Monthly Archives: December 2014

Jonah 3: How to Build a Revival

In Jonah 3, we are met with one of the greatest revivals of all time. Nineveh was such a wicked city that God was going to destroy it, but when they heard the words of Jonah, they immediately came to repentance.

Jon 3:4  And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

Jon 3:5  So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

Jon 3:6  For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

I find it interesting that even the king repented. Before the prophecy came from Jonah, the king would have at least silently approved what was going on with his people. It wasn’t as if he was actively policing the city and trying to straighten out his people.

However, as soon as he heard about God, he realized that things had to change. I don’t know if perhaps the change was largely self-serving. Obviously, it would have been important to all of the people of Nineveh not to be destroyed. However, it seems as if there was a genuine repentance there. The people recognized that they were not doing what God needed them to do and that included the king.

Revival is something that people like to talk about, but here is a time where it actually worked. It worked because first of all Jonah was obedient to God. He was called to be a leader, and, eventually, he did what he had to do. Second, the people understood that they were not living in line with the will of God. As we see with the king, even people who previously had evidently no problem with what was going on recognized that it was important to do what God told them to do.

Both of these elements are important if we want revival to happen.

Jonah 2: Perfect Forgiveness

God truly is a God who doesn’t quit. He doesn’t give up on anyone, and He is always ready to bring us back. In chapter 1, Jonah decided that it would be a good idea to run directly opposite to the way that God wanted him to go. However, despite that rebellion, when we get to this part of chapter 2, Jonah cries out, and God is still willing to bring him back.

Jon 2:4  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.

Jon 2:5  The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.

Jon 2:6  I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.

When Jonah was ready to come back to God, God brought him back. God brought him up from corruption. The ESV says that God brought him up from the pit. This mercy is remarkable.

Just like all of us, Jonah was a sinner. We all deserve whatever condemnation we receive. However, the amazing part is that even though we constantly offend God and go against His will, just like Jonah, He will bring us back.

Forgiveness is something special. We cannot get it ourselves. It needs to come from the potentially offended party. For example, if I hurt someone, I cannot tell them that they forgive me. They need to forgive me on their own. No matter how much I want it to happen, it needs to come from them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen with people on earth. People aren’t always the most forgiving.

However, God is perfectly forgiving. It is incredible.

Jonah 1: That Can’t Happen

Jonah is a popular story wrapped in controversy. Right away in chapter 1, we have our friend Jonah running away from God and eventually being thrown off of the boat.

Jon 1:15  So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.

Jon 1:16  Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.

Jon 1:17  Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

“There is no way that could’ve happened,” is a refrain that you often hear. This is not what normally happens. When there is a shark attack in the ocean, the person does not live inside of that shark. Even if you could survive the experience of being eaten, there is no oxygen inside of a giant fish. The objections go on and on.

I think about these objections, and I agree that this type of thing does not normally happen. In fact, I don’t know if this type of thing has ever even been proposed at other times in history. I don’t know of any other culture that has this type of story in its history. Even if there is another one, the main point is that this type of thing does not happen every day.

However, I’m hesitant to automatically say it did not happen like many people would want me to. I am hesitant because of who God is. I think that the better question to ask in that situation is whether or not God is capable of bringing about this type of situation, and the answer is clearly yes. God has the power to bring the dead to life, so I certainly don’t think that it is justifiable to say that God could not supernaturally influence this situation with Jonah. If God wanted to create a giant fish and have a person live inside of it for three days, God has the power to do that.

This statement applies to a lot more than just the story of Jonah. I think of Thomas Jefferson who decided to rewrite the Bible and remove the supernatural because it didn’t fit his sensibilities. That is clearly the wrong approach to take.

If God is everything that we believe He is, then I don’t think that there really is any way to sustain the argument that the miraculous is impossible. With God, this miracle would be just one of the billions that He has already done.

Obadiah 1: Deceived by Pride

Begin Obadiah.

Obadiah is only one chapter long, but it is a powerful prophecy directed at people of Edom. These people had a major problem. They thought that because their city was in a powerful position, they would not be able to be overtaken.

Oba 1:3  The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?

Oba 1:4  Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.

From a tactical standpoint, I suppose that they had reason to be confident. When you build a city on top of a rocky hill, it is very hard to attack. It honestly makes an awful lot of sense to assume that they would not be overrun.

