Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Reflections from St Beuno's: Paths

The route to the top of Snowdon

At St Beuno's I normally meet with my retreat director at 10.15am, but on the Sunday this meeting was rescheduled to 5pm.  The forecast was for beautiful weather, so I decided to take the opportunity to walk up Snowdon.  I planned my route, and set off in good time to walk up the mountain.  But on arriving at Snowdon I discovered that the car park I intended to use was already full, despite still being early in the morning.  I had to drive a couple of miles down the valley before I found somewhere to park.

From where I was parked, it was a long walk up the valley to reach the path that would take me up Snowdon.  So instead I decided to take another path, which I hoped would lead me to the summit.  Half way up the mountain I lost the path, and searched for what I believed would be a safe route to the summit.  However the higher I climbed, the more difficult and dangerous the route I had chosen became.  Eventually I realised that the only sensible and safe decision was to turn back, and retrace my steps, because the path I was on was clearly unsafe.  

Heading down the mountain, I did eventually manage to find the correct path, which led me safely to the summit of Snowdon.  

The summit of Snowdon

As I was reflecting on this walk, it made me wonder whether we recognise when we've taken the wrong path in life, and if so what do we do about it?  Do we keep on following this path, or do we try to find our way back unto the correct track?  On a mountain the dangers of taking the wrong path can be all too evident, but in life it may not be so obvious.  

May God be our guide as we journey through life.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Reflections from St Beuno's: Silence

Be still and know that I am God.

An important feature of retreats at St Beuno's is that there is silence.  Apart from a daily meeting with the retreat Director, and Mass in the evening, everyone is encouraged to be silent. 

Being encouraged to be silent for this period of time has made me reflect on why so many of us find silence difficult.  

In my own life I tend to fill every moment with noise - and I don't think I'm alone in this.  .Why do we feel we need to fill every moment with noise?  TV's, radios, mobile phones, news, music, Facebook and Twitter.  Is it that in our modern society we fail to appreciate the importance of silence?  Is it because we see stillness, quietness as unproductive time?  What I have come to realise from my time at St Beuno's is that silence is really important for my life, because it gives me the space  to reconnect with my true self, and most importantly of all to reconnect with God.   

Maybe our modern technology rather than helping us actually hinders us.  Before the advent of cars and modern forms of transport, it used to take time to travel places, either by foot or horse.  This gave people time to reflect, to enjoy the beauty of God's creation, to take in nature, to find that space for stillness and quiet.  

Maybe it is no wonder we don't hear from God, because we don't create the room, the space needed to let him speak to us, to savour his presence, to enjoy him.  
Do we fill our lives with so much noise that we drown out God's still small voice?

When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Mary sat at Jesus' feet and listened to what he had to say.  Martha, in contrast was distracted with much serving, and she came to Jesus and said "Lord do you not care than my sister has left me to serve alone?" Jesus response was, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42) Jesus commended Mary for making space in her life to sit and listen to him, which was more important that anything else she could have been doing, no matter how important that may have been.

Could it be that in our Christian lives we are like Martha, so busy being distracted by all the things we feel we need to do, and we miss out on what God really wants from us, to sit at his feet and be still?  

Reflections From St Beuno's: First Encounters

At the start of a three month sabbatical I am spending eight days on retreat at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of St Beuno's in North Wales.  Here are some reflections from my time at St Beuno's.

I arrived at St Beuno's on Friday afternoon, and after dropping off my case in my room I made my way to the Chapel for the evening Mass, which is held every day at 5.45pm.  

The Catholic church has recently revised its Mass, and the responses which were very similar to the Anglican Communion Service have now changed, so it is easy to be caught out.  For example in response to the words 'The Lord be with you', the response in the Anglican liturgy and old Catholic liturgy was 'And also with you.'  But now in the Catholic Mass it is 'And with your spirit.'  This is just one of many little changes to the Mass.  

Although I have attended Mass on many occasions in the past with my wife, I am not very familiar with the new Mass, and on this first evening at St Beuno's was very conscious of the fact that it may be obvious to others that I wasn't used to the new liturgy.  That first evening, I felt as though everyone in the chapel new the responses by heart, and I was the only person present who needed an order of service at hand to follow the responses.  I felt very conscious about standing out from the crowd.

