Called To Be A Watchman!

-Accountable For Their Blood!

What comes to mind as you read these words that God spoke to the Prophet Ezekiel:  “Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: Suppose I bring the sword against a land, and the people of that land select a man from among them, appointing him as their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows his trumpet to warn the people. Then, if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but ignored the warning, his blood is on his own hands. If he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. However, if the watchman sees the sword coming but doesn’t blow the trumpet, so that the people aren’t warned, and the sword comes and takes away their lives, then they have been taken away because of their iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood” (Ezekiel 33:2-6).  Like me, I’m guessing that many of you picked up on the “spiritual overtones” as you read that.

-Watchmen To The World!

As followers, of Jesus, we are watchmen to the world! We’re called to warn the world that their sin has separated them from God; and, they’re in grave danger unless they repent & turn to Jesus! The parallels between being a watchman; and, being a disciple-maker, are unmistakable! God gave Old Testament Israel’s watchmen a specific responsibility, a precise message; and, a notice of accountability. As His disciple-makers, Jesus has also given us a specific responsibility, a precise message; and, a notice of accountability. And, God’s oracle, to Ezekiel, is that God had a part, the watchman had a part; and, the people had a part! Again, the parallels for making disciples are obvious!

-The Making Of A Disciple!

In the making of a disciple, there is the disciple’s part, there is God’s part; and, there is our part! And, like the watchman, we are only responsible for our part! I think the concept is pretty easy to follow, isn’t it? God gave the watchman a specific responsibility. He had only 1 responsibility! He was responsible for warning the people of danger. It was typical for each city to have a group of watchmen, posted on the city walls, looking for any army that might be advancing against them; and, to warn the people with a trumpet blast, should an enemy be spotted approaching! His job was vital to the well-being of the people; and, he was only responsible for his part. If he blew the trumpet and the people failed to respond then he was absolved of any guilt should their lives be lost. Their blood was on their own hands! But, if the watchman fell asleep on the job; and, an army slipped in then the blood of those who lost their lives, because of his negligence, would be on his hands! The analogy between watchmen and believers today is self-evident!

-Jesus’ Commission To Us!

Remember what Jesus said to His disciples when He commissioned them:  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”  Matthew 28:18-20. As Jesus’ disciples, we’ve been given a specific responsibility, church! “Make disciples!” That’s the imperative; or, the command! “Go” is not the command! “Make disciples” is the command! That’s our part! As our Creator, Savior; and, King, Jesus has the authority to send us! The making of disciples is done in the powerful name of the Triune Godhead—Father, Son; and, Spirit! Jesus paid for sin on the cross so that anyone could become His disciple! That’s God’s part! Our part is to share the Gospel! The unbeliever is responsible to believe!

You Can Be Honest With God!

-Throwing Rocks!

In the movie, Forrest Gump, there is an especially agonizing scene where Forrest’s lifelong friend, Jenny, visits the old house she grew up in & it brings back a flood of bitter childhood memories of her abusive, neglectful father; and, Forrest watches as she throws rock after rock, in a fit of rage, at the house that held so many painful memories for her. When she finally quits & collapses into tears, Forrest tries to comfort her.  “Sometimes,” he says, “there just aren’t enough rocks.” But, the truth is that no amount of rock-throwing can ever repair the damage that’s been done!

-Why The Anger At God?

And, if we think that it’s God’s job to protect us and shield us from pain, we’ll ultimately lash out in anger at Him! But,  that’s just now how life works, is it? If your anger is directed at God, it’s misguided! Life, on planet Earth, was forever altered in the Garden of Eden by the sin all of us— in Adam— committed against God! So, it’s because of our transgressions and our depravity that the world is such a difficult place to live! But, God, in His love & benevolence toward us, extends grace & mercy to everyone who admits their sin & their brokenness and comes to Him for forgiveness!

-Pain With A Purpose!

And, that’s God’s purpose for all the pain & suffering that we endure in this life! He intends to show the unbelieving world His grace & His forgiveness despite the curse we all deserve! It’s NOT His purpose to protect us & shield us from all the unfortunate things that happen to us! But, if we can understand that this life is all about displaying grace, we can begin to grasp the importance of our being exposed to pain! It’s amid life’s hurts that we can join God in displaying His love & forgiveness when we get hurt!

-Why Lord?

The book of Psalms, in the Old Testament, were often put to music & sang in Israel’s worship. Music is emotional; and, the book of Psalms is no exception! The Psalms are just filled with the ups & downs of life. You’ll find great songs of praise that we often include as readings during our worship services! But, you’ll also find songs that are filled with anxiety & depression when the author asks God aloud what He’s up to! “Why LORD?” they ask! I’ve personally found the Psalms to be a salve; like a triple antibiotic, when I’ve been cut and wounded in life! We make a great mistake when we limit the Scriptures to the cognitive and see only something to be learned like doctrine & theology! God included a book, like the Psalms, to reach us at the emotional level.

-Skewed Emotions!

