Monday, August 24, 2009

Jonah 3: Resenting the Grace of God

This is the third of 3 sermons I preached on the book of Jonah - it might be my last post for a few weeks as I'm heading out on vacation:

I would hazard a guess that all of us are familiar with the fairy tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes – the story of the wealthy Emperor who is so infatuated with himself, and so gullible, that he purchases the very newest and best fashion ensemble – even though he can’t see it. And of course, there are no clothes at all – but he’s so full of himself that he can’t see what everyone else can see – he’s naked, and it’s not a good thing. Well, this morning we return to Jonah for one final time – and in many ways, Jonah is much like that Emperor. First, he was so focused on himself that he wasn’t going to obey God. But he soon realized that running from God isn’t a profitable endeavour and we saw that even in our running and disobedience, God can still be praised – but what is more, God doesn’t leave us alone, but comes after us and saves us. Last week, we saw how obedience, even a little, can be used by God to turn others hearts toward him – because behind it all, we serve a living God. Today, we pick up the story after God has decided to spare Nineveh – and we turn our attention back to Jonah…

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. [remember, in chapter 3, the last thing that has happened is that God did not bring on Nineveh the threatened destruction] He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate god, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in it shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “it would be better for me to die than live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
(Jonah 4:1-11)

If you’ve got children, had children, or have even seen children, you can probably recognize this scene, right? Heck, we’ve all been children, and we’ve all lived out this scene, right? It’s a giant pity party, starring… (trumpets) – Jonah! The entire final chapter of this story, a story that has told of a catastrophic storm on the sea, a prophet in the belly of a giant fish, the beautiful poetry he wrote in there, and the repentance of an entire wicked city in the blink of an eye – ends with a man, the title character, sitting around and whining. How anti-climatic. Well, before we roll our eyes and dismiss this chapter, lets dissect a few points first.

One thing we should note off the bat is fairly important. We’ve already talked about the prophetic formula, found throughout the Bible – “The Word of God appeared to X, go to Y and say Z – And X, went to Y and said Z” – well, another component to the role of the prophet is the whole idea that there are false prophets, those who would claim to speak on behalf of God and yet their words were nothing more than something they themselves had conjured up. We have many who do the same today. That’s actually why preaching is such an interesting component to the role of a pastor – who’s to say what I say is necessarily the “Word of God”? Well, for a prophet, the community developed a litmus test – a way to tell if a prophet truly spoke the Word of the Lord, or was simply on their own – and it’s documented all throughout the Bible. You could tell a prophet was for real… if what they promised actually came true. If a prophet gave advice to a king to go into battle, because the Hand of the Lord was with them, and they won, you’d know they were a true prophet of God. If a prophet proclaimed doom and gloom that never happened, you’d know they were a false prophet. Based on these facts, we can at least extend a little grace to Jonah. See, he’s spent all this time proclaiming God’s judgment on Nineveh, only to have God decide he’s not going to follow through. Now Jonah – by all accounts – looks like a false prophet, a fraud, a liar. I mean, God’s gracious act toward Nineveh has just made Jonah look like a fool – who wouldn’t be disappointed? Truth be told, as a prophet, his entire livelihood is shot – who’s going to believe anything he has to say anymore? He really would be better off dead.
But another point that must be looked at is that since Jonah knew God, since Jonah knew of God’s compassion and grace, his abundant love – doesn’t it make sense that Jonah should’ve been a little more careful with his message? I mean, seriously! Here we have a God who is able to create a storm on the sea, find a giant fish to harbor a man for 3 days – and spit him back out no worse for wear, and bring upon the destruction of an entire city – yet is known to be compassionate – maybe a little nuance would’ve been nice? Maybe a little more than five words would’ve been good. Maybe a little bit of that gracious side should’ve been shared with Nineveh – maybe then Jonah wouldn’t look like a liar.

