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User-friendly devotionals with audio

  • Spit Out of a Whale

    By Curtis Peter van Gorder

    I love quirky news stories, especially the ones that can be a springboard to dive deep into spiritual realities and are good conversation starters. They kind of jolt you out of your complacency and make you realize that life is full of surprises.   

    It’s easy just to rock along as one day blurs into the next, but sometimes there is an interruption in our way—a deer runs in front of our car and totals it; we find out our wife is going to have triplets, and on the day of her delivery one more pops out, making it quadruplets1; we discover a lost diamond ring with a carrot growing through it when digging up veggies in our garden 13 years after it was lost2; we get hit by lightning for the seventh time3; or a whale swallows us for 40 seconds, as happened to Michael Packard when he was diving in deep waters off of Cape Cod in search of lobsters.

    “All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” he relates. Confused at first, he then realized he was in a humpback whale’s mouth and that it was trying to swallow him. “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ All I could think of was my boys—they’re 12 and 15 years old.” Then the whale surfaced, shook its head, and spat the ill-tasting morsel out into the ocean, where Michael was rescued by his first mate, who was looking for him in their boat.4

    It is times like these that make us realize what is really important in life, as it did to the prophet Jonah—a story I found out that many people I have talked to don’t know. Our flawed hero, Jonah, was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the flourishing capital city of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It was the largest city in the world for 50 years. His purpose was to warn them to repent of their wicked deeds, of which Nineveh had plenty—too many to enumerate here, but suffice it to say they were grotesquely cruel to their enemies in an attempt to strike fear in the hearts of anyone who would defy them.

    Well, instead of obeying the Lord and going to Nineveh, he ships off to Spain, which was in the opposite direction. As always, God’s plan would not be frustrated, and so He has a hurricane-force gale blow to rattle the cages of everyone on board. After doing all they could to escape certain calamity, the crew tossed Jonah overboard to appease the wrath of God. It seemed to work, because the ocean became calm. Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish, just like Michael in the story above.

    He is three days and nights in the whale and cries out desperately to the Lord, pleading for deliverance from a watery grave. The Lord answers his prayers and has the whale spit him out… Guess what happened next! That’s right—he went where God wanted him—Nineveh. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches to them “Forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”5 A short sermon indeed!

    It is interesting to note that in one translation of this verse, the word "overturned" is used instead of overthrown, which can also mean completely transformed, which is what happens. But is Jonas happy when the whole city repents in sackcloth and ashes, asking for forgiveness? No! When the day of destruction comes and goes without fire falling from heaven, he goes off to sulk, waiting to see what will happen next.

    It is blooming hot, hot, hot out there, and he is frying his brains when God shows up again and has a gourd plant grow up to give him some shade over his lean-to shelter. All this time Jonah is yelling at God and complaining that the Ninevites didn’t get their just deserts. God isn’t finished, though, and He sends a worm to eat the leafy gourd plant, which shrivels up and dies. Then to put the icing on the cake, He has a vehement east wind come blowing and heating up Jonah some more until he is ready to die to escape baking in this outdoor oven. God ends the story by saying, “You had pity on the gourd plant, and shouldn’t I spare the people of Nineveh who don’t know their right hand from their left and also many cattle?” Curtain!

    More than just a story about a disobedient prophet, who even when he does the right things gets a lot wrong, this is a story about God working. He is the God of Jonah, but also the God of the ship’s crew, the God of the whale, the God of the Ninevites, the God of the gourd plant, the God of the worm, and the God of the east wind. Where is God not in this story?

    He’s on every page of our life’s story as well, if we will open our eyes, read, and take to heart what He has written for us. And the next time you are the main character of a quirky occurrence, remember who is writing your script and trust Him for the outcome. He is more often in the interruptions of our lives than in the plans that we have made.

    PS: For an overview of the book of Jonah in comics, see this link. And for an interesting comparison of the story of Jonah and Jesus, see this article.

