The Advent of Joy

December 16, 2014

Advent-Candles“The root of joy for the Christian, is the truth of joy in the Son.”

 

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one to save;  He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” (

                            ~ Zephaniah 3:17 ~  

When we think of might we think of physical strength.  It is easy to see how the Israelites missed the coming of their Savior, they were looking for the wrong kind of might. They were looking for a ruler in the might of men to come and deliver them from Roman tyrants.  God sent them a baby, born in a barn, who slept his first night in someone else’s clothes, at the bottom of an animal food trough.  He then spent the majority of His human life in quiet obscurity as a carpenters son.  Finally, when He was revealed to His people as the Son of God and King of Israel, it was not at a grand coronation in a King’s court, but in a garden outside His own tomb, before a few women who had come to visit His grave. Listen to Paul in his letter to the Romans,

“the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”
                            ~ Romans 1:1-4 ~

This is not how we would have done it.  But it is marvelous in our eyes.  To know that now Christ Jesus is not only seated at the Father’s right hand, but that He rejoices over us.  He is not seated on the Throne with a stern look upon His face, but He is exulting over us with loud singing.  This incredible scene of love does bring a quiet over my soul.  I get quiet so I can listen to the joy of my Savior.  The root of joy for the Christian, is the truth of joy in the Son.
Soli Deo Gloria

Scripture Readings for the Week of December 14, 2014
Advent Theme: Joy

Sunday              December 14        Luke 3:7-18
Monday             December 15        Isaiah 12:1-6
Tuesday            December 16        Isaiah 52:1-12
Wednesday      December 17        Psalm 126
Thursday          December 18       Zechariah 9:9-17
Friday               December 19        Zephaniah 3:14-20
Saturday          December 20        Philippians 4:4-9

Joy to the World by George Fox University Orchestra

O Come All Ye Faithful by Kings College Choir

 

The Advent of Peace

December 10, 2014

Advent-Candles

Devotional Thought from Ezekiel 34:11-31
Peace can be an illusive thing in this life. Conflict seems to be inscribed on our DNA. In fact, the Bible says that it is.     What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?(James 4:1)” Our sin nature, what the Apostle Paul calls, “the flesh” causes conflict, quarrels, and war. It is important for us to realize however, that our primary war is not with other men. Our primary war, the one raging in all human hearts, is against God. The Apostle Paul, again, describes the human condition

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

                            ~ Romans 1:28-32 ~

Yet God, after all our actions to the contrary, says in Ezekiel 34:25 that He is going to establish with us a “covenant of peace”. God ended the conflict. God resolved His justice. God initiated an end to the war. He did not send a general to conquer and destroy us, but he sent his only begotten son to save us. God became man, the incarnation, was the end of the war. Listen closely to the angels in Luke 2, and celebrate that there is now a “covenant of peace” between God and man, made by the God-man, Immanuel, Jesus Christ our Lord.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
                                    Luke 2:8-14  

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Readings for the Week of December 7th

Sunday         December 7        Isaiah 2:1-5
Monday        December 8        Isaiah 11:1-9
Tuesday        December 9        Isaiah 54:11-17
Wednesday   December 10       Ezekiel 34:11-31
Thursday      December 11       Zechariah 8:9-17
Friday           December 12       Psalm 85
Saturday       December 13       1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

 

Carols for this week

O Little Town of Bethlehem performed by the St Louis Boys Choir

Silent Night performed by the American Boys Choir

 

 

 

The Advent of Hope

December 2, 2014

Advent-CandlesA Devotional Thought based on Isaiah 40:1-11

We are fragile beings. Jesus will say our life is like a vapor or a mist, here right now and then gone in a flash, blown away by nothing more than a gentle breeze. To a child, 70 years seems a long time. To a 70 year old person, it was just yesterday that they were a child. Life is fragile, and life is short. It is easy to lose hope and to begin to wonder, “How can I stand before God?”.  Isaiah 40 gives us a word picture to describe the especially fragile condition of our soul before God’s Holy Word, when he says,

