Last week we jumped into our new fall series, OVERBOARD: Learning from Jonah’s blunders and God’s grace.
We just scratched the surface of course, walking through verses 1-3.
We learned that Jonah somehow received a word and a mission from God. The mission was to GO to the GREAT city of Nineveh. Jonah doesn’t like this plan, so he runs the other way. He “FLEES” God, his call, and his mission. This does make some sense at the surface, as Nineveh, part of Assyria, were enemies of Israel. Assyria was not kind to Israel, so why would Jonah want to show any love on them?
Jonah runs the other way: Away from the call. Away from God. Away from his mission.
He hops on a boat to Tarshish: and that’s where we left off…
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Ever been involved in a ‘who are you’ conversation? A new friend or acquaintance asks about your work, your hobbies, your cultural background, etc. These conversations can be fun, unless you’re a pastor, like me, then they always seem to be a let down. Mine go like this, So what do you do for a living? ‘Actually, I’m a pastor’ and then the conversation goes south as the other person doesn’t know what to say next. This has happened many times before, and I’m learning to ease into it, but also respond like anyone who has a job, just tell them what it is I do.
As we continue Jonah’s story in chapter one, we find Jonah in this kind of conversation.
We re-enter the story just as Jonah boards a ship for Tarshish…
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Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. (4-5a)
Note the word GREAT again (it appears 14x in Jonah). The writer is definitely trying to let us, the readers, know that one, the challenges in this book are great, and two, God is greater than whatever we might view as great.
The sailors were scared. A big deal for sure. There is a common understanding that sailors aren’t afraid of anything…well this had them terrified. So much so that they began lightening the load and throwing things overboard.
You know things are intense, on boats, or in life, when we start to throw stuff that we used to view as valuable, overboard. They were necessary at the onset of the journey, but during a storm, they seem less important. Why? Because life is more valuable than stuff.
“Each cried to his own god.”
This tells us a lot about the sailors and a lot about the culture. Pluralism, and more importantly, polytheism, was the vibe of the day, of the ship, of the non-Israelite culture. That said these sailors did pray…they cried out…because trouble and suffering normally lead us to that action or response…no matter who we are. In this case, the prayers were directed at a variety of gods.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (5b-6)
How can Jonah sleep at a time like this? C’mon Jonah, you should know better than that. Anyone else able to sleep during what others deem an important or intense moment? I mean, to be transparent, I have fallen asleep on my wife talking a number of times. Late at night of course. I’m not proud of this, but it has happened.
Jonah is SLEEPING, which also means he’s not PRAYING.
The PAGAN captain challenges Jonah to pray. “Maybe you’re god will help us.”
I remember visiting a neighbour in the hospital after they’d been rushed via ambulance. They were Hindi neighbours. I asked if it would be ok to pray, and they said, “sure, it wouldn’t hurt.” Their thinking was, why not? maybe your god can help us? A pretty normal response if you ask me.
This story does tell us that God seems to be in, and at work with our ‘maybes.’ A subtle inclusion, but an important one for sure.
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. (7)
More chance and more maybes. It worked here, as Jonah was the ONE. But how must Jonah have been feeling inside, knowing that he was the one who caused this, before any lot was cast.
So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) (8-10)
Here come the 20 questions. Actually only 5. And who would blame these sailors? They wanted to get to the bottom of this.
5 questions (regarding his purpose, his place, his race) from the Sailors.
2 answers from Jonah.
- I’m a Hebrew
- I worship the God of Heaven, and the maker of the earth.
- Very intentional here from Jonah
- It’s like he’s saying, ‘your god has nothing on my God.’
They want to know who Jonah is, he tells them whose he is.
To know who you are is to know what you’ve given yourself to, what controls you, moves you, inspires you – what and who you fundamentally trust. (Brown)
Everyone develops an identity from something or somewhere. Arriving to these statements:
– I’m significant because of _________
– I’m accepted by them because of ____________
– I have purpose because ___________
Jonah, even in his broken and disobedient state, comes back to whose he is – YAHWEH / GOD’s.
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (11-12)
Here is Jonah’s best moment in chapter 1: Admission. Confession. Owning up to his failure. “It’s me” “It’s my fault” “I did it” “I got us here”
Can we just say that it’s never worth not fessing up to your mistakes…ever. It doesn’t look good on you & it doesn’t help the situation. Most people know it’s your fault and are waiting for you to say something.
