God Is In Control

“Believe steadfastly on Him and everything that challenges you will strengthen your faith. There is continual testing in the life of faith up to the point of our physical death, which is the last great test. Faith is absolute trust in God-trust that could never imagine that He would forsake us.” – Oswald Chambers

Most everyone is familiar with the book of Jonah. Ask almost any child who goes to church and they’ll tell you Jonah is about a big fish, or a man running from God, or the bad people of Nineveh. In reality, the book of Jonah is about none of those things. Yes, they are all important parts of the story. But the book of Jonah is also about something completely different. Jonah is a book written to reinforce the fact that God is in control.

God speaks the first words in the book of Jonah (1:1-2) and He speaks the final words (4:10-11). Book, kids programs and most sermons focus on the actors of the story (Jonah, fish, etc,). Few resources focus on God as the central character in the book of Jonah. It was God who sent the storm to halt Jonah (1:4). God sent the big fish to save Jonah (1:17). And, lest we forget, it was God who sent Jonah in the first place and God who saved the people of Nineveh. Jonah is a book about God and His sovereignty.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. History tells us the Assyrians were brutal people who were notoriously cruel to their enemies. The Assyrians and the Israelites lived in close proximity and had battled in the past. The city of Nineveh was large and was a pagan culture that would not have taken kindly to a Jew telling them to seek salvation from His God. God had pity for the people of Nineveh, who were far from God. God had pity on us when we were far from God

We have to always remember that God has compassion for the lost. We were once like the people of Nineveh. We were like the pagan sailors bowing down to false gods.  We were like the wayward prophet knowing of God’s mercy, but not truly knowing His mercy personally.  We were lost so God sent His Son Jesus Christ to demonstrate true compassion. This is the epitome of compassion. Jesus gave His life for us and now He expects us to do the same.

Jonah reminds us God is in control. He is sovereign and only He controls outcomes. God didn’t need Jonah to preach to Nineveh, but in His great pleasure He chose to use His sinful servant. God does not need to use us to call His elect to Himself, but it pleases Him to do so. Embrace your calling to share the gospel with the lost, not because you fear a big fish, but because you desire to see God’s glory multiplied on the earth.

God is in control of all things and His control always works for our good.  We may not always feel His presence or see His hand, but we can know for a certainty that God is working.  God is working because God is always at work.  Jonah shows us God’s gracious control to pursue the disobedient prophet, the pagan sailors, and the people of Nineveh.  God is working, so ask yourself, “Will you work with Him? Or will you flee from Him?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe God is in control of everything? Explain why you believe He is or is not in control of everything.
  2. When was the last time you obeyed God even when His order did not make sense to you?  

A Strange Solution

“Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” – Jonah 1:12.

On the surface, being asked to be thrown into the sea seems a strange solution for the problem that Jonah was facing. Follow the timeline. God tells you to go to Nineveh. You don’t want to do it, so you run away. Instead of going where God wants, you go on a vacation cruise. God sends a huge storm, which threatens your life and the lives of everyone on board. The crew finds out the storm is because of you, and they ask what can be done about it. What is the logical answer?

The logical answer is, “Turn around! Head the other direction. Take me to Nineveh. That’s where God wants me to go.” But Jonah tells them to throw him overboard into the sea. It would seem that Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh. We do not know if he could swim or not, but in a storm like this, it would not matter. Throwing a man into a storm like this is essentially putting that man to death by drowning.  

What is more surprising still is looking at this from the viewpoint of the sailors. They were pagan, idol worshipers. But they are hesitant to throw Jonah overboard so they try to row back to land. “Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it.” (Jonah 1:13)   

They cannot make it to land, and the sea gets more violent. So they finally do what Jonah asks. But first, they do something rather surprising. They pray. Before they throw Jonah overboard to his death, they pray to God. They know He is in control of the storm, and hope that He does not hold them accountable for killing one of His children.“Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.” Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.” (Jonah 1:14-15)

They are obeying a God they know nothing about.  In response to their actions, in response to their prayer and throwing Jonah overboard, the raging sea grew calm. They were awestruck by the Lord’s great power and vowed to serve him.

Unbelievers may believe when we finally do what God wants us to do. Look at the sailors. They’ve seen the storm immediately stop. They were awestruck by God’s greatness and they worshiped God. And they offered a sacrifice to God, and they made vows. They made promises to God, “God, we’re going your way from now on.” The whole ship is converted. When you start fulfilling your mission, people around you that you never thought would be believers in God or Christ, are going to come to Christ. It just happens. Because, all of a sudden, they see that you are walking in calmness, not in stress, and not in a storm. And they go, “Whoa, I want that in my life.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can your mission in life impact unbelievers?

