Jonah and the realization of reluctant ministry

The book of Jonah is an interesting one. We find the story of a reluctant prophet who would rather see an entire nation of people destroyed than receive the mercy of the Lord. We see an individual with a divine mandate intentionally attempt to not carry out that mandate. The prophet Jonah boards a ship heading in another direction gets entangled in a storm that forces him to admit his flawed attempt to evade ministry, and eventually gets him the in belly of a large fish that forces him to rethink his relationship and purpose with God. Jonah is indeed one good read. I have found myself in Jonah’s shoes on a number of occasions. I had rather see some persons retained in their messy affairs of life than deal with the mandate of God to minister to them.

What is disturbing about Jonah isn’t that he was swallowed by a large fish or that he reluctantly repents and carries out his mission. What is disturbing to me is the way the book ends. It ends so abruptly. Jonah speaks as if he were the biggest disappointment to his call as a prophet of Jehovah. He had been sitting outside of the city of Nineveh angry at God and himself for feeling as if he had been manipulated by God into carrying out God’s mission. He had understood God’s mercy and benevolence towards mankind. He had experienced firsthand when he was on the boat headed to Tarshish and after he had been thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish. In spite of all of this, even though he was repentant and grateful, he was still reluctant.

For many, reluctance is a big burden of ministry. Those who have been in ministry long enough have encountered individuals they were reluctant to minister to. While there are plenty who rejoice in being called to prison ministry, pastoral care ministry, and especially the pastoral ministry, there are more who are very reluctant to serve “the least of these.” Service requires both the desire to go and the need to follow. What Jonah experienced was nothing short of simply being human. Reluctance is more present in ministry than many pastors and church members would care to admit. It can be challenging when confronting our own biases and prejudices about those we are commanded to serve and minister to.

What makes Jonah’s narrative interesting is the way he confronts God about regarding His immediate compassion upon seeing the Ninevites turn from their evil way. I would argue that there are plenty of clergy just like Jonah. We would rather see God’s judgment and condemnation on people we have deemed undeserving of His grace. Perhaps this is more succinctly seen in contemporary political and religious freedom movements. There are those standing by their right to religious freedom condemning others choosing to express the same. It is destructive and does not demonstrate the character of God to non-believers.

Another interesting thing about this narrative is that while Nineveh likely had early connections to the ancient Jews, that connection had long been lost by the time of Jonah’s mission there.  The question then becomes why did Jehovah even desire for them to hear from Him and repent? It was clear that the great city of Nineveh was enjoying prosperity without God and He apparently tolerated it for generations. This could have contributed to Jonah’s reluctance. Think about the number of times pastors have preached in communities infested with crime of all kinds and not one person responds to the invitation to abundant life (not even after funerals lol). Yet immediately after hearing the cry from the reluctant prophet about an imminent overthrow of their great city in 40 days, they all believed God from the youngest to the oldest.  Even the king made it a public law that everyone cries out mightily to God so that His anger would be turned away from them. If only people would heed that message now and produce similar reaction, what a marvelous change this country and world would see!

In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, the people still received. It begs the question of how much our reluctance matters when it comes to God’s mission. We may feel like pawns in God’s game of repentance, but ultimately what He desires for individuals gets accomplished. We may go into and come away from a divine ministry assignment throwing a big tantrum, but the reality is we are still being used to the glory of God the Father. Reluctance in ministry does not take away the need for ministry. There will be moments in service to the Father that we will utterly despise, but when the seed has been planted, watered, and grows, it will be one that will bring forth fruit for generations to come.

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Indiana as the crossroads of faith, tolerance, and community

freedom indiana

The recent religious freedom restoration bill passed by the Indiana State legislature has created the latest uproar in a growing news cycle reporting on the infringement of rights for the LGBTQ community. Indiana’s SB 101 was created to protect the religious freedom for business owners, churches, and other religious related communities and organizations against those who threaten said freedoms. The LGBTQ community believes that it and others like it passed in several states (mostly southern states such as Arizona, Mississippi, and Arkansas) believe the bill was created to enhance discrimination against their community and causes. The reality is that it all boils down to one word: tolerance.

If you were to ask the average American if they considered themselves intolerant, bigoted, racist, or homophobic, the answer would probably be an overwhelming No. It is true that most individuals, especially those who ascribe to a religious belief system, believe that they are good and kind-hearted Americans, however when pressed with certain social issues, they discover they may not be as tolerant as they believe. In their 2005 book “The Truth about Tolerance,” Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti point out how tolerance has gotten lost in the American culture war.  This war is even more distinct in American Christianity as seen in the battles between the liberal and conservative branches of Protestant Christianity. While both branches claim the same goal of evangelizing and making disciples (as presented in Matthew 28:18-20, the conflict resides in who is more right in discipling-a fundamentalist, evangelical, conservative Christian, or an affirming, liberal, progressive Christian. This schism is affecting mainline Protestant American Christianity as Episcopal, Methodists, and more recently Presbyterian denominations wrestle with progressive ideologies and concepts such as abortion and same sex unions.  Both of these branches of Christianity grapple with the understanding and application of truth in the context of American pluralism (Stetson and Conti, 2005, pg.61).