My dad was telling be about a “preacher” recently who he hears on the radio – someone who’s all anger and rage, all indignation and finger-pointing – and it’s sad to say that that’s just one among many who say they’re followers of Jesus, and yet spent more time name-calling and brow-beating than they ever do talking about the gracious, slow-to-anger, abounding-in-love God – who’s not just found in the New Testament – but the God who is the same throughout the Scriptures. Jonah, might have found himself in a different predicament if he’d shared the truth that God is waiting, wanting, hoping, pleading with us to turn to him so that we won’t have to face the full affects of our sin.

Interestingly enough though, Jonah didn’t put these two things together – he was stuck… focusing on himself. So, God tries giving him a practical example of why he was being silly with his fit pitching, pitty-party, woe-is-me antics. And that’s the vine – which grows and provides shade for Jonah – in the midst of his complaining pitty-party – shielding him from the hot sun. But the next day, that worm comes out and kills the vine, kills the grace – and Jonah complains even louder. God tries to explain to him, that this vine & this worm – they’re representing his situation. He tries to provide an object lesson for Jonah, so that he could understand the big picture, so that he could understand how God feels. Jonah was concerned about a living vine – God was concerned about a living people. Jonah didn’t want the vine to die because it was shielding him from the hot sun – God didn’t want the city to die… because God is a compassionate God!
But what we have here my friends… is a failure to communicate. God’s not able to get through to Jonah – that worm of resentment has wriggled its way into Jonah’s heart and is poisoning his mind. It’s poisoning his thoughts and he’s unable to understand the simple fact that just because God is gracious with someone else – it doesn’t mean that somehow, you’ve lost out! And, from out perspective, the outside observers, we can see that. We know how silly it looks for Jonah to holding a pitty-party over a vine, but he cares not a second for a city of 120 thousand people. He’s camped outside, hoping it’ll be destroyed, he’s waiting for it to happen so he can be proved right. How does that saying go – “would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?” – Is that Dr. Phil? Anyway, we see this kind of thing happen all the time, don’t we? I’ve got 2 kids, and I’m sure you’ve seen this scene played out too – the second one of them picks up a toy, the other wants that toy immediately. It doesn’t matter how many other toys are in the bin, or scattered around the room. “You gave that toy to him? Then that’s the toy, I want!” And as outside observers, we recognize how crazy that sounds, how absurd… but when we’re in the middle of it…

Recently, I discovered that my younger sister had been blessed by my parents’ generosity on her way to College – with something I never received a dozen years ago when I went to college. And I have to admit, my first reaction was a little bit of envy – ok, maybe a lot of envy. But the problem with that reaction? It shows us who our focus is on – it’s on me! What did you do for me? Am I going to get something? And that kind of attitude poisons our relationships, it poisons our outlook, it poisons our lives, until like that vine, we end up shriveled up and dead.
Now, there’s an antedote for that poison. There’s a cure for that worm of resentment that wriggles its way into our lives, making us unable to enjoy the grace of God. But it’s not anything we can take, it’s not anything we do – it’s something that needs to be done for us.

CS Lewis, in one of the books in his Chronicles of Narnia series, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” tells the story of a young boy named Eustace. He’s the cousin of Edmund and Lucy and he accompanied the two of them on their third trip to Narnia – but the problem with Eustace is that he’s a rotten, know-it-all boy who complains about everything. While on this voyage, they wind up on an island, where Eustace wonders off by himself, finds a pile of treasure, decides to keep it for himself – and somehow, as he slept, becomes an ugly dragon. All of the ugliness that had been on the inside, seems to make its way out to manifest itself on his outside. After a number of days, he finds that he no longer wants to be the rotten, mean boy he’d been – but he’s a dragon now, and dragons aren’t very good at speaking or writing, so he can’t apologize and he can’t get his friends to help – and that’s when he meets Aslan.

