Preaching the Good News to Nineveh

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2 NIV)

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a nation which, in the days of Jonah, was not only the major power in the Middle East, but also an enemy of Israel. So, when God told Jonah that He wanted him to go to Nineveh and preach against it, you would think that Jonah would have said, “On my way, Lord!” After all, because of the wickedness that God saw in that city, He was ready to cast judgment on it and to destroy it. But instead, Jonah got up and hightailed it in the opposite direction (Jonah 1:3). He went to Joppa and took the next boat out of town, heading for Tarshish, which was as far in the opposite direction from Nineveh as Jonah could possibly go at that time. Jonah was a reluctant prophet.

But God was not letting Jonah off that easily. God sent a raging storm that threatened not only Jonah’s life, but also the lives of the sailors on the ship headed to Tarshish. To stop the storm from destroying the ship and everyone on it, the sailors threw Jonah overboard. The storm was quieted and God gave Jonah a “time out” by sending a great fish to swallow Jonah and give him time to think. Jonah sat in the belly of that fish for three days and when he prayed and gave praise to God, God ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. God gave Jonah a second chance. Once again, he told Jonah to get up and deliver His message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-2). This time, Jonah did what God told him to do (Jonah 3:3-4).

What was the reason for Jonah’s reluctance the first time God told him to preach against Nineveh? Perhaps he was afraid of what the Ninevites might do to him. After all, they were known for their violence. Perhaps it was because, as an Israelite, Jonah felt he would be betraying his own country by warning the Ninevites of God’s impending judgment. But, if you read through the book of Jonah, you’ll discover that what was really behind Jonah’s reluctance, what really sent him on a journey to try to flee from God’s presence and God’s plan for him was because Jonah knew God. Jonah knew that the God he served was merciful and compassionate. He knew that his God was slow to anger and filled with a love that never fails. And that means that Jonah knew that if Nineveh repented, they would not face the judgment and destruction that they deserved.

Nineveh did repent. As a result, they were spared the judgment and destruction that Jonah had told them they were facing (Jonah 3:5-10). And Jonah? Was he happy that, as a result of his preaching God’s word, the Ninevites repented and were spared the consequences of their wickedness? Nope! Jonah was upset and became angry with God (Jonah 4:1-3). Basically, he said, “God, I knew this was going to happen! I knew that because You are merciful, loving, and compassionate, You would spare these people! That’s why I didn’t want to do this to begin with! Kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than to see this.”

God responded to Jonah’s tantrum by saying, “Is it right for you to be so angry about this?” And Jonah went off and sulked (Jonah 4:4-5). It’s easy for us to read this and say, “Right, God! You tell him! What right does he have to be so angry that his enemy was spared?” But, if we’re really honest about it, although we may not have ever said it, we probably would feel the same way Jonah felt if God were to spare those whom we dislike, those whom we consider enemies, those who, in our eyes, don’t deserve God’s mercy and compassion. The book of Jonah ends with a question, asked by God: “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:11 NLT)

God created all people. He created us. He created our enemies. He created those who live in ways that deserve His judgment. Truth is, we are all sinners. But when you read Jonah 4:11, when you read Matthew 18:12-14, and when you read 2 Peter 3:9, it is very clear that God desires that all people should be saved, that all people should be given the chance to receive eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV) says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God loves the world. Not the planet, but the people who live on it. And, if God loves them, so should we. We have a mission, given to us by Jesus (Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8). We are to preach the good news of salvation through Jesus to all people, not just to those we love, not to our neighbors and friends, but even to those whom we do not like, even to our enemies. We are to preach the good news to Nineveh.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Keys to Victory

2 Chronicles 20:1-30 outlines one of the greatest achievements in the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. It’s also one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament. It’s the story of Judah’s defeat of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, who had banded together to attack Judah. Judah’s victory in this battle resulted in a kingdom that was at peace. It’s an amazing, inspiring story. But more than being just an inspiring story it points to some key things that the Holy Spirit is prompting me to talk about, things that are keys to victory in our lives.

Jehoshaphat had received the alarming news that this vast army of the combined enemies of the nation of Judah was quickly marching against it. The news terrified Jehoshaphat but it also put into motion some keys, some actions on the part of Jehoshaphat and Judah, that resulted in victory. The first key is found in verse 3:

Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance.

Jehoshaphat’s first response to the alarming news he received was to get on his knees and seek the Lord in prayer, asking the Lord for guidance. This immediately led to Jehoshaphat’s next response, also in verse 3:

He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting.

