Monthly Archives: May 2016

Falling In Love Again

Falling In Love Again

The topic for this issue is “The Basics of Revitalization.” To answer the question I had to answer what is the basis for revitalization? Is it just trying to get the saints revived, or is it something much more. We all know that our Country and the world for that matter, needs a great revival. By that I mean the Church has to come back to its first love in the Lord Jesus Christ and desire to live holy consecrated lives. If the Church will get right, then there is the possibility for the communities, countries and world to become awakened to the sovereignty and Kingdom of God Jehovah. I began to ponder, really, what is the basis of revitalization. I thought I might write about some of the tenets of how revitalization needs to be approached or possibly talk about the requirements that need to be in place before revitalization should be attempted. But neither of those resonated with me. I didn’t want to talk about the pragmatism or the philosophy of revitalization; there are already enough books and articles to cover those topics. Instead, I think the most basic issue in revitalization is the subject/object itself – the Church. This is what drives me in revitalization attempts – the Church. We find that scripture supports revitalization. When we investigate both Old and New Testaments, we find that the Father is brokenhearted about Israel, his people failing in their commission to bring glory to Him and the Gospel to the nations. The same is said by Jesus when He gives John instructions to “write to the Churches” in Revelation. I will note two of the Churches and the message or ultimatum they are given later.

Israel was the Bride of Jehovah in the Old Testament; albeit a very unfaithful one. The Church is the Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5:25-29 is clear about what Christ desires the Bride to look like. The Church is the body of Christ in the world, just as Israel was the “Bride” in allegory in the book of Hosea. The ministry of revitalization in its fundamental goal is to restore the Bride of Christ to a healthy loving Bride to the Bridegroom. Scripture informs us that the Church belongs to Jesus, the Bridegroom; and that he will build the Church. There are great examples in scripture where the Church was triumphant [Especially in Acts].  There are glorious stories of how the people of Israel overcame great odds and enemies to win victory after victory through the power of God at work within their midst. When Yahweh is supremely worshiped by His people there is great wonder and power displayed. But – Oh that word, Israel did not remain true to the Father. It seems that mankind is always wandering and looking for some new adventure. Instead of being satisfied and content with the God of the universe, we look for cheap imitations or an easier way to being religious. It doesn’t take long for the Church to drift from God – Israel lasted only 40 days before they replaced God with a Golden Calf idol in Exodus 32-34. The book of Judges is a vicious cycle of faithful and unfaithfulness by God’s people. Surely, with Jesus the Son as the head of the Church; we New Testament Believers will learn from our Old Testament brethren, right? Wrong! For we find in Revelation 2 and 3 that there is another message, Jesus will in fact snuff out the Lamp of a particular local church if it is not representative of Him.

Jesus isn’t the only one that is passionate about the Church, the Apostle Paul filled his epistles to the “churches” with instructions and admonitions to live and act rightly according to the holiness of God. It is the local church that needs revitalization.  There are so many books and models that have been developed to try and bring the local churches back to life. But just as Jesus addressed different “I have this against you” issues; so each local church must come to a “new reality”. Obviously the local churches did not see, or rejected the problems in their church, or Jesus would not have had to address them. NOTE: by now many of you have begun to debate with me about possible interpretations of the Revelation 2-3 passage. You may take a different position on why and how Jesus wrote to the churches, even taking a “they are examples” of church issues. Whichever way you want to address the passage I have referenced, you must acknowledge that JESUS WROTE TO THE CHURCH! The Church represents Christ, when the Bride no longer “loves” her groom; the Groom has every right and responsibility to call the Bride to account.

So the basis of Revitalization is about the Church body or Bride whichever metaphor you like, becoming alive again and falling in love with the Bridegroom, Jesus the Son of God. Revitalization is about recognizing the drift and departure from the Word of God; admitting that it is not on task of pleasing the Master; that it has become internally driven rather than outwardly; seeks its own will rather than the Will of the Father.

In Church Revitalization, there are three different audiences – plateaued, declining or dying Churches. The difference is, only a matter of degree of departure and remaining “Life” left in the Body.

