When the church is THE CHURCH

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This week, my wife saw Spotlight for the first time.  Spotlight, of course, is the 2015 film about the team Boston Globe reporters who exposed the epidemic of pedophilia among Catholic priests in 2002.  It was named Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.  I had seen the movie when it first came out, but Carrie hadn’t. It appeared on our Netflix queue recently, and I suggested that she watch it with me.  It’s an excellent movie in every way: Fantastic acting, a well-written script, a powerful story.  Still, when it was over, Carrie said, “Well, that was depressing.”

And so it was.  The things that were done by people acting in the name of Jesus–and just as importantly, enabled by the people who oversaw them–were horrifying.  The Lord Himself only knows how many souls were damaged, driven away from Him.  He knows, and He weeps…and He will someday provide justice.  I wish I could say that’s the only time the Church has disappointed me, but it’s not. It seems like I read a story per day of a pastor abandoning his wife, or a church spewing hateful rhetoric, or a prominent Christian walking away from his faith.  It can get awfully discouraging sometimes.

But when we stop to really look at what God is doing in and through His people, everything changes.  This week, I’ve seen some amazing things that happen when the church behaves like the people of God; in other words, when the church is THE CHURCH as God intended.  Three quick stories:

A week ago today, I visited our teenagers at youth camp, deep in the East Texas Pineywoods.  I saw a group of young men and women who exhibited the irresistible presence of God.  That night, after worship, we were supposed to spend a few minutes in “church group time,” debriefing what had happened in worship, before releasing the kids to a special late-night recreation event, where they could eat, drink, and zipline (if that’s a verb) the night away.  Instead, our church group time broke out into spontaneous prayer, as kids confessed their struggles and sins, and prayed and wept with each other.  One of our young men gave his life to Jesus a few days before leaving for camp; when I saw him, he was planning to drive home to work a 5 AM- 1PM shift at his job, then drive back up for the rest of camp. The next night, after I had left, the speaker (Mike Satterfield, an old friend of mine who is an outstanding preacher) didn’t even get to speak; the worship event became a massive prayer meeting instead.  Three more of our kids gave their lives to Christ before the week was done.  This Sunday (July 31) at 6 PM, the youth group will lead a prayer meeting for our entire church.  If you’re  hoping for a fresh touch of God on our church, or if you want to know more about what He is doing among our teenagers, please be there.  Actually, be there no matter what.  Trust me, you need this.

Sunday, a woman and her kids visited our 8:30 worship service.  A couple of our ladies asked me to pray with her afterwards.  Without disclosing details, this woman is facing problems that would break your heart if I shared more.  Though I wanted to help in more tangible ways, I was expected upstairs at that very moment for a meeting with a Lifegroup.  I sent a quick text message to Alan Armstrong, who came down to help our ladies determine how best to help this family.  I felt a strong sense of guilt afterwards about not doing more.  Eventually, I got in touch with one of the ladies, and found out the rest of the story.  They had taken this family to lunch, and thanks to a collection taken up by their Life Group, were able to assist this family with their needs.

After the 11:00 service, I met with a man who has visited our church recently.  His living conditions are deplorable, to say the least.  I asked him to come see me next week.  Later, I found out that one of our college students had taken him out to lunch after our conversation.  Today, he came to see me.  I was expecting for him to ask me for money (we get many such requests, and it’s often hard to know how to handle them).  Instead, he told me that he was thinking of entering a six-month program through Over-Under, a ministry supported by FBC.  This program will offer him housing and life skills, hopefully leading to a better, more stable and self-sufficient life.  His only drawback was that he wouldn’t be able to attend FBC, since part of the program is attending Over-Under services on Sunday mornings.  “I’ve never been to a church before that was so loving.  I don’t want to leave.” He asked for my advice.  I told him to see if he could come to our Wednesday night Bible studies, and that when the six months are over, we’ll still be here, ready to have him back on Sunday mornings.  Meanwhile, he needs what that ministry can offer.

