Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Nahum

In the mid 7th century B.C., Jonah reluctantly went to Nineveh (the capital city of Assyria) and warned them of God’s coming judgment if they did not repent of their heinous cruelty and off-the-chart depravity.

They repented.

Fast-forward one hundred years.

By this time, Nineveh had systematically declined as a city right back into the proverbial gutter they had created a century earlier.

God could have just killed them.

But, because God longs to forgive more than punish, he sent yet another prophet to warn them of God’s coming judgment if they did not repent.

This time they didn’t listen.

So Nahum opens up with this foreboding announcement:

The Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath… The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (1:2-3)

They still didn’t listen.

This reminded me of a story of a similar time in history, albeit more recent. Travel with me back to 18th century, picturesque New England.

During the Great (Spiritual) Awakening of 1734-35, thousands of people were coming to Christ and getting right with God.  Nonetheless, there was one church, in Enfield, Connecticut, that had no interest in repenting.  Due to deeply-rooted spiritual complacency, they were far too comfortable with the lifestyles they had chosen – void of biblical truth.  They had a good thing going (so they believed.)  And, just like ancient Nineveh, they had no interest in God interfering.

Since God had used Jonathan Edwards, a graduate of Yale, so mightily to spark this Great Awakening, the pastor of the  Enfield church invited Edwards to come preach, hoping and praying God would use Edwards’ preaching to wake the church up out of their spiritual slumber.

So, on July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards stood in front of those unsuspecting people and preached America’s most famous sermon:  “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Edwards passionately preached:

“Below you is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; hell’s mouth is wide open;… You deserve the fiery pit;… The Devil is waiting… hell is gaping;… The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready; the furnace is now hot, ready to receive you.  The glittering sword is whetted and held over you,…

The bow of God’s arrow is bent; the arrow is made ready; and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow…

You have no refuge, no security, nothing to take hold of.

All that preserves you is the sovereign forbearance of an angry God.”

Testimony of the event bears witness that “Edwards was interrupted many times before he finished his sermon by people moaning and crying out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?”

We don’t hear sermons like that anymore.

But, we should.

The author of Hebrews warned,

It is a fearful and terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God [incurring His judgment and wrath]. (10:31)

God tried to get, both, Nineveh’s and the Enfield church’s attention by sending prophets. 

Enfield listened.  Nineveh didn’t.

As a result, in 612 B.C., God used Babylon to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth.  So decimated was the city that the site was not rediscovered until 1842 A.D.

Do you find yourself complacent about your faith?  Has God been trying to get your attention?

Heed his warnings before it’s too late.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

The Decline of the Bible in North America

As a guy who spent 25 years in full-time Youth Ministry, I have a burning question that, with each passing year, weighs heavily on my heart and mind.

But first, a disclaimer:

There’s always debate between which is better: a digital copy of the Bible? Or one with real pages? One may be better for one’s particular learning style. Neither is “right”, nor “wrong”, but merely a matter of preference. I’m for either as long as it’s used.

Now that we have that out of the way and, hopefully, understand my question has nothing to do with what media we ought to use – let’s dive in…

Here’s my burning question:

What is the reason most modern teens have little or no regard for Scripture, and how do we fix it?

Every teen today can download a Bible app.   But, as with all technology it’s a double-edged sword. Reading the Bible has never been easier or more convenient due to digital apps. But, in my experience, less and less are actually reading and studying it.

Most teens can quote entire song lyrics by Drake and Cardi B, but struggle to recite two scriptures from memory.

Why should the Bible be vitally important?

Here’s why…

It’s the sole source for 1) telling us who God is, and (2) telling us what is right and what is wrong. A non-biblical worldview opens the mind up for complete subjectivity, sending us down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Biblical illiteracy among Christian teens and young adults is alarming and heartbreaking.

The problem, in my experience as, both, a youth pastor and adult pastor, is systemic in that a loss of respect and honor for the Bible originates with us, the parents/adults.

My favorite quote on “learning” is this one:

“We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”

If we, as adults, have no real, consistent devotion to the Word of God then there is little chance our children, as well as the younger generation, will either. If, as parents/guardians, our lifestyle demonstrates a low priority for being a disciplined student of the Bible don’t be surprised when our children have little interest in the Bible when they’re grown. Parents, not church staff, were always designed to be their children’s primary “youth pastors.”

I’ve visited with many grown Christian adults who know little about the Bible. I’m thrilled to help them learn, but taken back at how much they don’t know, given the fact that our very faith is based upon a book so rarely studied.

