Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 1)

A WORD FROM GOD

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:” (Jonah 1:1 NIV)

Take some time to read the first chapter of the book of Jonah in you Bible.

I recently told my congregation, there are two things to know about me, right off the bat. Number one, I am a really smart guy. Now, I know I do not always do things that make it seem like I am smart, but I do work really hard. I also had to tell them, I promise I am safety conscious. This was really important because the weekend before, I had gotten the church’s zero-turn lawnmower stuck in a ditch. It would have been funny if this had been a one-time incident, but alas, it was not. 

See, the parsonage has a few inclines that would make mowing them challenging. If you did not go at the right angle, I learned, the mower will slip back down the hill. And that is what got me caught in the ditch, the first time. Don’t worry, we were able to get the mower out easily and I was able to finish what I needed to for the day.

This might be a good point to say this is my first time using a zero-turn lawnmower. Over the course of three mowings, I was able to get more confident and do more of the yard safely.

The next day, I decided I needed to finish an area of the yard that had not been able to be mowed because it had been real marshy and I needed that to dry up. The time had come. I put on my rain boots, walked through knee-high grass, and found the ground was dry enough for me to finish this patch of grass. I was excited!

I got the mower out, put in my headphones and turned on Pandora Radio on the Contemporary Christian station. I was getting more and more of the yard mowed, and it was looking good! At this point, I felt myself getting prideful and decided to go up a hill, close to the driveway, so I could easily go back and make another pass. This worked great, until…there was a little culvert ditch I did not see until it was too late. This time, the lawnmower had been backed up into the ditch.

Most of the time I am not easily embarrassed. When people drove by and saw the mower, and then the vehicle pulling a rope (that kept breaking), I felt I just needed to laugh at this situation. Then, a friend came by, called his son, and they were able to get me unstuck.

The other thing I told the congregation they needed to know about me was that I do not like to be told something is too much of a challenge, or it is impossible. I have had this character trait verified on multiple occasions. My wife says this is one of the reasons we are married. J

I do not believe there are impossible situations. There is always a way out and people who can and will be there when needed. Because of this, I was able to get the yard mowed before rain started the next morning. Every time I drive up to the house, I am thrilled to see the yard mowed! Mission accomplished, this time.

Now many people, including me at times, when faced with a seemingly impossible situation, will try to run and hide until the problem goes away. We see this all the time. People will run to drugs, alcohol, the arms of someone who is not their spouse, and more, just to try and run away from the situation for the moment and not think about it. 

It really is amazing what people will do to get out of doing something or face a situation or issue without really dealing with it. Most of the time, when the situation is faced and worked on, it turns out better.

As I study the scriptures and get older, I am understanding more and more how important it is to know who God is and what God’s nature is like. If we do not understand this, we do not clearly or fully understand who we really are. (I’m not talking about who we think we are. I am talking about who God created us to be.)

Now we get to the biblical book of Jonah.

There was something my Old Testament professor, in seminary, said. Think about this. “If you only had the book (or passage) of __________ from the Bible, what could you tell people about God from the text?” This is essentially what we get to do and experience from the Bible. We get to learn more about the nature of God. Yes, we learn about human nature, but as we learn about human nature, we also learn about who God is and how God interacts in this world and with flawed humanity. The book of Jonah is no different. 

As we take this time to study this short book in the minor prophets, take time to go to a new level of looking at the Biblical text. Take the time to see what the text is saying about who God is and what God’s nature is. This is something important for us to do because we can miss out on knowing God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit if we’re only looking for what peaks our interest or what makes us feel good.

Enter Jonah.

The prophet. The whale. The story many have heard from childhood. This is a book that has captured the minds and hearts of many throughout the centuries. So much so that many stories and movies have used something from this short book of the prophets. In 48 verses, Jonah gives us a good picture of what happens when we try to run from God and how persistent God is to get us to do what he wants.

