Archive for June, 2016

I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as satisfied that it is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”  Benjamin Rush (at the signing of the Declaration of Independence)

Is the United States of America still “one nation under God”?  Was it ever?  It makes some people happy to think that we are, at present, a society of God-fearing men and women.  Of course, that assumption can also make some people very angry as well.   And let’s not forget the millions who could simply care less.  Clearly, the Pledge of Allegiance declares the USA to be “one nation under God”.  But detractors are quick to point out that the words “under God” were not even incorporated into the Pledge until June 14, 1954.  And what about U.S currency?  Isn’t it boldly inscribed with the words: IN GOD WE TRUST?  So, we must be a Godly nation, right?  Wrong.  Empty declarations do not a reality make – regardless of the national sentiment at the time these mottoes were first introduced.

Think about it, do you actually believe that the Almighty Creator is impressed by insincere slogans that have little to no significance for the citizens of modern Sodom?  For that matter, what about the multiplied thousands of people who vainly recite meaningless spiritual platitudes without any genuine knowledge of or faith in the God to whom they purportedly offer prayers?  The Divine entity that we call God is not some good luck charm, or extraterrestrial talisman invoked when blessings are desired.

Not wishing to be accused of intolerant, dogmatic, judgmental religious bigotry, I prefer to let the scriptures speak for themselves on a subject of this gravity. Here is what Jesus – that great religious reformer, liberator and the founder of what many call the Christian faith had to say:

3“And why do your behaviors violate the direct commandments of God? You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce, for they follow man-made ideas and not the instructions that come from God.’”
(Matthew 15:3, 7-9)

Hmm.  People who honor God with only “lip service.”   Jesus called them a farce (a sham).

The last time I checked, the sacred Biblical texts still proclaim that the Ancient of Days (God) is the originator of all things here on spaceship earth.  He is said to have planted the human species on this planet and engineered man in His own image. His blueprint made us a self-replicating and adaptive species with limited free moral agency. Man is the creature (that which was made). God is the creator (the one who designed us).  Foolish mortals are forever trying to remake the Creator into the image of the creature, or they simply disregard His existence altogether.

So, I ask the question again, is the USA “one nation under God?”  Millions would like to believe that it is, and they site the many religious men and women living among the population.    But when you consider how far askew modern America has shifted from the sure foundation of a dependence upon Divine providence, I’m afraid the answer to that question is NO.

“We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”  – Samuel Adams, 1776 (at the signing of the Declaration of Independence)

Some will insist that the USA was unequivocally established as a Christian nation.  Sorry, that statement is simply not true.  Even though many of the founding fathers of the United States were men of deep religious convictions, some were not. To say that the founders were of unanimous resolve on establishing a strictly “Christian” nation would be a distortion of the known facts.  A few of them even sharply criticized structured Christianity as a repulsive distortion of the intentions of Jesus himself.  In a letter dated April 11, 1823 Thomas Jefferson wrote the following to John Adams:

“The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy, absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.”1 

Jefferson was not a fan of organized religion. He even branded a belief in the virgin birth of Jesus and the doctrine of the trinity as “fables” in his writings.  However, he wrote with great admiration about the teachings of Jesus Himself. In a letter to Benjamin Rush dated April 1, 1803 he remarked:

“To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.”2

Whatever personal interpretation of the Scriptures Thomas Jefferson held dear, we know that he at least acknowledged the existence of our Creator. Jefferson wrote these now immortal words in The Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

There is no disputing that the Bible played an important and significant role in the shaping of the American dream. Our Founders possessed strong moral and spiritual convictions which helped them to form the fundamentals of this nation. With the inspiration of the scriptures and Divine foresight; they forged a constitutional framework by which we were to be governed.

For my own part, I sincerely esteem it [the Constitution] a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”  – Alexander Hamilton (1787 after the Constitutional Convention)

In spite of their differences, our nation’s designers seemed to understand that without the blessing of Almighty God, this republic would not survive. Some of them even believed that the very laws upon which our society functions could only be understood and obeyed by a “moral and religious” people. On October 11th, 1798, John Adams wrote:

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 3

While it may be true that this great nation was not established on an exacting structure of religious doctrine or dogma, it was formed by men who were deeply and profoundly influenced by religious belief – particularly the Christian faith.

