Running from God

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
Jonah 1:1-3

Following God is not always easy.

It requires us to move past our own wants and desires. It means we have to change the way we think about and treat others. It means we will be pushed and challenged and moved out of our comfort zones.

Jonah knew this first hand.

God shows up and tells Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah and preach against it. Jonah decides he doesn’t want to go, buys a ticket on a boat and heads to the city of Tarshish instead – going in the exact opposite direction God told him to go.

Jonah had no desire to go to Nineveh.

It was a city that deep within Assyrian territory, making it a place no God-fearing Israelite would ever step foot. The Ninevites had turned away from God, embraced a life of sin and shame, and displayed their depravity on the street. Prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves would line the streets waiting for business.

Nineveh was not the kind of place you visit to encounter God.

It was hot.
And dirty.
And sin was displayed on every corner.

So Jonah ran.
And bought a ticket for Tarshish.
And tried to get as far from Nineveh as possible.

Jonah’s journey took him away from the very place he needed to be.

God wasn’t in Tarshish. He wasn’t on the boat Jonah used to get away from Ninevah. He wasn’t found in the belly of the whale or the decision to head to Tarshish in the first place.

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh.
To a place of darkness and discomfort.
And had every intention of meeting with Jonah.

Once Jonah made his way to Nineveh, true healing and repentance began to happen.

Sometimes, the very thing we run from is the very place we’ll find God.

The hurts and pains of our past.
The job we despise working.
The school that seems to be destroying us.
The relationships that keep falling apart.

God is in them all, and calls us to endure a season of darkness so we can experience true healing.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you face situations and conflicts you would rather run away from, may you be reminded that it is always darkest before the dawn. May you see that the hurts and pains you endure are producing a new level of healing in your life. And may you, as you journey into some dark places, find that God was there all along, working everything out for your good.

How could God be working in your areas of darkness to bring true healing?

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Spit Out Kind of Faith

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Revelation 3:16

It’s easy to get complacent in our faith.

We get busy with work and school and church responsibilities. We fill our days with volunteer positions, household chores and staying connected to family and friends around the world. We spend time with the kids, play video games with our roommates, and juggle countless responsibilities that take our time and energy.

We work and strive and by the time we put our heads on our pillows at night, we’re lucky to have spent even five minutes with God.

We would rather watch TV than read our bible.
We would rather play video games than pray.
We would rather work on work for hours on a homework assignment that three years from now won’t matter, than spend time developing our relationship with Christ that matters for all eternity.

We go to church, go to small group, go to an Ignite gathering, and think that’s what it means to follow God.

The church in Laodicea was just as guilty.

The believers in Laodicea had become lukewarm. They still professed faith in Christ, they still went to church and still attended the fellowship gatherings. They knew the teachings of Christ, would talk the talk and did the bare minimum to get by.

They had belief, but no action.

They learned the teachings of Christ, but didn’t apply them to their own lives.
They knew Christ’s command to take care of those in need, and simply threw money at the problem hoping it would go away.
They toiled at their jobs, built their wealth, and tried to enjoy the comfortable life.

And Christ said He would spit them out of His mouth.

Our God doesn’t want lukewarm faith. He isn’t moved by those who do the bare minimum to keep their salvation. He isn’t wooed by just getting by.

He wants a bride who is madly in love with Him.
Who has given Him their hearts and souls.

God desires us to be on fire for Him. He wants a church that obeys His commands with a happy, sincere heart. He doesn’t just want 5 minutes of our day. He wants to be the number one priority of our lives.

Anything less than making Him our all, and we might as well not even know Him.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you juggle work and family and volunteer responsibilities, may you remember that your most important responsibility is your relationships with Christ. May you put Him first in everything you do. And may you, as you seek Him out, find that your desire for Him grows beyond anything less in your life.

How can you keep yourself from falling complacent in your relationship with God?

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Not Forgotten

“Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive.”
Genesis 30:22

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel as if God has forgotten us.

