When Life Tries to Swallow You Whole

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But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good.I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ [Jonah 2:9]

Jonah is a Hebrew prophet. You can read his story in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. Some may only know the children’s version of a large fish swallowing Jonah up.

Several years ago I preached a message on the story of Jonah. It was a two-part sermon and at the end of part one, I left Jonah in the belly of that large fish. Someone in the congregation, who had never heard the story, asked me later what happened to Jonah.

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I was thinking about that conversation again this week and the story of Jonah. It is a short book of the Bible and it covers only a few months of Jonah’s life. Yet, it is the only thing we really know about the prophet. One vignette and a few months of his life shapes our entire perspective of Jonah.

And just like that, I felt compassion for him.

The book of Jonah doesn’t really paint a pretty portrait of the prophet. He is disobedient and obedient. He is angry and fearful. He is judgmental and gracious. He is faithful and unfaithful. And the story ends unresolved.

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It made me think of another conversation I had this week. A friend encouraged me to give someone another chance. And I thought about Jonah and how hard we, the Church, are on this prophet. We come to an opinion about him with nothing but a three-month window into his life.

I think there are seasons in our life that mark us. Seasons we may not be proud of. Seasons that haunt us because we were not living up to the standard God has called us to. They were seasons of fear or anger or desperation or pain. They were seasons that corrupted our souls and the lives of those we encountered.

Often times those seasons of our life require God to send a large fish to swallow us whole. At the time it feels like God is punishing us. But, just like the prophet, we see in hindsight that God was rescuing us from ourselves. He allowed us to look into the abyss with the purpose of extending us grace upon grace.

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Sometimes it seems like life is swallowing us up. Here’s the good news. It is only for a season. You have been given grace upon grace to mark your life with better days.

And we have also been given the grace to extend to the “Jonah”s in our life. We are reminded that, like us, those moments and seasons do not represent the broader scope of one’s life. Our experience may have left things unresolved, but God is the One who resolves all things in the end.

For Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world”.

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How to Eat an Elephant? We’ve Come this Far

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: holiness!

It’s a journey. It’s a mystery. It’s a God thing that seems to have nothing to do with us.

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing holiness in our current sermon series. In week one, we recognized that we broke God’s trust when we sinned against him. We failed. All of us. And the first step in repairing our relationship with him is to admit that we failed.

During our second week of exploring this journey toward holiness, we talked about the past and the future. We recognize that we have spent too much time, an unhealthy amount of time, lamenting the past. The best way to eat this elephant called holiness is to break from the past. We cast our anchor into the future and secure it to Jesus who draws us forward. We are no longer sinners saved by grace. We are children of God being transformed by grace.

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In week three, we were confronted with holiness beaconing us to be different.

Holiness is terrifying, overwhelming, and incomprehensible which is why we do our best to ignore it. God’s grace has given us freedom. And, while everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial. Yet, when we talk about holiness, we are not talking about preference or gray matters. God is calling us to be different; godly, holy.

St. Paul tells St. Timothy that in the last days…

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

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Paul is not talking about the world or non-Christians. He’s talking about the Church.

We [the Church in the U.S.] spend all of our time talking about those things that are “permissible, but not necessarily beneficial”. And we should be spending our time cleaning our house. Until we are walking in holiness, we have no authority with the world to comment on things permissible, but not beneficial.

Last week we left the discussion with unresolved tension. And it’s exactly where we need to be. We need to allow ourselves to feel the tension so that it can do its work in us.

On Sunday, we will work to resolve the tension. We will talk about bicycles, butterflies, and how to eat an elephant! We will work to answer the questions: what does it look like and how do we get there?

Sunday at 11AM 

Mind Dump

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For most of my life, I have been an easy-going person; unflappable. I prefer my days to unfold and find schedules to be anxiety-producing. Some would break out in a cold sweat thinking about an unscheduled or unstructured day. Some find solace in routine. I find it in flexibility.

However, after my children were born, I found myself living in a structured, scheduled daily routine. Babies like to eat at regular intervals and prefer sleeping routines that follow suit. And my life changed.

I discovered my mind would race throughout the day overwhelmed by the things I was trying to remember. My to-do list was growing longer and the anxiety was building.

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At night, when I lay my head on the pillow, all I wanted was for my mind to stop…thinking. It felt as if my mind would explode trying to remember it all.

I was already using a calendar and I had a couple of systems in place. But my mind didn’t want me to forget. So it kept reminding me.

It was around this time that a friend introduced me to the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Allen’s system is a great step to productivity. But the concept of “Mind Dump” is the biggest takeaway that most people neglect.

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Allen contends that the reason most of us experience insomnia is the inability to turn off our brains. And our brains don’t want to shut down because there is nowhere to put the information it is trying to remember. If we give our brains a safe place to store the information, then it can trust itself to rest.

The first step in doing this is called a Mind Dump.

Step One: get yourself a blank notebook or journal

Step Two: write everything that comes to your mind

  • ideas you want to explore
  • projects that need to get done
  • appointments you need to keep or schedule
  • errands you need to run
  • people you want to talk to about something specific
  • places you want to go or visit
  • things you want to accomplish
  • stuff you hate about your job, family, life, house, etc.
  • keep writing until you run out of stuff to write
  • put the notebook somewhere you will see it in the morning
  • schedule a time/date on your calendar/phone to review it
  • go to sleep

Step Three: you will need to keep that appointment (of reviewing the list) or your mind will return to reminding you of all the stuff

Step Four: at the appointment, begin to categorize the items on the list.

Step Five: create a “next step” for each category. If your mind knows there is a list you will review and the next step to follow, then it will allow you to rest. Follow through is the key to getting your mind to stop and rest though.

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Since I have implemented the mind dump, I rarely have trouble falling asleep (unless caffeine is involved). On those nights, or even during the day, when I’m feeling anxious, I use the mind dump to clear my anxious thoughts. It’s one of the greatest gifts I have been given! Give it a try and you just might get some rest.