I was browsing the internet today and I came upon a blog that was centered around California’s Supreme Court ruling to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage. Needless to say, there were a number of posts that condemned homosexuals and the society that affirms them. There were, of course, no legal reasons given for why homosexuals shouldn’t marry. But there was an overflow of religious rhetoric from Sodom and Gommorah to the Pauline letters. After I read all that I could stomach, I wrote a response that you can read below:

I find it interesting how people cling to the Bible and accuse others that they are choosing to distort the Word of God, yet they don’t adhere to the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. If one is going to be a literalist, then one must take EVERY scripture literally. If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination and should be avoided like the plague because of scripture then one must also adhere entirely to these scriptures:

And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you (Lev. 11:10)

The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean (Lev. 11:26)

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD (Lev. 19:27)

Ye shall keep my statutes… thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee (Lev. 19:19)

And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. (Lev. 14:16)

These are a FEW of the laws in Leviticus alone that are no longer taken literally today. For those non-King James readers, basically it is an abomination to eat shellfish, unclean to eat pork and beef, a sin to shave and get tattoos and punishable by death to curse. There are hundreds of other laws in the Bible that I could pull out that society no longer views as relevant.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion concerning homosexuality. However, in order for one’s opinion to have any validity, there must be consistency. If you believe in the Law, follow it. It becomes disrespectful to God, not to mention the Jewish community, to use the law for the purpose of condemnation. Even Jesus said,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matt. 23:13)

God did not create humankind to see if we could follow a rulebook. God sent us to perpetuate the very existence of God: Love. While we are sitting in the comfort of our homes debating on whether my lifestyle is right or wrong, there are children dying. There are homeless people in our own neighborhoods. The ultimate commandment is to love the LORD our God with all are heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is not our place to say what is desirable in the sight of God. It is our place to love unconditionally.

If you’re a literalist, praise God for you. If not, praise God for you. The important thing is to remain consistent with your belief and to always remember why Christ came and suffered. Not for us to argue about who’s right and who’s wrong, but to love without condition.

God’s Peace…

Advertisements

What are we proud of?

October 11, 2007

During a rather turbulent time in American history, the late music legend James Brown released a song that greatly impacted the morale of the African-American community: “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was nearly impossible to ignore the resonance of the song “I’m Proud to be an American” through media airwaves. Throughout the country, at several times during the year, thousands of people in the LGBT community gather in celebration of Gay Pride. While spending time in prayerful reflection of the turmoil in Jena, LA, I heard a simple question: What are we really proud of?

We live in a society that lulls us into the comfort of sophisticated ignorance. As long as injustice isn’t blatant or directly affecting us we don’t notice it. We are so busy being proud of our comfortable lives that we blind ourselves from the struggles of our neighbors. This haughtiness just perpetuates the injustice. It allows the powers-that-be to slip its oppression under the radar. Luke’s gospel records Jesus saying, “For everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and everyone that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Lk. 18:14 KJV) If we want to be truly liberated and sincerely proud, then we must first learn humility.

I am proud of the community’s response to the injustice of our brethren in Louisiana. Continual actions of the same sentiment must continue all over this great nation. We must continue to put our lives in perspective to the rest of the world and fight for equality on every opportunity. Once this is achieved we can say we truly have something to be proud of.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

I didn’t grow up in the most religious environment. Any church involvement outside of Sunday morning was usually encouraged, or demanded, by grandparents. There were periods in my life in which church was Monday through Friday and other periods where church was seasonal. But, even in my inconsistent involvement with the church community, I was taught that God is real and all I have to do to find God is pray and read the Bible. That is where it all started.  

I’ve always been fascinated by the way things work. I was the kid that would get in trouble for dissecting the stereo to see what was inside. All of my adolescent career goals, from astronaut to archeologist to engineer, had to do with the mechanisms that made things operate the way they do. In my random studies of various sciences I developed a very systematic thought process. Because of this I found it very easy and fulfilling to teach and explain things to others. The problem was that I was not passionate about the things I taught. When I moved from Houston to Atlanta at age 18, I began applying my systematic way of thinking to how God works.               

This exploration was spurred by my knowledge that God is real coupled with the fact that the church rejected me for who I am. I was being taught one thing and was feeling another. The worst part was that I didn’t have the space or the freedom to discuss my confusion. This conflict eventually led to me leaving the church in which I was raised (the Missionary Baptist Church). It was during my exile that I found God to be appearing to me more frequently and clearly.         

