Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: 5th and Final Part

I will conclude with some personal musings about mini-church. I use mini- in place of mega-. I am persuaded that mini- is where it's at pastorally.

A person who is interested in and skilled for (and "called" to) pastoral ministry carries an internal vision of local church life. The prevailing "business" model of church will appeal to those with the requisite leadership (read CEO) and management skills. Achievable goals, clear objectives, measurable standards and crisp job descriptions will be the vocabulary of the operation. None of this is bad nor is it necessarily biblical. It's the way things are in the good old U.S. of A. A Harvard or Yale MBA is more required than, let's say, a seminary ThM or MDiv to take charge of the megachurch. Bravado and challenge are the guts of mega-ministry. "We gotta take the hill even if we die trying!" shouts the commander- in-chief. Mega- means big. So, you need help. It's a "team" thing. Probably Philip, the disciple, was Jesus' "executive pastor" because Philip carried the calculator. "Lord, we don't have enough bank to feed this mob. Cha-ching!"

Maybe it's just me, but pastoral ministry ought to be, well, pastoral. My goal as a pastor is to help ordinary people living their ordinary lives to be attentive to God. If they take a hill or two in the process, fine. But to take several hills and then have them ask, "Well, dang, where was God in this whole enterprise?" seems futile to me. Jesus got more done in 3 short years with Twelve people than a lot of USAmerican pastors get done in 20 years with 5000 people. What's up with that?

You can't package and market "soul care." It can't be purpose-driven. There are no 7 sure steps to soul care. You can't fill in the blanks in a manual and learn soul care. Do pastors need to be attentive to God? Yes or no? Here's the reality : We're burning pastors out by the hundreds every week and they show up at our retreat/renewal centers ashamed and crying, "I lost God. I actually lost God somewhere in this mess called ministry. I kept the 'operations' afloat, but I was running on empty." Church = keeping the operations afloat (expletive deleted).

Human relationships are not digital or programmatic. Sound and sight and touch, laughter and tears and silence, story and memory and hope, pain and questions and freedom to deeply doubt and still be loved, hate, confusion and bitterness, forgiveness, peacemaking and embrace. Waiting for and helping Rodney and Betty to get from their car using their walkers to their chairs on Sunday morning. Listening to little Jessica tell why she's wearing a watch: "It tells me when I get to go potty" she beams with an absolutely gorgeous smile. High-fiving with energetic Sam and getting some coffee for aging Ray. Talking theology with Jeremy, talking drywalling with Harold, thanking Cheryl for her delicious meat loaf and helping Rich hang letters on the church sign. Grieving with a new widow and laughing with Tim and Sonja about the "thrills(?)" of raising daughters. And in the midst of life as it is, encouraging one another to stay attentive to God---to God's presence, love, promises and mystery.

Few are those who find it.

I am ending this brief series because all you need to do is google "small church" and helpful resources galore are available.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Proper Confidence by L. Newbigin

This is one stimulating stick of dynamite...and it's lit.
What? you ask.
Leslie Newbigin's Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship.

I've seen this little, yet potent book referenced on different blogs and I've had friends encourage me to read it.

What if we discover that with the syncretism resulting from the submission of the evangelical faith to the prevailing tenets of modernity, evangelical scholars, pastors and people have warped the Bible into a book that even Jesus wouldn't recognize? Newbigin, while not using those words, suggests that we've done just that. With the embracing of Decartes' "I think therefore I am," thinkers in the West elevated the human mind as the arbiter of truth (aka "indubitable certainty").

Many have endeavored to transform the Bible into a book about epistemology (how we know what we know) rather than God's Grand Story of soteriology (how we find deliverance from the tyranny of cosmic fallenness). I am indebted to my friend, Scot McKnight, for this observation. Newbigin stresses that the only "indubitable certainty" is a Person---the Three-in-One God. To shoe-horn the Bible into being a book with "scientific accuracy" is to commit an act of treason against the Christian faith. Trans-rational realities are at work in the faith and these supremely relational realities will always seem "moronic" or be "a stumblingblock" to those who need to live with the fantasy of "indubitable certainty."

Those committed to "indubitable certainties" scramble around in the problem passages of the Bible and invent ways to make the Bible hold its own in a culture worshipping at the feet of scientific "truth." Remember the noise and the dust and smoke of "the battle for the Bible"?

I like Newbigin's suggestion that Descarte could have offered, "I love therefore I am." Imagine the West if that idea had caught hold and shaped an epistemology. Knowledge puffs up, loves builds up. Hmmmm....where did that idea come from?