Rather than try in his own strength to come up with a battle plan, Jehoshaphat first sought God’s divine guidance and then ordered all of Judah to fast. As a good and godly leader, Jehoshaphat set the example for the people of Judah, which led to the response that we see in verse 4:

So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.

All of Judah began to seek the Lord’s help. So, the first two keys that led to Judah’s victory were prayer and fasting. In verses 6 through 12, we see that Jehoshaphat prayed an incredibly powerful prayer. He admitted that they were powerless to stop the enemy that was about to attack them but he knew that the Lord was not, the Lord was powerful and mighty, and He would hear and rescue them. When Jehoshaphat finished praying, the Holy Spirit came upon a Levite named Jahaziel and he began to prophecy, saying:

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

This prophetic word led to the next key to victory: praise and worship. Jehoshaphat and all of Judah began praising and worshiping the Lord. They knew that He was on their side, that He would ensure their victory over the enemies who sought to destroy them. And then, the next morning, Jehoshaphat appointed the singers to lead the army of Judah as they went out to meet the enemy. Not the soldiers, not the most skilled archers. He sent the worship team out in front! They would fight not with the weapons of the world, but with the heavenly weapon of praise. The result? The Lord caused the armies of Judah’s enemies to start fighting among themselves. When the army of Judah arrived, not a single one of the enemy was left alive. What an amazing story!

So, how can we can apply this to our lives? Just as Judah had enemies that sought to destroy it, we have an enemy who seeks to destroy us and he will do whatever he can to cause us to despair, to become discouraged, and to cringe in fear when facing difficult circumstances. When that happens, we need to follow the example we see in 2 Chronicles 20. We need to use the keys to victory that Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah used: prayer, fasting, praise and worship. We need to seek the Lord’s guidance through prayer and fasting and we need to give Him the praise, worshiping Him for the victory that, through Him, will come.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

How Big Are Your Giants?

In Numbers 13, the twelve men that were sent out to explore the Promised Land returned to give their report to Moses. They began their report by telling Moses and the rest of the Israelites that the land God had promised them was bountiful, a land flowing with milk and honey that produced the most amazing fruit (v. 27). And then, after showing the people the samples of the fruit they brought back with them, the next word out of their mouths was, “but…” They then proceeded to tell the people that the land was occupied by powerful people living in fortified cities and not only that, but there were also giants there (v. 28).

When Caleb tried to assure the people that he was certain that they could and should conquer the land (v. 30), ten of the other men then began telling the Israelites that all of the people who occupied the land were huge, so huge in fact that, next to them, they felt like grasshoppers. The Israelites listened to this negative report and, in disobedience to God, chose not to try to take the land. In fact, God told them that none of their generation would live to see the Promised Land, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. For these Israelites, their giants were so big that they kept them from receiving what God had for them. They were looking at their giants through the lens of fear. The lens of fear is like a magnifying glass that makes things look bigger than they actually are.

How big are your “giants?”

How big are the things in your life that keep you from stepping into what God has for you? Are your “giants” so big that they keep you wandering in the “wilderness?” Maybe your “giants” are unemployment, addiction, marital problems, or health issues. Here’s the thing, just as the ten spies looked at the people who lived in Canaan and only saw “giants,” when you look at your problems through the lens of fear, they become magnified, they become “giants.” And when our problems become “giants” in our eyes, fear paralyzes us and keeps us from stepping into God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

Let’s fast forward through the Old Testament to 1 Samuel 17. The Israelites, under King Saul, were preparing to do battle with the Philistines. As they gathered near the valley of Elah, the two armies faced each other from the hills on opposite sides of the valley (v. 1-3). The Israelites were probably confident that they would have victory over the Philistines but then it happened. A giant appeared. His name was Goliath, and he stood about nine feet, nine inches tall (v.4). Goliath issued a challenge (v. 8-9), “Send one man to fight me. If I am defeated, we will become your slaves. But if I am victorious, then you will become our slaves.” And so, a giant stood before the Israelites, threatening to come between them and victory. How did they react? Verse 11 says that they were terrified and deeply shaken! None of the Israelites would accept Goliath’s challenge. They looked at the giant through the lens of fear. But then came David.

