by Pastor Linton Smith
This week the West Australian reported on the results of the 2006 Census. The report noted that the number of people who call themselves Christians has gone down since 1996 from 71% to 64% and commented that WA has emerged as one of the least religious Sates in the country [WA 28-6-07]
What can be done to turn the tide? We often respond by looking to others to fix the problem and then criticise them because they do not.
That will not do. It is down to each of us.
So our question today is this:
What can we do to revive our selves and the church?
The answer: We can draw near to God!
In his short letter, James writes to a group of Christians who seem to be obsessed with pleasure and making money. They brag and boast and slander others. [Read chapter 4!]. He reminds them that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.. urges them to submit to God and resist the devil..
and then says.. James 4:8 [New King James Version]..
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Today I invite you to consider three people who drew near to God.. and see how drawing near to God impacted their lives and the lives of others.
One of Judah’s greater kings reigned 52 years. He died in 740 BC. That year Isaiah had a life-changing experience. He tells us about it in..
Isaiah 6:1-8.. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Under the rule of Uzziah, Judah had become a powerful nation and Uzziah had become famous. Later in his life his fame went to his head and he did something foolish. He went into the Temple to burn incense – something that only priests were permitted to do. He was smitten with leprosy and remained a leper until the day he died.
In the year he died the young Isaiah went into the Temple.
What was on his mind? The future.. how will Judah fare now without Uzziah?
I think we could call it a time of crisis. He drew near to God.. and what a life changing experience it was!
He saw the Almighty God.. the Holy God.. and felt totally undone.. sure he must die.. for he - a sinner - had glimpsed the high and holy God..
But one of the seraphim that surrounded God.. flew to him.. and touched his lips with a live coal from the altar.. touched his mouth with it.. and told him his guilt was taken away.. Then Isaiah heard the voice of God.. Whom, shall I send? Who will go for us.. and Isaiah responded.. Here am I. Send me.
He went among his people.. a prophet seeking to turn them back to God.. but they would not listen.. I guess we would say he was a failure. But his words have been recorded.. some of the grandest words in the Bible.. and he spoke of the Lord’s Servant who would come.. He spoke of Jesus.. spoke of His suffering.. 700 years before He was born.
In a time of crisis he drew near to God. He glimpsed the holiness of God.. felt totally undone.. was forgiven.. and sent out to preach!
His own life was changed.. and what he did and said and recorded has had an incredible impact on millions of people.
Asaph was a choir leader in the Temple. He experienced a personal crisis of faith. He tells us about it in..
Psalm 73:2,3.. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked..
While he was leading the choir.. serving God in the Temple.. others were blithely ignoring God and getting richer and richer. Asaph looked at them.. and at himself.. and asked, Why am I serving God? I am a fool.. they are arrogant and wicked.. but look at them.. how they prosper. I am wasting my time.
He said to himself..
Psalm 73:13-17.. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
It got him down. His own life was falling apart.. but he refused to give voice to his doubts.. because he did not want to betray God’s people.. to let them down.. give them reason to doubt..
Feeling like this.. he went into the sanctuary.. drew near to God. There he got things back in perspective. There he saw the final destiny of these arrogant and godless people.. a destiny without God.. He goes on..
Psalm 73:27,28.. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
He begins the Psalm.. but as for me.. my feet had almost slipped.. and ends.. But as for me.. it is good to be near God!
In a time of personal crisis he drew near to God.. and was revived!
What if this man had not drawn near to God? He would have become increasingly bitter! And we would not have this great Psalm.
What a blessing it has been to countless people down through the centuries.. to people who have felt like Asaph.. thinking like this..
‘I am a Christian. I put God first and what do I get? Look at me.. I am ill, loved ones have died of cancer or been killed but out there the godless ones are getting richer and richer with none of the problems afflicting me. I must be on the wrong side.’ Then, reading this Psalm, they have got things back in perspective.
My destiny is to be with God beyond this life. Their destiny is hell
We turn now to the New Testament. It is just a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Peter is in Joppa.. on the flat roof of a house.. looking out over the Mediterranean. Luke tells us..
Acts 10:9-16.. About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
At noon he went up on the roof to pray. I suggest he did this most days.. it was part of his routine.. to draw near to God in prayer.. This day.. he was hungry.. thinking about food.. fell into a trance.. and saw something like a large sheet.. full of unclean animals.. animals and reptiles and birds that he.. a good Jew.. would never eat. Then a voice.. Kill and eat. No way! Then the voice again.. Do not call impure anything that God has made clean.
Peter was pondering the vision.. and as he did so.. the Spirit told him three men were looking for him.. go downstairs.. do not hesitate to go with them.. They had come to invite him to Caesarea.. to speak to their master.. a Roman soldier..
And Peter went. I suspect had he not had this vision.. he would not have gone.. because they were not Jews.. and they were inviting him to go into a non Jewish home.. but he went.. spoke to them.. and they believed his message about Jesus.. and were given the Holy Spirit just as he and the others believers had been on the day of Pentecost. Peter was now convinced. God wanted Gentiles.. also.. to believe and be part of the church.
Some time later this became a big issue in the church.
We read about it in..
Acts 15:5-11.. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
In a nutshell, some of them were saying, It is alright for gentiles to believe.. but we cannot accept them into the church unless they are circumcised.. unless they become just like us first. The apostles and elders met.. lengthy discussion followed.. and then Peter swayed their thinking.. he reminded them how God had shown him he was to preach to the gentiles.. and what God had done!
And they were convinced.
What if Peter had not drawn near to God that day.. not had that vision.. not heard the Spirit say.. go with these men.. and had refused.. It is just possible the Jewish believers would have stayed to themselves.. but..
Peter drew near to God .. and the course of the early church was changed!
The months of August and September are full of possibilities. A great time to draw near to God.. to open ourselves up to Him.. who knows what He will do?
The way is open for us to draw near to God. Jesus has opened the way for us. He died as the perfect sacrifice to deal with our sin and guilt, has risen, is at the right hand of God the Father.. our great High Priest.. and invites us to draw near..
Hebrews 10:19-22.. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.. and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God..
How do we draw near? With humility.. confession of sin.. ready to listen!
Draw near now.. this week.. and in the months ahead..
Make the effort to draw near to God with other believers!
I do not know. But I do know that it is right here.. in drawing near to God.. that significant change and blessing begins.
Who can tell what God will do!
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