No Stone Left Unturned–Nahum 1

Nahum foretells of Nineveh’s utter annihilation at the hands of the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians, the proxies of an avenging God in 612 B.C. The city was the capital of Assyria, which historians tell us was “one of the cruelest, vilest, most powerful, and most idolatrous empires in the world.”

They were known–by their own boasting–to have racked up enemy heads to form pillars, made pyramids of dead bodies outside the city, slit necks like those of lambs, and flayed people alive to pin their skins to walls. Indeed, Nineveh was called the “City of Blood.”

Assyrian kings conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, placing them under a heavy yoke of bondage (1:13), and invaded Judah, only to be miraculously thwarted in the end (2 Kings 19:32-36).

Nahum delivers his oracle between 663 and 654 B.C. some 50 years before what happened happened. The city was never rebuilt after its utter destruction by siege, flooding, fire, pillaging, and demolition, exactly as the prophet predicted.

I will prepare your grave,
For you are contemptible.
For never again will the wicked one pass through you;
He is cut off completely. (1:14,15)

We’re not capable of withstanding enemies like the Assyrians, who are ruthless, cruel, vile and vicious. They draw their power straight from the pit of hell. There is no such thing as righteous indignation with them, but there can be in us. But more importantly, God promises to fight our battles. He can contend for us against our most despicable, terrifying foes, in the end obliterating their yoke of bondage upon us.

Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
And the rocks are broken up by Him.
“So now, I will break his yoke bar from upon you,
And I will tear off your shackles.” (1:6,13)

The Lord patiently reserves his wrath, releasing it ferociously at the right moment. He rains down all-consuming destruction with all the elements of his creation, the wind, the water, the mountains, all with fire and fury.

Since Nineveh remains in ruins, it is proof-positive of the power of God to deliver on his word. Here’s a detailed prophecy that was dramatically fulfilled, the account of which has been recorded and can be observed today. There remains more biblical prophecy yet unfulfilled. Why would we think he will not follow through on his word now? All should know that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:32

And now do not carry on as scoffers,
Or your fetters will be made stronger;
For I have heard from the Lord God of hosts
Of decisive destruction on all the earth.
Isaiah 28:22

Lest you think you can skirt by, “Whatever you devise against the Lord, He will make a complete end of it. Distress will not rise up twice.” 1:9

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Loving Confrontation

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. Matthew 18:15

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Who does this any more? These verses ask a lot of qualifying questions. Who has a corner on the truth? Who knows enough about a person to know that they’re straying from it? Who’s willing to get in someone’s grill? Who goes anymore, except to a keyboard? Who judges his own spiritual condition before being confrontational? Who’s gentle?

There’s a Lexus commercial running these days featuring a motivational speaker grappling with the concept of empathy. We need this trait to function in a diverse world, but when you find that up’s not up and words have two or three meanings, there’s an even greater tendency to keep your powder dry.

I’ve found that you’re either born with empathy or you’re not. Most times you’ve got it in spades and you’ll tolerate just about anything, or you’re completely devoid of it and you’re basically a jerk.

Only God instills in us true empathy regardless of our genes. It goes beyond sympathy because there’s an understanding that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Empathy demands a full evaluation of one’s self. Who better to turn someone back from an evil way than someone who has travelled it? So much better is the person to have been there, done that. Who’s without sin anyway? It’s conceivable that you could be so super spiritual and so grounded in the Word to march right in to confront as Paul did Peter (Galatians 2:11), but this whole process is done with fear and trepidation on the solid ground of a sound understanding of one’s own feeble self, and a trial run in the shoes of the”wayward” soul in need of a U-turn.

Empathy always assumes from the start the presence of a potentially significant innocent “blind spot,” rather than willfulness.

Loving confrontation is a noble albeit risky cause. There’s much that is heavenly to gain but real potential for serious personal loss for the earthbound. When you put yourself out there on a limb, you risk it breaking. That’s why the models put forth by James, his half-brother, and Paul stress full reliance on the Spirit of God for courage to go in the first place, the right words to say when you get there, and the essential post-departure circumspectionx to speak on the Lord’s behalf.

