My aunt and uncle live alone, having been hurt early on in life, they chose to insulate themselves from the pain of betrayal again. Growing up under their care and tutelage, I was taught to adhere to this same philosophy of life, but as I grew, I began reaching out to the people and the community that surrounded me. Unfortunately, and to my hurt, my aunt and uncle took this as a personal affront and began viewing me as part of that world they had chosen to isolate from. Often, I’ve thought of them and even tried visiting them on occasion, only to be met with cold, resistive, austere walls of control and indifference. For the most part, I’ve left them alone believing this is the way they prefer it. I still try corresponding by mail and telephone, but lately, they no longer answer.
When my father was alive, he too believed the way his brother and sister believed. My father and I kept in touch through letters and phone calls initiated by me. On his passing, the correspondence between my aunt, uncle and myself dwindled. I suppose they no longer felt the need to answer my letters or my calls. Perhaps they only reciprocated correspondence, while my father was alive, out of their love and respect for him. Recently, after meditating over a few scriptures, and the book of Jonah, I’ve begun wondering if I’ve done all I could to reach them.
God’s Extra Mile
The book of Jonah tells me that God went to a lot of trouble to save the people of Nineveh from destruction. He practically had to drown Jonah to get him to go. God loves people and works hard to get salvation and freedom to them, wanting no man to perish, but all to come to the saving knowledge of Christ.
With me working much of the time, trying to catch up on back taxes owed Uncle Sam, and them living far from me, I wondered how I might be able to reach them in a way that would not give offense, and, how to make the trip on limited resources.
Are they not worth any sacrifice, two souls alone, with no one to search or seek for them, but maybe me. God sees, He knows I know their plight and that they need, whether they recognize their need or not.
Jeremiah 23:1-4 says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”
And Ezekiel 34:6, which says, “ My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”
…with none to search or seek for them
Those few words grabbed my heart as I thought of my aunt and my uncle and how alone they are with no one reaching out to them. I also thought of those who are scattered, isolated, and alone. Proverbs 24:11 says to rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. And verse 12 says, “If you say, “Behold we did not know this, “does not He Who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He Who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?” God’s word can be like a hammer at times, breaking down the most stubborn resistance or excuses. His Word judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12). I felt convicted and wanted to turn my conviction into helping actions.
Touch the Pastor’s Hearts
I attended a Vineyard Conference several years back and as John Wimber came up to speak, the first thing he said was, “God, touch the pastor’s hearts.” I felt the Holy Spirit touch mine. Are we not all Shepherds of the flocks God has put about us in our circle of friends, in our communities, and in our families? How about the homeless? Who are they? Are they none of our affair, or does God say, “Yes, they are. If I draw you to see them, then they are your concern.”
Jonah ran in the opposite direction, telling God by his actions that He was wrong. Jonah felt he had to do God’s job for Him by withholding the warning God wanted the Ninevites to hear. Jonah said later in Chapter 4, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah wanted his enemies to be destroyed. Was Jonah to be in the place of God? Am I? Are we?
God Sends Us Out as Fishers of Men
Jeremiah 16:16-18 tells me that God sends fishers out to catch men. “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.”
In Matthew 4:19 Jesus told His disciples to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men.
Let’s face it; we all need rescuing. At one time or another, if we are saved, we needed Jesus to come down and rescue us from our deplorable, sinful lifestyles. Some of us were so lost we didn’t even know we needed to be saved; we just knew we were miserable. Now, we are the rescuers, guided by His Spirit into a lost and dying world. We search for the wanderers, the lost, the dying, the prodigals, and the ones who don’t want to be saved. Just as with Jonah, God sees the times that we see and pretend that we do not see. Like Jonah, we run away.
What if We Don’t Care?
God wanted Jonah to be one of His rescuers. “Go to the people of Nineveh and tell them to repent”, God said, but Jonah didn’t care for the Ninevites. Jonah didn’t care; he was apathetic. He ran in the opposite direction. But, God cared and God cares about people. God cares about people, and He cared about the apathetic prophet, Jonah. In the end, Jonah reluctantly bowed to God’s will. In Hebrew, he reluctantly spoke five words of warning and that was all the obedience it took for the people to repent and turn for God to save them. God even uses us in our reluctance and apathy.
No One is Beyond God’s Reach
Ninevah’s sins seemed to have reached their climax and the wickedness of the Ninevites had confronted God. The book of Nahum is an oracle of Ninevah. One hundred and fifty years after God sent Jonah to preach repentance to the Ninevites, they fell back into debauchery and God’s judgment fell. Nahum says that Ninevah was full of lies, heaps of corpses, betraying nations with her whorings and her deceitful charms. Ninevah was a very wicked city. It was the Assyrian Capitol of a barbarous and idolatrous nation. Nahum used some of the same words to describe Ninevah that God had used to describe Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jonah’s way of dealing with this was to turn his back on Ninevah and let them all die. God’s way was to turn toward them and give them another chance. God worked very hard to get a man there with a message of salvation. God goes the extra mile. He almost had to drown Jonah to get him there. Sounds like our Savior doesn’t it?
Romans 5:8 says, “ But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The people of Ninevah didn’t care and didn’t know that they needed saving. God cared and God knew their need and worked hard to save them. God pursued Jonah to pursue the Ninevites. Jeremiah 18 tells me that God wants to save idolatrous nations. He wants to save and help nations that are not even believers, if only they will repent, God will turn.
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’
Father, let me not be reluctant. You see my heart. Change it for Your glory, not my convenience or selfish ways. Give me Your heart and let Your will be done.
Rick Warren’s Philosophy on Building a Church
I heard Rick Warren built his church on a concept of Five Concentric Circles. Each of the circles represents a different demographic. The Core Group is the middle group; the second group is the Committed Group; the third group is the Congregational Group; the fourth group is the crowd that comes on Sunday morning; and the fifth group is the Community. Rather than working from the Core out, as most churches do, He developed a system to work from the outside in. Pull the Community into the Crowd, and the Crowd into the Congregation, and the Congregation into the Committed, and the Committed into the Core. Pastor Warren believes that if you keep it simple the Core will follow with the use of small Growth Groups allowing people to apply the Word of God to their every day life.
Father, help us to reach outside and work our way in. Help us to seek and save that which is lost.
Father, for my aunt and uncle, I ask, show me how to reach into their world and pull them in. Save them by Your Spirit and give them life as You have given life to me. Help me to go after them, as You came after me.