A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

God’s Kingdom Plans!

-An Eternal Throne!

If you’ve read of Israel’s rebellion & falling away from God in the Old Testament, you know that God’s Kingdom plans, for Israel, were never fully realized. But, God is still determined to place a descendent of King David on an eternal throne that will govern not just Israel; but, the entire world! And, we know that Jesus will ultimately be that fulfillment of God’s Kingdom prophecy! And, for us! His Kingdom will finally be achieved beginning with His return; or, His 2nd coming; followed, by a millennial reign on earth; and, then over a new heavens & a new earth, when the substance, of God’s Kingdom, will finally be realized.

-He Will Dwell Among Us!

And, then, for all eternity it’ll be the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God. And, He will dwell among us the book of Revelation says. Literally, it says He’ll “pitch a tent” in our midst (21:3). But, where we struggle, in our understanding of the Kingdom, is with some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s a tension there! He speaks of God’s Kingdom as both present; and, still future. When He sent out the 70 He told them to preach, “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). That’s “has come”; present tense. To the crowds, in Luke 11, He said, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.” Right now! It’s here! In Luke 17:21, He’s even more explicit:  “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

-Both Present & Future!

So, how can God’s Kingdom be both present & future? I tend to think that the best answer is that God’s Kingdom is in place right NOW! God IS; and, always HAS BEEN the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. But, the Old Testament was more prophetic; or, forward-looking toward the Messiah’s coming; and, His Kingdom. So, when Jesus came everything changed because the King had come! The Kingdom is in place, in other words. In Mark, Jesus preached the good news of God:  “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near (or, literally, it “has arrived”). Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). So, the Kingdom is both physical and spiritual. Repentance & belief are necessary.

-Spiritual Birth Required!

To enter it physically requires a spiritual rebirth. Look at John’s Gospel, chapter 3, v.1. This is where we begin when we talk about the spiritual aspects of the Kingdom: “There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.’  Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You can’t see the physical Kingdom, Jesus told him, unless you’re born again spiritually!

-Reenter Your Mother’s Womb?

And, then, look at v.5. After Nicodemus asked Jesus if he needed to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, “Jesus answered, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” To be born of water, many believe, relates to physical birth after living for 9 months in the womb of a mother’s amniotic fluid. And, to be born of the Spirit is easily understood as spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit. You cannot enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells him, unless you have BOTH a physical and a spiritual birth. And, in context, Jesus explains the spiritual birth to him in v.16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Spiritual birth only comes through belief in Jesus; a belief that He is the Messiah; and, that His death on the cross was necessary for our redemption; and, our entry into God’s Kingdom!

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Sound Asleep!

-A Disturbing Prejudicial Response!

For anyone claiming to follow Jesus, the Old Testament story of Jonah is a disturbing one! Our posts the last few weeks have focused on Jonah’s story. And, while it’s startling to observe Jonah’s prejudicial response to the revival of the people of Ninevah, we may be more like Jonah than we know; or, than we care to admit! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation, or religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group. To make us useful, in His kingdom purposes, God must awaken us to souls nearby!

-Wake Up! Call To Your God!

Just turn back to Jonah, chapter 1, with me, and pay close attention to the words of the ship’s captain. Remember, this is the ship that Jonah chose to take passage on as he ran away from God’s calling to share the gospel message with the city of Ninevah. Starting at v.4, “Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea & such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel & had stretched out & fallen into a deep sleep. The captain approached him & said, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us & we won’t perish’” (1:4-6).

-Silencing The Call Of God!

As I studied my way through this passage, the words of the ship’s captain arrested my attention. As I read it, I just let it play out in my mind like a TV drama; except, I saw it from Jonah’s vantage point— a believer;  a prophet of God; commissioned by God to take His word to another people group! But, he ran from that call! Getting on that ship; and, finding a place deep in its belly, he was determined to silence the call of God by just “sleeping it off.” He’d just wake up in a new place where, hopefully, God would just give up on him. But, as he slept— a deep sleep it says— a violent wind & storm arose on the sea; and, all the crewmen feared for their lives! So much so, that it says they, “…each CRIED OUT to their god…”

-What Are You Doing Sound Asleep?

Then, while beginning to throw the cargo overboard to keep the ship from breaking apart, the captain stumbles onto Jonah, wakes him; and, asks him:  “What are you doing sound asleep?” And, then he rebukes him, “Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” What an embarrassing role reversal this was for Jonah! Who was the spiritually motivated one? The more I meditated on that picture the more it kind of morphed into an image of OUR day! Have you noticed that there’s a major storm brewing all around us with wars & rumors of wars with the constant threat of nuclear weapons? There’s fear of a worldwide economic collapse!

-Down In The Belly Of The Ship!

There’s political unrest; and, a huge racism problem. And, to personalize the drama of Jonah’s story, WE are down in the belly of the ship! Many of us, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are running away from our calling! And, just like Jonah, we’re sound asleep! Even the unbelievers around us are recognizing the grave danger we’re in. All the cargo— the stuff of this world— isn’t worth keeping. Many of the lost all around us are crying out for help; and, in my mind I see the lost discovering me down in the ship; and, they’re angry! Angry at my non-loving, non-caring attitude toward them. Why wasn’t I helping them? They cry out the same words as the ship’s captain, “What are you doing sound asleep?” If you’ve been asleep; and, God’s Spirit is rousing you, let me remind you that He is the God of 2nd chances! Even as He gave Jonah a chance, He offers you a chance to repent & jump into God’s work?

