Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Behold, the bondslave of the Lord."

Photo courtesy of rotten969
And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

There is no doubt in my mind that there is much to learn from the story of Mary being told that she will conceive a child who will be the long awaited Messiah. However, one of the most profound things I see in this passage in Luke 1 is the characteristic that Mary displays in the statement you see above. That characteristic is submission.

If we look at the passage as a whole we see that Mary gives us a miniature snapshot of the entire Christian life. In verse 28 we see that she has experienced the grace of God. One of my favorite definitions of grace is, "unmerited favor." That is, we get something we don't deserve. There is no earthly reason why God would choose Mary to be the mother of the Messiah and yet He did. Mary experienced God's grace. Further along we see that Mary believed the Word of God as spoken through the angel Gabriel. Unlike Zacharias who responded with doubt when given a miraculous answer to his prayer, Mary responds to this revelation in faith that it will surely happen. Finally, after experiencing God's grace and believing His Word, Mary submitted to His will, unconditionally. How many of us, as Christians, have experienced God's grace in the salvation offered to us through Christ; believe His Word and stop there? How many of us fail to submit to the will of God?

You see, submission is not an option given to us in the Bible. It is a command. James 4:7 says,

Submit therefore to God...

This is not a difficult statement to interpret. James has not used metaphoric, shadowy language here. The declaration is simply to submit. He goes on to tell us that if we are submitting to God we should also be resisting the devil. The only other alternative is that we are submitted to the devil and are resisting God. Friends, resisting God is the same as rebelling against Him and another word for rebellion is sin. If we are not submitted to God we are in sin. There is no two ways about it, there are only sheep and goats in this equation. Will we submit to God and resist the devil, or submit to the devil and resist God?

James goes on to tell us that we should humble ourselves before the Lord and that in His time He will exalt us. This humility becomes the first step in submission. The word that is translated "bondslave" in the New American Standard Bible could also be translated "female slave" or, as in the King James Version, "handmaiden." This type of slave would have been the bottom rung on the ladder of servitude and this is what Mary considers herself in relation to God. In spite of the amazing honor and blessing of being picked to be the mother of the Messiah Mary understands that she is indebted to the Lord. Jesus Himself also models this attitude of humility and we see it explained in Philippians chapter 2 which tells us that He humbled Himself by becoming a man and was found in the form of a..."bond-servant."

To be sure, submission to God begins with us as individual believers but it also applies to the Church as a whole. In Ephesians 5 we have the oft repeated admonition for wives to submit to their husbands. All too often we forget what precedes this statement which is that wives should submit to their husbands as the Church is subject to Christ. Yes, the individual members of the Body must submit but we must submit as whole as well. That means it is no longer about our preferences or desires or ideas about what church is, or what church should be like or be doing. It is only about what God thinks the church is and should be doing. His will overrides our will and we bring the body into submission under His leadership and lordship.

We as individuals, and as a Church, are more than willing to call Jesus savior, friend, redeemer, comforter, and guide but many times...too many times, stop before we call Him Lord. This cannot be. There is no option when it comes to submission to the Lord. Either we do, or we live in sin and rebellion resisting Him and His will. The question I believe He is asking every one of us is this, "Will you submit?"



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Say What?

How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. Luke 1:18

Have you ever been just plain confounded, or shocked at the way God chooses to answer your prayers? Make no mistake about it, God hears and answers our prayers. My question is, how do we respond to His answers?

In the first chapter of Luke's Gospel he gives us something that none of the other gospel writers do, an introduction to John the Baptist's parents, Zacharias (Zachariah) and Elizabeth. He does this in the context of telling of the miraculous circumstances surrounding the birth of the forerunner of Christ. We are told that Zacharias and Elizabeth are a godly and righteous couple who, despite their close walk with the Lord, have not been blessed with children. The feeling that we get from the chapter is that this lack of children had been a matter of fervent prayer for these two for who knows how long. In the end, however, Zacharias is performing his priestly duties in the temple one day when the angel Gabriel appears to him and announces that they will be blessed with a child who's name will be John and he will be the forerunner to the Messiah. This is fantastic news but Zacharias responds in the same manner that we do so often...with doubt.

After hearing a direct word from the Lord, via His messenger (point of trivia, the Greek word from which we derive "angel" means "messenger") Gabriel, Zacharias effectively looks at him and goes, "Say what?! Don't you know how old we are. We can't have kids." Gabriel, being one who stands in the very presence of God, does not take this response lightly and informs Zacharias that because of his doubt he will be unable to speak from that time until John is named.

How many times have we responded similarly when God has said the impossible, or unlikely, is going to happen in our lives? How many times have we doubted God would come through for us when He has given us a promise?

The Bible is full of examples of people doubting and admonitions not to do so. Universally, God's Word frowns on doubt. Peter is rebuked by Jesus when his faith begins to waiver while he is walking on the water. The disciples are corrected when they doubt that Jesus was risen from the dead. James has some strong words about doubt in his letter. He goes so far as to say that if we ask for something from God in doubt we should expect nothing!

There is another road, however. As the story continues in Luke 1 we find Zacharias bringing the news of their impending pregnancy home to Elizabeth. Listen to how she responds;

This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.

In essence Elizabeth has received this news and looked heavenward and said, "Thank you Lord. Thank you." She responded in humble gratitude. We know from verse 6 that Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of God so it would have been very easy for her to think that God "owed her one." How many of us look at God and remind Him of all the hours of volunteering we've done, how much we've given in the offering plate, and how many times we've read the Bible through in a year, then demand that He bless us because "we've earned it." Friends, I have to tell you that no matter how much you or I have "done for God," He doesn't owe us anything. Every good thing He gives to us is out of His overflowing grace and love, and our response to the gifts He gives should be nothing less than total, humble gratitude. 

When God chooses to bless us after hearing our prayers and petitions we have two options. One, we can respond with doubt like Zacharias did going, "Say what?" Two, we can respond like Elizabeth did and humble ourselves before the Lord and thank Him for His blessings and provision. I pray that when the time comes we will be ready to answer like Elizabeth.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Basketweaving and Change

Photo courtesy of Czarephani
I was contemplating the idea of change today when the Lord gave me a beautiful metaphor that I think is worth sharing. You see change is one of those things that, even though it is inevitable, we often resist it. Sometimes it is good to resist change because it is for the worse but the opposite is also true and if change is for the better and brings us closer to the will of God we need to do it whether we like it or not. Change though, however necessary, can break people and organizations if not done with care. This is where the metaphor comes into play.