Now, growing up I often heard that “God is gonna use me,” but I always wrote it off as church jargon. I didn’t know enough about church structure and tradition, I didn’t shout in church and I didn’t pray the way others prayed. How in the world did God plan to use me?               

As I continued to refuse to go to church, I noticed my casual conversations to be more spiritual. I began to vehemently argue that God didn’t want me, that God refused me because of my sexuality. All the while, internally God was loudly saying, “I love you.” Eventually my stubbornness subsided long enough for me to visit Absalom Jones Chapel in the AUC. I was initially apprehensive because I had never been to an Episcopal Church service before. I didn’t see the point of going to a church in which you didn’t have praise and worship or testimonies or revivals. I didn’t really know what to expect. However, that experience was enough to rejuvenate my zeal for church involvement. It wasn’t because the service was phenomenal. It was because, for the first time in my life, I was allowed, even encouraged, to interpret who God is for me. I was challenged to think critically, which sharpened my ability to systematically examine the mechanisms by which God operates.                

This new-found ability to reason proved to be liberating. In my liberation I was able to see the necessity for others to be liberated. Then it all made sense. My interest in how things work was to lead me to a point where I longed to find out how God works. My fundamental belief in the existence of God and the Bible was so that I could be opened to possibilities outside the realm of doctrine. Most importantly, my passion for teaching finally had a subject matter that was fulfilling.               

So, I had the practical part down. It seemed logical for me to pursue a future in ministry. However, I still wasn’t certain that I was called by God. I felt the presence of God more frequently than I had before, but I didn’t necessarily feel like God was calling me. God didn’t come to me in a commanding, yet calming, voice. All I knew was that God is there and God loves me. This limited ability to communicate with God moved me to study prayer. Amazingly enough, a fellow Episcopalian approached me about starting an order of monks that focused on bringing contemplative prayer into everyday life. The Order of Saint Anthony started with a few people meeting weekly to study and to discuss different ways to open an internal dialogue with God. This commitment proved to be extremely beneficial. I found myself able to not only feel God’s presence but also discern what God is saying.               

As I increased my studies and contemplative lifestyle, I realized that God has been calling me my whole life to teach the radically inclusive love of Christ. I refused oppressive doctrines because I felt God telling me otherwise. I love teaching because God called me to educate others about unconditional love. I think systematically because God gave me opportunities at a young age to think with more clarity.               

Since I have been aware of my calling, I have been working to get to a place in which I could respond. In writing about my calling, I have realized that all I have to do in response is talk to people. My day to day activity is my response to God. Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” In my expression of love to others, to myself and to my God I am responding to my call to teach the radically inclusive love of Christ. With God’s help the rest of my life will be a constant answer to that call. 

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

Coming Out of the Wilderness

September 5, 2007

Every now and then, we all can find ourselves in situations of isolation. We feel like we have nothing and no one. Even in the megalopolis of America we can feel like we are in the wilderness, where the well is dry and the harvest is scarce. This, beloved, is a part of life’s natural cycle.

However, when we are in this phase of life, we can find it difficult to see when we will ever get out of the wilderness. We can begin to lose hope that our new season will come. In some situations we can psyche ourselves into a state of contentment, believing that God will provide for us when God is ready. We think that this wilderness experience is some sort of punishment we must endure to receive God’s grace. Sometimes this could be true. But most often these wilderness experiences are designed for God to reveal to us the power that is already in us. In Ezekiel 37, the LORD brings Ezekiel into a valley of dry bones and commanded him to prophesy to the bones by saying, “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD… I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.”

We can get too comfortable with the idea of letting go and letting God. Sometimes, in fact most often, God wants us to handle situations on our own. God knows that we are created with the power that is necessary to pull ourselves out of the wilderness and breathe life into our dry bones of the world.

Think back on your childhood. Did your parent(s) tell you how to handle every situation? I know mine certainly didn’t. I was made to think critically and stretch my decision-making skills so that I could grow to be a responsible adult. Our Heavenly Father takes the same approach with us. Spiritual growth comes from critical examination of our experiences using the Holy Spirit within us.

So, when you find yourself in a wilderness experience, instead of feeling sorry for yourself prophesy and say “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall LIVE!”

