“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3:10 NIV).”
One day two Christian carrots were walking down the street. They were the best of friends. Just as they started to step off the curb a car came speeding around the corner and ran one of them over. The unhurt carrot cradled his buddy, telling him over and over again that he would be ok. Finally the ambulance arrived and rushed the injured carrot off to the hospital. His friend rode with him. Once at the hospital the uninjured carrot paced back and forth in the emergency room waiting to hear how his friend was going to be. After many minutes of agonized waiting the doctor came out. He walked over to the distraught carrot and said “I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that your friend is going to be all right. The bad news is that he is going to be a vegetable all his life.”
ALL PEOPLE MATTER TO GOD –NOT JUST SOME PEOPLE- BUT ALL PEOPLE
“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11) -read Jonah
God told Jonah that Nineveh has more than 120,000 people in it who could not discern their right hand from their left hand or in other words they needed help and they mattered to Him. The census of 2000 showed us that Cincinnati had a total population of 331,285 making it the third largest city in Ohio. Hamilton County is located in the southwest corner of the state and as of 2000; the population is 845,303 which makes it the third largest county in Ohio. I’m certain that there are those in this city and county who are having trouble discerning what is right and wrong as well as the people who were in Nineveh ,and were in need of Gods help. The people of Cincinnati and Hamilton county matter to God just like those people of Nineveh. These people matter to God and they should matter to us. Regardless of their moral condition, attitude, lifestyle, race, gender, religious label, political views, education or circumstance. They all matter to Him.
GOD IS PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH EVERYONE
“But You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Psalms 86:15)
If we are to ever understand God, we need to understand this about Him: He is irrationally, passionately in love with every person he has ever created. They all matter to Him. Most of us have something that we cherish like paintings, jewelry, pottery or clothing, etc. Some of us have piles of things that (to put this delicately), needs to be placed in a landfill or just thrown out. I’m reminded of the many times that I picked up some of my sons broken toys and placed them in the trash can. When he noticed the toy in the can he “quickly said” who threw my toy away?” The current saying is one man’sjunk is another mans treasure. To me it was junk, however to him it still had value. If I would have insisted that we throw it away he would have frowned or may have cried in order to keep it. Why do children do this? Because to children every toy has infinite worth and value. It all matters to them. They don’t want to lose any of it. Now, while children eventually get over having their toys throw away, God never, ever, ever gets over the loss of anyone of the people He created. No matter how crinkled, distorted and stained we get by our rebellious choices or by our circumstances we are now and always will be supremely valuable to the one who created us.
JESUS IS LOOKING FOR LOST PEOPLE
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19: 9 NIV)
People are so valuable to God that He sent His only son Jesus to seek out the lost people who mattered so much to Him, so much he was willing to die on a cross so that the people He created could find forgiveness and life with God forever. The truth is: None of us has ever looked into the eyes of someone who did not matter to God.
- The irritated driver who cuts us off in traffic
- The coworker we cannot stand
- The cashier at the market
- The teenager or the parent who’s driving us up the wall
- The teacher who laughs at our faith
- The person on the opposite extreme of the political spectrum
- The immoral lifestyle of our neighbor
- The homeless person on a park bench
- The person who hurt us in the past
- Every person we have ever met and will ever meet
They are all masterpieces in God’s eyes. They all matter to Him (God don’t make no junk). God will stop at nothing to retrieve them and bring them back to where they belong- in a relationship with Him. I believe that’s the reason you are here today in Sunday school- You matter to God too! You may not feel like a masterpiece, you may feel insignificant you may feel like you’ve trashed your life so badly that you couldn’t possibly be acceptable; you may even feel unlovable or unloved. I need to tell you this morning that God doesn’t just love the world, he loves you! Personally! He’s been looking for you even when you weren’t looking for Him. He loves you so much that even if you were the only person on earth who ever lived, God still would have sent His son to die for you. You matter to God and every person you meet matters to God.