“A voice says, Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”    
                                ~ Isaiah 40:6-8 ~

But then the prophet gets a vision of the GOOD NEWS! He is told to get up on the top of Mount of Zion (the Temple Mount) and shout and tell everyone that the Lord is coming with power and an outstretched arm. That He is bringing with Him a reward (eternal life) for His people. The Lord is coming to them, and they should be on the look out for Him. But instead of looking for a mighty military general to throw off the empires of the world, they are told to look for a shepherd. Because that’s what we need, a Great Shepherd for our souls. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:11). We have a Shepherd who has overcome sin and death, and who WILL reward His people with eternal life. A shepherd that knows their fragile human condition, because He would come and bear it. That’s the Incarnation. That’s not a maybe hope, that is a sure hope.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
            
                                ~ Matthew 12:18-21~

Soli Deo Gloria

Devotion from Psalm 149

September 9, 2014

cross mosaicPsalm 149:1-5

[1] Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! [2] Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! [3] Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! [4] For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. [5] Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.

 

One of the reasons why I choose a solitary quiet place for prayer is, when I sing, I really don’t want any one to hear me but the Lord. It’s awful. I truly make a joyful noise, but it’s more noise than anything. I love to sing however. I especially love to sing the older hymns. As far as I’m concerned there is no better song than Nearer My God to Thee. If you don’t know it, or have never heard it, then your church is robbing you of not just of a good song, but they are disinheriting you of the rich Christian tradition that is rightfully yours . Uh, oh, I said the T word didn’t I. Tradition is not a bad word at all. Sure it can lead to some bad things. But don’t blame tradition for that, it is ungodly men in the present that disturb the church with either an unhealthy love for or hatred of what they perceive as tradition. Interesting that I would bring up tradition when the Psalm plainly says, “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song”. It does not mean to write a new song, it means sing to God with a renewed heart. The song may be old, or new, the age of the song does not matter. It is the state of the singer that is being addressed here. The Psalmist draws our attention to why we should be singing in verse 4, “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.” Consider that phrase. Let it roll around in your mind for a minute. THE LORD TAKES PLEASURE IN HIS PEOPLE! God takes pleasure in you. When He thinks you, He sings over you. When you sing you are harmonizing not just with Angels in the worship of God, but there is a song of love that is being sung over you as well. So, when you go to the Lord, go with joy. When nobody is looking, dance. If you play an instrument, play a song and sing to the Lord. Let the first thought you have in the morning be, “the LORD takes pleasure in his people”. Let your last thought at night be, “he adorns the humble with salvation.”

Devotions from Psalm 1

September 8, 2014

Psalm 1
[1] Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. [4] The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. [5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; [6] for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

Who is the man that is blessed? The answer to that question is not the one typically given by the American Christian. The answer is not “the guy with the most stuff”, or “the guy with the most friends”. The answer is, “The man who doesn’t listen to, or surround himself with, or receive honor from the men of the world.” He has no desire for the woold pathrld’s vanity fair. He is in the world, but he is not of it. The blessed man desires above all to hear from the Lord, to be surrounded by the presence of the Lord, to be honored by the Lord. So he grows in patience and stability. He is willing to wait. He puts down deep roots next to the stream that flows from the Throne of God. He fills his mind with God’s Word. Patience has its perfect work in his life. The blessed man grows into a substantial person, one not blown about by every wind of doctrine. He bears fruit in season. When he is a young father with small children, he blossoms into a man concerned with their early needs. When his children are grown or nearly so, he becomes a mentor to young men, those without his wisdom, either those who themselves are now young fathers, or those that are young men who never had the benefit of a father. When he gets a little snow on the roof (or the roof falls out), his counsel matures even further as the many years of interaction with the holy Word and the Holy Spirit substantially change him. His words are fewer, but they are full. While the men of the world grow lighter, and more afraid of the future as their bodies weaken and their strength fades. The father in the faith grows in glory, in eternal weight, as he reflects the glory of His heavenly Father. He knows God and is known by God. He is a man with unexplainable peace. He is sure of his future with the Lord. He is occasionally afflicted with doubt, we all are from time to time. But those periods of spiritual disturbance grow shorter and shorter. He is a blessed man, and the Lord’s blessing does not end in this life. It is just a foretaste of the joy to come.