Monday, August 27, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 4

Nickles and noses. Not!

How do you measure a "successful" church? Budgets and buildings and bodies? I read somewhere that when you measure a church by personal relationships, the small church is the best expression of the Christian faith. When we think that a Sunday event is the marker of success, then personal relationships take a much lower rank on the priority list. Many people filter in and out of "big" churches and nobody knows their name. So with the dawn of the 1980s, "small groups" became the mantra of big churches. One illustration I saw at a "church growth" conference was a picture of an elephant made up of a collection of mice. Big church made of small groups. Nice. Whoopee.

Love is never anonymous. Love has named, personal interaction all over it. The Trinity is love according to the Apostle John. Yet, this love never came from a distance, from a platform up front through a well-crafted monologue. Love had a face and a name, touching hands, dusty feet, both a tender and turbulent voice, and an engagement with the best and worst of humanity. Small churches are about named people who are deeply committed to loving God and loving others. The love is not a succinct leaflet or an iPod message or a stunning foyer with a Starbucks in the corner. The love is a smile and handshake, a listening ear, a reaching in the pocket and money given without having to go through "the proper budgetary channels." It seems that small churches are just the right size for loving God and loving your neighbor. I read somewhere, "Small congregations are the right size to be all that God calls a church to be."

I think a church is too large when its size distracts us from practical, nitty gritty love. When all the energies are directed into "growing" rather than into "loving," the church has become an idol. Jesus did not say, "The world will know that you are My disciples by the massive people- warehouses you build and call churches."

Can large churches really love God and love people? Of course! But they have to overcome so many obstacles (or, as in the movie O, Brother Where Art Thou "Ob-STACK-als") that simply don't exist in the smaller churches.

Here's an insider note, a myth-buster. Conventional, big church wisdom says that in a small church the pastor does everything. He or she has to. Pastor is the hired gun; the paid professional. It's simply not true. In my small church I am not frantic to "mobilize the laity." I'm trying to keep up with them! They are loving God, loving each other and their neighbors. My challenge now is to take all that loving and help shape it into some corporate---"let's do these things together"---strategies.

I hope you ponder this particular joy of the small church.

NOTE: Les Puryear visited and commented. You talk about some good stuff about mini-church! Click here


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 3

Family. The greatest joys, the deepest heartaches.

One of the joys of mini- versus mega-church is that people want a sense of family. I admit that it is possible to create a "family feel" in a mega-church, but it's not easy and it's not the same as being a family. Sometimes people will gravitate away from a big church saying something like, "We just felt lost there. We could come and go and no one would even know. So, we wanted to seek out a small church where we could develop a sense of belonging...of 'family.'"

Those who know more than I do about these things tell me that the moment you choose to be a "family" church, you have immediately limited your growth potential. At a certain growth point a church will not feel family-like anymore. Some line is crossed and the church becomes "an organization" or "a team" or (gasp!) "an army." Mega-churches work like mad to break their bigness into littleness--with connecting church, house churches, small groups, or "platoons." I think that at some point the very forms of bigness work against what the "church" is supposed to be. I could be wrong.

My question is this: why do we have to outgrow the sense of "family"? Who says with any kind of binding authority that being a family church is a bad thing? I get out my New Testament and review what God's up to in calling out people for his Name and I see "family" everywhere!

I know that the first century familia was not the same as the USAmerican "nuclear family." The familia included a man, his wife, his children and his slaves (with their families). Yet, the family was a working metaphor for the called-out ones of God. We are the "household" of faith. We have a common Father and older Brother. Even Paul chose to use the family metaphor to shape his apostolic ministry, telling the Thessalonian church that he served among them like a "nursing mother" and like "a father." He didn't throw around his apostolic weight; he demonstrated family love. Moreover, and most strikingly, Jesus said, "Who are my mother, my sister and my brother? Anyone who does the will of my Father, that's who!" Jesus redefined the family--the new people of God.

When our daughters were younger I would sometimes refer to one of them as "old-what's-her-name."

"Oh, Da-aaad! You know who she is."

Of course, that's what families are for: a place where you are known. Not tagged with a sticker that reads, "Hi, my name is John." And it's not just your name that matters. You matter, and your entire story is held as a sacred trust. You are not your story, but you and your story are honored and challenged and transformed "in the family."

I know that's what bars are for, too. "Cheers"--where everybody knows your name.

