Angry Christians and the Compassion of God

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” -Matthew 5:43-44

Jonah had just preached the shortest sermon recorded in Scripture to the wicked residents of Nineveh. The very thing that Jonah was nervous about happened; the Ninevites repented of their sin.

Here is how the prophet Jonah responded to revival breaking out in Nineveh:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. -Jonah 4:1-2

Everything in this story is upside down. The prophet of God is rebellious and the wicked city of Nineveh is repentant.

But don’t miss this, a direct contrast is being made between Jonah and the God he claims to be serving. Jonah is angry and God is merciful and slow to anger. The point being made is quite clear. We need to be less like Jonah and more like God. We need to drop the unrighteous anger and instead become people of compassion.

It seems to me that there is more anger and rage present today among confessing Christians than what I have witnessed in the past. You see it online in the name calling, demonizing spiritual and political opponents, and the failure to love people who are different than us.

“The tragedy is that in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and the corruption of the world around them, many Christians – and Christian conservatives most significantly – unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of the cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.” -James Davison Hunter

Here is a critically important question, why do we react with rage and anger when God is calling his people first and foremost to be people of compassion? I think there are a variety of answers to this question but I will highlight three.

  • Christians are angry because they feel like they are losing ground in today’s culture war. As Christians we are accustomed to our society being under-girded by our faith. What we find unsettling is that our American culture is increasingly becoming post-Christian and therefore more secularized. The result is that people are losing their mind when others do not see politics or the world the same way they do. My opinion is that we should not be fighting a culture war in the first place. Our rage and commitment to winning arguments is not going to change the world. Deep down we know this, right? What will make a difference is if the world sees Christians entering into this suffering world with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
  • Christians are angry because they care about the wrong things. You know how the story ends. Even after God explains that he is going to withdraw his judgment upon Nineveh Jonah heads up to a hill for a better view just in case God does decide to wipe them out. As Jonah is watching and waiting God provides a plant to give him some shade from the heat of the sun. Then God sends a worm to destroy the plant and Jonah’s response is that he would rather die than deal with the heat. What God was exposing in Jonah’s heart is that he cared more for his own comfort than he did the eternal destiny of the Ninevites. This begs the question, what do we care more about? Our material possessions, careers, success and comfort or to see people entering into the kingdom of God?
  • Christians are angry because they are losing sight of the basics of the gospel. I really think this is the huge, underlying problem with how Christians are responding to our culture today. Jesus died for us when we were dead and lost in our sin. We were living a rebellious life and had done nothing to merit the compassion of Jesus. Yet Christ still pursued us out of a heart filled with great compassion. When we truly comprehend these gospel truths we discover that there is no room for unrighteous anger towards others who are lost without Christ. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” -Romans 2:4

Let’s be honest, being angry is the much easier option than living as people of compassion. When we are motivated by unrighteous anger we don’t need to bother with being led by the Holy Spirit. When we are angry we are more likely to stay in our house, behind our locked doors, and far away from others who are different than us. Compassion is going to require much more from us. The church is not called to simply vote for politicians who will meet the needs of our hurting world. The church is called to get involved itself and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

So the question before us is the same one God asked Jonah at the end of chapter 4. Is it good for you to be angry?

Picture is taken from dailycallerdotcom

We want revival, not brokenness

“Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.” -J.I. Packer

I recently began preaching through the book of Jonah. The fact that the entire city of Nineveh repented and turned to God got me thinking about revival. So I did what I normally do, I purchased some books so that I could explore this topic in greater detail. You can find the two books I have been reading HERE and HERE. During my study one of the things that I kept coming back to is that for revival to happen it is going to require brokenness among God’s people.

It was while I was praying about revival that I came to this sobering conclusion; I like the idea of revival but not so much the idea of brokenness. Revival means the Spirit of God is at work. Christians are having their love for Christ renewed and unbelievers are coming to know Christ for the first time. I genuinely long to see this happen here in Watertown, South Dakota.

Unfortunately, I am much less interested in the personal brokenness part.

Brokenness means admitting and repenting of my sin.  Brokenness involves my bloody death and my flesh resists this at every turn. It also means allowing my mind to think through the horrifying reality that there are countless numbers of people who are headed for an eternal hell.

The reluctance that I feel towards brokenness reminds me of an excerpt from one of my favorite books, “Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken.

Severe Mercy is a true story about a husband and wife who have made their relationship with one another into an idol. They love each other and want nothing to come in-between them, even God. At one point Sheldon Vanauken, the husband and the author, begins to realize that he likes the idea of God as long as God does not disturb his comfortable life too much. Sheldon writes this:

“Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, even to myself, I didn’t want God aboard. He was too heavy. I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn’t want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free—like Gypsy. I wanted life itself, the color and fire and loveliness of life. And Christ now and then, like a loved poem I could read when I wanted to. I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God. I wanted holidays from the school of Christ.”

