Atheist, Comedian Penn Jillette, did a video blog some time back. In it he told the story of a polite man who gave him a Bible and shared the gospel with him. While the man didn’t convince Penn to become a believer. He admired the man. He went on to say that if you believe in Heaven and you knew the way to get there you should be out there telling everyone. He used an illustration that if you saw a man standing in the road and a big truck coming at him at some point you have to yell and act to prevent him from being run over. He closed with a statement that has haughted me, “If you believe in a loving God, how much do you have to hate someone not to tell them about this God?”
As I have talked with people about Penn’s statement, many get stuck on his use of the word hate. It is used purposely to shock you. It is a form of hyperbole – an overstatement to make a point. So what is the point. We should be able to honestly and sincerely have a conversation with a friend about what we believe and not be risking our friendship or an awkward social moment. In Penn’s words if we are “sane” and sincere, even if they don’t agree with us it should be an acceptable conversation.
“How much do you have to hate someone not to tell them about this God?”
The book of Jonah is ultimately about sharing the Good News of God to others. In Jonah’s case it was a cross-cultural experience. The book opens with Jonah receiving a message from God to go to Nineveh. But Jonah ran to Tarshish instead. God in His love for Jonah pursued him. He wanted Jonah to share the news with the Nineties. So, God used a storm to get Jonah’s attention. At first Jonah preferred suicide by sailor over submitting to God. But with the help of a giant fish, God gave Jonah a place to process.
Jonah changed his mind and refocused his attention on God. This made him available to God. Jonah learned that obedience wasn’t just doing what God says, but letting God do what He wants to do through us.
And that brings us to the final chapter where Jonah’s prejudice is revealed. Jonah knew God was gracious, compassionate and slow to anger and that God is a God of second chances (see Jonah 4:1-2). But Jonah climbed up on a cliff hoping to see Nineveh destroyed . And when it didn’t happen, he was mad at God. And wanted to die!
God used this as a Teachable Moment. God has always used teachable moments to teach His people from Cain and “my brother’s keeper” to King David and the killing of a special lamb. And in the New Testament, from a story of a shepherd with a one lost lamb to a shriveled tree outside of Jerusalem, Jesus used the teachable moments with His disciples.
Alignment is prioritizing my life around where God is working!
At our church, we use a simple process to help us discern what God is saying to us through a teachable moment. Let me share it with you:
COME & SEE – When something catches our attention, we look to see what is going on and why it is important. Then we ask a question: “What is God doing?”
FOLLOW – Once we discern what God is doing, we have a decision to make. Will we join Him or ignore Him? That leads to the next question: “How do I join God?” Choosing to engage with God in His work!
TRAIN – “What truth do I need to learn? and/or “What skill must I develop?” While obedience is letting God do what He wants through me, He uses who I am and the gifts and natural skills that I can develop to accomplish His mission.
GO – Learning hasn’t happened until I use what God has taught me. This part cannot be left out. “How can I use what I have learned to love others?” God is continuously inviting us to join Him on a joyful adventure to love others. That is what the teachable moment is all about!
In Jonah 4, God’s teachable moment is accomplished through a plant that God makes to grow up and offer Jonah shade one day and wilts and dies the next (see Jonah 4:5-11). Jonah gets very angry that the plant dies. As a matter of fact, he said he was so angry he wished he could die. God helps Jonah see that He loves Jonah and He loves the Ninevites. There were over 120,000 in Nineveh who were spiritually ignorant about how their lives were setting them on a destructive course. And not only people but innocent animals who were about to suffer because of the people’s ignorance.
The book ends there. We don’t get any insight into what Jonah chose to do at the end of the day. Let me share three possible scenarios on how it could have gone:
#1 – Jonah Doesn’t Change. Like so many times with us, Jonah could have chosen not to follow God. Not to repent – change the way he was thinking. He could have held on to his prejudice and lived the rest of his life brooding over God whimping out at letting those Ninevites off the hook.
#2 – Jonah Is Satisfied. Jonah spends the rest of his life telling anyone who he can get to listen about how God used him to rescue the Ninevites. You know people like that. They are always talking about the good ole days. They rest on past victories rather than live a surrendered life focused on what God is doing next.
#3 – Jonah Catches the Fever. Jonah becomes addicted to the adrenaline rush of living on mission with God. He makes himself available to God everyday by actually looking for where God is at work and joining Him in it. Not being satisfied with what he can do but stepping out to do what he cannot do and what God has to do!
Repent means to change the way we think (Jonah 1). Surrender means to change our focus (Jonah 2). Obedience is letting God do what He wants to do through us (Jonah 3). Alignment is prioritizing my life around where God is working (Jonah 4).
How about you? Which ending will define your life?
I don’t know the statistics where you live, but here in Ohio two out of three of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends do not have a relationship with Jesus and/or are not involved with a Bible believing church (community of believers who live on mission with Jesus).
Some of the models estimate the number of Ohioans facing an eternity in hell is 82%.
It gets worse one out of three Ohioans do not even identify with Jesus in anyway. That is 33% of the people are not even nominally affiliated with Jesus. As I understand the situation that number is practically equal to the number of Jesus’ disciples who currently follow Him.
Some of the models estimate the number of Ohioans facing an eternity in hell is 82%. That is over eight out of ten! How much do we have to hate someone not to share God’s love with them?
I don’t share these statistics to shame anyone. I am not into guilt trips. But I am appealing to the humanity in you, the part of you that reflects the image of God. It is like a big truck barreling down on them, are we just going to sit back and watch the inevitable or will we do what we cannot do so God can do what He desires to do?
Have you ever thought God had something greater for you?