It was great to have Andy and Kath Paterson with us for our first ever Village Church Weekend Away. On Saturday and Sunday morning, Andy opened the book of Esther with the adults and youth and Kath opened it with the children. We're really grateful for the glimpse of God's greatness that we got through their teaching. We did manage to record Andy's three messages - they're now available through the website or on our SoundCloud page - and so do listen or re-listen to them.
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On Sunday morning we were looking at Galatians 4:1-20. Jonny read an excerpt from Adopted for Life by Russell Moore about how adopting two children helped him understand the phrase, 'Abba, Father.' Here's the excerpt he read plus an extra paragraph he didn't read:
'The creepiest sound I’ve ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.
I stopped and pulled on Maria’s elbow. “Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies.” Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children didn’t cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls... No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.
The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention… But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand… But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we’d entered: in silence.
On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.
And that’s when we heard the scream.
Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I’ll never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell...
Little Maxim’s scream changed everything - more, I think, than did the judge’s verdict… It was the moment, in his recognising that he would be heard, that he went from being an orphan to being a son.
Up to that time, I had read the 'Abba' cry passages in Romans and Galatians the same way I had heard them preached: as a gurgle of familiarity, the spiritual equivalent of an infant cooing “Papa” or “Daddy.” Relational intimacy is surely present in the texts - hence Paul’s choice of such a personal word as 'Abba' — but this definitely isn’t sentimental. After all, Scripture tells us that Jesus’ Spirit lets our hearts cry, 'Abba, Father!' (Galatians 6:4). Jesus cries, 'Abba, Father' as he screams 'with loud cries and tears' for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane (Hebrews 5:7; Mark 14:36). Similarly, the doctrine of adoption shows us that we 'groan' with the creation itself 'as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). It is the scream of the crucified.'
On Sunday morning, if you weren't there, you missed an all-age service with a message from Jonah (AKA me dressed in a dressing gown with strips of Sainsbury's bag pinned to it with a tea-towel on my head and flip-flops on my feet). If you want to read the script I've posted it below. Unfortunately, it probably won't have the same effect - I've had more comments about this message than most (including three comments about how white my legs are!)...
[Enter] What are you lot looking at? I know I’m not looking at my best but if you’d spent three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish you wouldn’t be looking at your best either! Yes, I know I’m covered in orange seaweed! And I know I’m not smelling my best but if you’d spent three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish you wouldn’t be smelling your best either! [sniff] I stink! But it’s not my fault, OK? Well, actually, it is my fault.
Anyway, do you know who I am? I’m Jonah. Yes, clever clogs at the back, I’m Jonah, son of Amittai. Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet of the LORD.
Hang on a second… you don’t know what a prophet of the LORD is, do you?
Well, a prophet is a bit like a postman. A postman gets messages from people and delivers them to other people. If you post a letter - a postman will deliver it for you. And a prophet is a bit like that except I don’t get messages from people, I get messages from God. The God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, he gives me messages and I deliver them to other people.
And a few days ago the word of the LORD came to me. The word of the LORD has come to me before. I’ve delivered messages from God before. But this message was different…
Do you want to know what the LORD said to me? He said to me, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…’ ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh?!’ I mean - would you go go the great city of Nineveh?! I don’t think so…
Hang on a second… you don’t know about Nineveh, do you? Nineveh is the capital city of a country called Assyria. It’s a huge city. Thousands and thousands of people live there. It’s a huge city… but it’s also a horrible city. Thousands and thousands of bad people live there. The Ninevites are liars and cheats and thieves. The worst people in the world live in Nineveh.
And so when the LORD said to me, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh’ - I knew what he wanted. Do you know what he wanted? Maybe you don’t know the LORD like I do. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Yeah, he knows that Nineveh is a horrible city. He knows that tens of thousands of bad people live there. He knows that they’re liars and cheats and thieves. But he still loves them.
The LORD loves the worst people in the world. They deserve to be punished, but they’re precious to him. The LORD does’t want to punish them. He wants to show them mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy! His mercy makes me mad! The LORD should punish the Ninevites! And if you knew the Ninevites you’d think that too. But I know that if they say sorry to the LORD, and if they turn to him, he’ll forgive them. That’s just what he’s like. He won’t give them what they deserve. He’ll show them mercy. His mercy makes me mad!
And so here’s the thing - when the LORD said to me, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh’ - do you know what I did? You might think this is funny but I ran away. The LORD said to me, ‘Go that way, to Nineveh.’ But I said to myself, ‘I’m not going that way, I’m going this way!' And so I went this way. I ran. I found a ship. I paid the fare. I went aboard. And then I went below deck and fell into a deep sleep.
