By Doug Stringer – 9-15-2015
Are we living in a Nineveh Moment? Is the Church a reluctant Jonah? These are questions I’ve been pondering over the last few months.
During the month of August I was a guest minister at a Church in Woodlands, Texas during their midweek services. The first evening I began the message by posing the question, “Could it be we are living in a Nineveh Moment as a nation? Is the church like Jonah, reluctant to present the truth?” I posed the question again during a recent conference call I helped moderate with thousands of pastors across America.
Jonah was reluctant to speak the Word of the Lord to a sinful and rebellious people of Nineveh. Yet, when Jonah did obey, by the prodding of the Lord and after being in the belly of a whale, Nineveh repented and God relented from judging them for another 100 years. Sadly, Jonah became angry because, in God’s great grace and mercy, He chose not to judge Nineveh after they had repented. What would happen if righteous voices would speak the truth in love, seasoned in holiness and grace, and address the condition of America today?
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh with a warning of impending judgment due to their wicked and perverse ways, but Jonah resisted; he did not want to leave his comfort zone or deliver an unpopular message. As He did with Jonah, God is calling the Church today to bring a message of consecration, holiness, and truth to a society that doesn’t want to hear it.
This prophetic statement by Methodist preacher and founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, is sobering and reflective of the reality of where we are today:
“I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”
We can look at the news every day and agree we’re at a critical juncture. Many people say there’s no hope. Some believe our nation is doomed, our infrastructure and economy will implode, and America will never be the same. These types of judgments may come. But throughout Scripture, God always provides a scarlet thread of redemption. He always has a different plan if His people will listen and heed His Word.
In July of 2012, Billy Graham wrote an article in which he stated:
“My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the lone world superpower—wealthy, unconcerned, and self-centered. When the Prophet Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh and proclaimed God’s warning, people heard and repented. I believe the same thing can happen once again, this time in our nation.”
There is no doubt that there is a battle for the soul of our nation. Will the Church readily and willingly obey God and speak at a critical time in our nation and in our generation, so that—as with Nineveh—He would show His great mercy and grace?
In 2004, I published an article in which I stated there were three major things that can hinder God’s blessing from a nation:
1. Ritual or temple prostitution
2. The shedding of innocent blood
3. Licentiousness or moral looseness
We see all three of these in our nation today.
In our institutional Christianity, we have prostituted ourselves by choosing to live by preference rather than by conviction. We have allowed life in the womb to be attacked mercilessly, with innocent blood being shed on the altars of profit and convenience. And now our Supreme Court has re-written God’s definition of marriage in their June 26, 2015 ruling. This abandonment of our morals has opened the doors even wider for an attack on the American church, as we find ourselves fighting like never before to defend our religious liberties. We must counter these attacks but at the same time display God’s love to those who oppose us.
Much like America today, Nineveh was also racing down a path of self-destruction. If the Ninevites did not change their ways and repent of their sin, God had determined to destroy them. In Jonah 1:1, the Lord tells Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah was tasked with an important objective: warn the city of Nineveh to repent or face God’s wrath. Unfortunately, Jonah fell prey to two very human desires⎯the desire to remain in his comfortable circumstances and the desire to be liked by everyone.
It’s quite easy to draw parallels between Jonah’s story and what’s happening in our nation and churches today. Nineveh closely resembles America, a land of people unaware of and indifferent to God’s Word. Jonah represents the complacency that has taken hold of the Church. Christians have created comfortable surroundings where we are liked and respected by those we know, where we don’t often come in contact with people who believe differently.
But the time for complacency is over. America’s actions demand that the Christians speak up and lead it back to the Lord. If the Church decides to flee the spiritual battle it now faces, America will continue down its current path and undoubtedly draw the ire of the Lord.
THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH
I have recently been teaching a series on the characteristics of the Holy Spirit—specifically His characteristics of TRUTH, HOLINESS, and GRACE—and it ties in profoundly with this Nineveh moment we are experiencing.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, we read: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
Scripture is telling us here that people perish because they have no LOVE OF TRUTH. We see this once again in Roman 1:24-25, where the Bible speaks of those “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever…”
As the Church, we must be lovers of Truth. We cannot preach to others what we don’t believe and cherish. But we must deliver God’s Truth in love, seasoned with grace. If we bring a message of hope and salvation but deliver it with contempt, anger and judgment, people will not listen.
Too many Christians in the Church today compromise truth or choose silence for fear of being labeled “politically incorrect.” Covering up or ignoring destructive issues of the heart only allows them to fester and wreak more havoc.
After Jonah’s time in the whale, he dutifully went to Nineveh and warned the people to repent and give up their evil ways. When the Ninevites heard Jonah’s message, they “believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). Jonah helped save a great city by following the Lord’s command and speaking honestly to the people of the city, delivering God’s truth without compromise. By listening to the Word of God, taking it to heart, and repenting, the Ninevites were saved.