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (13-16)
The sailors even try to get Jonah back to land, but it’s simply impossible. How honourable is that? They eventually have no choice but to throw him overboard (hence our series title). They pray, they make a sacrifice to God, and they hope for the best. They went from praying to a variety of gods, to praying to the one true GOD. Quite amazing turn of events.
We’ll find out what happened to Jonah next week. For now, let’s end with a few take home thoughts.
- When you’re in trouble, you will cry to whoever or whatever you think will help. Choose well!
Anne Lamotte wrote a book on prayer called, Help, Thanks, Wow, where she says, among other things, that we initiate conversation or prayer with God when we need help. It’s not the ideal way to start up a prayer routine, but it is the human experience. We will, when in trouble, cry out to something or someone, the question for us is, will we choose well? Will we choose, not a ‘g’od that was made up or created, but the GOD who created the heavens and earth?
- Don’t sleep through storms, especially the ones you created.
Be AWAKE & AWARE.
So you can learn something through the storm
So you can discern how to help others through the storm
So you can acknowledge God’s presence, as well as His next steps
- God works with our MAYBES.
We often think we have to have it all together, all figured out, before God can do what he wants to do in and through us, but sometimes God even works in our MAYBES. God does his absolute work when we are not absolutely sure. That is part of his grace.
- Who are you? Can you articulate it? Will it take a storm for you to communicate it clearly?
When you are questioned about who you are, what is your response? Are you ready to give one? Will it communicate clearly to reflect who you truly are? Is your response a reflection of the God you worship?
1 Peter 3:15 is good to read here. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
- Own up to your errors…acknowledge your sin…admit your wrongs.
Let’s be followers of Jesus who are known to be the first to admit our wrong, not the last? Let’s not be like Jonah and wait for the shortest straw to be picked for us to admit our failure. Let’s be ok with our wrongs, not because what we did was ok, but because we can be forgiven and redeemed through our confession.
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Small(er) Group Discussion:
What are something of the things you took from Jonah 1:4-16? Was there anything baffling? Was there something inspiring or compelling?
If you were asked to respond to those 5 questions, what would you say? How do you or would you like to describe yourself? How does 1 Peter 3:15 help us or challenge us?
What’s your reaction to a storm? Why might staying awake through it be a better choice than sleeping through it?
Can you think of a time when you waited to admit a wrong, and it didn’t end well for you or anyone involved? How does the discipline of confession to God, and well discerned confession to others make us better?
When we pray, what leads us to pray to GOD, and not just ‘a god’? How does Jesus’ life and teaching help us here? Maybe The Lord’s prayer can help us, and maybe it is a good way to end our discussion and time together.
I recently played a game with some friends. It was introduced to us about a year ago, and we loved it so much, we had to buy it for our home. Tele-strations.
You’ve played this before? You get a word, draw the word, pass it along, have other guess that word, pass it along, have another draw that word, and just like broken telephone, see how far you’ve strayed from the initial word given to you at the start. My favourite sequence invloved be getting the word, “Sanding a board”, after attempting to draw, I passed it on, and by the end of the game, the word or phrase became, “Walking the plank”. We then found out that the first word was “brief case”.
Got me thinking about the image and idea of Walking the Plank. Where do you see this anymore? Pirates of the Caribbean? Once upon a time (recent Disney TV series with Captain Hook being one of the characters), Giligan’s island (for you old timers). But really not much.
Imagine that some unique circumstances in your life have led you to a point where you are forced to jump; where you’re forced to jump overboard; or where others throw you overboard because of you’re excess weight on their journey. Not fun at all.
What thoughts might be going through your mind? What plans are you cancelling or what dreams are you regretting you didn’t get around to?
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For the next few weeks we’ll be walking through a story about someone who probably never thought their life would arrive at this point: stuck on a boat, immersed by a storm, and walking a plank.
Jonah…a story in the Scriptures that some view as a parable, others a fairy tale, and many literally…but one thing is for sure, there is a lot to learn from this Reluctant Prophet.
Over the next few weeks, we will dive in, pun intended, to the book of Jonah. We will walk through this short tale to see what it can possibly teach us.
