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.

image credit 123rf

 

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

Strong Food – Super Nutrition

“Because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a Father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12:6

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Not all foods are equal.  In fact, today many of the processed foods we eat are not really food at all.  Some are solely the creation of scientists in chemical laboratories mixing together flavor profiles and artificial ingredients to create concoctions that incite the senses through the wizardry of mimicking real food.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of mimicry in the practice of the Christian faith today. I was stunned to hear a statistic that indicates that the average Evangelical Christian who indicates they attend church regularly, visits a house of worship about once a month.  If we were having ‘church’ in our homes, that might not be so problematic.  But, many do not read the Bible on a regular basis and prayer is a real struggle.

I don’t think this is coincidental.  God’s word is spiritual sustenance.  Prayer is like the fuel which charges our souls through connection with God.  Going without both for sustained periods of time is akin to spiritual starvation.  When the assault against vital health has severely weakened the health into bare life support, only watered down nutrition will even be tolerated. So while milk is a complete food and OK for babies who need to be carefully weaned to solids, it was never intended to be the sole or main support of adult nutrition.

A lack of interest in spiritual things – reading the Bible, prayer- often operates in tandem with lots of time for trivial pursuits and mindsets that are at cross purposes with what God desires to grow us into with Strong Nutrition.

Discipline for me is God’s way of bringing me back to my right mind.  We will all go through periods of trials and testing.  That’s just part of life.  However, a test is meant to be passed and the transforming power of God is able to transform the victim into the victor.

This summer has been rough with the passing of my beloved mother and the emotional trauma for our family.  It has been a strong primer from our Heavenly Father to learn about areas which needed attention and reassessment. However, I can also see that God has been disciplining me and my family through this process and I am a different person as a result.  For this I remain humbled and grateful.

Strong food, like strong discipline is not given to the immature.  If God chooses to discipline, it is a sign of His deep love.  He alone knows who you are and who you can become.  Just as a muscle requires exercise and training to strengthen to it’s fullest capacity, so too do Children of God require tuning and pruning to show up and shine right in an increasingly dark world.

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.

The Cure for Donkey Kong Foolishness…

29671794_sI am thankful for the growing realisation that much of what causes angst and grief in our lives is not personal.  It may feel personal because we experience it within our personal space. Yet if we are able to step back out of the heat within the moment, we may find that the perceived assault, attack or insult may indeed have little to do with us. Or we may discover that we have set out on a very foolish or unwise path which guarantees chaotic grief to anyone who insists on continuing in that particular direction.

Becoming thankful as a verb means choosing to actively engage tense and difficult moments as an opportunity to gain wisdom.  I’ve found that some of life’s most teachable moments are draped within the unconventional garb of emotionally charged exchanges.  When examined in clearer context, these situation often have a larger context which may not be initially visible.  And then… Sometimes life just is simply what it is.

When the fault is mine, becoming thankful for the course correction makes regaining equilibrium easier and minimizes the loss of vested emotional, spiritual and mental energy.  On this note, I am reminded of the experience of one hapless prophet and his improbable tutor – one very stubborn talking donkey as the story  is told in the book of Numbers 22:1-39.

Balam’s reckless journey to curse the Israelites as commissioned by Balak is interrupted by an angel threatening to end his life. Unfortunately, Balam is blind to the danger right in front of him.  Fortunately his donkey is not!  After beating the hapless beast repeatedly, the donkey finds a voice and has a conversation with Balam about his angry response.

It is only then that Balam’s yes are opened to his foolishness. He also sees the angel with a sword who is about to chop him into minced meat to punish him for messing with the wrong people!  The stunned prophet ends up having a conversation with both a donkey and an angel about the dubious course he seems hell-bent on taking. Suddenly the resistance of that donkey became something to be very grateful for!

Sometimes, it takes the bizarre elements of life to awaken us to the fact that we have much to become thankful for.  Becoming thankful as a way of responding to obstacles may actually awaken the power of grace and God’s protection in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulty.

On the Strength of Vulnerability

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It’s an odd thing isn’t it -the idea of becoming strong by being willing to be weak?  Laying down the defenses and weapons which we wield with a temerity that can border on madness in order that the strength of God may be made manifest within our weakness. The reality that God’s strength perfects itself within weakness remains a mystery which defies rational explanation. One discovers that within the humility of vulnerability lies a core strength that is supple, bendable, flexible and able to withstand enormous strain.