Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Restoration Promises - 10-24-2010

O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989

Joel’s message is incredibly timely for us; he speaks of hope in the midst of dire circumstances:
· We are in the midst of either a recession or depression (either way it’s depressing!).
· Our church has seen a more than our share of good friends and family pass away this year.
· We have had a severe budget shortfall the past two years to go along with friends and families losing jobs, or suffering severe under-employment.
· Attendance is lagging down somewhere with chins scraping the floor. Sometimes I think you would have to use a morale indicator that can register in the red!

Hope in the midst of really severe circumstances is hard to muster when all you can see is the circumstances.

It was that way for the folks in Jerusalem where Joel spoke the word of God. There was a shadowy element to Israel’s plight; their circumstances were self-inflicted. They were under the judgment of God for failing to live out their covenant; they were God’s children, but not living like it! Even though Joel preached a message of restoration, of joy and God coming-in to save the day – God’s promise was conditional; restoration of Israel would happen IF they changed their ways and turned to him.

So Like Us
This is so like our day as well. Nationally, we are as putrid in the nostrils of God as was Israel. We have claimed our status as a “Christian nation” while all but banning God from public acknowledgement. The church in America attends worship services, but largely “goes through the motions”.

We have failed to have a positive impact in our communities (that a healthy church would have) because we have been playing at church – and then we wonder why God doesn’t bless our efforts. We are paying the price of judgment in just the same way Jerusalem experienced it 2,800 years ago!

An Unpopular Message
Now, honestly, there are not many people today who wish to acknowledge this, or even hear how foreign today’s church is from what God said we ought to be; it’s not popular to be honest with this prophet’s message. Many would rather hear a message from the “other Joel” – the one with the positive prosperity gospel in Texas. But that is an empty promise – clouds without rain, blossoms without fruit; it’s a false gospel! The real Joel – unpopular, but Godly!
Joel has a timely message of restoration for our nation and our church. It’s all about the kind of restoration of the genuine image of God on our hearts and in our lives. Notice the two basic realities about what God requires:
I. Restoration is ALWAYS preceded by Repentance
God’s conditions for any blessing at all is always clean hearts and hands. Our heart is what we think about things; our hands is how we act. And the hands always follow the heart. We get saved by a change of heart that has an intention to allow God to change the hands.
II. Repentance ALWAYS involves change
In the “clean hearts/clean hands” department, getting right with God demands both. First there is a change of heart which says, “I’ve been thinking wrongly; I’ve been ignoring God.” To repent in your heart is to change your mind – confess to God that you have not been honest with him, and that you will now begin to cooperate.
Secondly there must be a change of actions – that’s the clean hands part! It isn’t so much that you have an emotional or religious “experience” here today. You could go home after crying your eyes out at the altar and making promises to the preacher, the whole church and God – but if you don’t change in your life, what good has it been?
When a change of heart (or attitude) is real, the change of hands (actions) will be just as real and noticeable.
What does that look like?

Methodists are well-equipped with what “heart-holiness” looks like.

In our “other Bible” (the Book of Discipline[1]) there is a sentence that adequately describes what a life of surrender to the holiness of God looks like. The sentence is part of our membership vows; we vow to God and each other to accept God’s freedom and power to resist evil, injustice and oppression – to put our trust in Christ and to serve him as Lord, and to remain faithful members of the church as we serve all mankind. The working-out of that begins in the local church with these five practical promises (again to God and each other). They are such that anyone can accomplish them if they simply hold them as priority:
To faithfully participate in [the church’s] ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness;
A closer look at our promises

1. Prayer
Prayer is for each other, that we might live resisting evil and oppression, and that we might be individually and corporately the strong, healthy congregation God has called and gifted us to be. Prayer is both for private devotion and times of corporate gathering; see you Wednesday night!

2. Presence
Presence means just that – you join with the congregation for worship, Bible Study and prayer and efforts to serve our community. Your presence is important for both the morale and uplift of your fellow believers, and for YOU. You need to be in worship for the sake of your soul. If you neglect worship, you starve your soul. Don’t do that!

Regular worship is like regular breathing; it has as much to do with your spiritual life as breathing and eating does for your physical life. What’s regular? Regular worship is anytime you’re not sick. Many people let an awful lot of things come before worship. Are those things really more important than your relationship with God – and your vow to Him?

3. Gifts
The tithe (10% of your income) is holy unto the LORD. That means it belongs to Him, not you. Do we do that? The general consensus is that many do, and a few don’t. The general consensus is wrong. We actually have less than 10 tithing families in our church. Do the math….our church received approximately $120,000 in “tithes” last year. With an average attendance of 110 people, the average person in this congregation lives on about $12,000 a year if we’re tithing.

Now please pay attention – if you’re a visitor, please do not go home and report that the only thing we talk about here is money – that is blatantly untrue. But we must talk about sometimes, because there are some, perhaps many in this congregation who are being dishonest about stewardship. God is never pleased when we are disobedient. It is the reason Israel suffered so much; and we are under the same responsibility to respond with honesty towards God.

If you’re not a Christian, God doesn’t require a cent. But if you’re a believer the tithe is your minimum standard of acknowledgement that He is God and you are not. When you refuse to be honest with that, you’ll refuse to be honest in more important ways!

And, just for clarity, let me remind you that if you are a member of this local congregation, this offering plate is what the Scripture calls “the storehouse” where you are to bring that tithe. Once you have given your 10% here (without strings attached…not to the building fund, cemetery or buying butter for the kitchen…but dropped in the offering plate with a cheerful smile and knowing God will see to its’ correct use)….after you have given your tithe, then other gifts, if you are able, can be given to other charities and needs.

Let’s be very clear – as a member of this church, you promised to give your gifts, your tithes here!

4. Service
To serve is to be at the heart of Christianity. Christ left heaven to serve the need of sinners – us! Are you enrolled in service here…at YOUR church? We can accept a position of service, and then ignore it like it’s optional.

Jesus told a parable about a man who had two sons. He told them both to go work in the fields; one said, “not me” but then thought better and went anyway. The other answered “sure, Pop” and then he, too, thought differently – he decided to goof off and take a nap. Jesus asked, “Which one did the will of his father?” Serving your church and community means you will roll up those sleeves and pitch-in.

5. Witness
This last promise, or vow of church members is really a summary of who we are and how we live. Every part of prayer, presence, gifts and service are a reflection to the world of who we are, and Whose we are! With our lives and with our lips we must be about the business of telling the world who Jesus is. The question is, “can your neighbors, family and everybody who knows or meets you read Jesus in your life?”

What do I think about these 5 promises?

You are here as either a member of this church, or not a member. While this message may sound rather harsh and condemning, it is for everyone here, including me. Here are the choices about what to do with these 5 promises you once made, or might consider making.

Choice #1
If you cannot conceive of rearranging your life to reflect this kind of living, do yourself and the church a great service – remain lost. Don’t join if you refuse to change.

Choice #2
If you are a member of the church and disagree with this kind of living, be honest and remove yourself from membership in the church. Don’t stay in the church if you’re just going to go on breaking your vows.

Choice #3
If you are confused and cannot imagine how you could ever live up to this kind of standard, but are willing to trust God to help you try – you are exactly the person Joel was talking about when he laid out the grace promise of God’s blessing….member or not, you jump in with both feet and watch God bless your socks off!

Repent, believe the gospel and be converted.


[1] The United Methodist Book of Discipline¶217 (Nashville, UMC Publishing House, 2008), 143

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