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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

IF JONAH CAME WALKING TODAY

(Prepared for a church in Belarus in 1999 after the President of Belarus had, in 1996, converted himself into a dictator and imposed a totally controlled economy model as in the Soviet past. As many Christians in the U.S. question where our country is headed, I believe these words may have application here as well.)

I want to speak to you today on a serious issue. It involves your past, present, immediate future, and long-term future.

The issue may appear divisive because it appears to be political. But it is impossible to speak about the transforming power of Christ within us without speaking about how to live in our nation and the world. And how we live will have political repercussions, and may be very political in nature.

I share these things because of the love I have for the people of Belarus, and I cannot believe that the way in which the vast majority of Belarusians live either honors the God who created them, or represents what life in Christ is to be in the sense of dignity, sense of worth, and freedom.

Ellen and I have lived among you for 4 years. We know the difficulties you face at all levels -- financial, economic, political, legal, and even being able to find basic foods.

And so I want us to consider some of the story of Jonah.

You all know about the reluctant prophet -- Jonah? God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, "that great city", and "cry against it for their wickedness has come up before Me." Jonah ran the opposite direction and found himself in the belly of a fish.

After the fish spat Jonah out, Jonah went. And in chapter 3, verses 3 and 4, it says "Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days walk. Then Jonah began going through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.'"

He probably said this with glee; please notice he never mentioned repentance.

What do we know about Nineveh?

It was a "great city". In chapter 4 verse 11, God talks about 120,000 people "who do not know the difference between their left and right hands". This probably means children are not counted. Thus the population of Nineveh probably approached 600,000.

We know it took 3 days to walk across Nineveh.

We know it's wickedness was so great that it was now assailing the throne of God.

And we know the Ninevites were not believers. Any objective look would tell you they were hopeless. They would never believe in God. They were doomed to hell. You would not waste your time on them. You would not want them to live because of all of the harm and suffering they caused others. They were cold of heart, deaf of ear, and blind of eye. They were bad, evil, wicked -- all of them.

Strangely, they listened to Jonah. And even stranger, chapter 3 verse 5 says that "then the people of Nineveh believed in God, and they called a fast and put on sack cloth from the greatest to the least of them."

Verse 6 then shows that after the people acted, the King heard and he decided to act. He took off his robe, put on sack cloth and ashes, began a fast, and issued a decree. Please note that the King responded to righteous actions of the people; the King did not first become righteous and then the people followed.

We see the results in verse 10: "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it."

What were the wicked ways from which they turned?

We are not told.

Did every single person have the same wicked way? Or did every person have his own special wicked way?

We are not told. We are only told the consequences of repentance.

If Jonah walked through Belarus today, what would you -- each of you as an individual -- have to repent of? And if each of you heard the Holy Spirit speak to you of one sin of yours, and you turned from that specific sin, what would it mean for your personal future and the future of your nation?

These are the questions I want you to ponder.

Will you forgive me for offending and suggesting some sins?

"We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." Of course your wages are horrible. But do you "honor" your employer, as God directs you in His Word, or do you play games in your attendance and effort?

"I do not have to pay to ride the bus because the government takes all my money and should provide transportation free. I cannot afford to pay for the bus". But are you not stealing from the government? What about Rom. 13:1-18?

"May you have to live on your salary" has become a curse because no one lives on their salary. All live on the black market economy.

My students laughed loudly at my stupidity in choosing to change money only at a change booth, where I get 50% of what I could get by exchanging "on the street". Of course, changing on the street is illegal.

Cheating in the classroom is endemic -- and openly condoned. Nor is it seen as wrong; rather it is helping a member of the collective beat the totalitarian teacher in the totalitarian university in the totalitarian nation -- and that is seen as a good ethic!

Well, enough of my pointing the finger.

Romans 8:1 says: "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". When we sin -- and I suggest all the actions I have just named are sins -- as Christians we are not condemned. But the Holy Spirit does bring conviction. He brought it to the people of Nineveh; I pray He brings it to the people of Christ in Belarus.

You see, I have no idea how, if I had been a Belarusian, I might have chosen to live in Belarus in the past. I do not know even how I might choose to live as a Belarusian today. So, like God, I do not condemn.

But I do pray for conviction to come. Conviction is the promise of Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for the glory of God to those who chose to love Him by walking according to His purposes." When we deal with sin according to His purposes, paralysis disappears; a future of hope and peace opens up to us. Fear vanishes.

For this to happen, sin must be recognized as sin. We cannot deny it -- "What I did is not sin" -- for God wrote His laws upon our hearts before we were born (Deut. 30:11-14). To see the sin, all we have to do is take off our self-created, survivalistic blindfolds, and prayerfully consider how we live, and we will see our sins for the sins they are.

We also cannot excuse sin -- "I did not mean to do it."

Nor may we justify it -- "I had to do it to stay alive".

Nor may we rationalize it -- "Everybody is doing it."

Nor can we blame some other person or some set of circumstances for causing our sin -- "If it were not for the President, I would not have my problems and be forced to sin."

No, sin is sin; and it results from a conscious choice to disregard the commands and instructions of God.

Over time, patterns of individual sin in society reach the point that future generations perish for lack of the truth. No one knows they are deaf and blind. I see such a situation in Belarus today. And it will continue -- until a Jonah comes walking.

The book of Jonah gives us an ancient example of individuals repenting and a nation being saved. Is there a modern day example?

In 1994, six Christians in Nigeria -- a nation of nearly 60 million people -- got together to talk about cultural patterns of sin of the typical Nigerian. Then they invited a few more to join them in discussion. After 3 years, there was prepared the "Nigerian Covenant". The document consists of 9 ethical dilemmas facing all Nigerians, and 9 statements of what the Bible says about each dilemma. There was also a promise to help one another break the patterns of sin.

By the time the final version was prepared, every major segment of the Body of Christ of Nigeria was involved in the project. After the drafting was completed, the document was circulated throughout the Body of Christ. It has been signed by every Christian leader of every denomination. It has been signed by hundreds of thousands of individual Christians.

Shortly after the document was started on its way for signature, the government of Nigeria fell. Then, in less than 1 year, the people who had known nothing except military rulership for 40 years elected a parliament and president. [See The Nigerian Covenant]

You see, it is impossible to say, "I am not political", or to say, "I take no part in the dirty game of politics". My dear friends, every action is political; every action carries with it moral and ethical tones; and every failure to act is also political and also carries moral and ethical tones.

Un-like Jonah walking in Nineveh, I do not say that in forty days you will be

overcome, but rather I say you have been overcome by your sins. You justify all in the name of survival; but sin remains sin.

I pray that you, individually and collectively, like the Christians of Nigeria, will gather across all denominational lines to consider how you have chosen to live. I pray that you might create a Belarus Covenant of a number of patterns of sin which you will help one another break.

When I return to the United States in May, I will be speaking the same message to my fellow citizens. Only the names of the sins will be different. We Christians in the U.S. must also look deeply at our patterns of sin, and see how those patterns impact our nation. I pray that we may have the courage to join you in searching to honor God.

The next in this series is Some Thoughts on Human Rights.