The story, we know, goes like this: Jonah hears from God to go to Nineveh to get them to repent. Jonah says no and decides to get on a boat to try and run from God. A storm hits the sea and the sailors are scared. When they figure out Jonah is the cause of the storm, they throw him overboard and he gets swallowed by a whale (though the text just says big fish we tend to still think whale). He spends three days in the belly of the fish and then gets spewed out on the land. Jonah hears God again and this time he goes to Nineveh. While he is walking through the city, Jonah proclaims the message of the Lord and the people are scared so everyone, including the animals, put on sackcloth as a sign of repentance. God does not destroy the city. Jonah throws a fit. The end.

That pretty much sums it up, right? But, since this is one of the books in the Bible, we have to understand there is always something beneath the surface. There is something God wants us to know through this inspired story, this inspired word. 

This really is a fantastic story. It is easy to try and say this book is about how we should not try to run from God. It is easy to say this book is about God’s compassion for the people. It is easy to say this book teaches us about the human condition. But, if we take time to read and understand this story, we can see this book, like the rest of the Bible, is teaching us about the nature of God.

Our task, over the next four chapters is to see how, if we only had the book of Jonah, we could still teach about the incredible nature of the God who created the universe, including each individual person.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.

Before we go any further into this story, we have to pause and think about who Jonah is. The only other time we learn of a prophet named Jonah is in 2 Kings 14:25, which says, “[Jeroboam, king of Israel (Northern Kingdom)] was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea,[a] in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” (NIV) There really is not much about this guy. Even though we do not have much information, we do know who Jonah was supposed to be, a prophet of YHWH. 

Look at his name. Have you ever thought about Jonah’s name before? Jonah son of Amittai. “The proper name means ‘Dove son of Truth (or Faithfulness).’”[1] Can you sense the irony and humor right off the bat? Jonah is supposed to be a faithful prophet of God, yet he does something very unfaithful and runs away from his assignment. We are not told why he does this in the first chapter, but he tries to run from God and hide.

When else have you heard about people who tried to hide from God, in the Bible? There are numerous accounts, but the one that stands out is Adam and Eve. This is the account you can read about in Genesis chapter 3.

Right after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”[2]

The story of the fall and trying to hide ourselves from God has saturated and become part of just about every story we know. It seems to be human nature to try and hide from people and/or God when we are ashamed or feel guilty.

When we tell about the beginning of the fall, when the fruit was eaten, notice how we tend to focus on the people’s actions and their sense of separation from God. Have we noticed the great care and grace God offers by “searching” for the man and women in the garden? God knows where they are located but God is asking where their heart is. The man tells God they were afraid. Their hearts were in fear, instead of peace.

Through the fear in their hearts, God still comes to the man and woman and offers them a chance to live, even if it is not in perfect peace as they were used to. God does this because the state and condition of every heart is known by him. Remember what God told the prophet Samuel when he went to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul, “the Lord looks at the heart.”[3]

Back to Jonah. 

JONAH LEARNS HE CANNOT RUN OR HIDE FROM GOD

God knows what Jonah will do. God knows that Jonah will try to run and hide, but God still offers grace from the beginning by giving Jonah the chance to do what he is supposed to do.

Jonah does not surprise God when he flees. God knows everything about us.[4] Jonah thinks he can run away from God by running away from his assignment.

Notice how the text says Jonah “went down to Joppa,”[5] “gone below deck.”[6] Jonah kept going down. The author is showing how the condition of Jonah’s heart is going deeper and deeper away from the presence and calling of God.

What we learn from this is God is not a person we can run and hide from. God is omniscient, meaning God is everywhere. There is no place God is not. Here, we can remember the words of David from Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.[7]

So now we have to ask if there is anything you are hiding from God? Do you wish God was with you and answering your pleas? Rest easy, God is always with you. God has never left you. There is nowhere you can go God is not. The presence of God is always seeking to give your heart peace and vanquish any fear within.

God is everywhere. That is good news for us. This is not all this first chapter of Jonah teaches us about God.

GOD CREATED EVERYTHING

This might seem like a no-brainer but this is a reality and truth we have to understand, or at least believe. Jonah seems to know this, yet he does not seem thrilled about it.

When he gets on the ship, Jonah goes below the deck to take a nap. Suddenly, a great storm comes upon the sea and is threatening the boat and the crew on board. The sailors are terrified and are trying to figure out why they are having this bad luck. They want to know who “cursed” the boat by coming aboard.

After casting lots, which is similar to drawing straws, the sailors find it was Jonah who caused the storm. They rush to get him and bring him to the deck to question him. Now, they already knew why he was on the boat because he told them he was running away from God. This never sunk in until the storm hit.

The sailors questioned Jonah about who he is. 

It’s interesting they did not want to know who he was before, they only wanted to know his reason for going to Tarshish. 

Jonah begins to tell them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”[8] It is easy for us to hear Jonah with a confident, prophetic voice declaring who he is; but we have to keep in mind Jonah is running from God because he seems to be unhappy with the task he was called to do.

Instead of hearing a bold voice proclaim, “I am a Hebrew and worship the Lord…” Maybe we should instead hear Jonah speak with a snarky, disgusted tone because, yes he is a Hebrew, but he does not or has not shown he worships the Lord since he has run away. 

There are those who would try to make others feel guilty about running away, but pay attention to how Jonah is also showing us the human condition while teaching who God is. People run from God for many reasons. People will claim they worship God but live a life doing the opposite.

Jonah is telling the crew who he is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do. Maybe he has given up trying to pretend because at this point, Jonah is still trying to figure a way to get out of the assignment at hand, for unknown reasons at this point.

Yes, Jonah is a Hebrew. Yes, he is supposed to worship the Lord, but Jonah is unhappy with his lot in life. When the crew tries to decide what to do, Jonah steps in and says, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”[9] Jonah has thought about ending his life. He gets in his head that if he were gone, the lives of those around him would be better, would be safer.

But Jonah underestimates the image of God within humanity. He forgets that God desires people to live and to live in community with others.

What is remarkable is how the sailors try to avoid throwing Jonah overboard. They come up with every other idea. They even tried to row back to the land, back to safety. But the storm was too strong for them to row and they finally relented to Jonah’s plea.

GOD CAN BE SEEN IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PEOPLE

The sailors throw Jonah overboard. But before they completed that task, they cried out to Jonah’s God. “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”[10] The sailors began to plea to the Lord. They cried out to the Lord. What this means is they worshipped the Lord, in that moment.

We never know how our lives are going to touch those around us. Even if we are not living up to the life God set out for us, there is still his Spirit within us to touch the Spirit of another person. Pay attention to how people begin to act when you are around. You or I may not be the most perfect example of living for God, but maybe there is something about us that helps bring people to him. 

I cannot remember where I heard this quote, but it sticks with me: “Your fingerprints never leave the lives you touch.” Because of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit within us reaches out to another person and offers the grace of knowing the God in heaven, the Creator of the universe.

As the sailors were worshipping God, they threw Jonah overboard. All of a sudden, the storm ceased.

They realized the Lord is the One who created the heavens, the earth, and they sea. The Lord created everything. So, they continued to worship the Lord by offering sacrifices to him and made vows to him.[11]

Jonah is in the sea. He thinks his life is over, but notice this: God shows great compassion by allowing Jonah to live. God provides a huge fish, speaks to it, and the fish swallows Jonah. Jonah is kept safe in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Even though it is in the belly of a fish, God still desires his people to live and to experience real life, life in God’s presence here and now not just in the life to come.

What an interesting way to end this chapter. But here we are, in the belly of the fish, learning about the nature of God. Remember this, the circumstance you might be in now could be something God is using to keep you alive and trust in God. You may not be in the best situation, in your mind, but you may just be exactly where God is wanting you to be. You never know who God has placed in your life that has the tools to get you out of the ditch. It is in these situations we are becoming more and more transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Just look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.[12]

So, if this were the only book of the Bible you had in your possession, how much could you teach about who God is and what his nature is?

So far, we have learned:

  1. Even though God knows our real heart, he still calls to us and speaks to us, giving us his mission.
  2. There is no place we can hide from God. This should give us great encouragement because God never leaves us.
  3. The Lord is the One who created everything.
  4. People come to see and know God by our lives.
  5. God offers grace and desires life for people

As we can see, this is who God is and what God is like. Fast forward to the New Testament, we can see all of this lived out in the person of Jesus Christ.

Bringing this chapter to a close, I am invited us to begin to memorize Hebrews 3:15, “today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your heart.” God’s word comes to us in many different ways. Do we have the ears and heart to hear?

Maybe someone needs to hear this word, as if it is from God:

“I know who you are and what you’re capable of, yet I still choose you for this life, for this calling, for this special mission I created you for. You can try to go as far from me as you want, but remember, I’m already there and I’m pursuing you with a love so great that I will do everything I can to keep you alive. I created this whole world. I created you! Because of you (whether it’s done perfectly or not) the most unlikely people will come to believe in me, know me, and worship me. You have a great role to play in expanding the Kingdom of Heaven.”


[1] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 493

[2] Genesis 3:8 NIV

[3] 1 Samuel 16:7c NIV

[4] Psalm 139:1-6

[5] Jonah 1:3 NIV

[6] Jonah 1:5 NIV

[7] Psalm 139:7-12 NIV

[8] Jonah 1:9 NIV

[9] Jonah 1:12 NIV

[10] Jonah 1:14 NIV

[11] Jonah 1:16

[12] Romans 5:1-5 NIV

Loving to Life Pt 4

VISIONING

This is one of my favorite things to do – visioning for the possibilities of the future.

I have said before that I do much better in bigger picture planning and thinking than I do when it comes to the minor details. The details are important. Visioning is not just about long term planning or thinking how an organization/person/church can be in the next generations. Visioning is about taking the plans and putting them into action.

A vision without action is really just a day dream. In this aspect of helping people/organizations/churches live for the future, we are doing a few different things: 1) we are looking where they have been, 2) where they are now, and 3) what is possible with the current resources (and also resources that will become available)?

Visioning has to be covered in prayer from the beginning, during, and execution. I have also learned that listening to the hopes and dreams of the people is another place God is speaking about the future. As we have been listening and learning from the people in our small groups, we have an incredible chance to hear the passions of the people. This is where I think we should continue with the visioning process.

As we have been praying, and seeking God’s direction and focus for our new endeavor, we are also searching for the places God is at work. If we pay attention, we can hear God speaking through the passions of the people.

Visioning is a big picture activity and requires looking at the big picture. Right now, I would ask you to pause and write down what you consider as part of the big picture.

In my experience, we tend to sell short the “big picture” for only what we can see. The challenge here is to look beyond what is seen. Look at the organization, the people involved, the culture in and around, what has been done, what is going on, the resources in the past, the resources in the present, targets and goals for the future.

This is really just a small list, but it does give us some greater things to think about and consider; but it should help us expand our horizons to think about more than just the amount of people and bottom line. Visioning requires us to dream and act toward a goal of how the organization/person could be in the time frame you decide. This helps us with acting upon the vision.

As far as time, we tend to focus more on the next year, five years, or ten years down the road. How would it impact and affect your vision to think about how things could be in the next 50-100 years? Does that seem like too far into the future?

Think about this. Everything we do is either going to last for a short period of time or it will last for a long period of time. When we think more about the next 50-100 years, it helps us focus more on the next generations to help make sure there is something for them. This means we work toward something that may or may not be comfortable to us here and now.

As you spend time in prayer, listening to the people’s passions, and learning about the past to see future potential, praise God for the opportunity to be in the place you are in the time you are.

God has given and will give vision. Pay close attention and continually talk with other people so it is more of a community effort of prayer and work. Watch to see all God will do.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • How have you typically planned for the future in the past? Is there anything written here you haven’t considered before?
  • What are you excited about in the new area/position?
  • What do you think about the idea of planning for the next 50-100 years instead of just a year, 5-10 years, down the road? What is challenging about this? How can you work through the challenges?

Along the Journey

Click here to read Acts 16:1-15.

Whenever we go on a journey, many of us have everything planned out and mapped out. This is so we can stay on schedule and know what it is we’re getting into and will do. It is more comforting to know what exactly it is we will be doing and where we will go. But, how do you think you would do if plans changed each and every day?

I am one of those people, most of the time, who likes to know what is going on; but I am also very flexible with my plans. After all, isn’t it more of an adventure if you just wait to see what happens or where you will go? Some people become anxious over not having concrete plans. Others don’t really care. People will respond how they respond.

The point of all of this is not to say we all need to be more spontaneous. The point is to open our lives up even more to the working of the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind Proverbs 19:21 and Hebrews 3:15:

“Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 CEB

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” ~ Hebrews 3:15

What I get from scripture, especially these verses, is we should not try to be so rigid in our lives. The reality is we can miss the calling and purpose of God for us if we try to schedule everything and be unwilling to change plans. There is great comfort knowing the presence of God is with you wherever you go.

Look at the life of Paul, especially here in Acts 16. His life was turned completely upside down after his conversion with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He now only has two agenda items: 1) to know Christ and him crucified and 2) to spread the gospel message wherever he is. This is a guy that does not know where he is going to sleep at night or where he will be traveling the next day.

If we are open to the leading of the Spirit, it will be interesting, each step, to see what God has in store. Maybe you’ll get a new friend (or traveling buddy). Maybe you’ll want to go to a certain place and you sense you need to be somewhere else. Maybe you’ll come across a person who leads you home and the entire household accepts the message of Christ.

Life, in many ways, is an adventure. How the Spirit speaks to you, you’ll have to pay attention to. (Through scripture, wise counsel, something you read, something you hear, a nudging of the heart, audible voice.) The point is to be open to the leading of the Spirit all along the journey of life.

Peace: Have No Fear

ADVENT WEEK 2: Peace

The four weeks leading up to Christmas is a time we should take each year to prepare ourselves Jesus Christ coming into the world: a time of celebrating his birth, and also preparing ourselves for his return. When we take this time seriously, we have the opportunity to again place our hope in God through Jesus Christ, to experience the peace and joy the Holy Spirit brings us, so we can truly live in love and experience true life, life in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come.

This week, our scripture focus brings us to The angel’s proclamation to Mary she is the one to give birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.”

More than likely, these are words you have heard many times. It is too easy for us to read a story, scripture passage, message that we have heard time and time again and think we know what it says. Remember, “God’s Word, is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) so each time we carefully read it, we can experience God speaking. Take a few minutes to reread the scripture passage again.

What stands out to you? What have you not noticed before? What do you hear, feel, touch, see? If you placed yourself in this passage, where would you be? What would you be feeling?

Mary is in the middle of her day, when angel appears to her and delivers this incredible news. Mary, like us, would most likely have responded in fear at first. Thinking about what would happen to her and her family, to her husband, if this all came to be.

Fear seems to make sense. We say we need to protect ourselves, so our self-preservation instincts take over. We are all driven by fear on some level. We save up excess money for the future because we get fearful we don’t have enough. We buy many imperishable foods because we’re fearful a storm will come and take out our power. We give our kids everything they want because we’re fearful they will through a fit in public. We buy the best and most expensive clothes, toys, electronics, houses because we’re fearful people won’t like us or we won’t feel valuable. Fear if kept unchecked will result in a person feeling anxiety, then turning to stress, then turning to anger. But, this is not how God desires us to live. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Everything around us can be chaotic, messy, scary; but God gives us grace so we can live in peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of Jesus Christ around us and within us. Mary could have stayed fearful; but soon she would have the physical presence of Jesus the Christ growing inside her.

So, we can choose to respond in fear, or trust God, even when it seems impossible. This was Mary’s stance. She did wonder and ask how this can be since she has not been with a man. But the angel told her, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Many people get stuck on the question, “how can a virgin give birth to a baby?” If we stay in this Lin of thinking we will miss a much more important question: “How big is your God?” Here’s what I mean:

  • Is God big enough and grand enough to create the world in 6 literal days and give it the appearance of age?
  • Is God big enough to create a world, set it in motion, create the math, science, down to the smallest detail for the world to evolve and get ready for humans over a few million or billion years?
  • Is God big enough to shut the door of an ark, fight battles for the Israelites, bring a whole nation into the promised land?
  • Is God big enough to supply the missing DNA needed to give birth to his son here on earth?

We do not have to have all the answers; but we can trust that God can make it happen. Personally I find great peace in this because I know God is holding a tight grip on us and is giving us everything we need.

