When God Tells You to Do Something You Don’t Want to Do

“Jonah” series: (post #1)

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:1-2, N.K.J.V.)

Jonah was one of God’s prophets to Israel’s northern kingdom, a kingdom that consisted of the nation’s ten northern tribes and was literally called “Israel.” His hometown was Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25), which was located near Nazareth about 14 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. This meant that first and foremost Jonah was a prophet to his own people.

When the world thinks of Jonah, however, it does not associate him with Gath Hepher or anywhere else in the northern kingdom. Instead, we associate him with Nineveh, a city that stood 500 miles to the northeast of Gath Hepher. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire.

So why does Jonah always get associated with Nineveh? It’s because the opening sentence of the book of Jonah says that God commanded him to travel to Nineveh and cry out against that great city because of its wickedness. Interestingly, that command made no mention of Jonah even evangelizing Nineveh. It was as if God simply wanted him to go to the city and pronounce its impending doom.

Like everyone else in Israel, Jonah not only loathed the Assyrians but feared them for their reputation of showing excessive cruelty in war. Actually, it would have been perfectly understandable if he had been terrified to go tell such a bunch of roughnecks that God was fed up with their ways. But if Jonah was afraid of what the Assyrians might do to him, they book never mentions it. What the book does clearly indicate is that Jonah wanted God to judge the Assyrians, a fact that should have caused Jonah to be pleased with the message God gave him to deliver. Rather than Jonah being happy about God’s assignment, though, he absolutely despised it. Why?

The answer isn’t revealed until the final chapter of the book, but I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you. According to Jonah 4:2, as soon as Jonah received that word from God, he started figuring that God was up to something other than destroying the Ninevites. Jonah knew that God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness, and quick to relent from doing harm, and none of that favored God following through on His threat to lay waste to Nineveh. Therefore, Jonah thought to himself, “If those people never hear my warning, they will never repent of their sins, and God will never have an out to not destroy them.”

Jonah is probably the only preacher in history who didn’t want his assigned audience to hear and heed his message. That’s why he made other travel arrangements. Rather than head northeast toward Nineveh, he made the trip south to Joppa, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. From there, he then paid his fare to board a ship bound due west for Tarshish, which was located some 2,500 miles from Joppa. Once you understand where all these cities were located on the map, you can understand that it was Jonah’s plan to get as far away from Nineveh as he possibly could in the complete opposite direction! How that’s for not doing something that God wants you to do?

Like Jonah, we must each make the decision to either obey God or disobey Him when He tells us to do something. Also like Jonah, the decisions we make are oftentimes the result of whether or not we actually want to do what God tell us to do. If we want to do it, we’re quick to obey, but if we don’t want to do it, heel-dragging and procrastination become the norm.

The flip side to Jonah’s behavior is how Abraham responded to God’s command for him to take his son Isaac to the land of Moriah and there offer up Isaac as a burnt offering. After hearing that command, the Bible says:

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Genesis 22:3, N.K.J.V. emphasis mine)

That’s what you call getting an early start to obey an unpleasant command, and it’s an example we should all strive to follow whenever God tells us to do things we would rather not do. Perhaps there is something right now that God is burdening you to do, but you are putting it off because it cuts against your grain. Even worse than just putting it off, maybe you are right now on a ship sailing in the complete opposite direction of God’s command. Well, if that’s you, all I can tell you is, get ready for God to deal harshly with your rebellion. Trust me, when God says, “Nineveh” He means Nineveh. Not Joppa. Not Tarshish. Not even your comfortable home turf of Gath Hepher. And all the procrastinating and running you do won’t change His mind. So, you might as well stop playing Jonah and start playing Abraham. I speak from personal experience on this, and I’m shooting you straight.