Mini-church is family size. We're small enough to create a common family story and yet big enough to do more in and for our community than any one (USAmerican nuclear) family can do. A Trinitarian God-shaped relational community exists and it seeks to spread the love and the joy. The idolatry of the USAmerican (Christian) nuclear family is dismantled in the presence of a serving, missional, multi-gifted spiritual family where there are no "big shots."

Turn in your Bibles to Luke 4, and pass the green beans and potatoes...


Monday, August 20, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 2

Uncontrived intergenerational community is another joy of the mini-church.

The bigger the church, the more the crucial realities have to be programmed. Crucial relationships have to be turned into "goals," "objectives," and "measurable standards" with someone responsible to see the program succeed. Nothing "mega-" happens naturally. "Mega-" must be "visioned" and "staffed" and "budgeted."

Thankfully it's not that complicated in a small church.

Meet Ray. He's an older Dutch man with white beard and hair. His rich, sonorous voice stirs us all as he reads the Psalm for the morning. In the Netherlands during World War II he served in the underground and led clandestine assaults against the Nazis. When Ray tells me what he did to survive those horrendous months of war I sense that I'm at the edge of a suffering and pain that I'll never really comprehend. Ray deeply loves "Gott." To hear Ray's passion as he ends the corporate praying of "the Lord's Prayer"--"...and the power and the GLO-ry forever"--sends chills down your spine.

And the following Sunday, there is 11 year old Shelby, blonde hair, blue eyes, 'cute as a bug' as they say, reading for the congregation the Psalm of the morning. Her voice brings to us the 'voice of God' just as Ray's did the Sunday before. I've met Shelby's two younger sisters and I know her mom and dad. Shelby is sharp. She's already a seasoned trial lawyer in a little girl's body. I know from inside sources and I've seen proof.

For a small church, we've got the generations covered end to end. I baptized little baby Nathan on Mother's Day and I recently did the funeral of Mark who died unexpectedly at age 53, leaving a widow and four children and four grandchildren.

Nothing is contrived. We aren't trying to be intergenerational. We just are. Young voices and old, aches and pains, giggles and diapers, walkers and hearing aids, game-boys and hair-ties. We've got bald babies and bald old men. We've got young adults (like Julie and me...don't I wish we were still 'young adults'). Children have a place and space with the adults, and yet have their own space as well. We have singles, and widows, we have marrieds and remarrieds. We have war veterans and postmoderns. Most of all we have a common love for Jesus Christ.

As the pastor, I want people to know that God's voice sounds like the voice of everyone in our community. Not just mine, or Ray's or Shelby's. Even out of the mouth of infants our God speaks.

Life, intergenerational life happens in mini-church. What a joy!


Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Meaning of "STOP"

Hermeneutics in Everyday Life
by Tim Perry, Durham University.

Suppose you're traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1.A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2.Similarly, a Marxist refuses to stop because he sees the stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeois use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers in the east-west road.

3.A serious and educated Catholic rolls through the intersection because he believes he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4.An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn't bother to read the sign but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.

5.A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6.A seminary-educated evangelical preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean:

1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing;

2) location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7.An orthodox Jew does one of two things:

a) Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law;

b) Stop at the sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who
hast given us thy commandment to stop," wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed.

Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: Rabbi Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Issac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says, "Be still and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter, but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written: "Out of the mouths of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. Ben Nathan says: Where were the stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: "Let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says....[continues for three more pages]

8.A Lubavitcher rabbi (Pharisee) does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal. He also works out the gematria of shin-tav-pey (S-T-(O)-P) and takes it to mean that the Rebbe Schneersohn, of blessed memory, will be resurrected as the Messiah after he has stopped at this intersection 780 times.

9.A scholar from the Jesus Seminar concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtably was never uttered by Jesus himself because being the progressive Jew that He was, He would never have wanted to stifle peoples' progress. Therefore, STOP must be a textual insertion belonging entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10.A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a street no one has ever seen called "Q" Street. There is an excellent 300 page doctoral dissertation on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the dissertation, however; it doesn't explain the meaning of the text!

11.An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage "STOP." For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author of the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and the "P".

12.Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the sign were not there.

13.Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar amends the text, changing the "T" to "H". "SHOP" is much easier to understand in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because "SHOP" is so similar to "STOP" on the sign several streets back, that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area. If this is true, it could indicate that both meanings are valid, thus making the thrust of the message "STOP (AND) SHOP."

