Our Joyful Burden

I shared last week that the judgment of God should be a cause for both fear and rejoicingboth regret and comfort—for those who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But for those who have no relationship with God, the judgment of God is a cause for only fear and regret. 

How did Nahum respond to this word of judgment God spoke through him? His opening words say, “The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (NKJV). The Hebrew word for “burden” is almost always associated with a word God has spoken. It’s a realization of God’s weighty glory; it’s never, ever something we should trivialize! 

Prophets don’t just prophesy future events, they also announce in the present tense where people have departed from a lifestyle that robs God of His glory and how they can be forgiven of sins. 

“The prophets foretell (speak to what will happen in the future) and forth-tell (speak to what we should be doing in the present), both in the light of God’s heart for His own glory among all peoples of the world.” —Dick Brogden 

God never makes idle threats nor empty promises. Truly His Word is His bond. Through Nahum, God foretold that Assyria would be utterly destroyed, twice saying, “I am against you” (Nahum 2:13-3:7). 

The world may rejoice at God’s justice on evil (3:19), but how does God feel about carrying out His judgment? Ezekiel records God saying, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) 

And Jesus declared, “For 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

The Bible shows that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. This is the message that must be both foretold and forth-told by Christians. 

“But what can I do,” you might ask. “I’m just one person. I’m not a big-time evangelist.” That sounds a lot like Nahum. He was just a guy from Elkosh—no special family lineage, no large city to claim as his home. 

God is looking for just one that will speak out His words (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Just one who will be humble enough to search their own heart first and then both boldly and lovingly deliver a message of both judgment and escape (Matthew 7:1-5; James 5:20). 

Foretelling God’s judgment is a burden. Forth-telling God’s forgiveness is a joy. All Christians have been given the joyful burden of this both-and ministry! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Fear And The Comfort Of God’s Judgment

Near the end of the movie The Princess Bride, the grandson learns that Wesley, the hero of the story, has apparently died. He asks his grandfather, “Who kills Prince Humperdink,” the arch-villain in the story. 

His grandfather replies, “No one. He lives.” 

“You mean he wins!?” blurts out the exasperated boy, “Grandpa, why did you read me this story??” 

We love to see bad guys get what’s coming to them, don’t we? Some of the baddest bad guys—perhaps in all of history—are the kings of Assyria. When the Assyrians in Nineveh repented and God’s judgment didn’t fall on them, Jonah’s response was much like the grandson in The Princess Bride, “God, why did You send me here?!” 

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria who was threatening Judah. Nahum writes a short, scathing prophecy about the destruction that is headed Assyria’s way. This is fulfilled in a small part when God defeats Sennacherib’s army, which leads to Sennacherib then being assassinated by two of his sons.

For Judah, this is a short-lived victory because the two kings which follow Sennacherib turn out to be two of the evilest and ruthless kings of Assyria. Yet Nahum’s prophecy still stands: an ultimate destruction is coming. In 605 BC Assyria was defeated by the Babylonians, and the destruction was so complete that Nineveh’s very existence was questioned until archeological discoveries were made in the 19th century. 

Why is this prophecy given to us? What are we New Testament Christians supposed to do with this promise of judgment? 

Nahum’s name means comfort, so it seems like God’s justice should comfort us. But, interestingly, the root word of his name means to regret or to feel sorry

Why is this? Think about it: You cannot really know what peace is unless you have been through a period of turmoil. Likewise, you cannot truly understand the relief of being spared God’s judgment unless you fully understand the weight and totality of God’s judgment that should fall on you.  

Nahum reminds us that God will never let the guilty go unpunished, and yet in the very next breath he tells us that the Lord is a refuge for those who trust in Him.

God is Just. This is a cause for…

  • …BOTH fear of God’s anger AND rejoicing that He is good 
  • …BOTH humility for our sin AND confidence that He forgives our sin 
  • …BOTH regret that we fall short of God’s righteous standard AND relief that Christ’s blood makes us righteous in God’s sight 

It’s amazing to think that it was MY sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross, but it was HIS love that allowed that to happen so that I could be forgiven! 

God is not willing that any should be separated from Him, but we do have to choose to receive the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us. 

Assyria’s utter destruction is less than a drop in the bucket compared to eternal separation from God. As C.S. Lewis commented about the end of time: 

“For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.” 