Makeshift Descriptions

July 16, 2007

One who truly knows their religion is well versed in the structure, history and vernacular of that religion. One who truly knows God cannot find the words to describe their experience. We must always keep this in mind whenever we are reading a religious text, reading a book or article, or hearing a sermon. The best any of these teachers can do is to create a “makeshift description” of their experience. If we believe that the Divine is One that transcends full human comprehension, then it is impossible for anyone to fully describe or document the feeling they have when God is working in them.

Some see this concept as one that dismisses the need for Holy Scripture. There is this concept that the Bible is perfect and infallible (I discussed that in more detail in my review of The Sins of Scripture). That concept is what needs to be dismissed. When the Bible is read with the knowledge that the writers were making an effort to explain their Divine experience, something that can never be completely explained, then the Bible can be used as it was intended. The Bible shouldn’t direct or dictate your experience with God. It should be used to enhance that which is already in you.

Often in my childhood experience I would become frustrated when something I read in the Bible was different from what I felt inside. Once I decided that I don’t have to agree with everything written in the Bible, I was able to look beyond the words and see the spirit behind the words. That is how the Bible should be read. We must first experience God for ourselves and try to find how our experience can be seen through Scripture. Scripture is made “Holy” because it is divinely inspired by God, not written by God.

The perception is that Holy Scripture is to be revered because it is the “Word of God.” In reality, it should be revered because it was written by those who were filled with the same Holy Spirit that is in us all. Engaging with that Spirit is what we need to do in our studies. We shouldn’t study to make our spiritual experience fit in a box called the Bible. We should study to see what can come out of that box, with the knowledge that it is only full of makeshift descriptions.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

I Need You to Survive

July 14, 2007

To borrow a phrase from one of my St. Anthony brothers, when you close others out of your life you are closing God out of your life. This concept is becoming more apparent to me as I journey through life. I have learned so many small, but valuable, lessons through random conversations I have throughout the day. We live in a society that is afraid of human interaction. We don’t speak to each other, we don’t make eye contact, and we dare not allow someone to sit next to us on public transportation. An increasingly popular theory is that the fulfillment of the Body of Christ comes by a constant increase in human self-consciousness. We cannot increase human consciousness without human interaction.

In order for us to fully appreciate the fullness of humanity, we must learn to embrace diversity. All too often, we limit ourselves to the demographic that is most like our own. We are confined by race, gender, age, sexual orientation and religion, among other things. How can we say we are in touch with God if we aren’t continuously striving to learn more about that which God created? The face of God is not limited to what our minds can perceive. So we should work to see God in the faces of everyone, even those people that aren’t like us.

Does that mean we must make every person we meet our closest friend and share with them our deepest thoughts? Not necessarily. But we should always seek the Presence of God in every person and allow them to see that Presence in us. In a translation of Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “…the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs.” Straw dogs are stuffed animals used for ceremonial purposes. When they are used, they are highly venerated. Once the ceremony is over and they are no longer needed, they are trampled and discarded. Now, discarding other humans would be a little harsh. But the importance of the quote is that we should be like the sage and treat the people we meet with the respect they deserve as divine creations. We should honor everyone we encounter so that we may gain fulfillment in our own lives. Once those people have fulfilled their purpose for our lives, we can move toward finding new human encounters to further our self-consciousness.

We must realize that we are not alone. We are all connected. Our connection transcends language, creed, doctrine and geography. Our connection is innately spiritual. I once heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu say, “I am because you are, and you are because I am.” We should have this feeling about everyone we come across. It is amazing the impact that others have on our lives. Why not allow that impact improve our spiritual lives?

 God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

The Will of God

June 20, 2007

A common idea about God that is taught in churches is that God will work in your favor if you “keep the faith.” It is almost a mantra in the Christian tradition. However, another mantra that is just as common is that we can’t always get what we want and we must live our lives according to “The Will of God.” This seems a little paradoxical. How can we expect God to work in our favor and at the same time say that God works according to God’s own Will? Are we implying that the Will of God is to fulfill our every desire? That sounds nice on the surface, but what happens when two Christians want to win the grand prize drawing of a raffle? Or what if one wants all of their bills to be paid without having to work? Or what if one wanted everyone who doesn’t follow their personal beliefs to burn in Hell? Are these situations justifiable? Absolutely not.  God is not our personal genie.

