Thursday, July 4, 2013

If My People Who are Called by My Name...

Happy Independence Day (for Americans)!  I hope you enjoy a lovely evening of frankfurters, festivities, and fireworks!  Our scriptures today are:  2 Chronicles 5-7; 1 Timothy 4; Psalm 121.

As one of the new pastors in the community, I was invited to give the invocation today, at our Scottsburg (Virginia) Fourth of July celebration.  Thank God that in a community like this, a Christian pastor can still be invited to have a public prayer!  Not all communities are so accommodating these days--but here we are in the Bible belt where things like this are still considered a good thing.  It's just a shame that we've had so much rain that our Independence Day celebrations have been called off.  But I'll share with you what I was going to share with those who were supposed to gather in Scottsburg for the Fourth of July.

A few days ago, I was considering what scripture to tie in with my invocation prayer, and I determined to use 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV), in which God says:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

Then, as if to reinforce this verse in my heart, it showed up right on schedule in my Bible reading this morning!  So I knew I had to share it today.

The context here is that King Solomon had completed the building of his palace and the Temple of God.  He had held a sacred assembly and celebration.  After he had sent the people home, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream.  The Lord promised that if the people turned away from following Him and reaped judgment on themselves, that God would bless them once again if they would repent and return to Him.

This is a popular scripture to share at civic events, during times of prayer for our nation.  For me to share this scripture on the Fourth of July is nothing new or original...except for the fact that it's interesting that it "just happened" to show up in today's readings.

Many of us believe that America has been heading down the wrong path for a long time.  This verse reminds us that it's not too late--that God may yet return His blessing to our country if we repent and turn to Him again.  But one phrase rings in my ears when I read this verse:

If my people who are called by my name...

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard this verse quoted at civic events.  Along with the reminder that if those heathen athiests will repent, or if those ungodly people in Hollywood or Washington would humble themselves, pray, seek God's face, and turn from their wicked ways, then God will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.  But that's not what this verse says.  God clearly says:

If my people who are called by my name...

The finger pointing must end when we realize that it's not the ungodly sinners who are bringing judgment on America.  It's the people of God who have fallen into complacency who have brought us to where we are today.  God says that we are the ones who need to repent.  We are the ones who should have always known better.

If my people who are called by my name...

So, who are the people who are called by God's name?  Is it the Muslims?  No--they don't call themselves by the name of a god.  They're not the Allahists.  Is it the Jews?  No--they don't call themselves the Yahwists.  How about the Buddhists?  No--they don't even consider Buddha to be a god.  When we read it today and apply it to our own nation (though of course we know that historically Christianity didn't exist during Solomon's time), it's Christians that God is talking about.  Christianity is the only religion that names itself after its God.  We who are God's people, who are called by His name, we who call ourselves "Christ-ones," we are the ones who must humble ourselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways.  It's up to us.

If my people who are called by my name...

We've got to quit pointing at the godless and ungodly, and blaming them for our national woes.  

We've got to take responsibility for falling down on the job--for the church failing to be the voice of God to our nation and the hands of Christ to the hurting.  

We've got to repent of the pain that we have caused, and continue to cause, in the name of Christ.  

We've got to stop clothing our social causes in the cross of Christ, as if Jesus were the poster child for our own political plans and activist agendas.  

We must turn again to the aid of the poor and afflicted, the outcast and forgotten.  

We must live what we say we believe, and make our faith something we live every day.  

Worship and Bible study and prayer must once again become a priority in our lives.  

We must cease trusting the schools to teach our children to be virtuous, and remember that God has called us to be the leaders and teachers of our families.  

We must stop blaming "them" for taking prayer out of schools and courthouses, and acknowledge that we haven't lost anything that we didn't in fact give up by our own complacency.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

So I ask you today--are you one of God's people?  Do you call yourself by the name of Christ?  It's time to repent.  It's time to spend some time on our knees.  It's time to give up living like the world and start living like Jesus.  It's up to us.  It's up to Christians.  It's up to the church to turn it around.  Only then can we expect God to revive us again.  When we say "God bless America," it needs to be more than just words--more than just a prayer.  It needs to be the rally cry of a people of faith who say, "Yes, we will be the means by which God blesses America."  And when we become the blessings that God has called us to be, then God will heal our land.