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Everyman

In literature, an “everyman” has come to mean an ordinary individual that the audience or reader easily identifies with, but who has no outstanding abilities or attributes. An everyman hero is one who is placed in extraordinary circumstances and acts with heroic qualities. While lacking the talent of the classical hero, they exhibit sound moral judgment and selflessness in the face of adversity.

www.storyboardthat.com

While Bible heroes (Hebrews 11) stood out because of their faith, they were still regular people. Elijah (11:38) tops the list. James elaborates.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:16-18 (NAS)

When God chooses his players in the drama called life, he casts the “everyman” who can handle the role only in a spiritually energized state. In Elijah he had an “everyman” who would not only pray, but pray earnestly while under his influence.

Indeed, the prophet is known for his wobbling (1 Kings 19:9-10), but when it counted most he rose to the occasion, stood toe to toe with false prophets and a wicked king and queen, on the firm foundation of effective prayer.

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16

While willingness and earnestness are what God looks for in the lead role, most of all he wants righteousness. Not “everyman” has it.

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Model Citizen

 7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

James 5:7–12 (NAS)

There are those in everyone’s life you look up to. You want to be like that person, not in terms of wealth and prestige, but in strength of character. I cannot picture a particular individual in my mind, but I can call out the traits I admire.

We’re all so flawed it’s hard to firmly possess every facet of an exemplary life. The correct answer is always “Jesus,” but he is God, for heaven’s sake. We might call to mind a biblical character, but Paul was a steamroller at times and Peter ran both hot and cold. The only prominent person I can recall with no blemishes would appear to be Daniel. Joseph runs a close second, but he tried to angle his way out of prison, and he toyed with his brothers too long, in my opinion.

Yes, Daniel is worthy of emulation. Served under five kings. Stuck to his guns. Fearless. Faultless. Faithful.

James does refer to one Bible character, Job, known for his suffering and endurance, but we’d rather dwell on the “successful.” I did read the full book of Job once all the way through. But it’s not pleasant, and we like a certain degree of fantasy in our worlds, and his plight was raw and foreboding. In reality, life turns out to reflect more of what he went through than the Bible-in-pictures view of Daniel—but believe me, Daniel suffered.

What should not be lost is that when all was said and done, Job was rewarded with compassion and mercy.

Glean from James’s words here (7-12) the enviable composite character of a model Christian. He or she is patient, strong, long suffering, faithful, peaceful, guileless, honorable and God-fearing.

If the Lord is near, like a dad in the stands watching me play, should I not be careful to make him proud?

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Brotherly Love

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:1–4 (NAS)

In these verses James describes persons driven by their own pleasures (the Greek word from which we get our word “hedonism”). Those who would cross them are “murdered,” or better in this context, hated. It is hard to fathom a way that the people described here are believers. But in James 2:1, his audience appears to be the ‘brethren.” I see it this way. It’s much akin to finding your boys at each other’s throats. I know. I had three born two years apart, and now observe three young grandsons close in age.

The source of this backbiting was the apparent sidelining of God’s spirit in the church.

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? James 4:5

This verse is less mysterious if “Spirit” is uncapitalized, to which many commentators agree. All of Scripture points to an almighty God who is jealous to possess the “spirit” He made to dwell in us. When He’s allowed to preside over us, our longings, these tendencies to want our own way, are tempered and tamped down in deference to the urgings of His will. We finally see things with empathy rather than enmity.

He argues that His grace is greater than all the world has to offer. It alone is sufficient. Harmony in the church comes from spirit-filled humble and gracious people.

6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:6–7

Back to my three sons. There’s usually a root cause for all the tussling and yelling. Jealousy. You normally sternly say, hey, you’re brothers. Brothers love each other. Brothers share. Now apologize! Grudgingly they do, and because some grace has been extended, peace and quiet returns, and fair play resumes, if only briefly!

The family of God is no different, and James knows what it’s like to be jealous of a brother!