14.A "prophetic" preacher notices that the square root of the sum of the numeric representations of the letters S-T-O-P (sigma-tau-omicron-pi in the Greek alphabet), multiplied by 40 (the number of testing), and divided by four (the number of the world--north, south, east, and west), equals 666. Therefore, he concludes that stop signs are the dreaded "mark of the beast," a harbinger of divine judgment upon the world, and must be avoided at all costs.

* * * * * *

I hope you had a good laugh. I found this over at


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 1

In Leadership Journal I saw a funny cartoon some years ago. A street ran between two churches. On one side of the street was a huge mega-church and on the other side a small mini-church. The pastors of both were fleeing their respective churches and running toward the opposite church shouting, "Finally, this is what I really want!" Mega-guy wants a mini-church and Mini-guy wants a mega-church.

I am going to do a meandering series about the joys of mini-church. While I do not intend to disparage mega-churches, I do tend to view them as celebrity churches. Just as Hollywood elevates celebrities against whom many citizens unwisely measure their ordinary lives and live vicariously through "the stars," so lots of people (and pastors) in small churches get star-struck by and perhaps envious of the evangelical celebrity churches. I do confess that I've learned a lot from Willow Creek Community Church, Saddleback, Mars Hill Bible Church, Hillsong, and other big time churches. But, let's admit it, these are the celebrities among us---us, the ordinary, non-celebrity churches. The average Episcopal Church has 89 members. Most USAmerican churches are 100 or less.

Ed Dobson, long-time pastor of Calvary Church here in Grand Rapids, MI, once said at the Moody Pastors' Conference, "Big churches have big problems; little churches have little problems. So, brothers and sisters, don't envy me because I pastor a big church." I'll never forget Dobson's transparent comment.

I don't want to repeat the recurring litany (cliche) of the small church: Bigger is not necessarily better. Why? Because sometimes bigger is better. Bigness is no sin, but neither is smallness. The fatal flaw in thinking about smallness in a "super-size me" culture is that smallness means or marks failure. Or, smallness represents lack of passion, or comfort with the status quo, blah, blah, blah. Wrong!

I, like most of you, am aware that we're in a massive transitional era in church history. We're in a vast liminal space. Some enduring, cherished, yet merely human constructs of theology are being questioned, debunked and/or reconfigured. Ideas move the world. Theological ideas move the church.

These are the days of highly interactive, global, transitional theology. I, for one, like it. It does not scare me, as apparently it does a lot of my pastor-peers. Even the idea of "pastor" is being reimagined. Great. But in liminal space, the floor moves. Nothing is nailed down. Liminal space needs liminal leaders. For those who need a "nailed down" confidence--an unmoving floor-- these are frightening times. Fear provokes a plethora of panicked idiocy. My advice? Chill. As passionate followers of Jesus and the Jesus Way, we'll make it through. Not without tears and, perhaps, not without scars. Take a hard look at our Leader--the "nailed down" One.

The first joy of the mini-church: I see a gathering of people and I know all their names. I am even learning their stories--their many blessings and their heart-rending brokenness. We're here for each other and we're here for our community. We're not driven by church policies; we're driven by relational trust as we seek to love God and love people. Do we want to grow? Of course, but we will grow relationally and deeply and personally.

I do not miss the days when I looked out on a room of mostly strangers...regular attenders. As Eugene H. Peterson emphasizes: the personal name is the most important part of speech.

"The shepherd...calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me..." (John 10:2,3,14).


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Free Labor for the Sunday Event"

My friend, Susan Arnold, over at The Philosophical Pastor made some unsettling, yet-true-in-many-cases observations about "church" in our time. Susan commented, "Seriously though, (and this is, unfortunately, serious) you know what is really heart-wrenching about all the pushing and signing up and “discovery of gifts” you describe here is that those “discoveries” are just a way to get people to think they are using spiritual gifts and doing ministry when they serve coffee or set up chairs. Those “inventories” never really result in people being mentored by others and developed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the equipping of the saints; they result in people getting corralled into free labor for the Sunday event."

"...people getting corralled into free labor for the Sunday event."

When is this crap going to stop. Many American evangelical churches are chewing staff pastors and people up and spitting them out for the sake of the "bottom line" and "getting the numbers up." Something as biblically valuable as the Spirit gifting a community of people to live a life of love toward God and others is degraded into USAmerican pragmatic manipulation to keep the activities of a workaholic church afloat.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jesus' Impaired Miracle

Imagine that the 5000 "men" and the 4000 "men" that Jesus fed with bread and fish each had a wife and, let's say, two children. That would mean that Jesus fed to complete satisfaction some 36,000 people. The disciples picked up a total of 19 basketfuls of leftovers (I know there are two different words for "baskets" in Mark 6 and Mark 8).

