Responding to God’s call

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at the port city of Jaffa, Israel, and just down the street from the House of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10.32), there stands a rather modest sculpture of a whale … a tribute to Jonah.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1.1-3, emphasis mine)

You know what happened next in Jonah’s brief trip of rebellion.

The biblical story of Jonah has stirred the imagination and hearts of people of all ages for thousands of years. Yet, near the possible location where Jonah boarded the ship to Tarshish, the enduring symbol for Jonah is that of the whale, the symbol of judgement, repentance and resurrection.

When God speaks, you must obey. To disobey is to be a Jonah: to seek your own direction, to do it your way. Disobedience is simply an attempt to escape His presence.

In what is often referred to as “The Roll Call of Faith,” Hebrews 11, there are listed many of the great biblical names of people who lived lives of faith, such as Noah, Moses, David and Samuel. One name noticeably missing, however, is Jonah. The Lord spoke to Jonah and gave him undeniably direct instructions to go and call Nineveh to repentance, yet Jonah purposely did the very opposite of what God had called him to do. It was an act of self will, the opposite of faith.

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Approaching God

Now Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law … to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (Exodus 3.1)

Life is a wilderness. Each day presents a never-ending array of contradictions and challenges. In the wilderness you experience trouble and peace, faith and fear, joys and heartaches, comfort and suffering, living and death. The wilderness of life is unpredictable, incomprehensible, uncontrollable, yet, there you live.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. So Moses thought, “I will turn aside to see this strange sight, why the bush is not burned up.” (Exodus 3.2-3)

In the commonplace struggle of life, Moses came to the mountain of God. It is in the wilderness of life that you come face-to-face with God. It is in the wilderness of life that God speaks to you. Your choice is quite simple: keep your eyes on surviving the daily busyness or turn your eyes to the One who seeks your attention.

When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3.4)

When, in faith, you look away from yourself and look to Him, you will hear God speak. You will not hear Him speak otherwise.

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Living in His Shadow

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91.1)

This verse, essentially, is saying, “If you have decided to make your home under the covering, in the hiding place, of the Most High, then you will live permanently in His shadow, the shadow of the Almighty.”

Who are those who abide in Him except those who have turned to Him, listened to His voice and obeyed?

Are you living safe and secure in God’s Presence, or is He looking for your heart as He did Adam’s, asking: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3.9)

When you have made the conscious, heart decision to live permanently in Him, always watching to see His every move, always listening to hear His voice, always ready to move into action when He says, “Go,” then you know an overwhelming Presence, a warm, loving Presence, the shadow of God, always with you wherever you go.

Our loving heavenly Father casts His shadow. You must decide to live where His shadow is cast or to take your chances outside of His will. It is your choice. It is always your choice.

For those who have humbly submitted to Him, He promises deliverance, protection, His faithfulness, and freedom from fear.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91.14-16)

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He said, “Go.”

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’” (Jonah1.1-2)

One could almost hear Jonah thinking, “Nineveh? Why, they’re a cruel, pagan people, an enemy of Israel. Besides, there’s still lots of preaching to be done in my own country with my own people.”

So, “…Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish.” (Jonah1.3a)

We know how that little excursion of disobedience turned out for Jonah.

The LORD had one thing to say to Jonah: “Go.” He gave no leeway, no options, and He asked no opinion from Jonah. The LORD simply said, “Go.”

Options are the unprincipled distinction of the self-controlled.
Commands are the wonderful privileges of those under God’s authority.

Options are the prideful considerations of those serving self.
Commands are the humble honors of those serving Him.

We do not pick and choose our areas of service to God. We receive His call and obey as willing servants.

At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Go.” (Matthew 28.19; Mark 16.15) He also said to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1.8)

Nineveh was not a lovely side trip to which Jonah was called. Neither was it to be considered a burden. The omniscient God, our Creator God, the God who loves us and loved Nineveh said “go and preach repentance” to that city. It was an order to be obeyed, plain and simple.

When God speaks to us, we can do no less.

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Look to Him

A towel lies on the beach sand. Most of the day, it provided comfort and place to those who sit, talk, watch the waves and soak up the sun. At the end of the day, the towel is picked up and given a hard shake to remove all remnants of sand. A powerful ripple moves from one end of the towel to the other, dislodging sticky sand and causing it to fly everywhere.

Such is the image that comes to mind when I think of the terrible “shaking” experienced by the earth these past months. There have been earthquakes, tsunamis, release of radioactive particles from nuclear power plants and a great loss of life in Japan. The Middle East countries counties continue to be embroiled in political unrest, threatening peace throughout the world. Many people in the U. S., especially in the South and Midwest, have seen fires and record incidents of tornadoes and a terrible loss of life and property.

These are just a few examples of unrest and turmoil throughout the world in every aspect of society.
Why? What have we done? Did we do anything to deserve such trouble? Is there anything we can do to stop such disorder?

I have no answers. I wish I did. I’m not even certain I know the right questions.

But at times like these, the only thing I can do, the best I can do, is point to the One who has all the answers, our heavenly Father who loves us completely.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26.3-4

If there is nothing else that we learn from such tragedies, we should learn to let our minds be fixed on Jesus Christ.

He wants your attention and your heart. Lasting peace is found only in Him.

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God’s intention: Life!

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1.1

Revisit the creation story often. Allow yourself to be enthralled by the majestic hand of God bringing substance to the universe with the incredible attention to detail which could only point to divine genius.

But, as you revisit the Genesis account, allow yourself to be completely astounded by the heart of Almighty God as He creates human beings.

On the sixth day…
Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1.26-27)

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2.7

God brought life into the world because He is life. God brought love into the world because He is love.

The devil, in cooperation with the original human pair, brought suffering and death into the world, but God’s original intention was life.

It still is.

For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139.13-14,16).

This Sunday, from 2-4 PM, with the help of the Pregnancy Care Center, we will continue our tradition of a Blessed Baby Shower at St. Paul’s. In this culture of death in which we live, we give honor to three young mothers who have chosen life for their respective unborn children. Abortion is the choice of death but we praise God for these young women and the many others who have recognized that life is God-given and a very holy thing.

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Cast your care on Him

The world searches for power in greater strength.
God demonstrates that greater power is found only in weakness.

The world searches for life through abundance.
God promises His abundant grace for greater life.

The world searches for satisfaction in more things.
God offers satisfaction only in Himself.

The world searches for significance in personal potential.
God confirms that significance is never found apart from Him.

For what are you searching? What are your hopes and dreams?

There is a heart-felt desire, a desperate need, common in the hearts and lives of all human beings. This desire, this need, is correctly identified as a search for strength because humans are weak. It is a search for abundance, because you are inherently needy. It is a search for satisfaction because you realize you are not whole. And this desire is a search for significance, because your battle against personal insignificance never ends.

What so few people realize is this: all of the things for which you seek is merely a search for God.

The Apostle Peter wrote,
God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5.5-6)

This is so antithetical to worldly, human reasoning as to be laughable. But the Word of God is clear: you must be reduced to the point of submission under God’s infinitely
powerful hand so that He, personally, may raise you up at just the right time.

You can’t do it without Him.

In fact, Jesus said, “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15.5)

You can’t do anything without Him. You can’t.

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Time to tremble

These are trying days, days of tribulation and distress, of violence and uncertainty. The people of the world are in great turmoil, the very ground quakes, and the economies of nations continue to fail. What do we do and where do we turn?

We need the courage to tremble.

I discovered a website by a New Zealander blogger,  couragetotremble.wordpress.com. The name intrigued me: Courage to Tremble.

The scripture she quotes is from Isaiah 66…

This is what the LORD says:
“Heaven is My throne,
and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house you will build for Me?
Where will My resting place be?
Has not My hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the LORD.
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at My word. (Isaiah 66.1-2)

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God is our refuge and strength

As tension, protests and violence escalate in the Middle East, our natural response is to cower in fear. Turmoil, whether international or personal, will often have an unsettling effect on the soul but the response of our heart is dependent on the foundation of our hope.

Thousands of years ago, David’s words offered assurance for us today, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46.1-2a)

The news from the Middle East is troublesome. Oftentimes, news in this country is difficult to understand. Perhaps, in your personal life, you have received news that is especially worrisome. But let your hope and strength be built on the personal God who offers His personal guarantee that He is our shelter in every storm of life and He is our power when we are weak.

Yes, it’s true that, “The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!” But there is a God whose, “…voice thunders, and the earth melts!” (Psalm 46.6 NLT)

“The LORD of hosts is with us…” (Psalm 46.7a) You are never alone.

Because God is God and He is still on His throne; because He shelters us and gives us strength; because He has a complete and unalterable love for you, then trust Him.

“Be still [relax, stop striving] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46.10

He will be exalted among the nations. There is no other option.

God has given us a remedy for all fears for all time: Himself.

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How important is Jesus Christ to me?

According to a Gallup poll taken this year, “54 percent of Americans say religion is ‘very important’ in their lives, down slightly from the past two decades. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who say religion is ‘not very important’ continues to edge upward and is currently at 20 percent…Today, 61 percent report church or synagogue membership…the lowest in Gallup’s history of asking the question since 1937.” (Nathan Black, christianpost.com)

Are you surprised at those findings? I’m not. The decline in interest in “religion” parallels what I see in many people as a decline in their commitment to Jesus Christ. And the decline in personal commitment to Jesus Christ coincides with the moral decline in this country.

The Christian faith is becoming obsolete before our eyes simply because that faith does not affect our words and actions.

It is critically important that you answer this question for yourself: “How important is Jesus Christ to me?”

Your life will reflect how important He really is to you.

Are you living your life in such a way that unbelievers and nominal believers would really hunger to know Him?

Is your life an example of what it means to love and to forgive? Or do others see you angry with your neighbor, slanderous in your speech, hateful in your actions?

Please read this and take it seriously: your life reflects your “version” of the Jesus you claim.

-If Jesus Christ is alive and well and active in your life, then the world will see love, forgiveness, support, caring, compassion – they will see Jesus!

-If Jesus Christ is only a concept that you have redefined to satisfy your own selfishness, then the world will see anger, hatred, unforgiveness, back-biting – but they will NOT see the real Jesus. Why in the world should anyone hunger after a fleshly, secular, hell-bent, so-called faith such as that?

If Jesus is real in your life and the life of St. Paul’s, people will be drawn here because they will be drawn to Him.

If Jesus is not real in YOUR life, then you will only succeed in turning others away from Him.

That is the choice of Christians and the Christian Church today.

That is your choice.

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