  • Oct 26 The Good News in a Culture of Consumerism
  • Oct 20 Lessons Learned from the Happy German
  • Oct 19 A Faithful Finish
  • Oct 18 Equality in Christ
  • Oct 13 Developing a Hopeful Faith During Trials
  • Oct 12 Hope, an Anchor for the Soul
  • Oct 11 The Treasure and the Pearl
  • Oct 5 Abundant Life
  • Oct 4 A Day the Lord Has Made
   

Directors’ Corner

News, writings and thoughts from TFI Directors

  • Better Days Ahead—Part 2

    —Finding Comfort in Times of Loneliness

    When we find ourselves in one of the difficult seasons of life, this can often be accompanied by loneliness or a sense of being alone in our struggles. Feeling alone and isolated can create a sense of hopelessness and despair. From the very beginning of the biblical narrative, God created us to live in relationship with Him and with others. Our interactions with others, in particular with other believers, provide purpose, meaning, accountability, encouragement, appreciation, and bring joy and inspiration to our lives. They can shape and form the contours of our daily routines and add meaning to our everyday tasks.

    But at times when you lack that sense of community with others, there can be a domino effect with other areas of your life being negatively affected that you may not connect to loneliness. You might try to fill the void with other things such as television, food, alcohol, gaming, internet surfing, or social media. This can affect your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

    It is important to acknowledge when we need the support of others. If someone you trust and have confidence in asks you, “How are you doing?,” if things are not going well, try to be honest and say, “I’m not okay” and to ask for prayer and support. Letting others know how you are feeling opens the door for them to offer comfort and support.

    People often don’t express when they’re lonely. They may be embarrassed by their situation or feel that no one seems to care about them. It’s important to check in on the people in our lives, to touch base with them to see how they’re doing. And if someone seems to be struggling or down, we can reach out to them to offer a listening ear, encouragement, prayer, or support.

    We would do well to look at each person who crosses our path with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (See Colossians 3:12 NIV.) Our calling as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) is to always strive to reflect the Lord’s love and mercy, and to make a difference in someone’s life, even if you are only in contact with that person in passing. Simple acts of kindness can help alleviate someone’s loneliness and help them feel that someone cares. “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (Psalm 116:5).

    Here is an explanation that Maria shared of our commission to reach those who are lost and lonely:

    As followers of Jesus, we are called to go out into the sea of humankind, seeking those who are lost, sinking, and drowning, to offer them life, hope, and truth. We have God’s wonderful comfort, the power of His Word, and our knowledge of the future that He has promised for all His children. We are called to share what we have received with those who have lost hope of any comfort, or who lack the knowledge of God who loves them and the heaven that can await them.

    They desperately need God’s love and truth. Let’s do everything possible to share with them the joy, peace of mind, and eternal life that we have in Jesus. He tells us to weep with those who weep and let our hearts be broken for those who do not yet know Him.

    Do you remember what it was like before you found the Lord? Perhaps you were in despair and your life seemed meaningless? The Lord heard your heart cry, and He reached out to you and took you in His arms in your time of need. And to do this, He probably used some person, someone with the wonderful love of the Lord in his or her heart. He beseeches us to do the same—to share His love and truth with those who are lost and lonely.

    We might be surprised at what an impact even small interactions can have in not only alleviating someone else’s loneliness, but also giving us a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Making contact with another person, even someone we don’t know, can enrich our lives and can help both the ones we minister to as well as ourselves to feel connected and less isolated. Dale Carnegie said: “You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.”

    There’s another important piece of the puzzle that can serve as an anchor for our faith if we are enduring a season of loneliness in our lives. We are never alone! No matter what our circumstances, we are not alone. Jesus is with us constantly, every second of every day. “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV). The Lord never forgets us.

    As His children we have the reassurance that God never loses sight of us. Even before we were born, His eyes were on us. “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret… Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed” (Psalm 139:15–16). … Psalm 34:15 tells us, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.” The hymn-writer exclaimed, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

    Because we are never out of His sight, we are never out of His mind. We are familiar with the incredible prayer of Psalm 139, teaching us that our creator is with us regardless of our location or state of mind. He sees us in every place. He knows us perfectly and intimately. Therefore, it says, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand” (Psalm 139:17–18). If you have visited the vast expanse of an ocean shore lately, walking on the seemingly endless sand, you get a sense of the unfathomable care and attention of our heavenly Father described in this psalm. …

    Our Father does not forget us. We are always “in sight and on His mind.”—Daniel Henderson1

    A young woman wrote:

    In times of loneliness, Jesus wants to draw us to Him. He wants to become our best and truest friend, the one we can always turn to and who will never let us down. He uses times of loneliness to solidify and strengthen our friendship with Him, because He knows that this friendship will carry us through all that life brings our way.