SEEING PEOPLE THE WAY THAT GOD DOES
“But God demonstrates His own love for in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”
The book of Jonah is not only about God’s heart for lost people like the Ninevites, and like you and like me, it’s also about His passionate desire for Jonah and us to begin to see people the way God sees them, and to love people as God loves them. This only makes sense right? I mean if every person I meet is a person who matters to God regardless oftheir personal circumstance, gender, race, lifestyle, politics or religious label; a personloved enough for Jesus to give up His life for them, then shouldn’t I value them and lovethem as well? If lost people matter that much to God, shouldn’t they matter enough to me that I would be willing to set aside my own selfish agenda, endure any inconvenience, expend any amount of time or energy, do whatever it takes to let them know how much they matter to God so that they might come into a relationship with the God who loves them so much?
We know the lost people matter to God- the question we need to ask ourselves is: Do lostpeople matter to us? Do they really matter to us? I don’t know about you, but this is a question I have been wrestling with myself since we began this Evangelism theme. I have come to realize that more often than not, the answer to that question in my life is “No,not really”. In this I am more like Jonah than I want to admit. Jonah knew intellectuallywhat we know- that the Ninevites mattered to God.
THE NINEVITES DIDN’T MATTER TO JONAH
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3 NIV).”
The Ninevites didn’t matter to Jonah. He didn’t like the Ninevites. He didn’t want to spend time with them. He didn’t want to be gracious wit them. He didn’t want to invest his life in theirs. He just wanted God to judge them and be done with it. That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. And that’s why Jonah is so angry at the end of the book- because God was gracious to them. He knew the Ninevites mattered to God; they just didn’t matter to him!
In the end Jonah is ultimately more concerned with his own comfort than the 120,000 people who turned their hearts towards God. Jonah was totally and completely self-centered! Unfortunately, I can relate to Jonah. Can you? Like Jonah I can get more passionate about my own comfort, getting my own needs met, than I ever get about reaching lost people who need a savior. Like Jonah, there are people in my world who I know God has called me to love, and I have just said “No! I don’t want that job. They don’t matter that much to me. I’m not proud of that but if I’m honest, I have to admit while I know that people matter to God, all too often, the way I live suggests that they really don’t matter that much to me. What about you? Just how much do the people who matter to God matter to you? Are there some people in your world who just don’t seem to matter much to you?
MOVING OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONES
“Go into the street corners and invite to banquet anyone you find. (Matthew 22:9 NIV)”
I believe that, like Jonah, God is calling us individually and as a church to move out ofour comfort zone as we take seriously His command to love others as He has loved us.
- To let God develop such a passion in our hearts for lost people that we are willing to set aside self-centeredagendas and replace them with other-centeredministry of care and compassion in our homes, offices, in our neighborhoods, in our classrooms and wherever else we happen to be each day.
- To find other areas of common ground with the people of God places in our path, to build bridges of friendship with them so that the love of Christ can walk into their lives through us.
- To develop a love for people that we are willing to invest ourselvesin their lives, be inconvenienced by their problems and become heart broken by their pain. And in so doing to let them know in tangible ways that they matter to God. Because the truth is they will never know that they matter to God, until they see in tangible ways they matter to us.
HOW DO WE DEVELOP GOD’S HEART FOR LOST PEOPLE? [What will motivate us to move beyond our self-centered focus to an other-centered passion that can impact the world?]
In my own life, the only power I have discovered that can break me of my self-centered preoccupation with my own comfort and needs and get me to invest myself in others is power of prayer! In fact we see the power of prayer working in Jonah’s life. (See Jonah 4) – Jonah 4 is an extended prayer- a dialogue between Jonah and God where Jonah feels the freedom to tell God exactly how he feels; where God gently reveals the heart of Jonah’s problem and begins the painful work of creating in Jonah’s heart a love for lost people. It’s a powerful model for us. In prayer we are free to confess the truth about our attitudes towards the people God loves. “But I don’t like them, God! And I don’t want to spend time with them!” God then gently begins the process of softening our hearts towards those people we thought we could not love. Prayer changes people and things!