Aslan, the great lion, tells Eustace to remove his clothes and bathe in this water – which Eustace realizes means shedding his skin, kind of like a snake – and yet no matter how many times he does it, he can’t seem to remove it all. That’s when Aslan speaks up
– “You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been…Then he caught hold of me…and threw me into the water…
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes…”

God wants us to wear new clothes too – but in order to do that, sometimes he needs to remove the bitterness and resentment we have in us that poison our souls. We need to die to that self – and live as the compassionate, gracious & loving people we were always meant to be – the kind of people who reflect a compassionate, gracious & loving God. Because in the end, resenting God’s grace, when it’s pour out onto someone else is not only silly – it’s down right deadly. Let God remove it from your heart – so you can live the life of freedom he has created for you...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jonah 2: Responding to the Word of God

One of my favourite movies is one starring Robert Duval, Michael Caine & Haley Joel Osment called Secondhand Lions. The movie centers around the young Osment, whose mother drops him off at the rural farm of his two uncles (Duval & Caine), who are curmudgeonly old men who initially don’t talk too much. As the movie progresses, the two take turns telling Osment the most outrageous stories of their earlier exploits as young men as world travelers, adventurers and eventually in love – Duval with the daughter of a very wealthy Sheik – whom they fought for years. Despite the fact that these stories are so fantastical that they couldn’t possibly be true, and the fact that Duval & Caine seem so far removed from the young men they claimed they once were, the young Osment learns many truths about the world and about himself, that eventually lead him to grow up to be a mature young man.
One of the reasons I love this movie, and the reason why I share it now, is that it’s the perfect example of how a story, or stories – no matter how absurd and unbelievable, can still be used to teach us. Today, we’re continuing our trek through our own pretty fantastical story – the prophet Jonah – and when we left him, he’d been swallowed by a giant fish, where he resided for three days. And I’d hazard a guess that there are some, maybe many out there that look at this story and can’t get past the absurdity of it. We read this tale, we chuckle and we put it back up on the shelf with Paul Bunyan the Giant Logger and Hercules the ancient hero. They’re nice stories to tell our children, but we can’t honestly be expected to believe them. And to that, I say no. There’s absolutely no need for you to sit here this morning and believe these four chapters concerning the prophet Jonah are literal history. Just like Haley Joel Osment, you are free to sit and listen, sifting through the historicity to find the nuggets of hidden wisdom within the text. I would propose that there is as much, if not more that we can learn from this story, as simply an inspired tale, than a historical rendering – but it requires us to listen. And last we left Jonah, he was in the belly of a great fish…
And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry Land.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. (Jonah 2:10-3:3a)

Ok, here we find ourselves in many ways back to square one. God hits the reset button here. Last week, we were reminded that even despite our disobedience and our running from God’s call – God still comes after us, God still cares for us, God still saves us. In this case, God doesn’t simply swallow up Jonah, but he puts him back on dry land, ready for Jonah to respond to God’s Word. God hits the reset button, and we’re back to the prophetic formula. But this time, God’s arise, go and preach is followed by an obedient rising, going and… well, we have to wait to see if Jonah will be completely obedient.
Now Nineveh was a very important city – a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.(Jonah 3:3b-6)

Ok, pause for a second. Turns out, Jonah is a way better preacher than anyone has given him credit for. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” – Billy Graham has nothing on this guy! In fact, in the Hebrew, there are only five words used here. Imagine, a five word sermon – hold on a second – come back to me. I’m not good enough to get the point across in only five words. You’re stuck with a few more from me. But maybe that’s the point. Jonah’s message actually lacks some of the more common components of a prophetic message. No, “thus says the LORD” no attestation of “declares the LORD” – nothing. So, it’s probably safe to assume that Jonah’s curt proclamation is not only, not the reason for the immediate response, but it’s probably not even the actual message given to him, at least not in its entirety. And yet the response of the Ninevites is both immediate and impressive. They believe¸they fast and they put on sackcloth. Faith, followed by penitence, followed by humility. But if that’s not amazing enough – it gets better:
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation to Nineveh:
‘By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’(Jonah 3:6-9)