Soon after these two startling miracles the disciples fuss about not having any bread in the boat. In an exasperated, classic understatement Jesus asks the Twelve, "Why are you talking about having no bread?"

Jesus goes on, "Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear" (Mark 8:18)?

These questions are bracketed between two miracles: Jesus heals a deaf (and speech-impaired) man and Jesus heals a blind man (see Mark 7:31-35 and 8:22-26).

Ben Witherington III quoting Hooker points out that the healing of the blind man (in stages) is "an acted parable." The blindness (and the deafness) of the disciples is in view. The unconventional process in the "once I was blind, but now I see" miracle has three peculiarities: 1) Jesus asks about the effectiveness of his touch (Mk 8:23), 2) the man reports only a partial healing (Mk 8:24) and 3) Jesus touches the man again and restores full, excellent sight (Mk 8:25). No other miracles in the Gospels contain these peculiarities. It's Jesus' impaired miracle.

Discipleship is more about seeing than about knowing. Contemplate Jesus' (shortest?) parable in Luke 6:39. The theme is blindness. Then note Luke 6:40. A student when he or she is fully trained (not taught) will be like his or her master/teacher. Our ailment isn't not knowing, but not seeing. Do you remember Jesus' question to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7? Jesus asked, "Do you *see* this woman?"

Will we admit our own impairment? Do we see beyond the obvious and ordinary to the eternal and extraordinary when we see Jesus...and others?

"Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus..."


Monday, August 06, 2007

The Pathetic Prophet Jonah 4

"God in the hands of an angry sinner" is how I heard Warren Wiersbe title Jonah 4. That title fits.

Only in the mind of pathetic, highly prejudiced Jonah could the grand description of Yahweh as "gracious and compassionate...slow to anger and abounding in love" be viewed as a flaw in God's character! What the Bible celebrates as the hope of the human race, Jonah fitfully spurns as a deficit weakness in God. "That's why I booked it to Tarshish because, whaaa!, whaaa!, you're that kind of namby-pamby God. I knew better. You embarrass me, God, by loving and sparing these stinking Ninevites. You've wasted your grace on the wrong people!"

What get's me is God's patience with Jonah. God just keeps asking, "Do you really have a right to throw a tantrum like this?"

"Yes, I do! Whaa! Whaa! I'm so mad and righteous, I just want to die!" He said this thinking that he was in the same league with his contemporary Elijah. I can just hear God saying under his breathe to the angels, "Jonah is no Elijah...just like Dan Quayle was no J. F. Kennedy."

The writer of this profound little book was a poetic genius. He draws us in, getting us to side with the captain and the sailors over against rebellious Jonah (chapter 1), getting us to admire the repentant king and the people of Nineveh and feel absolutely disgusted with Jonah (chapters 3-4). Then, whamo! The big conclusion: God humanizes Israel's greatest enemies of the time: the Assyrians.

Not only is that violent, pagan people humanized, they are being treated with compassion by Yahweh just as he treated Israel through the prophet Joel. God is no respector of persons when it comes to repentance! This really jerked Jonah's chain...and the first readers of this prophet and the people in Jesus' day. Remember Jesus' story about the vineyard owner who paid the guys who worked from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. (1 hour) the same as the ones who worked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (all day)? "Whaa! Whaa" That's not fair!!" God is free to "waste" his grace on whomever he pleases.

God is not fair. God is gracious. We should celebrate his loving, compassionate heart and affirm that God can express it when, on whom, and however he chooses.

Jonah had more "love" (or was it ugly self-interest?) for one plant--here today, gone today--than he had for an entire city of human beings. Pathetic.

Yet, let's be careful. A "Jonah" lurks in my heart and in yours, too. How many of us have wanted Al Qaida incinerated? How many have thought, if not outright said, "Nuke the Iraqis into oblivion?" We can only think that when we've dehumanized men and women and children who have been created in the "image of God."

Jesus never dehumanized Rome or Romans or Roman soldiers. As a matter of fact, he prayed, "Father, forgive them because they don't know what they're doing."

Is there more to "the sign of Jonah" than Jesus being in the grave? Could the sign of Jonah include an outrageous grace to "enemies"?