Ever heard this one?  “The Bible is too heavy and complicated for teens to understand.”

Give me a break.

Have you seen what they’re studying and accomplishing in school?

We grossly underestimate how much they can absorb and learn. Look at how they respond to sports coaches, dance and music instructors, etc.

Granted, we can’t compete with the lightning-speed and entertainment of social media. But, we don’t have to.   We have something better than social media.

Look, when life comes crashing down around us, social media or the latest song to top the Billboard Charts can’t give us hope, peace and truth.

Only the Bible can do that.

I fear if we don’t whet the appetite of this generation, modeling for them a hunger for the great, epic adventure of God in the Bible, allowing them to, with us, wrestle with the Bible’s hard teachings and seeming problematic passages, the words of Judges 2:10 will, once again, apply:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done…”

Please know my heart – there is no shame or guilt intended for anyone here.  Far too many times, I’ve been as poor an example for teens as the next guy.

Fortunately, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb it’s never too late to do the right thing.

I heard a preacher say once, holding his Bible up, “This book will keep me far from sin; and sin will keep me far from this book.”

Parents/adults, join me in putting down our phones for a few minutes and engaging in intelligent dialogue with the younger generation about the Bible and the treasure it holds.

Join me in challenging one another to memorize verses and passages, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our lives through God’s Word.

My friends, may we return to a deep conviction that God holds the answers for our fallen world, and that those answers are found in his living, active, powerful Word.

Sola Scriptura, Nick

 

 

 

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Micah

When we think of the Old Testament prophet, Micah, we commonly think of one of two passages.

Either his prophecy of the exact birthplace of Christ (which wouldn’t take place for another 750 years):

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (5:2)

Or,…

“…And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)

But I would like to draw your attention to a nuance of the book that haunts me.

In chapter 6, vs 12, Micah lets Israel know just how far off course they’ve strayed:

“Your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth.”

I’m fairly certain the people of Israel didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “Hey – I think I’ll become a pathological liar today.”

This didn’t happen over night.

Satan is smarter than that.  Much smarter.

His strategy is – and always has been – to slither around unnoticed, systematic and methodical in his efforts to inflict pain.  I heard a preacher once say, “Satan will take years, if necessary, to set you up for a fall.”

That said, Israel’s apathy and complacency regarding their devotion to God was a slow and calculated process.

The old saying has been proven true over and over again:

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; so a character, reap a destiny.”

Whether we choose to ruin our lives in the coming weeks or the coming years matters not to our enemy. 

Time is irrelevant to him as long as his objective is accomplished. 

As I thought about the insidious manner in which ingrained habits of sin can take us over, I recalled an arresting quote by one of my professors during my graduate studies in Christian Apologetics (defending the Christian faith.)

Dr. Michael Ward is a professor at the University of Oxford in England.  He made an enormous impact on my life.  Once, in an online class thread about this very topic of sin’s systematic infection, he wrote the following:

Compromise – even the tiniest amount – seems innocuous at first.  And that’s exactly the way Satan prefers it.

Be on your guard.  Find friends who love you enough to lovingly confront you if/when they see a slow, steady “straying off course.”

And, be careful to abide in the Lord, so that you don’t let the serpent into the garden.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Jonah

Like other Bible stories we were told as children, we can almost quote the major points of the book of Jonah in our sleep:

  1. God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh
  2. Jonah says no and runs the other way
  3. Jonah gets swallowed by a huge fish
  4. Huge fish spits Jonah onto dry land
  5. Jonah decides to obey God this time and go to Ninevah

The old saying is that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  In this particular context, we might say that “our familiarity with the story of Jonah makes us complacent when challenged to dig deeper and wrestle with all God wants to show us through this book.”  Why?  Because we tend to believe there’s nothing else in the story we haven’t heard before.

Like speeding through a beloved vacation site or national park, the story of Jonah must be slowed down –way down, allowing us to see everything we’ve missed due to traveling too fast.

What we discover, when we slow down, is that the story of Jonah is replete with nuanced biblical principles and truth.

Permit me to share with you just one.

In chapter 1, we find Jonah in a boat headed for Tarshish with a bunch of sailors who have no idea that he is trying to run from God (which is futile.)  In response to Jonah’s blatant disobedience, God sends a tempest over the Mediterranean Sea that causes these seasoned sailors to fear for their very lives.  (side truth: our sin never only affects just us.)

Verse 5 states,

“All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.”

Tossing their supplies overboard didn’t help.

The 4th century theologian, Chrysostom, made the following piercing observation:

When I read that I paused – and my heart constricted.