However, notice what they are told in verse three. The pride of their hearts has deceived them. How often does that happen to us? We have obvious false sense of security in our own strength. Some people do have remarkable talents.

There are plenty of physically strong people. There are plenty of intellectually brilliant people. No matter how talented any person is though, God is greater than that. Even Lucifer, the greatest created angel, was not able to overthrow God. God was and is still beyond him and everyone else.

Judgment is going to come to the people of Edom because they thought that they were secure by their own power. They had miscalculated. I kind of think about the phrase that asks if God is with us than who can be against us. It makes me then think about why on earth we ever think that it would be a good idea to stand alone against God.

End Obadiah.

Amos 9: Unconditional Love

We have talked a lot about judgment while going through Amos, and chapter 9 begins that way as well. However, as the book comes to a conclusion, there is hope for some future day that God will restore Israel.

Amo 9:11  In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:

Amo 9:12  That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.

Amo 9:13  Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.

Amo 9:14  And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.

Amo 9:15  And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.

I think that this is interesting. Even after everything that has gone wrong and how so many people have been doing wrong, God has not forgotten those people who are His own. He is not going to abandon Israel.

I think of it almost like a parent. Parents certainly might punish their children for doing something wrong. That is pretty normal, and in the right circumstances with the right motivation, it is a proper part of parenting. However, parents ought not to abandon their children entirely. It is one of those relationships that should have the unconditional love that God has for His children. The relationship is always going to be there even though there certainly can be times where discipline is required.

The Old Testament shows that type of activity pretty clearly. The people of Israel and Judah had a series of peaks and valleys. They were close to God, they fell away from God and then the whole thing started all over again. There was certainly discipline that came along with these times, but God never stopped loving the people. It really is remarkable.

Amos 8: Fair Practices

Amos chapter 8 brings us to the pronouncement of judgment, and the harshest sentences are going to be given to those who were unjust to the poor.

Amo 8:4  Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,

Amo 8:5  Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?

Amo 8:6  That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?

These are guys who are basically sitting around waiting for the Sabbath to be over so that they can get back to doing business. Now, I know that all of us are involved in some type of business, and the exchange of products for payment is not a sin whatsoever. However, look at what these men were doing. They were ripping people off. They were falsifying the balances.

It wasn’t a problem that they wanted to go to work, but it was a problem that they were actually excited to be unfair. I think that this applies far beyond business and commerce. We should not be anxious to do something wrong. We should not desire to do something that we explicitly understand is wrong.

The irony in this scenario is that these businessmen were also selectively following what they could get away with. They knew that they could not do business on the Sabbath without being frowned upon in the community, but because they knew that they could get away with being slightly unfair in the balance, they were willing to do that.

How easy is that? We put on a good front, but we have legitimate issues behind the scenes that no one ever sees. That’s another problem that we need to confront.

As you read this chapter and recognize that these are the people who are going to be judged most severely, I think it is a cautionary tale for all of us. This is something that we don’t want to get mixed up in.

Amos 7: Who Is the Authority?

First of all, Merry Christmas! I don’t particularly have a Christmas message for you today, but I hope that you have a great day and remember what Christmas is all about.

Today we are in Amos 7, and it reminded me that even though we worry today about the kind of peer pressure that can build up, it is nothing new.

Amo 7:12  Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:

Amo 7:13  But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court.

Amo 7:14  Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:

Amo 7:15  And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.

Amos was obviously not a bearer of good news. Prophets were never really well loved when they showed up because the people needed correction. They were communicating messages from God, but that did not always go over well.

As a result, we have Amaziah pretty much encouraging Amos to go somewhere else because they didn’t want to hear his message. Amos responded really in the only way that he knew how.

He was where he was because God told him to be there. He wasn’t a prophet before that, and I have a feeling that after God was done using him in this why that he probably would have been happy to just go back to doing his everyday job (just my opinion). However, we do know that he was doing what God had told him to do at the time he told him to do it.

He did not back down because he knew that it was more important to do what God told him to do rather than what people around him said. Obviously, that is an important message for all of us. We need to decide who is more important to please.

Amos 6: Too Comfortable for Our Own Good

It is incredibly easy for all of us to get complacent, and as we see with the people of Israel in Amos 6, it is a dangerous thing to fall into.