My grandmother on my mother's side of the family, Mimi to be exact, used to weave baskets. She made big baskets, small baskets, round baskets and square baskets. There were all kinds and made out of all shapes and sizes of wood slats. One day I was with Mimi and Pop-pop down at the lake house and she was going to teach me how to make a basket. Well, the first thing that we had to do was take all the slats of wood and soak them for a couple of hours in water. The reason being, if we tried to weave with dry wooden pieces they would snap and break before we could weave them into a basket. However, after they had soaked up enough water they became very pliable and easy to make into whatever shape the form was.

I believe that change in our lives and churches is much the same as weaving a basket. If we swoop in and try to make all kinds of changes we run the risk of breaking something. However, if we soak ourselves and our congregations in the Living Water and the Word long enough, when change comes God will be able to mold us into the shape He has planned. You see, no matter how much I played with one of those slats it wouldn't become any more flexible or less likely to break. The key was the water and the time it spent soaking it up and becoming ready to be manipulated by the weaver's hands. It is the water and the Word that make the difference when it comes to seeing change in our lives and congregations. We can push and pull all we want but in the end if we try to do something without the work of God we're going to end up breaking something or someone. There is no doubt that there will come days when we have jerk and shove and press to get the slat around the form but as long as it has been thoroughly saturated with the water it will not break.

Just some thoughts.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Ezekiel, Tyre and the U.S

It always amazes me how much the prophets of the Old Testament have to say to us in American today. Honestly this should be no surprise because we know that the Word of God is "living and active" and even though it was written thousands of years ago it is just a applicable today as it ever was. This morning part of my Bible reading was Ezekiel 27 and 28 which is a lament over Tyre and a prophecy about the overthrow of the king of Tyre. The words of God through Ezekiel are haunting, especially when you look at them in light of where we are in the United States in 2011.

Chapter 27 is a lengthy description of how prosperous and great the city of Tyre was in its heyday. It was a powerful merchant city that had influence and connections all across the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their merchant ships carried all kinds of riches and good across the trade routes and it seemed as if none could touch them. However, we see in verse 27 and following that none of that will stand when God comes against them. It will all be cast into the sea. Chapter 28 is where it gets really scary and even though it is addressed to the king of Tyre the words of the chapter, I believe, speak to us as a nation. Listen to some of the things that God has to say;

Because your heart is lifted up and  you have said, "I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the seas"; Yet you are a man and not God. 28:2

By your wisdom and understanding you have acquired riches for yourself and have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries. By your great wisdom, by your trade you have increased your riches and your heart is lifted up because of your riches. 28:4-5

You will still say, "I am a god," in the presence of your slayer, though you are a man and not God. 28:9

By the abundance of your trade you were filled internally with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God and I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 28:16

Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings. that they may see you. 28:17

God is painting a picture of a people that He has blessed beyond belief and in the midst of their blessing have turned from the One who gave it. Tyre had become drunk on their own wisdom and riches and God would judge them for it.

There is no doubt in my mind that God has blessed the United States from the beginning. Despite what modern thought tries to say, the people who originally came here from Europe came with the right motives. They wanted to find a place where they could  worship God in freedom and He honored that. Although our forefathers started to slip very early on with the way some treated the indigenous tribes and enslaving people from across the globe, there was still a sense in which the people wanted to honor God with a free nation based on His principles. Unfortunately, history has shown over and over again that with prosperity comes sin and a falling away from God. Now, please do not misunderstand me on this point. God is not against prosperity. In fact, I believe many times He sends it to His people as a blessing. However, we can see from the history of Israel, Tyre and the United States, that when people are blessed with abundance they often start to wander spiritually (Again, this is not always the case).

What happened in Tyre is that the people began to see their prosperity and riches as a product of their own effort rather than the provision and blessing of the Lord. Do I really need to connect the dots between that and the United States today? As a culture we look around at how powerful we are and how rich we are and so we think we have no use for God. Why? Well, according to the anti-religious community its because God is a "crutch" for the weak. Dear me! To bring God down to the level of something we lean on in a broken state only to be tossed away when He is no longer needed, rather than the hand that upholds us in all of our circumstances is a terrible tragedy. God is not a crutch for the weak, He is the strength for the weak making them strong as Paul so eloquently points out. Not only that but, God is God whether we think we need Him or not and when we, in our pride, dismiss Him there will be judgment to follow.

As I mentioned at the outset, none of Tyre's riches or power would save them from the judgment of the Lord. Likewise, all of our power and might will be nothing more than a glistening facade covering a rotten and broken core when God judges America. I can assure of this one thing as much as I can assure you that the sky is blue, God's judgment will come to our land if we continue to "lift up our hearts" and consider ourselves as gods. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 tells us that God is faithful and He will surely do what He has called us to. Yes, He is faithful to equip us and carry us through the things He has called us to but, He is faithful in all things and just as He judged the cities, nations and peoples of old, He will surely judge us today. May we turn our eyes to Him and repent and return to our Lord.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Songs of Revival: All To Us

This weeks song of revival comes to us from one of today's foremost worship leaders, Chris Tomlin. The lyrics speak truth about who Christ is and the nature of revival in God's people. Pay close attention to the chorus;

Let the glory of  Your name be the passion of the Church,
Let the righteousness of God be a holy flame that burns,
Let the saving love of Christ be the measure of our lives.

Indeed, we are waiting on Jesus because He IS "all to us." May this be a song of a revived Church of Christ.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Idols first, then business.

Photo courtesy of GeoDum
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all? Ezekiel 14:3

Let's be honest with each other for a moment. We all have idols in our hearts, do we not? If we look very carefully at out lives I think each of us will find that at times there is something (or somethings) that gets in between us and God, something that takes our primary focus off of Him. Maybe I'm the only one that struggles with this, but I believe that even the most spiritually mature among us deal with the issue of idolatry at one time or another. I am certainly not saying this is the constant state of affairs but occasionally it pops up. There is a reason that the first two commandments address this problem and it is because God's people, almost from the very beginning, have been guilty of idolatry.