Ok, lets back-track to get our bearings for a second. Jonah has run away from God’s call because he didn’t want to have to go to this bloodthirsty and wicked city of Nineveh – hated enemies of the Hebrew people. So he runs from God, which is a losing battle, and eventually ends up obediently responding to God’s prophetic call to go to Nineveh – but when he gets there, he barely gets into the city and proclaims only five words, and the response is so dramatic and so amazing that not only the people believe in God, fast & put on sackcloth, but the King makes a declaration that even the animals participate in this humiliating ritual. Is this really the wicked city that we were expecting? Is this really the reception that Jonah, that we were expecting for him? Probably not.
Jonah’s response to God, while obedient, doesn’t seem too enthusiastic – and yet what happens is amazing. We saw last week how even in Jonah’s disobedience, God was praised – by the sailors & captain on his ship. Should we expect anything less from Jonah’s obedience, even if it isn’t perfect? No way. Whether Nineveh is as wicked as we’re lead to believe or not, we can’t expect anything less than a total upheaval, a total 180 when they’re faced with God – even God truncated in the person of the prophet Jonah. Because once again, this story is not about Jonah, it’s not even about this great city of Nineveh – which takes 3 days to cross, and is even great in God’s eyes – this is a story about God. And when God gets involved, look out. We heard and saw last week what God was willing to do for one man, Jonah, who was disobedient and defiant and ran away – and we see this week what God’s willing to do for an entire city of people who are wicked. God turns their hearts. And I’ll bet we can guess God’s response here:
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

Yeah, didn’t see that one coming did we… of course we did! We know this God. This God that cares for a disobedient runaway prophet – how much more does he care for an entire city of disobedient men and women. The king, in his declaration says something interesting – “Who knows? God may yet relent…” –As the king responds to God’s message through Jonah, he has no clue. He turns from his wickedness out of fear and out of hope. But as we read this story, we know the answer because we’ve already experienced it. We gather here today not out of blind fear, but out of a shared history, out of an experience of God’s grace that leads us into the future.
At one time, we too were probably in the King of Nineveh’s shoes. We too, came face to face with the fact that we weren’t perfect, that sin and death knelt at our door, waiting to consume us. And in desperation, we turned to God. We responded by turning over our lives to him. And in so doing – God responded with grace and compassion. So, as we read this, we know God’s response. Author, pastor, professor Barbara Brown Taylor says it this way, “our present trust is sustained by memory on the one hand and hope on the other.”
And so, we live our lives today in the same space inhabited by the King of Nineveh – with just a little more knowledge. Because we know what God has done and like him, we hope for what God will do. Not only for us, but for our entire city, for our entire world. We hope, that despite all we see, all we feel, all we hear – God will yet redeem it.
And our part? Respond. Respond to God’s word – turn to him. Respond to God’s call – live it out. And if we’re half as half-hearted as Jonah was, I’ll bet we’ll see some pretty amazing results. Because God will be at work, in our work.
And speaking of God being at work… There’s a great twist at the end of the movie Secondhand Lions – the grown Osment gets a call from the local Sheriff – his uncles have died – flying a WW1 bi-plane into their barn. As they survey the scene on the farm, out of nowhere, a helicopter descends. On the door, the name “Western Sahara Petroleum” – a man gets out, he introduces himself as the grandson of a wealthy Sheik, who was raised on stories of these two brave & valiant men – the greatest adversaries of the Sheik. And he wanted to come to pay his respects. And then, his young son jumps out of the helicopter, and is scooped up into his father’s arms. As this happens, the young boy looks at the scene around him and says “so, those two men from great grandfather’s stories, they really lived?”
Jonah being in the belly of a giant fish for 3 days, and his exploits in Nineveh may be the stuff of legend – or they may be as real as you and I – we’ll probably never know. But one thing we can be sure of. That story is first and foremost about God – a God who cares as much about us, as he does about the wicked people we want nothing to do with. And if we’ll just respond to God, we’ll see God do some pretty amazing things, because yes – he really lives!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Today is the Greatest...

Day I've ever known.

