July 5, 2020 - Pastor Paul Strozier, Madison Park Church of God
On July 4, 1776, delegates from the 13 American colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence. It was the birth of the nation we know and love, the United States of America.
This weekend we celebrate her 244th birthday. We celebrate with BBQ and fireworks, parades and ice cream. And, as we often do on our own birthdays - especially when they begin to add up - we pause to reflect. We think about the successes and the failures of our past, the victories and the shortcomings of our present, and the hopes and dreams, as well as any fear and concern, we may have for our future.
As people of God, followers of Jesus, we often turn to scripture to provide encouragement in such times. We see in God’s Word the promises that give us hope, that inspire and encourage us to move forward into an unknown future, empowered by faith that God can and will redeem His people and accomplish His will. One of the passages we often call to mind, especially in seasons of national celebration or lament, is a verse that expresses the promise of God to heal our nation in the context of an “If/Then” statement. “If” a certain thing happens, “Then” another thing will occur - it is a causal relationship. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God gives a powerful promise in the causal context of an “If/Then” statement…
"IF my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV
Today I would like for us to explore the “THEN” of God’s glorious promise of forgiveness and healing in light of the “IF” that requires specific action from His people as a prerequisite. I believe God’s requirement in this verse, the “IF” of the “IF/THEN” promise, is what we have been studying - REPENTANCE - a transformation that takes place - not only in the life of a person, but in the life of a people. It is the metamorphosis of a group willing to embrace the Biblical pathway for repentant transformation - A Change of Mind, A Change of Purpose, A Change of Life.
Let’s study God’s Word to find out WHO this promise is given to, and HOW we may experience it.
Who is the Promise Given To?
The book of 2 Chronicles begins with the inauguration of David’s son, Solomon, as King of a united nation of Israel. That event is followed closely by an even more important one, a personal encounter between God and Solomon in which God promises to give the King whatever he asks for, and Solomon chooses wisdom. This provides the context & foundation for Solomon’s reign as the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 4:30).
But it is not Solomon’s throne that will be the focus of the next 6 chapters leading up to 2 Chronicles 7:14. Rather, it is God’s throne - a temple to, as we read in 2 Chronicles 2:1, “honor the name of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles chapters 2-4 relate details about the building and its furnishings. Chapter 5 describes the scene as the priests bring the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant and place it in the Temple. And in chapter 6 we read Solomon’s prayer of praise and dedication. It is this prayer that becomes the catalyst for God’s promises in chapter 7 - so Solomon’s prayer gives us insight into the “My People” God refers to in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
Some might argue that the “My People” God refers to includes only the nation of Israel, making both the “If” and the “Then” of 2 Chronicles 7:14 irrelevant to us. But I believe if we will look more closely at Solomon’s prayer, we will have a broader understanding of God’s promise in response to that prayer. Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple begins in 2 Chronicles 6:12. He thanks God for what God has accomplished and prays for God to hear the prayers offered in the Temple. Of course this references the Nation of Israel, but it goes much further - Please look at Verse 32-33…
“In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands when they hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33, NLT
Solomon has intentionally expanded his prayer to cover people from the future and from what he calls “distant lands” who come to know the One True God and worship Him. I think this is important for you and me to understand that God’s “IF/THEN” statement in 2 Chronicles 7:14 does apply to us - not as a nation, but as the people of God. We may want to claim these verses as specific to Israel, or even as specific to the United States. But the context tells us these verses and God’s reference to “My People” apply to people from any time or place in the history of humanity who know and follow the One True God and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
This means God’s promise to hear our prayers is to us, the people of God. But it also means, and this is the heart of our focus today, that the prerequisite action of 2 Chronicles 7:14, the “IF” statement, is targeted to God’s people, the Body of Christ, the Church. If we are to claim God’s promise to “hear from heaven, to forgive our sin, to heal our land” we must embrace the burden God is putting on our shoulders as His people - the “IF” of Repentance
The “IF” of Repentance
We’ve been talking for several weeks now about “Being the Change” we hope to see in our world. Each of us as individuals is invited to experience spiritual metamorphosis - total transformation. IF we will REPENT - embrace A Change of Mind, A Change of Purpose, A Change of Life - THEN we will experience the New Life Jesus promises.
Today I want us to see, to humbly accept, that this same principle applies to us as God’s Church, the living, breathing Body of Christ in the 21st Century. IF we want not only our personal lives, but our homes and families, our communities and country, to experience the restorative promises of God - healing and forgiveness - then it is WE who must embrace The “IF” Burden of Repentance. And this verse we share today, the verse so meaningful to us as we pray for God’s healing on the 244th birthday of our nation, tells us HOW…
First, we as God’s people, God’s Church, must have “A Change of Mind”.
A Change of Mind - “IF my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves…”
I fear that humility is no longer a defining characteristic of the American Church. We pride ourselves on our buildings and our accomplishments, our fund-raising skills and our organizational development. We ostracize humble servants of God and lift up men and women gifted as CEO’s. Let’s be clear, God has gifted the American Church with unprecedented expertise in designing, building, and leading well-oiled organizational machines. But these are merely tools in the hands of God’s Holy Spirit to carry out God’s great plan to reconcile the world to Himself.
We are in danger of loving the tools more than the work they are designed to do.
