Never Too Late For His Mercy and Grace

Do you know what to do when God has a problem with you?

Eli didn’t. He was High Priest over all Israel and he didn’t have a clue.

The runaway prophet Jonah knew (he just didn’t want to — until a stay in a sea monster changed his mind). The wicked, barbaric people of ancient Ninevah knew — they knew exactly what to do. And they did it.

Never Too Late

But not Eli.

Remember the sweet Sunday School story about the little boy Samuel who heard God calling his name? When he finally understood it was God and answered, “Speak, Lord” the message he got was … um… not as sweet. Which is why we stop telling the story there, at least when it’s for kids.

God gave Samuel a word of judgment for Eli. Eli’s sons had turned the Temple into a brothel; they were shaking down the people coming to worship the Lord, demanding bribes, skimming from the tithes and offerings. All kinds of awful stuff.

Eli knew about it and it disgusted him, but he made no attempt to restrain his sons. So because of their sin and Eli’s failure to correct them, God told Samuel to tell Eli that both of his sons would be killed on the same day. That none of their descendants would ever live to be old men. Every one would die tragically in the prime of life. Their entire family would be destroyed.

Think for a minute how you would feel if God said something like that to you.

What would you say?

Now listen to Eli:

“He is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him.” (1 Samuel 3:18)

Or in contemporary language:

“Whatever.” Sighs. Shrugs shoulders. “It is what it is.”

Que sera sera.

SERIOUSLY????

When God confronted them, how did the heathen people of Ninevah — who didn’t know God nearly as well as His prophet and priest should have — respond? The king declared a citywide fast and humbled himself, putting on sackcloth and ashes to symbolize  mourning and repentance:

“Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence… God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)

Over and over we see this pattern in Scripture. God confronts a person or a people with their sin and declares His intention to hold them accountable for it. But when people humble themselves and repent, God relents. When they ask for His forgiveness, He gives it — mercifully, graciously, generously.

Sometimes He takes away the consequences of their sin completely. Other times He tenderly softens the blow.

Because it’s never about how bad we’ve been, but about how good He is.

How eager He is to reveal Himself to us, to show us His love and compassion, His mercy and grace.

That’s something the people of Ninevah have to teach us today. Something they could have taught Jonah:

What do you do when you know God has a problem with you?

Drop everything and run right to Him.

 

Virtual VBS 2014 Memory Verse Week 4

 

This week’s Virtual VBS for GrownUp Girls  Assignment:

Read: Jonah 3 (again), Matthew 21:28-31, Revelation 3:19. As you read these verses, think about the different ways we can respond to correction… the different ways people in Scripture responded, the different ways you yourself have responded. What have you learned in the process? When you know you’ve made a mistake, a poor choice, a foolish decision — when you’ve done wrong — what matters more than anything is what you do next. See if you can formulate a strategy, your own personal “in case of emergency” statement that you record in your journal or on a file card or sticky note to remind yourself what to do when you find yourself in a mess — and why!

Memorize: Joel 2:13

Hard to believe we’re in Week Four of our Five Week study… still time to catch up if you’ve fallen a little behind! If you have any questions or thoughts or ideas, I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Super Saturday ~ Virtual VBS FUN! Songs, Movies, Snacks

“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7

This summer here on What Women Should Know we’re doing a “Virtual VBS for GrownUp Girls” — “Waves of Mercy”  – an online Bible Study of the book of Jonah. If we were really in VBS (Vacation Bible School) all together in one place, we’d be able to sit around a picnic table for hours, munching treats and making crafts and singing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs!

Super SaturdaySince we can’t quite manage that… here’s a fun post with some songs and movie suggestions and snack ideas that sort of go along with our theme. Things you can enjoy with your friends and family or your small group, wherever you are!

 SONGS

Here are some great songs with the same themes we’ve found in the book of Jonah: mercy and grace, repentance, forgiveness, second chances. I’ve put links to various YouTube versions I’ve found (I think they’re all available on iTunes). Special thanks to Shirley, Patricia, and Julie for helping me brainstorm song titles on Facebook!

The Love of God ~ Rich Mullins (“There’s a wideness to God’s mercy…”)

Oceans ~ Hillsong

Father Hear Your Children ~ Steve Green

Rescue Me ~ Selah

Second Chance ~ Hillsong

Mercy ~ Casting Crowns

That’s Where His Mercy Begins ~ Steve Green

Mercy in the Wilderness ~ Steve Camp

Every Move I Make ~ Jennifer Carozza (“Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I go, I see Your face…”)

 

MOVIES

There’s really only one Jonah movie I could find: The Veggie Tales version….

Jonah - A VeggieTales Movie

 

 

 

 

 

 

But if that’s not really your style, you could always go for a classic family-friendly movie with an ocean voyage and a shipwreck and people praying on the beach… Swiss Family Robinson!