In Revelation we are given seven Churches with varying degrees of problems and tribulations. Some are under attack, but most have “settled” for their particular state of being. In addressing the Church at Ephesus, the problem was it had lost its first love. Now we must remember that this church was founded by the grand Apostle Paul, was pastored by the great missionary pastor Timothy, Paul’s protégé. It was also the home church of the Beloved Apostle John and I believe the final resting place for Mary; Jesus’ mother. One would think with all that notoriety and prestige, surely this would be a Church that would be steadfast in faithfulness. But Jesus says, “I have this against you, you have lost your first love.” In other words, you have forgotten Me. Something every Church has to be careful about is the purpose for their existence. I would call Ephesus an Orthodox Church. They believe right, are solid on doctrine and truth, but have become mechanical in their worship and love for the Lord. It’s almost like an old married couple that forgot what brought them together in the first place and have settled for an EXISTENCE instead of a RELATIONSHIP. Ephesus was in need of a second honeymoon. Jesus spells it out this way – REMEMBER-REPENT-RETURN. The fire had got out of the marriage with Jesus! Ephesus had to get back that “Lovin Feeling.”

In the second church I want to address the church at Sardis. It is the DEAD church according to Jesus. But they think they are healthy and alive. This is a grave situation that needs a serious “Wake Up call.” The Church doesn’t even know they are dead, how sad a commentary! The Church had a Name in the community and among themselves that they were alive and healthy. An unreal reality had entrenched itself in the church. In Revitalization, the first order of business is KNOWING SOMETHING IS WRONG. A fresh, but honest assessment of the true condition must be diagnosed and embraced.  Sardis is an “Unfinished Church.” It had been alive at one time, and there was still hope, but the cure is “Strengthen that which remains.” Usually in a Church there is a REMANANT that God can use to restore the Church, as was the case at Sardis. But in restoring the Church revitalization does not mean return it back to its heyday, but return it back to ministry for THE CURRENT DAY. Too many Churches live in the past. This is true of a lot of Brides. They remember their beauty and slim figures, but time has taken effect on their bodies. If you think about this a little, there is a great illustration here.

Churches that need revitalization are those “whose love have grown cold.” In both Churches, it was time for them to Repent – the first step after conviction of sin and departure. It takes humility and a willingness to swallow our pride. Most Churches can do Church, but then again Doing Church was never the task – the Bride was called to faithfulness to the Bridegroom – Be the Church, that all Our Savior wants.

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I’m Okay, You’re Not!

Our reading this week is Amos 2-6, but I will talk about chapter one as well. Amos is a wonderful book. All total Amos probably only preached his sermons over a four to five-hour length. There is a significant impact that God used Amos, someone who was not a prophet in the religious sense, but a common man. He also was from the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Now most people do not tolerate people of their own kind telling them what is wrong and exposing their sins. But to have an outsider – a sheep herder and fig handler from the South infuriated the Northern Kingdom. They wanted and tried to send Amos packing back to the South. We are given a hint of when Amos wrote by the phrase “two years before the earthquake.” I couldn’t find much about the event, other than to say it was significant enough that Amos needed to give no other details. I guess we could compare it to say 9/11 or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So with that point, Amos wrote around 706 BC. The King of Judah was Uzziah and Jeroboam [North] so then Amos would be a contemporary of Isaiah. We even get a reference to Mount Carmel drying up – which should make us think of Elijah and the Baal prophets in 1 Kings 18. So there is enough warning from God about the judgment and indictment of Israel’s sin.

I found it very interesting that the vision of Amos starts condemning all the Gentile nations for their sins against the people/tribes of Israel. I can almost hear the applause from both Judah and Israel over the pronounced wrath of God on their enemies. The statement “for three sins and for four I will not revoke my punishment – this indicates there are limits to the long-suffering and mercy of God. There comes a time when God will act so as not to bring down His name and character. It is one thing for believers especially today to hear how God is going to judge the sins of society and the lost. It is quite another to be included in the conversation. This is exactly what God did; after pronouncing judgment on the Gentile nations, he began speaking to the off-spring of Jacob. God closes the vision to Amos by bringing indictment against Judah and Israel. This should have been a wake up call. Amos indicted everyone with 3-4 verses, however Israel is given 10 verses which outlined their sin and judgment. There is a New Testament parallel passage found in Romans 1 and 2. Here the Apostle Paul does the same thing; he brings the sins of the Gentiles to light; and the Jewish readers I am sure were rooting Paul on as he condemned their behavior and idolatry. But just as Amos switched to Israel, Paul switches to the Jews. The bottom line – God is against ALL sin, not just SOME sin. It is normal for mankind [even believers] to enjoy the finger-pointing of someone else’ sins; for it keeps the light off our own.  Paul outlines the Romans Road from his exposition; a road to return to God for ALL. Amos also does this in chapters 3-4. Israel could return, but were too proud and stubborn.