By the time the prophet Ezekiel emerges onto the scene Israel is still confounded by idolatry and God aims to square them away. In Ezekiel 14:1-11 God has some very powerful and harrowing words for those among the people who are wrapped up in idol worship. First, as we see in the verse above, God asks the prophet if the people are going to consult Him, or are they going to continue to seek help from false, powerless idols? Then He goes on to tell Ezekiel how He is going to address the people. He says in verse 4;

I the Lord will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols.

In effect, God is saying, "Sure, I'll talk to the people but I'm going to address their idols first. Then we'll get to the other business." This same principle applies to us today. If there is any form of idolatry in our lives and hearts God is going to take care of that first and foremost. His number one priority is that we should have a right and intimate relationship with Him and that can't happen when stuff is in the way.

Idolatry is a prison that we put ourselves in then we ask God to come and talk to us during visiting hours. God is faithful so He comes to see us but there is a glass barrier between us and we have to talk through a telephone. The conversation might look something like this.

"Hey God. Good to see you. I was wondering if you could give me some advice about a situation I'm dealing with in here," we say.
"I'd love to, but I'd rather there not be this barrier between us. I really want to talk to you and fellowship with you and we can't do that with this glass in the way," God assures us.
"Yeah, I know but that isn't really the issue. I need your help with something else. Can we talk about that instead," We continue.
"No, you don't understand, the barrier is the most important issue. Come on out of the prison and we talk about anything you want." God says.
"But I'm pretty comfortable with this setup. I'm really starting to like it in here." We plea.
"Your comfort is not my priority. Your relationship with me is, and we can't have a deep relationship with you locked up behind this wall." He continues.

Have you ever had a conversation with God that looked like that? Obviously we don't see it in that way but that is the way it is. Let me ask you this. Has God ever exposed an idol or sin in your life either through reading His Word or in your prayer time? If He has you know that until you deal with that idol He will always keep coming back to it. Granted, its not always as neat as the fictional conversation above. God will sometimes give us guidance and speak to us regarding other things in the midst of our idolatry but He will always come back to it. Why? Because our God is personal and He wants nothing more than to have an intimate relationship with us. He knows that when our relationship with Him is where is needs to be other things will fall into place behind it. I refer to it all the time, but Matthew 6:33 tells us so much about God's will,

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

If we have idols in our lives and hearts God will not let it slide by. He will address them with the utmost urgency because He cares about us. Not only that but, let this blow your mind for a second, He wants you to get to know Him the way He knows you! The solution to the problem of idolatry, as it is with so many other things, is given to us in verse 6,

Thus says the Lord God, "Repent and turn away from your idols and turn you faces away from all your abominations."

This may be the simplest explanation to all of our problems, repent and turn from __________ and turn towards God.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Characteristics of a Godly Watchman Part 3: Holy Anger.

Photo courtesy of Catalin82
So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord was strong on me. Ezekiel 3:14.

When we look at the pantheon of Christian virtues holy anger is probably one that most people miss, or have a hard time placing alongside things like meekness, love, generosity, patience and peace. I freely admit that the Bible is full of admonitions to not be angry. Ephesians 4:26 tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. Colossians 3:8 tells us to put it aside, and James 1:19 explains that we should be slow to anger. However, I firmly believe that anger coming from the right place, in the right time, for the right purpose is a powerful characteristic of a godly watchman. Look again at Ephesians 4:26 it says,

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

Equally as clear as the instruction to deal with anger before the sun goes down is the statement, "Be angry." This tells me two things. First, if we are sinfully angry then we need to address that issue promptly because if we allow it to go unchecked it will result in bitterness and all kinds of other harmful things. The other thing it tells me is that if we are filled with righteous indignation over something we need to act on it immediately. Let's return to Ezekiel 3 for a moment. In this passage God commissions the prophet and tells him to go say "Thus says the Lord God" to the nation of Israel. Immediately after the commission Ezekiel is swept up in the Spirit and taken away (see verse above). The next two statements are vitally important to our understanding of the concept of holy anger.

First, Ezekiel tells us that he "went embittered in the rage of his spirit." This is the holy anger that we are talking about. Something about what was happening, or what God had shown him was, in the words of Yosemite Sam, burnin' his biscuits. It may be that Ezekiel was given a glimpse of the spiritual state of the nation from God's point of view. The text doesn't give us exactly what angered the prophet, all we know is that he was upset and the only thing he could do was go to the people and proclaim God's message.

Secondly, Ezekiel tells us that while he was embittered in the rage of his spirit "the hand of the Lord was strong on me." "Wait a minute Christian, you're going to tell me that God was going to use and bless Ezekiel even though he was angry. I thought Christians were supposed to be meek, mild, doormats for the world to wipe their feet on. You know, turn the other cheek and all." Yes, that's what I'm saying. The Bible is clear that we, as Christians, are supposed to be peaceful, loving, generous, tolerant (in the true sense not the perverted sense the world give the word) and a host of other things. However, there comes a time when enough is enough. We see this even in Christ Himself who was outraged at the way people were using the Temple for personal gain rather than worship and prayer. In the story of Jesus overturning the money changers tables you have the perfect example of holy anger. Injustice was being done and He was going to nip it in the bud.

As godly watchmen there must come a time when enough is enough. We have to look around at the world around us and say, "This isn't right. This is not according to God's will or plan. Something must be done." Are we outraged, by the fact that millions of unborn children are murdered every year? If so, will we say something about it? Does it torment out souls when we see people using God's Church for personal gain? Is our spirit embittered that Christianity has been turned into a business venture rather than a relationship with the God of the universe? What of the starving, abused, oppressed and captive of the world? Will we stand up and call God's people out of complacency and sin back to Him? Will we stand up and proclaim "Thus, says the Lord God"? God can use our righteous anger to motivate us to do something about the problem just as He did with Ezekiel.