9 years ago today, I married up. Bridgette has been with me for over a decade, 9 years of those as my wife. I dragged her across the country and halfway back again in the last 5 years and she's said nary a word. I've "given" her 2 boys (technically, I'm told, it was my chromosomes that decided their sex) - that she's lovingly cared for, despite their penchant for taking after me in certain areas of their behaviour. I even LEFT her with these two boys for a week at a time on multiple occasions - and she STILL stays married to me.

THIS woman is awesome, and it's been awesome to be married to her for these 9 exciting years. I can only imagine what she's got in store for me in the years ahead. I encourage everybody to share your sympathies with her for her life sentence to me on this day, and pray that she survives... ;)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jonah 1: Running from the Call of God

This is the first in my summer sermon series on Jonah. You can also hear the preached version Here thru iTunes or here, eventually on the church website.

One of the first things that I discovered I was good at was running. I don’t know that I’m particularly gifted at athletics, but it seems that nearly every sport involves running, so the fact that I was quick on my feet often made up for any other lack of athletic talent. Running has become quite an international phenomenon too. At one time, running was only for the crazy few, but now it’s become amazingly popular. During the warmer months, it’s hard not to find some kind of 5k or marathon happening somewhere nearby. I still remember when Bridgette called me up and said that she and two of our friends were going to train and compete in the LA Marathon together – 3 women who’d never run before in their lives, but all of the sudden, got the urge to run. Magazines and websites are dedicated to following running. Software programs for your mobile phones can track your route and your time. Nike – the sports apparel giant, began as a little shoe manufacturer in Oregon – making running shoes. I still remember shots of the former President, Bill Clinton, running around DC with his secret service detail. When the President is running – that seemed to solidify that running was on the map

This morning, we’re going to begin a 3 week trek through the Old Testament book of Jonah – one of the more well-known of the minor Prophets. His story, appropriately enough, begins with a little running too…

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai...:

Our story begins this morning with two characters – God and Jonah. It begins with a fairly familiar set of phrasings – The word of the LORD came to X, go to Y and say Z. The normal follow-up to this would be that X, in this case Jonah, would go to Y, in this case Nineveh, and say Z, in this case, a warning and judgment on its wickedness. But right off the bat, this formula is thrown for a loop. The Word of the Lord comes to Jonah, and his response… is to run off in the opposite direction! The great Assyrian city of Ninevah is East, and Jonah hops a boat, on the West Coast, bound for a city even further West. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? God asks you to do something – maybe not quite as grandiose as Jonah – maybe it’s give money to the homeless guy on the street, call a friend or family member you haven’t talk to in awhile, or simply smile and say hello to that awkward person you know… But instead of doing it, you put your head down and walk away. Instead of making the call, you fill your mind with other things and simply say “I’ll do it later.” At one time or another, I think we all have.

Then the LORD sent a great wind...

What’s interesting about the story as it continues, is the poetic imagery – Jonah, in running from God has gone down to Joppa and in comes through better in the Hebrew but he goes down into the ship – and despite the storm that rages outside, he’s in a deep sleep – which is similar to death. In running from God, Jonah has taken himself about as far as he could possibly go – down into the depths, on the verge of death to run away from God. And the irony, is that the captain goes down into the depths of the ship, to rouse Jonah, so that Jonah will pray to his God – the same God Jonah’s running from! Here we have this outsider captain, whose going down to nudge Jonah – hey, maybe you should talk to that God of yours. When we run from God – how many times are we faced with a person who invites us to return? How many times does God bring someone in our life who comes alongside and helps us to go home?

Then the sailors said...

Here we have quite an interesting exchange between Jonah and the sailors. You can almost feel the tension mount. The captain has gone below to rouse the one person not either praying to their god or helping keep the ship from sinking – and when he arrives, they throw dice to figure out who is responsible for the problem – and Jonah comes up with snake eyes. He’s outed. And they want to know who he is – who’s this guy who’s running away to Tarshish? Who are you that your god is causing this storm? What have you done? See, they know something Jonah didn’t know – it never pays to run from God.
See, Jonah thought he could get away. He thought he could get on a boat, and sail to the far side of the sea. He thought he could descend to the depths of a ship and cut himself off from the call God had given him – the mission God had entrusted him with. But all it did was put him in peril – even more, it put everyone around him in peril. Here he was, on a ship in the middle of the sea, running away from God, and every single one of them was in danger of drowning – all because Jonah wouldn’t accept the call – all because Jonah ran way – all because Jonah wouldn’t obey. Running from God’s call isn’t a great idea.