If you doubt this statement, consider the denominational affiliations of the 55 core delegates to the Constitutional Convention,

28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists (Benjamin Franklin being one of them) 4

We may never know with absolute certainty just how sincere any particular individual founder was in the practice of their faith. But that really doesn’t matter. Even if we were to conclude that the majority of them were only minimal Christians at best, their lifetime exposure to the fundamental religious and moral teachings of the Bible had a profound influence on them as they framed the documents that would ultimately structure the laws of the land.  The United States of America was born in godliness and reverence for the Divine Creator.  But times have changed dramatically and this once free and righteous nation has gradually become home to a wicked and perverse generation.

Today the fading echoes of America’s Christian heritage are engraved in the stones of her national monuments and written on the pages of her carefully preserved historical documents.  They serve to remind us of just how far we have strayed – a testimony well maintained as a witness against us.

The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them[society and government] if faith in these [biblical] teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.”President Calvin Coolidge, 1923

The Liberator Jesus faced a similar national crisis when he visited the earth. The details are recorded in the New Testament book of Luke,

41-44And as he came still nearer to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it, saying, “Ah, if you only knew, even at this eleventh hour, on what your peace depends—but you cannot see it. The time is coming when your enemies will encircle you with ramparts, surrounding you and hemming you in on every side. And they will hurl you and all your children to the ground—yes, they will not leave you one stone standing upon another—all because you did not know when God Himself was visiting you!”  (Luke 19:41-44 – J.B. Phillips New Testament)

How profoundly sad. The Creator visits His own creation, and the spiritually blinded people reject Him and His message.  But, He expected that.  The good news is, whenever someone did accept His message, Jesus invited them to follow Him.  “I am the Way”, He told them, “the road back to the God who made you”.  He is still doing that today – but for how much longer?

I am certainly proud to be an American. But at times I am not proud of America. I am prouder still to be called a follower of the Liberator Jesus.  Like him, I weep for the lost and foolish people wandering the decks of spaceship earth in darkness at this eleventh hour, unable or unwilling to grasp what we all really need.

Recorded in the 2nd chapter of the New Testament book of acts is a powerful and persuasive speech given by Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus.  In a way, he too was a founder – a pioneer of this sect of Judaism that would go on to become Christianity. His audience at the time was a cross-section of the Nation of Israel. Here is what he told them:

36 “Now therefore the whole nation of Israel must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this Jesus, whom you crucified, God has declared to be both Lord and Christ.” 37 When they heard this they were cut to the quick, and they cried to Peter and the other apostles, “Men and fellow-Jews, what shall we do now?” 38-39 Peter told them, “You must repent and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that you may have your sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this great promise is for you and your children—yes, and for all who are far away, for as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself!40 Peter said much more than this as he gave his testimony and implored them, saying, “Save yourselves from this perverted generation!  (Acts 2:36-40 – J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Perhaps it is time for you to dig in and learn about the true mission of Jesus and the message he brought to the earth. This will require of you both an open mind and teachable spirit.  Genuine faith comes when we have heard the truth.  Are you willing to listening?  After all, they say that only fools reject that of which he/she has no real knowledge or understanding.   Why not start by looking at the message Jesus and ask God to make it real in your life by the power of His Spirit?  Our Creator is still gathering rogues like us to follow His “road” to a new and better home world.  Hope to see you on the other side.

Almighty God, we really need you. Forgive us for the fools we have been. Accept us just as we are. Set us free and begin the remolding process that will transform us into the men and women you truly want us to be. In the name of the Liberator Jesus we pray. Amen.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved. For more information write to:
INSIGHT TODAY, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656

1 412-3. Recipient’s copy at the Library of Congress. The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827

2 Lipscomb, Andrew A. and Albert E. Bergh, eds. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1903-04. 20 vols.

3 The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States; With A Life of the Author Notes and Illustrations of his Grandson Charles Francis Adams. Vol. IX, Books For Libraries Press, Freeport, New York, (First Published 1850-1856, Reprinted 1969), 228-29.