Or a slightly wackier and less well-known Disney gem (also with an ocean voyage, a member of the Mills family — Hayley this time — and a prophet!) … In Search of the Castaways. Or a movie about second chances … like Bella. Or one with themes of grace and redemption, like Les Miserables.

Swiss Family Robinson (Vault Disney Collection)         In Search of the Castaways         Bella        

SNACKS

My littlest nephews came over this week… I told them about our study and shared the story of Jonah with them, showed them some of the blog posts I’ve been working on. Then I let them help me with this fun ocean-themed treat. They LOVED it!

Jello Aquarium

Jello Aquarium: All you do is pick up a few packets of blue Jello and some gummy (fruit snack) fish at the grocery store — and follow the directions on the Jello package. After the mix has started to set — but before it’s set completely — you gently push the gummy fish in, at different “depths.” (If you do it too soon, they’ll all just sink to the bottom.) The boys particularly loved dividing up all the fish ahead of time and strategically planning which fish would go where… that’s what made a project or play activity for them.

When the Jello was ready to eat, we topped some with whipped cream icebergs and others with crushed cookies or cereal as sand — and some with both, of course.

Later we’ll enjoy some Goldfish crackers and make sandwiches on fish-shaped bread!

I would love to hear your ideas… I know there are lots of other great songs and movies – and maybe even snack ideas — I haven’t thought of! If any come to mind, please share…

(I’m working on a couple of grown-up girl craft projects for one more fun post before our study is through — so I’d love to hear any of those ideas, too!)

 

With All My Heart

Someone once said that the Bible is God’s love letter to us… that beginning to end, it expresses His longing for us, His passion for us, His devotion to us.

It also tells us He is jealous for us… righteously, that is. He loves us so faithfully. He wants us to love Him the same way. Completely. He desires our whole hearts, all of our love and devotion – just as He gives us all of His.

“If we are faithless [do not believe and are untrue to Him], He remains true (faithful to His Word and His righteous character), for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13 AMP)

With All My Heart

But too often we have other lovers on the side… and we turn to them to meet our deepest desires, our greatest needs. We look to them to comfort us, strengthen us, sustain us. We think they will shield us and protect us. Provide for us. We think they will give us what we want, what we need, what we just can’t live without.

There are two words for this in Scripture: adultery (the spiritual kind) and idolatry.

There are so many verses in the Bible that we think don’t apply to us, because we don’t bow down to statues!

But when we are unfaithful to God, disloyal to Him, when we worship someone or something else – a dream, a desire, a goal, the comfort that epic shopping or binge-watching Netflix or eating a whole pan of brownies brings – it’s  the same thing!

When we give anything or anyone the place in our hearts that belongs to God, it’s idolatry. When we turn to anything or anyone other than God to meet the deepest desires and longings of our hearts that only He can fill, it’s idolatry.

Over the last ten or fifteen years, I’ve read some great books and Bible studies that have helped me see the grip that it’s had on me (off the top of my head: Idol Lies by Dee Brestin, Love Idol by Jennifer Lee, Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick, and Made To Crave by Lysa Terkeurst).

That’s why for years and years, the prayer of Jonah has been one of my favorite Bible prayers. And why I love this week’s memory verse in our Virtual VBS for GrownUp Girls:

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:8-9)

It reminds me how ultimately worthless and empty and meaningless my idols are – how worthless and empty and meaningless their promises. They never deliver. They never really come through for me.

When I stubbornly cling to them, I miss out – I “forfeit” or surrender or give up – the grace that I could experience. The grace God wants to give me. The comfort and strength and peace and hope and joy He promises me.

“God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection.” (Psalm 18:30 NLT)

So again and again I return to my first Love, my True Love. Grateful that He always takes me back. Through my tears, I thank Him for the storms, the wild winds and the crashing waves that bring me to the end of myself and cause me to cry out to Him. I tell Him how much I really do love Him. How much I want to love Him with all my heart.

And I work on rooting out those idols, smashing them to pieces.

Clinging only to Him.

He is my refuge

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

 

 

He Hears Us When We Call

“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and He answered me. I called to You from the land of the dead, and Lord, You heard me.” (Jonah 2:1-2 NLT)

It’s one of the best things about a trial by fire — or in Jonah’s case, a swallowing-by-sea-monster. When you think you’re dying — when you ARE dying — almost everything suddenly becomes totally unimportant. Except for the stuff that really is.

All the misplaced priorities, all the distractions, all the excuses get swept away. So do your pretences and defenses. Along with your ideas about cleaning yourself off, pulling yourself together, getting yourself in a better place before you reconnect with God.

Yeah, no time for that now. Not when the waves are sweeping over you. Not when you’ve got seaweed wrapped around your head. (Jonah 2:5)

You gotta get real right quick. You use whatever breath you have left to cry out to God to save you. To rescue you. To forgive you.

“The ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT)

He hears us when we call

The answer comes so fast, it’s like He’s been right there waiting the whole time for you to say something. Just waiting for you to get to that point where you’d ask Him — invite Him in. He’s THAT eager to connect (or reconnect) with you.

