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July 4th Weekend Sermon

“How to Heal the Land”

 

The impetus for the message I want to share with you this morning actually came to me several weeks ago – but – having no set time to share it – I kept procrastinating, thinking, “Oh well… I’ll write it later and put on my blog or something”. Then, last week when Pastor Pat asked me if I wanted to preach today – I knew this was the message God wanted me to share. Not only do I think it’s an important message, but the timing is perfect – for it fits with our 4th of July atmosphere.

Our scripture this morning comes from selected verses from 2 Chronicles chapters 6 and 7. If you’re not familiar with this book, it is found in the Old Testament, about half way between Judges and the Psalms.

Why bring a message for 2015 from an event that took place some 3,000 years ago” Because, as you’ve often heard Pastor Pat say, God’s promises are real!

The setting or context for our scripture is arguably the highest point of Israel’s National history to that date, or maybe even in all of their history; an event even more momentous than Israel’s reemergence as a nation in 1948 – we’re talking about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.

King David had wanted to build a temple for God, but God told him no, that he was a man of war, and it would be a man of peace who would build it – but God gave the plans for the temple to David. So David was allowed to participate in the design of the Temple. As we come to Second Chronicles, King David has died and Solomon is established as King. Chapters 1-5 detail the building of the Temple and then God filling the temple with His Glory. In chapter 6 the dedication service begins

Chapter 6:13 Now Solomon had made a bronze platform, five cubits long, five cubits wide and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court; and he stood on it, knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.

Solomon – the king of the mighty Davidic Empire – knelt down – on his knees – in front of all the people, lifted his arms to heaven, and began to pray…

How would we feel today, if our president and the leaders of our nation, went to their knees and lifted their arms to heaven?

First Solomon praised God for His great blessing, and then in verse 19 he asked God to hear his petitions. In verses 20-21 he asked God to protect this Temple; to hear his prayer and the prayers of the people. Then in verses 22-31 he prays a series of specific petitions characterized by a “cause and effect” scenario…

2 Chronicles 6:22-23 If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath (which he was not supposed to do) and [when] he comes and takes an oath [or repents] before Your altar in this house, then hear from heaven and act and judge Your servants…

2Ch 6:24-25 If Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and [when] they return to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication before You in this house, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You have given to them and to their fathers.

2Ch 6:26-27 When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, and [if] they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin when You afflict them; then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants and Your people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people for an inheritance.

2Ch 6:28-31 If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence, if there is blight or mildew, if there is locust or grasshopper, if their enemies besiege them in the land of their cities, whatever plague or whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all Your people… each knowing his own affliction and his own pain, and spreading his hands toward this house,

then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart You know for You alone know the hearts of the sons of men, that they may fear You, to walk in Your ways as long as they live in the land which You have given to our fathers.

Then in verses 32-33 Solomon addresses the prayers of the foreigner – the immigrant, as we might call him, and guess what? They are the very same.

“Also concerning the foreigner who is not from Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your great name’s sake and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house,

then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, and fear You as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.”

Verses 34-39

When Your people go out to battle against their enemies, by whatever way You shall send them, and [when] they pray to You toward this city which You have chosen and the house which I have built for Your name, then hear from heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.

When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near, if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying, ‘We have sinned, we have committed iniquity and have acted wickedly’;

if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been taken captive, and pray toward their land which You have given to their fathers and the city which You have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for Your name, then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people who have sinned against You.”

“If/when/then”. “If/when/then.” Over and over Solomon lifted his petitions to heaven because he knew as Paul would later state it in Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” But he also knew that as we read in 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins…”

And then in verses 40-42 Solomon ends the payer. And this was the dedication prayer at the Temple.

OK – Fast-forward to April 30, 1789. George Washington is being inaugurated as the first president of the United States. At that time, New York City was the capital of the country. When George Washington gave the very first inaugural address, he did just like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple; he acknowledged God’s hand of providence upon the creation of this nation. He said:

“It would be [greatly] improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to the Almighty Who rules over the universe, Who presides in the councils of nations, and Whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.”

And Washington, too, gave a warning as did Solomon when he said:

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself hath ordained”.

In other words – God cannot be expected to bless a nation that disregards His rules of order!

After his speech was over, George Washington led the Senate and the House of Representatives on foot in a procession through the streets of the capital from Federal Hall, the site of the inauguration, to a place that had been appointed for prayer – a little stone church located nearby. In what would later be recorded as the first ever joint session of Congress, the President, the Senate and the Representatives gathered in a Church, so that the first collective act of the newly formed American Government – was to gather for prayer to give thanks, and specifically to commit the future into the holy protection and blessing of the Most High God.

And where was this church? You may actually remember seeing pictures of this church. It’s the little Episcopal Church that sits at the edge of Ground Zero, which at the time of the inauguration, was just a field which belonged to the church.

The very place where Washing prayed to commit the fate of this new nation into the holy protection and blessing of the Most High, was the very place where America was attacked.

But if you remember your Bible history, Solomon’s temple was also destroyed some 300 years later due to the people of God rejecting God’s sovereignty.

But there is still hope. There is still a way to heal our land.

Twenty-three days after Solomon’s prayer and the dedication of the temple – God spoke to Solomon and answered his prayer. And this is what He said:

2 Chronicles 7:12 “Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.’” (And it wasn’t just for Israel – in Mark 11:17 Jesus called the Temple “A place of prayer for all the nations”)

Verse 13 – Then God continues with 3 scenarios of judgment “If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people…”

These are not necessarily three specific judgments, they are three different types of judgment

In other words

  • if there are “so called” natural disasters – and this covers all of them – drought, famine, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, climate change…
  • if the enemy destroys – the word “locust” is often used when talking about a physical enemy (See the book of Joel).
  • or if there is disease – outbreaks and illness

God said, if/when these things happen as judgment – there is a solution

Verse 14

“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, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah… we’ve heard that before. Yes, we’ve “heard” it before – but have we really heard what it is saying. This is a promise from God. You’ve heard it from this pulpit likely more than any other place – God keeps His promises. You’ve heard Pastor Pat say it – “Nothing is impossible for God” “For in Christ all of God’s promises are ‘Yes’”. And this word from God is just as much a promise as when He said “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

This is the key to everything I’ve shared this morning. So, briefly, let’s break it down.

  • If My people

Who are God’s people? The word literally means “a tribe” or “a flock”. In the context of the Scripture – obviously it is Israel, but in Romans 11, we find that we as Gentiles were grafted in – we’ve been adopted – so we are God’s people.

  • If My people who are called by My name

For something to be called by someone’s name means it is owned by them. Do you refer to yourself as a Christian? Are you called by God’s name? Are you – am I – owned – lock, stock and barrel – by God? Paul said that he was a “Bondservant” to God – that he was totally owned by God.

  • If My people who are called by My name humble themselves

What does it mean to “humble yourself”? The word means “to bend the knee”. When was the last time you “bent your knee” to God? Yes, the Bible lists all kinds of positions for prayer – but there is only one position for humility and it is bowing low or being prostrate before God. Solomon, the king of Israel, knelt down to pray. Are you willing to physically, bow down before Almighty God?

  • If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray

What are our prayers like? Keep me safe, heal my hurts, fix my problems, Yes, God cares for His children – but I’m afraid that many times our prayers are in a rut and are all about me and mine…

  • If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face

Ah – we must seek God’s face. What does this mean – it means we must seek God’s will. What is it that God wants? What is it that brings God Glory? We must seek God’s face. We must look where He looks. But here’s the key to everything…

  • If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways

It’s not enough to be called Christian; it’s not enough to kneel down and pray some memorized or rote prayer. It’s not even enough to ask God what is His will… if we’re not going to do it.

“Turn from our wicked ways? What wicked ways?” We have this tendency to think of something “wicked” as things other people do. Our sins are often times so ingrained within us that we don’t even know that what we’re doing is wrong. We’ve talked this way all our lives; we’ve done these things; we’ve watched these programs or surfed these sites. WE don’t see anything wrong with them – but that’s our opinion. What does God have to say about them?