All three of these events represent EXACTLY what the people of God should be about: Working together, putting others first, glorifying God.  The best thing about these stories: I didn’t initiate any of them.  Trust me, as much as I’d love to be the guy who wrote a best-selling book, or the guy whose sermon clips went viral on Youtube, that’s mostly my ego talking.  I’d much rather be the guy in a church that does God-honoring things on a regular basis without me lifting a finger or speaking a word.  And get this: I know that these sorts of things are happening in churches of various denominations, in cities all over the world, every day.  The scandals are rare enough that they are big news when they happen, but stories like this–which outnumber the shameful events by a magnitude of thousands–rarely get mentioned at all.  Even we in the Church don’t seem to acknowledge all the good God is doing.  Day by day, soul by soul, the Kingdom of God is advancing.  And there is nothing…NOTHING that can stop it.



Election Anxiety

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Are you suffering from election anxiety? It happens in every presidential election cycle; we become gripped with a terrible fear: “What if THEY win?” This time around, election anxiety has reached epidemic levels. Many people I know plan to vote, but aren’t excited about either candidate. Some are downright terrified. Honestly, I would be tempted to fall into that second camp myself. But then I realize that the political leader in charge when many of the New Testament’s books were being written was Nero. No matter who we elect next November, he or she cannot possibly be as cruel, incompetent, and rabidly anti-Christian as Nero. Yet both Peter (1 Peter 2:17) and Paul (1 Timothy 2:1-4), urged Christians of that time to pray for and give honor to their secular political rulers. Paul even wrote at length in Romans 13 about how the governing authorities are established by God as tools to punish evil, and how we as God’s people should make sure we obey the laws of the land.
Does that mean that we should never protest a decision made by our leaders? Were German Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrong to oppose Hitler and his attempt to destroy the Jews? No, because the same apostles who commanded us to obey our earthly leaders also lived by the principle: We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). In other words, they would respect and pray for their leaders, even those whose lifestyles and decisions were contemptible, and would obey the laws of the land, even those which went against their preferences and opinions. But above all else, they would seek first the Kingdom of God. They would love people in Jesus’ name, and do whatever was necessary to bring others into His family. If doing that brought them into conflict with their earthly rulers, they would choose God, even if it meant death. Ultimately, that’s exactly what happened to Peter and Paul, both of whom died as martyrs under Nero.
Why don’t the letters of those first-century Christians reflect any hint of the anger, fear and frustration we feel about our own elected officials, considering their leaders were even worse? I think it’s because they knew who was really in charge. Earthly governments rise and fall, but God is the perpetually unopposed incumbent. Living as Christians in a nation with questionable political leadership is like being a child with a lousy third grade teacher who also lives in a home with a great Mom and Dad. Third grade will be over soon enough; but Mom and Dad will always be there, providing you with the love and wisdom to live the life you were created to live. I hope you will vote responsibly this November. But don’t sweat the election; the ultimate outcome of the most important contest is already decided. King Jesus will reign forever. Take your worries and fears to Him today.

Blessed are the peacemakers

police shootingOur country is truly going through heartbreaking division and violence these days. This week–ironically a week that began with our nation’s birthday–is the worst I can remember in some time.  Everyone seems to know who to blame: The police, the Black Lives Matter movement, the president, conservative talk radio… But where are solutions?  As Christians, our first response is to pray for peace, for cultural renewal and spiritual awakening, and rightly so (I preached on that very thing Sunday).  But we must do more.

Jesus said in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  In other words, we don’t simply pray for peace; we are supposed to make peace.  For instance, if two of our friends are in a fight, we take the risk of getting involved, trying our best to bring them back together.  When we do that, we’re truly children of God, acting like our Father.

So what does that mean for us in these days of violence, anger and fear?  I don’t have all the answers, but I truly believe it means at least the following:

–When everyone else is taking sides, we choose to stand for both sides.  Should we support the police, who have a dangerous, vital job to do, and let them know they are appreciated?  Should we stand up for them when they are being painted publicly with a broad brush?  Absolutely.  Should we care that African-American men are being killed in encounters with police, often in situations that seem very preventable?  Should we care enough to demand that changes be made?  Of course.  When everyone else seems to think we must be on one side or another, we choose to love both sides.  Obviously, that puts us at risk; neither side will feel like are on “their” side.  But that’s the risk that is necessary to be a peacemaker.