Application

1.    Seek the honor that comes from the Father alone. Abandon all attempts to impress or to find validation from the men on the world.

2.    Put down deep roots into the waters of God. Spend daily time with Him in His Word. Let your mind be filled with the Truth of God.

3.    Don’t look for instant gratification. You will bear fruit in season. Let patience have its perfect work in you. Much of the spiritual life happens by increments. You are a tree, not a weed.

4.    Surround yourself with other men who desire to be “blessed” men as well

Preparing Our Hearts cross mosaic

Psalm 51:3-12
[3] For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  [4] Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  [5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.  [6] Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  [7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  [8] Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  [9] Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.  [10] Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  [11] Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  [12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

1. Perhaps there is some sin that lies heavy upon your heart.  Take a moment and consider the fitness of your soul

2. Ask the Lord to teach you the deeper wisdom of His way and to grant you a willing spirit,  not just to walk in His way but to forsake your own completely

3. Perhaps you feel that your heart needs to be created anew, that your spirit has become crooked, and you are lacking in peace and joy.  Confess your sins then AND RECEIVE the promise of forgiveness in Christ.  Sometimes we only give our sins to the Lord but refuse to or forget to receive forgiveness.  Hear the words of Jesus spoken to the paralyzed man, “Son (or daughter), your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)

Songs for the Week open hymnal

I am so thankful that Ms. Christy Hunt has agreed to begin to lead our singing each week.  Her first week leading us was wonderful, and I look forward to all of us learning some new and old songs together.

Holy Holy Holy by the Kings College Choir

God Be Merciful To Me by Indelible Grace

Brokenness Aside by All Sons and Daughters

Abide With Me by Indelible Grace

 

Scripture Readings open bible

Acts 2:14a; 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

 

Sermon Synopsis

Last night we continued our Sermon Series through “The Lord’s Prayer”, focusing for the second week in a row on “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.  Last week we spent some time looking at the conscience, an under taught on topic in the Church.  We looked at the role of the conscience especially in regards to it needing to be purged from “dead works to serve the Living God”.  We cannot approach God in our own righteousness, whatever we dream that may be.  Whether ceremony, service, or charity, none of these can erase the blot of sin upon our soul.  “Nothing in our hands may we bring, only to the cross may we cling.”  Once purged from these “dead works” by the saving work of Christ however, we stand before the Lord in a New Covenant, never needing cleansing again.pulpit

But then, we find that there is still corruption in us, and that we need to further seek the forgiveness and mercy of God.  It is important for us that all our dealings are built upon the grace of God.  Therefore Jesus has us begin praying not, “Lord forgive me”, but rather, “Our Father”.  It is four petitions into The Lord’s Prayer before we are told to seek forgiveness from God.  John 13:1-11 was the text we ended with last night, and in it we find Jesus telling Peter that he only needed his feet cleansed not his whole body.  This is analogous to us.  Christ has made us clean.  It is only our feet that need cleansing, and this is the type of cleansing that we seek from God now that in Christ we may call Him, “Our Father in Heaven”.

 

Children’s Catechism Questions catechism

86.    What does the fourth commandment teach us?
A.    To keep the Sabbath holy

87.    What day of the week is the Christian Sabbath?
A.    The first day of the week, called the Lord’s Day.

88.    Why is it called the Lord’s Day?
A.    Because on that day Christ rose from the dead.

89.    How should the Sabbath be spent?
A.    In prayer and praise, in hearing and reading God’s Word, and in doing good to our fellow  men.

90.    What is the Fifth Commandment?
A.    The Fifth Commandment is, Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days maybe long in the land that the Lord thy God has given thee

upcoming events

05.03.14 Hickory Hollow Farmers Market from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm located @ 5434 Bell Forge Ln East (next to the Antioch Post Office)

05.04.14 Our inaugural weekly meal is coming up next week.  I am excited about this addition to our worship gathering.  This weeks meal theme is italian food.  If you need more info about what to bring email Melissa Mundy at junglegirl94@juno.com.