Today (and every day) is the day for heart-searching, acutely feeling the regret of our sin, and then knowing that our forgiven sins are forgotten sins! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Spirit-Empowered To Do Good Works

Micah the prophet’s name means who is like God, or more literally: “who but God?” The implied answer, of course, is no one! 

Micah opens his letter by telling us his name, and then he closes his prophetic words with a play on his name when he says, “Who is a God like You?” (7:18-20). Who else but God could…

  • …pardon sin?
  • …forgive transgressions? 
  • …not stay angry at sinners? 
  • …delight to show mercy? 
  • …have such boundless compassion? 
  • …tread our sins under His foot?
  • …hurl our iniquities into the sea?  

NO ONE! 

In light of this, how should we respond to this amazing God? Micah asks a series of rhetorical questions about what sort of religious practices would somehow “balance the scales” for God’s amazing gifts to us. But here’s the deal: there is no way for us to balance the scales! Instead, Micah tells us this, “God has showed you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In other words, our response to God’s invaluable gifts must transition from a have to lifestyle to a get to lifestyle! Micah makes it clear that God’s Spirit empowers us to live this way (Micah 3:8). 

It is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

The apostle Paul agrees with Micah, even echoing some of Micah’s own phrases—God’s great love, His rich mercy, His unearned grace, His forgiveness of sin, His kindness, and His salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Why did God do all of this? So that we could “do good works”—like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly—“which God prepared in advance for us to do”!

I am saved by grace SO THAT I am free to do grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, good things. 

All of this prompts me to ask myself three introspective questions:

  1. Do I continually remind myself that I was saved by grace and not by works? I need to check my have to vs. get to attitude. 
  2. Am I aware that people are watching me? What are they seeing? Do they see godly justice, loving mercy, and humility? 
  3. Am I living like Jesus? Peter explained that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Can that be said of me too? 

Who but God could call us, forgive us, and forget our sins? NO ONE! 

Who but God could empower us to live in such a way that others see His greatness too? NO ONE! 

Let’s never, ever become self-reliant or works-dependent (that’s have to living), but let’s stay so Spirit-reliant that we cannot help be get to people! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series about major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Role Of Prophecy

Micah may be classified as a minor prophet, but the prophecies in his book are fulfilled in a major way in as little as 20 years and as far out as 2700+ years! 

Here’s a question for us to consider: What exactly is the role of prophecy in the life of a Christian? 

Micah introduces himself in the opening verse. He was ministering in the country while Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at the same time. Micah’s ministry spans three kings of Judah in the south, and he overlaps the defeat of Israel in the north.  

Check out some of Micah’s most notable prophecies: 

  1. Judgment is coming to Samaria/Israel (1:6-7). This was fulfilled about 20 years later when the Assyrians defeated Samaria and took the Israelites into exile. 
  2. Judgment is coming on southern Judah (1:9-16). This was fulfilled about 30 years later when Sennacherib attacked Philistia and southern Judah, coming “even to the gate of Jerusalem” (v. 12). At the gate of Jerusalem was the miraculous deliverance God gave during Hezekiah’s reign (see 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 37). 
  3. Judgment is coming on Jerusalem (3:12). Micah even prophesied the Babylonians would defeat them (4:10). This is noteworthy because Assyria was the dominant world power at this time; it would be another 100 years before Babylon would even begin to rise to power. This prophecy was fulfilled about 160 years later, and this prophecy actually saved Jeremiah’s life around that same time (Jeremiah 26:7-19). 
  4. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (5:2). This prophecy was fulfilled about 700 years later when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:5-6). 
  5. How people will respond to the Messiah’s Advent (7:4-6). This prophecy was partially fulfilled 700 years later in a direct quotation from Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36). 
  6. The coming of the final Kingdom of God (4:1-3). This prophecy will be fulfilled at Christ’s second Advent. 

[you can read all of these prophecies yourself by clicking here

So what is the role of prophecy? 

First of all, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that God is sovereignly in control of everything (Isaiah 46:10). But right on the heels of that, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that there is still more prophecy left to be fulfilled (2 Peter 1:20-2:3). 

The Bible tells me that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. In a similar fashion, the prophecies of coming judgment on sinners are intended to show us the incredible mercy of God in the forgiveness of sin that He made available (Micah 7:18-20). 

Prophecy is never, never to be used as a club to beat people into submission to God. When Micah prophesied the destruction of Israel and Judah, he wept (Micah 1:8). 

So did Jesus (Matthew 23:37). 