That is not to say that God can’t and won’t work in our favor, however. The thing is, we often assume that by God working in our favor God is doing what we want, when we want it to be done. We must realize that the Will of God is for all things to be reconnected to God. Therefore, God will work in your life in such a way that you and everything around you will be connected to God. That is how God works in your favor. God’s presence is always around. God is always speaking to you. God’s favor is not about always getting what you want. God’s favor is having the security of God’s presence in every aspect of life, even when it seems like things aren’t going your way.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

The Sins of Scripture

June 1, 2007

The most recent book that has been captivating my attention is Bishop John Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture. With such a provocative and controversial title it is nearly impossible to have some preconceived notions about the intent of this book. Growing up in the Missionary Baptist tradition, I was taught that the Bible was the infallible, undeniable “Word of God.” It was not to be questioned and its teachings, or predetermined interpretation thereof, were not to be trumped by anyone’s opinions. So with a title that dares to accuse any part of this “divine word” of being sinful I was sure to be in for an interesting read! As I have grown more aware of my own relationship with the Divine, and grown out of the Baptist tradition, I have learned that their ideology is neither practical nor is it healthy. Bishop Spong supports this notion in this book as he exposes the mythological attributes of the Bible and shows that literal interpretations of the Bible are illogical. He also shows how this conservative approach to scripture has been detrimental to global society.

The Sins of Scripture shows how misuse of the words and phrases in the Bible have allowed so much sin to permeate through the hierarchies of Christianity, thusly permeating through society. The Bible has been used to justify overpopulation, pollution, sexism, homophobia, child abuse, and anti-Semitism all because of the idea that those writings are considered to be the perfect representation of God Almighty. I think the most important message of this book is that we should spend less time and energy justifying the myths and stories of the Bible and focus more on the fundamental teachings and principles of Christ. It doesn’t matter if Adam and Eve really did exist, or if there was a great flood, or even if Jesus rose on the third day. Ultimately all that matters is that we love unconditionally and live compassionate lives.

The Bible shouldn’t be used as an autonomous rule book. It should instead be viewed as a display of how God’s love has transcended the ages. We should focus on the awesome unconditional compassion Jesus expressed in the words and deeds recorded in the Gospels. We should allow the Bible to not direct or mandate, but support and inspire, our personal connections with God. We must realize that there is nothing that was written thousands, or even hundreds, of years ago that can supersede the Spirit that dwells within us.

I strongly encourage everyone with a passion, or even a curiosity, for scripture and spirituality to read Bishop John Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture. You may not agree with everything in the book. There are lots of new and radical ideas expressed. But we are not required to agree with everything. We should, however, be able to openly engage different ideas and points-of-view. The Sins of Scripture will definitely open your mind to new ideas and possibilities and direct Christianity to a much more positive light.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus talks about four different conditions in which a sower’s seed falls along a path. In the first condition, the seed is immediately devoured by the fowls of the air. In the second, it springs up and dies shortly thereafter in rocky soil. In case three, the seed is choked by the thorns. And finally, the seed is sown in fertile soil and yielded good grain. Today I want to parallel this parable to finding God’s purpose for our lives.

As college students, we are at a point in our lives in which we are basically planning out the rest of our lives. We are discussing graduate schools, internships, MCATs, LSATs, Teach for America, spiritual discernment and a plethora of other post-graduate opportunities. We are constantly looking at deadlines and benefits and rankings and starting salaries. We want to become the best of the best of the very best. We are striving to live into the expectations of our friends, family and colleagues. We are seeking advice from our parents, advisors, spiritual leaders, even best friends. But do we ever ask God what purpose God has for our lives? How do we know that we are planting our seeds in fertile soil?

To answer this question we must first know what type of seed it is that we are planting. We are all blessed by God with our own “seeds of life.” These seeds represent the potential within us to continue to do whatever it is that God has planned for us to do. Because we are all individuals, we are each gifted with different seeds that produce different fruits. How, then, do we know what type of fruit it is that we as individuals are to yield? The answer comes by spending time doing inner work, especially during this Lenten season. God speaks to us all differently, for different reasons. Therefore, we cannot listen to what God is saying to others to determine what God is saying to ourselves. We each need to have a personal relationship with God to “germinate” these “seeds of life.” The best way to find God’s presence is to look for it within ourselves. We must go to our quiet space and search within ourselves to find what God is saying to us. We need to go into our dark rooms in solitude and allow God’s presence to show itself to us and engender growth within us through introspective prayer and meditation. Once we have sparked that relationship of growth with God, then we can begin to determine what type of soil is best for us to sow our seeds for prosperity.