4 John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), p. 43.

Throughout your lifetime, people will make you mad,  They will disrespect you and treat you badly. Let God deal with the things people do, because in the end, hate in your heart will consume you.” ― Will Smith

In the 1983 Sci-Fi film Star Wars Episode VI: Return of The Jedi, there is a scene in which the evil Emperor Palpatine attempts to persuade young Luke Skywalker to join The Dark Side.  Emperor “evil personified” speaks these oft’ quoted words:  “Good, good, let the hate flow through you.”

Apparently, in the fantasy world of Star Wars, hate as well as other darker emotions (fear, anger, and aggression) allows one to tap into the “power of the dark side”.

Mere make-believe?  Perhaps, but only a fool would deny the profound dark side that grips our world today.  The insidious spread of the malevolent which regularly disrupts the peaceful fabric of the social order has now become rooted and grounded in HATRED.  Maybe Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was right.  In his 1863 poem “Christmas Bells” he wrote:

“And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; for hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear of some horrendous act spurred on by hate.  The vitriol of hatred can divide friends, family, a nation and the world. Hate kills.  People who are filled with hatred look upon life through a jaundice eye of extreme disdain. Fueled by this odium, they often passionately spew discord – even hostility – that is forged in the narrow-minded fires of distrust, bigotry, and contempt.

Hate is widespread in our modern culture. Racial, ethnic, homophobic, religious and social class hatred is everywhere. Many people even hate politicians…well, let’s skip that one. You name it and someone, somewhere probably HATES it with a passion.

I’m no saint (far from it), but I can honestly say that I have never – even in anger – said with passion, I hate you to anyone. Sadly, I’ve been on the receiving end of those three terrible words more than I care to remember. The wounds heal with time, but they leave little telltale scars.

Every now and then I laugh when stepping out of the shower (no, not from seeing myself in a mirror).  My eyes catch a glimpse of that weird little tattoo forever engraved on my glorious sun kissed body. It’s ever there to mock me. A permanent reminder of a brief youthful impulse. Thankfully, I had it positioned where the sun doesn’t shine. My “body art” means nothing to me now, but I will always bear its mark. Hate is a lot like my tattoo. The wicked ink of hatred forever scars the human soul.

Why all the hate anyway? Does hate resolve problems? Tell me the last time hatred brought about unity or positive change? Have you ever met a truly happy hater? I didn’t think so.

This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

If you are a regular reader, you already know that I’m a disciple of the ancient Nazarene known as Jesus. I believe in His message and His mission.  My faith is much more than a “religion” – it is my way of life.

Some people have a real problem with that – even to the point of hatred. How bizarre. They don’t even know me.  In most cases, we’ve never spoken nor met. But they have already formed an opinion based upon their biased ideas about Christianity (or religion in general).

My worldview is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic which influences and shapes my character.  When I encounter anything that clearly opposes the teachings of scripture – I choose to reject it.  It’s not open for debate. I do not believe in an erasable or amendable Bible. You will never convince me that some of the teachings of Jesus, for instance, need to be modified or repealed.  Contrary to the opinions of pop culture, the ancient scriptures do not need to be “updated”, they need to be revisited.

Genuine Biblical Christianity is defined by a system of well-worn spiritual and moral beliefs, rooted and grounded in the Newer Testament writings.  Believers hold these “truths” to be absolute (i.e. set in stone). They are a filter through which we scrutinize this present-day world system. I dissect the philosophies and traditions of its people, organizations, religions and (especially) governments by the principles and precepts found in the texts of scripture.  This does not make me better than or superior to anyone, but neither does it make me a hate filled narrow-minded intolerant bigot.

I have never burned the Koran. I’m not a homophobic crusader.  You will never find me yelling horrible things at frightened young women going into abortion clinics and I do not stand on street corners holding placards that condemn every passing motorist to an eternity in hell because of their sinfulness. Forcing others to accept my way “or else” has never entered my mind.  In fact, it never entered Jesus’s mind either.  He merely spoke the truth and warned of the penalties associated with our rejection of Him.  I’ve made my choices in life; you must make yours, and we’ll each live with the consequences.

Truthfully, there will be times when I cannot accept a moral, political or lifestyle position simply because you think I should. Being true to my heartfelt convictions is not the same as intolerance or hatred. Even the “law of the land”, if it is contrary to the clear teachings of scripture, may need to be defied if that law ever put me in direct disobedience to the higher laws of Almighty God.

