The Jonah Experiment and Unexpected U-Turns

The Jonah Experiment and Unexpected U-Turns

Some of life’s rawest moments lie within the slip.  The slip through the bloodied messy passage of the birth canal  as new life emerges underscores the whispered rasp as the last breath fades to release the soul into the cradle of death.

When numbness is raw…

17109860 - prison window. freedom conceptFor anyone who has experienced life come and go, the mystery of joy and pain is never more present than what is experienced in these moments.  When my mother passed away, the numbness which shrouded the first moments of disbelief gave way to pain and lots of questions.  But in America, time spent with reconcilling death is not an expedient option.  Burials are expensive and must be conducted quickly. Unlike the African tradition where time spent in palpable grief is thought to ease the transition. Which was why my grief was quickly swallowed into a whirlwind of urgent activities.  So much to be done, so many arrangements and considerations…so many to inform.  I could not reach out to everyone who needed to know.  My voicemail messages filled up as I filtered them through a sieve of who I had the strength to talk to that day.

Seeking help…

So when a friend offered to help spread the word to a church we had attended as a family for many years, I was grateful to catch a break.  That was one burden lifted – a group that would be informed with a note or  maybe a notation on a bulletin or whatever churches do to inform the members that someone they knew had died.

Except there was one problem.  Although Mom had been a member and served in various capacities for many years, when our family left to attend a church closer to home, she reluctantly joined us.  However she maintained relationship and prayer circles with members of the congregation till the end of her life.  So when our friend returned to inform me that the answer was ‘NO’,  – at first I scrambled to figure out what was being referenced.  My world had become warped by grief and the busyness that surrounds figuring out so much of what accompanies the business of death in America.

When ‘No’ is official policy…

As the mist lifted, I heard the words clearly – NO, the church will not honor your request to provide any information about your Mother’s passing.  You left the church.  They don’t provide that information about people who are no longer members.  It’s their policy.  My heart struggled to keep pace with the information – we were not asking for money, flowers or a card. Simply a notification to those who knew her, that their friend and prayer partner had gone to be with Jesus.  I was stunned, shocked and angry!  Where was the NO when we had attended the church for special occasions and made offerings after we had left?  Where was the NO when the same church made exceptions for high-profile funerals at their facility?

Remembering Jonah…

It would take time to absorb the incredulity of that experience.  Except God has a way of working through the threads of the heart in remarkable ways.  Remember Jonah?  That was the question that pressed urgently into my heart as I prepared for devotional meditation nearly a year after the funeral rites.  I hadn’t planned on studying the story of Jonah that morning, but of course I remembered Jonah.  My remembrance was specifically brought to bear about an incident at the end of the book (Jonah 4: 1-11) during which a reluctant Jonah, having delivered his message of destruction to what he felt sure was a damned city, went outside the city to watch and wait for the judgement which he was sure God was going to rain down on the sinful city of Ninevah.

Pondering fate…

While pondering the gruesome fate he anticipated witnessing, God allowed a vine to grow up so swiftly, that in hours it was large enough to provide shade from the blistering heat.  A grateful Jonah acknowledged this providential blessing presumably for a job well done!  However the next day, an ugly and ferociously hungry worm ate up his plant umbrella and, along with a scorching wind, withered his shade plant to a crisp nearly as quickly as it had grown into being.  And Jonah was angry!  Angry that he was being punished while the sinful city of Ninevah was still very much alive and well due to a last-minute mass repentance by just about everyone.

As I thought about the story, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said,

‘So, why are you being like Jonah?  I allowed that church to be a blessing to your family and your mom in many ways.  When your son was very ill, a Pastor from that church prayed for you and your family.  If another pastor from the same church determines that you are not eligible for any consideration during this current situation, what is that to you?  Do you have the right to label an entire church and my children whom I love because of the actions of a few?  I raised up a vine for you (which like Jonah, you had no rights to), if I choose to allow it to be taken down – what is that to you?  You didn’t create or pay for my grace.  Nor do you have a right to determine when, how or to whom my grace will be extended next.”