Posted in Choices, Decisions, Disobedience, Faithfulness, God's Will, God's Work, Obedience, Rebellion, Submission | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Verses” Podcast: Matthew 5:45

Is the Coronavirus Covid 19 God’s specific judgment upon the world at large including America? Some folks believe it is. Then again, there are others who view the virus simply as being another nuisance — like every other sickness and disease — that comes with living in a fallen world. So, which take is the correct one? Well, Malcolm and I don’t claim to have received a text message from God concerning the issue, but in the new podcast we do offer our answer to the question. To hear that answer just click on the link below:

Posted in "Christian Verses" podcast, Current Events, God's Judgment, Sickness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When a Nightmare Becomes a Reality

6’10, 235 pound Darrall Imhoff was a great basketball player. He was a two-time All American at the University of California, was a starter on that school’s 1959 team that won the NCAA championship, won a gold medal as a player on the United States’ 1960 Olympic team, and played twelve seasons as a professional player in the National Basketball Association. He was inducted into the University of California’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988, was inducted into the PAC-10 conference’s Hall of Fame in 2005, and had his jersey retired at the University of California in 2009. He’s also a member of basketball’s Naismith Hall of Fame as part of that 1960 Olympic team that won the gold medal.

But Imhoff had a bad night, a colossally bad night, on March 2, 1962. That was the night an even greater basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain, scored 100 points in defeating Imhoff’s team in a game played in the Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. That night Chamberlain was the starting center for his Philadelphia Warriors team, and Imhoff was the starting center for his New York Knickerbockers team. That meant that Imhoff had the difficult assignment of guarding Chamberlain. Needless to say, Chamberlain got the better of the match-up. After the game, Imhoff’s classic quote was, “I can’t have a nightmare tonight. I’ve just lived through one.”

While Imhoff’s line was humorous, there’s nothing funny about having to live through a nightmare. That nightmare could be you losing a loved one by way of death. It could be you being diagnosed with a terminal disease. It could be you losing your job. It could be your marriage ending in divorce. Nightmares, after all, can be different things to different people.

In the case of Christ’s chosen 12 apostles, one nightmare they had to live through was the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of their leader, Jesus. Every time Jesus broached the subject in the days leading up to His arrest, the apostles didn’t take it well. For example, in Matthew 16:21-23, when Jesus first mentions the subject, Peter takes Him aside and actually rebukes Him for even saying such a thing. Likewise, in Matthew 17:22-23, when Jesus again repeats the news, the apostles are “exceedingly sorrowful” upon hearing it. They thought, “Our Messiah arrested, tried, and crucified? There’s no way we will ever have to experience that.”

And yet they did have to experience it. Not surprisingly, they didn’t handle it well, either. Rather than hone in on what Jesus had plainly told them would follow His arrest, trial, and crucifixion — namely His resurrection! — they went into hiding, terrified that what had befallen their leader would soon befall them as well. They just couldn’t foresee the empty tomb because they couldn’t get past seeing Jesus hanging on that cross. To them, the notion that God could bring anything good out of Christ’s death was unthinkable.

Perhaps you are someone who has lived through a nightmare. As the old saying goes, you’ve been there and gotten the t-shirt. But tell me, have you made your way over to the empty tomb of that nightmare yet? What I mean is, have you reached a place where you can take your eyes off the bad and begin to live in the light of the good that God has brought out of the bad? If you haven’t, then you are like those pre-Easter apostles in that you are living in fear, disillusionment, depression, and probably a fair amount of anger. That, of course, is exactly where Satan wants you.

For God’s part, though, He wants you to press on through all the hurt and reach the other end of your ordeal. Why? It’s because He knows that’s the end where you’ll find the resurrection of your hope and joy. You see, the message of Easter is not just that God the Father resurrected God the Son; it’s also that God can resurrect you in the wake of that personal nightmare you’ve had to experience. Like those apostles, you too can move out of the closing chapters of the gospels and move into the opening chapters of the book of Acts, complete with a fresh wave of God’s empowering, The only question is, will you do it or will continue to fixate on your nightmare?

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Brokenness, Change, Christ's Death, Christ's Resurrection, Comfort, Courage, Crucifixion, Depression, Disappointment, Easter, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, God's Sovereignty, God's Work, Good Friday, Inner Peace, Joy, Perseverance, Problems, Restoration, Resurrection, Sports, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Five Keys For Happiness

I ran across a little piece from Ord L. Morrow the other day and thought I’d share it. It’s entitled “Five Keys For Happiness.” Those five keys, along with the proof-text scriptures Morrow suggested, are as follows: (scriptures from the N.K.J.V.)