Observation is the key when it comes to beginning a new chapter in life. We need to be cognizant of the conditions that surround us. We need to be aware of the company we keep, the false institutions of security we give ourselves, and the worldly ideals and expectations we find ourselves lost and trapped in. Note that in the Gospel reading these seeds weren’t intentionally planted, but fell along the path. Just like the birds in today’s Gospel, there are outside forces in our lives that try to come in and devour our seed before it even hits the ground. To fulfill God’s purpose for your life, the most important thing to do is to cherish it and not take it for granted. The moment someone sees a door of opportunity that you did not walk through, they will not only walk through it themselves but they will also close and lock the door. You don’t need to do too much active searching to look for those outside forces that will try to devour your seed. If you just sit back and observe the conditions that surround you, these outside forces have a funny way of showing themselves to you. Just silently become knowledgeable of your surroundings before making hasty decisions and your enemy, who or whatever it may be, will show itself to you. Once you have seen your adversaries and obstacles, you will be able to use the tools that God has given you through your solitude to choose and fight your battles wisely.

We also need to be mindful of the false sense of security that we give ourselves when we want things to go a certain way. We get so caught up in the illusion of our desires that we fail to realize how much patience and hard work is required to bear our fruits. We try to find easy outlets and 1-2-3 plans for success when, in actuality, it takes great time and care to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. We cannot base our success on the fact that things seem to be going well initially. Our zeal for success cannot blind us from the fact that we may be planting our seeds in rocky soil. We must realize that there is a process for everything. There must be a plan. There must be some experimentation. There must be some follow through. Just as depicted in the parable, the seed may seem to be growing rapidly, but it will surely wither and die as soon as it sprouted without proper time and care. Usually, if it is as easy as 1-2-3, it’s not meant to be.

Lastly, we need to make sure that we don’t get smothered by the standards and expectations of the world. In America, we are exposed to so many images of what the standard for success should be. We feel like if we don’t have the nice suburban house or the loft in the downtown high rise then we have not established ourselves. Through personal experience I have found that the only reason a lot of college students are even in college is to get the 6-figure salary job. We get so bogged down on personal appearances and personal beliefs and personal practices that we have come to a point where we expect everyone to maintain the same standards as ourselves. The reality is that God doesn’t measure success by public acceptance. If you don’t necessarily fit the mold of what success looks like in our society, that doesn’t mean you aren’t successful. Often times people end up buckling under the pressures of the world by trying to fit into this model for success when all the while God had a different purpose. God’s purpose for your life probably will not fit into the worldly idea of success. You probably won’t have the husband or wife, the 2.5 kids, the two story house, or the luxury vehicle. We have to realize that our personal desires for success may not be in line with God’s. So in order to keep the thorns of society from smothering our success and growth, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the purpose God has for our lives. Continue to look within and maintain that strong personal relationship with God and realize that God’s will is not necessarily what the rest of the world would have you do. However, it is the only way to produce the best fruit possible.

As you go out into the world, I ask you all to think about the things I’ve discussed this evening. Look within to find what God has planned for you. Be aware of the outside forces trying to block you from success. Don’t try to find the easy way out, but be patient and steadfast in your work. Continually listen to God’s will and don’t get pressured by the standards of society. If you use these suggestions while continuing your journey through life along with constant prayer, success is sure to come your way in due time. God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, Secretary

Order of St. Anthony, Ordo Precis Contemplativae (Order of Contemplative Prayer)

Jonah has a very simple story. God asks Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh of their wrongdoing. Jonah tries to run away from God. God shows God’s power by sending a storm Jonah’s way and has him swallowed by a fish. Three day’s later, Jonah reconciles with God. He fulfills God’s wish and warns the people of Nineveh. They then reconcile with God. That’s about it. This short and seemingly trivial story illustrates the most powerful and important aspect of our faith as Christians: reconciliation.

In reading this story, there were three significant points that stood out to me about reconciliation. The first point is that you must reconcile with God yourself before you can bring someone else into reconciliation with God. All too often, we look at others and tell them what we feel they should change to get right with God without looking at ourselves and doing the same thing. For example:

“He needs to stop all that smoking. Doesn’t he know his body is a temple?”