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The Right Thing

James has just ranted against the judgmental in Chapter 4:11-12, the presumptuous in verses 13-14, and the arrogant in verse 16, to illustrate what humility is not (v. 10). Then he takes on the sins of omission.

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

James 4:17

What exactly would be a sin of omission? I mean, that’s a pretty high bar! I feel good when a transgressible moment comes and goes and, wonders never cease, I didn’t say it, I didn’t do it, I didn’t even think it!

James has advanced to those cases in which I should have said it, I should have done it, I should have at least thought it!

“Right” is the Greek word kalos meaning good, fair, beautiful.

We might think first to fall back on the tired cliché, “what would Jesus do?” If you read the words of Jesus and study his works, he’s not exactly straightforward at times, and he’s anything but predictable. Ask his disciples. Then he had supernatural powers. This would be a tricky roll play.

But we’re in the right ballpark. Doing the right thing is something good, fair or beautiful acted on. It’s low hanging fruit originating from the Holy Spirit in my wheelhouse. This is what James is talking about.

Let me say this. When you’re at the point when you’re kicking yourself for–and confessing–missed opportunities like this, you’re finally ready for the big leagues.

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The Devil Did Not Make Me Do It

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

James 1:13-16 (NAS)

God tests us us, but he does not tempt us, and He cannot be tempted. This means that when temptation comes, it is not from God.

We already know that Satan can tempt (Jesus in wilderness) and Satan can be tempted. Since God cannot tempt, it was Satan’s pride that did him in (Isaiah 14:13).

It therefore follows that if God does not tempt us, Satan must, or more likely his proxy, the world (flesh, eyes, pride).

God is everywhere, Satan is not. It is conceivable, I guess, for Satan to direct his sole attention to me (like he did with Eve and Jesus and Job and Peter) but more than likely sin is accomplished when I am carried away and enticed by my own lust.

Tests can become temptations. Blessed is the person who perseveres through trials (James 1:12).

Stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:13).

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The Athlete’s Mindset

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12 (NAS):

Not all are athletic, but all can be athletes. In any sport, perseverance under trial is essential to winning. It’s expending every ounce of energy to obtain the ultimate prize. There are no shortcuts.

There is no more arduous test than the 23-day Tour de France. The prize is to be wearing the yellow jersey when the 2,200 mile course through the Pyrenees and the Alps concludes on the cobbled streets of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. One popular race announcer described the effort required for a rider to scale the tallest peaks along the route as “turning himself inside out.” The athlete will do this to win.

The apostle Paul was certainly a fan of athletic endeavors and often used sports metaphors in his writing, very similar to what James alludes to here. Paul stressed not only efficient effort but following the rules.

27 I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27

The Tour is perhaps better known for its disqualified winners than than those who won “clean.” They were not approved, or found “genuine” after testing, and the crown or wreath in this case was taken from their heads. These men appeared purposeful in there actions. But it is possible to inadvertently step out of the lines. There’s nothing worse than to be disqualified.

You may not be gifted athletically, but you can withstand life’s tests with the perseverance of an athlete. But winning isn’t everything. Winning the right way is, in God’s eyes. That’s where love for, or better, fear of, him comes in.

“Turning oneself inside out” is actually a great metaphor. In every test, expose your vulnerability and need for strength to God, and he’ll provide the impetus and will to keep on going.

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The Testing of Your Faith

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:2-8

When you get older, you work hard at staying out of that narrow void between a rock and hard place. Invariably, as much as you try, you get, as they say in New York, “jammed up.” There are those predicaments that cause us “over-reactors” to squirm and flounder, making matters even worse. We’re always one jiggle or jostle too many. At that point we normally cry out to God for help. Rest easy, even the wisest guys eventually get themselves stuck in a quagmire.

You wonder if James’ faith promise will work in some dilemmas. We think they’re far too complex. Seems like we fall into thorny places where it’s going to hurt whichever way we turn.