Does that surprise you that God would be concerned with your emotions? It shouldn’t! He is a God with emotions; and, He’s created us in His image! He is neither surprised nor put off by our emotions! But, like every other part of our life that’s been negatively affected by our sin, our emotions can be skewed as well! So, God will use the Psalms in our lives to reel us in! To center us back into His reality! God created us with emotions; and, He invites us to pour out our hearts to Him knowing He will respond! Find reassurance in that— God will never leave you nor forsake you! He provides grace to help us; whether, our pain has been caused by someone else or it’s self-inflicted. You really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets that you’re reluctant to share with someone else you can share with God! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him! He will hear you!

Death By Neglect!

-Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life!

In my last post I referred to a great revival that God brought about, in Israel, under the leadership of an 8-year old king named Josiah (2 Kings 22).  Only God can spread revival, through an entire nation, by using an 8-year old boy! And, in the reforms, which King Josiah incorporated, it’s clear that neglect had been the cause of Israel’s spiritual death.  Genuine revival is evidenced when God’s people no longer neglect meeting together! Josiah was concerned with repairing Israel’s temple (v.3).  The temple was the place where God’s people gathered together to worship Him & offer sacrifices to Him!

-Signs Of Revival!

But, the temple reflected the moral condition of the nation! It had been neglected; and, rundown! It had fallen into a state of disrepair as the people had quit coming together for worship. So, one of the 1st signs of revival, in the faith community, is a renewed zeal for coming together! It is recognizing that it’s impossible to live out the Christian life in isolation from other believers! That’s something we struggle with here in the west, don’t we? We’ve been taught that the Christian life is an individual thing! It’s NOT! God’s people have always been a “community”; from, Israel, as a nation, to the local church today! In fact, it’s absolutely impossible to even live out & obey the more than 60 “one another” or “each other” commands, in Scripture, apart from a Christian community! So, when Josiah “…began to seek God…” the place of worship became a necessity once again (2 Chronicles 34:3). 

-Don’t Neglect The Word Of God!

For those of us who are part of the Morningside Bible Church community, that’s “big church” on Sunday mornings; and, “small group” gatherings throughout the week! We need each other to effectively live out the Christian life! To speak truth into one another! To hold each other accountable! Meeting together matters! There was a 2nd sign of revival under King Josiah— the nation no longer neglected the Word of God! The text reads, “Hilkiah the high priest told Shaphan the court secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,’ and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it… Then Shaphan the court secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,’ and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king” (vs.8,10).  In the repairing of the temple, they uncovered a copy of the book of the Law. That’s a reference to Moses’ writings; or, the 1st five books of the Old Testament. 

-Proper Response To God’s Word!

And, notice the king’s response: “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us’” (vs.11-13). As the book, of God’s law, was read to him, Josiah realized how far the nation had drifted from the Lord. His shock points to the fact that the people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time! Again, I’m afraid that this is so relevant to our own nation & the church here in the West. So many sermons have become little more than the reading of a “token” Scripture verse misused to support our human efforts through self-help strategies! Josiah said, “Go inquire of the Lord.” And, so must we!

Serving Those Crushed By Circumstances!

-The Unwanted & Discarded!

I grew up, in a home environment, where I never doubted my parent’s love for me! I never felt abandoned or neglected! But, there are those, in the world, who have experienced the pain of being unwanted and discarded! Most of the 153 million orphans, in the world, have been forsaken by their parents! They’ve been shunned and left to fend for themselves! So, when James addresses this matter, in Scripture, he says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27.  This is what “pure religion” looks like, he says.

-Look After Orphans In Their Distress!

Pure, or genuine, faith, in Jesus, takes care of orphans who’ve been crushed by abandonment! That’s what it means to “…look after (them)…in their distress.” For the orphan, they’re distressed or crushed by the fact that they’ve been abandoned by the very people who are supposed to care for their well-being at any cost! One, or both, parents abandon their children because of custom—baby girls, for example, are considered undesirable in many non-Christian cultures. Many are killed just for being born as a little girl! The fortunate ones are just abandoned! I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain and distress that would bring these precious little ones! Some have become orphans because a war has separated them, from their parents; or, their parents were killed and they were spared!

-Look After Widows In Their Distress!

Whatever the reason, these orphaned children have been crushed by the weight of their situation.  And, those who have pure, genuine faith, in Jesus, will be moved to take care of them as much as we can. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough! But, James doesn’t limit his description, of a pure religion, to caring for those children who’ve been crushed by abandonment! He also says that genuine faith, in Jesus, takes care of widows who’ve been crushed by spousal loss! Again, I’ve never experienced the painful loss, of a spouse, to death! I have, however, observed it enough to know that it’s a crushing blow to the spouse left behind! It’s distress, in their life, that they never quite get over! The separation is devastating for many!

-Proving Faith By Caring For The Hurting!

The church shows genuine faith, in Jesus, by taking care of the widow who’s been crushed by the loss of their mate. We may need to sacrifice our own time to spend time with them in fellowship! We may have to sacrifice financially to help meet their needs! That’s why the ministry to orphans & widows is very much like Jesus’ 3 1/2 year ministry here on planet earth. No one ever cared more for the broken & the hurting, for the abandoned & the marginalized than Jesus! So, how do we apply this? There are ministries to get involved in, especially, in the area of orphans! Become foster parents! Find something to do! Remember, pure religion is not the result of good deeds; but, results in good deeds!

 

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!