–When our neighbors weep, so do we.  That means that when we hear someone say “Black lives matter,” our response should not be “No, all lives matter.”  Think about it this way: Imagine seeing a news story about starving people in a distant country.  Your child, who is watching with you, says, “Those people need food.”  You respond, “All people need food.”  Is your statement true?  Yes, but it’s not compassionate.  It doesn’t acknowledge the pain those hungry people feel, and that their need is more acute than the need of people like us, who have more than enough to eat. Most of us who are white don’t want to hear this, but we really have no idea what it’s like to be black in America.  We don’t know how terrifying these news stories are; they don’t make us feel afraid for ourselves, our sons and brothers, husbands and fathers, like they do for our African-American neighbors.  You may not agree with me; frankly, it doesn’t matter.  The Word commands us, “weep with those who weep.”  It doesn’t authorize us to tell those who are weeping that they have no right to feel as they do.

–We listen.  Do you have friends in law enforcement?  Check in with them today.  See how they are feeling. Let them know you are praying for them.  Ask them what you can do.  Do the same for your friends in the black community.  Really listen.  You won’t like what you hear.  You’ll want to defend yourself, to say, “We’re not all like that!”  You’ll want to find fault with those whose lives have been lost.  But for once, just listen.  We can’t love people if we don’t understand them…and most of us have a long way to go in that department.

I’m not saying that these suggestions will produce peace.  Our world is far too broken for easy answers.  But they are a start.  I truly believe if God’s people would begin there, we would know what to do next.  The ultimate solutions are far, far more difficult, of course.  But we follow one who chose to make peace between us and Himself at the ultimate personal cost.  When He could have stayed out of the conflict, could have simply shaken His head in impersonal pity or written us off as a lost cause, He got involved. His death reconciled us to God.  We’re not His true followers if we aren’t peacemakers, as well.



How big is your circle?

Years ago, in the mid-seventies, a sociologist named Roger Hart decided to study what children did when they weren’t around adults. He wanted to follow kids around during the day, observing where they went and how they played.  It sounds creepy to us, but as Hart explained, we knew more at the time about the behavior of baboons than we did about the behavior of small children.  So he studied 86 kids in a small Vermont town.  One of the surprising things he found was that kids as young as 4 or 5 went pretty much wherever they wanted during the day.  By the time they were 10, kids in this town would cover a circle that just about spanned the entire town during a few hours of play.  Their parents didn’t tend to check in with them, either.  When I read this, it reminded me of what my dad once told me about his childhood in my little Texas hometown in the fifties.  He said his mom would feed him breakfast, would expect him home for supper, and didn’t give much thought to his whereabouts in between.

A couple years ago, Dr. Hart decided to see if things had changed in the behavior of children.  He went back to that little Vermont town and studied the children of those kids he had studied in the seventies.  What he found was that today’s kids have a much, much smaller world. He asked these kids to show him where they played, and as he said, “They didn’t have very far to take me, just walking around their own property.”   In a generation, the huge circle of childhood fun and freedom had become tiny.  The reason for the change was obvious: Fear.  Parents were afraid to let their children leave their sight.  Moms and Dads who had explored neighborhoods, woods and lakes as children now wanted a constant watch on their own kids.  The ironic thing about that was that crime rates in that town had not increased since the seventies. There was nothing to indicate that living there was any more dangerous for kids today than it was forty years ago.  So why the fear?  Hart’s study didn’t ask that question, but I think we all know. We have a 24-hour news cycle that tells us of every nasty thing that happens in towns across America.  It’s easy to believe there are evil people lurking everywhere, waiting to pounce on our innocent children if we turn our backs for only a moment.  As much as I enjoyed being a dad when my kids were small, I have to admit parenting is much less stressful now that they are older.  Kids in their teens have their own problems, of course, but I no longer worry that they will die mysteriously in their beds, or wander off and get lost, or get in a car with a stranger, or fall into a well.

