If My People…

“If” is a small word, having only two letters, but “if” is anything but insignificant. “If” is a conditional word containing tremendous possibilities. If this happens, then this will be these will be the results. However, if this does not happen, then these will be the results. Whatever field we are talking about, whether natural, medical, psychological, mechanical, judicial, spiritual, etc., the results can be vastly different. The differences can be a matter of bad or good, infecting or healing, breaking or fixing, chaos or peace, judgment or mercy, destructive or calmness, death or life.

The Lord tells His people in the days of old,

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

Did you notice the if/then condition? But the Lord doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say,

But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight. ~ 2 Chronicles 7:19-20

By now, no doubt some will be saying, “But that’s the Old Testament,” or “But God was talking specifically to the Jewish nation.” However, let me sound this truth, God is unchanging, and His principles remain constant. Furthermore, let me ask you this, since this is from the Old Testament and God was talking to the Jewish nation, should we remain proud and stiffnecked, and not pray or seek His face because we are under grace? Where do you read this in the New Testament? Do you see this in Jesus’ teachings? Or in Romans, or the letters of Peter or John? Where exactly in the New Testament are we shown we can remain in our pride, hold onto our idols, where we don’t need to seek God’s face and pray?

While I have heard preachers and seminary professors state that this promise is specifically to the Jews of old, does this mean this passage has no promise or application to us? Do the prayers of God’s people today, who are in Christ, not count for anything? This passage in 2 Chronicles has much relevance to us today. Do you not believe God would do a might work of mercy and healing throughout our nation if we, the church, as a whole organism, humbled ourselves before Him, sincerely prayed and sought His face, and turned from our wicked ways? Do you really think He would ignore us since, after all, that promise was in the Old Testament to the Jewish nation?

Let me ask you further, do you think that we are not proud and do not need to turn from any wicked ways? Do you think we have not turned aside and forsaken His statues and commandments? And do you think we are not guilty of going out and serving other gods? We are far more guilty than you realize! Consider how churches put so much emphasis in people’s degrees and natural abilities, and the way prayer is often just a casual two-minute formality; and think how the common consumer mentality infects many churchgoers. “What does this church have to offer me?” is a question often asked. Not “does this church proclaim the truth? What can offer it?” Think about how many church leaders borrow from the trends, ideologies, and pragmatism of the world, instead of abiding by the principles laid out in God’s Word. Think about how many songs in worship settings emphasize the greatness of God, not because of who He is, but because of what He has done for us and how He makes us feel. Think of songs how we say He is welcomed in His own house! Do these not all reveal the pride in our hearts?

Repeatedly the Bible tells us to love one another, to consider others as being better than ourselves, to have the mindset of Christ who humbled Himself to be as a servant. But how many pastors are genuinely servant-leaders? How many of us are known to treat others as better than ourselves? How many church splits have occurred over trivial things? (More often it has to do with persons not getting their way than it does doctrinal issues). And we are told to learn contentment, to not fall into greed, and to not love money? Yet, how many preachers use preaching to obtain wealth—even at the expense of compromising truth? And God declares in Genesis, and Jesus echoes in the Gospels, that God created two genders, male and female, and has instituted the bond of sacred matrimony between one man and one woman. Yet, we have many in churches disregarding these statutes shamelessly. The Creator God, the Giver and Sustainer of life who many claim to worship, all the while condoning abortion. The Scriptures tell us,

Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. ~ Leviticus 20:2

Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. ~ Jeremiah 32:35

Do we honestly believe we have not turned aside? Do we seriously believe we have not forsaken God’s statues and commands?

Now, concerning idolatry, do we think this is simply the abomination of Old Testament religions? “You shall have no other gods … You shall not make for yourself a carved image … You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Ex. 20:3-7). The unhealthy devotion many have for football, television, and the like, by all appearances, far surpasses devotion to God. In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer notes, “Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous.” So many ideas about God in many of our mainline denominations veer away clear teachings of the Scriptures. Why? Usually because what God reveals about Himself goes against what persons want to believe and hold onto. Understand, persons can change God within their imaginations all they want and however they want, but God Himself is not changed in the least. Persons can hold to their imaginations about God and trust them as true, but this is all idolatrous.