Mary really did not get an answer as to how, exactly, this was going to take place except for hearing the “Holy Spirit will overshadow her.” But she resolves to step out in faith and trust that God’s plan for her life is much better than anything she could have dreamed of or planned. Which brings us to a final thought.

Was Mary’s life easier because she said “yes” to God? No. Too often we have this idea that following Jesus makes our life smooth and easy. Following Jesus does not mean this. If anything it makes out lives harder because we have to go into the world to shine his light. People will look down on Jesus followers because they don’t understand or know. We get to help those and be in relationship with those who everyone else says is scary or dangerous. We get to go to places that we hear on the news is war torn and in complete chaos. But…

We don’t need to fear because the real presence of Jesus Christ is with us.

This Advent season, take time to experience the peace of Jesus Christ in your life. Fully embrace the grace God gives, fear not or be anxious about nothing because the best task is to focus on Christ.

In the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is one of my favorite biblical characters because he definitely stands out and people take notice of him. He is memorable, not only of his message, but of his clothing and food choices.

Though the Gospel of Luke does not mention him wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, Matthew and Mark do. This is still the image we can have of John as we read his proclamation to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Mark Twain said, “the two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I imagine John felt excitement when his time had come to deliver God’s message to the people the Messiah is coming.

What joy! What exhilaration! He was finally able to go and do what he was born to do! He went out to preach a sermon that no one really wanted to hear; but needed to hear: prepare for the Lord’s Messiah, seek forgiveness and repent. I would imagine the people did not want to hear they have to change their hearts, their lives, their will. I imagine the people only wanted to hear their lives will be better and that God will com in to take care of the “real” problem: the Romans.

What message is it you want to hear at Christmas? The sweet story of a baby being born and the angels and shepherds giving God glory and praise? Or, are we preparing ourselves fully for the complete gift of God through Jesus Christ and realize His life, His death, AND His resurrection are the reason we are reconciled to God.

To fully see the beautiful picture of Christ at Christmas, we have to be different from our culture and see the gruesome death that is coming.

How do you stand out to show the full meaning of Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Me?

Ephesians 3:8-13 God gave his grace to me, the least of all God’s people, to preach the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ to the Gentiles. God sent me to reveal the secret plan that had been hidden since the beginning of time by God, who created everything. God’s purpose is now to show the rulers and powers in the heavens the many different varieties of his wisdom through the church. This was consistent with the plan he had from the beginning of time that he accomplished through Christ Jesus our Lord. In Christ we have bold and confident access to God through faith in him. So then, I ask you not to become discouraged by what I’m suffering for you, which is your glory. 

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This passage reminds me of an ongoing conversation God and I have, “Why are you sending me into ministry? Don’t you know there are better people out there?” I would venture to guess that you are in a similar boat. You may not be asking why you’re in ministry as a vocation; but you may be asking why you are in a certain life situation. You may also think to yourself that you do not deserve to be able to do what you do. Whatever it is that goes through your mind, God has a plan for you.

Paul was heading on a completely different life course when he was struck down by a bright light. This was his vocational shift period that he realized what God would have him do with his life. Remember, Paul was going to arrest those who followed Jesus and all of a sudden, God made Paul change his life purpose to be an evangelist to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). Or was it all of a sudden?

Sometimes I think the things we go through are situations that God wants us to go through so that we will be better equipped to handle the future plans He has for us. We always have to freedom to do things our way; but when we learn and follow the plans God desires, we will actually find more fulfillment. Not safety. But joy and peace and a filling of the spirit. I can look back on my life and see the different things I did, right and wrong, and see now how that experience is helping me today. Others may not ever see their life circumstances tie together, but God is somehow using our past to shape us for the future.

There has always and will always be a plan for your life and for my life. Jesus Christ is that plan. When we accept Christ, we allow him to transform us and become new creations. Our past does not define us; it only shows us where we have been. Our future does not define us. We do not know what will happen. Jesus Christ is our present who gives us new life and redeems our past so that we can live, not just in the future, but now in the present. God has a plan for your life. How do you find out this plan? Ask God and spend time with people who will lead you on the path to God through Jesus Christ.

You are valued. You have worth. You have a purpose. Trust God.

#TheGospelChangesUs