That first service at St Beuno's made me aware of how unnerving it must be for people going into church for the very first time.  For those unfamiliar with going to church, everything can seem unfamiliar and strange, including the words and music we use, sharing the peace, even the building we gather in.  It made me realise what a big thing it is for people to come to church for the first time.  No wonder at services which attract a lot of visitors, such as weddings, baptisms or funerals, you often see people standing outside the church looking so nervous. People are anxious about standing out, doing the wrong thing.  People worry that if they do something wrong they will get disapproving stares from other people.  

We want to encourage people to come to church, but I think we often forget what it is like to go somewhere new for the first time.  How terrifying it can be for some people to step into a church building, because they don't know what to expect, or maybe because they've had bad experiences in the past.  It is important to place ourselves in their position, to realise how hard it is to go somewhere new for the first time, and to go out of our way to welcome people, and put them at ease. 

As for my experience at St Beuno's, I needn't have worried, because at the meal after the service I found myself sitting next to a retired Anglican Bishop, an Anglican Vicar and a Quaker, I quickly realised that St Beuno's is a place that welcomes Christian's from all backgrounds, and that I wasn't the only person who would occasionally struggle with the new responses.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Is Pornography Good For You?

On Tuesday 23rd April 2013 Anna Arrowsmith and Germaine Greer had a debate on the BBC Radio 4 Today program about whether pornography is good for society.  You can listen to the debate by transferring to the Today website HERE.

The arguments put forward by Anna Arrowsmith (a pornographic film director) for pornography being good for people are:

  • Porn keeps couples together, especially if one of the couple have a higher sex drive than the other - by watching porn they are less likely to have an affair
  • Porn has made sexual acts less shameful
  • Porn has democratised the body
As I listened to this debate, I was disappointed that more time wasn't given to the harmful affects of pornography.  

In the past it used to be that if you wanted to view pornography you would have to buy an adult magazine from the top shelf of a newsagents, or visit an adult store.  Now with modern technology, anyone can access pornography on their computers, tablets or smart phones. Here are some reasons why pornography is bad for individuals and society as a whole:

  • It sexualises men and (especially) women, viewing them as sex objects or commodities
  • It is sex without love, faithfulness or commitment
  • Contrary to what Anna Arrowsmith argued, people who view pornography feel less satisfied with their conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their husband/wives
  • It focuses attention on a fantasy figure, rather than on your husband/wife
  • It distorts what a healthy, wholesome sexual relationship should be like - which the Bible teaches is between a husband and wife in a faithful, life long union
  • Pornography is addictive 
  • It encourages unsafe sex - again despite what Anna Arrowsmith stated in her interview, sexually transmitted infection rates amongst the young have soared in the UK, as reported by the Health Protection Agency
  • Pornography desensitises the viewer to what is normal and healthy 
  • Despite what Anna Arrowsmith argued, pornography gives a false image of what a normal human body is like, and can have a negative affect on how people view their own bodies.  In April 2013 teachers unions in the UK expressed concern about pupils growing up in a culture where pornographic images were widely available and teenagers felt pressured to have a "perfect" body click HERE for more information
  • There is a link between pornography and human trafficking, click HERE for more information
  • Children and teenagers are being exposed to sexually graphic content at a young age (through access to porn via the internet), and this is shaping and informing their ideas about what is normal and healthy - one article I read said the average age of first viewing pornography is now 11
The reality is that pornography rather than being good for society is having a harmful affect on our society, and our society's attitude towards sex.  

When Disaster Stikes

Life can change in the blink of an eye.  As I was walking back from school with the boys today, I saw what I thought was a van reverse off a driveway just in front of me.  Only when the van stopped in the middle of the street did I realise that no one was in it.  It had simply rolled off the driveway.  Had it happened a few seconds later, I and the boys would have been walking immediately behind the van.  It scared me to realise how easily that van could have hit one or all of us.

For the people Oklahoma the worse did happen, when on Monday afternoon a tornado roared through the district of Moore, destroying everything in its path, and leaving a scene of utter devastation, and claiming the lives of many people, including children who were at school. 

The Bible reading set for today (Tuesday 21 May) was Job chapter 2.  It seemed an appropriate reading, as the full extent of the disaster in Oklahoma was becoming apparent.

Like the people of Oklahoma, Job lost everything that was precious to him in the course of one day.  His servants were attacked and killed, his life stock stolen, his home destroyed, and worst of all his sons and daughters killed. 

The book of Job explores the question of why do the innocent suffer.  In the Jewish mind, it was believed that suffering was a punishment for sin.  But it is made clear in the opening verses that Job was a good man.  As God says “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8)  The point the book of Job makes, is that those who love God are not exempt from suffering.  Job himself recognises this, when he says to his wife “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (2:10)

Amongst the central characters of the book of Job, are Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  On hearing what had happened to Job, went to him to comfort him.  When they saw Job, they wept at the transformation that had happened to him, and for seven days and nights sat with him, and didn’t say a word because they could see how great his suffering was. 

According to Jewish tradition, people who come to comfort someone in mourning are not to speak until the mourner speaks.  In sitting with Job, they do the best thing possible, they are there for him.  Their presence shows solidarity with Job in his suffering. 

When someone we know is suffering, we feel as though we need to try and say something spiritual or insightful to try and help them, or to say something that we hope will make things better – to the fix the problem, or to explain what has happened.  But as Job’s friends discover when they finally break their silence, sometimes silence is best!  Sometimes there are no words, and the best thing we can do is to simply be there for people, sitting with them, holding their hand, helping them to recognise that they are not alone in what they are going through.  Our presence, rather than our words, is what is so often valued.  I think this is one of the reasons why Jesus asked Peter, James and John to keep watch with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He wanted their company, their presence. 

Our presence, rather than pat answers or trite quotations is what is needed in times of crisis.  Emphatic silence and loving companionship can communicate much more than words could ever say. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Jonah and Pentecost

Sermon preached by Margaret Carter on Pentecost Sunday 2013, continuing our exploration of the book of Jonah, and connecting it to the theme of Pentecost.

Whenever l hear a sermon l understand and remember far more when l can see the relevance to my life today. It is fascinating to hear about the ancient world and how Christianity came into being but how can we use that information to help us to grow today?

My intention today, being Pentecost Sunday, is to link forgiveness and redemption in Jonah 3 with that of transformation in Act Ch 2 and to discover the relevance for us today by answering these questions:

Who was Jonah and did he actually exist?
What is Pentecost, where did it start?
Who was gathered in the upstairs room and why?
What does it mean for us today?

1. Who was Jonah and did he actually exist?

Modern skeptics often consider the account of Jonah to be an allegory or symbolic story only, however Jesus compared himself to the Prophet Jonah in Matthew Ch 12, showing that Jonah did exist and that the story was historically accurate.

The Prophet Jonah’s relationship with God seems almost comical, except for one thing: The souls of over 100,000 people were at stake. In a nutshell, Jonah tried to run away from God, he learned a terrifying lesson but then did his duty.

Good news never sold a newspaper. Today’s headlines cry out…..murder, rape, corruption, abuse, terrorism, greed, pornography, ruthless dictatorships etc. etc. but they could so easily be the daily headlines in Ninevah during the time of Jonah. God’s need for them to turn around and repent is understandable. It is no wonder Jonah ran the other way, knowing just how vile their activities were. l think my reaction might be similar to his if l felt God was asking me to go into the most corrupt city and try to get them to repent. But Jonah was given this very task.
He explained to them how their life and the way they live appears to God. He explained to them the law of God, the Ten Commandments, and showed to them their life in the light of that law. Jonah’s prophesy was ‘In forty days, Ninevah will be overthrown’. Everyone, man, woman and child, even the animals repented and begin to worship God. The people dressed in sackcloth and fasted and even the king repented.

God was forgiving, both of the Prophet Jonah and the sinful people of Ninevah.

2.Why Pentecost and where did it start?

The story of Pentecost is believed to be the oldest feast in the Church and dates back to the first century A.D. The feast of Pentecost coincided with the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurs 50 days after the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:10). According to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses at Mount Sinai, 50 days after the first Passover, which freed the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. As the Hebrews settled into Canaan, the feast became a time to honour the Lord for blessing the fruits of their labours. God commanded them to celebrate the same feast every year to commemorate their freedom from slavery and their departure from Egypt.

3. Who was gathered in that room and why were they there?

People get excited and plan ahead for most holidays, but Pentecost isn’t usually thought of as a holiday. In fact, many people don’t really understand what Pentecost is or why it is so important in the Church calendar. Some however, feel it is the most important time in the church calendar.
Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles. After Jesus rose, he appeared to the apostles over the next 40 days, teaching them the significance of what had happened to Him. They listened, but didn’t really understand, so Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would enlighten them and give them everything they would need to carry the Good News to people all over the world.

Then Jesus ascended into heaven, and the apostles were more confused than ever!
The disciples gathered in an upper room with the mother of Jesus to pray and to choose someone to replace Judas. Ten days later they heard a loud noise, and the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire. When that happened, they received spiritual gifts that transformed their lives and gave them the power to touch the lives of other people.

Peter went with the others and ran into the streets to tell people about Jesus. Each person in the crowd understood the apostles in his or her own language. Thousands became believers that day.

Peter, who had been an unstable leader during Jesus’ ministry, letting his bravado be his downfall and even denying Jesus. But Jesus had forgiven and restored him. This was a new Peter, humble but bold. His confidence came from the Holy Spirit, making him a powerful and dynamic speaker.

4. What does it mean for us today?

Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Do we rely on the Holy Spirit? We (myself included) limit ourselves by our fear, our sin, our low expectations….. not to mention our ability to get easily distracted from God’s work.

Today we can experience exactly what the disciples experienced back then in the upper room. We can experience it collectively, in a small group or on our own. It absolutely can happen today and does throughout the world. A few years ago at a Pentecost service, being lead by Erica, l felt something happen, which l couldn’t explain. During the service, Erica asked us if anyone had had a word, picture or Bible passage. I reluctantly put my hand up, l wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination or what but l explained that l had seen a picture right in front of my eyes and it wouldn’t blink away. It was an image of a waterfall cascading down a mountainside, bouncing off the rocks, on all sides. The water was shooting everywhere. At the bottom of the mountain the water fell into a still, calm pool and that ran into the sea, which was also still. At the end of the service Martin came to me and said he had had the very same message l had seen but in word form.

Pentecost offers us the chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh. Just like Jonah, you may feel that you have run away from God, you’ve disqualified yourself from serving God because of past mistakes. But serving God is not an earned position……no-one qualifies for God’s service. But God still asks us to carry out his work, just as he did with Jonah. Allow God to forgive you and use you.

When you came in you were given a tongue of fire. I’m not sure about you but my prayers are usually about other people, my family, friends, neighbours, wars throughout the world. I often think that God knows what l need and he will provide. But, God wants us to be honest with him about our needs and feelings and there is nothing selfish about asking for ourselves. Write down the word sorry and then ‘please fill me with your Holy Spirit’ and be prepared for him to act. Keep the tongue of fire to remind yourself of this day.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Jonah Chapter 2

Today we are celebrating Ellie’s baptism, and continuing our study of the book of Jonah.  At first you may not think there is much to connect Ellie’s baptism and the story of Jonah, but I believe there is, and I’ll come onto this in a short while. 

Last week we looked at chapter 1, and saw how Jonah was sent by God to go and speak to the people of Nineveh, and call them to repent of their sins. But the people of Nineveh were Israel’s great enemies, and so Jonah tries to run away from God by jumping on a boat that would take across the sea, far away from Nineveh. 

But as Jonah slept, God sent a mighty storm which threatened to destroy the boat and everyone on it, and finally realising that he was at fault, Jonah instructed the sailors to throw him overboard.  But rather than letting him drown, God provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.

Reading this story, there is one obvious question did Jonah really get swallowed by a big fish? 

There was a teacher in school who said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though they were a very large mammal their throat was very small.

A little girl said “But Jonah was swallowed by a whale.” 

The teacher reiterated a whale could not swallow a human; it was impossible.

The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah."

The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"

The little girl replied, "Then you ask him."

Jonah was a real historical person, but the question of whether he was swallowed by a fish or not, isn’t actually that important, what is important is what this story teaches us.

Chapter 2 of this story is the turning point for Jonah.

Being inside the fish for three days and nights for Jonah was the equivalent of time out.  It gave Jonah time to think and reflect on how he had disobeyed God and was trying to run away from him.  But he also starts to realise what God has done for him, and that God had saved him from drowning, and so even though he is still trapped inside the fish, Jonah starts to pray, and to thank God for all he has done. 

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” (Jonah 2:2)

Quite literally Jonah had sunk as far as he could go, but he realised an important lesson:

It doesn’t matter how far we sink, it doesn’t matter who we are, what we have said or done, or where we are in life, we can call out to God and he WILL hear us.  Even if we are calling out to him from the stomach of a fish! 

The words of Psalm 139 would probably have been familiar to Jonah.  ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’ (Psalm 139:7-8)

Jonah realised that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love and mercy, not even him.  Today there may be people here in church that need to know just how much God loves them.  To know that no matter what you are going through at the moment, you can call out to God and he WILL hear you. 

People have different reactions to crises. I've seen people in terrible situations that turn to God, and their relationship with him grows stronger through the trouble, and I've seen people in similar situations turn away from God completely. Perhaps they blame their problems on him. Two contrasting reactions, but Jonah does the right thing. In trouble he returns to God; he knows there's nowhere else to go.  When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (2:7) 

Then Jonah makes this wonderful statement of faith, Salvation comes from the Lord.” (2:9)  Here Jonah probably recalled the words of Psalm 37, which says ‘The Lord protects his people, and they can come to him in times of trouble.’ (Ps 37:39)  He recognised that only God can rescue him, no one else.  Hope, joy, freedom and peace ultimately comes from God alone

Jonah’s prayer is not only one of thanksgiving, but also one of repentance, turning back to God, and with it God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah on the beach.  After three days inside the fish, it must have felt as though he had been rescued from the grave, that he was born again.  He had a fresh start, a new beginning. 

This is one of the central themes to this story and a consistent theme throughout the Bible, that with God there are always second chances.  So today, if you are sitting there wondering if God can love someone like you, the answer is an unequivocal YES.  And when we open our hearts and lives to God, he offers us a fresh start, a new beginning. 


Today as we baptise Ellie, we see some important parallels between Jonah and baptism.  For Jonah going into the depths of the sea inside the fish, it was as if he had died and gone to the grave, and baptism also symbolises death, death to our old way of life, a life without God, death to sin, in order to be born again, raised to new life with Jesus. 

This is what we are celebrating today as we bring Ellie to baptism.  It is the start of a new life with God, in which we hope and pray she will grow to know and love God, and serve and follow him throughout her life.   

Jonah Chapter 1


If you ask people to name the best known and most popular stories from the Old Testament, the story of Jonah would undoubtedly come near the top of the list.
It is a wonderful story, which provides a profound illustration of God’s grace and mercy.  Despite its title, the central character isn’t Jonah, but God.  Out of the 46 verses 39 of them actually talk about God.  What we discover from this book is that God is passionate and involved, and also the God of surprises, and that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love. 


The book of Jonah is one of the twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament, but it differs from the other prophetic books because it focuses on the man Jonah, rather than his prophetic teaching.  In fact there is only one prophetic oracle in the whole book, which appears in chapter 3:4. 

Jonah is referred to as the son of Amittai, which dates Jonah to the 8th century BC.

The Mission

Jonah was given a special mission, to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it’ because of its wickedness (Jonah 1:2)

Nineveh was the ancient and most important city of the vast, mighty, powerful Assyrian empire, one of Israel’s greatest enemies.  The ruins of the city can be found on the river Tigris in northern Iraq.   

Although Jonah doesn’t say much about Nineveh’s wickedness, we have a better insight into what the city was like from the prophet Nahum.

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!...  Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses… who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. (Nahum 3:1, 3)

The Assyrians were a cruel and heartless people - Assyrian engravings depict people being tortured, skulls worn around their necks to show their cruelty. When they took over a town in battle they would take any survivors and they would impale them on stakes in front of the town. This is not a friendly nation or a friendly city (not exactly on the top 10 holiday destinations of the day) – and in 722BC the Assyrians would invade and destroy Israel (see 2 Kings 17). 

And yet it was to this city that Jonah was given the instruction to go and warn people of God’s judgement.  As an Israeli, the last place Jonah would have wanted to visit would have been Nineveh – if it was today, Jonah would probably have featured on BBC2 series ‘The Toughest Place To Be’ series.  Like others in Israel, Jonah had grown up hating the 
Assyrians and fearing them in equal measure. 

And so instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah attempted to run away from the Lord, by boarding a ship heading to Tarshish on the coast of Spain, going as far away from Nineveh as he could get. 

Many reasons have been given for the reason Jonah fled.  Some scholars say it was because he was afraid, others because the task was too difficult, and some say it is because Jonah ultimately knew that God would forgive the people of Nineveh, and this was something Jonah could not accept.  The answer may of course be that it was all these things that caused Jonah to flee.  But fear undoubtedly played an important part in his decision.


5-year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn't want to go in alone. "It's dark in there and I'm scared." She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, "It's OK--Jesus will be in there with you." Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: "Jesus, if you're in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?"

Fear is a powerful force, and can also stop us from doing the things God would wish us to do.  The fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of stepping outside our comfort zone.  Fear can either cause us to flee like Jonah, or lead to atrophy.

But the prophet Isaiah said “Be strong, do not fear….” (Isaiah 35:4)  We are made for faith not fear.  

Dr Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary and theologian said “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath--these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely--these are my native air.” 

Have you ever felt that fear has kept you back from doing what God wanted you to do, such as a call to change behaviour.  A call to be more public with your faith.  A call to forgive someone for the harm they have done to you.  A call to a specific ministry or use of your spiritual gifts.  If so, you need to let learn to trust God, and put your faith in him. 
As God spoke to Paul, so he speaks to us all when he says “My grace is sufficient for you.” (1 Cor 12:9)  We should not allow fear to hold us back from what God would want us to do.

We cannot escape God

Instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah boarded a boat to Tarshish, where he hoped to go to a place he could escape God’s call.  But Jonah’s disobedience to God was to endanger the lives of the ship’s crew.  As he slept, God sent a powerful storm that threatened to sink the boat. 

This is a reminder that our sin and disobedience to God not only affects our relationship with God, but can also affect those around us. 

Sometimes the troubles that come our way are the stuff of life, things that are common to everyone.  Sometimes, we can face troubles for doing the right thing.  But there are times when trouble comes because we’re not following the voice of God in our lives. 

The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “My child, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, 
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a child
." (Hebrews 12:5)  As a loving parent, God can use discipline to draw us back to himself. 

There is a striking contrast between the faith of Jonah and the faith of the sailors on the boat.  Whilst Jonah sleeps below decks, the sailors ‘each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.’ (1:5) 

When we are purposefully running from the will of God in our lives, it is often like we have fallen asleep in that area of our lives. We put it out of our mind, or “on the back-burner” for a while until God sends a wakeup call, and we are reminded of God’s call on our life, or the promises that we have made to God.

For Jonah the storm literally is a “wake up call”.  He knew that he had disobeyed God, and that the storm was his fault, and that there was no running away from God. 

So Jonah instructs the sailors to throw him over board.  Scholars debate whether this was to save the lives of those on board, or whether it was his final way of escaping God’s mission.  He’d rather die than preach to the wicked people of Nineveh.  Whatever the answer, Jonah recognises that he cannot escape or defy God, and get away unscathed.  But even when he tells the sailors to throw him overboard, they still did their best to row back to shore.  For me the sailors are the unsung heroes in this story because they are the ones who showed more concern compassion than Jonah did.  Jonah did not want to warn the people of Nineveh of the coming judgement of God, which could save the lives of thousands.  But these pagan sailors, did all they could to save the life of this one man. 
It is not just the concern and compassion of the sailors which shines through in this passage.  It is above all the concern, compassion and love of God.  For the people of Nineveh, for Jonah and also the sailors on the boat. 

Because even though Jonah disobeyed God, God used Jonah to help reach out to the sailors.  God is bigger than our mistakes.  Even when we make wrong decisions, whether wilfully or by mistake, God can use them for his glory, like in the case of Jonah, where the sailors came to acknowledge the living God. 

God continues to be gracious to this runaway prophet. Instead of leaving him to die, he sends a great fish to swallow him and carry him to land over three days.

Even when we are running from God, and he sends a storm, God will always send us a way out.

There are five lessons to learn from this story:

1) Don’t run from God:     What is God’s call on your life right now – to give your life to him? To step out in faith? To stop a certain behaviour?  Are you running from him?

2) Recognize God in the Storm: Not every storm that comes our way is sent by God, but some are. Even the ones that are not specifically sent by him can be used to his purpose – we need to ask him what he is calling us to even in the storm.

3) God can use our mistakes, no matter how big they may be. 

4) God gives second chances:  No matter what mistakes we may make, God always gives us second chances.

5) God is a God of love, and it is this, above all else, which is the message of the book of Jonah.