Restore Us Again

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land (Psalm 85:4-9 ESV).

These days, whenever I see the word, “restore,” in the Scriptures, I take note. Our nation, which began well, has drifted further and further from the God of Israel. The drift has come to the point where many in our society deny the Christian roots of our nation. One political party even removed any reference to God from its platform a few years ago.

We are not the first nation to drift from the Truth. It has been a problem since the day that Joshua led Israel to conquer and settle the land Palestine. On numerous occasions in the book of Judges Israel drifted from the Lord, cried out to Him when their enemies humbled them by oppressing them, and the Lord delivered them. This pattern happened repeatedly throughout the 900 years when ancient Israel lived in the land of Palestine. Finally, after many warnings, God carried off half of the nation (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) by the hand of the Assyrians. Even then, the Southern Kingdom of Judah drifted away just 200 years later.

Yet God never gave up on His people. Just before Judah met its end in the Babylonian Captivity, Jeremiah the Prophet declared, “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever’” (Jeremiah 31:35-36 ESV).

The United States of America cannot claim the promise that God gave to His ancient people, but individuals who are His can be secure in His promises. Yet many of us long for the preservation of our Christian heritage here in America so that our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities to prosper and know Him. But this will only happen if the Lord restores our land. Political solutions are insufficient.

The psalmist explained in this passage what God’s people need to do if we would see the Lord restore our land — “hear what God the LORD will speak,” and “let them not turn back to folly.” The Lord will not restore our land until and unless His people listen to what He is saying to us through His Word. He will also not restore our land until this nation turns away from its “folly,” those sins that we have condoned despite the clear dictates of the Scripture. This is called “repentance.”

The Pursuit of Truth

O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent (Jeremiah 5:3, ESV).

These ancient words are profoundly contemporary.

We live in a world where expediency is more desired than truth. Americans (especially) have always had a pragmatic bent to them. We like to use phrases like “like a well-oiled machine,” “We’re clicking on all cylinders,” and “now we’re cooking with gas” to describe the aspects of our lives that are going well and progressing. When things aren’t going so well, we assume that the machinery is somehow wrong.

This mindset is wonderful for overcoming obstacles that are physical in nature — we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and figure out where the machinery is deficient. But not all problems are physical in nature; sometimes things don’t go well because we have failed to pursue the truth that the Lord is trying to communicate to us. He is — at least according to Christian orthodoxy — continually revealing His will to men.

Such was the case in Jeremiah’s day. God brought judgment because the people resorted to idolatry. They didn’t listen to His Word or His prophets or the Laws that their ancestors adopted. Instead, they chose to worship false gods and were surprised when they were “struck down” and “consumed.” They didn’t need better mechanics — they needed to repent.

Repentance is not preached much from America’s pulpits any more — to our detriment. Repentance is how we get right with the God that created us and how we stay in a right relationship. We usually define repentance as an act of turning from sin to Christ, and this is a proper definition. It implies, though, that this is a one time action. Contrition is a related word, but implies that the repentance is a “state,” an ongoing expression of repentance.

The price of repentance/contrition is often too high for us as Americans. Like the proverbial “average” student in school we assess what is the minimum amount of work to get by and we do that. For many of us it’s enough that we put on a show of repentance even if we have not really done so in the integrity of our hearts. Repentance involves real sorrow for sin; it involves the true admission guilt; it involves a lifestyle change that begins in our thoughts and carries through to our actions. It doesn’t mean perfection; but it does mean honesty. When David repented, he stated, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being (Psalm 51:6, ESV).

The people of our day are much like the people to whom Jeremiah was preaching in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of his prophecy. They are harder than rocks; they refuse to repent (5:3) because they have ignored the truth for expedience.

Our Prayer

Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have? You say (but they are only empty words), ‘I have counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?  Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master’s servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Have I now come up without the LORD’S approval against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.'”‘” (2 Kings 18:19-25).

