I remember as a kid, watching baseball phenom Darryl Strawberry play. I had a few of his cards, and had the opportunity to follow him somewhat through his career. Unfortunatly, that was not so much because of his raw talent (which was certainly there), but because of his off-field exploits. Watching Strawberry’s life unfold was kind of like a real-life exposition of Romans 7.
You were seeing a man, who did what he didn’t want to do, and just couldn’t seem to do what he wanted to. And maybe that’s why I was always so interested in him. I think Darryl Strawberry’s life was kind of a snapshot into the human condition. And I believe, that most of us who are honest would admit that we know exactly what this kind of failure feels like. And eventually Darryl Strawberry’s failures caught up to him in a way that no amount of probation or trades could compensate for. And Strawberry’s once very promising career was over.
I have a friend who was talking to me about Jonah the other day. Jonah is one of those stories in the Bible that I have been stewing on for about a year or two, and his story just happened to come up in our conversation. Chances are you know this story, guy gets called by God to do a ministry that he doesn’t want to do, guy runs from God, guy becomes a large sea-mammals snack/sea mammal turns into the first submarine in history…And Jonah winds up going to the place he was called, albeit smelling like something from the kitchen of Long John Silver.
Anyway, the reason that this conversation stuck with me had little to do with Jonah. It actually had a lot to do with my friend. See, he had been a preacher, for a few years, in a town outside of the Bible belt, and he was good. The only problem is my friend had a struggle with alcohol. And it was a struggle that he was beginning to lose. He had informed his shepherds and they were working with him, but the day that he showed up inebriated to preach was the last straw. My friend lost his job.
Now he’s done the hard work of becoming sober, and he’s stayed clean for years now. Now, he’s even back in ministry again, fully equipped with the ability to give and receive grace. But for him, this was the day of the whale.
As we talked about this story, my friend revealed to me one of his new favorite verses in the Bible. It’s Jonah 3:1, this is what it says:
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…I love that. Jonah had run, disobeyed, and lied, but God wasn’t done with him yet. Now the real irony of this story comes later. Jonah isn’t able to pass on the grace of the second chance that he himself had received. Jonah is the older brother from the prodigal son. Jonah is the senior saint who’s gone to church their entire life experiencing the grace of God but still unable to love people from different races. In other words, the story of Jonah happens everyday.
And that’s why it’s important for us to remember that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
It’s especially important for Darryl Strawberry. About six years ago, Strawberry’s career had about as much life in it as a Hansen concert post-puberty. The harder drugs, and the clock, had taken their toll, and his body could no longer do what it once could. So you might expect that Strawberry’s life would be pretty empty…but you would be wrong. Because the word of the Lord came to Jonah for a second time.
See Darryl Strawberry became a devoted follower of Jesus about six years ago. And a life that had been previously been chasing one fast experience after another finally slowed down, and changed directions. He lives with his third wife now, in a marriage that has stuck, and they opened up a restaurant in Queens. Which, according to the NY Times is about as humble as Strawberry could get.
But what I loved about Darryl Strawberry’s new lot on life is how he sees himself. He hangs out in his restaurant, know the regulars, and serves. The man who was once hailed as the future of New York baseball now says he wants to be known as a servant. He and his wife run a ministry for teenagers, helping them avoid the very drugs that were Darryl’s undoing.
And here is the point of the story of Jonah. God’s not done with us yet. If we are honest we’ve all been there, and we just might be there again. I doubt there are many of us who haven’t made choices that have on some level wrecked our life. In other words, we all know what it’s like to be in the belly of the whale.
And this is why the story of Jonah is so encouraging. Because it’s a story about second chances. About a God who chases us even in the depths of our ocean. He doesn’t give up, and so neither should we.
Because sometimes being Jonah means that we get a second chance in church ministry, and sometimes it means that Jonah serves chicken wings in Queens.