Your Idols Exposed!

-Are You Aware Of Your Idols?

For the Prophet Jonah, it doesn’t appear that he was aware of his “idols” until God exposed them! He had been a faithful minister of God’s word to his people; and, to his family! But, when God’s Word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, his idols were exposed— his national pride, his family; and, even his present ministry was more important to him than obedience to God’s will! That’s the definition of an idol! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that— your idol has been exposed!

-What’s Your Idol?

Is your job or your home or your kids or grandkids off limits to God? Are you unwilling to let God take them to a foreign field to share the gospel with a foreign people? In your heart, is God free to use your kids; or, grandkids, as He wills? Or, are you demanding that they stay close to home? Are you willing to let God change your job? Are you willing to let Him move you? What if it was God’s strategy to move some of us to a “lesser” part of town? Oh, we couldn’t do that—it’s not “SAFE”! There’s your idol: SAFETY! Or, perhaps, racism might be the underlying idol! There was some of that going on with Jonah. He saw his people (Israel) as better; or, more deserving than the Ninevites, to whom God wanted to send him!

-Fleeing From The Lord’s Presence!

And, so, it says that Jonah determined to “…flee from the Lord’s presence…” (1:3). And, he found a ship to take him! Listen, Satan will always have a “ship” waiting in the harbor, to take you away in the opposite direction from God’s will! But, for Jonah God used a big fish to intersect with His disobedient prophet; and, get him back on course to Ninevah where he preached God’s word; and, the Ninevites repented; and, turned to God. The 3rd chapter, of Jonah, ends with these words:  “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (v.10). 

-Merciful & Compassionate God!

So, Jonah responded to their spiritual revival by shouting praise to God, right? No! In fact, it says, “Jonah was greatly displeased & became furious. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful & compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love & One who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” 4:1-3. Really? That just doesn’t seem possible that a prophet, of God, would become furious with God for saving an entire city! Now, there was an underlying reason for Jonah’s anger! He was prejudiced!

-The Sin Of Prejudice!

For God to make us useful, for His kingdom purposes, He has to unmask all of our prejudices also. Jonah had swallowed some bad doctrine! He believed that God was “FOR” Israel; and, He was “AGAINST” everyone else! All the wicked people, of Ninevah, for example; whom, God intended to save by Jonah’s preaching of the gospel. It’s that scandal of grace! Our prideful flesh wants to believe that the gospel is for “good people”…. like us! Like our nation! Jonah was offended that God would extend grace to a wicked people like Assyria! He was prejudiced against them! We need to beware of the danger of national pride, church! I fear that many, in the American church, have been trekking down that slippery slope over the last 40-some years! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation; or, religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group! That’s our calling!

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

We Are Accountable!

-Spiritual Watchmen To Unbelievers!

In the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about Israel’s “watchmen” as described by the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel. We talked about how the “spiritual overtones” of the watchmen remind us of our responsibility to be spiritual watchmen to the unbelieving 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 precise message; and, as Jesus’ disciple-makers, we’ve also been given a precise message.

-A Precise Message!

To the watchmen, God said: “When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked one, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn’t turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel: You have said this, ‘Our transgressions and our sins are heavy on us, and we are wasting away because of them! How then can we survive?’ Tell them: As I live”—the declaration of the Lord God—“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:7-11.

-The Good News!

What’s the watchman’s message? It’s “grace,” isn’t it? It’s the message of the Gospel; the Good News that God, “…takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked…”  If only Israel would “…repent of their evil ways…” God asks them, “Why will you die, house of Israel?” We’ve been given the same message to deliver everywhere we go, church! “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16. That’s our message!

-God’s Ambassadors!

Paul wrote the Church of Corinth, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” 2 Corinthians 5:20. We’re God’s ambassadors, church! We’re His watchmen to the world! We’re commanded to plead with the world to come to Christ! To share the message that God loves them & welcomes them to repent and be saved! What a great message we have to share with loved ones, neighbors; and, co-workers! He is a good God! “He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses” Psalm 103:10 .

-A Notice Of Accountability!

Let me make one final point! In the same way that God made Israel’s watchmen accountable, He has made us accountable! In v.17 of Ezekiel’s 33rd chapter, God confronts Israel over their claim that God wasn’t “fair”! In v.20 He says, “You say, ‘The Lord’s way isn’t fair.’ I will judge each of you according to his ways, house of Israel.”  I cringe inside every time I hear someone judging God for the way He does things! What arrogance that a puny little man— one of 7 billion on this planet— would dare to call out God for anything! We don’t even know what we don’t know! “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts” Psalm 145:17. God is even willing to extend grace to us when we make rash claims against Him— “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” God says, “Why will you die?”  If you’re a follower of Christ then you have been served notice! You are accountable for making disciples! Are you doing it?

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!

Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.