Remarkably the descendants of these ancient Assyrians are the ones who are currently oppressing God’s people (Christians, this time) in Syria and Iraq. World politics have changed enough that Egypt is no longer the hope for rescue, but the same ultimatum is being given – submit to us or die. They even justify their destruction by declaring that it is the command of their god.

As Hezekiah prayed for his people, so we need to be praying for the Christians in Iraq and Syria today. Earnest prayer for them will lead to earnest prayer for ourselves.

“Father, You are the Sovereign Lord Whose plans for this world will ultimately be fulfilled. As You revealed Your glorious power when Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem were threatened, so we ask You to reveal Your power in this time.

“These infidels have scoffed at Your power no less than their ancestors did nearly 3000 years ago. They are intent upon establishing their rule and displaying their god as the supreme deity in this world. But You make it clear that You had/have no rival (then or now), that all who dare to exalt themselves to Your position will be cast down. In ancient times You destroyed their army by killing 185,000 in a single night so that they limped back to their home where their leader was assassinated. How You choose to protect Your reputation and show Your glory this time is Your own decision. We simply cry out that You will do it soon.

“We grieve the martyrdom of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the persecution others are enduring for Your Name. Sustain the families of the martyrs by the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit. One of the early Church Fathers observed that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and so we ask that this would be true in this day as well, that the persecution of Your Church will be a blessing to Your Kingdom.

“Open the eyes of many in our world who have shown no interest in Your Truth so that they may see the assured confidence of those who die with Your name on their lips. Make clear to them that the persecutors are the deceived and the cowardly while those who stand with Jesus to the death will receive the ultimate reward.

“Open the eyes of those for whom the Christian faith is merely a form without substance. Don’t let them straddle the fence; bring them to the point that they must decide to reject You or follow You wholeheartedly.

“Finally, Father, renew in each of us who bears Your name the resolve to follow You to the death, if it is Your will. We recognize that in this world the name of Jesus is increasingly being denounced, and the pressures to turn from Him are growing stronger. Diminish the attraction of this world; magnify the world to come in our hearts.

“We ask this for Jesus’ glory and with His authority. Amen.”

To Whom Much is Given

Thus says the LORD, “For three transgressions of Judah and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they rejected the law of the LORD And have not kept His statutes; Their lies also have led them astray, Those after which their fathers walked (Amos 2:4).

To a man, the Old Testament prophets preached a message of repentance to a people who said they trusted God but in reality followed after idols. Sometimes that message was a message of the tender love of God for his erring people (Hosea); sometimes it was a general call to repentance (Joel); and sometimes it was an in-your-face demand for repentance. That was Amos’ message; he wasn’t subtle at all.

The first two chapters of Amos’ prophecy pronounced judgment upon Israel and Judah and the nations surrounding them. The often-repeated phrase “For three transgressions of _____ and for four…” is a Hebrew phrase that communicates the same message as our English phrase, “The straw that broke the camel’s back…” Sin upon sin had piled up against these nations until God had to bring judgment for “the final straw,” which He names in each case.

As the judgments are pronounced for some very violent and egregious sins of the nations, similar judgments are pronounced upon Israel and Judah for much less sins – or so it would seem (see 2:4, 6). Most of us today would think it unfair that the same severity of punishment would be meted out against Judah who merely “rejected the law of God” as it was against those who “ripped open pregnant women” (1:13) simply to enlarge their borders.

To us in the conservative, right-wing movement of America, there is hardly a more vile sinner than the abortionist who employs procedures like “partial birth abortion,” except perhaps the lawyer or politician that legalizes such a procedure (and lives high off the proceeds of their actions). But in God’s eyes, there is no hierarchy of sins. The immediate consequences of the abortionist’s sin may be more apparent, but every vile consequence had its root in the first act of disobedience, the first act of justification.

Perhaps that’s why disobedience to God’s Word is a more significant sin than we in America would like to believe.