God is calling for courageous voices in the Church to speak once again— to our nation. He is calling for people who care more about others than they care about themselves. Rather than running away from what God is saying in this Nineveh moment, we must run toward what He is saying and be the examples He is calling us to be. Will we speak the truth in holiness and grace so we can see God relent? Or will we turn the other direction?
THE SPIRIT OF HOLINESS
The Bible says we should worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and give Him the glory due His name (Psalm 96:8-9). Holiness is not external piety or self-righteousness, but worshipping Him with a depth of consecration that says, “God, my life is not my own. You purchased me with a price; do what You want to do. That’s the glory due Your name for what You’ve done for me.” Yet too often, we see the Church profaning the holy in the name of grace.
The Holy Spirit is going throughout the Church (for judgment starts in the House of the Lord), shedding light on compromise and complacency; revealing places where we are trampling the Spirit of grace and no longer respecting the Spirit of holiness. We’ve profaned the holy things of God.
In Ezekiel 43:6-7, we read: Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me. And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places.”
He continues in v. 8: “In their setting of their threshold by my thresholds, and their post by my posts, and the wall between me and them, they have even defiled My holy name by their abominations that they have committed: wherefore I have consumed them in mine anger.”
God gives us careful instructions on how to serve and worship Him, but often we choose to do things our own way; it’s almost a mirror image, but it’s not from God. When Moses was getting the blueprint for the Tabernacle, consider what would have happened if others were listening in and wrote down exactly what God was saying. They could have gone and built exactly what they heard God say to build, thinking He would bless it. But God is not obligated to anoint what merely mirrors Him; He is only obligated to anoint what He specifically directs.
Think of our Constitution. Those who don’t understand the spirit of the Founding Fathers try to amend it to fit what they want. We’ve seen this in the high courts of the land, with those who have set themselves as god in the house of God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The Bible is very clear that God intended marriage for one man and one woman: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Through the Supreme Court’s decision on June 16, 2015 our judges decided to redesign and redefine God’s holy plan for marriage. They want to dictate to the Church and to the people how God is supposed to operate. But God is not obligated to man.
Likewise, God’s Word is our Constitution. When we interpret it according to our human ideals, we become dictators, creating legalism to force people into subservience; or we create amendments to make God’s Word into a license to do what we want. Both ways lead to bondage. When we build our own threshold or doorpost next to God’s, we put enmity between God and us, and create our own abominations. Only when we understand the Spirit of God’s heart can we be a people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.
True holiness—not legalism or license—is what will set the Church apart from everything else in the world. God’s divine holiness needs to radiate from the Church. We must be “the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
THE SPIRIT OF GRACE
God gives us the grace not to justify our sins but to overcome the works of the flesh. When we yield our spirit, mind, and body to Him and say, “Not my will but Yours be done,” the great grace of God empowers to us to walk in the fullness of the godhead bodily and to literally be a testament to the greatness of our God in difficult times.
Hebrews 10:26-27, 29: For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries….Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
“Adversaries” here are not just those against God, but anyone—even those professing to follow God—who would come and set up their own doorpost or threshold mirroring God’s, but not being yielded to Him; they are complacent and compromised, wanting God’s blessings but not yielded to Him.
In the same way, Jesus looks out for us, cares for us, cherishes us; He poured out His love for us, died for us, and is always standing at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He has earned the right for us to call Him Lord because of all He has done for us. It’s the glory due His name.
Yet the grace of God is trampled when we count the blood of the covenant—which He shed for us to sanctify us—a common thing. How can you profane something so holy? We profane the holiness of God when we claim grace but build our own doorpost and our own threshold; when we justify our sinful actions instead of being justified by faith; and when we choose not to honor and respect God—this all amounts to trampling underfoot the Son of God Himself and insulting the Spirit of Grace. We need to be under the blood instead of having the blood under us!
Not only do we trample God’s grace underfoot when we use it as a license to sin, we are also guilty of withholding grace from others. After Jonah delivered God’s message to the Ninevites, God “relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened” (Jonah 3:10). However, instead of being pleased that God saved a city and reveling in His mercy, Jonah was angry. He felt that God should have destroyed them.
The Church’s attitude should not be that of Jonah’s. Just as we have received the grace of God, we must also bestow grace on others. It’s wrong for the Church to enjoy God’s grace while withholding it from America.
GOD MAKES A WAY
Just as God did with Jonah, He is going to make a way for us to do what we are called to do. He knows what we can handle; we are temples of His Holy Spirit, and we are called for spiritual battle. The Holy Spirit pleads through us and implores us to draw others unto Him. We experience His best plan for us when we walk in the place of simple obedience, which is the highest form of worshipping God.
We can do nothing without the Lord. We need sharp and clear minds to communicate what the Holy Spirit says, so we can walk in a spirit of power and love and with a sound mind, not fear. When we place our confidence in Him and not in ourselves, He will always have His way.
A WATCHING WORLD
The world is overwhelmed by what it sees every day. Even those who oppose the Church don’t have an answer. But the more we reflect Christ in a very tangible way—not only in good times but in challenges as well—the more we can turn into good what the devil has intended for harm. We must keep our focus on God’s intended plan, pursuing His greater purpose instead of focusing on what we’re going through.