05.24.14 We are in the process of planning a cookout and game night as well so stay tuned

Mission

Matthew 28:19-20

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Downtown

 

family prayingThy Kingdom Come

What we think about God does matter. A. W. Tozer, said this, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” One of the reasons it is so important is that if we perceive God in either His disposition or in His attributes wrongly, it will be nearly impossible for us to build an intimate loving relationship with Him through prayer. Tozer also said this,

 

“That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence.”

 

What did he mean? He meant this. It is one thing to confess, “I have been adopted by God and I am now one of His children”, and a whole other thing to actually believe, cherish, and live in that truth. It is one thing to confess that, “God is good, holy, and just.” It is another thing to relate to, and interact with Him as such. I believe this is why the Lord Jesus would have us begin our prayers by recognizing God as our Heavenly Father. That we know His fatherly disposition towards us is very important. Either we are drawing near to our beckoning heavenly Father, or, we are drawing near to a demanding Holy Judge. One of these is a delight to come to, the other, repels us.

 

Once we accept that God is our heavenly Father, a new question arises, “What is He like?” This is where meditation upon God’s attributes, or “hallowing” His name comes into play. We learn of Him as we learn of His actions in the world via the Holy Scriptures. We see in them His Law, His judgments, His protections, His promises, His blessings, His curses, His forgiveness, etc, etc. As we learn and meditate upon God’s Word we come to know Him. This prepares us to be able to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Let me explain.

 

I am married and have been for 16 years. I have five children ranging in age from 15 down to 5. I would hope that they know how much I love them because I have demonstrated it to them on a daily basis. God did this for us in the Gospel. Jesus dying for us on the cross is God’s daily kiss to us. It is His, “I love you”. But there is another aspect. I would also hope that after having lived with me for so long that they would also know how I would respond in any given situation. I would hope that, in my absence, they would be able to anticipate my will, and act accordingly. In the case of our “Father in heaven”, we learn this through reading and meditating upon God’s Word.   This equips us, who are not in His immediate Presence as of yet, to be able to offer prayers that are shaped by a knowledge of His will.

 

Praying for God’s Kingdom to come on the earth is where we move into what is commonly called intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is when we pray for others, when we speak to God on someone else’s behalf. I would encourage you however, to not just think about your friends sickness, which often takes up much of our intercessory prayer time, but to also think about larger issues as well. Praying for God’s kingdom to come could mean praying that God would end abortion in the U.S., or that He would miraculously close the local abortion clinic. It could mean interceding for the homeless community, which is a community filled with mentally ill people often under demonic influences. It could mean praying for an end to gang violence, or the scourge of fatherlessness, or standing in the gap for drug addiction in your community. It could also mean praying for the removal of institutional evil in your community of national government. Praying for God’s Kingdom to come upon the earth is praying for people that you know that need the Lord’s grace and help, but it is also learning to become like Daniel (the Old Testament prophet) and intercede for your nation.

 

There are many ways to make a list of intercessory prayer requests. Here is one that I suggest. For an entire month choose:

 

A Kingdom Request (abortion, homelessness, etc) ___________________________________

 

Someone in Civil Authority ______________________________________________________

 

An Elder and a Deacon _________________________________________________________

 

An Enemy ___________________________________________________________________

 

Salvation Request _____________________________________________________________

 

Salvation Request _____________________________________________________________

 

Family Members _______________________________________________________________

 

Family Members _______________________________________________________________

 

Family Members _______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

 

Special Requests ______________________________________________________________

family prayingHallowed Be Your Name

In my last article I talked about my personal struggle finding my way to a meaningful life of prayer. I kept at it, making tons of mistakes along the way, but God led me to the eventual enjoyment of a rich, full, and free personal relationship with Him. I found the path to prayer with God through Jesus’ teaching on prayer via what has come to be known as, “The Lord’s Prayer” found in Matthew 6:9-15.