What makes the Indiana law and others like it disturbing is that it commits the fraud of seemingly speaking for oppressed (or seemingly oppressed) people, businesses, and organizations. The very title suggests that religious freedom has been taken away from them. That is far from the truth. The greatness of living in the United States of America is wealth of religious diversity and freedom one is allowed to experience. Even within evangelical Christianity, there is no consensus on worship rituals, liturgy, music, clergy vestments, or theological training. There are evangelical pastors, business owners, and even state lawmakers who do not agree with the bill. The connecting factor for those lawmakers who designed the bill and supported the bill was perhaps the sense of fear in regards to the religious diversity that is becoming more evident in the state and America. This religious pluralism threatens their perception of truth as relayed to them through their faith. In fact, their defense of their brand of faith is associated more with intolerance and narrow-mindedness than intellectual good faith and genuine concern for the well-being of those they propose to protect with the bill (Ibid, pg.63.)

While tolerance needs truth to be coherent, truth cannot be misrepresented and legislated as absolute. When state lawmakers begin to dispel myths about their perspectives of truth, they are more likely to govern from the perspective of humanity and not faux religious authority. It is under the guise of the latter that laws like Jim Crow was institutionalized and maintained for decades. It is under the guise of the latter that the Jewish leadership during the time of Christ sought to have him killed. It is under the strain of the latter that the Civil Rights leaders marched until they ascertained the liberation desired. It is from such laws that the American public wants to distance itself and cry for the boycott of an entire state.

In the end, the governors and legislators of states who pass religious freedom laws do more harm than help to their cause. Their zeal to “save America” or “restore America” falls far short of the command of their faith to make disciples. It fails to be fully aware of the rich religious and social diversity that the United States has enjoyed over the last two centuries. While Indiana Governor Pence and his staff are doing their best to defend the law and lawmakers, there will continue to be big fallout for that state. The call is not for renunciation of beliefs or values; the call is to the recognition of the diminutive voices of the same.

 

Another Year is Dawning

Another year is dawning, Dear Father let it be, in working or in waiting, another year with Thee: Another year of progress another year of praise another year of proving Thy presence all the days. Another year of service, of witness for thy love; another year of training, for holier work above. Another year is dawning, dear Father let it be, on earth, or else in heaven, another year with Thee. Frances R. Havergal

As 2014 comes to an end, there will be scores of parties, reflections, and of course resolutions. Many will focus on becoming their ideal self in 2015. For this writer, 2015 will be a major coming of age event. In 2015 I turn the big 40. It will officially begin my mid-life crisis era. I will have that eternal excuse for any bad impulsive decision I make after I turn 40. Yes, it may be just the year my true life of excitement begins and that of dullness ends.

Like many at the close of a year, I’ve reflected on the achievements I have had. I’ve help plant a church in Pakistan, met some phenomenal people, got elected to a position in my denomination’s connectional young adult ministry, and experienced a number of other accomplishments. I did experience some disappointments and circumstances that I wish could have been avoided or prevented but I have come out of them on the side of victory and gratefulness. 2014 was has been the year that I’ve had to learn that some relationships just have to come to an end. I’ve also learned the value of being disciplined in body and spirit even when I was resisting doing so.

One thing that I will not take into 2015 is an attitude of defeat. I will enter the next year with an ambitious attempt to gird my loins with the knowledge and strength of the ancestors and forge a path towards greater liberation. I will engage the fear, doubt, and anything else that may come my way in 2015. I’ve had plenty of time during 2014 to question my ministry and purpose and still have a bit of sanity left. That was the greatest challenge for me in 2014.

I have resolved that in 2015 I will be diligent and disciplined in the stewardship of my time, talents, and gifts. I will be diligent and disciplined in my self-care and care of others. I will preach the sermons that are empowering and liberating. I will write the articles, books, essays, and music that are in my heart to write. I will have positive expectations, expect good and receive it. I will be happy, safe, secure, prosperous, protected, and healthy. I will be proactive to not be in despair after disappointments, and take care to be a better guardian of my heart from which flows the issues of my life.

For this writer, another year year is dawning and it will be one like no other.

An Affirmation

Rise to the Light of the Sun
Flow with gentleness of the wind
Make each step meaningful for you and others
Be at peace at the days end with the knowledge that all that could be done has been done
All that will be done shall be done
You are light climaxing til twilight’s end
You are all you need to be right now

Namaste

An Affirmation

Rise to the Light of the Sun
Flow with gentleness of the wind
Make each step meaningful for you and others
Be at peace at the days end with the knowledge that all that could be done has been done
All that will be done shall be done
You are light climaxing til twilight’s end
You are all you need to be right now

Namaste