Listen, I am sorry for all of the misinformed zealots, and assorted religious wackos you may have encountered over the years. I’ve run into a few of them myself. If ignorance is bliss, some have truly reached “nirvana.”  It saddens me when I see so-called “Jesus followers” attack and insult the very people whom they are called to love.  I readily concede that any supposed Christian who lives as a self-righteous, prideful and hate-filled bully is a blight on the fruit of genuine truth.  I can’t do anything about them or your unfortunate experiences with them.  It’s not my monkey, not my circus, Okay?  Please, don’t hate nor reject our Creator, or me, because of them.

You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people that you do.” ― Anne Lamotte

Historically, organized “Christianity” (the Church) has always been a bit of a mess.  That’s what happens when inadequate humans attempt to communicate a message they believe has been entrusted to them by a perfect redeemer and a faultless creator.

I have spent most of my adult life learning about and sharing the way, the truth and the life of the Liberator Jesus. It has been quite an adventure for me.  Mind blowing really.  I’ve discovered that when this other worldly being appeared here on planet earth, He claimed to have been sent to mankind from the designer of all things (GOD).  He said that he took on human form to communicate with people in a relevant and understandable way.  As the Liberator Jesus, He familiarized mankind with the source of their existence. His message was rooted in perfect love – not tolerance – there is a huge difference. He was not politically correct, and He often offended more people than I ever will. He was despised and rejected by the mainstream during His time on earth, but he readily identified with those who faced rejection, sorrow and grief. Finally, He was put to death at the hands of vengeful and hate filled people.   Incredibly, the grave could not hold him.  His well-documented resurrection vindicates everything He taught. He overcame the hatred of ignorant humanity and continues to offer forgiveness and acceptance to all who answer His call.  But that is what real love always does.

Look, I may not agree with nor be able to accept your way of life or viewpoints.  You can reject me and everything I believe too. We may even oppose one another outright in the marketplace of ideas. I will still choose to love you as a human being and that love comes without conditions.

Maybe you’re just not sure what to believe in these days.  Here’s something from the Newer Testament writings of Paul that I would really like to share with you:

12-15 “You should therefore be most careful, my brothers, that there should not be in any of you that wickedness of heart which refuses to trust, and deserts the cause of the living God. Help each other to stand firm in the faith every day, while it is still called “today”, and beware that none of you becomes deaf and blind to God through the delusive glamor of sin. For we continue to share in all that Christ has for us so long as we steadily maintain until the end the trust with which we began. These words are still being said for our ears to hear: ‘Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’.” – Hebrews 3:12-15 – J.B. Phillips New Testament

Our Creator opposes all forms of depravity and wickedness. Thankfully, the Almighty can separate sin from the sinner. Some say it this way; God hates the sin but loves the sinner. I like to say; God loves us even when we sometimes do things that He doesn’t like. Either way, one fact will never change; when we admit our faults to this great God, He is faithful and unbiased in forgiving our shortcomings and failures.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr

But remember, His perfect love together with his flawless justice will one day compel Him to banish the impenitent portion of mankind into an everlasting darkness – not because of what we have done (sin) but because we would not accept what He has done through this man called Jesus.  “Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…”

Wherever you are on this crazy planet, He’s there with you right now to throw you a rescue line. Don’t ask me to explain how or why. Who cares? He is with you now. All you have to do is trust Him. Go ahead, speak to Him. He can take it from here. He doesn’t need my help to change your life for the better. He never did.  I’m just a diplomat.

Oh, one more thing, Longfellow closed his 1863 poem “Christmas Bells” with these words:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Hatred is evil and like all wickedness, it will eventually fail. Love will triumph over hate.  Remember, God is love.

Almighty Creator, I ask that you would help those who have read my words to reach out to you. May their eyes be opened so they too can see Jesus who came to our earth, taking human form to show us the way home again. Forgive them as they acknowledge they are no more than an outlaw who desperately needs your favor and forgiveness. As they open their heart to you, let them find the peace and joy that comes to those who are born again in spirit and set free from all hate. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

 

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher. © 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta,
all rights reserved. For more information write to: Insight Today, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656

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Religious and non-religious people alike have heard the story of “Jonah and the Fish.” But has this fairy tale fame distracted us from the deeper meaning and purpose of this powerful little book?”

Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city located in Upper Mesopotamia.  Its archeological ruins are situated on the east bank of the Tigris River, opposite the modern-day city of Mosul in northern Iraq.  Nineveh is counted among the oldest and greatest cities of antiquity.  At one point in its long and often sordid history, it was briefly the largest municipality in the world. Founded by Nimrod, the Bible first mentions Nineveh in the Older Testament book of Genesis chapter 10, verse 11:

11 “From that land Nimrod went to Assyria, and built Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah”. (Gen 10:11)

Nineveh would go on to prosper for thousands of years and eventually become the flourishing capital of the sprawling Assyrian empire (2 Kings 19:36).  It was home to the likes of King Sennacherib who reigned during the time when Hezekiah was the King of Israel and the prophet Isaiah was alive on the earth.  In fact, Sennacherib is credited with making Nineveh a truly splendid city complete with the famed “palace without a rival” (c. 700 BC).

Several books of the Bible’s Older Testament reference Nineveh including much of the writings of the Prophet Nahum and the books of Zephaniah and Jonah.  But in spite of the splendor ascribed to this once great metropolis, the scriptures declare it to have been a wicked, extremely cruel and perverse city.  Numerous prophecies predicted that the Almighty would ultimately see that it was laid to waste.  And In time, it was.  But not before the Ninevites were offered a window of opportunity to change their evil ways.

And that brings me to the Biblical book of Jonah; a diminutive Older Testament manuscript (just 48 verses) unique in that it focuses more on the life and times of the messenger (Jonah) than it does on the message he was to deliver.  It is a fascinating story.

Thought to be one of the earliest Older Testament prophetic voices, Jonah was a Galilean from Gath-hepher in Zebulun.  When the Divine Spirit of the Almighty came to Jonah and told him to go and warn the violent and decadent Ninevites of their impending doom, he rose up in stubborn disobedience.

You see, Jonah was a zealous Jewish nationalist.  The Assyrians were the sworn enemies of Israel and he hated them.  Jonah did not want Nineveh to repent; He wanted the Ninevites dead.  To him, these Assyrians were a major threat to the national security of Israel and the worst kind of human trash.  Offer them hope through repentance?  Forget about it!

When God told Jonah to go and prophesy against Nineveh, Johana fled to Joppa and then hopped on a ship sailing for Tarshish (which was in the opposite direction of Nineveh).  In essence, Jonah tried to escape his responsibility to obey God by attempting to run from his presence.  Can anyone say futile?  Think about it, how does one hide from a God who is all seeing and all knowing?  I think the Psalmist put it best when he wrote:

7-12 “Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit, to be out of your sight?  If I climb to the sky, you’re there!  If I go underground, you’re there!  If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, you’d find me in a minute—you’re already there waiting!  Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!  At night I’m immersed in the light!”  It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12 MSG)

Nonetheless, Jonah set out to evade his Divine calling by hiding from the Divine being who had called him. Sometimes, I wonder how many of us are just like this wayward prophet – trying to escape our accountability to the Creator simply because we don’t like our assignment. Sure you can run – but you can’t hide.  God still holds us answerable to Himself, regardless of how hard we try to ignore or deny Him.

At any rate, Jonah ends up on a ship, thinking he can now just calmly sail off into the sunset.  Not gonna happen.  The Spirit of God causes a great storm to batter and buffet the ship (1:4).  Everyone on board now faced disaster.  The crew tried throwing their cargo overboard to lighten the load.  That didn’t work.  Finally, being superstitious pagans, they decided to cast lots to see why they were at the mercy of this raging storm.  Guess who got the short straw.  Yup, the lot fell to Jonah.

When we run from God, His response is more likely to be stormy and upsetting than quiet and subtle. He knows how to make us miserable. And it makes those around us miserable as well.” Tullian Tchividjian

So, the prophet comes clean.  He had already told the captain and crew that he was hiding from his God (1:10). He said they would now have to toss him into the sea if they wanted to be saved.  At first that seemed like a bad idea to the sailors – even pagans can have morals.  Instead they tried in vain to navigate their ship to dry land.  In the end, the seafarers reluctantly threw him overboard, but not before they shouted out to Jehovah (Jonah’s God) saying, “don’t hold us responsible for his death, for it is not our fault – you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons” (1:14).

