I think it is fair to call Jonah an ‘unwilling witness.’ He was more than reluctant; he was downright unwilling. He was quite creative in his attempts to shirk his calling from God to go to Nineveh, the capitol of the mighty Assyrian Empire. Jonah was sent to call the Ninevites to repent or face God’s wrath. They had such a terrible reputation as an evil, cruel, sinful society, that Jonah wanted no part in going there. Most likely, Jonah didn’t even want them to repent; punishment for their atrocities would have been sweet revenge.
After all, how would Jonah get his message of repentance through to the Assyrians? How would they receive God’s call to repent? How would they receive Jonah? Would they laugh him out of town, or would they torture him, or kill him? Why on earth would Jonah even want to help such an evil, awful, people?
But God’s plan was to save them. Despite what Jonah thought, God had other plans. God wanted the Ninevites to hear His message of repentance. God had to work pretty hard to convince Jonah to go, but the message was finally brought to the Ninevites, and they responded. They repented from their sinful ways and they were saved. They were changed.
I think we can identify with Jonah. As a general rule, we are often reluctant in our call to serve. We’re not big on expressing our faith, but we are getting better!
I’ll always remember Verle Blaha’s ability and desire to share his faith. Verle would jump at the chance to talk about his faith in Jesus to anyone. He even told me about times when he would be ordering something over the phone, or speaking with a customer service representative, and he would ask them about their faith. He didn’t care what the other person thought, he was just excited to share his faith! If we could all be as open and positive about our faith and not bashful about sharing it, the Christian Church might be a whole lot larger!
I find that as a pastor, people expect me to talk about Jesus. They might even have questions or something that is bothering them about God, Jesus, or the Church. That makes it easier to be open about sharing our faith. When we are on our Mission Jamaica trips, we often come in contact with people who ask about what we are doing. At the hotel we run into folks from anywhere in the world. They may see us wearing our shirts or caps with our logos on them and ask what it is we are doing. Or the Jamaican hotel staff will ask one of us about why we are there, and it can open the door to a conversation about faith.
I have found that when we are open to just letting people know we are Christians, or if they see something different in how we act, or what we say, God opens the door for us, and we are led into a conversation about faith. If we try to force the conversation, we run the risk of turning people off or alienating them. Discussions about ‘religion’ can end up clearing a room of people in a hurry!
My first bishop, Gib Lee, was a tremendous mentor for me. When I had been assigned to the Northern MN District of the ALC as it was then, bishop Lee met with me at the seminary. It was a get-to-know-you type interview, and I’ll never forget my surprise when he asked me if I was a ‘Jesus Person!’ I really didn’t know what he meant, there can be some negative connotations to the term Jesus Person. Bishop Lee explained that pastors need to be comfortable talking about Jesus with others. He noted that most people of Scandinavian background are shy about talking faith with others. He wanted pastors who were open and free to talk about Jesus.
That is really what is important for all of us who believe in Jesus. We don’t necessarily need to be as open as Verle was, but when someone mentions Jesus or asks if you are a Christian, how would you respond?
With all the things going on in our country right now, we are challenged to be able to bring our faith into the forefront of our actions and our discussions. How does our faith influence how we treat one another? How is our faith shown or active in our belief systems, or our actions toward others?
Our confirmation class has just finished the Youth Alpha Series. This is a 12 week series that is, in many respects, an introduction to the Christian faith. We look at topics such as God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Cross-Why did Jesus Die?; Healing—Does God Heal Today?; and Telling Others: Why and How should I Tell Others?
The session on Sharing our Faith states: “The message about Jesus is the best news anyone could ever hear! Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, we can have a relationship with God! With gentleness and respect, we can tell others about our faith and experience. Our words, prayers, and loving actions all make a difference.”
This is such a neat way of stating what our joy as Christians truly is. We have the best news anyone could ever hear! Wow. How/why are we shy about sharing this with others?
Jesus called a bunch of fishermen to be disciples by saying, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left everything and went with Jesus. That simple invitation began the greatest story ever shared. The disciples weren’t perfect, Jonah was far from perfect, but they were effective because it didn’t depend on them. It was about God. It was about God in Christ bringing salvation to sinful and broken people living in a world full of need.
Jesus’ invitation is ours as well. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” It is a simple, yet world-changing invitation. It still has the power to change the world. The message isn’t about how eloquent we are or how forceful we can be; it’s about love. Sharing the story of Christ is sharing His love.