Tuesday, 17 August 2010

From Ninevah to Haiti

Jonah chapter 3 is a remarkable revival story. Jonah judges this god forsaken city only to find that God isn't going to forsake them after all. Their heart change is so strong & rapid, their revelation of the compassionate heart of God so discerning for a pagan people. The King himself declares, 'Who knows, God may yet relent with compassion?'
Even in their brokenness they had some hope. Jonah must have told them the story of his own disobedience & God’s second chance. We're reading between the lines here, but he surely let them in on the heart of the God who refused to write Jonah off for turning away, but instead humbled him & then invited him a second time to follow. Jesus later tells us that Jonah was a sign to them after all of how God deals with people.

So in their brokenness, they hold to some glimmer of hope & confidence in God.
What a bright light of His mercy into their heavy hearts. Like all the revival stories, how they must have hardly dared hope that sinful hearts like theirs could ever come out from under His anger & into the warmth of His smile & favour, yet this is how God works.

People say God can't work this way today, we're still trying to put Him in a box. They still say that modern, unchurched cities would never be broken open like this. We showed this clip on Sunday from 3 Days of National Prayer & Fasting which were called recently in Haiti. This small island nation, broken by the devastating earthquake is humbling itself. This is a modern Ninevah story in the making. An unbelieving President who is beginning to act like the King of Ninevah. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30rWm84z-zg

Can you imagine the kind of favour that is opened up over a city which approaches our compassionate God in such humility? We don't have to imagine it, we only need to return to the Ninevah story. It's called revival - 120,000 saved in Ninevah in a short space of time. Brian Edwards in his excellent book,'Revival' defines this phenomena as ‘a community saturated with God’. Nothing sums up what is going on in Ninevah better than this.
Some say it can’t have been genuine as Ninevah was destroyed within 100 years. Maybe it was only skin deep, superficial, more of an outward moral clean up than an internal heart change. Is God moved to act through our displays of outward works? Is He impressed be our religion? I don't think so!

Was the revival in Jerusalem in Acts 2 genuine, even though within 35 years Jerusalem was wiped out? Was Asuza Street genuine in 1903 even though LA is a secular city today? Was the East Anglian revival in 1921 genuine even though a modern visitor to Ipswich wouldn’t see a trace of it?
The truth is, God wants to save our generation. He wants the lost of this community, He wants to teach us to pray, to proclaim & to seek His favour. We may not know what legacy we are leaving, but we do know that this response from one man’s angry preaching in a pagan city is a huge encouragement to those us who proclaim the gospel with our lives today.

Friday, 13 August 2010

A faint whiff of whale vomit

Here's a little taster from Jonah for this coming Sunday. The words 'taster' & 'vomit' should never go together in the same sentance of course, but they do here & they are as hard to swallow as you can imagine!
We're in Jonah 3. This disobedient Prophet has woken up on a beach, covered in whale bile & he's had a change of heart. A change of heart which leads to a change of direction. The sat-nav has been stuck on 'turn around as soon as it's safe to do so' for as long as he can remember, but now he does make a u-turn. This is what the theologians call repentance.

He does as He's told, travelling to pagan Ninevah to deliver the message of destruction from God. Only, they're not destroyed. They're broken, they're humbled, from the King down to the cattle, but they're not burned with fire or bolts from the heavens. They may not have understood the full gospel 800 years BC but they showed a heart change which was genuine – this is evidenced by their profound change of behaviour.

No one eats, they are reduced to wearing sackcloth, everyone of them. It's an outward sign of grief & conviction which signifies an inner heart change in response to Jonah’s preaching. It’s widespread across the city, this is conviction of sin on a huge scale.
Something remarkable is happening. A city which deserved to be crushed is beginning to wake up to the presence of the God whom they didn't even know existed. They'd lived without any reference to Him, yet now they are humbled, hoping that He may forgive them. What conviction, what repentance, what urgency, what unprecidented revival!

I've been reading similar stories again this week from the Revival on the Isle of Lewis. Preacher Duncan Campbell records 'Men have been found walking the roads at night in distress of soul; others have been found during the day praying among the rocks. As the Spirit of God sweeps through the meetings, the cry of the unsaved could be heard as strong men wept their way to the Saviour.'

Jonah of course is angry. He just knew God was going to go all compassionate on them, thats why he had never wanted to go there in the first place. What's the point of being a Prophet & predicting chaos & judgement if God decides to give up smiting & start loving instead. What kind of unjust God is this!

Oh Jonah, have you forgotten that you too were a child of disobedience not so long ago? Don't you recall that you too were given a second chance? Doesn't the faint whiff of whale vomit about your person bring you to your senses? Shouldn't we be rather careful not to judge those around us whose lives don't seem to match up to heaven's standards? Wouldn't we be better living with a smile, knowing that we're under favour that we don't really deserve?

We don't stink of old fish guts anymore, we've been magnificently cleaned up, made brand new since our days of rebellion - but it doesn't do us any harm to remember the smell. The world around us doesn't need judgemental christians telling them how far they've fallen short, they probably already feel guily enough. But your neighbours & mine would change with the urgency of the Ninevites if we could show them the way to the God they didn't know existed & into the favour they didn't think they could find.