Now let me give some important words of caution. As I mentioned the Bible is clear that anger, misused, is highly sinful. If our anger results in hatred of people Jesus tells us we have committed murder in our hearts. Some people have used holy anger to justify things like bombing abortion clinics and friends, this is absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong. There is no Biblical justification for murder and the punishment is always severe. Furthermore, our holy anger should not lead us to undue prejudice against other people. Some who claim the name of Christ have brought shame on His name by treating homosexuals with hatred. This is so far from the Biblical mandate as to be laughable. Look at Jesus' treatment of sinners He came into contact with. He always addressed the issue of sin but never berated them and He always showed them the way of escape from their sin.

Finally, and I believe this is the key to finding holy anger rather than sinful anger, we need to look at the source of our indignation. Are we upset because someone has wronged us, or are we mad because someone has wronged God and other people? Ezekiel was frustrated because the nation had turned from God and fallen into sin, not because they hurt him. The test for our holy anger is this; does it stem from a disregard for the two greatest commandment? Are people not loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and are they not loving their neighbors as themselves? Just as Jesus says, all the Law and the prophets hang on these two principles. Everything that is displeasing to God falls into one of these two categories.

Friends, I want to encourage you to find holy anger. Search God's Word to see what displeases Him. Search your heart to see where  you have fallen short and search the world for the things that hurt the Lord. Then find the courage to take a stand and proclaim to the people, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." This is the duty of a godly watchman. Will you be one?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Songs of Revival: Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down).

Music is an important part of our spiritual life. It is by far the most commonly used tool in worship. With that in mind I would like to start compiling some great selections that I think carry the message of revival or contain revival truth. These may be classic hymns or, like this one, contemporary songs that are drifting to us over the airwaves of Christian radio.

Today's song is by the Robbie Seay Band. The thing that struck me the most when I heard it was the cry asking the "God of Heaven" to "come down." That is indeed what we are seeking in revival. I also like the element of hope and the connection that the band makes between hope and God coming down. Many of us have come to believe that God visiting us in revival is the ONLY real hope for our nation.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Characteristics of a Godly Watchman Pt. 2: Listening.

Photo courtesy of Mattox
             If you look in Ezekiel chapter 3, which is where we will spend the bulk of the time from here on out, you will find the commission that God gives the prophet beginning in verse 10.  In this verse God tells Ezekiel;

Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely.

In this short phrase I believe we find the second crucial characteristic of a godly watchman: listening. If we understand our duty to be warning God’s people and acting as “voices crying out in the wilderness” then it only makes sense that we must take time to listen for the message that God is trying to get across. For me, as a preacher, this is sometimes difficult because I love to talk. However, if I am faithfully going to communicate the message God has for His people then I must discipline myself to be still before God and hear His voice.
            One of my hobbies is amateur radio and with that I am able to talk to people all over the world from my home in North Carolina. As part of being a radio amateur I have done some basic level emergency communications training. One of the things we learn in “emcomm” is that you have to be very careful, even to the point of copying down a message letter for letter, so that we ensure that the correct message gets through. The same principle applies to being watchmen for God’s people. Aside from being able to boldly communicate God’s truth we must take time to listen to what He has to say.
            God is clear on this point at the beginning of the verse when He commands Ezekiel to listen to all of His words. It is not enough for us to get the first few lines and then run with them. We must listen and proclaim all of God’s truth. I admit that this can be an uncomfortable proposition because it means we are responsible for the “whole council of God.” We do not have the luxury of picking the good parts or the parts we like. We must share it all, even the unsavory parts about sin and God’s wrath. Anything less and we run the risk of being found guilty of taking away from God’s Word.
            This leads cleanly into verse 11 where God gives Ezekiel the bottom-line of his commission;

Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, “Thus says the Lord God.”

As we are vigilant and after we have listened very carefully to what God has to say then we must go and proclaim it. The fact that we are responsible to tell people “Thus says the Lord” relieves us of a heavy burden while at the same time giving us another one. The burden that it lifts is that we are not telling people our opinion or our thoughts on the matter. We are telling them what God has said, and if we do that then the weight of their response does not rest on our shoulders. Ezekiel 3:18-21 make this point very poignantly.
            As this releases us from that burden it does add the burden of making sure that what we are saying is actually a word from the Lord. The solution to this problem lies in two places. First, that means we must be voracious devourers of God’s Word. If we intend to communicate a message from God then studying the Bible is not an option, it is a requirement. Secondly, and equally as important, is the directive given in verse 10, listen closely. If we have been called as watchmen over God’s people then He will give us the message if we will simply quiet ourselves before Him and listen. 


Friday, October 28, 2011

Characteristics of a Godly Watchman Pt. 1: Vigilance

Photo courtesy of grzswe
Most everyone has heard an alarm go off. It may be something as mundane as the alarm clock every morning that tells us it is time to get up and get ready for work, or it may be something as frightening as a fire alarm. No matter what the specific purpose of the alarm they all share one common theme: they are meant to alert people and warn them of impending danger. 

In Joel 2:1 the Lord commands the prophet to; Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain because the day of the Lord is coming. That is, God’s judgment is coming upon Israel for their sinfulness. Further along in the chapter, in verse 15, Joel is again commanded to blow a trumpet but this time it is to call the assembly of the people together so that they can, consecrate a fast. This tells us two important things about the role, or the duty, of the prophet of God. First, it tells us that the prophet is to act as an alarm to warn the people of God’s coming judgment. Secondly, the prophet is also to be the mouthpiece of God in preparing the people for His movement. Knowing the role of the prophetic voice, or watchman as I will begin to call them is vitally important. Furthermore, it is also crucial for us to understand some of the characteristics that the Bible gives us of a godly watchman because this is no small calling.

1.  Vigilance

In Habakkuk 2:1 the prophet says this;

I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me.

One of the most important characteristics of a godly watchman is that he, or she, be vigilant and keep watch over God’s people. When I was going through basic training we were required to memorize the three general orders. The first, and perhaps most important, was this;

I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.

I believe we can extrapolate much truth about being a godly watchman from this general order. First of all, along with the imagery from Habakkuk 2:1, we get the idea that the watchman is standing guard over their people, over the things that they care about. The watchmen of Israel stood guard on the walls of the city, a clear vantage point, from which they could see the approach of invading armies. Their concern and dedication to their duty came from a love and care for the people inside the walls. That was where their homes may have been, their families and their livelihoods. They would have been keeping a keen eye out for any form of danger that could potentially affect the city. If we are to be godly watchmen over God’s people then we must keep our eyes peeled for any signs of danger or God’s approaching wrath due to the sins and wickedness of His people. Habakkuk was not literally standing on the walls to watch for an approaching army. He was standing on the spiritual ramparts of the nation and trying to see things from a “God’s eye view” so that He could warn the people to turn back to God.