Once Jonah was tossed into to the briny deep, Jehovah the Almighty calmed the stormy seas (1:15).  The good ship and crew were now safe (and they quickly decided to follow Jonah’s God from now on).  “Fine, fine, you say, but what about Jonah?”  Calm yourself, I’m getting there.

To save Jonah from death by drowning, the Lord dispatched some form of monster fish to swallow the rebel (1:17). I know what you’re thinking, “monster fish…really?”  Look, we are dealing with the Creator of all things here; do you truly think he would have a hard time doing this?

Anyway, for the next three days and nights, Jonah endured an unscheduled adventure in a very large sea creature’s gut.  It was during this ordeal that our defiant rebel had the Older Testament equivalent of a “come to Jesus moment”.  He changed his mind (repentance) and asked the almighty, all powerful creator of all things for help (he prayed).  God caused the sea creature to swim toward land and there it puked Jonah out onto dry ground somewhere along the shores of ancient Palestine (2:10).  I guess even giant sea creatures can’t stomach disobedient prophets. (Teehee)

What happened next is truly remarkable.  The now regurgitated Jonah is told by the Almighty once again: “Go to that great city, Nineveh…, and warn them of their doom, as I told you to once before!” (3:2 TLB).

Hmmm…, seems the assignment wasn’t going to change.  This time however, Jonah obeyed Jehovah and went to Nineveh.  As a result of his warnings, the whole population fasted and sincerely repented. God spared the city as an act of His mercy toward the ignorant and non-discerning people who lived there, and life, as they say, went on.  But Nineveh’s day of reckoning was merely deferred for a season. Eventually, their wickedness returned and in the end judgement befell the Assyrians.

Listen to these words from the ancient prophet Jeremiah:

Whenever I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be taken up and destroyed, then if that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will make a certain nation strong and great, 10 but then that nation changes its mind, turns to evil, and refuses to obey me, then I, too, will change my mind and not bless that nation as I had said I would.”  (Jeremiah 18:7-10 TLB)

At this our most desperate hour of wickedness here on spaceship earth, let that also be a warning to the Nations of the world.

A Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble.” ― C.S. Lewis

There’s more to our tale of course.  Jonah was not pleased at all with Nineveh’s turnaround.  He told the great Jehovah,

2 “O Lord, is this not what I said you would do while still in my own country? That is why I ran away to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a kind and loving God Who shows pity. I knew that you are slow to anger and are filled with loving-kindness, always ready to change your mind and not punish. So now, O Lord, take my life from me. For death is better to me than life.”  (Jonah 4:2-4 NLV)

Poor Jonah, the proud, stubborn, disobedient, unfaithful, grumbling prophet with a bad temper, was now also a very unhappy camper.  You know something, if the Almighty is willing to work with this guy – there is hope for all of us.

How did God answer Jonah?  He questioned his anger.  Read the end of the book and you will discover how Jehovah used a simple object lesson with a giant gourd and a parasitic worm to make a very cogent point:

11 “… should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons not [yet old enough to] know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle [not accountable for sin]?” (Jonah 4:11)

Our Creator is merciful.  He wishes no one to perish – especially the innocent. When Jehovah beheld the Ninevites at that point in human history, He saw 120,000 people in utter spiritual darkness (“children who don’t know their right hands from their left.”)  His compassionate understanding of the human condition provided them an opportunity to repent and abandon their wickedness.

Jonah’s story is also filled with object lessons for you and me.  To begin with, our modern world is filled with Ninevites.  This is not the time for people of faith to sport condescending attitudes of superiority toward the spiritually ignorant or immature – grow up – you’re the only Jesus some will ever see.

Perhaps the most import takeaway today is this: trying to hide from our Creator doesn’t discharge us from obedience to His will.  If we are called and chosen by the Almighty; we will be pursued by His Divine Spirit.  You can refuse Him outright, chase your own self-interests and agendas, and even fill your life with abundant distractions – but you cannot silence His call.  God will relentlessly dog your trail.  He will disrupt your diversions and frustrate your selfish plans until He has your attention.  It seems to me that it would be most prudent to obey Him promptly rather than squander precious time and talent by running away from your destiny.

On the other hand, you can continue to be like Jonah.  Maybe life as fish bait isn’t that bad.  But, I think not.