And so should we! 

We live in an age today—as Micah experienced and as the apostle Peter said would be coming—where people won’t want to hear the news that unforgiven sin brings God’s judgment. Our response to this should be brokenhearted grief, tears, and a steadfast commitment to speak the truth in love that Jesus has provided the only means to be rescued from that judgment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here.

The Lord Has Provided

At different times when people encountered Jehovah God in a profound way, they would give Him a name that was representative of what He did. The first instance of this is when God miraculously provided a substitute sacrifice for Issac, prompting Abraham to call God Jehovah Jireh. This name means the One who foresees perfectly and knows just what to provide to meet the need. God’s provision is perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed. 

God’s perfect provision is seen at least five times in the story of Jonah. 

  1. Jehovah sent a great wind on the sea. It was a perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed storm that caused pagan sailors to fall on their knees in worship of the one true God. 
  2. Jehovah provided a great fish to rescue Jonah. It was a perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed vehicle of rescue that caused Jonah to acknowledge salvation only comes from God. 
  3. Jehovah provided a uniquely-prepared prophet. He became a perfectly prepared and perfectly timed messenger of God’s mercy. Prior to Jonah’s visit, Nineveh had experienced two plagues (765 and 759 BC) and a solar eclipse (763 BC), which put the people in a state of heightened expectation. When Jonah arrived in the city, he was a whale-bleached prophet[*] of Jehovah which showed up with a message of God’s impending judgment unless the people repented. The response: the Ninevites believed God. 
  4. Jehovah provided a vine that shielded Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah was waiting for God’s judgment to fall on Nineveh. 
  5. Jehovah provided a worm to destroy the vine and get Jonah’s attention. 

I believe this story gives us three important lessons and three introspective questions—

  1. God is sovereignly in control of everything—storms, fish, prophets, plants, worms, astrological events, and agricultural calamities. God foresees perfectly and knows just what to provide to meet the need or to get someone’s attention.  

Question: Will I let Jehovah Jireh be Jehovah Jireh for others, or will I try to tell Him what to do and when to do it?

  1. God is supremely merciful—God cares about everyone, as the apostle Peter reminds us.

Question: As Peter asked, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Will I allow God to extend as much mercy as is necessary to others, just as He extended it to me? 

  1. God’s saving grace is boundless and undeservedSalvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:9 NLT) 

Question: I love that this book ends with an unanswered question from God Himself, because it is our question to answer today: Should I not be concerned about that great city? What will I do with the good news that Jehovah Jireh has gone the full measure to make His grace and mercy and love and forgiveness available to ALL people? 

I hope you will take the time to prayerfully consider these questions. 

[*] “Ambrose John Wilson in the Princeton Theological Review for 1927 mentions a case of a sailor on a whaling ship near the Falkland Islands who was swallowed by a large sperm whale. The whale was later harpooned, and when it was opened up on the deck the surprised crew found their lost shipmate unconscious inside its belly. Though bleached from the whale’s gastric juices, he recovered, though he never lost the deadly whiteness left on his face, neck, and hands.” —Walter Kaiser 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Year-End Review (2019 edition)

Ten years ago God called me to pastor at Calvary Assembly of God, and we have so thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cedar Springs! One of the really cool things I get to do is teach an amazing group of people every Sunday. Here’s a recap of the series and messages from 2019.

Boldly Praying—As a general rule, God would like us to pray much more boldly than we typically do. Jesus told us that we could pray mountain-moving prayers, but C.S. Lewis rightly observed, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” 

Christ’s Passionate Journey—In action movies, the crucial moment usually is filmed in slow motion. The Gospels do the same as Jesus approaches the Cross. For example, Mark doesn’t mention anything about the birth of Jesus and only gives us one verse to tell about satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But he uses nearly 40% of his writing to describe the last week of Christ’s life. 

We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1000 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! 

Is That In The Bible?—Sometimes things that sound “biblical” aren’t actually in the Bible at all, and sometimes they are there but are misquoted. 

Selah—When you see this word in the Bible it can mean either a pause from the noise to reflect on something, a preparation for an exciting accent, or a reflective time of consideration. We are working our way through the Selahs in the Psalms.

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets—The five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of these prophets writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power!  

Fading Gratitude—Looking back at the history of God’s people in the Bible, there is a distinct up-and-down cycle. I believe their slipping away from God can be directly linked to their forgetfulness. If there is a peril in our forgetfulness, there is also a power in our thankfulness!