So here’s what we need to do – we need to ask God what is wicked within me. In Psalm 139:23-24 David said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way within me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Are you willing to lay yourself out before God and ask Him to show you what He wants to change about you? Ask Him if there is any “wicked way within you”? If you’re bold enough to ask Him, I guarantee you, He will show you. The answer might not come this afternoon, but it will come – slowly you will begin to be troubled by things you are saying or things you are doing that are not in accordance to God’s will. If you trust God enough to save you from your sins, shouldn’t you trust Him enough to remove them from you, too?

If God’s people, who are called by His Name will humble themselves, and pray and seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways

Then (He said) “I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land…”

Everyone wants their land healed – whether we’re talking about the national land or our own personal land. And this is how we heal our land.

This morning we’re going to open the altar up for one single prayer – “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The altar is open, if you’re willing to ask God what He wants to change about you. That’s a tough question, and it’s not easy to ask. But God will bless you if you ask it.

Victor is going to sing and then I’ll lift the prayer requests from this morning, and then we’ll have our closing song – but come and pray as long as you want to pray.

 

——–Now – if you’ve taken the time to read the whole sermon, and are willing to take the challenge of asking God to show you any wicked way within you – let me know. Either comment or e-mail me directly (my e-mail is on the “contact” page). I’d love to know how God answers your prayer, and I’d love to pray for you on your journey.

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I am one of the writers for the Daily Bible Study series published by the United Methodist Publishing House.  Once the studies are published they are copyrighted by UMPH. However… until they are published, aren’t they still mine? I mean, the final edit might be different, mightn’t it? 😉

Anyway, the series I’m working on brought me to James 1:12-18 today, and it is so personal, that I wanted to share it.

In writing the daily lesson, I am given the text and the title. Then I supply a question for the reader and close with a personal prayer. I hope you are touched as much by this lesson as I was writing it.

(Oh – by the way – I am required to use the Common English Bible translation)

Freedom From Temptation

James 1:12-18

How can you embrace God’s word to free you from temptation?

I sat looking at my computer screen for a long time this morning as I began this lesson. This day had begun with a temptation to give in to a “pity party”. I didn’t feel well and every little thing seemed to go wrong. But then when I sat down and read today’s scripture – God spoke to my heart.

James’ letter was written to Jewish Christians scattered outside the land of Israel (verse 1). Historically, the letter seems to fit between Acts 8 and 13, as the church began to face persecution. The very first words out of James’ mouth after the greeting tells us to “think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy” (verse 2).

I certainly was not thinking of “an occasion for joy” this morning as I faced this particular test! But as I read our text I was encouraged. I noticed that James didn’t say that those who stand firm would have the test removed; rather, as he pointed out they will be blessed (verse 12a).

The Greek word for blessed is makarios, It’s the same word used in the beatitudes and means “possessing the favor of God”. James reassured the persecuted Christians (and me) that the result of God’s favor would be the [eternal] life he had promised as a reward (verse 12b).

It is fascinating that the words “test” and “tempt” are translated from the same Greek word. However, we can only determine its meaning by its outcome. Will the situation produce endurance (verse 3) or sin (verse 15)? Every difficult situation, every “various test” (verse 2) we encounter can either strengthen us so that God can use us further, or it can cause us to sin.

But God isn’t the one who tempts us to do evil (verse 13). We are tempted when we are enticed by our own cravings (verse 14). The word “cravings” is often rendered “lust” in other translations. We tend to think of “lust” only in sexual connotations; however the word simply means “selfish desire” regardless of what that desire involves. The “desire”, though, is not sinful until it becomes an action; until it conceives and gives birth to sin (verse 15).

James warned Christians (of every generation) not to be misled (verse 16). Yes, man has a responsibility, but God, who is not tempted (verse 13b), is reliable. Every good (and perfect) gift comes from the Father in whom there is no change at all (verse 17). He will see us through. He will provide the strength to free us from temptation.

James said, “He chose to give us birth by his true word” (verse 18a italics added). This “word” is the Logos; the “first fruit” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As a result James’ readers “are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.” And so, thankfully, are we.

 

Prayer: Free me from temptation, O Lord that the test may only serve to strengthen me in service. Amen

 

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