One of the modern movements, despite having a history containing numerous scandals and apostasies, is not only popular with young people, but its music is used in many evangelical churches. Let’s be extremely careful, because our acceptance of it (instead of doing away with it) can taint our own worship. For though some of the songs do appear very worshipful and honoring to Jesus Christ, some of their concerts have celebrated goddess worship (it is rather blatant if you were to watch the live presentation on a Youtube video). Speaking of goddess worship, Maria Kneas, in her book, How to Prepare for Hard Times and Persecution, tells of an ecumenical Re-imagining Conference held in Minneapolis, in 1993. Hundreds of those who gathered were from numerous mainline denominations. While there, the people invoked the name of Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, and even calling her Creator. Apparently (but not surprisingly) the doctrines of Jesus’ incarnation and atonement (the very central teachings of the Christian faith) were openly rejected. This is idolatry in explicit form.

Lest anyone thinks I am only addressing liberal or “progressive” (falsely so-called) Christianity, those of us who consider ourselves conservative evangelicals are not off the hook. The truth be told, we have our own pet sins, of which we don’t really consider sin, let alone evil. But all sin is evil because all sin is rebellion against God and His character, regardless how we like to dress it or what perfume we try to douse it with. Consider the sin of heartless faith. Jesus, while commending the church of Ephesus for their strong stance against sin and holding to correct doctrine, strongly rebukes them for their lack of love for Him. Jesus says,

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. ~ Revelation 2:4-5

And what about the sin of unbelief? “God doesn’t do that anymore,” some will say. Or else we mask our unbelief with, “if it be Your will,” sometimes already holding the thought that He probably won’t do it anyway. But we are told,

And [Jesus] did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. ~ Matthew 13:58

While our prayers must fall in line with God’s will and purposes, what does Jesus command? Elsewhere He says,

Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ~ Mark 11:24

What about the sin of partiality? Let’s face it, evangelicals are pros when it comes to saying we’re on a level playing field, and that no one is truly better than another. I’ve been a Christian for about thirty years, and I’m convinced that most Christians do not really believe this. If we did, then more people wouldn’t feel so isolated or rejected in evangelical churches. Although James blatantly calls our partiality sin (James 2:9), our churches, just like the world, contain the haves and the have nots, the popular and the unpopular, the sought after and the neglected.

In his book, Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges addresses quite a list of sins the Bible condemns, while the same are too often ignored or condoned in evangelical churches. Just to mention several: ungodliness (i.e., leaving God out of our thoughts or plans), anger, ingratitude, pride, impatience, judgmentalism, anxiety, worldliness, and gossip.

My intention is certainly not to belittle the church, the people of God. Yet, is it not true that so often we can look at the world, or even other churches, wanting to take the specks out of their eyes, while being completely oblivious of the logs and cedar beams in our own? We wonder why the world is caught within a downward spiral, but how can it not be when so much of the professing church is also caught within a downward spiral of its own? I ask you today, what would happen—even if it began with small pockets across our nation—if God’s people were to get serious about their faith and profession, turning to Him, confessing all that God calls sin (taking our warped and perverse notions out of the equation altogether), and were to forsake all our various wicked ways? One thing is for certain, we won’t know unless we actually come to the end of ourselves and turn wholeheartedly to God, through Jesus Christ His Son. But to do this we must acknowledge all the logs in our eyes, filth in our minds, the flames of hell from our lips, and the stinking sewage sitting stagnantly in our hearts, and ask God to burn the logs and beams, to cleanse and sanitize our minds, to pour His living waters on our tongues, and empty and refine our hearts of all the sewage.

If God’s people who are called by His name would humble themselves, and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, then what would happen? Let’s begin asking God to do such a work within us (as only He can do), and maybe we will see our nation and world mended in a way either has experienced in a long time.

