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The story of Jonah always makes me cringe. The prophet’s disobedience is blatant. His heart is cold. He is self-seeking. God spares his life and covers him in protection, yet he still condemns the Lord’s patience and mercy.
Hello, it’s me.
I am Jonah and Fresno is my Nineveh.
I knew God wanted to redeem and restore the city, and I ran. I had “better” plans for my life. So I ventured to my Tarshish–Santa Barbara–and along came my big fish. Big fish spewed me right back into the fertile soil of the Central Valley.
This past year, the Lord asked me, “Do you have a right to be angry? Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh (or Fresno), which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” (HCSB Jonah 4:11)
This conviction of contempt and disappointment led me to the concept of Shalom.
In its fullest definition, shalom is an active pursuit of the holistic well-being of a community, in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Shalom calls forth reconciliation and peace in all relationships: man to self, man to man, and man to God. *
Shalom is an active pursuit of the holistic well-being of a community, in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
As I grumbled through my first year of post-grad life, I often sat by my proverbial bush questioning the will of God for my life in Fresno. Through these conversations, God breathed the pursuit of shalom into my soul. He spoke, “I love this city. I care about these people. Will you enter in? Will you be present here?”
My heart is responding. That’s what God does. He trades a heart of cold, ragged stone with a tender, fleshy heart. And so, I am becoming a student of my city. I am pressing into my community, asking the Holy Spirit to show me what His heart breaks for.
Recently, I attended a community event through the InterVarsity Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership. One of the staff members said something I will never forget. Beth glowed brilliantly, “If people are God’s treasure, then the city is His treasure trove.” That good word pierced me.
God cares about urban decay and slum housing. Shalom invites me into genuine sacrifice, relationship, and advocacy. Shalom says my neighbors’ burdens and concerns are my own. I can no longer be a passive bystander.
God cares about urban decay and slum housing. Shalom invites me into genuine sacrifice, relationship, and advocacy. Shalom says my neighbors’ burdens and concerns are my own.
My next step is to move from observation to engagement. I have spent time reading books, taking local classes, and meeting with urban ministry leaders. It is my turn to lead.
It is my turn to pursue shalom. It is my turn to run toward Nineveh. It is my turn to submit to the Lord with joy and confidence that His kingdom is breaking in here. I will be an active participant.
This month, I challenge you to re-read the story of Jonah. Ask the Lord to search your heart and contempt towards His will. Then repent and run towards your Nineveh.
Shalom to you, brother and sister.
* For additional readings on the concept of shalom, I highly recommend this three-part presentation by Dr. Thomas M. Crisp of Biola University. These readings have radically inspired my ideas of community. Do not hesitate to contact me to assist you in locating these documents.
“Finding God in Brother and Sister, the Poor and the Marginalized, and in One’s Enemy,” James M. and Hazel J. Grant President’s Lectureship, Simpson University, February 2013.
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Image Credit: Bruce Fingerhood, Creative Commons