 

[9] Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. [10] Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. [11] Give us this day our daily bread, [12] and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. [13] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [14] For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, [15] but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

I first learned to approach God and enjoy Him as my Heavenly Father. The Gospel of Jesus must permeate our hearts and minds or else, as Martin Luther said, “the world, the flesh, and the Devil” will drive us from Him, which I believe is the sad state of many, many believer’s today. Many trust God for salvation in the future, but never learn to dwell in a “present faith” that continually reconciles them to God, moment by moment. In other words, they believe God will love them in the future, they have faith in that, but they are not sure God loves them in the present, especially in the moment of failure. Unless you come to see God as your Heavenly Father first, everything else about prayer will be illusive to you. God is either your Heavenly Father or He is a Heavenly Judge. You either believe He longs to be with you, and has opened His throne to your every approach, or you believe He wants to punish you, and the way of your approach is filled with the guilt of your shame. What does the Scripture say to you?

 

Hebrews 4:14-16

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

If you are now ready to press on in your prayer journey, trusting God fully as your Heavenly Father, then let us boldly go on and draw near to God, learning next to “hallow” His “name”. But first, I’d like to make a few suggestions on prayer in general.

 

  1. Things you will need

a)    Bible

b)   Song book

c)    Pencil and paper

 

  1. Choose a decent space fit for the occasion, if it can be managed

a)    Familiar place

b)   Private, so that you can comfortably converse with God

c)    Quiet, so you can be still and hear

 

  1. Posture

a)    position of reverence

b)   comfortable enough so its not distracting to your mind

 

  1. Silence

a)    rather than starting by talking, be quiet for a period

b)   push all distractions from your mind

c)    turn off your phone

d)   Use the pad and pencil to jot down stray thoughts that come to mind that might consume your time of silence

 

Now that you are in a quiet, private setting, sitting or kneeling in a posture demonstrating your reverence for God, with our phone off, and your Bible, song book, and pencil and pad before you, let’s get started hallowing the name of God.

 

Hallowing God takes Meditation

Choose a Scripture that expounds something about the nature and character of God to meditate on. I find these passages most often in the Psalms, prophets, and at the ends of the New Testament letters. A good way to build a personal archive of Scriptures to meditate on is when you are reading your Bible, or when you are listening to a sermon, and one of these great passages of the Scripture is pointed out to you, underline it, high light it, or jot it down some where.

 

How do you meditate on passage?

  1. Read it aloud several times slowly, considering it as you read
  2. Then read it several times silently, allowing the key words to lift themselves up to you
  3. Ask your self, What is the Spirit saying to me? Then just listen
  4. Jot down what you hear

 

Singing is a Great Way to Hallow God’s Name

Here is where privacy can really be key, and by key I mean “off key”. I can’t sing “a lick” as they say here in the south, but because I am in a private place I don’t really care, I can just sing out, and praise the Lord. Get your song book out, choose a few songs that really lift up the name and character of the Lord, and let them fly, sing with joy, sing with abandon, sing with your heart. It should be full, as you just spent the last few minutes considering the greatness of your Heavenly Father and the wonder of His attributes. Guess what? You just “hallowed the name of God”.

 

Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come is coming soon, so stay tuned to Solomon’s Porch.  Oh and tell your friends about us if this article has been helpful to you.

 

Soli Deo Glori

family prayingDrawing Near to “Our Father”

I struggled for years just getting started in prayer.  Based on Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:”, I was told that I should start prayer with confession of sin.  So, for about 2 years I dutifully began every scheduled prayer time right there.  Through experience, I came to find this to be a poor place to start.  Here’s why.  Every time I came to God’s throne, I had to wade through my sin.  As a young believer this was very condemning.  Here is what normally happened.  I would start to pray, confessing my sin, and before long I felt like the miserable wretch I actually was, and I began to wonder why God would want to hear from me at all.  Needless to say I didn’t get very far.  After about 15 minutes of that, I was done.