Secondly, and I draw this from the first general order, we are to quit our duty as watchmen only when God has told us that the mission is finished. It may be that our mission is short like Habakkuk, Joel, or Haggai. Alternatively, we could be standing on the walls keeping watch for months, years or decades. Take Daniel for example. He was a watchman over the house of Israel for most of his life and he outlived three kings in the process. There are those who have waited and prayed that God would send revival their entire lives and yet they maintained their station and refused to abandon their post.

Finally, as vigilant watchmen we must not only be on the lookout for signs of God’s judgment but we also need to keep an eye out for His movement. As we saw in Joel, the first trumpet was to sound the alarm while the second was the call the people to preparation for a move of God. As watchmen we must be in-tune with God enough to sense when His Spirit is beginning to move and then call His people to prepare for what He is going to do. That means calling the Church to repentance, prayer, brokenness, reconciliation, fasting, and a host of other things we can do to prepare for a movement of God. This idea of being in-tune with God leads us directly into the next characteristic that we will explore, but you'll have to wait until next time!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Jesus Who?

Courtesy of ba1969
Through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3b.

If you ask people whether or not they believe in Jesus you would probably find the overwhelming majority of people answer affirmatively. In the face of the historical evidence for His existence denying that a man called Jesus lived in first century Palestine would be like denying gravity, or holding to the idea that the earth is flat. The simple fact is that history shows that Jesus lived. The trouble comes, not from verifying His life, but in understanding what that life meant and who, exactly, this Jesus was. The answers that people give to the questions of who He was and what He did provide us, as Christians, with a critical litmus test for discerning true and false doctrine, and true and false teachers.

In his second letter Peter is tackling the problem of false teachers and profits in the Church. Just as Paul does in his first letter to Timothy, Peter not only uncovers false and deceptive doctrine but he also expounds true doctrine. Just yesterday our pastor made reference to the practice of the agents in the treasury department who are tasked with exposing counterfeit money. These people spend the vast majority of their time handling and getting to know real money so that when a counterfeit emerges they will see it. It is not hard to see the application of this practice to our theology and faith. While it is important and valuable for us to study other religions and false doctrines, if we have an intimate knowledge of true doctrine then the false will be that much easier to recognize (Many thanks to Pastor Mike for that illustration).

Let me get back to the subject at hand. What Peter is expressing here is that Christ's divine power has granted us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3a). This comes to us through what? The true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Peter is putting a high value on the "true knowledge" of Christ. This tells us that it is not through invoking the name of Jesus that we receive salvation and all the other gifts of Christ in us. Even Jesus tells us as much in Matthew 7:22-23;

Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."

There are many faiths and perversions of Christianity that claim the name of Jesus but they are applying that name to someone who wasn't the Christ. Likewise, there are many non-believers and even opponents of the faith that have no idea who Jesus Christ truly was. In short, they do not have a true knowledge of Him, as Peter would say. For example, if someone says to me, "Yes, I believe in Jesus as my savior." It may behoove me to ask, "Who do you believe Jesus to be?" They may say, "Well, He was the archangel Micheal." This would be a false definition of Christ and therefore this person's hope and salvation may as well have been in someone named Jim or Fredrick. This gets us back to the root of the issue. Our salvation is not contingent upon the five letters J,E,S,U,S in that order. It is contingent upon the person behind those letters, the very Son of God who lived, died and rose again for our salvation and justification.

Furthermore, our salvation is not based on the belief that Jesus lived on this earth. As I already mentioned that is a historical fact that need not be denied. I have used this illustration in the past but I think it applies here as well. Knowing that my wife has gotten me a Christmas present doesn't put that gift into effect. Two years ago she got me a Dewalt cordless drill. If I never bothered to open it I would still be looking around for something to drill holes in the wall. All the while there it is, wrapped up nice and pretty underneath the tree. If we know Christ lived and died for us but we don't apply that gift our life then it is our loss and our salvation is no nearer than when we didn't know about it.

I say all of that to say this. I true knowledge of Jesus is more than just knowing His name or even understanding what He has done for us. We must know who this Jesus was; the Son of God and Savior of all who accept His offer of life. He was not just a good man, or a good teacher as the rich young ruler called Him. He was God incarnate and His ministry set an example for us, His death provided redemption for us and His resurrection justified our faith and allows Him to take possession of us, and live in and through us. Knowing and applying this truth to our lives grants us everything we need as it pertains to life and godliness and with that realization comes the true knowledge that we didn't do a thing but say "amen" allowing Christ free reign in our life.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Overcome By Christ

Picture from ocoeeridge1.com
For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 2 Peter 2:19.

In chapter 2 of 2 Peter the disciple begins to give warning about false prophets and teachers (As a side note there is a strong focus in the New Testament on being aware of false teachers that we should take note of today.). Around about verse 12 Peter starts to paint a picture of the offerings of the false teachers which looks an awful lot like a list of sensual, fleshly desires and lusts, and it is. Then in verse 19 he explains that false teachers offer freedom but in the end all that is received is bondage to sin. As you see in the quotation above the last part of the verse tells us that whatever it is that overcomes us, or overwhelms us, is what will ultimately enslave us.

The obvious take-home lesson here is that if we allow ourselves to be overcome by sin we will, undoubtedly, become slaves to it. That being said, Peter does give us a prelude to this "bad news" in 1:3;

seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

and verse 2:9;

then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.

Despite the fact that we are subject to falling into sin, or stumbling along the path, we have been given the means to overcome it by God. The truly incredible thing that struck me like a ton of bricks was actually something that is not written explicitly at the end of verse 19 but I think Peter leaves the statement open to this interpretation. After having given us a list of all kinds of sinful behavior it seems obvious, as I mentioned before, that the lesson would be that if we are overcome by sin we will end up slaves to it. However, the inverse could also be true. What if we are overcome by Christ?

