Friday, July 4, 2014

Hey Christian! Yeah, I'm Talkin' To You

It is late on the night of July 3rd. We are about to begin another Independence Day celebration. I am most certainly grateful for the freedoms provided first by God the Father and secondly by our men and women who have served  and those who are still serving in our military as well as those who gave their lives in service.

It is during this time of year that we hear one particular passage of scripture over and over again. Most of us know it by heart, but I wonder how many of us have taken the time to consider, in detail what the passage means. I am referring to 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (NKJV)

As I listened to the news this week about the fight for religious freedom being won by Hobby Lobby in court as well as the usual litany of  crimes in the cities and reports of politicians breaking laws from the top down, the state of our nation is a concern. The media definitely projects an image of a culture that is largely rejecting Christianity. Whether that image is true or not on the large scale is not certain, but the media at least makes a good play to establish that perception.

However, it is without question that things are not like they used to be. Christian ideals are not as widely accepted as they used to be. Without lodging a scathing rebuke, I pose that the body of Christ worldwide is largely at fault. We have ceased to be flavor-full salt and have become not much more than a dim bulb in the darkness of the world. Now, don't stop reading, because my purpose is not to discourage or convey a sense of hopelessness. Rather, I want to us 2 Chronicles 7:14 to offer hope. I want to take a look at the profound message that is packed into this single verse of scripture.

First, notice to whom it is addressed: "My people..." It is address to those who already belong to God through Christ. It is addressed to Christians. The nation of Israel rose and fell based on their obedience to God. When they obeyed and honored Him, they prospered. When they turned away from Him they suffered and struggled. I believe God is still responding the same way to our sin.

Second, notice to whom we are attributed: "called by My name". The first question we need to ask is: "Are we just borrowing His name or are we living in it?" Is "Christian" just what we are called or  is it who we are? Also, the name belongs to God and when you mention His name you also refer to His character. When we are called by His name, we have a great image to maintain...not ours, but His (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Third, notice for whom we are answerable: "humble themselves". You and I are not in charge of humbling anyone but ourselves. We must major on that and serve others in our humility. We must be the first example of humility rather than waiting on someone else to lead the way. (James 4:6-10).

 Fourth, notice to whom we are to appeal: "pray". Our prayers TO God demonstrate our dependence ON God. Our prayers are not a "gimme list". They are communion. Communion is two-way communication. That means that sometimes we have to sit still and listen as well as speak. The good news is that God's mention of the need for prayer means He is waiting intently to hear from you, just like the father of the prodigal son watched intently for the return of his son (Luke 15:11-24).

Fifth, notice to whom we are to appear. "seek". We are to actively pursue God and the things of God rather than our interests which is what got us into trouble in the first place. It's not that God is lost, but we turned away and lost sight of him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I grew up in South Florida. We lived within five miles of the beach and so we got to visit quite often. It didn't take long to learn that when you get in the water, you need to pay attention to where you laid your belongings. If we got to playing, we might very soon find that the current had swept us down the beach a quarter mile or more in a very short time. If we kept our eyes on our belongings, we could easily correct. Our belongings were our mark. For the believer, the Bible shows us God's mark for where we ought to be in our relationship with Him. We must keep our eyes on the mark (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Sixth, notice whom we are to adore: "My face". When you look into someone's face it is an intimate encounter. Generally, we will not sustain a look with someone with whom we are not close. Moses had a very intimate relationship with God (Exodus 33:11). We need to have a daily, intimate encounter with God. This means looking deep into His word to know more of who He is. It also means when you find something you don't understand in His word, you take the time to dig or to ask until you find the answer so you can more fully know Him.

Seventh, notice to what we are to attain: "turn". This is the same as the word "repent". We must turn away from sinfulness and selfishness and turn back to God (Revelation 2:5).

Eighth, notice our natural affinity: "their wicked ways". Notice they are your wicked ways (Jeremiah 17:9). The devil doesn't make you do it. Your wicked heart (and mine) comes up with this stuff on its very own. It is called "sin nature". We are all born with it, yet God doesn't allow us to excuse it. He dealt with it through Christ's death on the cross. This is how He offers grace to us. He has paid the penalty out of His love for you and me.

Up to this point we have been called to action by God. Once we have given attention to these things, God is the one who acts from this point on. The word "then" is the turning point that gives us the hope we need when we realize we have blown it.

First, notice God's action: "I will...". God is always active but we don't always see His action. Sometimes He waits until we are in the right spiritual place to learn from Him.

Second, notice God's attention: "I will hear". Once we allow God's grace to do its restoring work, our fellowship with Him will be restored (1 Peter 3:12).

Third, notice our prayers' aptitude: "from heaven". Once we are right with God, our prayers know no boundaries too high or distances too great. God hears our prayers wherever we are even though He is more awesome than we can imagine.

Fourth, notice God's absolution: "forgive their sin". God's grace is always sufficient. It has no end, yet we should not take it for granted. Rather, we should treasure it and honor God out of our gratitude.

Finally, notice what repentance achieves: "heal their land". Many say that their sins are okay as long as they don't hurt anyone else. All sin hurts others. When believers sin, not only do we lose fellowship with God, we forfeit the power of God and hinder the influence of God's grace on others. When we bear the name Christian, we are a reflection on God's character. When we are a bad reflection,we mar His name. When we sin we spread the influence of selfishness and pride rather than total surrender and dependence on God.

As you can see in the news daily, our nation has been infected with this sickness and is in need of healing. God is sufficient for that healing, but you and I need to be the first step in the process. We must humble ourselves, repent and surrender to God once again starting today.

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

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