When the Worst Teach the Best

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans. Click here to read the first, second, and third posts in the #JonahSeries?  

It is no wonder that Jonah ran away from going to Niveveh. These fierce-some people were no strangers to violence- especially against Jews. Without belaboring the point, let's just say they HATED each other- and killed each other as often as possible. God telling Jonah to go evangelize them, saying that his God- Yahweh God- was going to smite them in a few days time, was nothing if not a suicide mission. I liken it to God telling one of us to go deep into the heart of ISIS and letting them know that God (the Hebrew God) is going to wipe them away.

Ummmm... no. We'd be lucky to get past the border without being slaughtered.

And yet, in the third chapter of Jonah, after his 'come-to-Jesus' time in the whale, we see him doing just that. Walking steadfastly into enemy territory- to a people who hate his people, a culture who know nothing of his God, a nation of violent warriors... the worst of the worst. But Jonah proceeds. (You gotta give it to him in the courage department.) The whale spits him out on dry ground and he steps obediently across the border to enemy territory.

Can you feel your pulse quickening? Mine sure does thinking about it.

From chapter 3 verse 3- So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Wait... what? Back up... Just like that? The entire city believed God?

I'm confused. Anyone else?

Let's go back to ISIS- you go in, walking at least a days journey (and I'm sure looking over your shoulder with every step- just waiting for the bullet in your back... or worse), you're still alive and in one piece, you give the message (still alive...), these enemies of God actually listen (still alive).... and the entire population believes you (aaaand, you're still alive!) People this is an astounding story! Think about what it's actually saying. A violent and depraved culture, who is 'bad enough' that God Himself actually takes a personal and active interest in (meditate on that for a second..), hears one man tell them one thing and they believe. They mourn, They repent. They change.

Wow. Just WOW.

How often do we children of God resist the tiny things He's trying to correct in us. Though sin is sin is sin in His eyes, very often we're not exactly dealing with murderers here. Our sin stands the same against the Nivevites- though I imagine ours rank a bit more bland in the sin department. And yet we push against His gentle correction. We tug at the boundaries of what is acceptable. We resist His guidance.

These Nivevites with their violence, hatred, idolatry... you name it... put us to shame too often in the obedience department. I think their utter dropping and repenting of their sins is a huge example to us- not only in their wholeheartedness but in their immediacy. They heard the word and they immediately repented- not the next day, or next week, or 'sometime soon'- they dropped everything and repented, begging God for mercy.

They heard the word and changed.

The worst of the worst is one of the best Biblical examples I can think of to teach the 'best' of us. Surely if the Ninevites can surrender it all to God- in spite of their wickedness- then we as actual children of God can do the same.

If there is something God is trying to correct in you, if there is sin that needs repented of, if there is a word you've been given by God... hear the message and change!

Look in the Mirror America- We're ALL Guilty

This last week has been shameful and heart-wrenching for our nation- maybe more specifically Charlottesville, Virginia. Although the outpouring of both love and hate has been immense, and at times downright vehement, I am compelled to write (to myself as much as anyone else!) a gentle reminder of what we're actually working with here- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let's go in backwards order.

The Ugly- As much as I hate to admit it racism is not, nor has ever been in the history of this country, a new thing. And, very unfortunately, though in many places it is held at bay and not overtly apparent, racism (of all kinds, towards all peoples and colors) still is very much a prevalent part of our tapestry. And I say 'our' very purposefully... as in us as a people, us as human beings. This is not an American problem, or a Western problem, or even a first-world problem... it's an earth problem. A HUMAN problem.

Because in the end, it's a SIN problem.

And racism is nothing more than sin.

Of all forms, respects, leanings, or bents... anytime that anyone feels or looks at himself as something higher, more noble, more entitled, superior, better, stronger, etc. etc. that person is sinning. Flat out sinning. There's just no two ways about it. We have to call it what it is. Racism is simply a very obvious (and easily hated) thought process and behavior that exemplifies the root of all our fallen-ness... this idea that we are better, we are brighter, we deserve more. As forward thinking and 'enlightened' as we all would like to think mankind has become, in the end, this week's events has done nothing if not show us that we are exactly like every other generation before us, world-wide... We all (to some degree or another) think we are right, we are correct, our way is the best way, our life is the best example.  If we were to look in a mirror, I am sorry to say but we all to some extent are racist, sexist, ageist, you-name-it. Because what all these ugly words really boil down to, what they are at their core, are beliefs that something or someone is better than another (it doesn't matter the reason- color, creed, religion, sex, sexual preference, eye color, coffee preference, etc.) It is holding something or someone up in opposition to ourselves, and allowing for no other outcome but our own personal, unopposed, view of victory.

Yes, you and me... we fit all too nicely in that box of opposition.

 

But stay with me here!

The bad- What I'm getting at is that even the best of us are sinners. We live under the cloud of the first sinners, Adam and Eve, who thought they knew better, were wiser, could skirt the rules and hide from God. They were wrong and still millennia later, so too are we. You see what I'm getting at? We are still trying to convince ourselves and each other that we. are. better. Some of those arguments take a more obvious road of hatred, violence, and accusation, some are quite a bit more passive and quiet. But they all come from the same root... an utterly fallen nature... the very root of all sin.

Pride.

I struggle mightily with it. You do too. So also, do 'they'. We all have some degree of superiority complex that assumes our 'rightness of cause'. And in that, the cause itself becomes wholly secondary, regardless of how repugnant, righteous, violent, evil, wholesome, or loathsome. It matters not... because we stand guilty as charged, and the cause somehow fades into the distance as we stand in front of the ultimate Judge, Jury, and Sentencer.

And just like that, the playing field is leveled.

Yes, as many are saying, hate is taught. But I would also argue that scripture tells us that we are born into sin. We are way more spiritually bankrupt at birth that I think any of us would like to imagine. Hate, the kind of hate that we've seen this week, is taught. The behavior has to be encouraged. But love, real love, God's love, is taught too- it is absolutely NOT inherent in our genes. And without that kind of love, not a one of us is any better before the throne of God then those who we would love to shine a light on and condemn. Terrorists, ISIS, neo-nazis, white supremists, the Khmer Rouge, Stalin... all the 'fashionably' easy ones to bemoan. Without Jesus standing in front of us, without His blood covering our wrath, we would stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

Without God, we are helplessly and hopelessly, utterly and eternally without love.

The good- But there is such HOPE! Christ covers our wrath. He covers our hate. He shows us a better way... because he IS THE best way. Under Christ there is no condemnation, no judgement, no pride of self... only Him and His blood. With that blood being available to all.... we cannot help but also love and sacrifice for all... even the ones who are hardest to love.

So what's my point here? What's the application?

First off, I hope the point has been driven home, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV.) I'm not saying don't condemn these horrific acts and ideas... I AM saying examine your own heart and prejudices before you do in order to maintain your integrity and not be called out as a hypocrite. 

Because as hard as it sounds, you will be judged by the rule that you judge others. Your sin of pride sits squarely next to 'theirs'. Pray long and hard about your own soul before you go tearing into others.

And yes, once that's done... pray them out of it. Show them out of it. Love them out of it.

Do something. Hate is learned, a greater Love can be taught as well. But it takes action to undo what has been done. We who live under Christ's Love have been commanded to spread that Love to others... even those who hate the hardest and reject true Love the most. They need to be shown the better way just as much as you do.

So show them!