Revival

Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence… (Isaiah 64:1).

Many of us are praying for revival, not unlike what people were praying for in Isaiah’s time. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when this prayer in chapter 64 was written but almost certainly it is a prophetic description of the Babylonian Captivity. Verse 11 describes the Temple as having been burned.  The longing of the hearts of God’s people then was that He would show Himself strong again on their behalf.

Their circumstances are remarkably similar to ours. God’s enemies seemed to have the upper hand. We who stand with Him against abortion on demand and the homosexual agenda increasingly are finding our voices marginalized and the proponents of these things that God hates are on the rise. In their culture and ours the worship of the God of Israel is being replaced by pagan idolatry, at first by the inclusion of other gods alongside Him. But that will later lead to the elevation of those other gods above Him as it did at the time just prior to the Babylonian Captivity.

The only hope for the reversal of these trends in our world is a visitation from God. He purged the hearts of the Israelites who came out of Egypt under Moses by descending over Mt. Sinai in such a way that they thought the whole mountain was ablaze. Since the New Testament era began, though, He has brought revival in many different contexts, one of the most notable being the Great Awakening in Colonial America (c. 1740).

But for this to happen again, God’s people must begin to fall on their faces before Him. We must reject the pretense of Christianity and live it out with integrity and conviction. We must quit making our faith merely one of a multitude of religious activities and begin to honestly and repentantly seek Him. We must find spiritual leaders who are more concerned with God’s approval than with men’s, leaders who will quit being concerned that pews are filled and become concerned that hearts are.

I pray earnestly for such a visitation of the Almighty, but it won’t come without our sacrifice. Satan’s allies in the world of pagan idolatry will not relinquish their hard-earned territory easily. They will continue to grip our nation tightly by enslaving people by making them guilty in their sins of homosexuality and abortion while blaming God’s people for imposing a sense of guilt upon “legal and harmless” activities. When God visits again, His enemies will lash out at His Church.

But it will be worth the cost. The vast contingent of the Church that keeps one foot in the Church and one in the world will have to decide on which side they will stand. Some of our friends will likely join to wrong side, the enemies of the Church, but we will know on whom we can rely, and that knowledge will be worth everything.

The Gauntlet Has Been Laid Down

“Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (Is 36:20).

             There is a fascinating story of deliverance recorded in the middle of Isaiah’s prophecy. The powerful Assyrian king, Sennacherib, had swept through most of the region we know as the Middle East on his way to world domination. He had cruelly carried the Northern kingdom of Israel into captivity and was poised (at the time of Isaiah’s writing) to destroy the Southern kingdom of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem.

             It was at this point that the Assyrians made a tactical blunder – or perhaps it would be better to say they revealed a false religious assumption. Sennacherib’s representative stood outside Jerusalem and challenged the God that Judah trusted in – the Assyrian army vs. the God of Judah. Of course, we have read the outcome (it’s recorded three times in the Old Testament!) and know that the angel of the LORD came and wiped out 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night, and Sennacherib limped home with what remained of his devastated army. Not long afterward, he was killed by two of his own sons while worshiping his false god (see Is 37:36-38).

             Our world seems destined for a repeat of this story. While we in America try to “tolerate” our Muslim neighbors, our leaders seem less and less willing to stand up to terrorist threats. We are supposed to allow a victory monument in the form of a mosque near the site of the 911 attacks because to deny it would be to anger the radical wing of the Muslim religion. If anyone else were to suggest this, our legal experts would call it “blackmail.”

            The constant cry of “peace in our time” that comes from every U.S. political administration concerning the continual Middle East crisis will ultimately end in the withdrawal of American support of Israel. Whatever happened to the principle of “to the victor belong the spoils”? Israel has been provoked, fought back and won each time, yet they are considered the aggressors and the watching world expects them to give in to the demands that they return the lands they captured. Ultimately the idea is to isolate them in the world and to bring about the same showdown outside the gates of Jerusalem that Isaiah recorded. Only this time it will take place a little bit north of Jerusalem at a place called “Armageddon.” But make no mistake, the rationale will be identical, “Whose God is really the true one?”

