Let me introduce you to my friend, Eric. Eric Michael Bryant serves with Gateway Church in Austin and as part of the The Origins Project, a movement of people committed to Jesus, Humanity, and Innovation. Eric helped with a church plant in Seattle and as a navigator at Mosaic in Los Angeles for 12 years.
Eric’s book, Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World, is a guide for overcoming the negative Christian stereotype by embracing the people Christians “love to hate.”
Throughout this year, I want to introduce you to some of my friends. People whose voices I know, respect, and appreciate. Their words often challenge me in my thinking and faith. I hope they’ll challenge you, too. Enjoy!
Have you ever found yourself knowing what you ought to do, but you don’t want to do it?
I recently read a familiar story that included some surprising details I somehow had missed over the years. The story revealed that a very successful missionary, in fact one of the most successful missionaries ever, was not simply reluctant, he was suicidal. Jonah would rather die than see the people of Nineveh forgiven by God. Only after reconsidering for three days in the digestive tract of a giant fish, did Jonah finally share the message of warning from God to the people of Nineveh.
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” (Jonah 3:5).
One of the greatest sermons in history was only 8 words long.
Ok. Well, maybe Jonah’s message was not that impressive, so it must have been his heart for the people that they felt? Actually that wasn’t it at all. Jonah was beyond irate and beyond depressed at their willingness to turn to God. Jonah wanted to die (again).
Jonah prayed: “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 3:10-4:3).
This moment shows such a stark contrast between a loving and merciful God and His angry and judgmental messenger.
Why did Jonah have such hostility towards the people of Nineveh? Simply put, Jonah saw the people of Nineveh as his enemies. He despised what they had done towards his people in the past. He hated their religion, their politics, and their lack of morality. As a result, Jonah placed a limit on who God should love.
Whether we have intended this or not, the world tends to see people who follow Jesus as sharing the same attitude that Jonah did.
Rather than being exclusive and judgmental, we have to work that much harder to become inclusive and loving. We cannot show the world God’s love if we do not truly love the people in our world.
One of the most important changes we can make to overcome this perception would be to create communities in which people are allowed to belong before they have to believe. Rather than being considered and even treated as outsiders, we need to invite our family, co-workers, and neighbors into our lives and into our communities as friends.
As followers of Jesus, we have been “set apart” and “sent out.” We are “set apart” in our behavior, and “sent out” in our relationships. The more religious we become the more these ideas become reversed. We end up being “set apart” in our relationships, and “sent out” from those we are to love and serve. We are “set apart” in how we relate to others, not to whom we relate.
I know I have been hard on Jonah, but in the end, after Jonah was rescued, he went into the city.
Maybe our question is: where will we go now that we’ve been rescued?