Four days before the horrendous and tragic shootings at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, we were part of helping to facilitate The Response South Carolina, a call to prayer for our nation, held at the North Charleston Coliseum. As we crossed our racial, denominational and generational lines to meet in humble and corporate posture in prayer, worship and fasting, God heard prayers that went out for the nation—as well as those of generations of praying believers who laid a foundation before us. In retrospect, many of us recognize it was God’s providence that we gathered with thousands on June 13th, joined by multiple thousands more around the globe via television and live stream. Relationships were being forged and healed. In the aftermath of the shocking and horrifying shootings, we all witnessed the outpouring of unity that touched the nation. Churches of many denominations and Christians of all races came together to show solidarity and support with the families and congregation of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston in the wake of its tragedy. The way in which the Church of Charleston and South Carolina crossed racial, denominational, generational, and social boundaries to rally with Emanuel A.M.E. Church sent a message of forgiveness, and hope that healed Charleston, impacted the nation, and reverberated around the world.
I believe the Church should not only be a plumb line of Righteousness and Justice, but also the plumb line of Peace, Healing and Hope in the midst of the difficult and challenging days we live in.
No matter what comes our way, every adversity is an opportunity for God to show Himself great. He will always cause us to outlast our adversities and adversaries if Christ is the Lord of our hearts. No matter what we go through, He will take us through our circumstances to bring glory to His name.
AN END TO COMPLACENCY
If the Church in America is going to avert national disaster, we must answer two questions: Will we remain complacent in our comfortable circumstances, or will we please God and lovingly minister to our nation in hopes of turning it back to the Lord? Second, will we speak God’s Truth, even when it’s not popular?
Leonard Ravenhill in his book Why Revival Tarries said:
“This generation of preachers is responsible for this generation of sinners. At the very doors of our churches are the masses ⎯unwon because they are unreached, unreached because they are unloved … Sin today is both glamorized and popularized, thrown into the ear by radio, thrown into the eye by television, and splashed on popular magazine covers. Churchgoers, sermon-sick and teaching-tired, leave the meeting as they entered it⎯visionless and passionless! Oh God, give this perishing generation ten thousand John the Baptists!”
When God ordered Jonah to Nineveh, He was testing Jonah for complacency. Jonah had become comfortable among his people. He had no reason to travel outside of Israel. The Church today must be careful not to end up in that same situation. It is easy to grow comfortable and complacent when we remain in a familiar setting. However, when complacency strikes the Church, our reach is lessened and our influence is weakened. If we are to change the course of our nation, we must stand up and minister to America. We can no longer sit idly by and talk amongst ourselves, shaking our heads. We must make it known that our nation has strayed from God’s path.
Jonah warned the city of Nineveh, and because he obeyed God’s command and delivered the Lord’s word, the city of Nineveh survived and turned to the Lord. Just like our nation has built its own thresholds and doorposts to mimic the Lord’s, the Church has been guilty of doing the same. Before the Church can minister to our nation, we must first be in line with God’s Word. Our ministry will crumble if we aren’t acutely aware of God’s Word and tuned in to the Spirit of Truth, Holiness, and Grace. We must be lovers of truth, and deliver that truth with lives of holiness and in grace.
As Christians, we have been called for spiritual battle, and the Lord has prepared us accordingly. Instead of fearing the people and circumstances in our nation, we must remember Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Under God’s guidance, the Church can turn this great nation back to the Lord. Christians must come together in humility and holiness if we are to speak the grace-seasoned truth of God to the nation and save it from self-destruction.
It’s easy to become disheartened and discouraged, but we must stop trying to hide from the realities of what God is telling us to do so we can bring healing and hope. Yes, it looks like things could implode. Yes, there are global challenges. Yes, we’re in a critical juncture. But in the midst of it all, God is raising up a people who have NOT bowed their knees to Baal. We need courageous voices like Elijah, who obeyed God even though Jezebel threatened him. We need strong voices like Esther, who had to choose between staying in safety and comfort or speaking up for what was righteous and true. We need Jonahs, Noahs, and Daniels!
I believe we’re about to see a great outpouring of God’s Spirit on an awakened Church! It will not be on the institutional church, but on the ones who have a love for the Spirit of Truth, who appreciate the Spirit of Grace, and who respect the Spirit of God’s Holiness. God will give us the abounding grace and great power to reflect Christ to a world that desperately needs to know Him. Will we be the voice that God has called, even though it looks impossible in the natural? Will we rise up and speak the truth, seasoned in holiness and grace, even when it’s not popular?
The late Leonard Ravenhill said: “One praying man stands as a majority with God! Today God is bypassing men⎯not because they are too ignorant, but because they are too self-sufficient.”
In our own self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, we are powerless. But when we stand with God and give Him Lordship of our lives, all things are possible. It is then we will see Him bring change in our marriages, our homes, our cities, and even our nation!
Like Jonah, we face a seemingly impossible task. But with an obedient and humble heart, the Church can forever change our nation’s path.