Think about that for a minute.

How would you feel if it seemed someone had to be desperate to want to reach out to you? If they had to think they were dying before they’d ask for your help?

I might be so hurt and offended, I let them drown.

But it doesn’t seem to hurt or offend God that that’s often what it takes.

“As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. He knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14 NIV)

That was Jonah’s experience. He cried out to God as he was sinking into the depths of the sea, into the belly of the whale or the fish or whatever. As he was dying — spiritually, physically, literally or metaphorically. He humbled himself. He confessed his sin. He confessed his need. And instantly God heard him. Instantly God answered him. Instantly (well, almost instantly) God delivered him. God set him free.

Free from far more than death or the fish or the depths of the sea.

Think about the power that gave Jonah’s testimony. Now he could preach repentance to the people of Ninevah with some serious authenticity.

I know he’s been preaching to me.

Virtual VBS 2014 MV WK3

This week’s Virtual VBS for GrownUp Girls  Assignment:

Read: Jonah 2 (again), Psalm 51:1-17, and Micah 6:8. As you read the Scriptures in Psalms and Micah, think about how they relate to the story of Jonah — and his prayer. Especially consider what the psalmist says about sacrifices, and what kind of vows or promises he makes in verses 13-17. In light of this, what kind of sacrifices and/or vows did Jonah ultimately make? What does God ask of us today? How might this apply to you personally? What would it look like in your life?

Memorize: Jonah 2:8-9

Discussion Question:   Have you ever felt like Jonah — like you were dying, drowning, deep down in the pit (metaphorically or otherwise)? What is your testimony — your story?  

 

 

 

Nowhere to Run from God’s Love

Jonah was on the run. But he wasn’t the only one.

God was hot on his heels.

In the first chapter of the book of Jonah, we actually see God in full-on pursuit of a whole bunch of people.

girl standing at the edge of rock

Let’s start with Jonah. It’s staggering to me that not only did God choose Jonah in the first place — attitude problems and all — but when Jonah ran, God ran after him.

I wouldn’t have. Not me. I would have sent a well-aimed bolt of lightning Jonah’s way. (I don’t like to be sassed.) And then I would have chosen somebody else.

But not God. God had still chosen Jonah, appointed him, equipped him, empowered him, and enabled him to fulfill His call. And He loved him. So He didn’t let Jonah get away with his disobedience. He humbled him, chastened him, redeemed him, and restored him.

At the same time, God, whose heart is “to seek and save the lost,” used Jonah’s tantrum as an opportunity to go after the sailors on the ship in the storm. The pagan sailors who had a lot more godly compassion and concern for Jonah than he showed for them — endangering their lives as he did. The heathens who showed more reverence and respect for God than His own prophet had done.

God met the terrified sailors there in the storm and revealed Himself to them — gave them a glimpse of His mercy and grace, as well as His power and glory. And they fell on their knees and worshiped Him.

Of course the catalyst for all of this was God’s desire to save the people of Ninevah. He looked beyond their sinfulness, and saw them as desperately lost, needing Him. He described them to Jonah as “more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left” (4:11). In other words, totally helpless, like little children.

He didn’t wait for them to come to Him. He was coming to them. Just as soon as Jonah stopped throwing his tantrum.

You know it’s interesting that in most of the Old Testament, we see the nation of Israel as a beacon, a shining light, a country at the crossroads of the world. People from other tribes and nations were always invited to “come.” Come and see the beauty of the Lord. Come and worship at His holy Temple.

But with Jonah, God said, “Let’s go to them.”

Just as He would with Jesus.

Just as Jesus would say to us: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)  And “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

It’s hard to wrap our heads around the kind of relentless love God has for us — and wants us to share with others.

A love that runs hard after us… passionately pursues us… a love that will not let us go.

Maybe that’s why Jesus talked about it so much. Why He told so many parables about seeking and saving, going after the one…the father who ran to embrace his prodigal son.

He even says it’s why He hasn’t come back to take us home yet. Because He’s still running after some of His children, gathering them into His arms. And He’s not willing to leave a single one behind. (2 Peter 3:9)

We can help Him. We can be willing to go and find our future brothers and sisters and tell them the Good News! (Isn’t that an awesome thought?) We can be a part of the process, a part of the pursuit, in a lot of different ways — using whatever gifts and talents and resources He’s given us.

But if He has to — as Jonah could tell us — He’ll even use our tantrums and ‘tudes.

That’s how relentlessly determined He is to love us and love through us.

God can do much more

Remember this week’s Virtual VBS for GrownUp Girls  Assignment:

Read: Jonah 1 (again), Psalm 139:1-16, and Hebrews 12:1-11. As you read the Scriptures in Psalms and Hebrews, think about how they relate to the story of Jonah and how they speak to you and your life today. Underline any key words or phrases. Jot down any points you want to remember. 

Memorize: Hebrews 12:11

You can also see the Questions for Reflection at the end of Monday’s post.