When rebuke is a stern grace…

Sometimes, the stern rebuke of God is a gift.  Self-pity and offense are easily justified, but they mask a trap designed to entrap and deplete life; especially potent when the object of our wrath seems justified. God reminds Jonah of his hypocrisy in appreciating the grace of some shade which he had nothing to do with, but being incensed at the grace that God was willing to give to Ninevah.

Breaking brass and cutting iron…

The Psalmist references in Psalms 107: 15-16 NASB the following:

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his loving kindness, And his wonders for the sons of men. For he has shattered the gates of brass, And cut the bars of iron asunder.  Fools because of their rebellious ways and because of their iniquities were afflicted.”

I realised that almost a year had passed, and I was nursing a smoldering flame against ‘those people at that church‘.  Yet God’s grace had framed so many gifts of compassion, support and love in many unanticipated and unexpected ways.  Prayer support, comfort, encouragement and financial assistance were gifted to our family by so many and included individuals from that church.   It was absolutely time to allow his grace to shatter the gates of brass and to cut the bars of iron asunder that I had allowed to imprison my heart.  Inexplicably, the story of Jonah resonated in a different way.

You see, offenses in life are guaranteed.  Choosing to be offended is not. It’s not easy to forgive.  But it is better than living behind the brass gates of unforgiveness and the iron bars of bitterness.

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Choose to Bloom – No Matter What!

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The truth is that I would prefer to choose where I was planted rather than where I bloomed.  But life’s not wrapped up with a shiny bow like that!  In fact, many aspects of life are not chosen.  We don’t get to select our parents, our skin color or place of birth.  Things which turn out to be pretty significant in life.

However, we do get to choose our responses.  Free will is one of the greatest blessings or curses depending on how you look at it.  As 2017 has already started emerging on the planet, we stand at a new threshold.  2016 has revealed some of the ugliest underpinnings of the human experience both domestically and abroad.  A New Year presents new opportunities to make new choices.  We can’t always choose where we’re planted, but we can make a decision to bloom anyway.

A prayer for 2017

When life requires bold strokes,

May we meet the threshold with

Courage and Bravery.

When tensions rise and tempers flare,

May the power of Grace + Peace

Put out the flames.

May we rise to unite

When division threatens to undo us

And may we re-find our voice

And blend the hot tremors of our harshest tenors

To speak with each other again.

Lola Audu

Trapdoor Grace: Overcoming A Spiritual Siege

One of the most heart breaking news stories this year has been the on-going siege of the city of Aleppo in Syria.  Watching the daily distress of people trapped within the ruins of war without access to basic and vital necessities is a reminder of how despicable war is.

64481341_sTrapdoor grace is the kind of grace that happens when all avenues of relief are blocked.  The support systems which we have carefully cultivated spring leaks, the bank account is drained, the Doctor’s and experts don’t have solutions, the job has left the country.  When we are under siege literally or spiritually, it is important to know that God has avenues of rescue which open when windows and doors of escape are unavailable.

The weapon of a siege mounted against a community or city is an ancient one.  A siege can be mounted in a variety of ways, but always has one common characteristic – the enemy surrounds you. When a place is under a siege, every means of escape appears to be blocked in some fashion.  A siege not only blocks the path of escape, but also prevents anything from entering.  So, essentially, the community slowly starves to death without food, water, medical supplies and sometimes even means of communication with the external world.

A siege is effective because it eventually causes such despair, that in their desperation, people will even cannibalize themselves. We read about a situation like this in 2 Kings 7.  The siege against the King of Israel was ironically mounted by the King of Syria (some translations refer to him as the King of Aram).

As the two sides eyed each other, 2 Kings 6:24-33 tells the story of the King of Israel walking on top of the city wall and a woman calling out to him to tell him the dreadful tale of how she and another woman had agreed to eat their infant sons.  Her heart wrenching complaint is that the other woman reneged on her word and hid her son.  The King was overcome with horror. He vows to hunt down the Prophet Elisha who somehow becomes the scapegoat for the King’s frustration.

The meeting between the two nemesis is rife with mutual dislike and name calling.  But, the Prophet Elisha prophecies to the King that the impossible is about to take place.

Within 24 hours, there will be a turn-around that is so extraordinary that basic foodstuffs will sell at bargain prices!

The prediction is so bizarre that an officer who supports the King physically scoffs and in effect says, ‘that’s madness!’

And it did appear that there was no way out of this certain destruction.  But, that night God does something incredible.  Because mad situations need to be handled with equivalent or greater levels of mad power.

The Bible indicates that the well equipped Syrian army heard a sound and became convinced that the bankrupt Kingdom of Israel had somehow managed to hire an army and the tables were turned.  In their fear, the entire Syrian army fled at night to escape what they were convinced was certain annihilation.  The discovery of the situation was discovered by a most improbable lot – some Lepers who were considered untouchable and thereby consigned to the outskirts of the city.

The Lepers had decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian King and approached the camp, only to find the entire encampment vacated of people!  But thoroughly stocked with provisions, clothes and unimaginable wealth in silver and gold.  Wow!  Of course the good news is shared and the entire city rushed the city gates, trampling on the officer who scoffed at the idea that this kind of deliverance was even possible.

Trapdoor Blessings:

A trapdoor blessing reveals the God who makes impossible situations possible.  It also reveals a mercy which is super abundant and awe inspiring.  And often utilizes the most improbable persons or situations.  It’s never an avenue that you would previously seriously consider.  A trapdoor blessing has the ability to turn what appears to be a curse into an uncommon blessing.

Here are some elements of encouragement hidden within trapdoor blessings:

  1. God can handle our sorrow, despair and anger.  Be real.  Desperate situations call for a desperate response.  Pray and don’t stop. Seek counsel.  The Bible says that when waging war, we should have many counselors
  2. Be open to unexpected solutions.  Hidden within those who have been written off and marginalized may be some of the best talent available and hitherto unused due to our prejudices and preconceived ideas.
  3. Know this – God may not come within our time frame, but He is never late.  Examples of deliverance at the mid-night hour abound in the Bible.  Think – Daniel in the lions den, Moses saved from the water and certain death by an Egyptian princess, Paul and Silas escaping from prison while singing praises at mid-night, Peter being rescued from prison by an angel…
  4. Trapdoor blessings are generous!  And perhaps we appreciate them more because the contrast is starkly evident when you’ve experienced deep bondage.  This type of blessing can be so overwhelming that in receiving it, you must find a way to share it and give it away.  Similar to how the Lepers had to let the city know that deliverance was just a few steps outside the gates.

As we leave 2016 and approach 2017, there is a palatable sense of apprehension for many in our world.  It has been a strange year in many ways.  One filled with loss, unpredictability and dis-ease in various ways.  But it is in this type of darkness that light shines most brilliantly.  And it is here that Trapdoor grace reveals itself most readily.

 

 

 

Soul Care and Sources ~

Mathew 13: 6b- “They withered because they had no root.”

One of the most daunting aspects of the Christian journey is the ability to discern correctly between the soul and the spirit.  Perhaps, more succinctly stated, the work of the human soul versus the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There is a type of good work that seems pious and godly.  To all outward appearance, the exterior trappings speak of exceptional outcomes and right intentions.  Our human tendency is to assume that all things which appear to give glory to God and call on his name also originate from him.

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However, the soul is highly versed in the ability to mimic and imitate.  It is afterall where personality is formed and groomed.  The soul is also the place in which the will exerts preeminence.  Thus, acts of the soul, even religious activities that are intended to ‘impress’ God may have nothing whatsoever to do with what God initiates, wants or directs.  These works will have no lasting impact or spiritual results and as a consequence must eventually wither.

What originates from the realm of the soul cannot by its nature (which is soulish) ever produce spiritual fruit. The origins (the seeds) are so different, it is like asking a banana seed to make itself into an orange.  They are both plants best grown in the tropics, but that is where the similarity ends.

When the assaults of life threaten, only what is born of the spirit has the power to prevail. While the works of the soul and spirit can appear to come from the same source (which is especially difficult to discern in religious work), the work of the spirit is refined by fire while the work of the soul disintegrates when severely tested.

So, we must learn to avert our gaze from what a thing seems to be and instead ask for the gift of discernment.  It is not what something looks like which is important.  Rather, the question to be asked is what does a thing originate from?  What is the source of this desire, action, reaction, intention?  Does it originate from the soul or from the spirit?

