Christianity 201

August 27, 2019

Ezra, Revival, and the Church

The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8

by Russell Young

We may tend to think of spiritual revivals in more recent terms, however Ezra led a revival in the Jewish nation during his day. The Jews had been released from captivity by the Babylonians and Cyrus king of Persia had been “appointed by God”, according to his testimony, to build a temple for the God of heaven in Jerusalem. The city had been deserted during the exile and most of it had been ruined. The returning Jews were ignoring the covenant law and were being assimilated into the surrounding nations through intermarriage and the assumption of their “detestable practices”. They had lost their spiritual identity.

Ezra was alarmed. The Israelites were to be a holy nation separated unto God. Their women had married foreign men and their men, including priests, had married foreign women and many had children from their unions. When Ezra realized what was taking place, he tore his cloak, pulled his hair from his head and beard and sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.

His reaction challenged my heart. I do not recall such concern and anguish over the insult being done to my holy God, the state of my nation, or the practices of my Christian brothers and sisters. Ezra’s torment had not become of such personal concern to me. His alarm was for his people and for the consequences that would befall them for rejecting the covenant law enacted by their faithful God. He felt shame and disgrace.

Unfortunately, the common assumption of God’s “free grace” blinds the eyes to sin’s practice, whether personal or in others, and certainly to any consequences for it. Do you feel God’s pain? His pain is real. Because of the hurt to his heart (Gen 6:6) Christ was charged to destroy the devil’s work (1 Jn 3:8) and to offer up a people who would be acceptable for his eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Are you distraught over your own practices or the practices of others who have claimed “freedom” to live as they wish? Are you concerned about living God’s truth, about walking in the light? (1 Jn 1:7) Ezra knew that the nation of Israel would be blessed through obedience and cursed through defiance of their sovereign Lord. God has not changed, but the assumed grace of God has removed all sense of fear or alarm from many of those who have confessed belief.

A remarkable decision was made. Ezra, the Jewish leaders, and the people decided to send their foreign spouses and children away that the Jewish nation might remain pure. For three rain-filled days the people listened to Ezra and all the people responded and admitted their unfaithfulness. They abandoned their rebellious practice at great price. They had to choose to obey their God or to enjoy their ungodly relationships. This must have been a heart-wrenching time. Like the unfaithful Israelites all those who have confessed Christ as their Lord will be required to make difficult decisions to honor his sovereignty and holiness through the abandonment of unrighteous practices. Paul has written, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) Pleasure can be gained through the flesh, but life through the Spirit. (Jn 6:63) God will not be mocked!

It took the sensitive heart of Ezra to recognize the waywardness of the Jews; they were oblivious to their state. Until the hearts of God’s children become tuned to his heart and their desire becomes focused on living according to his commands, godliness will be aborted and with it life. Many church communities need an Ezra, someone to put the light on the holiness of God and the hurt brought to him through the rebellion and defiance of his law (through Christ) and his will. When the cost of their disobedience to God, self, and others is appreciated revivals will take place, judgment averted, and destruction avoided.

Ezra recognized a problem and did not fail to address it. The first step to spiritual revival comes through recognition that the church has a need. Revival means to re-vive or to bring back to life, to restore, or to renew. Where a body is functioning properly it does not need revival. Introspection and appreciation of the current state needs to be gained although it can become difficult for people to see their own faults and from that recognize their need. Ezra recognized the need, acted, and addressed the people accordingly. Many churches speak of their desire for a revival but consider it most often to be a community need not a church need. Communities need to be awakened, but churches revived. In many cases, the pervading acceptance of God’s “free grace” has eliminated the reality of any need within the body and where many bodies enjoy their supposed freedom, the nation suffers.

The LORD revealed, “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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (or, church). (2 Chr 7:14) During Ezra’s time it was not just the people who had sinned, but the priests as well. Honesty, humility, and repentance are needed for a revival to take place. Has the christian community reached the state of the Lord’s complaint to Isaiah? “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isa 29:13) Corporate worship is easy to orchestrate, but personal godly worship requires complete humility before God and the recognition and practice of his sovereignty. His will must be done starting in the lives of those who covet renewal and the blessing of God’s heart.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

 

February 16, 2014

The Heart Will Fool You

The Heart is Deceitful

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind,to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:9-10).

Our first take on today’s key verse comes from the blog True Church of God and is entitled Trouble Shooting of the Heart.

Take a deep look inside your own heart and mind to see what unrighteousness you have swept under the rug and stuffed in a closet to hide from your own view.   Human nature wants to feel good about self and simply hides much of its evils from self.  Its all still there in the mind, but stuffed out of view from self , so that self can avoid condemning self behavior.   For this reason human nature likes to keep the focus on someone else’s faults; it helps make self feel more just, and righteous; especially if they don’t seem to have the same fault or weakness.

Real repentance involves God helping us to see these evils that we have stuffed in closets and swept under rugs in our minds; and facing the honest truth about our selves; and confessing these things to God in sincere heart felt prayer, and asking him to forgive us and give us strength to not do these evils ever again.  Then we must follow righteousness, and don’t let self repeat these evils.  God shows us some of our sins that we need to repent of when he first calls us; but for the rest of our Christian lives, if we will repent and continue in our conversion and desire it; God will continue little by little to reveal our faults so that we may continue to repent of our evil nature, and grow in the Godly nature.

The more we turn away from sin and obey the righteousness of God; then the more of the Holy Spirit God will give us.  By this means we must Grow in God’s grace until we are Holy as God is Holy.   This growth process does cause some growing pains; but they are not worthy to be compared with what God has in store for his true saints.  The hope that we have in the Kingdom of God is what gives us zeal to continue to put self nature to death, and grow in Christ.  That is why one must truly believe the gospel (good news) as well as repent of sins in order to be baptized into the body of Christ.

The average person commits many sins against God without even being aware of it.  Any disobedience to God is sin; including violating his Holy Law the Ten Commandments.

Most of our sin is directly against our fellow humans also.  When you have wronged someone in deed or word; ask your own heart: why did I do this wrong against this person?  Don’t let your heart get away with just shrugging your shoulders and saying I don’t know; or they had it coming.  Demand an answer from your heart.  Search your own soul to know how to fix what is wrong with your self so that you can always treat other people with the same love and respect that you desire for self.  You can’t fix your neighbors attitude, but if your are willing, you can fix your self, with the help of God.   You can’t fix the problem until you can see it, and acknowledge that it really is a problem that needs fixed.  Ask God in sincere heart felt prayer to show you what you need to fix in your own heart, and nature.   I’ll guarantee you, that if you are truly sincere, God will hear and answer that prayer.

Our second take on this comes from the blog at The Christian Network and is titled Heart Changer.

When we hear that we are broken, that something is terribly wrong with us, it is not the comforting news we wish to hear. We want to be told we are good, kind and loving. Why would we want to hear we are deceitful, greedy, immoral, selfish and evil (Mt 7:11, Gal 5:19-21)? Facing oneself is not easy. The reflection we see in the mirror can be confronting. God does not pull any punches in describing humanity’s condition. In Romans 3:23 we read ALL Have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s universal judgement of the entire human race. The diagnosis, however, does not improve as the Bible’s message unfolds.

The preceding verses to Jeremiah 17:9 announce an ominous warning –  “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. ” (Jer 17:5). Trusting in our own strength or trusting in others strength is a form of idolatry. In other words, trusting in the creation rather than the Creator. Verse 17:9 tells us why this is such an issue. The problem lies within the human heart itself.

Feinberg (1986) states “The source of all human difficulty is the human heart (Prov 4:23). In OT usage the heart signifies the total inner being and includes reason. From the heart come action and will.” Our hearts, our inner being, are far from perfect. Once in a sermon I singled out a man in Church and asked him if I were to place all of his thoughts for the year on a projector screen, that the whole congregation could see, would he be comfortable? He adamantly shook his head. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ lets us know that even our thoughts are vitally important to God – and indeed will be judged. Anger the same as murder, a lustful look the same as adultery (Mt 5). Christ was getting to the core of the matter – the deceitful heart we all carry.

This verse tells us God searches our hearts and looks at our deeds (Eph 2:10, Jm 2:26, 1 Jn 3:18, Rev 2:2, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15). Our deeds carried out in the body will clearly be judged (Rom 2:6-7). To those that persist in doing good there will be reward and to those that persist in doing evil – punishment. How then can we change from having this deceitful and corrupt heart to having one that seeks to do good unto others? Put simply – we can’t, by ourselves it is beyond cure. Only God can do it.

He tells us the cure Himself in Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a newheart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. That new heart is received when we repent and turn to our Savior Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord . Through His Spirit the heart is circumcised. It softens, its hardened exterior cracks (usually in tears) and we in-turn change. Sanctification begins, our healing and metamorphosis initiates. It is then we can literally see the fruit of our good deeds (Eph 2:10). If they are not present, as James  explains – are we really saved at all? If the continuous act of charity (love in action) is not present, what is going wrong? Or are we simply whitewashed walls, still corrupt on the inside and resisting the Holy Spirit in self righteous pride (Acts 7:51).  Billy Graham’s message of the new heart is worthy of note when regarding heart change. Watch it here.

 

 

Click image to source at the blog Chasing After Dear

November 30, 2013

A Time for Sadness

Today, I want to look at three places in scripture where sorrow is prized over joy, the third of which will lead to a fuller devotional reading.  The first one is:

Ecclesiastes 7:2

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
The writer of Ecclesiastes is offering some advice that is hard to take, but life is not all about laughter and hilarity. Elsewhere, he wrote that there is
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Eugene Peterson renders Ecc 7:2 as
You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover
    something from it.
The second instance of this is really the entire book of Lamentations, not to mention the various laments we find in Psalms.  There’s also this example in the book of Joel:
Joel 1:13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.
which I discovered in a search that revealed the number of times a direction to lament is given in the subheadings of the Psalms or the chapter subheadings particular translators have added to supplement the text. In various places, many writers today are noting that we lack a theology of lament, and that our worship times tend to avoid the minor keys insofar as we want our weekend services to be positive and upbeat.
The third instance is today’s study from the book of James, sourced at the blog reVer(sing) Verses.  I encourage you to read this at source.

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  James 4:9

Brief

In James 4 James speak about the need for Christians to submit to God instead of conforming to the evil ways of the world and falling into the traps of the devil. Have you ever been in a scenario when somebody has done something bad, and yet instead of being in remorse, he stands by idly and laughs? That’s what we’re doing when we fail to resist the devil and when we fail to submit ourselves to God [James 4:7|Article]. Did you have a good time when you were out with your friends on a girl’s night yesterday? Did you enjoy yourself with your family and drink and laugh and make merriment? How could you still laugh, when you have done bad in God’s eyes by failing to submit to God and allowing the Satan a foothold in your life? How could you? Essentially, this was perhaps what James was telling us when he demanded the people to grieve, mourn and wail. Ultimately, we are entitled to rejoice in the Lord – surely God wants us to be happy! But we need to turn back to the Lord. We need to submit to God. In today’s study we will examine why we should change our laughter to mourning and what it really means.

Analysis

Grieve, mourn and wail – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a researcher on emotions or a psychologist to understand that a person is not happy when he is wailing. A person is not joyful when he is grieving. A person is not in joy when he is mourning. A person is sad, devastated and distressed when he grieves, mourns and wails at the same time. But why? Why should we grieve? Why should we be sad? James tells us to grieve, because we are double-minded, because our hearts are not pure, because we have sinned, because we have turned away from God [James 4:8]. James tells the people to mourn because they have been an adulterous people, and they have become friends with the world, which means that they have made enemies with God. James tells us to wail, because God is there, and he will give us if we ask him, but we do not turn to him and instead we kill, we battle, we quarrel and we fight in order to get what we covet.

Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom – If your joy comes from acts of sin, you should mourn instead of laughing. If your laughter stems from the things you do when you turn away from God, you ought to grieve. All sins should be mourned for, because the wages of sin is death [Rom 3:23]. And no matter how comfortable and secretive we are today with our iniquities, no matter how we can get away with our sins today, we can be sure that our sins will find us out [Num 32:23].

Is that to say that as sinners, we can only grieve and be sad? Is there no joy for us? Is there no hope for us? Is it wrong for us to gain joy, or to enjoy ourselves? No, I most certainly do not think so. James was clearly talking about the people who have turned their backs against God, and instead of worshiping God, instead of finding joy from God, they are finding joy from the things that displeases God. When we find joy in sinning, it is a sign that we have turned away from God. What can we do, then? We need to mourn. We need to repent for the sins that we have committed. When we learn to mourn for our sins, we learn to humble ourselves down and ready our hearts for the Holy Spirit to reenter. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Hope is not lost. Joy is not beyond us. When we have truly repented and mourn for our sins, our God will comfort us, and when we turn back to him, we will rediscover an exceeding joy that comes from the Lord [Psalm 43:4|Article].

Conclusion

There are many who will laugh and make merry even in sinning. Let us be careful not to fall into that trap. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep [Luke 6:25]. Turn back to God, instead, for the Lord has said, return to me and I will return to you [Zech 1:3|Article]. We will likely often fall back into sinning. You may have certain sins that you often revisit. Do not give up. Don’t give up fighting the sin. Don’t give up in returning to God. And most importantly, don’t laugh and make merry while sinning, for you will be doing it at the expense of God.