As a pastor, my position encounters some interesting dynamics. Outside the world of Northwest Church, there are
OTHERS. I know, I know
crazy, right? There are others who come from all kinds of family situations, different histories, different cultural realities, different vernaculars, and different life-governing dynamics. I found an aching place in my heart this fall, and I sum it up in this question: The world already knows that judgment exists in the church, but do they know MERCY can still be found here? Throughout the past few years, Ive become increasingly aware of the perception of the church (and maybe its reality) outside its own walls. Well concern ourselves today with an examination of our hearts in regards to loving people from all walks of life, with a walk through the life of Jonah. Well see Jonahs audience, some of his less than stellar moments, and what God exposes at the end of Jonahs ministry to Nineveh. I hope if we find our hearts in the same position, that today, well leave that Jonah heart behind.
A Prophet-sized problem: Nineveh
Jonah is known as the only prophet we know of to be swallowed by a great fish, spit out on the beach that led to Nineveh, the place God called him to preach a cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me (Jonah 1:2). Some of us would enjoy this moment, in a twisted, not so righteous way. Our question would be You want me to tell them all theyve done wrong? Oh man! Will they listen to this whole list, because Ive kept a fairly thorough one!?! Yet, Jonah avoided the opportunity, boarded a ship for the other direction, and well, you know the story. First of all, lets see who it was that God was sending Jonah to.
Who was Jonah sent to preach to?
Ninevites: The Fish Slappers (Veggie Tales Interpretation)
Assyrians: Nineveh was part of the Assyrian Empire, one of Israels most troublesome adversaries. In Jonahs time, Israel was finally witnessing a decline of Assyrian power which would result in greater security and peace for Israel.
Gentiles: Jonah is the first prophet sent to preach a message of repentance to people outside of Israel, Gods chosen people. The way Jonah responds is probably an indicator of all of Israels hearts towards outsiders, especially ones that have caused such distress for their nation!
Polytheistic, Idol Worshippers: These were not people interested or even exposed to big G Gods standards or way of living. They worshipped multiple gods through many idolatrous practices.
Jonah was sent to a tough bunch of people. Not only were they not currently interested in the Nation of Israels God, the Israelites were not interested in extending their God to this bunch of heathens. Lets remember some highlights of Jonahs time wrestling with God and the Ninevites.
A few highlights from Jonahs story
1. Our disobedience puts other people in an awkward spot (Jonah 1:4, 6, 10, 15). How many sailors have we encountered? How many people have been left in an awkward spot due to our disobedience?
2. Apparently if youre ever in a whale, the key to being released is prayer (Jonah 2:10). No need to check in with Bear Grylls about this one, Jonahs got us covered. (Man vs. Wild, Extreme Survival TV show on the Discovery Channel)
3. Jonah, back on track, is walking about Nineveh preaching the word of the Lord, and his message is Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overtaken (3:4). Ever notice who acknowledges the hope of God relenting? Its the king! (3:9) Why did the unbeliever have to express the possibility of mercy from God? The answer is #4.
4. Jonah wasnt in agreement with Gods plan for Nineveh (4:1). Jonah sought justice, God gave mercy. He even acknowledged that he was aware of Gods heart and was still hoping God would carry out justice or that the Ninevites wouldnt respond (4:2). Sometimes Christians too, get jealous of the mercy God is willing to extend to those who have taken part in injustice against us or His ways. Remember a time you couldnt believe that God responded to someone differently that you hoped? Ever struggled to accept a new believer into our faith community because you know where theyve been?
As much as I want to say I wouldnt behave like Jonah, I have to be honest. Ive got some U-G-L-Y mindsets and heart attitudes that lead to some pretty yucky (Greek for absolutely heart-wrenchingly terrible) motives. I wish I simply despised one type of person like Assyrians, but as youll hear in a moment, I found plenty of excuses for not loving, extending mercy, or accepting all types of people.
A tough, personal reality - my excuses for avoiding messy people
1. Ive created an unspoken rating scale for sin
some sin is worse than my sin. Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, Double X & Super sized. Small = theyre close to Jesus.
2. Its easy to take other peoples sin more seriously than my own.
3. Im afraid God wont show up, and Ill look like a fool.
4. Living with my arms open to people leaves me vulnerable to get hurt.
5. Stereotypical Judgment: The way they look
I make assumptions about who they are, because of how theyre dressed.
6. Weak Faith
I believe the Holy Spirit will be broken in my life if I hang out with sinners.
7. Weak Faith AGAIN
I believe that my holiness will be compromised if I hang with sinners while they do what they do.
8. I get concerned about my imagethat other people may judge me and disown me.
9. I forget who Jesus spent most of His time with.
These kind of attitudes, prejudices and theologies make it really difficult to not only know Gods heart, but to truly express it fully! How humbling it is to read Jonahs storythat God used him to flip over an entire, evil city without his motives being right. I dont know about you, but I want to engage living for Christ at more than an action level. The secular world is taking some of the action Jesus would take. I want to have Jesus heart, His actions, words and power in place! So heres how I believe we make the transition from a Jonah heart to Gods heart. Ill interject a few things we see about Gods heart through Jesus as well.
A Jonah heart vs. Gods heart
1) Jonah went reluctantly, Jesus went passionately
Jonah ran for Tarshish, the end of the known world and it took a whale swallowing him to put him back on track. Jesus ran to the sick, the broken, and the lonely! When God gives you direction on who to go to, and what message to deliver
go passionately. Dont run and hide or refuse His plan for THEIR life. Enjoy being a part of His plan to reach them!
2) Jonah offered truth and desired justice, God offered truth and desired mercy
The world isnt wondering what Christians stance on homosexuality, fornication or any other sin is for that matter
so lets stop making that our HEADLINE news. The headline of the Gospel reads Even though this person has fallen incredibly short of Gods demand, mercy & grace were extended to him and ALL those who would believe! God asked Jonah to preach the truthrepentance, but He did not challenge Jonahs motive until after the work was completed. Lets start with the right desire so that the conversation afterward goes differently (Jonah 4). High fives rather than an argument expressing our disappointment that God used us to change the unthinkable! As you go, dont hope they wont respond. Wicked. Offer the truth, aware they could reject itbut HOPE they will receive it!
3) Jonah was disappointed in Gods way, Jesus was thrilled by it!
How excited we should be at the end of incredible, life-changing ministry! Imagine how confused the early church must have been when Saul the Christian Slayer became Paul the Apostle. Skepticalunderstandably. Afraidsure. Acceptingyou bet. They rejoiced in Pauls powerful testimony and incredible ministry that flowed from him! Let us be people that are excited to be used by God, and love not only His actionbut His incredible heart.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:8-10
1. Out of the excuses listed above, which one(s) would you say you struggle with? Whats the Holy Spirit saying you ought to do about that?
2. Who in your life is someone you may need to go to and repent for your lack of mercy for them? When are you going to call them or have coffee with them?
3. Who is in your life now that you desire mercy for? Share the hope you have for them with us.
4. How can your MiniChurch begin to extend mercy to others together? If it has already started, how can you continue to work together to reveal not only Jesus actions, but His heart as well?