Many people know of this story. It’s about a fish, right? And it can’t be real of course, cause how can a fish swallow a person whole, spit him out and, and that person is alive and well?
That’s what most people know about this story, and for those people it ends there. A storm. A boat. Walking the plank. A Fish. .but…there’s so much more going on here. And I can’t wait to get started.
Before we actually begin, we can give you a hint of what we will find:
- Jonah is bad at his job
- God is good
- Jonah is a reluctant, disobedient, and some might say, prodigal prophet.
- God is compassionate and merciful
- Jonah’s heart is not easy to crack
- God’s heart drips with grace for all people
Ok. Now that we now what we got that covered. Let’s get started.
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)
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“The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai.”
Two things are going on in the beginning of this book. We know that somehow God communicates to Jonah. And we know that Jonah has a father named Amittai.
Interesting. Both of Jonah’s fathers mentioned in the first verse. Heavenly. Earthly.
Son of Amittai…
- Amittai was married to a woman who was from the tribe of Asher. Said to be the happiest and most prosperous of the tribes of Israel.
- Amittai means truth.
- Jonah can therefore be referred to as the son of truth.
- Is it possible that the writer, which is not Jonah, is poking some fun at Jonah and stating some obvious irony here.
- Jonah is someone who sticks closely to truth, but has no concept of grace, at least not for people other than his own people.
- We’ll find out later in this story that Jonah doesn’t think that others are worthy of God’s grace and compassion.
- He’s so committed to truth, but more than that, law, that he can’t open his heart towards love those outside his tribe.
- Jesus, who mentions Jonah in the gospels, was the one who coined the phrase, grace & truth, and the purpose would be that they can and should work together as two faces of one coin.
- Jonah’s coin had one face, truth, a truth that became legalistic in nature.
The thing is this, we all come from someone, some place, some kind of history and past. Whatever it is, good or bad, don’t let it get in the way of what God wants to teach you today, about him, and about others. Don’t allow your checkered past to stop you from being who God wants you to be, and on the other hand, don’t allow your ‘good’ past to stop you from risking a few things for God either.
“Go to the Great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because it’s wickedness has come before me.”
Next comes the call. The question. The ‘word’ from God…
GO to the GREAT city of Nineveh.
I want to get to the word great, but let’s not passover the word go.
God often tells those who follow him to go somewhere. Often the first word is ‘go’, and then it’s ‘do’. It’s almost like God wants us to trust him before we hear what the task is. It’s like he tests our faith, before he even cares about our tasks.
A good lesson is this: Don’t be afraid to take steps in the direction God is leading. If he’s really leading you there, you’ll have something to do when you arrive.
Now to the word GREAT.
- it comes up 14 times in 48 verses
- used to describe a great city, great wind, great storm, great fish
- the first instance is in verse 2 – as the (very) great city
- some translate it, the very big city.
- That seems like a better understanding. Because even though it’s big, it’s not that great.
- Nineveh was known for bloodcurdling & gore; violence and wickedness
- They’d ‘cut off the legs and one arm of those they captured…leaving one arm to shake as they died before them. Total mockery.
- They’d force remaining & living family to parade with their decapitated family members heads on poles.
- Yet God was reaching out to them. WHY?
- Nineveh was BIG. One of the oldest cities too. The principal city of Assyria. There were 120,000 people there. And God never met eyes with anyone he didn’t want to help and didn’t already love.
That’s where Jonah is told to go. And then we read…
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed over to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, we went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
Jonah runs away.
He pays his own fare and Flees from God.
He runs from God’s call: and this verse says that he ran from God himself.
This is what begins our understanding that Jonah was the reluctant prophet, the disobedient prophet, and as Tim Keller calls him, the prodigal prophet.
He goes the opposite direction.
- He’s called to go east, but goes west
- He’s called to travel on land, he travels the sea
- He’s sent to the big city, but buys a one way ticket to the ends of the earth
WHY? We will learn more and more each week, that Jonah basically disagreed with God’s assessment. He didn’t trust him. He doubted God’s goodness, God’s wisdom, God’s justice, and more than anything, God’s grace.
It’s like Jonah said, “If this is what you want to do, I want nothing of it” NIVEVEH – No Way!!!
So he runs. He flees.
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But don’t we do that to? More often than we’d like to admit. There comes a point where we have to decide that we trust God knows best. But do we?
