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JOE LAGUARDIA: Jonah's story teaches us God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love

My name is Jonah, but some people call me Jonah the Cranky. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I tell people that if they don't get right with God, I'll zap them with His wrath.Did I mention I'm a prophet? Been one my whole life. Once, in third grade, a little boy didn't share with me. That's right, I zapped him with the wrath of God.

When I got old enough to preach publicly, the first thing I did was make two big poster boards. One said, "Repent!" and the other, "Or get zapped by the wrath of God!"

Zapping was much-needed then. You see, people have something like a jewel inside of them that represents God's fingerprints, God's image. Sin covers those jewels and keeps them from shining. It's my job to help people polish that jewel and let it gleam for all the world to see.

I learned this when I got God's first big call on my life. I had to preach to Israel, which was an easy assignment. The community got right with God and warded off those nasty Assyrians to the north. Israel's jewels shined brightly that day.

I thought my ministry was over after that. Once you speak on a national level, it's about time to retire. I was about to go on a Mediterranean cruise when God called me yet again. God asked me to preach to Nineveh. I'm not sure if you know this, but Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, our enemy.

You can tell that I'm not a big fan of the Assyrians. For one, they're not right and we hate them as much as they hate us. They're warmongers and just bad people in general. They are so evil that the sin covering their jewels is too thick to polish off. In fact, I don't think they even have a jewel at all.

When God called, I did what any sensible prophet in my position would do: I ran away and went on that cruise after all.

When a storm broke out over the water, I knew it was God. God made everything, and I was a fool to think I could run. So, when the opportunity came, I let those sailors throw me overboard. I'd rather drown than go to Nineveh, that's for sure.

God didn't let me off so easily, and a big fish swallowed me. Can you believe that? Three days in the belly of a fish. And you think fish smell bad on the outside?

After I prayed, that fish spit me out. I thought I got off easy, but just as I was about to head home, God stuck out His big finger and pointed the way to Nineveh.

When I finally got there, I preached my usual message about repenting or getting zapped. Since I didn't like them no how, I threw in some ridiculous requirements for good measure: "And your animals have to fast too!"

Something started to happen. People listened. The king heard my preaching, and he made the whole city repent. He made everyone, even the animals, fast. I thought they were joking, but they weren't. Not only were they serious, but God took them seriously too and He spared them. Can't believe it, even to this day.

No fair! I thought we were the promised people. The Assyrians don't even look like us and they certainly don't believe like us, but they still got saved. And I was looking forward to a good zapping!

God once told me that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. But, you know, I only thought that was reserved for the people who look like me and think like I do, the people who follow right doctrine and know their stuff.

Apparently, that isn't the case even though I don't like it. Hey, they don't call me cranky for nothing. I still wouldn't mind having those Ninevites get zapped, but I guess God had something else in mind.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.