The Sea was getting rougher...

Now, this is where the story gets pretty amazing. First, it’s important to recognize that to the first hearers of this story, the Hebrew people, Jonah represents an insider, he represents them – and the sailors – they represent everyone else – all of the unclean, unholy, unchosen people they believed God wasn’t concerned about. They were just as bad as those wicked Ninevites – and yet when Jonah tells them to throw him overboard, when Jonah finally fesses up and admits that he’s been wrongly running from God, these outsiders, these heathens, do everything in their power to save him. They’ve already thrown cargo overboard, now they start rowing for shore – because they don’t want to kill Jonah. They’re not bloodthirsty men, unredeemable wretches – they’re humane and decent men who care about the welfare of others. Actually, they come off more caring and compassionate than Jonah – and in doing so, they call into question the whole idea that us insiders are good and those outsiders are bad.
And second, Jonah seems hardly the kind of guy who’s going to give a striking portrait of the great LORD God. Yet even in the midst of his running, even in the midst of his disobedience, God still ends up being introduced and being worshipped by these outsider, heathen sailors. Despite all that Jonah has done to run from God’s call, we still end up with a boat load of men, who’d never heard of this Lord of heaven who made the sea and the land, worshipping him, praising him and making vows to him. Jonah, who had grown up with God from birth, was steeped in the saving grace of God in the Exodus, immersed in the blessings of God to his ancestors – Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, living under the law of Moses as a covenanted son of God – while this Jonah disobeyed, turned tail and ran – his life, even his disobedience, spoke to these sailors – and God used it for his glory. That’s pretty amazing.
When it’s us running from God – never doubt that God is still at work. Never doubt that God cannot use even our disobedience, even our stubborn rejection of Him, for his glory. God is not above using our flat-out denial of his call to speak to others around us. And even more, even in our running, God doesn’t give up on us…

But the LORD provided...

After all this running Jonah has been doing, all this dodging of God’s call – you’d think that God might have given up on him. Or better yet, God was seeking his revenge on Jonah. “Oh yeah, think you can run from me? I’ll show you – take that – bam!” But God’s not like that is he? God’s not capricious or malicious. God doesn’t strike out at us in order to enact some kind of punishment. God doesn’t chase us down only to smack us upside the head. See, when God calls us to do something, it’s for a reason. And even if he’s got to go to the far side of the world, to the depths of the sea – even into death itself, God will do that to reach us, to save us, to give us life and the opportunity to live into the call he gives us.
Jonah did everything he could to get away from God’s call, to run away – but it didn’t matter. You can’t run from God. And when all seemed lost, God didn’t abandon him either. God rescued him – maybe a little unorthodox – but he rescued him nonetheless. Because the last word is never our rejection of God, our running away from our call. The last word belongs to God – it’s a word of love and grace and salvation. So next time you’re tempted to run away from God – remember Jonah and remember – it’s simply not worth it...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Myth of Impartiality

By now you've probably heard all about Sonia Sotomayor, who the Senate confirmed today to the US Supreme Court. I should probably preface what follows with the note that I haven't gone looking into her legal record, I don't know how she would vote on hypothetical cases. I simply don't have the time to get into it. But I'm happy for her. I'm happy for a number of reasons:

1) Anytime a bunch of people talk smack about you, it's hard not to root for them anyway.
2) When you hear about her bio, it's just one more reason to root for her.
3) A Supreme court filled with white men, no matter how brilliant they are, is lacking something.

And that last point is what a lot of people are complaining about - she's Latino, and she's proud of it, and she doesn't pretend she's not. Stephen Colbert did a Brilliant Job with this awhile back, and ever since then it's been in the back of my mind. Many Conservative pundits were complaining that Sotomayor would let the fact that she's a Latino woman affect the way she rules on cases. They complained she couldn't be impartial, and for that reason, she wouldn't be a good judge. But the problem with this line of thinking is, impartiality is a myth!

The image of justice is a blindfolded woman, because it evokes the idea that she doesn't take into account context, just the facts. Justice is blind. That maybe the case, but those who seek to judge are not. Juries prejudge, which is why we eliminate jurors. Lawyers prejudge, which is why they decline taking cases, or get fees up front. And when we make decisions, we take into account everything we know. But when you have a group of like-minded people making judgments, they're simply not taking into account what they don't know. What a bunch of white men don't know is what a Latino woman went through, what she saw, what she experienced. And that's valuable. That's why she needs to be on the supreme court.

We create laws out of our experiences, and we change laws out of our experiences, we shouldn't pretend that when it comes to interpreting those laws that those same experiences have no place. We're lying if we buy into the myth that any one of us is completely able to act and think impartially. If postmodernity has taught us anything, it's that there is no way for us humans to act or think completely outside of our experiences. We are bound to them, and so we should accept them. Having Sotomayor serve on the Supreme Court gets a little closer to balancing the scales of experience so that maybe, just maybe, the myth of impartiality will not distort the justice that they seek to serve...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

God - resonating & reverberating

When was the last time you were talking with someone or maybe a few people, and as they spoke, the truth of their words resonated with you so deeply that the hair on the back of you neck stood up? When was the last time you experienced that jolt of excitement as your heart pounded and your breath caught because what was being said was exactly how you’d been feeling, or was exactly what you needed to hear, right in that moment? Maybe it was yesterday. Maybe it was last week. Maybe it’s been so long that you can barely remember. And maybe, just maybe you’ve never experienced that feeling – and yet you’ve longed for it.

These are some very special moments in our lives. And I am utterly convinced that it is the church, it is the body of believers that are called to cultivate the space so that these moments can happen. Because I honestly believe that these moments are often sacred moments, moments where the very hand of God is reaching out and touching us – the very Spirit of God is moving across our brow. These moments do not happen by chance. They happen when two or more people are engaged at a deep level, baring their souls, sharing with each other from the deepest regions of their hearts. Sometimes over coffee in a quaint & quiet shop, sometimes in a noisy classroom filled with friends and so many other places in between. They happen when we are intentional about seeking each other out, learning from each other, learning from God, and open to God’s presence and word to us.

I've certainly had my fair share of these moments - and some recently. Last night I lead our baptism counseling class - it was so awesome to talk about our continued participation in God's grace. Yesterday, I had coffee with a pastor and friend whose been a great encouragement and all of the sudden, something was said that brought clarity to a murky question - all God. We yearn for these moments, I yearn for these moments, and each one of them reminds me of why I am alive, and why I'm doing what I'm doing. My task, is to remove all of those things that so clutter my life, that I cannot have MORE of these moments...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Me & my boys

Well, it was one of those stretches that just finished up. I was in a somewhat self-imposed blogging exile. Bridgette was out of town for 4.5 days and I stayed home and took "vacation" with the boys. During my "vacation" - I officiated 2 weddings, 1 funeral and participated in VBS & Sunday worship. So, it was about as much of a vacation as any day in the office ever is - probably even less so. I certainly found more respect for what Bridgette does, and even more, I couldn't imagine being a single parent. Not that I couldn't handle it, or couldn't do what Bridgette does on a daily basis. But I couldn't imagine doing it alone, on top of a fulltime job to pay the bills.

In the midst of crazy schedules & a sick boy (which meant I got much less sleep than I would've liked, we did find some time to have fun. But I learned a valuable lesson. When Bridgette goes away in September, leaving me with the boys again - I'm going away too! I'm taking the boys to Canada for the weekend...