When Was the Last Time You Wept Over Broken Walls?

Preachers, today, don’t want to talk about sin and its devastating consequences, and congregations don’t want to hear about it. Nevertheless, like death, just because we try to ignore it doesn’t make it go away or any less real. When sin is left unchecked—even the supposed “little” ones—it eventually ruins. Like and old weathered and rotted fence, it will eventually break leaving the property vulnerable.

For example (and I’m sure many of us can relate to some of these), multiple explosions of anger eventually ruin a relationship between friends or relatives. Continual seemingly innocent flirtations finally lead to an affair, ruining marriages. The banding with bad company does corrupt good morals. Continual pride or lack of grace finally turns persons off from the gospel because they see no love of Christ in a person. And the list goes on. None of these are exaggerations but are very real. I can almost guarantee if you’ve not experienced one of these personally, you know of someone who has.

Churches are not immune. How many churches have been completely shamed and devastated because of a minister’s infidelity or greed? Still, how many churches have no genuine spiritual vitality, all because of the condoning of sin(s)? Oh sure, they might have food drives and so forth, but they are completely barren as far as spiritual vitality goes. The walls are broken down, and the people are left vulnerable, ravished, and hardened.

We read in Nehemiah, in his own words,

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”   As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. ~ Nehemiah 1:3-4

Let us not think this was simply an immediate response on Nehemiah’s part and he was over it in five minutes. In his commentary on Nehemiah (in the ESV Expository Commentary series), W. Brian Auker notes “the prayer that follows summarizes what Nehemiah prays over several months.” Today, we see the damaging effects of sin all around us, from Washington all the way down to our homes and personal lives. All around us are broken people within broken down walls. Tragically, too many preachers and authors are saying with sympathetic smiles, “It’s all okay. You’re okay. God loves you. This wreckage is not your fault.” But the fact of the matter, sometimes it is—as it was of the Jews of old. Our sins have consequences, and sometimes the results are extremely horrible and painful. To treat persons as though everything is okay is not only to dismiss the problem, but it’s also to openly lie to them and make light of the reality of the consequences of sin, whether it’s our sin or the sins of others.

Understand, my point is not to throw people’s sins and consequences in their faces. Rather, I want to ask you—especially if you’re a preacher—a question: When was the last time you wept over the broken walls? When was the last time you wept over persons who once walked with the Lord but who are now entangled in sinful living? Or wept with a family whose child has overdosed? Or wept over your town or city gripped with drug and alcohol addictions, immorality, and domestic or gang violence?

Am I crossing a line when I say many preachers are too busy growing their churches and youth programs to notice the broken walls around them? Do I speak erroneously when I say many of us have been hurt enough times, we don’t feel much of anything? And am I mistaken when I say many churches are oblivious to many of the broken walls, because they don’t view sin as being destructive? Instead, they want to blame all the ills on society and others? But tell me, if our hearts are not broken because of the broken walls, will we really be stirred to positive action? If we don’t feel anything, if we are not moved with compassion, are we really going to pray? Tony Evans writes in his Bible commentary,

“Broken people cannot fix broken walls. This raises the question: is prayer the first thing or the last thing that you do when you see that something is broken? If it’s the last thing, then you waste time in everything you do that leaves God out of the equation to fix it. Far too often, we allow other things to push prayer aside rather than allowing prayer to push other things aside.”

E. M. Bounds notes, “The world needs more true praying to save it from the reign and ruin of Satan.” But how will we truly pray unless we’re truly moved? And how will we be moved unless the Holy Spirit does a deep work within us? May God prick our consciences, break our hearts, and help us to weep over the broken walls around us! But even in this, we must be willing to yield, repent, and declare, “God, Your will be done!”

Perhaps it’s been a while since we’ve wept because of the broken walls. Let us confess our sins and callousness, and let’s ask that God will restore a genuine fervor for lives to be restored by His truly amazing power and grace.