When we go to MacDonald’s and KFC at least three times a week. Or:

“She uses too many curse words. Doesn’t she know it is what comes out of her mouth that defiles her?”

When we lied to the last five homeless people that asked if we could spare some change. While we are so focused on the shortcomings of others, we are running away from God in our own lives and are in the midst of a tempestuous sea of troubles. Before you know it we are tossed from our ships of security and are swallowed whole in the belly of solitude. Sadly, for some of us, this is the only way we are able to pay attention to God in our own lives. I know for myself I had to be stripped of everything in order to recognize that in the absence of everything, God is still there. If we channel the energy we are putting into noticing the faults of others towards our own faults, then we can be reconciled with God and have the strength to not accuse or look down on others, but help them gain reconciliation for themselves.

The second point that stood out to me was the fact that reconciliation does not come by simply changing your habits. Just because you stop smoking or stop drinking or stop cursing or start exercising or start eating right doesn’t mean you have necessarily reconciled with God. That just makes you a health conscious person. On the same note, going to church every week, crossing yourself, putting on ashes, fasting or even wearing a habit doesn’t reconcile you to God. Reconciliation is internal. It is personal. It is a change in your focus, a wake-up call in your spirit. Reconciliation is the moment of epiphany when you reroute your spiritual journey in order to walk with Christ in the direction of the Father. It is when you recognize that the Holy Spirit is tapping you on the shoulder, telling you it is time for a change. Changes in habits are simply outward expressions of an internal change. Jonah 3.10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.” It didn’t say “when God saw how they fasted” or “put on sackcloth” or “sat in ashes.” God doesn’t look at external actions. God’s focus is on the internal change. Once a person makes a spiritual change, their actions and habits will naturally exemplify that change. Breaking bad habits is an after-effect of the internal spiritual change, not the other way around.

Now, we know that we need to reconcile with God and we know that it is an internal change. But the challenge comes in when we don’t know how to reconcile with God. We all have our own concept of an ideal Christian life. We think we know what God wants us to do, but it is often difficult to know how to come into reconciliation with God. The answer to that question, “How,” is the third thing that stood out to me in Jonah’s story. Jonah 3.5 says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God…” That’s it: just believe. Believe that God is omniscient. Know that God knows what you have done, what you are doing and what you will do. God knows your strengths and weakness. God knows where you are confident and where you are insecure. God knows what you think of yourself and what you think of others. Therefore, it is futile to think that you can run away from the all-knowing presence of God. God knows where you will end up before you even decide to start running. If you accept that God is the quintessential know-it-all, God will share that mystical knowledge with you as you grow closer to God.

Believe that God is omnipotent. Understand that God possesses the power to change every facet of your life. God can throw you in a desert to give you a wake-up call and can place you at an oasis to show you God’s grace. God can overthrow your world and reorder it so that God’s will can be fulfilled in your life. God can remove the bad, restore the broken and replenish the good in your life. God’s power is infinite and eternal. When you truly believe in God’s power, you will realize that God’s power is within you and you will be able to not only know what God wants but you will possess the power to change in order to reconcile and live righteously.

Most importantly, believe that God is all-loving and all-forgiving. Know that there is nothing you can think, say or do that God will not be able to forgive. Realize that all of our sins have been nailed to the cross with Jesus. God knows our faults and shortcomings, that’s why God sent the Savior. We have already been forgiven. God’s love has saved us. When you truly start to believe that God’s love forgives all, a spirit of humility will overwhelm you and you will want nothing else but to thank God in your thoughts, words and deeds. You will know as God knows, possess the strength of God, and have the humility to be thankful for God’s grace in spite of your unworthiness. You will be able to not only fully accept yourself and forgive yourself, but you will be able to forgive everyone around you.

Believing in God’s wonder can unlock and open so many doors that reconciliation will happen without forcing it. You will reconcile because you want to, not because you have to. Believing in God despite the obstacles of reality is the key to sincere and complete reconciliation with not only God but with yourself and with others.

So, these were the things that stood out to me: focus on yourself before looking at others, reconcile inwardly and let your actions be the after-effect of reconciliation and believe that God is God in all of God’s wonder. I encourage you to go back and read Jonah for yourself. When a word or a phrase jumps out at you, stop and meditate on it. Follow the Holy Spirit and find your own message in the text. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.