Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Come Back

                Have you ever read a scripture in your Bible and wondered exactly what the Lord was talking about? I found myself doing that yesterday. I was reading and studying the book of Acts for our women’s study this week, and came across something Peter said that stuck out at me. I looked up the reference verses, did a little digging and nothing seemed to make sense. Sometimes when this happens, I need to take a step back and wait for the Lord to show me through His Holy Spirit. I went about my day and just let the words stir in my heart. This morning, the words were still there, and I knew that today He wanted to show me what He was talking about.

                “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3:19-21
                What stuck out at me were the words “refreshing” and “restoration”. I looked up different versions of these verses in various bibles and all of them say pretty much the same thing. But what exactly was the Lord speaking to me through these words. I, being the word hound that I am began to look up the definitions of the words “refreshing” and “restoration”. As I studied and searched out what these two words meant, I found nestled in them a call to examine my ways, and a call to our churches to examine their ways.
               
The word refreshing means to take a breath, it means to be refreshed. The expression of “Ahhh” came into my mind as I read the definition. Then I was taken to Hebrews 4. The writer of Hebrews is calling to all the people of Israel to “enter God’s rest”, to cease from their works just as God ceased from His. We, as believers, are called to cease from works, to lay down all the things we do to earn salvation and just rest in the knowledge and the truth that He has completed this work on our behalf. We do not need to strive to be saved, for when we believe in Jesus Christ we are saved, our sins are blotted out and we can sit back and say, “Ahhh”.
                In Acts 3, Peter is preaching the same thing to these people who have just witnessed the lame man walk. Peter is telling these people, the Jewish people who were in the temple, that there is no need to be working so hard to earn God’s favor, for His favor has come in the body of Jesus Christ. He is showing them that it is by faith that we are saved from our sins, and not based on what we do to earn it. Then Peter goes on to tell them that they need to repent so that the times of refreshing may come. So that they can find rest in the knowledge and the hope that Jesus has done it all.
                But he doesn’t stop there. Peter now tells them that a restoration must come. When I looked up the word “restoration” I also found some translations that used the word “reformation”. Both of these words refer to a process of bringing what we believe and why we believe back into line with God. “The Old Testament portrays Israel as requiring ‘refreshing/ reformation’ at several points in her history- thus the prophets. God’s people continue to need to review their beliefs and practices in the light of God’s word.” (Dictionary of Bible Themes, Acts 3:19, Biblegateway.com)
                We must examine our hearts before God. We must cease from works and turn to God in faith. All throughout God’s word there is a call to His people to examine our ways, to turn back to Him and to bring our beliefs, our practices, our works, and our doctrines back in line with His word. As I read these words today I thought of the state of our churches. How many churches have been doing the same thing over and over again, never wavering from the way they do things, never looking to examine what they believe, why they believe it or why they do what they do? I believe this is a call to all of us, as the church of Jesus Christ, as His body to bring what we believe, what we do, and how we do them before the Lord and let Him examine us, let Him show us whether we are hitting the mark or missing the mark.

                I believe (and this is my opinion) that the reason why so many churches are dying and struggling is because we have not allowed God to examine us. The leadership, the pastors, the elders, and even the congregations, all must be before God, examining their ways before Him to see if they are hitting the mark or missing the mark. We must examine our hearts before the Lord, we must allow Him to show us where we are astray and allow Him to bring us back to His word, the way He has always intended for us, His church to be.
                I read the Old Testament prophets and I see the state of our churches today in the midst of their pages. There are people who love God and who seek after God sitting in the pews that is true. But there are many more who are not. If we are not bringing our beliefs, our doctrine, our practices, our ministries, our ways of doing things under the examination light of God’s word then we are not in Him, and all that we do is for naught.
                Jeremiah the prophet cried out to the nation of Israel to “search out and examine our ways and turn back to God.” (Lamentations 3:40) Paul tells the Corinthian church to “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) All throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, we are told, urged, and instructed to examine ourselves before the Lord.
                I see a dying nation around me because I believe we have missed the mark on what it means to be the church. I see a nation that is falling into sin and despair because we, as the church, have missed what it means to be His body. I see people hurt, and their faith in God destroyed because of the state of the church today. It breaks my heart to see so many people homeless, helpless, destitute and yet we have church buildings sitting empty from Monday to Saturday, not being utilized to help those in need. If we are His body, then why aren’t His hands reaching, why aren’t His words being given to those who need it most? I think we have missed the mark, and think (my opinion) the Lord is calling His body of believers in this nation to repent and come back to what He has intended the church to be. I believe the Lord is speaking to all of us today, His church, to examine our ways and come back to Him. If we do not, then we will be disqualified.
               There are some churches out there that are functioning as God has intended the church to function. But how many more are not? How many churches have food pantry’s that are not being utilized? How many churches today are willing to open their doors and allow a homeless family to stay in the warmth for one night? How many churches are willing to take a pay cut and use the tithe money to feed the hungry, or to purchase blankets and coats for those in need? How many churches would rather do things the way they always have instead of examining themselves before Lord and be willing to change to what He is asking?
                I do believe that the time is coming when we will see the Lord coming in the clouds, the question is are we going to be the church He desires us to be, or are we just going to keep doing what we have always done, because that is how we do church? 

                “Let us search out and examine our ways and turn back to God.” Lamentations 3:40