E-book: Jonah, the reluctant missionary (part 6)

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   "The sign of Jonah . . . . God's extravagant concern for both the evil and the complacent, for Ninevites as well as Jonahs, for prostitutes as well as Pharisees, for my enemy as well as for me. . . . The puzzle of Jonah -- its perpetual source of wonder and doubt -- is this: why is God so deeply concerned about, not just Nineveh, but this man Jonah?"
   -- Mark Buchanan in "Running With Jonah," Christianity Today, November 15, 1999

This electronic book (e-book) is about the theology of missions. Its basis is an Old Testament character named Jonah, a man whose story is often used to teach obedience. These 10 short chapters reflect on what Jonah's story has to say about God's desire that the entire world be evangelized.

1. Are the heathen really lost?

Point five: Lost because a sleeping Church has abandoned them

     Are the heathen really lost? Jonah was convinced they were even though he wanted to walk away, leaving them that way! Unfortunately, Jonah has had lots of company in his complacency. Unwilling to see beyond their own world, they dismiss responsibility for anybody beyond their immediate neighborhood.

As his ship headed across the Mediterranean into that storm, Jonah disappeared below deck. Instead of being conscience-stricken over his cowardly actions or agonizing over the perishing Ninevites, Jonah went to sleep. Was he lulled to sleep by relief at having escaped God's call? Or was he simply exhausted? We do know that the Ninevites' lostness did not greatly burden Jonah. It was that attitude, and not Jonah's outward disobedience, that most upset God.

Too many churches are asleep just as Jonah was in the storm. This was brought home to me not long ago. In 1990 as the communist government of Russia crumbled, we at SNU had the opportunity to send in an evangelistic team of students. They raised much of the money for that trip from family and friends. Sadly, one team member's local church said they couldn't help her to be on that short-term mission trip. The reason? They were raising money to beautify their own church building. They needed to pay for new carpet. What a bunch of Jonahs!

Fortunately, not every church has succumbed to the grip of a Jonah mentality. The Church of the Nazarene in Roswell, New Mexico did not. That congregation had outgrown its old building. It needed land to build a larger one. Although they began accumulating money in a building fund, they couldn't find affordable property. Then, someone at a local church board meeting suggested that they "tithe" their building fund money. Instead of letting that building fund money sit unused month after month, they proposed taking some of it to help on a church building in another country. That's what they did. Then, after building one church on a mission field, they built a second one. It was then that some doors began to open for their own local building project. Still, they decided to keep helping others. Before completing their own new building, those Roswell Nazarenes had helped build five church buildings in other countries. While there may have been some potential Jonahs in that Roswell congregation, they were not being listened to. I fervently hope hundreds of other church boards will catch the vision for global evangelism that drove that one church.

It may not happen, however. I sometimes hear pastors or church board members grumbling at the idea of giving ten percent of their church income to evangelism ministries in other countries. "After all," these modern-day Jonahs moan, "our local church has so many expenses and we have to support the district organization too. How can we drain off money for work in another country when that money is needed to keep our local ministry afloat?"

Like Jonah, they're sitting in the shade. Or else they're headed for Tarshish, trying to remain oblivious to the Ninevites tumbling off into eternity. Such people may believe that the heathen are lost. Still, they shrug off responsibility to reach them, saying that a merciful God will somehow take care of the unreached. What started as an understandable reluctance to make needed sacrifices has quickly soured into carnal reasoning.

Remember my preacher friend and his sermon about the size of whale stomachs? Instead of worrying about peripheral details, that preacher should have been crying and weeping over the 2 billion people beyond the reach of near-neighbor evangelism efforts. He should have been pleading with his congregation to do something about those peoples untouched by the Gospel. What wasted effort he put out, squandering his Sunday morning sermon time talking about the size of whale stomachs!

Sometimes people excuse their lukewarmness toward world evangelism efforts by saying: "Well, don't Christian TV and radio cover the globe? Surely everyone can hear the gospel that way."

Doesn't that sound like an excuse Jonah would use?

Jonah's attitude surfaced about two hundred years ago in a ministers' meeting in Nottingham, England. There, a bi-vocational pastor named William Carey was invited to suggest a discussion subject for the group of ministers.

Rev. Carey had been reading James Cook's Voyages Around the World. These travelogue books recounted the global travels of Captain Cook. As Carey read them, he became burdened by the spiritual condition of those peoples Cook had visited. So, that day in the late 1700's, Rev. Carey suggested that the ministers talk about "the duty of Christians to attempt the spread of the gospel among heathen nations."

Carey was stunned when the leader of the meeting stopped him. In an agitated voice the moderator said: "Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine."

Doesn't that sound like Jonah? Can't you hear that recalcitrant prophet saying: "Lord, you want a message preached in Nineveh? Then, do it yourself."

Fortunately, William Carey did not listen to that church leader. Some friends helped him start the English Baptist Missionary Society and under its auspices in 1793 he sailed for India.

Up until that time, the 200-year-old Protestant movement had not engaged in much cross-cultural missionary outreach. Carey's efforts awakened Protestantism to its missionary responsibilities to such a degree that he is now called the "Father of Modern Missions." Jonah would not have gotten along too well with William Carey. [ video on Carey ]

The 1991 Persian Gulf War in Kuwait and Iraq gave some Southern Nazarene University students a chance to emphasize one thing that God seems to want to say to us through Jonah. When United Nations forces started their bombing campaign over Iraq, yellow and orange ribbons showed up everywhere, signaling people's solidarity with coalition military personnel. Trees on our campus and even a traffic sign or two sported yellow ribbons.

Then, one day John and Jamie Zumwalt came to class wearing little green ribbons. That, they said, was to call attention to the spiritual lostness of those Muslim families affected by the war in Iraq and Kuwait. The green ribbons signified that they were praying for the lost Muslims of the Gulf region. Not many other students joined John and Jamie in wearing those green ribbons. Too many Jonahs around, it seemed. The Iraqis, after all, were the enemy. In 1991, praying that God would comfort and bless Iraqis seemed to some almost an act of treason.

Jonah missed the boat. And so have we!

Are the heathen lost? Yes, they are! Does our heart break over that? I'm not sure. We may be too much like Jonah. . . . [ continue reading ]

Note: The word "heathen" in the title is not used in a pejorative or negative sense. This was the classic wording of questions about the eternal destiny of the unreached or unevangelized.

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God's missionary heart

Next chapterWhat burdens God's heart? . . . [ read more ]

SNU missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology   Introduction to Missions   Linguistics   Missions Strategies   Modern Missionary Movement  (History of Missions)    Nazarene Missions   Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions
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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658
Updated: February 19, 2019

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