On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts that have rambled in my brain since hearing the sermon at my church. Today’s entry was inspired by Andy McQuitty’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church as we’re starting a new series in Jonah. This sermon is titled “Saying No To God Is A Bad Idea.”
All in all, I’ve had life pretty good.
I mean, I live in a place that hasn’t experienced a civil war in 150 years or so. I grew up in a time when the beginnings of cultural shifts regarding race were changing thought patterns (and subsequently, behavior) of the upcoming generation…granted at a glacial pace. I was much too young to understand an unpopular war and couldn’t even read a map to find out where that nation on a map. My generation never had classmates drafted (we did have to register in case they reinstated one) and sent away to European or Japanese theaters of war.
Even the attacks of September 11, 2001 seemed surreal. I didn’t have anyone I knew directly affected, save a few pilot/flight attendant friends and their spouses. And even though I live in the bedroom community of a major airport and had friends economically/professionally hurt, that was about the extent of my pain. I was even able to, rightly or wrongly, compartmentalize the perpetrators of the attack as religious extremists and a fringe element rather than the average practitioners.
But I personally know others who didn’t have it so good. I mean, I knew of people who were deeply hurt by the overt racism that was prominent in the deep South…and occasionally I walked by a church that had been bombed and little girls died. There are statues in a downtown park in my hometown that remind residents of attack dogs and firehoses.
I have met friends in Africa who work in ministries designed to reconcile tribes and people groups who’ve been at war with one another for many years. They tell stories of brutal killings. They live in a culture where rape is rampant. They experience oppression in a myriad of ways.
I’ve stood in front of the Vietnam memorial where men cried reading the names of fallen comrades. I’ve been to the World War II memorial and heard aging heroes in wheelchairs fondly recall the bravery of their brothers in arms in events nearly 70 years ago.
I’ve watched with a lump in my throat seeing families of people working in the World Trade Center that fateful day cry when their loved one’s name was read and a bell tolled in remembrance. I’ve heard stories of pilots who lost everything they’d worked hard for as the airline industry struggled. I know flight attendants who mention their new thought processes as they work. I have friends who struggle with the outworking of their faith as it relates to those of other faiths.
What I’m saying is that I can understand why some people truly hate others. I can certainly sympathize…at least in an intellectual kind of way. What I can’t do is truly empathize. So, by inference, another thing I’m saying is that when Pastor Andy asked the question during his sermon, “Who do you hate?” well, I had a very difficult time coming up with an answer.
He pointed out that the prophet Jonah had ample reason to hate the people of Ninevah. According to Andy, it’s possible that the Ninivites had raided his hometown years before. Jonah’s experiences, for whatever reason, created a strong enough reaction that when the God of the universe asked him to go to Ninevah, he tried to travel nearly 2,000 miles in the opposite direction…and Andy offered insight into why that might be:
Jonah thought that God extending grace and the offer of forgiveness and repentance and salvation to these people was just going soft on sinners. Jonah thought God should agree with him that Ninevah should be destroyed, not redeemed. He didn’t want ‘those people’ saved. Now in that attitude which we understand-it’s very understandable-Jonah conflicts with God. See, Jonah saw tribes, not people, and wanted them collectively punished. God sees people, not tribes, and wants to forgive them individually. There’s a fundamental difference in the way God views people and the way Jonah views people.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I’m a better person because I couldn’t recall some group or people to hate. I’m simply trying to give insight into the reality that God, for whatever reason, has allowed me to live a life that has been remarkably free from the events that would give me cause to hate others.
And, as a mission pastor where part of my role involves serving our church by providing opportunities to take the Gospel message all over the world to all sorts of people groups, well, maybe one reason God put me in the role is because I don’t have that intrinsic hatred for “tribes”…for “those people”…for “sinners”…
But I do feel the need to put my cards on the table, because I like to think that if I knew for sure that God were saying, “Brent, go to __________________” then I’d be the kind of person that would pack my bags and head out and do that very thing.
The truth about me is that I’d likely do what Jonah did, too.
No, the thing that would send me fleeing the other direction are my own fears and insecurities…about the culture of others. The things they eat. The language I can’t ever seem to get my arms around. The government I don’t really understand. The history I don’t know. The music they listen to. The money they use. The dances they do. The reality that my skin/hair/eye color is the one that elicit stares. The reality that my religion and the practice thereof might even be punishable by death. The homes they live in and the creatiure comforts they do without that I pretty much can’t live without…well, at least miss tremendously. The games they play. The oppression they’ve experienced. The architecture. The education system or the healthcare available or not available.
So, I may not “hate” them per se…
…but I certainly don’t love them enough to want to immerse myself in their lives.
And, today, I’m thinking it’s pretty obvious that one isn’t any better than the other. And it’s pretty obvious that the result is the same. I may not “hate” the tribe or the sinners or “those people” but I certainly have a tendency to not love them enough to go to them.
Which is a tough lesson knowing that Christ poured Himself out and immersed Himself in my life.
So my prayer today is a simple one: God, help me immerse myself in the lives of people where you’ve placed me for your glory…and give me the strength to pour myself out if you ask me to love “those people” at some point in the future.