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Archive for January, 2015

Run Away or Follow

The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time:  ‘Get up and go to Ninevah, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.”  And Jonah got up and went to Ninevah, according to the Lord’s word . . . he cried out ‘Just forty days more and Ninevah willb e overthrown!”  (Jonah 3:1-3a, 4b CEB)

‘Come, follow me,’ [Jesus] said, ‘and I will show you how to fish for people.’  Right away they left their nets and followed him.”  Mark 1 17-18 (CEB)

From the two scripture passages above, it would seem that Jonah and the disciples all went willingly to the call of God in their lives.  However, reading all of the book of Jonah reveals quite a different story.  Many people know the story of Jonah running away from God’s call to go to Ninevah.  He was the defiant and reluctant prophet who started his flight on a ship, was thrown overboard, swallowed by a big fish, spewed up on the land, and finally went to Ninevah to give his very short message of warning.

The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, so who could really blame Jonah.  He was expected to go warn them of impending doom from God who wasn’t even supposed to care about them!  The message Jonah was supposed to give them wasn’t one he wanted to deliver, and he certainly didn’t want to set foot in a place where such nasty and bitter enemies lived.  After all, he could be thrown in prison or killed for even entering the city.

Yet, after all he experienced, he realized that God wasn’t going to give up on him, so his attitude seemed to say that he would go and get it over with just to get God off his back.  Then, when the Ninevites repented and God decided to spare them, Jonah was angry.  He sat under a tree and pouted.  God said that it wasn’t Jonah’s decision about who God saved but God’s alone.

There are several lessons we can learn from this.  Most of us resist the call of God in our lives and don’t want to do what God asks us to do.  It doesn’t matter whether our call is to preach, teach, construct houses, clean buildings, serve food, provide clerical assistance, run a big corporation, raise children, or thousands of callings we can have.  God wants us to do it to God’s glory.  Jonah didn’t.  Jonah was all about himself.

We can be like that, too.  I first felt my call to pastoral ministry in my teen years.  At that time there were very few women clergy, so I figured it was not a legitimate call.  Even though I looked into some very wonderful alternatives, I chose to teach music and enjoyed it very much.  It helped me build my self-esteem and provided me with leadership skills.  But over the years, that sense of God calling me elsewhere kept coming back, and finally, twenty years later, I had many doors open to me that helped me to answer it including a female pastor at our church.

My decision has been blessed beyond anything I could ever imagine, in spite of heartaches, burn-out, struggles within the churches, and challenges all along the way.  I know I did the right thing in answering God’s call because I knew God was with me all the way along with the support of family and friends, and more recently my husband (whom I married nine years ago).

For the disciples, there appeared to be no question in answering Jesus call to follow him.  They left their nets immediately (an often used word in the gospel of Mark) and followed this man who appeared on the shore.  We don’t really know if they were familiar with him or knew him, but there was obviously something that drew them to him, trusted in him, and led them to follow him.

I suspect most of us wouldn’t have just walked away from everything to follow Jesus – obviously, I took a long time to answer my call!  However, the issue really is that we make the commitment to follow him faithfully in ALL we do.  The call is to serve God in whatever our vocation, our occupation might be.  Our life’s work can be in service to God no matter where we are.  It is a call to live invitationally so that others can see Christ in us and want to know him, too.

Where is God calling you to follow?  How will you respond?

Being Found

[Jesus] found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ . . . Philip said to [Nathanael], ‘Come and see.’ . . . [Nathanael] said, “Rabbi, you are then Song of God!  You are the King of Israel!’”  John 1:43, 45, 49

There is a lot of “finding” going on in the passage from John 1:43-51.  Jesus found Philip and invited him to follow him.  Philip found Nathanael who was apparently a friend of his and invited him to go meet Jesus.  Nathanael found Jesus, and his skepticism and doubt about Jesus’ identity was removed.

It’s interesting that Jesus initiated through invitation, and Philip followed his example.  In spite of Nathanael’s rather nasty remark in verse 46, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” he went to see Jesus.  Maybe he wanted to prove Philip wrong or satisfy his own curiosity about someone from Nazareth.  Obviously he considered Nazareth to be a worthless place and believed that it was certainly not the place from which the Messiah would come.

But meeting Jesus changed his mind.  It may have been Jesus’ interactions with him or maybe it was something about him in general.  It’s clear that Jesus attracted a lot of people even before he became known as a great healer and teacher.  Even John the Baptist’s disciples abandoned John and followed Jesus.

Jesus was someone worth following after all.  We often think that we have the power to choose to follow Jesus, and of course we do need to make that choice when it comes right down to it.  But even before we reach the point of choosing, Jesus has invited us to follow.  Jesus calls us and seeks us out, so we have been found far before we decide to follow.

Like Nathanael, there are many people who are skeptical about this Jesus.  People question his presence, his life, his resurrection, and all that he brought and continues to bring to this world.  Perhaps our calling as followers isn’t so much to find people (because Jesus has already done that) as it is to invite people and allow them to “come and see.”  It’s really not up to us to make sure they accept Jesus into their lives.  Our job is to invite through our words and actions.

Someone once said that we are the only gospel most people read.  How do we invite others to “come and see” Jesus through the way we live our lives?

God Finds Happiness in Us?

The moment [Jesus] came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him.  Along with the Spirit, a voice:  ‘You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.'”  Mark 1:10-11 (The Message)

The baptism of Jesus is an interesting event.  We talk about baptism as receiving forgiveness of sins, dying to the old life, washing away our sins, and being initiated into the family of God.  As Emmanuel (God-With-Us), Jesus wouldn’t seem to be in need of the baptism of repentance that John offered or having to receive forgiveness for his sins.  Why be baptized?

When we look at what the voice from heaven said, we have, perhaps, a little better sense of Jesus’ intentions.  God named and claimed Jesus in this passage.  I really like the way Eugene Peterson writes those words:  “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  God officially marked Jesus as God’s own Son, not only that Jesus was God’s pride and joy!

In some ways, maybe the baptism of Jesus had a number of reasons for happening.  Not only did God claim Jesus, but this signified a new start for him.  It was a type of inauguration of Jesus’ ministry.  Immediately following the baptism the Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness where he was tempted – strengthening him for his ministry and mission.

God-in-the-Flesh (Jesus) as a human experienced our lives, our challenges, our joys, our pain, our celebrations.  By entering the waters of baptism, Jesus not only initiated the sacrament of baptism, but he also identified with us, entering fully into our lives.  I’m always greatly comforted to know that, because of Jesus, God understands my life with all the complexities in it.

If you read beyond to the wilderness, you might notice that the Spirit didn’t just call Jesus into the wilderness, but “drove” him there.  Sometimes our lives are like that.  The Spirit is always calling us toward God and toward living in God’s ways, and sometimes the Spirit drives us to act and speak and interact with others, even if it’s something that hadn’t even crossed our minds.

Being baptized in Jesus’ name means that God names and claims us as God’s own children.  We are baptized into the Spirit with the symbolic washing away of our sins, and it doesn’t stop there.  That is only the beginning of what God gives to us as members of the family of God.  We have the guidance and example of Jesus to lead us through life no matter how many wildernesses we travel through.  The promise of God is that the Spirit is with us, always and God sends companions to be with us on the journey as we live out our baptism in this world.  Thanks be to God!

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