“I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God.” I think that there are quite a few people who feel this way. We want a god to forgive us of our sin. We want a god that will bless us. But are we willing to be swallowed up by the One true God? The truth is that this kind of total surrender to God is frightening. What will God take from us? What will God ask of us? Will God be enough to satisfy us?

I don’t have a neat and tidy answer at this point. I don’t have a verse that makes the fear of being “swallowed up by God” suddenly disappear (neither do you). But I am aware that I must confess these fears and deal with them if I am to experience a renewing work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Will you join me in the process?

Above picture taken from wwwdotjasonisaacsdotme

The Mission of God (Jonah 1:1-7)

We do terrible damage to Scripture when we take it out of context. Let me explain what I mean.

Many of you know that there are four words used to describe the story of Scripture:

CREATION-FALL-REDEMPTION-RESTORATION

  • Creation: One Hebrew word sums up the picture of Genesis 1 and 2: shalom. Peace. Earth was full of God’s shalom, the kind of peace in which everything works according to God’s intention. The world was made for human flourishing, there we could live in joy in the presence of our Maker, worshiping God by loving Him and one another forever.
    Fall: Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule over them. We refer to their rebellious choice as “the fall,” and because the represented all of humanity, their action affects us too. We have–through our attitudes and actions– declared ourselves to be God’s enemies. This rebellion results in physical and spiritual death.
    Redemption: Thankfully the loving Creator who rightly shows Himself to be wrathful toward our sin is determined to turn evil and suffering we have caused into good that will be to His ultimate glory. So the next movement shows God implementing a master plan for redeeming His world and rescuing fallen sinners. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God Himself comes to renew the world and restore His people. The grand narrative of Scripture climaxes with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
    Restoration: The story doesn’t end with redemption. God has promised to renew the whole world, and the Bible gives us a peak into this glorious future. The restoration of all things will take place in two ways. Christ will return to judge sin and evil, and He will usher in righteousness and peace. God will purge this world of evil once and for all. -Taken from “Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope”

So Jonah, like you and I, are living in a story of redemption. Jonah is called by God to preach the Word of the Lord to the Ninevites. Jonah refuses to do so. His hard heart can not deal with the idea that the Ninevites might repent and therefore escape the judgment of God.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

One mistake we might be tempted to make is that we scoff at just how calloused Jonah was to the people of Nineveh. I say ‘mistake’ because the point is for us to realize that we are quite a bit more like Jonah than we would like to admit.

In Matthew 28 we find that Jesus gives all Christians their marching orders. We are to go into all the world and make disciples. Making disciples is part of God’s mission of bringing redemption to this fallen world. The shocking part of all of this is that we, like Jonah, can live our lives yet avoid the mission of God in a million different ways. We get busy. We are tired. We fail to love our next-door neighbor as ourselves. We think that this great mission is the church’s job and we fail to embrace the theological truth that we are the church.

We need to come clean and admit that we are a lot like Jonah. I know I am. The next step is to get out of our comfort zone and join God in what he is doing all around us in everyday life. Let’s be less like Jonah and more like Christ who saw the crowds and instead of retreating he felt compassion.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore spray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

 

Do you REALLY know the story of Jonah?

This Sunday I am going to begin preaching through the book of Jonah. If you have been in the church for very long you know the basic story. The prophet Jonah runs from God and gets swallowed by a large fish. Eventually, reluctantly, Jonah preaches (the shortest sermon in world history) to the wicked city of Nineveh and they repent. You already knew that, right? I want to suggest to you that there is much more to this prophetic book then first meets the eye. If you will read Jonah with an open heart and mind I believe it both challenge and inspire you on a deep level. Here are just a few of the themes we will discuss in this book:

  • The sovereignty of God. Even the sea, and the creatures of the sea, are under the control of God.
  • The grace and mercy of God. The ironic part is that these characteristics of God are what infuriates Jonah!
  • The mission of God in the world. Israel has been commanded to be a light to the nations but they were more concerned about their prosperity than they were the world around them.
  • You will have to deal with some tough questions. For example, are we more like Jonah or Jesus?
  • How an attitude of nationalism can keep us from caring about others. Just for kicks look up the word “jingoistic” and then ask yourself if you see this as a problem when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission.
  • There are tremendous similarities between Jonah and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
  • We must deal with the fact that we all have the tendency to love our comfortable lives more than we love other people.
  • The gospel is clearly being pointed to throughout the book of Jonah.
  • The book is, start to finish, a love story. The love of God for his lost sons and daughters.
  • A wonderfully inspiring theme is REVIVAL. The entire city of Nineveh repents and turns to the Lord. Will you join me in praying for revival here in Watertown, South Dakota? In your hometown?

My plan is to blog through each chapter, but today I just wanted to share this EXCELLENT video that details the overall story-line of the book of Jonah. The video was produced by the creative people at The Bible Project.