We go through a rough patch. We pray for something that doesn’t ever seem to happen. We find ourselves trapped in a job we hate, a relationship that’s going nowhere, or a sickness that doesn’t ever seem to get better. We face hardship and turmoil and persecution with no end in sight. We struggle and push and watch other people being blessed, and wonder why God isn’t doing the same for us.

God gave us a promise, said He would bless us, told us that the hardship would come to an end soon and then…nothing.

It feels as if He’s forgotten us.

Forgotten the promises He’s given.
Forgotten the provision we need.
Forgotten to help and direct and speak to us.

We’ve done everything He asked, obeyed as best we could and it seems as if God is nowhere to be found.

Rachel knew how that felt.

She stood by as her older sister, Leah, conceived and gave birth to five children with their mutual husband. She felt the pain of trying to give her husband a child and each time, finding out that she was barren.

She cried out.
Asked God to give her this one thing.
Begged for a son to make her husband happy.
Did everything she could to assist in the process.

Rachel felt as if God forgot her.

But God never forgets the promises He has given us. He never goes through a period where He has to be reminded of what He said.

God knows what we’re going through.
He remembers the promises He made.

The word translated as remembered in the above verse is the Hebrew word זָכַר (zakar), and means: to mark, to mention, to remember, record, mindful, think, bring to remembrances, burn – to retain in thought.

God burns His promises in the forefront of His mind.
He records them and keeps them ever before His eyes.

He doesn’t forget what He promises us, leaving us on the sideline and blessing others while overlooking us.

God retains us in His thoughts, constantly thinking about the promises He made us and how He will work to bring those promises about.

They never leave His mind.
And neither do we.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you journey through your trials and hardships, may you know that God never forgets you. May you be reminded that He retains your promises in His thoughts at all times. And may you, as you remember the thoughts He as towards you, gain a deeper level of trust that He will fulfill every promise He has given you.

How does knowing that God never forgets His promises change the way you perceive seasons of waiting?

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Ignite Sandburg Plays in the Dirt

One of our goals within Ignite is to help students delve deeper into scriptures, understand the context and history behind the stories and gain a deeper understanding of God’s word.

This goal has taken on many forms, from providing a variety of devotions and bible studies, to in depth teaching at Encounter retreats, all the way to using illustrations to explain complex portions of text.

Sometimes, that requires getting a little dirty.
The Ignite group at Carl Sandburg College learned that first-hand.

During the April 10 gathering of our Ignite Sandburg group, Coach Jordan Knight led a discussion based on the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13. The group looked at what it meant to be rocky soil, grow up among the thorns and be the type of soil that produces 100, 50 or 30 times what was sown.

Students were then given two small planters and encouraged to dig in the dirt and plant some seeds.

The illustration brought this portion of text to life and helped explain lessons that are easily overlooked in this parable, including the work and commitment it takes to see the seeds you sow in any kind of ground, grow.

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Ignite Students have an Encounter

The weekend of March 30 through April 1, Ignite Student Ministries had the privilege of hosting the bi-annual Encounter Retreat at Great Oaks Camp in Lacon, Illinois. These retreats are intended to give students the opportunity to get off campus, disconnect from homework and responsibilities and work and stresses from school, and focus on encountering God.

We had 16 students from five different schools attend, including Monmouth College (Monmouth, IL), Carl Sandburg College (Galesburg, IL), Joliet Junior College (Joliet, IL), Galesburg High School (Galesburg, IL) and United High School (Monmouth, IL), along with two Ignite staff members.

Students were excited to take part in a number of sessions geared to growing their faith. These sessions included:

  • True Treasures, on the importance of building treasures that last;
  • Silence, where students spent an hour and a half in silence in order to hear God;
  • Responsibility of God’s Favor, that God’s blessings in our life are meant to be shared;
  • Developing Your Inner Man, on how to build Christ-like character;
  • Financial Stewardship, where students learned how to handle money in a Godly way; and
  • Igniting Others, on how we need to invest in others to see them on fire for Christ.

