God said go. Jonah said no.

Reflections on obedience from the book of Jonah

A couple of weeks ago we went to ReachOut Conference, which aims to help Christians become fully engaged in God’s global mission by sharing our passion for his purposes.

Since the conference I have continued to reflect on one of the messages from Simon Longden in particular, about God at work in the story of Jonah. God showed compassion on the people of Nineveh and chose to work in and through Jonah in the process. He commanded Jonah to go and tell the people to repent. God said go, but Jonah said no. Jonah fled on a ship in the complete opposite direction, faced a storm, three days in a fish’s belly. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah telling him again to go and warn the people of Nineveh to repent. God gave Jonah a second chance. Jonah couldn’t hide from God – neither his presence nor his commands. He went and told the people of Nineveh to repent and this is what happened…

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. Jonah 3:10-4:2

God is and always has been at work in the world, bringing people back to himself. God’s heart is for all the nations to worship him. And in his work of redemption he chooses to act through people. He doesn’t need us (Acts 18:25) but he calls us to share his word with others. It is by his grace alone that he works through broken jars of clay like me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

God has a plan for my life and things for me to do, that he doesn’t have for anyone else.  It’s humbling and scary and exciting all at once. My experiences, my past, my story, my gifts – I am clay in his hands to be used by him for his purposes, his work, his glory – if I will let him. Am I being obedient? Am I being faithful? Or am I, like Jonah, saying no?

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Advent Blog Day 17 – may grace increase

I was pleasantly surprised to hear our intercom sound this morning – I knew it could only be a Christmas present I had ordered for a family member on Friday. Talk about fast delivery. But when the delivery man cheerfully informed me that there were not one, but two packages for me, the surprise was of a different nature.

The identical parcels both contained the item I had ordered. And I flipped out. I immediately assumed that I’d clicked to place the items in the online shopping cart twice, and was feeling pretty guilty about wasting money.

But when I checked my emails, it was clear that I had only ordered one! It was their mistake, not mine.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but as I reflected on my reaction, I realised that when something around me goes wrong, I almost always have one of these responses:

  1. Assumption of error – I did something wrong, I am guilty, and I must profusely apologise and/or suffer as a result.
  2. Deflecting blame – No, I definitely didn’t do something wrong in this case – and so I want to make sure others know I am innocent.

My response seems to be either brutal or defensive, and I think this stems from pride and a fear about how others see me. It’s not pretty. Where’s grace? God has forgiven and continues to forgive me, so I want my default to cease being this assumption of error and blame, and start defaulting to grace – to others and myself.

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 3:20-21

Amen. May grace increase always.

walkontherocks

Advent Blog Day 14 – Here in my weakness…

It’s Friday night, the end of a rich yet busy December week.

When I came home this afternoon, I felt deeply tired, almost spaced out, weak. I’m guessing that at this point in the month and year, I probably wasn’t the only one. But as I reflected on my weakness, God brought this song to my mind…

Grace.mp3

I love the image of God chasing us down, meeting us in our weaknesses and lighting up the sky with his glorious grace. (Maybe I’m a tiny bit bias since my friend and my husband co-wrote this song). But  I’m also thankful that God uses different things at different times to remind me that I need him. When I am weak, he is strong.

Generous Justice – A book review

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I can be pretty naughty when it comes to reading non-fiction books. Seriously. I tend to have at least 2 going at a time, and if I start reading a fiction book, the non-fiction ones have no hope of being read until the fiction one is done – despite being (usually) far more inspiring and challenging. So, I recently set myself a challenge of reading a non-fiction book all the way through without picking up a fiction one. I haven’t quite finished it yet and I did briefly pick up a fiction book, but the first two pages were so strange that I wasn’t easily captivated.

Thankfully I picked a book for my challenge that I am really enjoying reading – “Generous Justice” by Timothy Keller. I feel that God is using this book to grow both my understanding of how God’s grace to us in Jesus, makes us just in the way we live, and also to deepen my heart for justice, as I dream and imagine how I might help bring this into others’ lives.

Chapter 2 of the book is all about Old Testament laws of justice. I confess that my Old Testament knowledge is not great (though I’m working on it – currently read up to Genesis 23) and so I was amazed at the detailed rules and requirements God had for his people in order to ensure that “there should be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4-5).

The year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55) is part of this – every 49th year, God’s laws required that all the land would return to the original landowners – so that if you had made decisions or calamity had come upon you, there was an approximately once in a lifetime second chance at life, without the baggage of past poverty. Keller doesn’t propose a return to the year of Jubilee (my mind wandered there though, trust me!) although there is much we can learn from this idea – of somehow breaking the cycles of poverty which are so present in many communities in Australia and overseas.

I also had a ‘lightbulb’ moment reading through an examination of Jesus sermon on the mount. Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). I have never thought deeply about this statement, and I have never really understood it either. Most scholars believe that God’s blessing and salvation come to those who acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy(p.101). I had a debt because of my sin, I can’t do anything to repay it or redeem myself but God’s generous gift of grace in sending Jesus  is the only thing that saved me.

As a person who has received God’s grace can I look at a woman who is deep in debt and say “get yourself out of this mess.”  God didn’t do this to me. This is profoundly challenging for me. Where and to whom is God calling me to be generous?

Lots of the examples given in the book are about churches helping to transform poor communities in the US. As you may know I go to church in Redfern – a part of Sydney where the middle to upper class live across the road from the unemployed, the forgotten and the struggling in Department of Housing towers. There is huge spiritual need in Redfern for all of these people but there is also great physical needs – and this has been on my mind and heart a lot as I have read this book. I’m super encouraged that some of the guys from our church are running a Soup Kitchen a couple of nights a week to start to help meet some of the needs.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I want to learn to live justly, to live generously and to keep growing in my understanding of what this means. I have much still to learn and that is really exciting to me. How will God’s grace make me just?

This may be only part 1 of my review of this book – if I get inspired to share more of what I have learned once I’m finished.