I haven’t slept for three nights since then.I could really do with some sleep [sleep and snore and then sniff] I could really do with some soap! Anyway, I don’t know how long I was asleep for but whatever it was, it wasn’t long enough! The captain of the ship woke me up, shouting and screaming: ‘There’a storm, the ships going to break
up! Wake up, wake up, Jonah, and call on your god!’
I was still half asleep and the sailors were asking me loads of questions and then when I said to them that I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, they were terrified. To be honest - it was terrifying! The sea was getting rougher and rougher. Huge winds. Huge waves. And I knew it was my fault. I was running away from the LORD, remember, and so the LORD sent the wind and the waves. And so I said to the sailors, ‘Throw me into the sea and it will become calm.’ And you’ll never believe it! The scumbag sailors - they threw me into the sea!
I don’t know about you - but I can’t swim. And even if you can swim, have you ever tried swimming in a dressing gown? You’d probably sink too! There I was - sinking in the sea - and I actually thought I was going to die. And I did want to die. But I didn’t want to die either. I didn’t know what I wanted and so I called to the LORD for help. And you’ll never believe it but the LORD answered me. I was sinking in the sea - deeper and deeper - and I couldn't hold my breath for much longer, but he answered me. You’ll never believe it but the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow me. And when I say huge I mean huge. It was the hugest fish you’ve ever seen! And it swallowed me. There I was - in the belly of this huge fish! The stink was so strong I could hardly breathe. But I could breathe. It was a miracle!
And I spent three days and three nights in the belly of that huge fish. And then this morning God commanded it to vomit me onto dry land, and it did. And so here I am - on dry land.
Actually, God didn’t just speak to the fish this morning. He also spoke to me - just a few minutes ago: …the word of the LORD came to me a second time…
I didn’t know whether the LORD would ever speak to me again. Or if he did, I wanted him to say to me: ‘Go home, Jonah…’ I even said to the him - ‘LORD, I’m happy to go back in the fish!’ But do you know what the LORD said to me? He said the same thing he said a few days ago: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…’
You see - the LORD just won’t give up! I hate the people of Nineveh but he loves them. And he wants them to hear his message - and so they will. The LORD is unstoppable! He wants them to hear that what they’ve done is wrong. But he wants them to hear that so that they can say sorry - so that they can turn to him - so that he can forgive them. The LORD just won’t give up.
Now - if the word of the LORD came to you - what would you do? What would you do if you were in my flip-flops? Would you go or wouldn’t you go to Nineveh? I suppose I should go. The LORD won’t stop until I do.
But maybe you are in my flip-flops? I wonder - where is God calling you to go? Because that’s his style - he’s a sending God. That’s in his nature. That’s even in his name! Even the first two letters of his name spell the word go. G - O - D. God. G - O. Go!
Or - what’s the name of the city you lot live in? Bristol? Never heard of it! Is Bristol a big city? It looks like thousands and thousands of people live here. And what are the people like - I bet they’re horrible! I bet they’re liars and cheats and thieves. Well, even if they’re the worst people in the world, the LORD loves them. He wants them to hear his message. He wants them to hear that what they’ve done is wrong. But he wants them to hear so that they can say sorry - so that they can turn to him - so that he can forgive them.
Or if the LORD has forgiven you - you’ll know what he’s like: Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. The LORD will forgive anyone who says sorry to him. Anyone in your class. Any of your colleagues. Anyone in your community. Or anyone in any country. The LORD called me to go to another country - to the last country I’d ever imagine he’ d call me to go to. Maybe the LORD is calling you to go to another country?
For God so loves the world. God so loves the world that if he could become a human he’d probably come here himself. That’s a crazy thought, but the LORD is a crazy God! And maybe he’s calling you to do something crazy? And delivering God’s message isn’t just for people who are super spiritual. I mean - look at me - I’m covered in seaweed! But God is still sending me. And if God is sending me, he’s sending you too.
…the word of the LORD came to me a second time:
‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…’
I suppose there is something encouraging about that. The LORD hasn’t given up on me. I ran away from him - I disobeyed him - but he hasn’t given up on me.
Maybe you’ve been running away from the LORD? Maybe you’ve been running away from him for a long time? But, you know, you can’t run away from the LORD. I’ve tried it - it really doesn’t work. Wherever you go, he’ll be there. Or maybe you’ve disobeyed him? Maybe you’ve disobeyed him this week? Well, the LORD hasn’t given up on you. No matter what, in spite of everything, he loves you with a never stopping, never giving up, un-breaking, always and forever love. That’s something to think about next time you’re in the belly of a huge fish. Or when you’re having a hard time. Think about his never stopping, never giving up love.
Anyway, I suppose I should go to Nineveh.If someone ever does write a story about me - Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet of the LORD - it would be nice if they could write something positive. Like: Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Yeah, I like the sound of that. Nineveh, here I come…
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