What if we are so in awe of Christ, who He is, and what He has done on our behalf that we become slaves to Him? Is that not the Biblical ideal? In Romans 1:1 and Titus 1:1 Paul identifies himself as a "bond-servant" of Christ, a word that could just as well mean "slave." In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul again says that he is a bond-servant of the Lord rather than one who is bringing attention to himself. Peter also makes the same claim in his first letter, Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God (1 Peter 2:16).

How does one become a bond-servant or slave? I would suggest two elements to the answer to this question.

1. We must submit to Christ. This is a voluntary relinquishing of our will to His alone. James commands us to submit to God in James 4:7. God has given us freewill and we have the option, at least now, to voluntarily give ourselves over to Him. Make no mistake about it, there will come a day when the option is not given and every knee shall bow in submission to Christ Jesus as Lord and King.

2. We should be overcome by Christ. The explanation of this is somewhat difficult but I will try to do the best I can. Perhaps the best imagery for this idea comes from Revelation 1:17 which says;

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.

John had just seen the risen and reigning Christ in all of His glory and the only thing he could do was fall down. The text doesn't say this but it sounds as if John passed out in the presence of Christ. The other day I was driving to Huntsville, Alabama to attend a friends wedding. The route took me through the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee before dropping into the foothills of northern Alabama. Along the way I found myself driving along the Ocoee River in south eastern Tennessee. The road followed the river as closely as a road can and as it wound back and forth through the gorge I was amazed by the beauty of the scenery. Then, all of a sudden, I made one turn and stretched out in front of me was Lake Ocoee. Though I was by myself in the car I actually said out loud, "Wow!" It was absolutely breathtaking and I was overwhelmed. The metaphor breaks down at this point because if I had remained entranced by the view I would have driven my car into the lake. However, for the rest of the trip my mind was a slave to that view and with each passing turn I found myself wishing for another, more dramatic glimpse of the lake.

As near as my feeble mind can understand this is what it means to be overwhelmed by Christ. Most of us can relate to the story that I just told. We all have seen views and scenery that takes our breath away. My question is, do we look with the same awe at the One who made the view? Do we catch glimpses of Christ and long for more? This must have been why John, at the end of his revelation, exclaimed, Come Lord Jesus. He had seen Christ, caught a peek at what was to come and the glory of God and he couldn't wait to see more. John, along with so many other characters from the Bible, was overwhelmed by Christ.

Just as a taste of sin leads to wanting more and more of it, tasting of Christ's glory and majesty leads to a desire for more and more if Him. The truth is, and a beautiful truth it is, that our hearts and minds "ain't big enough for the both of 'em." If our minds are filled and overwhelmed with sin there will be no room for Christ and the opposite is also true. If we, like Romans 12:2 encourages us, are being transformed by the renewing of our minds and are overcome by Christ there will be no room left for sin to enter in. Trying harder and harder not to sin will only get us so far and ultimately that effort will fail. The only possible way for us to overcome sin is to be overcome by Christ, thereby enslaving ourselves to Him. He is the only one who has truly defeated sin so why not pack our minds full of awe at His majesty, power, love, righteousness, justice, glory and all the rest?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Priority of Prayer

Photo courtesy of eschu1952
The leaning tower of Pisa is one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in the world. This tower that was built beginning in 1173 suffers from a very obvious tilt to one side. The reason for this is two-fold 1) the foundation is inadequate and 2) it was built on unstable soil. No matter how beautiful the columns, arches or marble are it will forever be canted to the side and in danger of toppling completely.

There is an obvious lesson to be learned from the Tower of Pisa in regards to our theology. Jesus points this out in Matthew 7:24-29 in his famous analogy of the two men and the foundations they chose upon which to built their houses. As Christians out faith, doctrine and theology (all of which go hand in hand) are founded on Jesus Christ. This is the issue that Paul addresses to Timothy in his first letter to the young pastor. False and pointless doctrines were being taught in the church in Ephesus and Timothy's charge was to correct it. In verses 12-16 Paul lays out the correct doctrine and sure foundation for everything else (all the other doctrines) that he will address in the letter. The reason being, if he does not start with the doctrine of Christ then no matter how "good" or beautiful the other doctrines are, they will ultimately crumble under the weight of reality.

After addressing the foundation of Christ in chapter 1 Paul begins to build his tower of doctrine, and a beautiful tower it will be. In chapter 2 verses 1-8 we see the construction of the first level and it is prayer.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men...

"First of all," he says, this is the priority of prayer. The New Testament paints a bold picture of the importance of prayer throughout its books and letters. Let me give you just the slightest taste of what I mean.

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly. Acts 4:31

Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:3-4

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:16-17

Then when they had fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away. Acts 13:3

Notice here it doesn't say "when they had finished their fellowship meal and had a committee meeting they sent them away." The priority here is on prayer. This last one is perhaps the most convicting of them all and it comes from Jesus Himself.

Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, saying to them, "It is written, 'And My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a robbers' den."

My question is this; if Jesus came into our churches today who would He be driving out? What kind of tables would He be overturning? Would He come into the church and say, "My house is a house of prayer."? This is the priority of prayer.

Paul not only puts prayer in its rightful place, "first of all," but he also tells us about it and give us some direction for our prayer. In this verse we see two basic kinds of prayer 1) asking, represented by "entreaties" and "petitions" and 2) worshipful prayer, represented by "prayers" and "thanksgivings." Both of these kinds of prayers are represented in our model for prayer, the Lord's Prayer. Jesus instructs us to ask God to "give us this day our daily bread." Though He already knows our needs we are told to ask anyway. Take those burdens and needs to Him and turn them over to His provision. The worship aspect of prayer can be seen in the opening line, "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name." This, I believe, gets at the true heart of prayer. The question that is often asked is, "If God already knows what I need then why should I pray?" If we are honest with ourselves then we will admit that this is a reasonable question. However, there is far more to prayer than just asking and receiving. It is about getting to know the God who wants to have a relationship with you and the best way to do that is through conversation, a.k.a prayer.