David was a boy and a shepherd. He had never fought in a battle, had no experience as a soldier, but David stepped forward and told King Saul not to worry about the Philistine giant. He would fight him (v. 32). Saul gave his own armor and sword to David but, after trying them out, David took them off and gave them back (v. 38-39). David then picked up some smooth stones, put them in his shepherd’s bag, and headed off to face Goliath with only a sling and a shepherd’s staff (v. 40). Why was David able to do what the entire army of Israel could not? It’s because David looked at his giant not through the lens of fear, but through the lens of faith. Look at what David said to Goliath as he stood facing this giant:

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the LORD will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the LORD rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the LORD’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

David knew that his God was bigger than the giant that faced him. And so, when Goliath made a move to attack, David did not walk up to this giant, he “quickly ran to meet him” (v. 48). And with just a sling and a stone, and God on his side, David took down that giant.

We have two choices when we face the “giants” in our lives. We can either look at them through the lens of fear and allow them to keep us from what God has for us. Or we can look at them through the lens of faith, knowing that God is with us and that He will help us to defeat them. Nothing is impossible when we have God on our side. In Luke 18:27, Jesus said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

So, how big are your giants? Or, perhaps the better question is, how big is your God?

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Be Prepared: No One Knows the Day or the Time

Twenty years ago, the United States, like many other countries throughout the world, was preparing for what was expected to be a catastrophic, almost apocalyptic event: Y2K. It was feared that when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999, disaster would strike. Why? Because computers had been programmed using only two-digits to denote the year in dates. So the concern was that when the year 2000 began, computers would not know if it was 2000 or 1900. In the years leading up to 2000, there was a lot of fear about what the results would be if there was a computer problem.

People began preparing for doomsday. Would the power grid go down? Would we be unable to access our money in the banks? Non-perishable foods were stockpiled. A multitude of Y2K survival books hit the bookshelves. People built shelters in which they could hide from the inevitable wave of crime that would occur. Bootcamps that taught wilderness survival became popular. And NBC even made a TV movie about the disaster that was to come.

Y2K came and went without a problem. But the reaction of people to what might have happened but didn’t indicated a strong desire for survival. People wanted to avoid the trials and tribulation that the Y2K problem could possibly bring. But there is a time coming that will bring trials and tribulation like none ever seen before. Earthquakes, wars, famine, plagues. These are just a few of the things that will accompany this time of tribulation. How do we know that this will happen? Because it has been prophesied in the Word of God. Prophets such as Daniel and Isaiah spoke of this time. The apostle John wrote about it in the book of Revelation.

Jesus Himself said, “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place… Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.” (Matthew 24:15–21)

No one knows when this time of great tribulation will take place. No one. No person here on earth, none of the angels in heaven, not even the Son of God Himself. No one knows but God the Father (Matthew 24:36). When Y2K was approaching, we knew when it would come. It would arrive when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999. And so, many of us began preparing for the disaster that was anticipated. But there is no date we can look to for the great tribulation. It will come unexpectedly, and so we must be prepared.

We don’t need to stockpile food or sign up for a wilderness-survival bootcamp. To prepare for the great tribulation, we need to repent of our sins and turn to Jesus. Joel 2:12 says, “That is why the LORD says,
‘Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.'”
We need to believe that Jesus died for us and that He rose again so that we may have eternal life. We need to make Him the Lord of our lives and follow His ways. Because here’s the thing. Although we don’t know when that time of tribulation will begin, what we do know is this. It will be preceded by an event that is the hope of all believers in Jesus:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)

Before that time of great tribulation, Jesus will return. But He will not set foot on the earth at that time. That will take place at the end of the time of tribulation. Instead, all who believe in him, both living in dead, will be caught up to meet Him in the air. That is the Blessed Hope, and that is good reason to be prepared.

If you have never given your heart to Jesus, there’s no better time to do that than now. All it takes is pray to Him, to confess that you are a sinner, ask Him to forgive you, declare that you believe that He died for you and that you will make Him the Lord of your life, as you choose to follow Him all the days of your life.

If you have made that decision today, if you have turned your heart and your life to Jesus, let someone know. Find a Bible-believing church and talk to a pastor.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Be Strong and Courageous!

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 NLT

As Joshua was about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, God had some instructions for his people. God told Joshua that he should be strong and courageous because he, Joshua, would be the one who would lead the people to possess the land promised to their ancestors. God told Joshua that no one could stand against him because He would be there with him all the days of his life. God told Joshua that he and the people of Israel should be strong and courageous. They would be successful as long as they obeyed the instructions that He had handed down to them through Moses. They would be successful as long as they stayed on the path God set for them to follow, without deviating to the left or the right. They would prosper and find success if they studied and meditated on His Word. And then God said, “This is my command—be strong and courageous!”

