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Posts Tagged ‘first commandment’

My four year old daughter and her younger brother excitedly ran to the playground they had been begging to visit for three days.  I sat on the bench watching them slide and climb.. for about 10 minutes.  When my mind stopped the habitual space travel of a lazy Sunday afternoon, my eyes and mind focused together on what my children were doing.  After dreaming of this place as if it were Disneyland, they were in fact playing around the playground on the landscape timbers that bordered the play area, trying to balance and walk around them.  Soon they tired of this and took to running and chasing each other around the wooden borders, wandering off to pick flowers, investigating a bird bath full of rain water and exploring the contents of a metal pail used as an ashtray in a nearby gazebo.  How could they so quickly tire of this thing they desired so greatly?  I saw a perfect example of human nature which demonstrated what the Holy Spirit began speaking to my heart over two years ago.  Two weeks ago,  the burden returned in full force and will not leave me in peace.  As the National Day of Prayer comes this week, what this picture symbolized to me will be the focus of my repentance and petition to God.

To be a Christian is a call to love and follow Christ in a very real way.  Our identity should never be in a subset of beliefs, often a name ending with an “ism” or  movement of some kind.  When we love HIM as we should, our focus becomes more clear.  Our desire is rekindled.   We find we cannot take one step without Him.  We realize all we do outside of Him is of no consequence.

I recently picked up a book my husband had purchased at a church planting seminar a few years ago.  I restlessly opened up to a random page as I often do trying to get  feel for what a book is about.  The page I turned to had this to say:

While I was an impressionable seminary student, I was given a definition (of church) that was really more of a description.  Church was explained as embodying these five characteristics:

1.  A group of believers that gathered regularly…

2.  That considered itself a church…

3.  That has qualified elders present…

4.  That regular practices the ordinances of baptism and communion as well as church discipline…

5.  And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs.

These are all good qualities for any church to have.  Most of our churches, in fact, would meet these standards, but I think that this list is missing something very important.  I often ask groups what is missing from this description.  After a few minutes of responses, I generally tell them what I think is missing if they haven’t already found it.

Jesus is missing!

One of my most respected mentors, a theologian and career missionary, once told me that Jesus is assumed in the definition because it is believers who are gathered.  My response was, “Why would you assume Jesus’ presence but make sure that a qualified elder is present?”

This assumption betrays a problem in our churches, a serious one.  The church is often more about what we bring to the table than what God does.  I heard a Korean pastor who made a tour of the United States and at the end of his visit summarized his observations by commenting, “It’s amazing what you people can do without the Holy Spirit.”  I believe it was A .W. Tozer who once announced that if the Holy Spirit were removed from the churches in America on Saturday, most would go on the next day as if nothing had changed.”   (Neil Cole, The Organic Church p. 49,50)

This same Sunday that I took my children to the playground, our pastor preached a powerful message on Ezekiel 9-11 detailing how the presence of God had left Judah and his judgment was sure.  He asked if this happened to America, and the Church here, “Would anyone notice?  Would anyone care?”   Those are the questions burning in my mind as well.

My thoughts go back to Moses and the children of Israel.  After their sin of idolatry with the golden calf  they were punished, but still did not have the presence of God in the camp, but in the tent of meeting set up outside.  God had told them to go up into the Land of Milk and Honey, but He was not going to go with them.  Moses begged and pleaded with God,

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”  Exodus 33:15, 16

Why do we, with a better promise and better Covenant,  so confidently march on with our agendas, not seeking the direction of Jesus, our Head, the Commander in Chief?  Why do we speak of the Holy Spirit as an abstract idea or theory, and have no expectation for the reality of His Presence?   We would not notice if Jesus left the building because we have not cared to invite Him into our affairs in the first place.

Why do we give God lip-service but behave as if He is not actually real or expect Him to move among us?

I could write pages on probable answers – but if we keep asking “why” after each answer, I believe we would eventually reach down past many symptoms and secondary failures to the ultimate source of the problem.  We love ourselves and our pride more than we love our Savior.  If we truly loved Him with all our heart mind and soul, as the first great commandment given, we would seek Him.  If we sought Him, we would love Him more and fervently desire to be in His presence.  We would be like David who longed for Him like a deer pants for water, a primal desire for life itself.  If we loved Him more, we would believe Him more fully in everything He promised.  If we believed Him, we would trust Him in all our ways.  If we trusted Him, we would follow and obey Him.  If we obeyed Him, the world would see Him through us.  If the world saw Him and not us, it would be drawn to also love Him, or hate Him, being confronted to make a decision.  As it is, we don’t bring anything of eternal value into the world when we promote ourselves and our “isms”.   The world may accept or reject us, our special message,  focus, or movement, our attitudes, our agendas.  But do they ever see Jesus?  Why did we stop longing for and earnestly following the one we call Lord?

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?   Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”  Luke 6:46-49

How many Christians have much of a grasp on the actual words of Christ?  I hear so little of Him in churches it astounds me.   Why do we find it more interesting to talk about anything and everything and everyone else?  In the gospel of John Jesus repeatedly draws attention to the importance of His WORDS.  They are life.  John says Jesus is THE Word, both in his gospel account, and in Revelation.   His Word is still alive and ongoing through His Spirit, and how many of us are listening?  Some don’t even believe it’s possible to hear it in the first place.  He is a resurrected living and active Word.  He called us to be disciples, not passive pew sitters.  Disciples follow and do as they are instructed, in all humility and trust of their loved Teacher.  He has called us to take up a cross and follow, but He also promised that the burden of His yoke was light, and He would give us rest.  Seems to be contradiction, but only if we have not been sitting at His feet to understand.  The cross is what brings the rest.

Jesus,

Forgive us for loving so many things and leaving our first love.  Draw us to fall on our faces in grief and repent of being self-willed, idolatrous, covetous, proud.  Restore us to our first love –  a desire for nothing but You alone.  Fill our mind’s eye with a vision of your love for us and teach us that our high calling is in You, not ourselves.   Forgive us for our unbelief as we go about our lives as if  You are a distant spectator from heaven and not in us or among us as You have promised to all who would call on Your name.  Forgive us for seeking you mechanically without faith and longing, and often, not at all.  Forgive us for being amused with objects of so little consequence.  Grant us the ability to forgive our brothers and sisters, remembering we are no better than any other and have received the same mercy.   Give us true sight – to seek genuine fruit of Your Spirit and not the false external performance men so often admire.

Jesus, call us, your people, to humble ourselves and repent.  Fall on us with a fire that cleanses and empowers us for the days ahead, unless we be like Israel in the days of their judgment who said,  “If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.”   Isa 1:9

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Rev 2:4,5

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