Amo 6:3  Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;

Amo 6:4  That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall;

Amo 6:5  That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;

Amo 6:6  That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.

Amo 6:7  Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.

These people are not worried about the affliction of Joseph. There is a little bit of dispute as to what that affliction truly is, but I think the implications for all of us are rather clear. These people are more concerned with their comforts and relaxation then they are always the problem generally on around them.

I’m not saying that comfort is a bad thing, but I am saying that there are things that are more important than our earthly comfort.

I think about a modern example. I think about the persecution of the church around the world. There are plenty of places where being a Christian is a legitimate threat to your life. Here in America, our situation is not nearly that difficult.

It would kind of be like us hearing about the affliction that our brothers and sisters have around the world and simply lying back on our comfortable couches and not even caring. We don’t talk want to even acknowledge that there are problems around the world because we are too complacent in our own comfort.

Again, comfort is not a bad thing in and of itself, but we cannot allow it to become so obsessive that we don’t see anything that is going on around us. We don’t want to miss out on the affliction of our family because we are simply too relaxed to look up.

Amos 5: Hate the Sin

If you are in almost any evangelical church, I’m sure that you have heard the phrase “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I know that this phrase has come under scrutiny, but it came up today in Amos 5, so I thought I would explain a little bit more about it and try to clear up some of the misconceptions that surround it.

First of all, let’s start with Amos. For a little bit of context, this is God speaking to the people of Israel, and they are far away from Him. Particularly, they are oppressing the poor, and God is giving them instructions on how they can begin to return to Him.

Amo 5:14  Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.

Amo 5:15  Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.

Now, I did a little bit of background research into the original language here thanks to Strong’s Numbers, and the evil that is being referred to is a noun in and of itself. It is not an adjective in this context. Therefore, we hate evil as an entity. It is as if this is evil attached to a person for example. Evil is presented here as its own entity. It is not a command to hate all evil people; that would be a contradiction with all of the other Biblical passages that refer to loving other people. We hate evil itself.

At least for me, and I don’t claim to speak for everyone else here who might espouse this position, I love people because they are created in the image of God. We all have this intrinsic value that is the result of our special creation. As a result, I don’t have any problem loving people.

However, it does not mean that I approve of everything people do. I obviously think that there are good and bad choices regarding how we live our lives, and I think that the absolute best way to live that life is to follow the word of God. No one, except for Jesus Christ, can perfectly follow the word of God as shown by the remainder of human history. We all make choices that therefore hold us back from doing what is the absolute best and in fact perfect.

What then is my response to something that makes our relationship with God imperfect? How should I respond to that intrusion that we bring upon ourselves? Should I be happy that there are things that hold us back from having a right relationship with God? Should I settle for less than the absolute best?

That is how I can separate these two things out. When you are pursuing the good and trying to follow God, it is natural to not want anything to get in the way of that progress. Sin by its very nature does just that, so I feel like it makes sense that we ought to hate sin. It seems to be the natural response if it is impeding what ought to be the most important relationship in our lives

PS: I write this with full knowledge that I am just as guilty as anybody else. I don’t mean to write this to point fingers at people any more than I point them at myself. I honestly hate my own sin more than anybody else’s.

Amos 4: Evidence for God

Amos 4 is sad commentary on the way that human nature is. Often times, we have so many things in our lives that point us to God, but we willfully ignore all of those indications and continue doing whatever we want.

Amo 4:11  I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

Amo 4:12  Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

Amo 4:13  For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.

God is worthy of fear. Certainly, He is a God of love, but He is also more powerful than anything in His creation. He has even allowed cities to fall, but the people don’t recognize that He was involved in that.

I think that we often times think about the intervention of God as only coming through healing miracles or something like that. However, I think back to passages like some in Deuteronomy where God promises blessings for obedience or curses for disobedience. Is it not then evidence of God that He allows things to happen that He promised even if they are not pleasant things?

I think about the prophets who told Israel where they were going wrong. The people often times repented (think Jonah for example), but it was because they recognized that judgment was coming. The fact that it was coming was evidence that God was there.

Obviously, it is a lot more enjoyable to have our prayers answered in the way that we desire, and when that does happen, it certainly does point to God. However, these passages should point to God as well. He is being faithful to His promises. Even with this evidence though, these people refused to recognize that it pointed to God.