On July 12, 2012

More Than a Fish

So I love this version of Jonah!  This girls got some fire in her bones, and a little Shirley Temple. The whole thing is 8 minutes, She embellishes the story a quite a bit, Jonah has a collection of farm animals, and as you might see she does voices for Jonah’s inner dialogue. It’s brilliant, but my favorite embellishment if you watched it to the conclusion, is how she ended it.

I just finished a series on Jonah at Highland, and it’s one of the most surprising series I’ve ever done. We’ve developed all these ways to keep Jonah at arms length, we pretend that it’s a story about a guy and a whale, and try to reduce Jonah to some Veggietales story, but it’s not. It’s a story about national idolatry, and racism, and arrogance, and unforgiveness, and a story about people who speak for God but don’t really like God.

And if you read Jonah, you’ll find that he’s the most unlikable character in the entire book. He’s the jerk of the book, who whines and complains and runs from God and refuses to pass on forgiveness that God had just given him. But the truth is while we might not like Jonah, I realized that I was a lot more like Jonah than I cared to admit.

And that’s what so problematic about Jonah, Jonah’s ending stinks. Like so many of the Bible stories, the ending comes way to fast. Jonah is having an argument with God, and like always God gets the last word, but the word is a question. God asks Jonah:

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

And that’s it. No pretty bow, or resolution. Jonah fades to black with this little question just floating in the air.

But maybe it would be helpful to remember that Jonah is written to the religious people of the day. It was written to God’s people, and that’s our place in the story. Which means, if you are a Christian, this question is directed at us. Should God not forgive them just because you don’t like them? 

I was at a conference a few years ago and heard the comedian Michael Jr.. He was talking about people who are “over-saved.” They’re the people who you just can’t have a normal conversation with, you ask them “are you thirsty?” and they respond “Thirsty for the LORD.” And then Michael Jr. ended his little bit by saying, chances are as soon as I mentioned Over-saved, you had somebody in mind, and if you didn’t….chances are someone had you in mind.

And I like that. Because what’s he saying, in a very different way is at the heart of the book of Jonah.

Because what do you do when you grow up going to church your entire life, you’ve gone every time the doors were open, you’ve been to every VBS as a child, you’ve never done any of the fun sins.

What do you do when you see this God you’ve spent your life serving actually really does love everyone, even the people who haven’t spent their life like you.

The people who are willing to spend their lives slaving for the LORD, are also the ones who are the most prone to forget the very nature of the LORD.

A few years ago a guy got on Ebay and decided to sell his soul on Ebay. He was an atheist but he said for the highest bidder he would start going to a church or synagogue or Mosque for a year.And it worked, he had a lot of bidders but the person who won asked him to go to a lot of different churches.So he did, he went to churches all over the country from a broad spectrum of Churches.He actually wound up writing a book about his experience, and he was kind and fair, he wasn’t trying to be critical. But he did say something that I think was pretty insightful.

 

But as I read Christian books, and I spent months attending an amazing variety of churches in different parts of the country, I kept running across a consistent and troubling truth  about American Christianity. It is clear that most churches have aligned themselves against nonreligious people. By adopting this stance, Christians have turned off the people I would think they want to connect with. The combative stance I’ve observed in many churches, and from many Christians on an individual level, is an approach that causes people to become apathetic — and even antagonistic — toward religion as a whole.”-Hemant Mehta

I think that’s a fair assessment of what religion does to us.

Not at first, but over time, over years and years of service we start to forget just how much we need God.

I actually love the way that Jonah ends. It’s a question that should made us mad.

It should stick in our minds.

Most of all, it should lead us to action.

Because if you want Jonah to have a better ending, you need to write it yourself.

So the little girl on the video told the story of Jonah, my favorite thing she does to that story is that she gives it a new ending.

Jonah returns home, and with every step  he is starting over, he is becoming a new person, changed by God’s love. Trying to love as God had taught him. And then she says, The End.

I hope it is.

And the beginning.

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  • http://www.stevenhovater.com/ Steven Hovater

    Yup. Jonah is a crazy bit of narrative with the secret of the universe tightly woven in.  It’s a beautiful part of the scriptures, and sadly relegated to the nursery.  On the other hand, it’s wonderful that children learn some version of this story early. It sets them up for a fantastic discovery later on.    

  • Reddove771

    Love Your descriptive, back up on verses, your exoerience and your Bro. in Christ’s experience! You’ve got the ability to speak, what God wants you to speak! It is true, lots of churches did loose focus on connecting with sinners to not just win them to Christ, but to love them as Christ so loved and explained to Jonah! Thank You for this message, I always enjouyed your teaching and I continue to still . Before, my Grandfather died, he said, love souls to other pastors, being founder and Pastor of many Churches. Thank You for loving saved souls and loving sinners! God Bless You, Betty Q.