are we tied into Him daily? Do we drink the nutrition that only He can give us, that will strengthen us like only God can do?
When we do this, we will be prepared to not only withstand the trials that come our way, but we will thrive in the midst of life’s storms. And as we do so, we will not only grow stronger for the next storm, but we will also be an encouragement to those around us who may not be preparing as they ought.
Go deep. Grow strong. Don’t fear. Drink Him in. God is your Hope and Confidence.