The Carols Of Christmas—How many “old familiar carols” have you heard Christmas after Christmas until the words have almost lost their meaning? If we’re not careful, any song repeated too often can lose the richness of its original intent. 

We will be returning to a couple of these series in 2020, and we’ll be launching some brand new ones as well. In either case, if you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, I would love to have you join us! 

Let It Go

Scholars are unsure of the date that Obadiah wrote his book. We know that it took place after invaders had caused problems in Judah and Edom responded in a way that angered God. Some scholars place this date after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 BC, and others think it’s more likely to have occurred during the reign of Jehoram around 840 BC. The bottom line is that the date doesn’t matter because the underlying feud which led to God’s pronouncement of judgment had been smoldering for hundreds and hundreds of years! 

The feud was between Jacob (the father of the nation of Israel) and his twin brother Esau (the father of the nation of Edom). Esau was born first and should have received his father Isaac’s blessing, but Jacob took the birthright that was supposed to belong to Esau. 

As you might imagine, “Esau seethed in anger against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him; he brooded, ‘The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:41). Jacob escaped Esau’s initial rage, but 400+ years later, when the Israelites left Egypt and were on their way to Canaan, the Edomites—trying to even the score—refused to let the Israelites pass through their territory. 

Now another few hundred years have passed and when Judah was invaded, the Edomites not only didn’t do anything to help their brothers, but they piled on with the invaders (vv. 10-14). Once again, their rage at the descendants of Jacob exploded!  

For this, God pronounced judgment on the nation of Edom through His prophet Obadiah. 

Edom’s downfall is very instructive because we are ALL liable to the same fate! 

  1. It starts with pride. Pride keeps us from forgiving our offenders because we think WE have to be the one to even the score. As C.S. Lewis noted, “Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
  1. It then becomes thoughts of plotting our revenge. Jesus warned us of the dire consequences for dwelling on these kinds of thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22). 
  1. It next morphs into cheering on those who attack our offenders.
  1. It eventually becomes our revenge in action, which then brings God’s judgment against us!

Always remember this: It is God’s place to judge, but our place is to forgive our enemies and “get revenge” by blessing them beyond what they deserve (Romans 12:17-21). 

You might say, “But what they did to me is absolutely inexcusable!” You are probably right, but you are not going to make anything right. Making things right—handing out appropriate justice—is God’s business. Again, C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

There are three important words to remember when someone has wronged you: LET IT GO!

Carrying a grudge against someone who has inexcusably wronged you is toxic to your life and doesn’t leave room for God’s justice. LET IT GO!

If you missed any messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can check them out here. 

The Whole Story

When my father-in-law was still on his faith journey he asked me, “How can you reconcile the differences in God’s temperaments in the Bible? In the Old Testament He is full of judgment and in the New Testament He is all mercy.” 

Quite simply, both are God’s character. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact, we more dearly appreciate God’s mercy and grace when we’ve clearly seen how we are subject to His justice and wrath. 

Amos talked about both of these attributes, too, but he does so in a masterful way in which mercy and justice swirl around each other. It’s almost as if Amos can’t talk about justice without mentioning mercy or vice versa. 

How do we know God’s judgment is coming? Because God said so! Amos quotes God saying judgment is coming “because of three sins, even for four” (see these verses in Amos’ first and second chapters). Even as Amos uses that phrase he is pointing to God’s mercy. He’s stating, “God could have punished you the very first time you sinned, but He is giving you another chance, and another chance, and another chance….” 

But make no mistake: a day of judgment is coming. God concludes, “Now then I will crush you” (2:13). 

God tries to get people’s attention by sending famines and plagues and disasters, but after each one of these God sadly notes “yet you have not returned to Me”—five times He says this in Amos 4!

But even as God calls them out on their lack of repentance He reminds them twice of the solution—“Seek Me and live” (5:4-6). 

Finally, Amos concludes his book by letting us know God’s judgment IS coming, but so is God’s mercy (9:1-4, 11-15)!  

Dear Christians, our responsibility is to let people know that there is a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun. We must boldly and lovingly tell people of…

  • … God’s justice AND His mercy 
  • … God’s wrath AND His grace 
  • … Heaven for the repentant AND Hell for the unrepentant 

God loves people AND He hates the sin that keeps people from Him. It’s a message people need to hear, although they may not like to hear it. Like Amos, can God use you to warn this world of His judgment AND to woo this world by His love? Our world needs to hear BOTH-AND. They need to hear the whole story. 