My Dad always enjoyed his hobby of wood working. He loved to go to his shop and spend hours using the tools he had acquired over the years to carry out the craft of shaping rough wood into works of beauty. When he sold his home and cleared out his shop, his kids and grandkids had the opportunity to choose some things for ourselves. I spent hours looking through the tools he spent a lifetime acquiring. I wanted desperately to claim his beloved table saw, or the router I saw him use to create a dining room set.
But there was one glaring problem - I don’t love wood working. I don’t have the patience to do what my Dad so lovingly did all those years. I could have taken every tool my Father had, but I would have created a museum rather than a wood shop.
Is this what the American Church has done with the gifts, the tools our Father has given us? If we are to see our hopes and dreams of healing and forgiveness fulfilled, we must “humble ourselves.” We must embrace “A Change of Mind” that openly and honestly acknowledges the pride we place in our Church institutions, and allow that admission to lead us to the second stage of repentance - “A Change of Purpose.”
A Change of Purpose - “…pray and seek my face…”
In Revelation chapters 2 & 3, Jesus addresses the shortcomings of 7 Churches. It is a prophetic warning to groups of believers who falter on the path of following Christ. The first warning goes out to the Church in Ephesus - listen to Jesus’ words from Revelation 2:2-5…
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” Revelation 2:2-5
Has there ever been a more accurate description of the 21st Century American Church? Our nation was founded on Godly principles, even though they were practiced by imperfect people. Throughout our history many have worked, suffered, and endured, many have tried to hold true to God’s Word, to the teachings of Christ, and the principles of the Christian life. But when I look at God’s Church in America today, and over the past 244 years, I must agree with Jesus’ judgment - “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!"
If you question that convicting statement, I invite you to browse social media, to search the books that have been written and the websites that have been established purely for the purpose of Christians criticizing other Christians. While we would never openly admit it, the American Church has come to tolerate the prioritization of a countless number of PURPOSES other than the PERSON of Jesus Christ!
We love our buildings, our budgets, our bright lights and our benefactors. We love our shiny services and our celebrities, our conferences and our cohorts, our institutions and our individualized “take what you want and leave the rest/all you can eat” buffet of programming. We have fallen so far from our first love that the primary battle of the American church for the past 50 years has not be the Savior we serve but the songs we sing.
I want to be very clear: the loss of first love is not primarily a theological problem - disagreement over the foundations of our faith. Nor is it primarily a generational problem - disagreement between age groups. It is not even primarily an ecclesiological problem - differences over the fundamental practices of church.
Our problem is an idolatry problem - and we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in the Person of Jesus Christ in this area. Each of us has SOMETHING that we are prone to put ahead of the SOMEONE who has brought us into this family in the first place. Simply put, as Jesus expressed it so well, “We don’t love him or each other as we did at first!”
If we are to experience the forgiveness and healing in our land that we desperately long for, we must stop presuming that forgiveness and healing happen on our personal terms to advance our own comfort, convenience, and prosperity. We must collectively and individually have A Change of Purpose, a metamorphosis of the American Church. We must do a 180 degree turn, stop worshiping at the altar of self, REPENT, and once again love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
I want to be clear and direct with the church today - I do not believe Jesus caused the Covid-19 Virus. What I do believe is that He has used this opportunity to strip us of the trappings of what we call church in order to invite us to fall in love with Him all over again and make Him the sole Center of our lives, our ministries, and our congregations. We cannot and will not experience what God has for ourselves, our households, our communities or our nation until we fall out of love with the God of self and head over heels in love with the person of Jesus.
And when…IF that happens, when we experience the revealing honesty of A Change of Mind and the freeing redirection of A Change of Purpose, we may experience the metamorphosis of the Holy Spirit to REVIVE US AGAIN and lead us to the third stage of repentance - A Change of Life.
A Change of Life - “…turn from their wicked ways…”
This is the ultimate goal of repentance - transformation! Whether it is a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, a rebellious boy becoming a beloved son, or a fellowship of believers becoming the living presence of Jesus in our world - we must TURN from what we have been and TURN INTO what Christ died for us to be. If our nation is to live, God’s Church must come alive!
Because IF that happens - true repentance in the hearts and lives of God’s people - THEN God says, “I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
God’s Promise: THEN… “I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
It’s time we admit that the problem isn’t only outside the church, it’s inside. God has placed responsibility for the state of our nation, our land, on us. We are the ones who must change if we are to experience everything He desperately wants to do in our lives, our nation and the world. We can’t trust institutions to do it for us. No government is going to humble itself before God. Our social agencies and rescue missions, entitlement programs and political agendas were all created to serve the minds of men.
Only the Church of Jesus Christ was created to serve the heart of God - if WE don’t repent, how can we expect that anyone else will?
Today God calls the Church to repentance - the people of God - the ones whom He calls “My People.” The land we love is sick and dying, and NO election is going to save it! I’ve lived through enough elections now to know that’s true! But God has not given up on us - He never has and He never will. God WANTS to take action to save our world, but today’s scripture proves to us He has decided that He will not UNLESS the “IF” portion of the “IF/THEN” clause is fulfilled.
The Church of Jesus Christ, God’s Church, THIS Church must “humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways…” and THEN God will hear from heaven, forgive OUR sin… AND HEAL OUR LAND.
I vow before God and before this congregation that Madison Park Church of God will devote ourselves, to the very best of our imperfect capabilities, to humility, prayer, seeking God, and turning from our wicked ways however He may reveal them to us. We REPENT.
May God’s response to us be the same as he gave that day when His glory first filled the Temple.
“My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” 2 Chronicles 7:15-16