I’m not saying that I should have let my kids roam unhindered once they were old enough to walk, or that parents today should do so.  I’m simply saying that fear tends to make our circle smaller, just like it did for those Vermont kids.  I loved my kids when they were little, but I spent a lot of time terrified.  I literally couldn’t wait until they got older and less fragile.  What a shame!  Fear has that tendency.  God has given us a great big world full of His glory, and people made in His image to know and love, but fear draws our circle small and restrictive, so we miss out on so much of the joy and freedom He meant for us to have.  As I think about the upcoming election in our nation, it is apparent to me that we as voters seem much more motivated by fear than by hope.  We tend to elect candidates who do the best job of stoking our fears, capitalizing upon them.  They talk about what’s wrong with our world in dire terms, and insist that they (and only they) have the answers that will prevent us from experiencing a nightmare tomorrow.  When I hear people talk about who they’re voting for, they speak in terms of resignation.  They seem less excited about electing their candidate than they are afraid of what will happen if the other person wins.

Maybe that’s why the most frequently-repeated command in Scripture is “Fear not.”  God wasn’t commanding us not to feel fear.  We really can’t control how we feel.  But we can control what we do with our fears.  If we let fear rule our decision-making, we tend to make poor decisions.  We’re so afraid of not having enough, we become greedy and stingy instead of being cheerfully generous.  We’re so afraid of being alone, we compromise sexually, in the hopes that someone might love us.  We’re so afraid of being insignificant, we spend our lives promoting ourselves instead of serving others.  Fear draws our circle smaller; so small, we don’t even include the God who loves us and can deliver us from fear.  Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to do the right thing in spite of our fears. We desperately need men and women of courage these days; people who live in circle large enough to love God and love their neighbors, and let God handle their fears.

Bill and me w BB guns
My brother and me with our BB guns (I’m the one on the right; he’s the one holding his gun upside down).  Remarkably, neither of us shot our eye out. 

I firmly believe that what we believe about God is more important than anything else about us.  This Sunday, I will begin a series called “Where is God?”  It’s about a guy named Joseph who experienced hardships none of us can possibly compare with, yet lived a life of triumph and significance. I hope you’ll be there.  For now, ask yourself, “What am I most afraid of?”  What would happen if you truly gave that over to God and no longer let fear rule your decision-making?  Ask Him to help you see this issue through His eyes today.

Heal Our Land

Name a problem in our country that you are concerned about.  There are plenty from which to choose:  Terrorism, both domestic and foreign; the rise of ISIS in the Middle East; the national debt; massive income inequality; the scandal of legalized abortion; racism and racial division; the radical redefinition of marriage and gender; the threat of losing religious freedom; and of course, the lack of enthusiasm many of us feel for either of the presidential candidates this year.  When we think of problems in our nation, Christians often turn to one specific verse of Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:14.  That verse has been referenced in countless sermons and political speeches.  It has been emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers, and has been the theme verse of untold thousands of special prayer services.  When I hear people talk about this verse, I get the distinct impression they believe that it means that if “those people,” the ones outside our Christian circle, would only “come back to God,” God would bless America.  When I say “bless America,” I mean bring back the good ol’ days, but better than the old days ever were.  I mean an America where the person in the oval office is an evangelical Christian, or at least someone we always agree with; where the unemployment rate goes to zero, and we have fantastic infrastructure without paying any taxes; where everything on TV is family-friendly, crime is non-existent, and even the French start liking us again.  There’s a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage, and those cars run clean on gas that costs a dollar a gallon.  But are we really using that verse correctly?  What is God promising in that verse, and who is He promising it to?