They also enjoyed times of worship and prayer, extended free and fellowship time, a night hike and bonfire, lots of food and a lot of of fun….and not one came back the same.

Andrew Scheuering, Ignite Sandburg member, had this to say:

It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m so grateful that I could be a part of it, opening the door to new fellowship in my life. It really inspired me to start doing so much more for the Lord.

Read more of Andrew’s story.

Hear more stories of how God moved from the students who were there:

God continues to move mightily in our Encounter Retreats. Students are empowered, encouraged and challenged to seek God more and live out the calling and potential He has placed in their lives.

Learn more about our Encounter Retreats.

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Experiencing Resurrection

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Philippians 3:10-11

Yesterday, Christians around the world gathered to celebrate Easter – that time of year when we remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead and what it means for us today. We went to church services, gathered with family to share a meal, thanked Christ for His death and resurrection, and indulged in the luxury we gave up during Lent.

It is a pretty powerful day in the Christian calendar.

But then Monday rolled around, and we were back to life as usual.

No sign of new life. None of the excitement of Resurrection Sunday. No more exuberant celebration, Facebook status messages exclaiming that He is risen, or inviting our friends and family to church. Just back to our everyday tasks as if Sunday had been like any other day.

We think Easter is all about celebrating something that happened 2,000 years ago.

Paul had a different view.

You see, to him, Christ’s resurrection wasn’t just something you celebrated once a year. It wasn’t about bunnies and eggs and candy and dressing up and going to church and eating ham.

It was about change.
Real change.
In us.

It was about changing our mindsets, attitudes and outlook on life. It was aboutt changing the way we viewed others, and how we treated them. It was about recognizing the strongholds in our lives, and allowing Christ to set us free. It was about realizing the dreams we’ve allowed in die within us, and seeing them brought back to life. It was about facing the sin within us, and allowing Christ to resurrect something beautiful out of our darkness, and somehow to attain to a resurrection of our own.

Resurrection Sunday was never meant to be about celebrating something that happened, but something that happens. Every minute of every day in the lives of those who follow Christ.

And allowing that change within us to point others to Christ.

And so, my brothers and sisters, may you begin to see resurrection not as something that happened, but something that continues to happen. May you see Christ bringing resurrection in every area of your life. And may you, as you continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, experience resurrection of your own.

How can you continue to experience resurrection?

Hope is Coming

“Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” John 11:45

This week, many Christians will find themselves in special services, reliving the events and celebrating the freedom from sin found through Christ’s death. We rejoice in these days, thanking Christ for what He did and go as far as calling it Good.

But to the first disciples, this week was anything but good.

They didn’t understand the need for Jesus to die. They didn’t realize it was all part of God’s redemptive plan. They didn’t know that His death was only temporary, and that He was going to come back to life in a few days.

To them, Friday was dark.
And Saturday was empty.

They watched as their Messiah, the One who was supposed to overthrow their Roman oppressors and establish Israel as its own kingdom again, was killed. Nailed to a tree. By the ones He was supposed to conquer. They stood by as everything they gave their life for – the kingdom they abandoned jobs, homes, family and friends to establish – was over.

Everything they went through, everything they sacrificed, everything they learned, practiced and taught was all for nothing.

Jesus was dead.
Life just didn’t seem to make sense.

The disciples did the only thing they could: they went back to the lives they knew before Christ.

They had lost hope.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve gone through a set of circumstances that made you feel as if God wasn’t there. Maybe you’ve prayed and sought and cried out…only to have things get worse. Maybe everything you gave your life for, everything you thought God was going to do, fell apart and all you want to do is return to the life you knew before.

Maybe everything feels dark and empty and there is just no hope for things to get better.

But remember, Sunday is coming.

He didn’t stay in the grave.
Death did not have the final word.
Hope coming.
You might just need to endure some darkness to get there.

[Image via Bud Ellison CC]