Paul continues his guidance on prayer by telling us that it should be done for "all men." Translation: we should be praying for other people besides ourselves. The book of Hebrews tells us that because there are brothers and sisters living under persecution we should prayer as if we are in chains with them. We should be praying that God meets, not only our needs, but the needs of others. Paul takes this one step further in the next verse by telling Timothy that he should be praying,

for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 

I must say that we who live in America don't fully appreciate the weight of what Paul is saying here. There are many good things about the Roman Empire but even on a good day it was an oppressive and abusive regime, and depending on the emperor at the time it could be downright evil and sadistic. It would not be long after Paul and Timothy that Christians became fodder for wild animals in the arena and burnt on pike in the streets. Yet, Paul tells Timothy, "You pray for them anyway." This is an expression of Christ's commandment that we love our enemies. Why? The answer is two-fold. First, it is very hard to hate someone and pray for them at the same time. In a sense we take the edge off of our own bitterness when we lift someone up to God in honest prayer. Secondly, we are lifting up our enemies and leaders to the only One who can actually help them. If they are lost without Christ then there is a sense in which we could affect their salvation by praying to the very One who is able to save them. Overwhelmingly, God uses people to save other people. However, that is not a requirement. He can enlighten someone or reveal Himself to them without using us. This is where our prayers for them come into play and I fully admit that it is something of a mystery to me. We do not dictate God's action to Him through prayer but it does play a role in activating His action, some how in some way. Otherwise we wouldn't have all the directives to pray for one another and other people as we have just seen here.

Next, in verse 5, Paul gives us a little pinch of sound doctrine for prayer, For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. I have to say I am often tempted, because of our vernacular, to simply leave off "Christ Jesus" and let Him be known as "The Man." I digress. Paul is simply telling us here, and making it very clear that we need no other middleman for prayer because we have Jesus Christ, God Himself, as our mediator. There is no need for any other person on earth or in heaven. We have a direct line. Let that sink in for a moment and allow you mind to be properly blown...we can communicate directly with the God of the universe.

Paul wraps us this exhortation to pray be telling about the state of our own hearts when we pray in verse 8; Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or dissension. How are we to pray? With holy hands lifted up to God. Psalm 24:3-5 puts it this way;

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

We cannot hope to have prayers that God will honor if there is bitterness, rage, deceit or falsehood in our hearts. That means that if we have something between us and another brother or sister we need to take care of that immediately. We are given the same direction for the Lord's Supper. The really beautiful part of this is that the only One who can truly clear our heart and conscious is God. That means we need to go to Him and ask for a clean heart, then go make it right (if possible) with our brother or sister, then go back to God with more prayer. You see, prayer is interwoven in the entire process. It is the priority.

The Word makes it clear that the foundation for our faith, lives and doctrine is Jesus Christ. Only upon Him can we build a true faith that honors, and is honored by, God. Then the very first level must be prayer. 1 Timothy 2 and the rest of the New Testament attest to that fact. The only question that I will conclude with is this, "In light of all of this, where is prayer on your priority list?"



Thursday, September 8, 2011

False Prophets = Captivity

Photo courtesy of shadgross
In the Bible there seem to be some books that get far more attention than others. For us Christians we lean heavily on the Gospels and books like Romans or Philippians. If we are going to focus on the Old Testament then it often means we're looking into the Psalms. I mean think about those little "Testaments" that the Gideons pass out, it is the New Testament plus the Psalms. Don't get me wrong, I am not ragging on the Gideons. They have an amazing ministry and one day we will find out just how many millions of people came to know Christ because they were given, or had access to, a Gideons Bible. My point is (and I am guilty as charged) that we often lose sight of some of the smaller books in the Bible. I'm not sure why this is. It may simply be a product of the fact that when we flip through the Bible we pass right over books like Titus or Joel.

The reason I bring this up is that while preparing for Bible study yesterday I nearly passed right over Lamentations because I was so excited about getting to Ezekiel. Shame on me, because for a moment I was disappointed that we weren't to Ezekiel yet. Thanks be to God, my disappointment was short lived!

Lamentations, as the title suggests, is one of the saddest books of the Bible. In it we have five poems that Jeremiah wrote in mourning over the desolation of Jerusalem and the captivity to Babylon. At this point in their history the Jews were made to sleep in the bed that they had made for themselves. The curses that God promised to His people in Deuteronomy 28 were coming to fruition. In the midst of this eulogy for the Holy City we find a multitude of lessons that we can apply to our lives and world today.

One of the most poignant of these lessons comes in Lamentations 2:14 which says;

Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. 

Apparently, the Jews at this time had fallen prey to the same thing that Paul would warn Timothy about in 2 Timothy 4:3-4;

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

It seems that at this time these false prophets were telling the people everything that they wanted to hear but not the truth of the situation. It could very well have been that they were saying to the people, "Everything is okay, God is going to send blessings and victory to us." The problem was, everything was not "okay." The spiritual train of Israel had come off the track and these false prophets were not exposing it. The result was that the people did end up in captivity and Jerusalem would end up desolate and destroyed.

The point of application for us is that true prophetic voices will not shy away from addressing the issue of sin. The question that flows from that is this, "Do people who claim to be prophetic voices today expose sin for what it is?" Sadly, the majority of those who claim to be "prophets" in our day have a message that is far removed from that of the Biblical prophets. All too often we see self-proclaimed prophets engaging in wild shows that are centered around alleged "miracles," healing or blessings. People come to the show in order to get something from God, thereby turning Him into nothing more than a "blessing bank" from which they can make a withdrawal whenever they please. Let me be very clear on this point, this is using God and nothing more.

People are encouraged to come to the prophet with the faith that they will receive a healing or a blessing without ever having to come to terms with the root problem of sin and their part in it. It is about coming to God for a free handout, and the handout is not salvation. It is a temporal, fleshly gift. The focus comes off of God and is put on a mortal human being. Either it is on the prophet himself or on the faith that a person has. If they receive no healing or blessing then it is their own fault for not having enough faith. Never is the sovereign will, and larger plan of God mentioned.

One thing is certain about the prophets of the Bible, it was never about them. Their entire mission was to point people to God, His righteous judgment and His perfect compassion. Sure, many miracles took place in the ministry of the Biblical prophets. Elijah and Elisha were famous for the amazing things that took place under their ministries. However, those miracles were never an end to themselves. They served the larger purpose of a) confirming that the prophet was from God, and because of that should be listened to; and b) to point people to the One who did the miracle. In a sense the miracles performed by the prophets were the warm-up act to get people to pay attention to meat of the message which was repentance from sin.

