Jonah.

Our church did a series on Jonah. Unfortunately, with my “job” as children’s ministry director, I’ve really only been able to sit in on most of two of the four sermons. But, the one I was able to catch today was really good! Today was the last in the series. You can catch them all online at our church’s website.

I really enjoy our youth pastor’s style of preaching. It’s helpful that he and his wife are two of our closest friends, so… no bias there at all! ūüėČ But honestly, I really enjoy listening to him speak. This morning, he was preaching on the last chapter of Jonah and brought out something I had never honestly thought about before:

Jonah wrote the book of Jonah.

Well… that’s kind of a “duh” moment, but when he elaborated on it and I started thinking about it, it really began to click how ironic and kind of awesome it is that Jonah himself wrote the book of Jonah.

When I normally read through Jonah, I find myself criticizing this man. I think he’s such an idiot for running from God and then he’s so incredibly selfish and arrogant to sit and wait for judgement to fall on this city and then he mourns the stupid plant as if it’s his dead pet. I normally end the book of Jonah frustrated and critical with this man. And annoyed that it ends so… open-endedly. Like a book where you just know “The Sequel” will be out soon. And yet… there’s never been Jonah, Part 2.

But, then, Mike brought out the fact that

Jonah wrote the book of Jonah.

And he encouraged us to read it through in the first person, imagining that Jonah himself was talking about his life. All of a sudden, my perspective on this prophet did a 180*. He went from being selfish and arrogant to remarkably humble. Because, think about it, what man (ahem, man!) would tell a small part of his autobiography in such a belittling – towards himself! – tone?? No one! And he finishes it at a point where you are led to believe that he sat under that stupid dead plant until he roasted to death.

But, he couldn’t have! Because he wrote Jonah!

Which begs the question: Did Jonah repent and change? 

I would dare say that YES. Yes, he did. And, like Mike said this morning, he probably repented to such a degree that he didn’t even want to put that repentance in the story for fear of bringing glory to his own name. He wanted the story to reflect ONLY God and in talking about his repentance, it would have brought the whole thing back on himself. He wanted the story of Jonah – HIS story – to be about God.

So, he tells the story honestly. Humbly. In shame and reproach. Not to make you think less of him, but to make you think more of God. What other god in this universe would dare to use someone like Jonah to accomplish His will? What other god would want to send a message to an entire evil city through a prophet who honestly desired their destruction more than their repentance? What kind of god would grow a plant and raise up a worm to destroy it just to teach one man a lesson?

What kind of god? Ours. The real One. The One Who interacts with His creation and cares about each one individually.

He used a “nothing man” like Jonah to save an entire city – a city that rightly deserved mass destruction! And then He took the time to teach that same man a valuable lesson: He is in charge. He is sovereign. His will is accomplished whether we are in the way or not. And He will get us¬†out of the way in order to use us. Even if that means we spend three days in the belly of a whale and three days preaching to a wicked city a prophecy that never even comes true.

It’s not about us. It’s not about the story we want to write about ourselves. I’m sure if you ask Jonah, he would probably tell you there are better parts of his life he wishes we knew about him. But, that’s just it. It’s not about him. It’s not about you or me. It’s not about the life we want to have or the life we even strive to make for ourselves. It’s about how we use the time God has given us and how we follow His will for our lives. We can follow Him kicking and screaming (and need a time out in the belly of a whale to calm down and start over), or we can follow Him willingly (like Abraham!) and see where He takes us.

A year ago, Brian and I never would have been able to tell you that we would be living in the States, serving God where we’re at. If we had been in charge of the pens of our lives, it would not be written like it currently is. But, it’s not about us. It’s not about our desires to go or not go, or stay or not stay, or live here and not there. It’s not about our wants and wishes and hopes and dreams. It’s about God. Our lives are not our own. Our plans have become His plans. His goal is now ours. It’s not easy. I think I’ve sat, metaphorically anyway, in the belly of the whale many times – arguing with God and telling Him, “Absolutely NOT – I won’t do THAT! I’m not the right one for THAT! You have me confused with someone else!”

The point of today’s sermon was about how we need to be obedient in our hearts and minds, not just with our actions and words. Jonah obeyed with his mouth, but his heart wasn’t in it. I was challenged today to do what God has asked me to do, which isn’t always easy (rarely… if ever… is it easy!!), with my heart – for HIM – not for me, my comforts, my glory. Quit doing lip-service only and serve Him from the heart out.

Maybe the story of Jonah is so open-ended so that our stories won’t be. Let’s obey – from the inside out. I have a feeling Jonah would tell us it’s a lot easier than the alternative.

Hope.

When I was 15, the Columbine High School shooting happened in Colorado. This was not the first time that year that there had been a school shooting and I remember not really caring and being slightly annoyed that it had happened “again.” When the news finally came out about how awful it truly was, I went into my room and just cried. I journaled pages and pages. For some reason, this particular shooting shook me to the core. I think it was the first time that the reality hit me that there were teens out there my age living such a hopeless existence. It was during this time period that I realized God was calling me to missions. I could not imagine doing anything with my life other than sharing¬†hope¬†with others.

I have shared the Gospel, mostly in a classroom setting to children, many times over the years. It’s not like it’s a new message for me. But, to hear someone¬†else¬†passionately share the meaning of the Gospel still resonates with me. There’s something about sitting back and listening to someone who truly loves the Lord, has been saved by grace, and is passionate about telling others about it that just makes it hit home that much harder. All over again. Like hearing it for the first time.

I was not saved out of a life of sin. I was not saved out of the depths of hopelessness or from the brink of disaster. I was saved when I was 4. I was a kid. I had zero concept of the magnitude of the decision I made to give my life to Christ. I understood what I had done, absolutely, but the magnitude of it? That still hits me like bricks on a regular basis.¬†“The depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God…”¬†(Rom. 11:33) is such a true statement.

However, even though I was not saved out of sin and hopelessness, I was saved¬†from¬†it. This is one reason why I’m so passionate about reaching children: to have God save them¬†from¬†a life like that. A life that those boys in Columbine lived. A life that is so commonplace now that no one even blinks an eye at someone who’s depressed – it’s just “a part of life.”

But it’s¬†not¬†normal. At least, it shouldn’t be. God did not create us to live a life of hopeless existence on planet Earth. He did not create us to spend our whole lives wondering why we’re here and questioning the entire meaning of life and eternity. He did not give us His written Word on a whim, hoping that the select few would be wise enough to open it and read it. He did not make Himself inaccessible, distant, and hard to understand.

The exact opposite. He wants us to live a life of¬†hope¬†– a life full of purpose and meaning. There is a reason why we’re here and there’s hope for where we’re going next. He placed eternity in each person’s heart – that longing for something more, that question of “what comes after life”, that gut feeling that this is not all there is. He did that on purpose so that we would search Him out. I love that He put books like Job into the Bible. An entire book dedicated to questions from a man to Eternal God –¬†hard¬†questions! And God answers him. Infinite God bends His ear to ordinary man and answers his tough questions – simply because Job dared to ask them.

We do not have a distant God Who created us and left – Who doesn’t care and isn’t involved. He cares for us – individually. Constantly. His desire is for us to come to Him and know Him for Who He is.

This week, Billy Graham turned 95. I grew up seeing him on TV on a regular basis and being annoyed that my parents made us watch “preaching” after we had spent all day in church already. Anyway… he gave one last address to the nation and it’s available¬†here¬†on youtube. He lays out the¬†hope¬†that is available in Christ so clearly. I have heard and presented the Gospel so many times and yet, like I said earlier, hearing someone¬†else¬†passionately lay it out is just… awesome.

If you’re searching for hope, if you’re skeptical about God, if you’re questioning why you’re even here at all – take 30 minutes from your day and watch this video. This is the message that Brian and I have dedicated our lives to sharing with others. Not because it’s an easy life or lots of fun to travel, but because we believe it’s true and want to be sure everyone hears this message. What you do with it is up to you.

“I know where I came from. I know why I’m here and I know where I’m going. Do you?” -Rev. Graham

Leading.

Being a leader is new for me. I have never had to lead a team before, at least not in this capacity. This is a constant learning experience with a major learning curve! I keep messing up and I constantly don’t feel like I’m the right person for this job. But, I know this is from the Lord, so I’m pressing on.

Brian is my biggest encourager. He has been a leader before and he has lots of insight for me. He keeps telling me to learn from his mistakes and be a better leader than he was. We read a leadership devotional together each evening and he is the first one I go to for advice. 

When I was telling him how difficult it is sometimes to work with my team, he told me something that I have taken to heart:

Your team is your first ministry.

I know I will continue to grow and progress through this year and the following years. But, these are a few things I’ve been doing and some of the things I’ve been learning as I’ve put into practice the fact that my team – not necessarily the children we’re trying to reach – is my first ministry.

  1. Build relationships: I’m purposefully taking the time to drop them messages, ask them how their week was, follow up on things they tell me, and pray for them. You know, normal things you do when you want to build a relationship with someone!
  2. Utilize their strengths: As I get to know them, I am able to place them where I feel their strengths are, or where they share with me that their strengths are. For example – I have one lady who is a real sweetheart, but she is convinced she can’t do anything well. I have been struggling to find a place for her – somewhere where she is useful and doesn’t need me to be there constantly redirecting and advising. A few weeks ago, we had a cooking session on Wednesday night and the whole concept of having 18 children under the age of 9 trying to cook breadsticks simultaneously just completely freaked me out. This lady, however, jumped to the challenge. She did the entire activity – set-up, instruction, baking, and clean-up. It was awesome! And afterwards, she was beaming from ear to ear because she had found her niche. I told her how that activity was stressful for me and not enjoyable at all and she said, “What?! This was so much fun! I love stuff like this! Maybe this is what I’m actually good at.” She will never be my main Bible teacher, but if she can lead every cooking activity we ever do, that is perfectly fine with me… and her.
  3. Praise them for their work: Everyone likes hearing a “thank you” and most people like being told they and their work are appreciated. I try to take time after every program to thank the people who helped out, no matter how much they actually did. We put on a Fall Party last week and I made sure I gave them all handwritten thank yous this week. It’s a small thing, but I know that I, personally, function better if I know I’m appreciated.
  4. Delegate: The lady who had my position before me is a wonderful lady, but I have been told numerous times that she did not delegate. Her weakness – which she admitted readily to me in person – was that she honestly did not know how to delegate. What I have noticed is that the more I delegate and trust my volunteers to complete a task, the more they own the ministry themselves. This is not my ministry; this is our ministry. But, they have to own it as much as I do for that to become real.
  5. Listen: Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to be heard. During our meetings, I take time to just sit and listen. I will throw out a question or an idea and then let them talk, discuss, and brainstorm, sometimes without me even interjecting. I glean from them and see what I learn and can implement. Just because someone has an opinion or an idea does not mean I have to use it. The point is not that I implement every little idea or whim that my volunteers have; the point is that I listen to them, validate their thoughts and opinions, and implement what I can. Sometimes, people just want to be heard. And I have learned so much for my team! Without them, the Fall Party last week would have been a complete disaster on so many levels! Their opinions and help are invaluable.

I have a lot more to learn, but it’s a start at least! I am coming into my own as a leader. I don’t always enjoy it and there are more days when I want to quit than days that I’m ecstatic about being here. But, hopefully, with God’s help, that will change over time. The more I learn, the more I can grow and become a better leader.¬†

November 2013
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