Thursday, March 16, 2006

another sign of Jonah

The next phase of my Jonah connection, comes when I become encouraged by missions emphasis, and moved by missions stories. Evidently, being so post-modern means I am subject to the intense need to balance all things hopeful with discouragement. So as I hear about strategies and sacrifices and passions, and efforts, and prayers, and training, and going, etc. to cultures all over the world, I am encouraged and moved, and extremely discouraged, and at times angry that this attitude, conviction, and effort is completely lost on the culture immediately around us. Our “Jerusalem” of Acts 1:8, has become our “Nineveh” of the book of Jonah. At one point during last week, I actually began making a world missions map that labeled North America as Nineveh, and the entire rest of the world as Tarshish. I don’t really mean that. I don’t think being missional overseas is fleeing from God - that is, unless God has sent you someplace on this side of the pond. Then we’re just as much in the wrong place as if God has told us to go, but we stayed.
But the Jonah factor is much more subtle than simply going or staying or going to the wrong place. In fact, Jonah did eventually go where he was told to go – physically. But he didn’t go there spiritually. He didn’t get on board with God’s plan. At all. His story, as we have it, ends with him being angry with God, and God asking him, “what right do you have being angry? Should I not be concerned about a people that I made?”
My mind inserts, who are you not to rejoice in the salvation of a people who don’t know their right hand from their left?
We are living at a time, when the evangelical church has so defined itself culturally, socially, racially, economically, that we target evangelism markets that look exactly like us. We begin to equate culture, finances, race, class with morality, or at least as indicators of receptivity to our message and worthiness of our efforts. There is an emerging culture around us that we are not only disinterested in reaching, but when someone does express the desire to reach them, we criticize them for lowering the doctrinal standard, or selling out their theology.
Heaven forbid that any of those people should become believers, because it doesn’t sit well with the indicators we’ve created to know who is among our own. When we see a Ninevite in church we accuse the church of trying to “look like the world”, rather than considering that church is made up of people from the world. So we begin to resent people who look and think differently. We mock the look of the folks who serve us our coffee at Starbucks, so when those folks find their way into the church, we mock the church.
God is building his church out of every tribe and tongue and nation, yes, even our own. We’ve been sitting in the pew under a worm infested, withering plant grieving the changing make-up of the church for so long that we’ve grown faint. We, like Jonah, are very skeptical of God’s mercy shown to people whom we don’t understand.