This lesson need not only be applied to the obvious false prophets in our culture. It can also be applied to anyone who stands in the pulpit claiming to have a message from God who glosses over, or ignores completely, the issue of sin. Seminaries across our land are filled with professors who are teaching future pastors that there is no such thing as sin, or that what we once labeled as sin is nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding. Though it is not always the case, there is no doubt that this will sometimes filter down into churches. This leads to a one dimensional concept of God as being a fluffy, teddy bear who is overflowing with compassion. It is true that God's compassion is endless but it is also true that His justice and righteousness must inform His compassion and visa versa.

Jeremiah is clear in this verse from Lamentations that if our sin is not exposed and dealt with then we will remain in captivity. The other side of that token is that if our sin is exposed and dealt with we will be freed from the captivity that sin has us in. Here is the bottom line, false prophets are serving only to keep people in captivity. Freedom does not come by explaining away, or justifying sin. It comes only from having it dealt with once and for all by Christ and the Cross.

Jesus has warned us about false prophets rising up in the end times in Matthew 24:24;

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

I pray that we will neither be led astray by these false prophets and that we will not find ourselves among their number. The true prophet knows that God abhors sin and that He offers compassion and freedom to those trapped in it. Will we proclaim that message?



Friday, September 2, 2011

When the House is on Fire is Not the Time to Be Silent.

This past Wednesday evening in our Bible study at church we discussed the book of Jeremiah. In this study we are trekking through the Bible one book at a time. This was a series that our former pastor began before he was called away to another church and I have picked up the teaching in his absence. The primary purpose behind the study was to see how Christ is made evident in every book of the Bible. Apart from that we also look at some background information on the book and draw out a few lessons. Unfortunately we cannot go in-depth each Wednesday evening because we only have one hour for Bible study. Some may argue that we should take as much time as necessary to cover each book completely and in a different format that would be extremely valuable and edifying. However, the overarching goal is see Christ throughout the Bible not study it exhaustively at this given time. Exhaustive study of the Bible, as I see it, is the responsibility of every believer as they trod the road of life.

At any rate, one of the things that we discussed about Jeremiah was the timing of his prophetic ministry. It came at a time immediately prior to the Babylonian captivity and as a result of that there is much condemnation of the sins of God's people along with some clear hope for the future. Perhaps the most troubling thing that I read in studying some introductory materiel on Jeremiah was the idea that at this time the Israelites were about to see the end of God's patience. The train of Israel's disobedience was charging down the hill to captivity wildly and out of control. God's judgment was on the way.

Understanding this brought fearful a fearful thought to my mind. What if we have pushed God to the limit of His patience in America? Now, let me say two things before we move on: First, I hope beyond hope that we have not. Second, I do not know that we have. I do not have inside information from the Lord that says we have tested His patience too much.

If we look at the history of Israel and consider all of the prophets that God sent there is no doubt that they had enough information and warning to make a decision to turn back to Him. Jeremiah may come near the beginning of the prophetic books in the Bible but he was, chronologically, near the end. In America we have been blessed with two, count 'em...two, Great Awakenings, countless smaller revivals and a plethora of anointed preachers in our 250 years of existence. Yet, as with Israel, we continue to try to press on with our own ideas and defiantly turn from God. When will God look upon us and "give us over" to our own devices and allow us to fall into some sort of captivity experience? I don't have an answer for that.

What I do know is a couple of important things.

1) Jeremiah never gave up on God's people. He never threw up his hands in disgust and defeat, knocked the dust off of his sandals and moved to Greece. We may look at him today and say, "Why not, Jeremiah? You were wasting your breath and people persecuted you endlessly." He didn't give up because God had given him a deep compassion for the people. Jeremiah is known as the "weeping prophet" and he wept because of Israel's sin, the impending captivity and their failure to turn back to God. This compassion that Jeremiah had was, as I said, given to him by God and it is also modeled for us by Christ. At seeing the people lost and astray Matthew 9:36 tells us;

He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.

Secondly, Jeremiah never gave up, he never became silent, because he had a divine commission and a word from the Lord for the people. Ultimately, even God never gave up on His people. Jeremiah 3:12 says;

Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, "Return, faithless Israel," declares the Lord; "I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious," declares the Lord; "I will not be angry forever."

Despite the fact that He was going to allow the Babylonians to conquer them, God would still maintain His end of the covenant and would not totally abandon them. He would allow just enough suffering and captivity to serve the purpose of bringing them back to Himself, no more and no less. It is interesting to note that after this final captivity the Jews would never again fall prey to worshiping other gods besides Yaweh. 

2) If America has gone beyond God's patience with us we, as Christians, aren't done yet. If God's judgment comes we do not have the luxury of standing back and saying, "Well, we tried. Oh well." Even when the Israelites went into captivity in Babylon they were not without a prophet. Daniel is a perfect example of this. God continued to speak through His appointed messengers to give a message of repentance and hope to the people. Judgment came, abandonment did not. Therefore, even if we experience God's divine judgment we still have a mission to proclaim His message to the world. Revival and renewal are always on the table of options available to us from God. Look at what God tells us in Jeremiah 3:13, just one verse after what we just saw;

Only acknowledge you iniquity, That you have transgressed against the Lord your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed my voice...

If we want His anger to turn from us and for His blessings to flow once more our humble repentance must precede it. 

The point that I would like to make clear is this. It is terrifying to think that we may have strayed from God so much that His judgment is unavoidable. However, even if we have passed the point of no return in that respect our message and mission changes not on iota. We are to continue praying for a move of God in our land. We are to continue to preach repentance, God's judgment and His gracious love and forgiveness. Whether we are on the cusp of the steep hill or find ourselves sailing headlong into judgment there should be an intense urgency in our proclamation of God's truth. If I were in a building that had caught fire I would not casually stroll up and down the hall and mention that someone, if they get a chance, may want to call the fire department. I would be screaming to let people know that they were in serious danger and we must put out the fire and get people there who can.

Friends, the sad truth is that we have started a fire in our own building and everyone is still sitting in their cubicles and drinking coffee in the break room. We, as Christians, need to be warning people and if the building burns down we need to boldly and unapologetically tell people the right way to build it back again. According the Jesus the only way to build that building properly is upon Him.