Isn’t our human default to say, “I know best”?
Isn’t that what Adam & Eve did in Genesis 2-3, in the garden?
When you really think about it, Jonah is in each of us, afraid to fail, afraid to shine, fighting God’s will for us, fighting ourselves.
Abraham Heschel (Rabbi/Theoligan) says ‘we see ourselves in Jonah…because Jonah is the symbolic or metaphorical everyman or everywoman who runs away from social obligation, from missional opportunity, from grace-fillied moments.’
I came across these words about running away, “Humans have always employed an enormous variety of clever devices for running away from themselves… We can keep ourselves so busy, fill our lives with so many diversions, stuff our heads with so much knowledge, involve ourselves with so many people, and cover so much ground that we never have time to probe the fearful and wonderful world within. By middle life, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.”
We’re good at running away, from responsibilities, urgent matters of the heart, issues that need addressing in our families or relationships. We choose to not deal with a conflict and watch netflix instead. We leave the dishes for the next day. We leave the hard conversation for another week. And… when it comes to God’s call…we’re good at running away from that too.
One thing from each of these first 3 verses to take home:
- When God’s word comes to us, are we listening?
- Can we say yes to God first? Can our first response to God always be yes?
- Will we learn very early on from this story, that it’s always better to run to God or with God, but never from God.
If we’re not careful, just like the drawing game, God gives us one word, and by the time we’re done, we’ve messed it up so much, it’s not even recognizable.
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Small(er) Group Discussion Questions:
Why do you think the Jonah story intrigues people? And what about it may not be so inviting?
How do you think our past inhibits or obstructs decisions for our future? How can both kinds of pasts, hurtful or helpful, become obstacles in our lives.
What ways does God use to speak to us? To call us?
Is it easier to say yes to God’s GO or God’s DO? (where to go vs what to do)
Why is it easy, almost human nature, to run from responsibility, from doing justice, from doing good, etc? When did ever you run from God? What caused it? What made you aware of your poor decision to run?
What kind of steps can we take to be people who say yes to God more often, who run to God and with God.
Due to what is going on in our local school board (DDSB) and across the province, we cannot use Robert Munsch PS for a few weeks. We’ll be gathering at 9am (instead of 10:33) and at 6775 Baldwin St. N. This may be our scenario for the next 2-3 weeks. Please keep updated through our Instagram & Facebook pages for details. Thanks for checking in. See you on Sunday!!!
A very long time ago, the summer after Janet and I were first married, Janet was introducing me to a northern Ontario Lake. A lovely place for sure.
There was an island that people would swim to. Not far from this beach. At least it didn’t look that far to my city eyes 😉
I went at it full speed. Feeling like a champ. I looked up to see how close I was. Thinking I was almost there, I was only ½ way there. Of course now I’m tired, I’m reminded that I’m a horrible swimmer, and I decide to get myself close to the floating line that went from the shore to the island.
I panicked, but Janet stayed close.
I felt a humbled, as the kids with their arm floaties, passed me by. She stayed close.
The life guards, through megaphones were telling me to stay clear of the rope. I didn’t listen to them. She stayed close.
We made it across. We laughed. I caught my breath. And eventually made our way back, slowly but surely. She stayed close.
I always wondered if we weren’t married by then, if Janet would’ve broken up with me from sheer embarrassment. But the contract was signed. And she continued to stay close.
Looking back on that day in the lake, I think of the verse from Isaiah 43 (we read it earlier) …’when you pass through the waters, I will be there.’
She was with me, every step (stroke), of the way. So is God.
The whole verse in Isaiah 43:2 mentions 3 kinds of metaphors for trouble or suffering:
– water (being deep)
– rivers (being tricky)
– fire (being impossible and the most scary of the three)
God says…I’ll be with you…it won’t sweep over you…it won’t consume you!
God gives one reason why: I am the Lord you’re God.
The purpose of God’s words to and through Isaiah are to given Israel, and us, for confidence to be able to walk through difficulty & suffering, in life and in mission, knowing that HE IS with us.
My little lake story involved water and therefore led me back to the first part of the verse.
I wonder, in your life, in your past or current struggles, which part of that verse resonates with you most.
Waters. Rivers. Fire. ???