But you’ve got to believe this promise, otherwise there is no hope, nowhere to turn other than to your own devices. Fact of the matter is, everyone lacks wisdom. If you think you don’t, you must (or will) become acquainted with the old water skier’s adage, “pride comes before the fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

James says we’re to simply ask and the Lord provides wisdom for the moment generously and without a lecture. One can assume that this request can come early on. If you’ve been around the block a few times, you might want this to be the first step on your check list. The “without reproach” means we shouldn’t get the familiar reprimand, “Oh, ye of little faith.” (Matthew 8:26) That is, until we doubt the wisdom will come, perhaps in time. Therein lies the catch.  We are to ask in faith without doubting.

And so it goes, we all lack wisdom, otherwise we’re Solomon, and God said there’d be no other like him to come (1 Kings 3:12), or we’re God, and that’s, of course, ludicrous. He says he’ll grant the request liberally if we simply will not doubt. But usually we do, or at least that’s my tendency. Then the enlightenment we so desperately need may be withheld. This could become a vicious cycle. That’s why the disciples pleaded with the Lord to help their faith! (Luke 17:5)

Reminds me of the disciples in the boat when they realized they left with only one loaf of bread to eat. There at the helm is Jesus who recently fed 5,000 and 4,000 from practically nothing. And they’re worried! Then they get the lecture. (Mark 8:14-21)

At least the older of us should have some case studies to draw upon. Perhaps the Lord shed light on a subject in your past based only on a modicum of faith. He has in mine! My problem is I have a short memory.

Follow through on the faith promise often and you’ll be able to endure and solve every jam you might find yourself in.

Faith always requires a No. 2 pencil.

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Honorable Mention

“Truly I say to you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:23-25)

Walking with Jesus was remotely similar to being on a team with a storied football coach, the kind they name stadiums after, the kind that are found at the gate as a larger-than-life bronze statue.

You think you’re on the same page with him. You think you’re on his good side. Until you say something. What’s worse is when you smirk at his play call.

Here Jesus gives us a window in on this business of how difficult it is for the rich to be saved, without slamming his visor to the ground.

In theory it’s hard for those rich in this life to feel the need for a savior. Everything gets solved with a reach for The Card. But what about Zacchaeus? He felt it. And Matthew? I guess he did too. So it is possible with God.

Besides, you can have all the world has to give and still be wretchedly miserable inside.

________

Then Peter responded and said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

On the other hand, is everyone required to leave everything to follow Jesus? That’s not the norm, but we all know some who have. In your inner conversation with the Lord there will or should be a time when you’re willing to leave it all (whatever that might be) and follow him. He knows when you’re serious and it’s duly noted.

I was at that point one year into marriage. I wanted to head off to seminary and then work in some productive way in a church or Christian organization. We had made plans and were well down the road. Told the parents and everything. Then on a Sunday afternoon, the associate pastor of our church came over for lunch at the parents-in-law’s home.

By the way, this was no normal “associate pastor.” He was 80 years old and possessed a ThD from Dallas Seminary. He pastored Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina for 10 years, prior to being called to preach at his alma mater, Wheaton College. I think I heard him say he bounced Billy Graham on his knee in the church nursery, and the Grahams did attend Calvary. He also made frequent trips abroad to minister, and pastored churches in Haiti and Naples, Italy. He was on his way to Haiti again when he fell ill and died at 84.

After the meal, he struck up a conversation with my wife and me. “They say you want to move to Dallas and go to seminary, with hopes of doing Christian work,” he said.

I replied, “Yes sir.”

He said, flatly, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Everything you want to do you can do in the local church.” I was floored, but to me he was on par with any of the so-called “major” prophets. So that was the end of that.

And he was 100% correct. we managed to get our hands into everything we ever envisioned doing, and then some, in the local church.

Truth is, most are not called to traipse all over Asia Minor and parts beyond with barely a suitcase. Our callings are all different. What he wants is the willingness.

Simply, He wants our hearts. He wants our hands.

We’ll find out in the end who were the standouts and they will surprise us. But the important thing is we all receive honorable mention.

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