    If you are struggling with loneliness, you don’t need to despair. Remind yourself that Jesus loves you more deeply than anyone ever could and understands you better than anyone else. You may discover that this time of loneliness is a gift in disguise. His gifts in disguise come to us with infinite love, and through them we can gain treasures that will far outlast our trials.2

    When I was reading and praying about this subject of loneliness, I realized a truth that I had not fully grasped previously. As children of the God of the universe, who are destined to be with Jesus and the Father forever in heaven, we will never be completely free from loneliness in this life. We are not destined to be fully satisfied here on earth. No matter how full our lives might be, no matter if we are surrounded by family and friends, there will always be a void. Clarissa Moll writes:

    Even though we know that Jesus attends us in our isolation, this knowledge may still not offer enough balm, and maybe for good reason. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

    In her book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, Amy Simpson echoes Lewis. “Maybe God doesn’t want to take away our longings yet,” she writes. “When we grow deeper in faith and closer to Jesus, we’re likely to find ourselves less—not more—satisfied with life here and now.”

    Indeed, Jesus will come to our lonely places. He promises to meet us in our deserts, our quarantined spaces, to renew our souls, bring us joy, comfort our hearts, and give us peace. If in the midst of this companionship, our loneliness still gnaws at us, we can assure ourselves that it’s less a symptom of our solitude and more a mark of normal spiritual restlessness. This lingering loneliness reflects a deep longing for communion, one that will only ever be [fully] satisfied when we see Jesus face-to-face.”3

    Another author also explains this concept well. I believe this is something that is worth meditating on to see how it applies to each of our lives. This might provide some insight that will bring comfort during difficult seasons of your life. Steve DeWitt wrote:

    As Genesis 1:27 makes clear, from the inception of our being and design, we were made by God and for God. This provides us with a spiritual and relational capacity to relate to God that only God can fill and satisfy. As Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

    We look at loneliness as an enemy to be avoided at all costs. But this side of redemption’s consummation, our lives will never be free from loneliness. God uses it to get our attention. So, when a wave of loneliness hits, I try to consciously think, Why do I feel this way? I feel this way because I was made for God. Following the counsel of Elisabeth Elliot, I turn my loneliness into solitude and my solitude into prayer. In this way, loneliness ceases to be a devil to us. Actually, it becomes a guide and a friend. …

    I may not have a wife, but I have Christ. You may not have a husband, but you have Christ. You may be separated from family, but you have Christ. You may be a widow, but you have Christ. You may be rejected by your spouse, but you have Christ. And since you and I are made for him, to have him is to have his Spirit as a guarantee that someday I won’t ever feel lonely again. … In our moments of inward desolation, the Lord is there, and with him there is a path through the valley of loneliness.4

    I have a friend who is a very gregarious “people person.” Her husband passed away some time ago and she has been living alone for the last year. She explained that it has not been easy; she has felt quite isolated and, as she put it, “has had way too much alone time.” But she has honed a new habit that she calls her “talk to Papa and Jesus” time during her daily walks with her dog, which take her a couple of hours every day.

    What has made this habit so special for her, she explained, is that she devotes this time each day to walking and talking out loud to Jesus and God. This is when she pours out her heart in prayer—for herself and others. This is when she talks to the Lord and the Father as if they were right there with her. She explained that sometimes she even laughs with them, and their presence is so real that she feels as if Papa and Jesus are holding her hands! (She said that anyone who sees her talking out loud and laughing with only her dog around might call her “that crazy old lady,” but in reality, she is a warrior in the Spirit!)

    “The beauty of this situation,” she said, “is that when I reflect back on this difficult, often-lonely year, I can’t help but recognize my increased intimacy with the Lord and Papa, and my greater awareness of Their presence in my life. I feel more convinced than ever of their concern with every detail of my life and the lives of those I love. This intimacy is the greatest gift I have received.”

    She sent me a snippet of an article that reads:

    Never forget that you have a friend in Jesus (John 15:15), and that the Spirit dwells within you to give you strength to handle this season of loneliness… Dane Ortlund writes in Gentle and Lowly, “Christ’s heart for us means that he will be our never-failing friend no matter what friends we do or do not enjoy on earth. He offers us friendship that gets underneath the pain of our loneliness. While that pain does not go away, its sting is made fully bearable by the far deeper friendship of Jesus.”—Joe Carter5

    I will close with a message from the Lord that I trust will encourage your heart:

    One implication of My uninterrupted Presence with you is that you are never alone. I am training you to be increasingly aware of Me, but I understand that you are human and your attention span is limited. Sometimes, when you are suffering, you may feel as if you’re alone or abandoned. However, I suffered alone on the cross so that you would never have to be alone in your struggles. You are always with Me; I hold you by your right hand.6

    I am nearer than you dare believe, closer than the air you breathe. Usually, you are not conscious of being enveloped in air because it is invisible and constantly available to you. Similarly, My unseen Presence is a constant in your life, but you often fail to recognize Me. This leaves you vulnerable to loneliness. …

    I deeply desire for you to experience My nearness—and the peaceful contentment it brings—more consistently. There is a close connection between feeling lonely and being unaware of My Presence. This is an age-old problem: When the patriarch Jacob was in a barren place—far from his family—he was quite conscious of his isolation. However, I poured out My Presence upon him in the form of a glorious dream. When Jacob awoke, he responded, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it…”

    Not only am I constantly with you, but I'm also within you: in the inner recesses of your heart and mind. My knowledge of you is picture-perfect, and it is framed in unconditional Love.

    Let feelings of loneliness remind you of your need to seek My Face. Come to Me with your ever-so-human emptiness, and My divine Presence will fill you with Life to the full!7

    As we cultivate a deeper awareness of the presence of Christ, we will find a sense of belonging that will never fail us! He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Praise the Lord! God bless and keep you close to Him!


    1 “Never Forget: You Are Not Forgotten,” Strategic Renewal, https://www.strategicrenewal.com/never-forget-you-are-not-forgotten/

    2 “The Gift of Loneliness,” Just1Thing.com.

    3 “Bloom Where You’re Quarantined,” Christianity Today, April 1, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/april-web-only/coronavirus-covid-19-bloom-where-youre-quarantined.html

    4 “Lonely Me: A Pastoral Perspective,” August 4, 2011, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/lonely-me-a-pastoral-perspective/

    5 “What Christians Should Know About Loneliness,” The Gospel Coalition, November 21, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-christians-should-know-about-loneliness/

    6 Sarah Young, Jesus Always (Thomas Nelson, 2017).

    7 Sarah Young, Jesus Lives (Thomas Nelson, 2009).

     

  • Oct 19 Better Days Ahead—Part 1
  • Aug 17 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 17: Jesus’ Prayer (Part 2)
  • Aug 14 “My Sheep Hear My Voice…”
  • Aug 10 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 17: Jesus’ Prayer (Part 1)
  • Aug 3 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 16:23–33
  • Jul 27 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 16:13–22
  • Jul 20 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 16:1–12
  • Jul 13 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 15: If the World Hates You
  • Jul 6 Jesus—His Life and Message: John 15: Abide in My Love
   

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  • The primary goal of the Family International is to improve the quality of life of others by sharing the life-giving message of love, hope, and salvation found in God’s Word. We believe that God's love—applied on a practical level to our daily lives—is the key to resolving many of society's problems, even in the complex and fast-paced world of today. Through imparting the hope and guidance found in the Bible’s teachings, we believe that we can work toward building a better world—changing the world, one heart at a time.

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    God’s unconditional love for humanity that knows no boundaries of race, creed, or status, motivates and guides us to help meet the needs of those we come in contact with, whether spiritually or practically.

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Jesus—His Life and Message
Bedrock principles from the Gospels on which to build our lives.
Living Christianity
Applying the teachings of the Bible to our daily lives and decisions.
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