After a while, I pretty much stopped confessing my sin to the Lord.  Then I began to just pray for other people and the things that I needed.  Funny thing, after about 15 minutes I was done with that too.  I also had this nagging feeling that I was not growing closer to the Lord.  It started to feel like God was some cosmic Jeanie hidden in the lamp of prayer.  My prayer life grew empty, and pretty soon, I was skipping that time altogether and just reading my Bible.  I’m a studier, studying is my sweet spot.  So, my fellowship with the Lord did grow as I grew in my knowledge of His Word.  But still, prayer was a glaring weak spot in my walk with Him.  So I did what all studiers do…… I did a prayer study.  It was then I struck prayer gold.  Here’s where I found it.

As a kid, I didn’t grow up in church, so I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer very well.  I thought studying the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:7-14, would be a great place to start a study on prayer.  After all I reasoned, Jesus probably knows a little something about the topic of prayer.  Turns out, my hunch was right, He does.  It was in the first few words of the Lord’s Prayer that I found a wide door that ushered me into the Presence of God, and gave me the beginnings a lifetime love of prayer.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”  (Matthew 6:7b) I began, based on this verse, to start my prayer times by drawing near to my loving Heavenly Father.  I would begin, literally saying, Heavenly Father, I come to you as a son.  I started to understand that I didn’t have to list all my failures before I crawled up into His lap to spend time with Him.  This became especially clear after my first son was born.  Christian (my son) never came running up to me when I got home from work in the afternoon and saying, “daddy, daddy, I completely failed you today”.  Instead he came running and jumped into my arms and just said, “daddy”, and we embraced.  It was the high point of my day.  It was what I looked forward to on my drive home.  I began to understand that because of the Gospel, this is exactly the way (except magnified 10,000 times) that God, our “Heavenly Father”, feels about His people.  He sent His only begotten Son to live and die for us, so that fellowship with Him would not only become possible, but full of unspeakable joy and unfathomable pleasures.  Through drawing near to God as my Father, I came to truly understand what the Psalmist meant when he said, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

This past Sunday our sermon text at Solomon’s Porch was Hosea 9:10-17.  The Book of Hosea provides a lot of opportunities for social commentary, and this passage in particular is one that we need to read and understand in the modern era.  I’ll explain what I mean by the previous statement a little further down in this article.  But first let me make a few general comments to set the stage.

God refers to Israel in verse 10 as “the first fruit on the fig tree in it’s first season”.  I’ve never planted a fig tree, but I have a little experience growing things.  I like to garden.  In order to grow plants and make them fruitful, you have to employ a lot of self-discipline.  With figs, as with other fruit bearing trees, and many vines as well, you must under go years of labor without getting anything from it.  You actually have to pick the blooms off so the tree will put it’s energy into growing up and out, so in the future it can become big enough to support a lot of fruit.  What God is saying here is, I waited and labored over your fathers all those long years, and then it came time for them to bear fruit.  The first fruit in the first season was the Exodus out of Egypt.  Finally, after years of picking off blooms, it was time to eat the sweet fruit of His labor, establishing a nation.  Then the second half of verse 10 tells of a different tale, the tale of Numbers 25:1-9, where His first fruit corrupted themselves with the Midianites, and became like the thing (false god) they loved, detestable.  The story of Numbers 25, as a microcosm, is, in a sense, the history of Israel.  Which is the point of the story.  God’s current dealings with Israel in Hosea’s time period are no different.  God labors, and keeps His Word, while the people rebel against Him at the first opportunity and corrupt the land.  The curse of the Law was coming upon them.  See Deuteronomy 29:16-29, 30:15-20 for a more full explanation.

The Judgment of God

The rest of Hosea 9:10-17 will be centered around a single theme.  Let’s see if we can figure out what that theme is.

[11] Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!  [12] Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left.  Woe to them when I depart from them!

 

[13] Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.

 

[14] Give them, O LORD— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

 

[16] Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit.  Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death.