  1. Give God the first hour of each day. This means pray as soon as you wake up. Even if you can’t pray for a literal hour, pray as long as you can. As Mark 1:35 says of Jesus: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.”
  2.  Give God the first day of the week. This means become actively involved in a good local church and make church one of the foundations upon which you build your week. As the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, instructed the Christians of Corinth: “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
  3. Give God the first portion of your income. This means always be sure that God gets His proper share of your earnings. As Proverbs 3:9 says: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase;”
  4. Give God the first consideration in every decision. This means make God’s will your absolute top priority in all decisions. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
  5. Give God’s Son first place in your heart always. This means make Jesus not just your Savior but also the LORD of every breath you take. As Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 8:5, concerning the way the devout Christians of Macedonia responded to him and his ministry team: “…but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.”

I trust you will agree with me that these five keys are timeless. That’s why I cut the piece out and kept it for my files. Of course, if you can get that fifth one mastered you won’t have any trouble carrying out the other four. Like those Christians of Macedonia, first give yourself to the Lord and then mind Him as He leads you into His will for each and every situation.

Posted in Choices, Church, Church Attendance, Decisions, Discipleship, Doing Good, Faithfulness, Giving, God's Will, God's Work, Money, Obedience, Service, Stewardship, Worship | Tagged , | Leave a comment

It’s a Really Good Time to Pray For Your Leaders

After a young seminary student had preached a particularly fiery sermon, one church-goer said to him, “You are a model preacher.” This filled the young student with pride until he took the time to look up the definition of the word “model.” That definition read: “a small imitation of the real thing.”

Humbled, the young preacher decided that he’d better try a different approach than his fire-and-brimstone one. So the next time he preached, his words oozed with love and compassion. Afterward, a church-goer told him, “You are such a warm preacher.” This made the young preacher feel good until he looked up the definition of the word “warm.” It read: “not so hot.”

I wanted to use this illustration today because the Coronavirus is forcing pastors everywhere to make some difficult decisions in terms of ministry. Should we have church services or cancel them? Should we visit our church members or stay at home and avoid the risk of either catching the virus ourselves or spreading it to one of them if we unknowingly have it? If we do decide to cancel services and stay close to home, how can we continue to minister to our folks?

Needless to say, your pastor really needs your prayers right now. For every second that you bash him for what he is or isn’t doing, take two more seconds to pray that God will give him the wisdom and discernment he needs to make God-approved decisions during these difficult days. And along the same lines, let me also encourage you to pray for our President and our other political leaders (national and local) as they attempt to steer our nation, states, counties, and cities through this crisis. As Paul, writing under the inspiration of God, tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quite and peaceable life in all goodness and reverence. (N.K.J.V.)       

You say, “But I didn’t vote for that person.” I hear you, but Paul didn’t exactly vote for Nero to be the Emperor of Rome, either, and yet he still instructed Christians to pray for Nero and all others who were in authority at the time. You see, this is all a part of being that “salt” and “light” that Jesus said we are (Matthew 5:13-16). Sure, it’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback who handles every situation perfectly and never makes a bad call. It’s also easy to second-guess every decision a leader makes. But your second-guessing will be curtailed quite a bit if you will ask yourself, “How would I like to be in that person’s shoes right now?” And it will be curtailed even more if you will pray for that leader in accordance with the Bible’s command. Now, if you will excuse me, there’s some praying that I myself need to go do for some political leaders.

Posted in Church, Current Events, Government, Intercessory Prayer, Pastors, Politics, Prayer | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Verses” Podcast: James 1:5

Not one of us has ever had to live through a pandemic. Therefore, there’s no playbook for how to do it. This means that we are all kind of “flying by the seat of our pants” regarding what used to be simple, day-to-day decisions. Should we have church? Should we go to the store? Should we keep our appointments? If we are cooped up at home, how should we fill the time? On and on the questions (and decisions) go.

Fortunately, God has the answers to all of our questions. Even more than that, He has promised to impart to us the wisdom we need to make any decision. This promise is found in James 1:5, and so Malcolm and I thought that verse would be a good one to build this week’s podcast around. Here’s the link:

Posted in "Christian Verses" podcast, Choices, Current Events, Decisions, God's Will | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Not My Typical Week

I spent this past week gathering as much information as I could about the Coronavirus in an effort to figure out how to conduct church services in a reasonably safe way. I also met with our church deacons Tuesday night and with a small group of pastors Friday morning. Both meetings were about one question: “Should we continue to have church services during this pandemic?”