2 Chronicles 7 is the record of God appearing to Solomon, King of Israel.  If you know the Bible well, you know this is the second time God has appeared to Solomon.  The first time was just after Solomon became king, after his father David had died.  On that occasion, God had asked Solomon what he most wanted, and the young king asked for wisdom to lead God’s people.  God answered that prayer.  Solomon went on to build the temple in Jerusalem.  For the first time in history, God’s people would have a building in which to worship; they had been worshipping in a tent since the days of Moses.  It took 7 years and the work of hundreds of men, including highly skilled artists.  When it was done, Solomon invited the entire nation to consecrate this amazing building, the house of God.  Chapter 6 is the King’s long prayer of dedication.  It is absolutely worth reading, but let me sum it up for you this way: The King says, “God, we can’t make it without you.  Please live here among us and never leave us. And when we sin against you—because we will—and in the midst of the consequences of our sin we turn back to you, please forgive us and restore us.”  Chapter 7 begins by telling us that at the end of Solomon’s prayer, a fire fell from heaven and consumed the offerings that the people had brought to place on the sacred altar, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple so spectacularly, the priests couldn’t even go in.  The people rejoiced and celebrated for a solid week, then they celebrated for seven more days.

Then Solomon built a palace for himself.  This took 13 years.  At the end of that time, according to v. 11, that’s when God chose to give Solomon a direct answer to his prayer.  Why did God wait that long?  We don’t know.  Perhaps since Solomon had spent nearly twice as long building his own house as he had building the house of God, the Lord knew the King’s heart was starting to turn away.  Maybe God needed to remind him what was most important.  At any rate, God’s answer was essentially: “I will do what you asked.  When your people turn away from me, there will be consequences.  They will experience droughts and plagues and military defeats.  They will even lose this land that I promised their forefathers.  But if they turn back to me, I will forgive it all and bring them back home.”

That’s what v. 14 is actually about.  If you know your Old Testament, you know God was setting the tone for the next several centuries of Israel’s history.  A pattern would repeat itself over and over again: The people would forget about God, their worship would become shallow and superficial, the rich would start oppressing and abusing the poor, and God would punish them.  The people would repent and call on God, and He would send them a revival; often, a great King like Hezekiah or Josiah would arise and put God’s people on the right path again.   Eventually, the unthinkable happened: Jerusalem was conquered, the temple was burned to the ground, and God’s people were carried away to the distant country of Babylon.  That should have been the end of them.  The Jews should have vanished from history like so many other peoples of those times, and today would be known only to historians and archaeologists.  But God wasn’t through with them, and His promise was still in effect.  Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and heroes like Esther and Daniel kept the faith alive, and eventually God’s people returned to the Promised Land and rebuilt the temple.  The fact that there is still an ethnic group known as the Jews is one of the great proofs that God is real.  Against all the odds, He kept the promise He made to His people in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

So there is good news and bad news for us regarding this verse.  The bad news is that we cannot directly apply this verse to the United States of America without using the Bible very irresponsibly.  God wasn’t talking to America when He spoke these words; He was talking to Israel.  God had a covenant with Israel of that era; He has no covenant with any other nation.  Some might disagree with me, but I say that since Jesus brought a new covenant into effect, this promise doesn’t even apply to modern-day Israel.  The Old Testament Jews were the only people in history who God had promised would inherit their land.  So if we are claiming 2 Chronicles 7:14 and thinking that God will magically fix everything that’s wrong with America, we’re trying to cash a check that’s written to someone else.  The good news is that this verse still contains a powerful, wonderful promise.  Who is this promise made to?  “My people, who are called by my name.”  In Solomon’s time, that was Israel, but who is it today?  Anyone of any race or nationality who makes Jesus King of their lives…Whether you are white, black, brown or yellow; Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or non-denominational, you are part of God’s people, called by His name.  And His promise is that He will heal us, His Church.

Do you feel like the Church needs healing?  In this country, 80-85% of churches aren’t growing; most are actually losing membership.  This year, 8-10,000 churches will close their doors for the last time.  One out of five Americans claim no religious affiliation at all; among young adults, it’s two out of five.  Most of them aren’t atheists; they just don’t really think about God at all.  Christianity has rapidly lost influence in our culture.  Today, simply agreeing with a biblical teaching on a controversial social issue is enough to make us the subject of protests.   So yes, I think the promise of verse 14 is very, very good news.  It has come true before.  If you study the history of God’s people in this country, you see a series of awakenings, somewhat similar to Old Testament Israel.  The first Great Awakening here took place before this was even a nation, in the early 1700s.  Stiff Anglican clergymen like Jonathon Edwards would read their sermons from a prepared text in a monotone voice, and as many as ten thousand people would come to listen, straining to hear his voice in the days before amplification.  By the tens of thousands, they were saved.  Schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton were started to train ministers to keep this great movement of God alive.  Ideas like religious liberty, the separation of church and state, and that all humans are created equal before God, ideas that made their way into our founding documents, came from that awakening.

But two generations later, churches were declining again.  Jonathon Edwards’ grandson Timothy Dwight described America during the Revolutionary War: “…Profaneness of language, drunkenness, gambling, and lewdness, were exceedingly increased; and…(there was) a light, vain method of thinking concerning sacred things, a cold, contemptuous indifference toward every moral and religious subject.”  To make matters worse, after the Revolution families began flooding westward into the frontier, where there were no churches at all.  Christians began to fear that America would become an entirely non-Christian nation.  Then God sent a Second Great Awakening. This one lasted for over forty years and saw hundreds of thousands of lives changed.  The great international missions movement began during that revival. So did the movement that eventually abolished slavery.  A Third Awakening started in the mid-1850s when a businessman in New York City started a weekly prayer meeting at lunch on a workday.  Soon, it became a daily meeting, and eventually, thousands were attending.  There was no preaching, just prayer.  The movement began to spread to other cities.  Some estimate that over a million souls were saved.  About a hundred years ago, another awakening broke out on Azusa Street in Los Angeles.  We know it today as the beginning of the modern charismatic movement.  My grandparents’ generation of Baptists was terrified of “holy rollers,” and I disagree with charismatic believers on some important points, but some of the best Christians I know are part of that branch of the church, and they are reaching more people for Christ today than any other group.  The last awakening I know of in this country was in the 1970s, when thousands of hippies began coming to Christ.  They were known in the counterculture as “Jesus People.”  Most churches didn’t want them, sad to say, so they started their own churches.

There are awakenings going on around the world today. Just talk to Larry Daigle about how many people he sees come to Christ every time he goes to Africa.  This year alone, his organization (International Commission) has seen 168,000 conversions.  Or read about the amazing things happening in China, which will someday soon have more Christians than any other nation…in a country where the government has been actively working to oppose Christianity for over half a century.  Or read stories of the thousands of Muslims in countries closed to the Gospel who are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus, and giving their lives to Him, even if it means their death.  It has happened here before, and it can happen here again.

What would an awakening in our time look like?  Imagine if in every city, there were churches full of people who weren’t just there to manipulate God into blessing their dreams and fulfilling their wishes; they were there to serve Him and be His hands and feet.  In those cities, the churches would identify the key problems and work together to find solutions: Racial divisions would be reconciled.  Poor people would be mentored and taught life skills so that generational patterns of poverty would be broken.  Addictions would be broken, schools and neighborhoods would be transformed, and broken families healed.  Couples in the churches would be such models of true marital love, the world would begin to see the contrast between their definition of marriage and God’s.  People would give generously and our members would commit their lives to mission work, so problems around the globe would be addressed.  Abortion rates would go down because there would be fewer unwanted children and crime rates would go down because we would address the root causes of most crimes.  Soon state and federal governments would begin looking to the Church to help solve problems, rather than taxpayers.  Every problem wouldn’t be solved, but our nation would be unquestionably healthier, and God would get the glory.  Most of all, untold thousands of people who are today destined for an eternity apart from God would have their current lives and their future existence changed forever for good.  Does that sound good to you?

The truth is, God brings these awakenings about.  We can’t force His hand.  But His promise in this verse still stands.  So what are we to do?  I think we find the answer in v. 14.

Humble ourselves: When the Israelites humbled themselves before God, it meant they stopped making excuses and became honest about their own sin.  They didn’t blame their enemies for conquering them.  They said, “We lost our nation because we turned away from God.”  If we humble ourselves, it’ll mean we stop blaming others for the problems in our nation and take responsibility.  We’re the people of God.  We have failed to be salt and light.  It’s our fault, and it’s our responsibility to make the difference.  If Jesus were here in the flesh, He wouldn’t be on social media railing against homosexuals, atheists and Muslims.  Those are the people He died for, His lost children, and He’d be trying to reach them.  But He’d have harsh words for us His people, like, “Wake up.  You can afford cable TV, internet, two cars and a house big enough for three families your size in a country where you’re free to worship me without persecution, and you complain because you don’t have enough?  You don’t contribute anything to my work, you pray entirely for yourself and your own needs, you never shed a tear for the thousands of your neighbors who are destined for Hell, and you call yourself my people?”  God will judge every living soul, and so far, He hasn’t asked for our help in that task. But He has commanded us to love them.  Let’s humble ourselves and admit we haven’t been doing our jobs.

Pray and seek His face.  I would be willing to bet that most of us pray daily, or even multiple times a day.  But how often do we simply sit in His presence and desire to know Him better?  It’s not that God hates it when we ask Him for things; He has told us to do that.  But what would it be like to be in a relationship with someone who only spoke to you when they wanted something from you?  “Hey, can you give me a couple thousand bucks?”  “Hey, I don’ feel so good.  Can you do something about that?”  “Hey, I asked you to fix my car last week.  I hate to keep asking, but that thing still isn’t fixed.”  “Hey, that guy Roger at my office is a real dirtbag. Feel free to give him a stomach virus or afflict him with head lice the size of schnauzers for me.”  You’d get the impression that person didn’t really care about you, wouldn’t you?  And I know some of you are thinking, “I just can’t sit and ponder how great God is.  I’m not that spiritual.”  Guess what?  I’m not either, by nature.  But God can create that kind of heart in you and me.  So ask for it.  Pray, “Lord, teach me to hunger and thirst for your presence.”  Open His Word.  Sing songs of praise to Him.  When the people of God stop trying to use God to get what they want, and start hungering for more of Him, we’re well on our way to revival.

Turn from our wicked ways.  This is called repentance.  Repentance isn’t feeling sorry for your sin, it’s turning away from it, taking steps not to go there anymore.  It’s the first step to reconciliation.  Think about it this way: Imagine a husband cheats on his wife, and she finds out.  Now, even if, against all the odds and what everyone of her friends is telling her, she decides she wants to forgive him and save their marriage, that can’t happen unless he’s willing to totally cut off the adulterous relationship.  He can’t say, “Honey, I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you.  I hope we can fix things,” but still keep seeing the other woman on the side.  There’s a reason why, all through Scripture, idolatry is compared to adultery.  Adultery is giving to someone else what only your spouse deserves; idolatry is giving to something else what only God deserves: Your hope, your identity, your full devotion.  One reason I believe awakening hasn’t happened in our day is because we as American Christians are still hanging on to our idols.  We want God to bless us, but we give our souls to the pursuit of money and possessions.  Or our true identity and hope is in our political ideology. Or our main enthusiasm is getting our kid onto the right select baseball team or into the right college.

So what should we do with 2 Chronicles 7:14?  Follow those instructions in our own lives: Humble yourself by practicing daily confession, taking responsibility for your own sin.  Pray for God to make you hungry for more of Him.  Practice true repentance, taking steps to turn away from the idols in your life.  And pray that that those three practices would spread to all the people of God, called by His name.  Here’s the good news: Jesus isn’t the kind of King who passes impossible decrees and then waits for us to obey.  He came to us, knowing we could never obey His commands, and died in our place so we could be forgiven. Then He sent His Holy Spirit to live in us, to give us the power to change.  A King like that, who would give His own life for us, will respond if we call upon Him for revival and awakening.  He will heal our land.  Here at our nation’s 240th birthday, the most patriotic thing you can possibly do is to devote yourself daily to seeking that healing.  Let’s start right now.