No less than 5 times the LORD brings cause against Israel – “Yet you have not returned to Me.” Even though God has tried to chastise them into coming back, the hardness of their hearts prevented them. If I am Israel and I read chapter 5 – I say “Woe is Me!” I hear many today that are praying for the Lord to Come Back. Be careful what you ask for – verse 18-20 surely speaks that it will be judgment for ALL.  Israel has never fully loved God – even in the Wilderness they carried their idols they made. [5:26-27] Here is the irony – Israel did not stop doing the LAW – they continued in the sacrifices and the festivals, yet they were not worshiping God, but their own works, while playing idolatry with the pagans gods. What a sad message Amos brings, no wonder they tried to kill him. Yet even sadder is the 20/20 hindsight that Israel [Northern Kingdom] would be obliterated from the earth. Israel becomes the “Lost Tribes” for they would not heed the message of repentance.  Woe unto us that look for God to judge the unrighteousness of our generation and think He will look past our [believers] sins.

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Failing Memory of the Church

Hosea 11-14 is our reading this week. God has made his case against Israel [Northern Kingdom]; The reason for the judgment on Israel is that they forgot God. The replaced Him with the pagan gods and instruments of “religion.” I believe that we are guilty of doing the same thing in our day. Mankind has to have tangible – physical things to hold on too. Yet our relationship with Jehovah is based on Faith – believing when we do not see the physical. The other reason for Israel to be judged is that they were unresponsive to the discipline of the Lord. I have learned that God does not let our sin go unchecked; just as a parent will try to restore proper behavior in a child, even so God desires to bring his people back. Whole the amount of discipline will change according to the situation and child, eventually if there isn’t a response and return, God must take drastic measures. In chapter 12, Yahweh brings memories to establish how He has cared for the Israelites. God birthed the nation from Abraham & Sarah; two people who were beyond reproducing years. From the impossible came God’s people. He birthed, raised and protected His people. His deliverance from Egypt was a memory that in the Old Testament was continually recounted. Israel, like many of us forget where we were and how far God has brought us. Israel and Judah forgot.

Israel is going to be the spoils of Assyria, as will Samaria. This did not have to be; but the rejection of God as god, forced the hand of God to act. The “Lost 10 tribes” of Israel even today is a stark reminder that God’s punishment was severe and everlasting. One would have thought that Judah [Southern Kingdom] would have taken notice of God’s judgment – but they didn’t. In fact other prophetic writing give indication, that Judah was okay with Israel getting “What they deserve.” Judah would say in essence “We are not like them!” Yet a mere 150 years later, Judah falls like Israel.

The fact that God uses a marriage illustration of Hosea and Gomer to show the “adulterous nation and people” is something we must take notice of today. While Israel was the “Bride” then; we are the Church and Bride now. What kind of Bride has the Church been? Ephesians 5:24-33 speaks clearly of what Christ desires out of the marriage; has the Church been faithful and content with Jesus? Is Jesus enough for us? Or do we seek after strange lovers? Could those lovers be Racism, Sub-humanism, relativism, hedonism, nationalism and individualism? Do we now live in the time of Judges 21:24, every man does that which is right in his own eyes? has the Church become an adulteress to Christ?

We live is a very dynamic changing culture; all throughout the globe mankind is living for self, survival and sensuality. While the idolatry and adulterous lifestyle then was regional, today we find the same thing is global. Today culture is driven by the whims and choices of “personal gods” not by the Word of God. Today there is the guise of “Tolerance”, yet intolerance is the course if another view doesn’t agree with “your” view. The unfaithful bride was purchased by Hosea, we the Bride of Christ have been purchased by Jesus at Calvary. God never stopped loving Israel, but because of His holiness and name, He had to judgment Israel. He cannot be God if He allows sin to continue. Jesus and His Bride the church is in similar situation. The Church is unfaithful, while it may be more subtle, drift and disobedience is happening now. Scripture reveals that the “Church” will be saved and will be at the marriage feast of the Bridegroom, oh that we would be that chaste bride, adorned in white; pure and untainted by the world we live.

The end of Hosea is our hope. Even though God had to judgment His people, it was not without hope of restoration. This is a message for the individual and the Church. All we like sheep have gone astray, each unto his own way; but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all; and by His stripes we are healed. Judgment of sin has been done; now we must walk in the faith and hope of restoration of the new life that is ours in Christ.

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Ephraim Oh Ephraim!

Our reading this week in Hosea 6-10 highlights Ephraim, most of us remember that Ephraim is one of two sons of Joseph. Instead of getting an inheritance himself, Josepha’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh each got a portion of the Promised Land.  Joshua, the leader of the nation Israel into the Promised Land was from the tribe of Ephraim, as was Jeroboam. Ephraim, endorsed David as King of the unified nations of Judah and Israel. Within the territory of Ephraim are Shechem and Shiloh, two very important worship centers before Solomon’s Temple was built.  It would seem that having such a proud legacy, that Ephraim would be a pillar for the people about true worship of Yahweh. However, in our reading Ephraim is another name for Israel; the Northern 10 tribes that broke away from Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. The history of the Northern Kingdom, which Hosea is prophesying against is a sorrowful story.

Jeroboam knew that if he didn’t build a place of worship like the Temple in Jerusalem, that the people would return; so he build Mt. Gerezim.  It is interesting that in the Northern and Southern kingdom the number 19 plays a big part. The Northern Kingdom had 19 dynasties [19 different kings]; whereas Judah had 19 kings but one dynasty. The Davidic line of kingship was reserved as God had promised David. Hosea is about Israel or Ephraim, which ever you want to use; and their idolatry and rejection of God. The time frame is prior to 722 BC, and the Fall under the Assyrian rulers. God has rejected Israel, He has decided to punish the nation for their rebellion and apostasy. Yet we find in chapter 6, that they say “let’s return to the Lord” and they just got told God was not going to hear them when they call. The presumption that God had to answer and heal them, when God is sovereign, He determines what He will and will not do.

In the Northern Kingdom the tribes inter-mingled with the pagan people, the exact opposite of what they were warned not to do.  Chapter 7:8 says the Ephraim is a flat cake not turned. This means that it is hard-cooked [burnt] on one side and raw on the other. The cake is useless, Ephraim had become useless. Instead of being the glory of God to the nations, Ephraim/Israel had departed from God and had become polluted by the ways and culture of the “enemies’ of God. In 8:4, the oven of Lust was so hot, the baker only stoked the fires once, and was not only able to rise the dough, but without stirring the coals, also able to cook the bread fully. In their attempt to become like the nations, Israel embraced both Egypt and Assyria. Egypt was where they came from [sin] and where they would return. Assyria, was the very power which would eventually conquer Israel in 722 BC. God’s indictment of Israel – “They have strayed; they have turned from Me.” When we think of Ahab and Jezebel and the Baal prophets, it is easy to see how the religious practices of Israel had become a violent stench in the nostrils of God.  We also find that Samaria has the “golden calf” this is a reflection back to the initial rebellion of Israel in Exodus 32-34.  Israel had trusted in the foreign kings to deliver them, but they failed to understand that God was behind the judgment of Israel, and that He was the one giving power to Assyria to conquer Israel. In the end, the judgment of God produced the “Lost 10 Tribes of Israel.” Only Judah remained; albeit they were just as guilty as Ephraim was in their idolatry and harlotry.

Such corruption in the people of the Northern Kingdom, they become carried away unto the four winds of the earth. After reading these chapters, I could not but identify with what is going on today in the Church. Have we become too friendly with culture? Have we compromised the Gospel for a crowd? Do the prophets speak of their own words instead of God’s? Is there severe judgment coming for us? Israel/Ephraim/Samaria all fell; Judah witnessed their fall. Yet Judah did not heed the warnings of God? Are we going the same path as they? “When I come who will I find faithful?”

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Faithfully Unfaithful

Our reading this week is in Hosea 1-5. It is a sad book about a husband named Hosea, and an unfaithful wife named Gomer. It is an allegory of sorts for the unfaithful relationship of this couple is reflective of the relationship Jehovah had with His Bride – Israel. We know that God ‘birthed” Israel from an old couple in Abraham and Sarah. From their old age, God brought forth a great nation, which He declared to be His people. He cared for them, provided, and loved them with a jealous love.

The time of Hosea’s writing is before the fall of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. The divided kingdom has split the 12 tribes of Israel after Solomon’s reign into 10 northern tribes and 2 southern tribes. Jeroboam, in effort to keep the tribes of the north from returning to Jerusalem because of the Temple, built another place of worship at Mt. Gerizim. Quickly however, Israel [Northern kingdom] fell into apostasy, they may have had a “form” of Temple worship, but they lacked the heart for worship. Soon the Canaanite people and their immoral pagan deities worship led Israel into severe idolatry. We know of Ahab and Jezebel with the Baal prophets on Mt. Carmel and Elijah. I find it interesting, that even though Israel worshiped Jehovah, the one true God, they sought after other gods. Of course the other gods were more exciting that Jehovah. Ritualistic worship of Baal was anything but boring with temple prostitutes!

Baal appeases the sensual side of mankind. Now God tells Hosea to take a bride of harlotry – a blemished, tainted woman. Also to have children with her. This was reflective of what Israel [Northern Kingdom] was doing. In the naming of the three children, God identifies what He will do to the Northern Tribes. There is even some commentaries that hold that the name of the second and third children reflect the possibility that they were not even Hosea’s kids. It is obvious that the harlotry of Gomer is deeply ingrained, for Hosea in chapter 2 has to go and buy her back off a trade block – the price 15 shekels of silver, half the price for a slave.

Hosea and God have a deep love for their wives [Gomer and Israel]. The unfaithfulness of Gomer is directly reflected back to what Israel has been doing to God. God is a jealous God, but here we find that God is so compassionate and long-suffering, to go and bring Israel back to himself, and call the adulteress his wife.

Jehovah in chapter two lays out the conditions for returning for Israel. Hosea uses a very intimate description of physical attributes for what Israel must do – reflecting the body of a woman, giving herself to another lover. Obviously, God has had enough of the harlotry of Israel and her strange lovers. Israel has given herself to another [Baal] who uses her for sensual pleasures and intimacy that was meant only for God. There have been times where I have had to counsel with a couple over adultery or infidelity. The trust and hurt factors are over the top. Forgiveness can hardly be mentioned because of the gross sin of betrayal by the spouse [man or woman]. In chapter three, the symbolic marriage of Israel and God is expressed clearly. “Hosea is told to go and love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods. Israel and mankind in general has had consistent failure in obeying the first two commandments. 1st have no other gods, besides ME; and 2nd, make no idols/images. In Exodus 32-34 shortly after being delivered from Egypt and slavery, out in the wilderness of Sinai, while Moses received the Tablets of stone, Israel “rose up to play” – Adultery and idolatry have always been with us since the fall of mankind. We are never satisfied with God. We live today in such a physically sensual culture. Sex is the theme for most advertisements, movies and TV programs. There is always the slant of risqué questionable talk and innuendo. God loves us, I don’t know why, it seems that we only love Him when we need or want something from Him. The Church is an idolatrous people, we are not much different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day. The Church is not faithful –  it has in recent times embraced “many lovers” of the world. Israel will be judged by God, even so the Church will too. When I think of the Church as the Bride of Jesus, who loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that He could present her in purity and white raiment, I cannot but help think how we have loved the gods of convenience, comfort, individualism and hedonism all the while saying we are the Bride of Christ. Judgment day came for Israel, it will for the Church as well. I know I have been sort of doom and gloom in this post, but we the church must face reality of our condition. While there are many local bodies that are still faithfully serving and loving the Lord, many are dying everyday because the Life has been blown out. [Revelation 2-3] It is Christ’s church and He will extinguish the light of the unfaithful.

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National Day of Prayer 2016

The theme is Wake Up America – sounds like a very emphatic call for the Church. Yet most of what I have viewed today has been about Cinco De Mayo or Holocaust Remembrance. While the latter to holidays are worthy in their own right, I find a disparaging problem with America even willing to Prayer, not just for the country, church or cultural environment, but to pray period.

Isaiah 58:1 is the theme verse “Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, And declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins.” Obviously, the organizers have in mind a time of confession and repentance from known and secret sins, both for Israel, and the nations. But repentance happens individually. I am distraught with the cultural shift to unrestrained, unremorseful sinning for personal right and identity. I was talking with a pastor friend this week, I had to ask him, “is this the End of the Age?” He said something interesting, “I never expected things like this in my own time, but for my grandchildren’s time. I didn’t expect the change would happen so fast.”

This tells me that while he did expect a “falling away” he felt he would be okay. There is great forces of evil working and lurking over most of the world. An apathy has taken hold of people, where they just want to live out their days without fighting for what is biblical truth. The Church is a micro-cosmism of the culture, it saddens me that the Church isn’t more concerned about the Lost or the direction all of humanity is going. But rather wanting their own “felt needs” met at the expense of the generations that follow.

When I saw the theme Wake Up America, I immediately thought of Revelation 3:1-6, the church at Sardis. The dead church that thought it was alive. Jesus tells the Church to “Wake Up and strengthen that which remains, and which are about to die, for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.” Pretty much the Church had started something but did not have the desire or motivation to finish the task. I think of the Great Commission as something the Church has fallen short of completing.

If like my pastor friend thinks that these are the Last Days, and the time is short, what manner of people ought the Church be? There should be a sense of urgency about us. We must declare the Gospel and the warning of God that He will come and judge the world.  I know a lot of people talk about prayer, but many only talk about it. Those days have to be over – the believers of this age must intercede for the rest of humanity. Wake Up Church, let your voice be heard over the noise of the culture!

 

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