What do we need to do now, this year?
What/who do we need to be?
How to respond to attack?
The question “what’s next, Lord?”
exercises my mind frequently as I guess it does yours.
One of our themes in our early morning prayer group is
• Mourning – for the suffering Church
• Grief for our nation
• Excitement for tomorrow
• Joy for today
This theme highlights the tensions between sadness and Joy. All four of these emotions can co-exist and I think should. I discovered quite recently that CS Lewis had the insight that his early books and writings after becoming a Christian were mainly apologetic – the defence of Christianity – and that this was very heavy and he made a deliberate attempt to write about the joy of following Christ and less about the defence of Christianity.
So, there are the tensions between grief and joy, between fighting and resting, between despair and excitement, between exercising the Mind of Christ given to us and Holy Spirit inspiration, and the co-existence of these emotions and activities.
OK, so back to our topic of the Church under attack – equipped for the times
We need then – at the very least – to understand our times. There’s that almost throw-away verse (1 Chron 12:32 esv) when David was fleeing from Saul when the men from Issachar “who understood the times and knew what to do” came on side to David. The text doesn’t say the same thing about the others in the immediate context. Maybe the men of Issachar were better informed of the reality of the situation and what needed to be done more than most.
But there is only so much that you need to know – sometimes it can be too much depending on your own life experiences. See More than we need to know.
So, understanding the times; knowing the need to respond and knowing how to respond.
Well I reckon this church is probably more aware and better able in knowing what to do. So, a pat on the back, a tick, a commendation to Darlington Christian Fellowship.
What are the times? The threats and challenges we are facing as a church body?
Allow me to recap and summarise. Challenges vary with different ages and in different parts of the world. You might well say “what is the point as I can’t do anything” but at least you then know how to pray intelligently and this is anything but “least” – it is probably the greatest, so keep listening – but it does get overwhelming and our prayers can become groans but God understands that and hears our groans. There are times when we have to leave the fighting to Gabriel and Michael.
• Small (but eternal) picture: our kids are increasingly exposed to temptations seemingly approved by community and increasingly mandated by bad government – “Safe Schools” and “Respectful Relationships” now rebadged yet again as “Inclusive Education”; increasing control over what we teach in our homes – even “around the kitchen table” which is where Professor Gillian Triggs the previous Chair of the AHRC wanted to get – and schools. Erosion of family values. Transgender “rights” with mutilating surgery. The urgency is now.
•Bigger national (also eternal) picture: increasing restriction on freedom of speech; freedom of conscience and expression of conscience; freedom of belief – freedoms mandated in international covenants. We are currently observing the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which these freedoms are mandated and to which Australia is a signatory. Progressive devaluation of the intrinsic value of human life as created in the Image of God evidenced by the promotion of abortion – even more extreme – and euthanasia, viable babies being “accidentally” born alive after abortion and left to die, embryo selection even for sex of baby (yes, even before “it” has decided what gender it is going to be – so how do the parents know which baby to kill?). Then there’s the surrogacy battle right now and the move to deliberately create the situation for children to be brought up without a biological mother and father by single men – when will it ease? The urgency is now.
• International (also eternal) picture: the suffering church; religious/cultural conflicts and persecution of Christian minorities increasing year by year; decay of “western” civilisation and Christian values; the changing roles of the superpowers; the intrinsic enmity between the children of Abraham; the peace of Jerusalem. The urgency is now.
• Eternal picture: yes, the great gulf between heaven and hell and the urgency to make known the gift of God in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin. The urgency is now. We need to pray that we do not miss an opportunity.
WE NEED A NEW GENERATION WITH
• A new sense of urgency
• A new sense of grief for our nation
• A new sense of reality and the challenges facing us
• A new sense of perspective – for us, between earth and heaven; for others between heaven and hell
• A new sense of the Glory of God and of the glory that awaits us in eternity
And so, we need a new sense of determination (and privilege) to commit ourselves and our nation to God, every hour, every day and including special days when we can join in spirit with each other in this dedication. There are many times for special reasons e.g. before elections!
The Men of Issachar understood the times. Remind yourselves and others of these things and watch tomorrow morning’s paper.
NOW, KNOWING WHAT TO DO
• Sow, Determination, Commitment, hard work in the church, running the race, perseverance, enduring hardship, fearing not
• Jeremiah 12:4-5 (poor Jeremiah) If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
• Not growing faint or weary and recovering when we do
• Gal 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap
• Isaiah 40:31 …but they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will…
• Encouraging each other
• Supporting and praying for others on the frontline of the battle; prayer warriors; leaders in our mountains of influence and government; those who write submissions and front up to Legislative Committees
• A welcoming church
• Not tolerating evil or false teachers or teaching; solid underpinning of who we are 1 Pet 2:9 and of the Creation Mandate (even hating the Nicolaitans…)
• Christian responsibility in community; speaking truth; with boldness (Acts 3)
• Loving your neighbour – protecting him and his children from the encroaching evil by identifying that evil
• Preparing for the future; memorising scripture; for when the walls have ears, personal and family “around the kitchen table”.
How do we rate? Not bad. Not fantastic, but pretty good nevertheless. Equipped for the future knowing the times and what needs to be done. Feeling good?
Well, let’s look at a NT church that was doing well.
I know your deeds,
your hard work and
your perseverance. I know that you
cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have
tested those who claim to be apostles but are not,
and have found them false. You
have persevered and have
endured hardships for my name, and
have not grown weary.
And I think you know what’s next
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Rev 1:17-18
And so, of course, the context is Jesus walking among the lampstands of the seven churches in Asia.
When I (John) saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Rev 2:1-7
vs.1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. vs.2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. vs.3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
vs.4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. vs.5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. vs.6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate
vs.7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Rev 2:1-7
(The Nicolaitans attempted to establish a compromise with the pagan society of the Graeco-Roman world that surrounded them using Christian liberty as an occasion for the flesh).
BUT. LOST YOUR FIRST LOVE.
What is / was “your first love”? Can you remember?
What does it mean as God’s children individually and together as a family – as the Bride of Christ?
Remembering that this letter is to the Church at Ephesus.
Different for different people. For me aged 13 it was Jesus death on the cross for me that made me commit my life to Him and, by His Grace, I have never reneged on that commitment. Sadly, I have been distracted. By His grace, not for too long. I didn’t have the sense of immediate joy and freedom that others have when burdens and guilt have been lifted. For me it was a surrender of myself knowing the price that he paid for my sin – so, sense of forgiveness, surrender, dedication to this great love, “I am your servant”, even Your son, Jesus is my brother, a great sense of belonging.
So, what was your first love?
Was it purely intellectual – like CS Lewis “the most reluctant convert in all England” pursued by the Hound of Heaven until persuaded (the joy came later) – or was it something more “wonderful” in terms of relief from guilt, freedom from bondage.
Many hymns might come to mind including Charles Wesley
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should’st die for me
Two weeks ago at the Franklin Graham meeting in Perth the song group sang “what can wash away my sin?” and the people in the pit sang back “nothing but the blood of Jesus” to all the questions. So, a sense of wonder and amazement “tis mystery all” to the God who sent His Son to die on our behalf.
So, do you know what it was? Maybe you have never lost it – I hope so – or maybe you’ve recently regained it – I hope that too. What might it have meant for the Church?
But if we have lost our first love individually and as a family, how did it happen?
Well for the “keen” Christian sometimes it is just being too busy in Kingdom work when the need is just so great dividing it between
• Workplace; including people at work we need to develop relationships with
• Family – nurturing relationships with spouse and children and seeking to bring kids up in God’s way, teaching them memory verses, encouraging in sports
• Community – schools, parent involvements, developing relationships, loving your neighbour in the full sense of responsibility to warn of dangers
• Church – even prayer meetings that we should support including the people who sacrifice time to arrange and run the prayer meetings
All of these demands being good and right and proper but are competitive for time. Sometimes our prayer might be “Dear God, let me off the wheel.” (Poor Jeremiah.)
HOW DO WE REFRESH?
Individually and collectively as God’s people, as His Church, as His Bride! So that the lampstand of the Church will not be removed.
Remember – “consider how you have fallen”. Do you/we as a wider Church family need to consider this further, where we have fallen? In what areas? Ponder that this week…
Repent – of our lukewarmness, of all the things that distract us “let us fix our eyes upon Jesus who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame” Heb 12:1,2
Tell Jesus you’ve grown cold (quoting from somewhere). Tell Him you’ve entertained other loves. Repent for not loving Him as He deserves. He stands ready to forgive and restore.
Too often we are happy, too content, making mud pies – enjoying the pleasures of this earth – instead of experiencing and knowing the wealth of glory. As CS Lewis wrote “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Reading His Word gives a right sense of reverence, perspective, privilege and joy. We listen to Him by reading His word. Learn the passages that are most significant to you and if you can’t learn them at least keep on reading them off your phone or on a piece of paper kept in your pocket.
And just as we need special times together with our spouse to nourish our relationship so also we need special times with Jesus. In the middle of everyday activities there might just be a sense of presence and safety. Then there may be work-times when we are dependent on Him and walking with Him and then there are the concentrated times when we seek – as with Paul – “to know Him”.
The men of Issachar knew what to do – they came onside to David but for us there is an extra level, we may have already committed ourselves to be on side the battle but Jesus calls us to a higher plane to a relationship with Him and to refresh and Renew that relationship on a regular basis, Restore and Re-dedicate. Remember Phil 3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings”. To know Him and to make Him known.
• Encouraging each other (another “task”), looking after each other, today
• With glimpses of Glory to keep us focussed and keep us worshipping
• SING! Singing praise songs together.
And then that theme we mentioned to start with, co-existing responses with appropriate emotions of
• We mourn – for the suffering Church, for our brothers and sisters
• We feel grief for our nation – Jesus cried over Jerusalem; remember Ezekiel 9 where the angel strikes dead everyone who did not have the mark on the forehead signifying their grief for the city
• We have excitement for tomorrow – “and when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” Lk 21:28
• And we have joy for today
Be Awestruck Every Day…
Jesus, who calls us “brothers”, is our High Priest,
sitting in power and majesty at the right hand of
the throne of God, making intercession for us!!
Every day, remember. Be awestruck. Be
grateful. Be humble. And persevere in the
knowledge of this amazing fact
Darlington Christian Fellowship 24 Feb 2019.
Original Source: http://www.chooselifeaustralia.org.au/life/the-church-under-attack-a-church-equipped-for-the-times/