Master of this universe; Creator of all that we see, please help  keep us from the shallow spirituality and personal pride that can so easily lead us astray.  Help us to listen to the voice of your Spirit and the redemptive call of our Liberator Jesus.  Help us learn what it really means to surrender to you and say, “not my will, but Yours be done.” Amen

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher. © 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta,
all rights reserved. For more information write to: Insight Today, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656
People make mistakes all the time. That’s how we learn and grow. If there’s patience and love, and you care for people, you can work them through it, and they can find their greatest heights.” ― Pete Carroll

Have you ever made a dumb mistake? Acted inappropriately? Had a moment when you suddenly realized that your path was a bit wide of the mark? Ever exercised bad judgment or poor reasoning because of carelessness or insufficient knowledge?

Good. I like you. We have a lot in common. I also thought I was wrong once – but of course, I was just mistaken. Hahahaha.

Seriously, we all make mistakes.  But some people don’t handle their blunders very well. Have you ever had a difficult time “getting over it”?  Ever catch a bad case of the “what if’s”?

  • What if I hadn’t made this or that decision?
  • What if I had just kept quiet and had not said those words?
  • What if I had acted sooner, later or differently?

All aboard the emotion coaster! Have you ever been on that ride?  Your mind fills with an unbridled torrent of doubt, remorse, guilt or shame. The process will often lead to what some have called the paralysis of over analysis.

  • I am so stupid, and everybody knows it.
  • What was I thinking?
  • I’m such an idiot, a looser, I’ll never get it right.
  • I will never be useful to anyone again – even God – not after this…etc., etc.

Look, it is normal to question our choices in life – even the good ones. We deliberate just about everything. It’s so common, we’re not even aware of the process most of the time.  Problems arise when we obsess over our past decisions – especially the disappointing ones – and fail to move on. The paralysis of over analysis can trap us in a quagmire of regrets. Think about it, when you are overwhelmed by an unrelenting cycle of guilt and remorse from past mistakes, it can be nearly impossible to enjoy the goodness present in your life every day.

So, how do we move beyond our mistakes?  Let’s talk about that.

I think it’s harder to forgive ourselves for mistakes that we’ve made because we keep dwelling on them. We want to know how it affects other people, if they liked us for it, if they didn’t like us. I think we stress over it… It becomes an old recording that years later we continue to play in our mind.” ― Sherri Shepherd

I will assume that most of you are familiar with the Biblical writer known as Paul the Apostle. He was born about 10 A.D. in Tarsus, located on the south-central coast of modern day Turkey. Paul was both a Jew and a Roman national. His parents were likely influential citizens and of moderate wealth. He trained to be a Rabbi in Jerusalem under the renowned Gamaliel. Paul was a zealous Pharisee with a fiery temperament and tenacious convictions.

We first meet him in the Newer Testament record as Saul of Tarsus – a man committed to the pursuit and destruction of a new heresy within Judaism (which would eventually become known as Christianity). Saul hated the followers of Jesus. He thought Yahweh (GOD) did too. Saul believed he was on a mission for the Almighty to stop the spread of Christianity. That was his first BIG mistake. The Newer Testament Book of Acts says,

1“And a great wave of persecution of the believers began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria. (But some godly Jews came and with great sorrow buried Stephen.) Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers, even entering private homes and dragging out men and women alike and jailing them.”  (Acts 8:1-3)

After observing the execution of a supposed heretic named Stephen, Saul was off to Damascus to continue his brutal crusade against the Jesus people. But the Creator decided that it was time to put an end to Saul’s BIG mistake. So, in a blaze of blinding light which appeared out of nowhere, the Spirit of Jesus himself knocked him to the ground and corrected his inappropriate behavior. The details of this encounter are also recorded in the the Newer Testament Book of Acts,

3-4 “But on his journey, as he neared Damascus, a light from Heaven suddenly blazed around him, and he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice speaking to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” he asked. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” was the reply. “But now stand up and go into the city and there you will be told what you must do.” 7-9 His companions on the journey stood there speechless, for they had heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. There he remained sightless for three days, and during that time he had nothing either to eat or drink.” (Acts 9:3-9)

Dazed and confused after his day of reckoning, Saul (now temporarily blind) had to be led into Damascus by the hand. He was so shaken that he neither ate nor drank for three days. But I’m sure he prayed!  Have you ever noticed how people seem to pray more when they’re scared spitless?