I wish everyone could have sat in on that pastors meeting. That way everyone would understand and appreciate not only how much us pastors loathe cancelling church but also our motivations for that loathing. It’s not about our egos, our desire for the spotlight, or our fear that we might lose a paycheck. What it’s all about is our concern for Christ’s church, the people that comprise it, and this nation itself. As I said in that meeting, “Isn’t it awful that in this time of national crisis (pestilence), a time when our churches ought to be full as we seek God’s help, they are empty?”

The topics we kicked around in that meeting were definitely a mixed “box of chocolates.” For example, we talked about the option of forging ahead with regular services and having faith that God will keep our people safe. We talked about having our congregations meet in multiple rooms and getting the sermon feed into those rooms, the idea being that more space will allow our members to keep a six-foot separation between themselves. We talked about setting up loud speakers and letting people sit in their cars and listen to the sermon. We talked about letting people bring their camping chairs and sit in our church yards as they listen. We even talked about the best way to disinfect and sanitize a pew without ruining the varnish on it. Now there’s a conversation I never expected to have!

Here are some other topics that got mentioned:

  • Hebrews 10:25 does tell Christians to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but it doesn’t say to do so in the midst of a pestilence.
  • Our elderly members, who by all accounts are the most susceptible to the Coronavirus, will be the first ones in attendance if church is held.
  • Those older members are the same ones who are the least likely to have internet access and be able to watch a sermon online.
  • If some people get out of the “routine” of attending church, they will never get back into church.
  • If those people don’t come back, are they genuine Christians anyway?
  • Could this virus be God’s way of separating the “wheat” from the “tares” (Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43) in His church to get us back to a spiritually purer membership?
  • Is this virus God’s way of testing the church to see just how much faith we have?

Friday night one of the pastors followed up our meeting by texting out a link to an article written by Michael Brown, who is a well known pastor, theologian, and Christian radio host. The article was a good read on the subject of whether or not to have church in the midst of a pandemic. Here are three quotes from it:

…even if I am not concerned about my own health, I run the risk of becoming infected and carrying the virus to someone else. And so, when hundreds of us gather together for a church service, unless we can guarantee that every person there has sufficient faith not to be infected, then our gathering presents a health hazard to others. That’s why I do not see this as an infringement of our rights as much as an opportunity to love my neighbor.

…It is also wisdom that shows us what to do. That’s why, when we are driving on the highway and there are ice patches forming all over the road, we slow down. That’s why, when there is a hurricane coming, we shutter up the windows. That’s also why we lock our doors at night. And why we don’t let our 5-year-old child wander around the neighborhood. It’s called wisdom.

If and when the government illegitimately seeks to steal our rights, we will stand up and say, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). This, however, is not that time.

Lastly, let me mention one other topic that we addressed in that meeting of pastors. One of the men offered the legitimate criticism that the actions of the church during this pandemic have really not been all that different from the actions of the world at large. While I agreed with his assessment, I likened the situation to the church being in a boxing match and getting hit with a haymaker punch in the opening seconds of the fight. As the old saying in boxing goes, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” Well, we got hit with a devastating right hand thrown by the Coronavirus and it addled us, knocked us off our game plan, and forced us to either lay down and take a count-out or get up and try a new plan.

Thankfully, that latter option is what’s happening in churches all across America as we are putting in the effort to figure out how to “do church” in this strange new society the virus has created. We’re streaming sermons online. We’re posting helpful things on Facebook. We’re writing blog posts. We’re writing articles. We’re doing podcasts. We’re sending out group texts. We’re using Twitter and Instagram. Seriously, it’s a great thing to see because if there is one thing our churches tend to struggle with it’s ministering in fresh and creative ways. So, in that sense, God is bringing good out of the Coronavirus just like He promises to do in Romans 8:28, and He’s still ministering through His church just like He promises to do in Matthew 16:18. For that I’m grateful and truly amazed at just how resilient (and dare I say resourceful) the church can be. It’s just a shame that it takes something like this virus to force us out of our comfort zones and get us there.

Posted in Adversity, Church, Church Attendance, Current Events, God's Work, Pastors, Preaching, Problems, Service | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments