Do you want God to pull this country back from the abyss?

God drove his people into exile because they had closed their ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed. The people were disgraced, and disaster befell their city. Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he heard the news and he begged God to restore the people:

“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.'” (Nehemiah 1:8-9 NLT’96)

But before Nehemiah asked “the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love” (v.5) to keep that promise of restoring his people and their city, Nehemiah confessed that the people — and even his own family — “have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, laws, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (v.7)

A generation of American Christians has been crying out for revival, for the Spirit of God to move among his people and bring the country to metanoeo. We are distressed that so many churches are in membership decline. We are worried about the chaos enveloping our society. A few of us are desperately praying for the Almighty to move in great power.

God will honor our prayer, as he honored Nehemiah’s, when we come to a point of heartbroken confession that we — even our own families — have sinned terribly, on at least these two counts:

– We are better Americans than we are Christians. We grew churches more concerned about membership than discipleship, and we drank deeply of a culture that values self-fulfillment over self-sacrifice. We have tried to serve two masters and failed to love the one who died to save us.

– We have not obeyed the Lord’s command to care for the poor. Politicians set out to expand their power by making the poor dependent on the government. One segment of Christianity abandoned the gospel of individual new birth for a false gospel of communal rebirth by government program. And because pursuing the American Dream requires our complete devotion, we turned our backs on the poor and oppressed.

The fall’s new TV shows should be enough to break a believer’s heart for this broken, confused nation. Even a glance at the evening news should provide a clue about the rage that simmers among our neglected neighbors.

Are you concerned about the decline of our churches? Do you want to see God move in power to keep this country out of the abyss? Then let us confess we have sinned terribly and return to obedience. Let us learn what it means to do justice and begin to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.

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Five reasons to be confident about your salvation

If you keep following Jesus’ Way, you will reach your destination — the full, free, and forever life. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 gives five reasons you can be completely confident of that: (1) the Lord can be trusted to keep his promise, (2) God is the one who makes you strong, (3) God himself protects you from the evil one, (4) God’s love for you is deeper than you understand, (5) the ability to endure is supplied by Christ himself.

But don’t miss the other crucial truth here. Those amazing promises bookend an emphasis on always practicing the commands we have been given. God’s promises are for his people, and his people are the ones who walk in his ways.

The passage is my prayer for you today: “But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one. And we are confident in the Lord that you are practicing the things we commanded you, and that you always will. May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God and the endurance that comes from Christ.”  (NLT’96)

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Too beautiful to be merely an accident

starry_night_skyListening to Psalm 19:1-4 this morning:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (NLT’96)

This past weekend, we stared in amazement at the night sky as we stood in the parking lot of Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula, Alabama. Away from Atlanta’s lights, we were mesmerized by the beauty and vastness of the starry firmament. The words of Psalm 19 cannot help but rise to your lips.

Paul tells us in Romans 1:19-20 that God eternal power and divine nature are plain to everyone, because God has made it plain through his creation. When it comes to giving God the respect he deserves, we are without excuse. Yet many who position themselves as scientists today go to great lengths to deny what is obvious to even the simplest soul: What we see around us is too beautiful to be merely an accident.

Hugh Ross, in The Creator and the Cosmos, lists 26 scientific evidences that the universe is too finely tuned to be an accident, and 33 evidences our solar system was designed specifically to support life. Even the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show, the scientific hypothesis) sounds awfully like the work of a Creator who took a formless void and created an entire universe.

If you’re inclined toward such things and haven’t read the book, it’s essential reading. If not, get out away from the lights on a starry night, and quote Psalm 19:1-4 as you gaze in wonder at the astronomical testimony to our amazing Creator!

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God will protect his treasure

This morning I’m listening to Zechariah 2.

The prophet reminds me that God punished his people for tolerating injustice and oppression. He exiled them to Babylon, until his glory was re-established among them. But now the time of exile was over and God was ready once again to defend his precious people.

“After a period of glory, the LORD Almighty sent me against the nations who oppressed you. For he said, ‘Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession. I will raise my fist to crush them, and their own slaves will plunder them.’ Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me.” (Zechariah 2:8-9 NLT’96)

You can understand this passage in terms of the fall of Babylon. You can hear the promise of Messiah, the one sent by the Almighty to “proclaim justice to the nations.” (Matthew 12:17-21)

But listen also for God’s heart about those who desire harm against the people of his First Covenant — and his New Testament people. Do you hear a warning for those who make themselves enemies of God’s people? Do you sense God’s judgment being meted out against our country today? Any people who tolerate injustice and oppression will find themselves crushed by God’s might.

The prophet delivers a word of warning from the LORD, but he also brings encouragement and hope:

“The LORD says, ‘Shout and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. Many nations will join themselves to the LORD on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the LORD Almighty sent me to you. The land of Judah will be the LORD’s inheritance in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city. Be silent before the LORD, all humanity, for he is springing into action from his holy dwelling.'” (Zechariah 2:10-13 NLT’96)

The LORD springs into action to execute judgment, but he also rushes to live among his people and draw the nations to himself. God’s people are precious to him, his own inheritance in the world. If you are among them, you are his treasure.

Be silent before him, and watch in awe as he brings powerful oppressors to their knees. The Day of the Lord is not far away, nor is the coming of his New Jerusalem.

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Though the fields lie empty and barren …

When you have lost everything, you still have the God of your salvation, who gives you strength and fills your heart with joy. The only one who is truly destitute is the one who does not have him.

“I have heard all about you, LORD, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things you have done. In this time of our deep need, begin again to help us, as you did in years gone by. Show us your power to save us. And in your anger, remember your mercy. … Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.” (Habakkuk 3:2,17-19a NLT’96)

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Faith: ‘Use it or lose it’

Faith is not just something you have; it is what you do, or it is not faith at all. Faith is going about your day, doing what Jesus would do in your circumstances. Faith takes the focus off of living my life and puts it on living Jesus’ life in my world — loving my neighbor as myself and helping people in need. Living your faith is what makes it saving faith.

Exercise your faith. Coach says, “Use it or lose it.”

Read James 2:12-22

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‘The truth will set you free’ … ‘if you keep obeying’

Another verse we often quote out of context is John 8:32 – “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The hitch is that knowing the truth is contingent on what comes before the “and.”

That would be verse 31: “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings.'”

They will be set free by the truth as they keep obeying his teachings, and so prove they truly are his disciples. In verse 51, Jesus adds, “I assure you, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!”

Locked in prison, a lifelong criminal knows the truth, but he is not free. The truth is what landed in him in prison. However, let that inmate be transformed by the grace of Jesus and begin walking in obedience to God’s way, and he is free — in spite of the bars that cage him in.

Some people believe in Jesus (that’s who Jesus is addressing in verse 31) but do not keep walking in God’s ways. They are not free, even though they know the truth about Jesus. The full, free, and forever life belongs to those who keep obeying Jesus’ teachings. They are new creatures, truly his disciples, and they will never die!

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