Anyway, in the interlude, God aroused a local believer named Ananias by entering into his dreams one night where he told him to head over to Straight Street and find Saul from Tarsus.  God dream or not, Ananias was troubled by this assignment. He reminded the Creator that Saul was a very dangerous enemy of the followers of Jesus. Once again we’ll pick up the narrative from the Book of Acts,

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I have heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And we hear that he has arrest warrants with him from the chief priests, authorizing him to arrest every believer in Damascus!” 

15 But the Lord said, “Go and do what I say. For Paul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the nations and before kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for me.”

17 So Ananias went over and found Paul and laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Paul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit and get your sight back.”

18 Instantly (it was as though scales fell from his eyes) and Paul could see…”  (Acts 9:13-18)

Talk about exciting. This is better than Indiana Jones. I just love adventure. Saul (called Paul after his “come to Jesus” moment,) went on to become Christianity’s most zealous ambassador. In spite of some horrific past mistakes, he would end up traversing the ancient world spreading the message of the Liberator Jesus to the Gentiles (all the non-Jews). Even today, Paul towers as a charter member of the Christian Hall of Fame.

Victorious living does not mean freedom from temptation, nor does it mean freedom from mistakes.” ― E. Stanley Jones

What about the Apostle Paul’s mistakes, regrets, and potential to suffer the paralysis of over analysis?  How did he live with himself as one who was responsible for persecuting so many of the very people that God had appointed and ordained?  Did Paul ever have to deal with any thoughts of guilt and remorse? I think he did. He certainly acknowledged his past mistakes. He even spoke about them:

“For I am the least important of all the missionaries. I should not be called a missionary because I made it so hard for God’s church. 10 I am different now. It is all because of what God did for me by His loving-favor. His loving-favor was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other missionaries. But it was not I who worked. It was God’s loving-favor working through me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 – NLV)

I worked hard and killed men and women who believed as I believe today. I put them in chains and sent them to prison. The head religious leader and the leaders of the people can tell you this is true. I got letters from them to take to our Jewish brothers in the city of Damascus. I was going there to put the Christians in chains and bring them to Jerusalem where they would be beaten. (Acts 22:4-5 – NLV)

Yes indeed, after he became a follower of the Liberator Jesus, Paul certainly had a lot to think about. He had every reason to be overwhelmed by guilt and remorse.  But Paul understood the power of God to forgive even our most heinous mistakes. He eventually left the past exactly where the past should be left – in the past!  He learned to take his life one day at a time and live for each moment. Here’s what he wrote,

11“…How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Jesus and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead. 12-14Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep moving on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Jesus grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward is the honor of being called by God in Christ.(Philippians 3:11-15 – PHILLIPS)

The moral of our story today, my friends, is that God can change anyone no matter how BIG their mistakes may be. Life’s slip-ups need to be left behind so that we can move forward. And whenever regrets echo through the corridors our mind they should serve only as a reassuring reminder of the amazing power of the Creator’s grace to erase every past blunder.

I know for certain that God does not make mistakes, but he does make miracles. I am one. You are, too.” ― Nick Vujicic

That’s what I love the most about the Christian life; correctly understood, it’s guilt free. My former transgressions have been expunged. The liberator Jesus removes ALL of my mistakes – past, present and future. As a result, I am free to live each day in the joy that comes from absolute dependence upon God. Like Paul, I have chosen to forget all those things which are behind me because no matter what comes my way, I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.

Today, your life may seem like just another BIG mistake. Do you really want to drag that entire poop pile into your tomorrow? The late actor John Wayne once said,

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. It comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

Have you learned something from your mistakes? I hope so. It’s your life, but remember; God has boundless resources and he makes them available to all who turn to him in absolute trust.  Liberty in Jesus – it works for me. How about you?  It certainly couldn’t hurt to find out.

Jesus, please help my friends to leave their past mistakes behind and take a giant step of faith toward you today. I know your arms are open wide to receive, forgive and love them. Show them the genuine side of Christianity that is found only in you.  Thank you Lord, Amen.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher. © 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta,
all rights reserved. For more information write to: Insight Today, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656