             I won’t pretend to know the day or even the year that these things will take place. America’s support of Israel seems to hinge on the strength of American Evangelicals who still believe in the God of Abraham, Moses, David and Isaiah, but that is waning. Perhaps there will be enough true repentance for God to stay these events for a generation or two. But there is no doubt that it will happen. The gauntlet has been laid down and God will not retreat from it. It is the final conflict of the ages.

Too Small a Thing

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6).

 

            The last chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy are often seen as a Messianic prophecy of the “Suffering Servant.” This includes that wonderful passage that describes our Lord’s crucifixion in Isaiah 53. Here in this passage in the 49th chapter, God the Father describes the scope of the commission of His Servant, Jesus, to include the Gentile nations as well as the Jews.

 

            Despite the opinion of the Jews in the First Century, it was always God’s intent to bring all the nations of the world to Himself. Just in the last part of Isaiah, he mentioned God’s love for the “islands” at least a dozen times. This is in addition to the numerous references to “Gentiles,” the “nations” and the “ends of the earth.” It’s to His praise that the Church in the last century and a half has finally begun to reach these people that He has always desired to redeem.

 

            In Matthew 24:14, Jesus links His own return with the proclamation of the Gospel to all the nations, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Perhaps this is why my heart jumped when I heard a few months back that our missionaries had targeted a remote people group to whom they would take the Gospel. It was in one of the most remote areas of the globe and the thought occurred to me, “Maybe this is that last tribe that needs to hear!”

 

            As our local church prepares for our annual Missions Conference, it is my desire that the Lord will burden each of our hearts with some evangelistic ministry around the world. A few years back He led us to begin praying for a resistant group of people in Thailand, and today they are starting to awaken to His Truth. They are beginning to throw off the chains of idolatry and turn to Christ. May He be praised!

 

They Provoked God

And He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing — the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive Me far from My sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable” (Ezek 8:6).

             Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles of Judah who had been carried off to Babylon. One day while he was in his house, and the elders of Judah were with him, God carried Ezekiel in a vision back to Jerusalem where He showed him the grievous practices of Judah that led to their captivity. God showed Ezekiel four such practices, which in His eyes were increasingly heinous. After each of the first three, He said that Ezekiel would see “even more detestable” sights.

            The first practice was the placement of an idol in the Temple itself. The Temple was dedicated to the exclusive worship of the God of Israel. It was bad when the people set up “high places” – sites of pagan worship in prominent locations – but it was worse when they brought it into the Temple itself. The second practice involved the religious leadership of the people of Judah who were themselves bowing down before idols and denying that God could see them. As if this weren’t bad enough, the women were mourning for the pagan god, Adonis, and giving themselves to prostitution – again, in the Temple itself! And finally, the leadership willfully snubbed the God of Israel by bowing to the sun while in the Temple of Jehovah.

            The American Church has little room to criticize these Jews. Mainline Christian denominations often see no distinction between the God revealed in Christ and the gods of other world religions. In fact, I have read of some of these denominations sponsoring conferences that promoted the worship of some of these pagan gods.

            I grew up in small town America where my family worshiped in a mainline church. When I was in junior high, our pastor at the time persuaded the governing body of the congregation to purchase a new cloth to cover the altar at the front of our sanctuary. Rather than a typical phrase such as “Holy, Holy, Holy” or a communion message like “This Do in Remembrance of Me” the cloth contained the words, “God is All” – a message that reflected the pantheistic theology of that pastor and of the whole denomination. To my knowledge, that cloth still remains on the altar at that church.

            The Bible declares that God has not changed; “[He] is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). If it was detestable in Ezekiel’s time, it still is today.