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Posts Tagged ‘persistence’

An Inclusive God

So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:15,17

The story of Jonah shows a face of God that will manifest fully in the New Testament in the person of Jesus – a face of inclusion. The prophet Jonah was told by the Lord to go to Nineveh and warn the people to change their wicked ways. Jonah did not want to go because Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a country that had long dominated Jonah’s homeland, leaving Jonah’s people bitter. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh carrying the Lord’s message of salvation because Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh. He would have preferred that the Lord destroy them for their past trespasses, instead of providing another chance through the warning of a reluctant prophet.

As the story goes, Jonah received his instructions to head east to Nineveh; instead, he boarded a ship headed west to Tarshish, fleeing from the Lord. Jonah fell asleep below deck as the Lord caused a great storm to hit the ship, threatening to break it apart. The crew, frantic to save their lives and their ship, confronted their run-away passenger. Jonah confessed that God was causing the storm because of his disobedience. He told the crew that throwing him overboard would calm the seas. Eventually, the crew threw Jonah over the side and the seas grew calm. A large fish swallowed Jonah, and he spent three days in its belly before being spit up onto dry land. The Lord, again, tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time he goes and tells the people to turn from their wicked ways. Much to Jonah’s likely chagrin, the people repented and God saved them from destruction.

Trying to hide from God is never a successful strategy, at least not in the Bible. Beginning in Genesis with Adam and Eve trying to hide from God in the Garden of Eden, many different characters try to hide from God in various ways, but they never succeed. I catch myself trying to hide from God sometimes, although I am old enough to know better. Anytime I say or do something that I know is inconsistent with the way Jesus lived – something selfish or harmful to others – a part of me hopes God does not notice. I can be a narcissistic person, and I believe God provides me with opportunities daily to help me become more other-focused. It is those opportunities from which I often try to hide or ignore.

Jonah preferred that the people of Nineveh should die in their sin. He felt that was what they deserved. God, however, is an inclusive and persistent God of grace. This God is portrayed by Jesus as the good shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 to save one wayward sheep who has wandered astray (Matthew 18:12-14). This is the same God that in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), throws a huge party in celebration of the return of his long, lost son. God rejoices when any lost child (regardless of age) is brought back into the fold. We humans are quick to judge, and we are quick to label others as good or evil, Christian or non-Christian, right or wrong. God, however, sees beyond our dualistic categorizing to the heart of a being created in God’s likeness. All are precious, loved, and worthy of redemption, regardless of what the Jonah’s among us believe.

When we try to hide from God’s calling, we often find ourselves in a dark and lonely place. We are given time to reconsider our actions – thankfully, not in the belly of a fish – and we are always given another chance for more inclusive behavior. God’s patience is infinite, but God’s persistence is relentless.

An inclusive God is calling. What and who are we excluding?

Note: this is the thirteenth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

 

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Life Notes

Love Endures All Things

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The 15th characteristic of love, as described by Paul, is that love endures. Love is persistent and determined. It does not give up easily. When we think of endurance, we often think of sports and the extended and extensive training required to achieve at high levels. Sports are not a bad metaphor for loving relationships. When we commit to love another – whether in marriage, friendship, or other committed relationships – we commit to being with and for them over the long-term. We agree to support and accompany them in good times, in bad times, in boring times, and in all times in between. We vow to love them when they treat us well, when they treat us poorly, when they act in ways we wish they would not, as well as when they treat us as if we were the only other person in their life.

That we remain committed to another does not mean we simply weather the difficult times, however. It also means we work to shape a relationship from those difficult times into something rare and beautiful. Enduring for endurance’s sake is self-imposed torture – there needs to be a higher purpose for our endurance, a purpose like love. I am told that wine made from grapes whose vines grow in poor, rocky soil and that endure challenging weather conditions have a depth and body that other wines lack. Some of the most beautiful things on earth require time, time necessarily requires endurance, and the difficult times often make the results more beautiful. The rings of trees record the relative ease or difficulty of their individual years. A weathered face reflects a life lived in the elements. Friendships we maintain for many years have a level of comfort and acceptance that simply cannot fully develop otherwise.

This is not to suggest that all relationships should be endured. Abusive, unhealthy, one-sided relationships should be terminated, not withstood. An abusive relationship is not a loving relationship. Where there is a foundation of mutual fondness, respect, and benevolence, however, endurance will take a relationship to levels not otherwise possible. There is a saying in sports, “No pain, no gain,” which suggests we must endure difficult practicing and training in order to reap the benefits of athletic achievement. The same can be said for loving relationships – the benefits come from a wide diversity of experiences with the other, not by only accepting the good and rejecting the not-so-good.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes—May 16, 2013 

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’  But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me’…and there he blessed him.”  Genesis 32:24,26,29b

I wrestled in Junior High school and it was hard work!  Of all the sports I participated in throughout my life, nothing was more completely exhausting than wrestling.  I would come home from practice with (seemingly) every part of my mind and body aching.  It is an interesting sport, at least the non-‘professional’ variety, in that success requires more than strength and athletic ability.  It requires learning to utilize leverage; so there is a mental aspect to the sport that is often overlooked.  A smaller and relatively weaker wrestler can defeat a bigger and stronger opponent by wrestling smarter.

The Genesis story above is about Jacob wrestling with God—God in the form of a man.  Jacob and his brother, Esau, were the sons of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In the story above, Jacob and God wrestle all night.  As day is breaking God tells Jacob to let him go, but Jacob refuses to quit until he receives a blessing.  At daybreak, Jacob receives his blessing and God departs.  But the blessing did not come cheaply to Jacob. During the wrestling Jacob’s hip was knocked out of joint.  He walked with a limp the rest of his life, the mark of his having wrestled with God.

This story is meaningful to me because I believe those of us wishing to receive a blessing from God must often work for it—wrestle with God, if you will.  And just like the sport of wrestling, our success is dependent as much or more on our determination and persistence than it is on our inherent biblical knowledge.  In fact, I believe to be blessed by the Bible we must wrestle with it, too.  Wrestling with the Bible involves taking a passage or a concept and working it over and over in our mind, and perhaps discussing it with others, possibly studying other similar passages.  Wrestling with God requires prayer—not the two minute variety before falling asleep at night, but a continual prayer that may go on for days or weeks where our communion with God is never completely broken.  It is the kind of prayer than consumes every conscious moment not committed to other daily needs.  It is a haunting, obsessive need to know—an insistent demand to be blessed.  Blessed with knowledge or understanding or comfort.  Blessed by God’s presence in whatever form it manifests.  Evidence we are not alone in our wondering or our wandering or our suffering.  It can be exhausting; and it may leave a mark…

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church. Life worship downtown is at 10:00 in Brady Hall, with traditional worship at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Worship at the west campus is at 9 and 11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Wrestling practice is held every week…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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