POSTED ON JANUARY 11, 2012:
Finding hope in an unrelenting pursuit of you
It's that time of the year when a cornucopia of the finest college pigskins match-ups have been laid before us and we have been abundantly nourished.
We have seen our Sooners and our Cowboys come out victorious and our Golden Hurricane lose a last-second heartbreaker. We have seen Baylor and Washington recreate a Tecmo Bowl game, setting a record for total yards, tying the record for total touchdowns, and nearly breaking the record for total points.
As I write this, we are less than 18 hours away from this year's version of the college football national championship. There will be much hype and hoopla surrounding the game. One team will conclude the game triumphant, the other most likely forgotten in the short-term memory banks of our sports consciousness.
I once heard preacher and professor Haddon Robinson tell a story about a bowl game that had a player that would never be forgotten.
Towards the end of the first half of the 1929 Sugar Bowl, Cal's Riegels recovered a fumble and in dodging some of the Georgia Tech tacklers became disoriented. Instead of running towards the correct end zone, he started scatting sixty-five yards in the other direction.
Benny Lom, one of his teammates, caught up with him and tackled him just before he was about to score a touchdown for the opposing team.
At halftime, Cal's players filed off into their locker rooms and sat down on the benches -- except for Riegels. He instead sat down in a corner, pulled a blanket around his shoulders, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.
Cal's coach didn't say much during half-time, but what he did say was significant. As they were getting ready to head back out onto the field for the second half, Coach Nibbs Price looked at his team and said, "Men, the same team that started the first half will start the second."
The players rose and made their way out of the locker room -- except for Riegels. He didn't stir. Price sauntered over to Riegels and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that started the first half will start the second."
"Coach," Reigels said mournfully, "I can't do it. I've disgraced you. I've disgraced the University of California. I've disgraced myself. I couldn't face that crowd to save my life."
Then Coach Price put his hand on Riegels shoulder and said, "Roy, get up and go on back. The game is only half over."
Reigels and the Old Testament prophet Jonah have a lot in common. After spending three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, Jonah relented to God and decided to stop running away from Him. And standing on dry land, Jonah 2:2 says that God came to Jonah a second time.
Don't miss this. It says God came a second time. God said to him, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message I tell you."
If you've ever read Jonah 1:2, you know that this wasn't the first time that God had given the reluctant prophet a message to give to the Ninevites.
What we find here in the midst of Jonah's disobedience and rebellion is God choosing to extend radical grace to him by coming to him a second time. That is God by the way. God is a God of second, third, fourth, fifth chances. His grace is not limited by our sin -- it's only limited by our genuine repentance.
God, in his kindness, is dealing with Jonah a lot like the father in Luke 15 deals with his prodigal son. The father of the prodigal son welcomed him back into the family with no need to grovel or to apologize. He just simply let him back in. No questions asked.
God allowed Jonah to choose his own way long enough to feel the total brokenness in the pursuit of his own way. God had allowed him a ton of rope, and in doing so, Jonah now had imprinted upon his soul what he needed to learn.
God used Jonah's disobedience to equip him for the work he had for him. Pastor Sinclair Ferguson says that "God is able to make his name a praise among the nations even on the shoulders of his children's failures and sins."
See, God doesn't hold grudges. If you look at the entire story, it doesn't tell us if Jonah ever confesses or say he's sorry. God doesn't remind Jonah of his failures. God isn't saying, "Man, I know I'm going to regret this" or "I'm not sure I can trust this guy." He says, "Follow me."
God is saying, "Jonah, I can still use you. So listen -- here is my call on your life. Obey me."
When I look at Jonah, I see something profound. God is often more interested in the worker than he is in the work. Did you catch that? He is more interested in you than in what you can accomplish for him.
If reaching Nineveh was all God cared about, he could have thrown Jonah aside and found a more reliable prophet. He knew Jonah would run, so why did he ask him to do in the first place?
It was because Jonah was God's labor of love. God comes after Jonah not because God needed Jonah, but because Jonah needed God.
God came to an uneager prophet a second time. A player on a second-place team got a second chance.
And even though you may feel you've run too far from God, let me assure you of something: you can't outrun his grace. It always comes a second time.
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