 

Ok, I underlined it to make it easy.  5 out of the 7 verses mention children.  Specifically, they speak of the judgment of God falling upon the children of the nation.  The themes listed in this passage are infertility, miscarriage, lactation failure, and the horrible loss of life that comes through war.  War and captivity were coming, along with the horrible famine and mistreatment that would accompany God’s judgment on the people of the land.  But I want to take a minute and focus on the overall theme found in this passage.  The theme is this, “When God visits in judgment, His people lose their children”.  Being that we, as the church, are not a nation state with armies and national borders, what would this curse look like when it visited us?

Born Again?

First, I would expect churches to see fewer conversions or “new births”.  The Gospel ministry would begin to fall on deaf ears or not be preached at all because it offends.  Gospel transformations would be at a low-ebb, you’d see people making “decisions for Christ” without the changed life that should accompany the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit.  Baptisms would be fewer and further between.  The ministry would be less fruitful over all, and there would be a general feeling of confusion about why.

According to the U.S Census Bureau, the number of Americans with “no religion” more than doubled between 1990 and 2008

 

According to a study done by Lifeway Research, membership in the Southern Baptist Church is expected to fall by 50% by the year 2050

 

A study done by the Pew Research Group in 2008 found that 52% of all American Christians think that some non-Christian Faiths can lead to eternal life.

 

According to Lifeway Christian Researchers there were 314,959 baptisms in 2012.  That’s the lowest number recorded in 64 years.

Losing Our Children

Second, I would expect to see a mass of exodus of young people out of the church.  Authentic conversions among the children of believing parents would be come scarce.  The church would begin to look generationally one-dimensional.  Many churches that were once vibrant community centers would grow older in membership and die out of natural causes.  A panic would set in among pastors and elders.  They would do everything they could to make the church “fun” and “less churchy” so that younger people would find it engaging and stay.  Still the problem would get worse.  Churches would blame the world with it’s allure of pleasure, or godless government schools, or entertainment culture for the failure.  Few would stop and ask the question, “Is this the curse of God given in Hosea 9:10-17 coming upon us?”  Many pastors would bark back the answer, “of course not!”  “God would never do anything like that to His people!”  These are the kinds of men God warned us about earlier in Hosea 9 when He said in verse 8, “The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways”.  Because here we have God saying the exact opposite, that indeed He would bring judgment upon the children of His people.  At the end of the day, we must understand that it is sin that ravaging our children.  So are we in the midst of God visiting our sin of idolatry with the curses found in Hosea 9:10-17?

A study conducted by the Barna Group discovered that nearly 60% of all Christians in the 15-29 year old age bracket are no longer actively involved in any church.

 

A Study done by Answers In Genesis found that among those that attended a Youth Group in an evangelical Bible believing church for at least 1 year in High School, only 11% were still active in a Christian Church.

 

Pew Research found that the younger you are, the more likely you are not to be affiliated with a religion.  9% of U.S. adults 65 and older have no religious affiliation while 32% of U.S. adults under 30 have no religious affiliation.

 

I would say, as a pastor who has felt for a long time that God was judging His people due to the anecdotal evidence of his own experience, that hard social science is now confirming that my experience is common to the American church as a whole.  I believe I can say pretty conclusively at this point that, “we are under the judgment of God”.

 

The Big Trap

What are we to do?  That is the question we need to ask.  How do we respond to having our eyes opened to the reality of what is going on around us.  I think first we need to avoid falling into the big trap of thinking, “Wow, this is too big for me, the church needs to do something about this!”  I would not wait for institutional churches to implement a plan of revival.  Repentance, reformation, and renewal are rarely top down events.  Let me give an example.