Almost immediately, I found myself replacing Jonah’s name in Chrysostom’s quote with my name.

And I thought deeply of the weight Jesus bore on the cross – for my sin.

Lord, no one in history could bear the weight of my sin and depravity. 

You could. 

You did.

Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Obadiah

The shortest book in the Old Testament, Obadiah’s message is directed toward Israel’s neighbor – and “brother”Edom.  But, even though the book comprises a mere 21 verses, it is not surprising to see how many vital truths, principles and warnings God gives through  this prophet.

For instance, for centuries, Edom had mocked Israel’s failures, gloated over their misfortunes and refused to help them in times of need.  In response, God, through Obadiah, says to Edom:

“You should not have gloated when they exiled your relatives to distant lands. You should not have rejoiced when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune. You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble.”

Haven’t you, at one time or another, celebrated when someone who’s hurt you is suffering?  Me too.

But I’m reminded of Jesus’ hard teaching:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”

“Well, that’s my favorite verse in the Bible,” said no one ever.

Ambrose was a 4th century theologian from Milan.  He also knew how hard this teaching is – which is why he pleaded with God to give him a compassionate heart for his enemies:

Translation: Ambrose is simply praying, “O God – may i never become numb and callous to the sheep you’ve called me to shepherd. Keep my heart soft and attentive that I may rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Application for pastors/church leaders/small group leaders: I get it. For 36 years I’ve been doing it.  Pastoring/shepherding is hard work. Because it’s relational. (By the way, if you don’t like people – and you’re a pastor – find a new career.) And sometimes – me included – you just want to disappear. You’ve run out of patience, empathy, etc.,… the well is dry. It’s at those “moments of truth” we have to take a deep breath, take inventory of our lives, and refocus on Christ and how he loved people. No pastor in history has been more in demand than Jesus. Yet Jesus maintained his intimacy with the people by means of maintaining intimacy with the Father.

You can’t give what you don’t have. Even Jesus knew that.

In the words of the great theologians, The Righteous Brothers, don’t lose “that lovin’ feelin’.”

Love to you all, Nick

 

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Amos

One of the reasons God sent Amos to the northern kingdom of Israel was to rebuke them for their disregard for genuine worship of God.

We can’t fool God.  He knows the difference between a fact and a fake.  Genuine and pretentious.

It is easy to skim over the biblical passages citing God’s abhorrence of fake, ritualistic worship. But we should heed them with great fear.  In Amos 5:21, God thunders,

I hate, I despise all your pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

One scholar offered commentary on why God used both “hate” and “despise” to describe his disgust for pretentious worship.  He states:

Two Hebrew words here combine to express the attitude more forcefully than either could by itself.  The result can be translated, “I reject with utter hatred.”

May our worship of the Almighty be always humble and sincere.  nw

 

 

 

Church. Does it really matter?

“Someone tell me why actual church attendance is needed. What’s wrong with me watching it on tv, my device, etc? I mean, that’s better than nothing, right?”

Yes. That’s better than nothing.

Most of the time when someone asks the very-common question, “Is going to church all that important?”, the response will include a passage out of Hebrews:

“…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”  (10:24-25)

But, if I may offer some biblical insight and unpack this topic a little more…

Jesus was not haphazard about the metaphors he used. And, when describing us, he purposefully used sheep – who, by God’s own design, exist in flocks (community). This is the way they are hard-wired. And it’s the way we are hard-wired.

We are, by human nature, tribal.

There is a reason the apex of punishment within our prison system is isolation.

Biblically – and psychologically – we need one another.

It was Solomon who rightly said,

“Two is better than one. For when one falls the other can lift the other up. But woe to that person who has no one to lift them up.”

For this reason, Satan hates Christian fellowship, and will do everything in his power to prevent it from happening. To keep us isolated. Alone.

When is a sheep most vulnerable? When they’re separated from the flock.

Let’s take this topic one step further before I close. (Sorry – I sound like a preacher. I can’t help it. )

People can get lost in a crowd (“big church”). But we connect intimately in community (a small group).

I stumbled across the quote below on my Twitter feed. 19th century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, is one of my favorites. Note his words here as to the vital spiritual nature of community and fellowship within the Body. Where do people find community and fellowship?

They find true believers fellowship (koinonia: κοινωνία, cf. Acts 2:42) best in the small group.

That’s where they connect with people on a deeper level.

That’s where they begin to open up and feel safe.

It’s the relationships they make within the context of the small group that keeps them coming back.

Find a church. Find a small group.

We need each other. Faults, failures and all.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

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