Running Man

“The Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.” – Jonah 1:4–5.  

If you’re an athlete or coach there is a good chance you’ve competed against a rival team in your league, region, or conference. There may be bad blood built up over the years because the two teams dislike each other and are out to embarrass the other team each time they play them. Now, imagine if someone asked you to serve and help this team. You would probably roll your eyes and say “no way.” 

That is the problem Jonah had. He could not stand the people of Nineveh. He disliked them. He felt they were not worthy of hearing the message of forgiveness and redemption. He wanted to see God punish and destroy them, not rescue, forgive and redeem them. So God was sending him to share a message of warning and forgiveness to the people he could not stand.  

Our society is full of anger, hatred, prejudice, division and needs to hear about eternal life. And so we Christians need to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. The solution is never arguing, complaining, and running away. The solution is always Jesus Christ and a redeemed and transformed heart. 

Jonah decides to make a run for it. He goes to Joppa and pays to board a ship heading for parts unknown. But Jonah was about to find out that it is costly to go in a different direction other than the one God is asking of us.  

Jonah was making good his escape when the powerful wind struck. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. God will make life miserable for the person who willfully runs from a known call or mission. 

God was ready to use Jonah as a messenger delivering a life-changing prophecy to the people of Nineveh. But Jonah, probably out of fear and uncertainty, decided to do things his way. What trouble his disobedience caused not only for him but also for those around him.

When God has a job for you to do, your obedience is all that is required, your understanding is not. Because of the human condition, it is easy to think your way is the better than the plan God has laid out, but you might find yourself in the midst of a storm of your own making that effects you and those you love.

Before you get yourself in such a perilous state, follow God’s plan from the beginning, life is just better if you do it right from the very start. But, if for whatever reason(s), you find that you haven’t done things quite the way God has said, look at how God tried to get Jonah’s attention, and get him back in His perfect will.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever tried to run from God’s will for your life? How did that work out? 
  2. What are some of the ways God pursues Jonah in this passage? What are some of the ways God pursues us when we run from Him?
  3. Is there anything God could ask you to do, today, that you would say “no” to? If so, what is it and why would you say no?

The Peace That Surpasses All Understanding

“As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway. At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants . . . What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:12,13,15. 

At some point in our life’s journey, we come to realize how inadequate we are to deal with all that life throws our way. At some point, we realize the things we fought so hard to attain or to achieve simply did not satisfy our desires or meet our expectations. Especially when there is a pandemic affecting the world. People seem to be working harder, competing for more, and clamoring for more stuff.  Yet others still aspire to a career and then discover that the career they envisioned has been replaced by long hours, a long commute, and heavy traffic. It affects their life, their marriages, their relationship with their kids. Peace seems to be a difficult thing to obtain.  

Look at the story of Jacob. In short, Jacob’s life was a mess. He had to leave home much earlier than planned because his brother Esau was so angry at him that he was comforting himself with the thought of murdering Jacob. As if looking over his shoulder was not enough, Jacob fled his homeland and found himself in unfamiliar surroundings. His pillow was a rock; the ground was his bed. He faced many dangers, and his only companion was his guilty conscience. Peace was nowhere to be found. 

That’s when the Lord revealed himself to Jacob in a dream, to bring Jacob the peace he desperately needed. In the dream, there was a stairway with angels going up and down. The Lord himself was at the top. He assured Jacob, “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” God gave Jacob the one thing that he could find nowhere else—peace. 

Feeling stuck in life or a situation can sometimes lead to isolation or confusion. At some point we realize we cannot fill the lingering void in our heart on our own. While the pursuits of pleasure, relationships, money, power, and other things may satisfy us for a short time, we ultimately find that the empty longing inside us always returns. It is at this point we discover the strength to fill this void can only come from the One who placed it there. We discover the love and the power of our risen Lord and Savior. We discover Jesus.

There are many challenges that confront us today.  There are many possibilities for being afraid, for there is plenty of fuel for fear in our world. And just like Jacob, peace is impossible for us to find—until we discover God’s gracious promises in Jesus. All sin is paid. We are forgiven through Christ. There may be questions, but in Christ, there is no question about where we stand with God and that true peace is found in Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel like you can’t ever find peace? Or that life is just too overwhelming? What can change all that?   
  2. What can you do this week to be anxious for nothing? 