I once was at a conference years ago where a man spoke (I cannot remember his name) that had first hand knowledge of the Welsh Revivals in the Hebrides Islands.  He was Welsh himself, and had been converted under Duncan Campbell’s ministry during that period.  He was a very old, more than 80 when I heard him give the testimony I am about to share.  He said to us, “some of you men think that the revival came because Duncan Campbell was such a godly man…… but that’s not true.  The truth is there were two disabled widows were concerned that the youth of the Hebrides were falling away from the truth, and so they prayed for faithfully together that revival would come to the Hebrides.  These two widows called for Duncan Campbell to come, after God revealed to them while praying that he was to come to the Hebrides to preach.  He refused the first invitation and said he wouldn’t be able to come.  Upon hearing the news that Campbell wouldn’t come, the widows replied, “this is man’s answer, but God has said otherwise, and he will be here within a fortnight.”  And he was.  He came to preach for 10 days, but when God moved, stayed for over two years. Watch the story here  The Hebrides Revival was really an answer to prayers prayed by two disabled widows, and few people even know their names.  Do not think that your prayers and labors of love for the Gospel will be forgotten, or that they will be all for nought.  Mighty things have been done because of the prayers of anonymous saints.  The world may not remember your name, but it is written in the book that matters, The Lambs Book of Life.  The problem is too big for you, but, it is not too big for your Heavenly Father.

Take Direct Action

Secondly, and I really can’t stress this enough, we should encourage people to take direct action.  In other words, people should be involved in hands on ministry.  Most people are frozen, waiting for the herd to act, waiting for the institutional church to organize ministry for them.  Folks want nice clean programs they can plug in to.  Biblically, the work of the ministry is committed into the hands of Christians, not the organized entity we often call Church.  I am not bashing the entity, I am a full time pastor that believes strongly in it’s legitimacy.  My issue is that when the church professionals begin to do things that are not by nature part of their callings, they damage the integrity of the Church rather than build it.  We see this in economics all the time.  Whenever you do something for someone that they should do for themselves, the integrity of the person, and then eventually, the entire culture is damaged.  So indefinite welfare creates ghettos and generational poverty.  We must never confuse the purpose of the organized Church.  It is to equip the people for the work of the ministry…… not to organize and execute it.  We must begin, person by person, to take spiritual responsibility for our selves, our families, and our neighborhoods. Institutions don’t love people, people love people.  Top down corporate Christianity has created ministry ghettos.  Places where nothing gets done without ministry professionals.  We’ve disempowered Christians.  In our zeal to have Biblically ordered churches with Elders and Deacons (these are good things btw), we concentrated ministry into “only” or “nearly only”  their hands.  We often have gifted, responsible, godly believers asking permission to perform ministry in their community that God has called all Christians to do.  We should embrace and encourage direct action, unleashing the ministry potential that is sitting dormant in our pews because we stifled it by seeking to grow the rolls our churches, rather than seeking to grow the Church.  There is a not so subtle difference.  If we want to be a place that bears fruit for the Kingdom, we have to have the environment necessary to grow the plants (ie. Disciples).  Right now, most of us just don’t.

Transformative Worship

Finally, what is the focus of your heart?  Forget everyone else.  The Israelites in Numbers 25 “came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.”

(Hosea 9:10 ESV)  This spiritual truth is retold in opposite form in the New Testament where we are told that, ”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17,18)  What am I driving at here?  The truth is that worship is transformative.  If we worship the wrong things we become detestable like the thing we worship.  If we worship the Lord, we are transformed into His image, from glory to glory.  But worship is more than singing songs at church gatherings.  It is surrendering your life to the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is giving your all, your everything to Him.  All the great songs we sing are charades without surrendering our lives to Him.  Here is where we stand or fall because there really is no middle ground.  We are either worshipers or idolaters.  Is your life whirling around Jesus Christ like a planet around the sun, or is it a frantic running from one thing to the next, colliding, crashing, peace-less, and joyless?  Are you drawn by the Spirit to the deep places of God’s Spirit, uncovered and open before Him?  Or are you content with this American life?  Do you pray?  Do you fast?  Do you long for the coming of the Kingdom?  Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Do you commune regularly with the Holy Triune God?  Is your soul anorexically thin from not feeding on Christ in the Scriptures on a regular basis?  Worship is transformative, it shapes the soul and changes the person.  While I am ending here, I really think this is the place we should all start, in the Presence of the Holy.  Until we see Him, nothing will change, because it can’t.  In the word’s of Thomas Watson, “fly to Him”.

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