I’d like us to turn to an Old Testament story that, among other things, reminds us of this truth – that in the fire, we are not consumed. I wonder if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had Isaiah in mind when going through their own struggle and nightmare.Daniel 3…
- Babylon had besieged Israel
- They are not ruling themselves any longer
- The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, ordered the smart ones, the ‘good’ Jews, to serve in the King’s palace.
- Among those were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
- A number of interesting things happen in chapters 1-2.
- King Neb, after some fancy wisdom from Daniel, even gives a shout out to Yahweh, Daniel’s God.
But in chapter 3 something shifts…
- King Neb makes an image, a statue of gold (some say it was to the god of Nebo)
- He calls the leaders to come to the dedication ceremony. They of course oblige.
- Then comes the command (3:5-6)
- “As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
- Cue the music (repeated 4x in ch.3)
- Interesting to note how many times the musical instruments are mentioned here. Like they wanted a very precise and recognizable cue.
- Some people go to the King to inform him that his favourite Jews will not be participating and not following his instructions. (3:12)
“But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
- This doesn’t go over well with the King…
- (3:14) “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?… if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
- The punishment? Throw them in the furnace
- “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand.”
- Lots of pride in that statement
- Then comes 3:16-18…
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
- This really doesn’t go well with the King
- Raises the heat (7x)
- Throws the boys in, fully clothed and tied up.
- Then comes the fun, yet potentially tragic part of this story…
- 3:24-25…Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
- There’s a forth person in the fire
- The King changes his tune after this. Speaks well of Yahweh.
- A few chapters later, we read a similar story with Daniel (The Lion’s Den)
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What part of your story have others been able to say, “I see God in your circumstance’?
I hope and pray that when you go through the fire, someone looking on, a neighbour, a friend, family, co-workers, can say, “There’s no way you’re handling this on your own, someone must be helping you.”
When was the last time you realized, either gradually, or miraculously, that God showed up, or, was there the whole time?
This ancient story is a huge reminder that no matter what you’re going through, God is with you in your fire, in your storm, in your ridiculous situation.
Let’s not forget that this story is also very much about mission. It’s about 3 young men, being committed to who they are, being committed to following God, being committed to a value in their life, no matter the consequences. This begs the question: It’s one thing to say, ‘God be with me’, but can we say, confidently, ‘God, I’m with you?’
Please never stop inviting God to be with you or recognizing that God is with you in your fire, but can we also, like the young men in this story, say with confidence, ‘God, I’m with you. If you rescue me or not, if I make it or not, if I live or not, I’m with you?’
What does your fiery furnace look like? Sickness? Failure? Loss? Addiction? Abandonment? Broken Relationship? Poverty?
In a very intriguing interview with Stephen Colbert (host of the Late Night on CBS), we get a glimpse into his dark days of loss and grief. Two of Stephen’s brothers, along with his father, died when he was only 10 years old. He said of that season, “I was personally shattered, and then you reform yourself…it gives you a different world view than your peers.” His mother’s faith was an example to him. He learned that even the most difficult things in life can be a gift if you allow them to be. Suffering can be a way to become who you were intended to me, even though you wish the suffering never happened. He says, “It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. That’s my catholic faith coming out of me.”
Most times we ask, Why me?, but once we’re in it we start to ask, Why not me? Because others suffer all the time, I am not immune to it.
Stephen ends with these profound words. “In my tradition that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ, that God suffers too – that you’re really not alone…God suffers too…and he is with me when I suffer.” (full interview here)
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This year our family feels like we’ve been a furnace. Suffering through the worst sickness. Cancer. My wife has been fighting for her life all year. Through all the emotions, all the interruptions, all the, for lack of a better word, crumminess, God has been with us. If I remove myself from the scene to look into my home from the outside, I can honestly say that there are not only 4 people living in my home. Janet, Jacob, Madison, and I…we are being kept company by Jesus. He’s with us. There’s a fifth person there. It’s God. He’s in our furnace, our deep waters, our storm.
And my hope is that we would live in such a way, that when my neighbours and friends look our way, they see him too. They might not be able to verbalize or articulate who he is (just like King Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t), but they will, in some profound way, know that we are not alone, and that God is with us.
One more thing. May we be so present in peoples lives, when they suffer, that they feel like the real presence and person of Jesus is with them too.
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Jesus…is with us in the fire.