The Imperfect Spouse

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” – Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV).

There is one thing that all married couples have in common in addition to being married: everyone is married to an imperfect, fallible human being. In fact, James 3:2 promises you that your spouse is capable of finding new and unique ways to disappoint you when he states, “for we all stumble in many ways.” Notice the words “all” and “many.” No spouse avoids this reality. They all stumble in many ways.

Since every person is married to an imperfect spouse, every married person will have legitimate disappointments in their marriage. How can you learn to appreciate an imperfect spouse?  Acceptance and encouragement are two biblical requirements to consider.

Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.“ 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 

Share the grace that God gave you with your spouse.  It takes great spiritual maturity to love, to offer grace, and to give someone the same spiritual benefits we ourselves have received from our heavenly Father. Get in touch with how much God has done for you — how He has seen every wicked act you’ve ever committed; heard every syllable of gossip; noticed every malicious, ugly, and hateful thought — and still, He loves and died for you. And He’s forgiven you. Transform the focus of your expectations from what you expect of your spouse to what God expects of you. We can’t make any one person do what we think they should do. But we can surrender to what God would have us do in light of that.

A healthy habit is to ask God to change you. When conflict happens ask God to help you with specific weaknesses of your own. That’s right — as backward as it may sound, respond to temptations to judge your spouse by praying for God to change you.

Every one of us is married to an imperfect spouse. We confront different trials, different temptations, and different struggles—but each one of us faces the same reality: living as imperfect people, in an imperfect world, with an imperfect spouse. Learning to love, appreciate, and be thankful for that imperfect spouse is one of the most soul-transforming things you can do. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s a profitable one, and I urge you to commit to it today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it possible to find the perfect marriage with an imperfect spouse? Why or why not? 
  2. What can we do this week to improve our marriage with an imperfect partner? 

Respect And Love

“So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” – Ephesians 5:33

Men and women are completely equal in a marriage, but God created us with different sets of needs. He designed marriage to allow a husband and wife to meet each other’s needs. Husbands are instructed to love their wives as they love themselves. You might think that wives are instructed to love their husbands, but if you read the Bible from cover to cover, you will never find a command that says, “Wives, love your husbands!” It is implied: for example, Titus 2: 4 says, “These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children…” So, of course, wives are supposed to love their husbands although you will not find the exhortation “love your husbands” in the Bible.  

What you will find over and over in Scripture, is this command: “Wives, respect your husband.” These verses tell us that that the number one need of a husband is respect. And when the husband senses respect from his wife, he will believe he is loved as well.  Paul doesn’t say, “respect your husband the same way your friends respect their husbands.” He doesn’t even say, “respect your husband like your mother respected your father.” He doesn’t qualify it at all. Respect your husband, period. That’s the standard the Bible gives to women.

Wives are called to submit to their husbands, husbands are called to love their wives and both are called to love and submit to God. These roles cannot be supported if there is no respect. Respect is basically the acknowledgment of each other’s roles, personalities and qualities and holding it in high regard. A husband plays his role better when respected but so do wives. If we don’t respect our spouse, we not only affect our spouse’s role, but our roles as well.

Respect does not exist without love and love will always give birth to respect. As we learn to love our spouse more and more without condition or premise, we will naturally see more respect grow out of it. Love spurs us to deny ourselves, accommodate the needs of others, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, etc. Respect means to esteem, to regard, to value, to look up to, to admire, to heed, to notice, to consider, to recognize, to defer to, to honor, and to be kind to. The bottom line is that love and respect come down to choosing to esteem someone and their God-given role, even when it’s demanding, challenging and requires us to get uncomfortable.  

Respect brings about change. There is no doubt that there are people reading this devotional and thinking that the author has obviously never met my husband. He does things that eliminate any notion of respect. That may well be true. But just as the unconditional love of Christ can change us, so can the unconditional respect that we give to our spouse change them. There are many times when it’s not easy for a wife to give her husband respect. It takes lots of patience and prayers to let God take control of you and make you able to make wise choices when it comes to respecting your husband. Much of marriage was meant to be unconditional in the same way God is unconditional about many things in our relationship with Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you go about loving your wife as Christ loved the church? 
  2. What can you do this week to forgive your spouse, love him or her first, and cooperating with God in your marriage this week?