Join me next week as we continue our journey of learning the major lessons that the minor prophets teach us. 

Are You Available?

Have you ever had someone walk into your life—even if it was just for a moment—and say something you needed to hear? You might not have liked what they had to say, but it was definitely something you needed to hear. 

My hunch is that those timely messengers were not necessarily “experts” in the area in which they talked to you. They may have been a doctor talking about a medical need, or it may have been a friend talking about some health issues. Most of the time our valuable messengers are just everyday people. 

God loves using “everyday people”! 

  • You don’t have to be a trained pastor to minister to people. 
  • You don’t have to be a trained theologian to tell people what you believe about God.
  • You don’t have to be a trained counselor to encourage someone.

You just have to be who God created you to be. And you have to be available. Like Amos. 

Amos was simply taking care of his farm and his herds when God called him to deliver a timely message to His people.

Amos introduces himself as just one of the shepherds of Tekoa (1:1) and tells another priest that he was simply minding his own business when God said, “Go, prophesy to My people” (7:10-15). 

Amos’ name means burden-bearer—he had a burden for his kinsmen. He saw their sin and knew what defiance of God would mean for them. This burden made him available to hear God’s voice say, “Go.” 

“But I’m not a trained prophet,” Amos could have said. “You are telling me to ‘prophesy’ but all I really know is farming and shepherding.” 

God said, “Say what you know.” 

What did Amos know?

  1. Amos knew God’s voice—In this short book, 43 times(!) Amos uses phrases like says the Lord, declares the Lord, or hear the word of the Lord. 
  2. Amos knew his business—This book is filled with language about sheep and shepherds, farmers and farm equipment, gardens and vineyards. 
  3. Amos knew God had told him “Go and speak” so Amos had boldness. 

You can put your name in all three of those places that say Amos. You can know God’s voice through the Bible, you know your “business” (whether it’s parenting, or coaching, or your own profession), and you can hear God saying, “Go, tell people about Me.” 

God wants to use you for His glory. He just needs your availability. Will you be open to being that person? 

Join me next week as we continue to learn the major lessons from that the minor prophets teach us. 

The Day Of The Lord

All we know about the prophet Joel is that he is the son of Pethuel, and his name means Jehovah is God. He appears to be addressing the southern part of Israel (Judah/Jerusalem). 

What is interesting to note about Joel’s writing is a recurring theme that goes something like this: 

Foreshadowing (or prophetic foretelling) → Calling for a godly response → God’s blessing on a right response or God’s punishment on a wrong response → An outcome which foreshadows or foretells another more dire event → repeat…

For instance, in Joel’s prophesy the massive invasion of locusts was intended to get the Israelites to pay attention to their sins. Joel calls for fasting and repentance and warns (foreshadows/foretells) that an invading army at a later date would do even greater damage (1:2-14). 

Likewise, the invading army—which would do more damage than the invading locusts—should also call the Israelites to repentance and imploring God for His help. 

Jesus, just like Joel, taught that whether it was an evil man, an accident, or even a natural disaster, painful things should cause us to consider the state of our eternal soul (see Luke 13:1-5). And Jesus and Joel both foretell of the Day of the Lord when there will be no more opportunities for repentance. 

To prepare God-fearing people for this dreadful day of the Lord, Joel foretells if the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is the same empowering Spirit that Jesus said would equip His followers to take the message of salvation to all four points of the compass (Acts 1:4-8). And just as Joel foretold 800 years earlier, on the first Pentecost Sunday after Christ’s ascension back into heaven, the Christians were baptized in the Holy Spirit, prompting Peter to quote an extension passage from Joel (compare Joel 2:28-32 with Acts 2:14-21).

Joel’s final chapter talks about Judgment Day, and about the multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. Peter confronted his audience as well about the decision they should make to turn to Jesus as their Savior and Lord. 

The Day of the Lord could come at any moment and millions around the world are still in the valley of decision. I find these words quite sobering—

“Someone asked, ‘Will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved?’ It is more a question with me whether we—who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not—can be saved.” —Charles Spurgeon 

We are even closer to the Day of the Lord today than we were yesterday. What will you do?

Please join me this Sunday as we continue our series learning the major lessons from the minor prophets.

%d bloggers like this: