When Will God’s Glory Return?

The Ark Of The Covenant

If all you know about the “Ark Of The Covenant” is what you learned from an Indiana Jones movie, then you need to be brought up to speed! One of the most depressing O.T. Bible stories revolves around Israel’s “Ark Of The Covenant”; and, it’s found in 1 Samuel 4. Israel finds herself at war with the Philistines & they’re defeated! This disturbed them greatly; and, in their debriefing, someone came up with a great idea— “Let’s bring the Ark of the Lord’s covenant into battle with us next time! The Ark will save us!

The Shekinah Glory’s Presence

Now, the Ark was a rectangular box made of acacia wood; and, overlaid with gold.  The top of the Ark contained the mercy seat where the “Shekinah Glory”; or, the manifest presence of God, rested.  For its illustrative value, it’s worth noting at this point that when our children were growing up, we’d remind them that “the way of the transgressor is hard” whenever their sin got them into trouble. Well, it was because of Israel’s sin that God, in His Sovereignty, had allowed Israel to suffer defeat at the hands of the Philistines; and, when they responded by putting their faith in the Ark, rather than God, they would suffer another embarrassing defeat.

The Glory Is Departed

This time, the Ark was also taken by the Philistines; and, Israel left to mourn its loss:  “The Glory is departed! The Glory is departed!” The Ark; and, God’s “Shekinah Glory” had been taken! The Ark couldn’t deliver! God had never intended for the Ark to be used as a “weapon”; or to be propped up as something to be depended on like some kind of rabbit’s foot! Only God, in all His Glory, can deliver & save! It’s a reminder of how subtle the enemy, of our souls, can be—  “Worship the God of the Ark”; or, “Worship the Ark of God”? It’s just moving around two nouns; but, the results were devastating!

The Idols Of Human Strategy

I find the parallels, to the Church, to be haunting! Are we not guilty of worshipping the idols of human strategy & technique for doing church? Like Israel, have we not become focused on the “horizontal”—adopting human wisdom & logic—rather than the “vertical”—seeking the power & glory of God! The Church has become weak and anemic because we’ve “settled”—we’ve “settled” for the glory of what we can do instead of the glory of what an awesome, limitless God can do.  And, what He can do is above & beyond anything we could ask or think! It’s impossible for us to even imagine the power & wisdom of God! What He does is always perfect & right because He listens only to His own perfect counsel! He works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).

The Rest Of The Story

As I read the rest of the story, my attention was arrested by what happened “after” the Ark was taken— what happened was a national “revival.” Israel repents & returns to the Lord; and, the Ark is recovered; and, the place of God’s glory comes home! And, that’s where I find hope—in GOD! There is hope for the Church in America— NOT at the polls: NOT by electing certain individuals to public office; NOT by passing laws in an attempt to legislate righteousness! Our hope must begin at the altars of our churches! Let judgment begin at the House of God! Nothing is happening in America that a “glory to God” revival couldn’t fix! Let us repent of our idolatrous fascination that politicians can save us!  And let us fall on our knees and ask God to bring revival to our churches! Our only hope is in the Lord! Can I get an “Amen”?

Fishing For People

I Will Make You Fish For People

Growing up in central Wisconsin, fishing was a routine part of my life for me. Our property bordered a river we frequently fished; and, a great fishing lake was only 15 minutes away. It was not uncommon for us to catch 20-30 fish in one evening. But, when my young bride and I moved to Colorado in 1984, fishing became a frustration for me. Catching Brook Trout in Colorado was a lot more difficult than catching bass and crappies in Wisconsin! It was work! You had to sneak up on them! If they spotted you, on shore, they’d go into a crazy frenzy and stir up all the dirt & sand, at the bottom of the stream, so they couldn’t be seen.  In Matthew 4:18-22 we see Jesus calling His disciples to Himself; and, because many of them were fishermen by occupation, He uses it as a metaphor when He tells them, “I will make you fish for people.”

Sneaking Up On Sinners

Now, I’m guessing that, for many of you, the whole topic of evangelism & disciple-making conjures up images of my fishing experience in Colorado— sneaking up on sinners; throwing them a line w/ some kind of “spiritual bait” on it; and, trying to hook ‘em & reel ‘em in! But, with little success to show for it,  you’ve given up; you’ve quit fishing for people; and, declared that you must not have the “gift of evangelism.” I feel your pain! I’ve been there! But, I thank God; that, over the last 20 years, He’s helped me to see the process differently. Making disciples; or, fishing for people is not about our giftedness or our clever words! It’s Jesus who has all authority over the disciple-making process— because of His person; because He is God, He carries with Him all the authority that comes with being God!

All Authority Is In Jesus

In the words leading up to His Great Commission to the Church, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” Matt. 28:18-20. When we fish for people we go, not in our own wisdom & authority; but, in the authority of God, the Son! And, we depend on the Holy Spirit to go ahead of us & lay the groundwork by “…convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment…” John 16:8.  The entire process is a spiritual work that Jesus oversees! When we believe it’s up to us to “win” people to Jesus, we’ve overstepped our responsibilities! We get in the way! In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We are NOT the way to the Father! Only Jesus is the way to the Father!

What’s The Implication?

Jesus also taught that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, and the Father who draws! It’s because Jesus has all authority that He sends us by the power of His authority! We have no authority, over the disciple-making process, on our own! We “go” under the umbrella of His authority! Read Luke’s account in ch. 5:4-11 to fill in some of the details Matthew left out— when Jesus told them to cast their nets, Peter said, “…we’ve worked all night & haven’t caught a thing; but, because You told me to I’ll do it…” What happened? They caught so many fish that the nets began to tear! Jesus was teaching Peter— and us— that it’s not about our effort! When doing Jesus’ work it’s about His power & authority! We’re only called to be faithful to go share the gospel!

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!

How God Wants Us To Pray!

-He Wants Us To Repent!

So, let me tell you what I believe God wants us to do if our prayer life looks like the typical Christian! I believe He wants us to repent of our prayerlessness! I believe He wants us to denounce all our human efforts & admit our total helplessness when it comes to getting God’s work done in our human strength! And, I believe, that in order to accomplish that, He wants us to change some habits in our lives— He wants us to ADD TIME to PRAY into our schedules! That means we might need to actually move some other things OUT of our schedule! And, then, He wants us to pray with absolute dependence on Him!

-Pray Over A Crisis Of Faith!

I believe all these things, about prayer, based on the many and various texts of Scripture on the subject! Take Acts chapter 12, the first 5 verses, for instance. It begins:  “About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread.  After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.” We can draw a prayer principle from that reading. When trouble comes our way, God uses our crisis of faith, in His Sovereignty, to get us engaged, with Him, in prayer!

-The Human Way We Pray!

There’s something dreadfully human about the way we pray when life is great! When the job is secure, when the marriage is healthy, when there’s plenty of money, when life’s great… WE DON’T PRAY! That says, “We got this”, doesn’t it? We have the false sense that the job’s secure, the marriage is healthy, and, there’s plenty of money because, “We got this!” Because we’re so good at living life! We credit ourselves for the good life. But, God knows how self-deluded we are! When Israel entered the promised land— AFTER God had miraculously delivered them from slavery to Egypt;  AFTER God had dried up the Red Sea so they could safely cross;  AFTER God had fed them with manna & quail in the desert;  AFTER God had preserved their clothing & sandals for 40 years in the wilderness— He knew they would be tempted to take credit for their good life. He warned them!

-Be Careful Not To Forget The Lord!

God knew how Israel would respond to His going before them & dispossessing the land from wicked nations & handing over to them homes, and cities, and land that they hadn’t earned. He warned them: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large & beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig & vineyards & olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat & are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Deut. 6:10-12. What do we have that God has not given us? But we get comfortable & forget, don’t we?

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part II

-It’s Not By Human Effort!

Let’s say you’re part of a church that’s bucking that trend we’re seeing, in America, where 9 out of 10 churches are experiencing decline! God has blessed you with a core of leaders who are faithful disciple makers! How do you sustain that spiritual momentum? This post is “Part II” in my attempt to answer that question! And, let me be clear that it’s NOT something that can be sustained by human effort! The salvation of souls is a work that is exclusively God’s work—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” Jesus said. I concede that regeneration is a supernatural act of God on a human life!

-We’re God’s Ambassadors!

But, I also understand that God enables us to be His ambassadors in reconciling unconverted individuals to Himself! So, what’s our part in sustaining spiritual momentum? In my last post, we opened up our Bibles to Hebrews 10:24,25—“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The 1st thing that stands out, to me, is the writers admonition, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to “…be CONCERNED about ONE ANOTHER…” This is one of the most attractive; but, often overlooked behaviors of a sanctified local church community of faith! Do not underestimate how enticing that kind of behavior appears when set side by side with the rest of our narcissistic, self-absorbed world. Any group or community that shows genuine concern, for others, will stand out!

-Focus On Others!

So, if we are to sustain the spiritual momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to continue to focus on others more than ourselves. God calls us to look after one another; to, think about one another; to, be occupied with one another! But, notice that the writer says to “…be concerned about one another in order to promote love…” The command here is NOT to love one another—although there are plenty of Scriptures that tell us to love one another—but, to PROMOTE love! Some translations say, “…to stimulate one another to love…”; or, to “…stir up one another to love…” In other words, we’re accountable—NOT just to love each other—but, to promote love within the body!

-That’s Not Natural!

That implies that THAT kind of love doesn’t come natural to us! We have to work at it with the Spirit’s help. Notice, also, that the writer is concerned that the church promote “…good works…” Just like his command to promote love, the writer is not telling the church to DO good works—though Scripture commands us many times to do good works—but, to PROMOTE good works! To stimulate each other; and, to stir up one another to good works! Again, it’s about keeping each other accountable; to, look for every opportunity to do good works wherever you find yourself! For others! For relationships! Get the focus off of ourselves! That’s, in part, how we sustain the spiritual momentum to make disciples who make disciples! (NEXT Week… Part III)