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retreat with Jonah

I just came back from our first church retreat. Splendid stuff! Squish 25 people into a 4 bedroom cottage, get them to make meals and wash dishes together, take them boating, drag them on a 3 kilometre hike up a hill, force them to participate in a talent show, circle them around a bonfire and stuff them with marshmallows, and talk to them about Jonah while overlooking a body of water. We are better people for it, I know we are.

The lessons from Jonah were profounder than even the deepest part of the lake. The first morning, someone gave us a candid snapshot of their life, bad decisions and all, and we heard first-hand about the mercy and the cost of second chances. Let me paraphrase one incredible statement that this person made. Their initial experience of walking with God was like waking up every morning with a certain euphoria; they were full of love and joy at this amazing presence and power in their life. After a detour of several years that delved into darkness, they turned back to God and noted that this second turning to God was like waking up in a jungle with a machete in their hands. There was a lot of hard work ahead, but every hard-won step has been worth it.

Dean spoke about God's justice and how different it looks from our idea of justice. We sometimes venture into jealousy instead, wanting blessing and pleasure and prosperity instead of righteousness, and wanting it to come easily. Justice is primarily an action, not an ideal or something we simply say we believe in.

The last morning, I spoke about why we run from God. I think that sometimes we don't hear his call as an invitation, but a demand, and we don't like being told what to do. Many times we think his way will be unpleasant. At our very core, we are pretty much stubborn and independent (at least I am). Like Jonah, we often times don't like where this whole scenario is headed and don't want to participate. But for me, the biggest reason I don't run towards God every time he invites me to something is because I don't see Jesus at the end of the road. I see all kinds of dull and unattractive details, annoying people, potential struggles, and years of hard effort, and I let these cloud my vision, I let these become the focus and I balk at the idea of following his lead.

Jesus said he knocks at the door, wanting to come in and eat with us. That is where this knocking is always headed...to sit with Jesus and enjoy him and see him provide everything we need. If I lose sight of Jesus at the end of the road, I stop, I wander off, I turn around and head off in my own direction. I run away. We argue about paths and rest stops and shoes and maps and obstacles and gates and all manner of details along the way, but unless we keep our eyes on Jesus at the end of the road, we will always be prone to get off course. And that's when all kinds of storms and gigantic fish start to come our way...to get us back on that course, of course.

Another thing I noticed about the story of Jonah this time, for the first time, was that it all began with this: God's word came to Jonah. And this is where things always start. Nothing happens until this initiating call, invitation, word, or message from God enters the picture.

This is the view from the dock at Lake Oaureau, site of the Vineyard Montreal church retreat.

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