Love & Marriage

“To fully know and still fully love, is the primary aim of marriage.” – Fierce Marriage.

Real love, the kind of love that keeps a couple together for a lifetime, is not a feeling but an attitude. It is the attitude that with the help of God I’m going to do everything in my power to love and cherish my wife. As Christian husbands, you are called to love your wife as Christ loved the church. Why? Well, because God says so. And, you should want your marriage to be a picture of the Gospel. It is the key for having a joyful, love-filled marriage. 

But what does it mean to love your wife as Christ loved the church?  Taking this command at face value, it would seem to be an impossible task to do anything as well as Jesus did it: Jesus is God and we are not. No, we cannot do anything as well, but let me give you a different, more practical perspective on how to love your wife as God loved the church.  

Love your life as Christ loved the church by making it your duty to forgive. Jesus died on the cross and as a result, God the Father does not hold your sins against you. You are totally made free to thrive. You have a duty to love your wife as Christ loves the church which means you don’t hold your wife’s sins against her. She’s not perfect. She’ll still sin in life. Your wife will say something to you that she probably shouldn’t. She’ll withdraw. She’ll do a lot of different things. You have the same problems yet God came and got you and forgave your sins. Don’t hold her sins against her.

Love your wife as Christ loved the church by loving first. Scripture says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” It doesn’t say we love our wives because our wives first loved us. It doesn’t say we love our friends because our friends first loved us. It doesn’t say we love our children, our family or our coworkers because they first loved us. It says we love because God first loved us. Even on the days when we may not feel loved by our spouse, we can love him or her in response to the love God shows us all. We can love others because He first loved us. Then no matter the distraction or the schedule, and no matter if it has been five years or 15 years or 50 years, we can treat each day with our spouse as if it were the first. We can experience love unending in the middle of every storm.

And finally, love your wife as Christ loved the church by cooperating with God in serving your spouse. The individuals who truly love see themselves as God’s agents for enriching the lives of their marriage partner, for them, love is a way of life. They are constantly looking for ways to help, encourage and support their partner: this means you notice her. You compliment her. You open her door. You treat her as an amazing person. You show the world what it looks like to be delighted in how you delight in your bride. 

The Scriptures say the Holy Spirit pours the love of God in our hearts: “And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5). God wants to use you in your marriage. Ask Him to give you a loving attitude toward your spouse and to pour out His love to her. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you go about loving your wife as Christ loved the church? 
  2. What can you do this week to forgive your spouse, love her first, and cooperate with God in your marriage this week?  

Love And Respect

“Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” –  1 Peter 2:17.  

Scripture teaches us that Christians should honor or respect all men (1 Peter 2:17). Every human being bears the image of God, and so, of course, we are called on to respect and honor that. And of course, Scripture also teaches us to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and Jesus made the point that our neighbor is whatever person God has placed right in front of us (Luke 10:29–37). So all Christians are to love everyone, and all Christians should honor everyone. That is the baseline.

Women need love, but men need respect. How often have you heard this or similar statements? And so often, they are met with wisely knowing nods of agreement and likes and shares on Facebook. These simplistic notions are popular when it comes to people trying to sort out the perceived differences between men and women.  

But when we come down to the particular relationship of husbands to wives, and wives to husbands, Scripture gives us an important, additional emphasis. Husbands are told specifically to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Wives are told specifically they must respect their husbands.

So we are called to love and respect. When husbands are told to love their wives, we can infer from this that wives need to be loved. When wives are told to respect their husbands, we can infer from this that husbands need to be respected. On a basic level, everyone needs to be loved and everyone needs to be respected. But when scripture singles out married couples, the men are told to love and the women are told to respect.  

Love and respect are a powerful duo. The Bible teaches that this kind of love is effective. This kind of respect is powerful. This sort of love bestows loveliness. This kind of respect bestows respectability. Husbands cannot duplicate the love of Christ, but while we cannot duplicate this kind of love, husbands are told to imitate it. And in imitating it, we see some of the comparable effects. A woman who is loved by her husband is a woman who will grow in loveliness. And the same kind of potency can be found in a godly woman’s respect.

So then, men and women should love and respect each other. They should do so with all their hearts. But when they are concentrating on their marriages, the men should lean into love. The women should lean into respect. The results can be astonishing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In summary, what are the responsibilities of the husband and wife toward each other?? 
  2. What can you do this week to show your spouse either love or respect?  

How About A Marriage Mulligan?

“ Golf… is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.” – P.G. Wodehouse.

Golf is an interesting sport, but too often devoid of joy. Golfers get frustrated with their performance. How can you enjoy yourself when you hit the ball thin, fat, top it, skull it, chunk it, slice it, hook it, or shank it, most of the time? It has been calculated that the amateur golfer is three consecutive bad shots away from madness. Their first shot on the 3rd green is a chunked driver that goes 50 yards.  You brush it off and then hit a fairway wood equally as bad, followed by a iron straight left into the woods. That’s it. Storm clouds begin to swirl in your mind, your mood darkens, gloom beckons. You’re helpless in a harsh and unforgiving universe, filled with the desire to throw your clubs into the nearest body of water. Then the people playing with you tell you to “take a mulligan.”

Oh yes, the mulligan. A mulligan is a do-over, a second chance, a freebie, a shot that does not count against your score. Sometimes people play with a mulligan per side, sometimes it seems there are unlimited mulligans. Mulligans make the game so much easier, especially when you end up taking more mulligans than strokes that day. God is the Lord of mulligans as we see in the Bible. God called out to an overzealous Pharisee named Saul who openly mocked God’s Son and hunted down His people. On the road to Damascus, the Lord said to Saul, “How about a Mulligan, Saul? I’ll even give you a new name.”

What about taking a mulligan in your married life? I believe every couple should take a step back and look at their marriage and really be intentional about improving it. But improving it often means giving your spouse a mulligan. God meant for the union of marriage to be a good thing but sometimes we don’t know how to handle the strains and pressures of life.  When the disappointments, storms, and even the mundane sweep through our homes, sometimes we just don’t know what to do.  Our human nature is to place blame. But if we want to better our marriage this year, let’s be prepared to give the occasional mulligan. Hit the reset button and re-start.

The gospel message of grace is a prime example. 

Christ says to all of us “how about a mulligan? I’m not about to give up on you. If you have any doubts about that, just look at the Cross.” Because God has been so tender with us, we can be tender with ourselves and others. Peter declared in 2 Peter 1:5-7: “And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it difficult to give out mulligans in marriage? Why or why not? 
  2. What mulligan could you give your suppose this week? 

Having The Same Values

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” – Luke 6:21. 

Every couple is different, and there are so many little things that make up a happy, healthy marriage. Only God really knows where your relationship stands and what your future may hold, but, having shared values is crucial for a relationship to thrive and grow. In many ways, they define who you are and as a result, refine your relationship. Couples that don’t share similar values, tend to share disappointment and resentment.

Many people believe that good communication is the key to a successful marriage. Communication is vital, but if couples’ values are significantly different, it’s unlikely that even the best communication will be enough.

If one spouse values a simple lifestyle and the other values accumulating wealth, it doesn’t matter how well they communicate, there will be regular opportunities for conflict. If one spouse values their faith and the other doesn’t,  there will most likely be issues.

Another important common value is one’s attitude towards having children. One partner may really want children and feels marriage would not be complete without a child, while the other is ambivalent or, worse, thinks children would impinge upon their lifestyle. Good communication can only clarify the two different perspectives, not solve the problem. Likewise, if one spouse believes that career is the top priority and the other puts family first, the couple will either fight or go underground with general dissatisfaction or anger. Yes, communication is vital, and if couples don’t have good communication skills, learning them can be a marriage saver. But if the values are significantly different, it’s unlikely that even the best communication will be enough.

But what if we have been married for some time, is it too late to find shared values. The answer is that prevention is always preferable but seldom is a situation hopeless. God is still doing the impossible and the improbable falls within that. As in all facts of life, Biblical principles will serve you well.  Following these principles will improve any marriage. Even the strongest marriages can benefit from periodic reminders of how they can demonstrate their love and respect for one another. The lack of shared values can have a cumulative effect over time and can result in a level of bitterness and unforgiveness that they cannot see a path forward through the hurt and pain. They believe the spouse is the primary cause. They have little hope that things would change. 

Each person needs to accept their contribution to the state of their marriage. Each needs to be willing to change whether or not their spouse is willing, for we can only change ourselves. In most cases the culprit is self-centeredness. When we learn to die to self, amazing things can happen in a marriage 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so important to have shared values with your spouse?   
  2. What can you do this week to get on the same page as your spouse in some areas where you may not share values?