It’s the first part of that statement that really stands out to me: “This is my command.” God wasn’t saying, “Hey, Joshua, listen. Here’s my suggestion: be strong and courageous.” He wasn’t saying, “Look, in my opinion, you need to do be strong and courageous.” He was saying, “This is what I expect from you. This is what I’m telling you to do. Be strong and courageous.” It was not a recommendation, it was not a request. It was a command. They were to be strong and they were to be courageous. They were not to let their fears paralyze them or cause them to want to give up. Why? Because God would be with them wherever they went. God was bigger and stronger than their fears. And He would be with them no matter what enemy they faced, no matter what obstacles stood in their way.

God’s command to Joshua and the people of Israel is His command to us today. Whatever enemies we may face, whatever obstacles stand in our way, He is there. And because He is there, we must be strong and courageous. We must not let fear get the best of us and cause us to give up. There is no mountain that God can’t help us climb. There is no darkness that God can’t help us see our way through. There is no enemy that God can’t help us defeat. When we walk on the path that He sets for us, when we keep His Word in our hearts and our minds and obey that Word, we can be sure that He is with us every step of the way. When we face the enemies and obstacles in our lives with God by our side, there is no reason to be afraid, there is no reason to become discouraged. God is greater!

Hear, O Israel…

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

On the doorposts of Jewish homes, you will find a decorative case called a mezuzah. Inside this case is a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which is comprised of what we, as Christian believers, know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Those verses include the Jewish prayer called Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel.”

The word shema has a primary meaning of “to hear,” but it also takes on other meanings, including “to obey.” In Deuteronomy 6:4, the meaning of the Hebrew word shema is literally “to hear and obey.” In addressing the Israelites in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, Moses was telling them that they needed not only to hear and understand what he was saying but also to obey it. So what was it they were to hear and obey?

Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Moses was reminding the Israelites that the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the one true God. When Moses used the words, “Shema Yisrael,” he was telling them that they need not just to hear the words that followed, but also to understand them. There was only one true God and He was YHWH, the Lord. This was something that they needed to fully understand. But there was more than that required of them.

Moses continued by saying, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Moses had just reminded the Israelites of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Now he was making it clear to God’s people that the God whom they understood to be the one true God must be loved with total devotion. He must be loved with their entire being: heart, soul, and strength. And the way by which they would be able to show that love is by the way in which they lived their lives, by obeying His commands. They were to keep those commands in their hearts, in their minds, and in their mouths.

The words of the shema are not just for Jewish believers. They are for followers of Jesus Christ, as well. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

There is only one true God, and He is the Lord. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, When we live our lives as Jesus commanded, loving God with our hearts, with our souls, with our minds, and with our strength, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we fulfill the greatest commandment. But more than that, when we live our lives understanding that the Lord our God is the one true God, and obeying His commands, our lives become true worship in His eyes (Romans 12:1-2).

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Yet I Will Rejoice in the Lord!

On October 29, 1929, an event took place that shook our nation and the world. It was on that date that the New York Stock Exchange experienced the worst financial panic ever seen in the history of the United States of America, the stock market crash of 1929. Panic ensued as investors began to sell their stocks, resulting in a dollar loss of $25 billion, which would be about $319 billion in today’s economy. There were rumors of investors jumping out of windows which, although they were untrue, illustrated the devastation felt by so many.

In the days of the prophet Habbakuk, Israel’s entire agricultural system would have been represented by three crops: figs, grapes, and olives. Economic success rested on these crops, as well as on livestock such as sheep and cattle. The loss of just some of these things likely would have been as catastrophic as a stock market crash like the one that occurred in 1929. So, when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, and Israel faced the complete failure of these crops and total loss of sheep and cattle, one would expect the same kind of panic to have ensued. Although there likely were some in Israel who panicked, Habbakuk trusted God. Look at what this prophet writes in Habbakuk 3:17-18 (NLT):

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Habbakuk knew that inner peace did not depend on the success of crops or livestock. Inner peace came from God. And because he knew that inner peace that only God can give, Habbakuk rejoiced despite the failure of those important crops. He was joyful despite the fact that the sheep had died in the fields and there were no cattle in the barns. Despite the circumstances, Habbakuk rejoiced in the Lord and found joy in the God of his salvation. He worshiped God despite what was going on all around him.

When we face circumstances that threaten to drag us down, that cause panic to begin to set in and doubts to arise, we need to look to the example set by Habbakuk. We need to face our circumstances, face our doubts, and then take them to the Lord. And we need to worship Him despite what we feel and despite what we see. We need to rejoice in the God who, because of His great love for us, has provided for our salvation. Our circumstances may not change, but when we rejoice in the Lord at all times, when we give our circumstances to Him, He will give us inner peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:4-7).

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