 

On Wheat and Weeds…

44371121_sThere’s a somewhat convoluted tale related in the Scriptures about a farmer who plants good seed in a large field.  However, as the seedlings begin to mature and ripen for harvest, it becomes apparent that the field has been contaminated.  Weeds (tares) are everywhere! With dismay, the workers who have labored diligently face the prospect of ruining the harvest.  The weeds are competing with the plants for nutrients, but if they are removed, the harvest will be ruined because the crops are not yet fully matured. (Matthew 13:24-30 KJV)

This crisis becomes an issue for the Master whose advise is sought regarding what to do.  As the Householder (as he is referenced in some versions) surveys the damage, he gives an interesting assessment.  First of all, he zeros in on the one responsible for the corruption.  ‘An enemy has done this’.  This damage is not a result of a lack of diligence or laziness on the part of the workers.  Rather, it is deliberate, mean-spirited and intended to cause harm.

This story came to mind recently as I contemplated the difficulty of setting things right, especially when these issues have become habits or patterns of thought and behavior that have been in place for a long time.  Not every issue that we face can be solved instantly.  Sometimes, the chaos is so deeply embedded within the psyche that healing requires more than simply applying standard or seemingly straightforward solutions.

There are issues in life which involve different parties, some which may be unwilling or unable to make wise choices.  Going in with the sledge hammer of human judgement can do more harm than good because discrimination is required when sorting out the solution.  Evil is not always obvious.  Nor is the task of determining who is the perpetrator versus the victim always clearly defined.

The fact is that we have all sinned.  We are all to some degree a mixed bag of tares and wheat.  When Jesus confronts a woman who has been caught in adultery and brought to him to pronounce judgement, he turns the table and asks the expectant crowd to cast the stones, but with the caveat that the first stone must be thrown by one who has never sinned.  Beginning with the oldest, the crowd begins to disperse. (John 8: 1-11)

Which brings me back to the wheat and tares.  The work of the Spirit of God here on earth is to gather the tares in our lives.  It is through grace, that we are even brought to an awareness of how deeply the soil of our souls has been contaminated.  As God matures us into his likeness, he uses various agents to identify and bundle together that which is not fit for healthy consumption.

I used to think that this parable only related to the end of time, but I see that the work of the Kingdom of God is ongoing, starting here and earth and on to eternity.  God loves us too much to simply let us be.  Just as spring time and harvest will continue, in the same way this process is ongoing in our lives and as we cooperate in listening and yielding to God’s inspired instruction will enable a true harvest of righteousness in our lives.  So within the despair of a life which seems to be so imperfect, there is really good news.  God is able, God is willing to perfect that which concerns me and you if we will let him.

Minced meat matters…

They say that one should avoid watching the making of a sausage.  Because the likelihood of eating one after watching the process may be affected.  First of all, sausage meat is rarely culled from the best cuts and is usually comprised of a variety of cuts, and/or different types of meats.

The end process has a way of completely obscuring the origins of the meat and in a sense transforms it into something other than what any single component would have revealed it capable of becoming. It’s the grinding process and then the  mixed seasoning which makes sausage meat what it is.

Life sometimes feel a little akin to sausage making.  There are days which are so grueling, that feeling like one has been processed through a meat grinder might be a kind descriptive.  There are many examples in the Bible which depict challenging periods in poignant ways.  A story which frankly I have always found difficult to read is the book of Job which chronicles the misfortunes of a man that are so painful that his wife urges him to curse God and die.

Job’s journey, a mixture of good & bad, light and awful darkeness are detailed through the loss of property, family, health, influence, community, stature amidst serious questions about the nature of God.  Thrown into the mix are friends who are well meaning but lack true understanding, thus inadvertently inflaming the rawness of an open wound.

It’s difficult to really understand or imagine what must have been going on in Job’s mind.  But, even problems on a much lower scale can drain the reservoirs of strength and vitality.  Sausage making in real life or spiritually is not pretty or easy.  I don’t know how the Creator and Sustainer of Life, our Father God is able to make something out of life’s messy bits & pieces.  And, during the dark night of the soul it’s not certain that anything of value can be created.  There is usually not a neat and orderly timeline, but somehow He who IS…does.

Ephesians 3:20-21  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.