Taken from My Heart I Offer: Daily Reflections on the Journey of Faith by Calvin College Alumni and Friends. This volume is still available from the Calvin Campus Store.
Mulligans of Grace
Class of 1993
Byron Center, Michigan
One of my favorite shots in golf is a mulligan. For those like me who have not mastered the art of hitting a round one-inch ball with a four-foot stick, a mulligan is an essential part of the game. When you sail a tee shot into the woods and quickly determine that the squirrels might as well add your ball to their collection, this shot comes in handy. Without hesitation you casually pull an emergency ball out of your pocket and declare, “I’m taking a mulligan.” For some reason the term “do-over” never made its way into golf parlance.
The third chapter of Jonah records one of the great mulligans of the Bible. The city of Nineveh is in God’s crosshairs on account of its violence and rebellion against God. Jonah knows it. He also knows the remedy that would spare this city. Yet Jonah decides he would far rather vacation in Tarshish than head to Nineveh and see his enemies spared. Sad but true, the prophet of God, the one whose very calling it is to tell others about God’s will, abandons his calling and blatantly rejects God’s will. However, God thwarts Jonah’s travel plans and sends Jonah back home via a three-day ride in a deep-sea explorer. There God speaks to Jonah a second time (Jon. 3:1). Jonah needs a mulligan, and God gives him one. God profoundly yet simply demonstrates what kind of God he is, a forgiving God, a God of second chances.
Jonah eventually speaks to the people of Nineveh. The people repent, and God listens. Amazingly, God still uses Jonah, despite his initial failure, to proclaim the powerful words of hope to thousands. In the end, Nineveh is spared.
Whenever I wonder if my latest blunder is beyond the pale of forgiveness and whether God’s reservoir of mercy has run dry, I remember a God who gave Jonah a mulligan. I think look to the same God and humbly say, “I need a mulligan.” Praise God that through Jesus Christ God graciously keeps giving me second chances.
Class of 1985
I’ve been thinking about receiving love lately. When my wife, Margaret, and I married, we received so many gifts that it took months just to go through them, find a place to put them, and write the thank-you notes. All the while in the back of my head I kept thinking, “I don’t deserve all this.” Even more troubling than the gifts was the extravagant outpouring of love that we received. It’s embarrassing, and we feel the need to do something in response.
But of course we can’t repay the friends and family who flew halfway around the world to be with us; or our pastor, who conducted the service in German and English; or the ladies from church who prepared and served food, decorated the reception hall, and cleaned up afterward.
As I reflect on these extravagant offerings of love, I think of our Lord, who also received love offered extravagantly. I’m thinking, of course, of Jesus and the woman with the alabaster jar.
But Jesus knew precisely how to respond to extravagant love. The disciples were outraged, profoundly uncomfortable with the intimacy and extravagance of this gift—a natural reaction, of course, for men who often seemed consumed with questions of status and power. But our Lord know he is worthy of all extravagance. Even more: He knew it is important to receive love—even love that goes beyond our comfort level, our sense of propriety.
So how is it with you? Can you receive Christ’s love? Can you receive the love of his people? Does it make you feel rather uncomfortable, maybe even guilty? Perhaps, like me, you feel you need a heart transplant in order to be able to receive all the love that’s coming your way.
Bring that before God, and enjoy the reservoirs of love and acceptance that are yours in Christ and in the Christian community. Indeed, you are loved—extravagantly.
Ambassadors for Christ
2 Cor. 5:20
Class of 1984
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Because I work in the world of government and politics, words like ambassador leap off the Bible’s pages at me. What an awesome responsibility to realize that the King of kings has asked us to be his ambassadors to the sinful world in which we live.
In the diplomatic world, ambassadors have a tremendous responsibility. The primary role of effective ambassadors is to be the authorized representatives or messengers of their countries. Ambassadors do not speak on the own behalf, but on the behalf of their nations’ leaders. In addition, ambassadors’ conduct must be above reproach, lest they bring dishonor to their countries. In order to communicate their nations’ messages effectively, ambassadors must be in constant communication with their national leaders. Effective ambassadors also need to know how to articulate the message of their nations to the countries in which they serve. There are times where ambassadors much be bold and challenging; in other situations they must be diplomatic and reassuring.
I am often puzzled that God would call all of us (with all our faults and weaknesses) to be his ambassadors, but he has given us all we need to present his message. He has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit and his Word. If we are going to articulate his message in a way that is relevant, meaningful, and understandable, we need to read his Word, spend time in communication with him daily, and live our lives in such a way that we reflect our King well.
God has not only chosen to give us the gift of salvation. He has also given us the highest possible honor by appointing us to be his ambassadors. We are the ambassadors of the King of kings. What an honor! What a responsibility!
Telling the Story
Joshua 4:2, 21-22
Chris Stoffel Overvoorde
Calvin professor emeritus
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Joshua 3 tells the story of how God led the people of Israel through the River Jordan. Joshua 4 tells the story of the pile of stones they made to memorialize this river crossing. Having selected twelve men, one from each tribe, as God had instructed, Joshua told them to go back to the middle of the Jordan, hoist stones, one each, onto their shoulders, carry them to the place where all the people were waiting after the crossing, and set them down at the place where they were going to spend the night.
Twelve men. Twelve stones carried some two miles and arranged in some formation. Twelve stones connected with a major event. God had acted that day, and now the stones would be there to remind his people of what had happened.
The Old Testament is full of such visual reminders. The Israelites that day did something with the stones to make them unique, to make them curious to children. Joshua says,
In the future when your descendants ask their parents, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. (Josh. 4:21-23, NIVI)
In an age when everything needs to be obvious and understood immediately, it is refreshing to discover that God encourages questions, that a sense of wonder and curiosity is desirable, that not everything needs to be clear, that some things still require a connection in need of explaining by those who know. As Christians we need to recognize that when everything is clear, we are denied an opportunity to testify. We need to be challenged to tell the story. Reminder are essential for our own spiritual journeys and for our cooperative journeys as families, as congregations, as Christian agencies, as God’s church, because symbolic reminders provide us with the task of spreading, the opportunity for spreading, the good news.
Visual reminders like the table for the Lord’s Supper, the baptismal font, and the pulpit within our worship space are important, but they are only reminders. The real story awaits our telling. God wants us to be ambassadors who tell of, who testify to, who witness about his mighty acts and his wondrous doing in his world. We are narrators of the stones. It is our job to tell the good news well to our descendants—and to all who will hear.