E-book: Jonah, the reluctant missionary (Part 9)

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This 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.

2. The missionary heart of God

A missionary God offers salvation

Cartoon character Dennis the Menace was talking one day to Joey as they walked away from a neighbor's house. As the neighbor lady -- Mrs. Wilson -- watches them walk away, both boys are munching on a cookie.

Dennis turns to his friend and says: "Mrs. Wilson gives you a cookie not because you're good, but because she's good."

Don't the words which the cartoonist put into the mouth of Dennis the Menace make good theology? Little Dennis' evaluation of Mrs. Wilson illustrates how God deals with us. God doesn't bless us because we're good. He does so because He's good. That's a lesson from Jonah's story.

Jonah knew that "salvation comes from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). It is grace -- God's grace -- that saves us. Our Protestant heritage emphasizes that we are saved by faith and not by good works. It is by the grace of this missionary God that salvation is offered to us.

"It's not fair for God to damn people who've never heard!" a college student said to me one day. God doesn't act unfairly. The truth is, judgment has already been passed on all the human race. Our individualistic age misses the implications of the solidarity or unity of the human race. We draw back from joining Isaiah in crying out that we are part of "a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). We Westerners heavily emphasize individualism while overlooking collective responsibility.

A sports' analogy may be helpful here. A basketball team may have a superstar player who always outscores everybody else. Even at that, his team may lose lots of games. As highly motivated and talented as that gifted player is, he or she will never share a championship moment because he or she is on a losing team. We, too, are members of a losing team. No matter how good any particular individual on that team may be, it still is a losing team. For that person to be a winner he will have to get on a different team.

God is trying to find ways to draw us (and everyone else) into His saving grace. Peter's words that God "is not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9) echo what Jonah's story showed years before. Then, Jonah's story ends on a clear note of God's concern for His whole creation. There is that haunting final question from God: "Aren't people worth more than cattle?"

Think back in the story. It was God Himself who was the most concerned about Nineveh. No one on earth was pleading for Nineveh to be spared, certainly not Jonah. The Assyrians were his country's bitterest enemies. As it dawned on Jonah what was happening, it galled him to think that these cruel Assyrians could be objects of Jehovah's care.

As we try to explain our relationship to God, we sometimes use friendship terminology. Yet, that relationship is different from a human friendship. For instance, we may be friends with another human being even though we don't share very many of the same interests. Our relationship with God is far different. We cannot approach Him on a simple "live-and-let-live" basis like we can with human friends. Rather, we must be so absorbed with Him that we say with Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Thus, if God is the missionary God that Jonah's story reveals, then no one should claim a close relationship with Him if he or she is not also intensely missionary. Missions is not simply one of God's many concerns. It is His central concern. It should come as no surprise that Christ's Church has been the most spiritually vibrant when it has been its most missionary.

Through the centuries there have been those heavily burdened for lost peoples. In the 1500's John Knox prayed: "Give me Scotland or I die." In the wake of his prayer, revival and reformation swept across that country. Through the years, Knox's great prayer for an entire country has inspired others. One missions organization, DAWN (Discipling A Whole Nation), uses John Knox's prayer to call for others who will burden themselves for the evangelization of entire countries.1 In the light of what Jonah's story reveals to us about God, it's clear that Knox was not any more burdened for Scotland than was God Himself! No one is more intensely missionary than God Himself. . . . [ continue reading ]

1"When the people of Jerusalem had turned from the Lord and wallowed in almost unimaginable sin, the Lord said to Ezekiel that he looked for a man who would stand int he gap before him so he would not have to destroy the land (Ezekiel 22:30). So it has been and continues to this day. When the Lord looks to his people to make disciples of nations, he looks for the leader who will give his life for this cause. Such a man was John Knox, the 16th century reformer. . . He emulated such men as Nehemiah who mourned, wept, fasted and prayed for his native Jerusalem; as Jesus who wept over the same city and longer to gather it under his protection as a hen gathers her brood; as the Apostle Paul who incredibly went so far as to wish that he were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race' (Romans 9:3)." -- Jim Montgomery, DAWN Report, October 2001

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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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