2 Chronicles 15:1-15 – Revive Us Again

The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time, Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. 

But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”

When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.

Then he assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.

They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign. At that time, they sacrificed to the Lord seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats from the plunder they had brought back. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. They took an oath to the Lord with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns. All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So, the Lord gave them rest on every side. (New International Version)

God’s people had drifted. Times of seeking the Lord became few and far between – until it rarely happened, at all. They were spiritually dry with seemingly no hope. How did they get to the point of being so far from God that they needed a spiritual revival?

After God brought Israel out of hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, they were led to the Promised Land with Moses as leader. Moses died, and his young protégé Joshua took over and led Israel in her military campaigns to take the land that God had promised them. 

God kept the divine promises. However, although Israel had geographically taken the land, they did not completely dislodge all the peoples living there, as God had told them to do. God’s people only partially obeyed. They were content to be in the land without dealing with all the remaining people.

Israel and Judah’s relationship to the land also serves as a metaphor for the church and her faith. Israel saw the land as a possession, as something to have, rather than as something to be used and developed for the glory of God. 

If and when God’s people, in any age, look upon their faith as merely a possession, instead of a dynamic relationship between themselves and the Lord, then the beginnings of spiritual rigor mortis begin to settle in. 

We get a haunting narrative in the book of Judges, after the people took the land, and Joshua died: 

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel… They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger.” (Judges 2:10-12)

The land became something not to lose, instead of something God wanted to use to grow them into faithful people.

The day God’s people took the land was the day they rejoiced in victory, and also the day their faith began to die. The Old Testament is a long drawn out story of a disobedient and obstinate people who continually forsake their God and live like the nations for whom they did not overcome. 

The Lord, ever the longsuffering and patient God, went century after century sending prophets to call them back to a living faith. Yet, with each passing year, they’d die a little bit more.

The promise, however, was always there: Seek God, and you will find him. Whenever the people were reminded of that reality and took it to heart by going after the Lord, there was revival in the land.

Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:19, NIV

God’s people, in every age, must look upon faith as a wonderful opportunity to spiritually engage the world – to explore all the dimensions of knowing God. That requires putting unhealthy stuff aside and taking up healthy practices. The word for that action is “repentance.” And the result is revival, or new life.

For the Christian, if the goal is to just keep some semblance of looking like a real follower of Jesus, then there is probably some inner distress which no one sees. If we become more afraid of making mistakes than we are of missing God-given opportunities, then the time is ripe for a revival. 

God does not send us to safe places to do easy things; the Lord sends prophets to remind us of our true calling, to revive us again.

The need for resurrection presupposes that there is death. Praying for revival, renewal, and reawakening means that something needs life. With God, nothing is impossible – even the deadest and driest of people and situations.

God specializes in both giving and restoring life. The Lord does more than help; God finds us and changes us. reanimates us from spiritual rigor mortis to lively resurrection through breathing on us. Jesus came to his disciples after the resurrection and said:

“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. ” (John 20:21-22, NIV)

Faith is more than a possession; it is also a gift to be used to glorify God in loving one another and loving the world as Jesus did.

You live where you live because God wants you to bring life to your neighborhood. 

Who will pray for your neighbors, if not you? 

Who will be concerned for our communities, if not us? 

You work at your workplace because God wants to bring life to it.

Who will make a difference at your workplace, if not you? 

You are in your family, your school, or your church because God wants to bring life to all those spaces and places.

Who will bring a vigorous spiritual life everywhere they are, if not you? 

We are to seek the Lord. It isn’t a game of hide-and-seek. It is an act of faith, believing that God can and will be found by those who seek after him. And wherever God is found, there you will find abundant life.

Perhaps, just maybe, what is needed is some heartfelt, sustained, and focused prayer to God.

Ask and it will be given to you.

Seek and you will find.

Knock and the door will be opened to you. 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Revive us again, fill each heart with thy love.
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory, hallelujah! Amen!
Hallelujah! Thine the glory, revive us again. – W.P. Mackay, 1863

Leviticus 25:1-19 – Your Well-Being Is a Priority to God

And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.

‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.

‘In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore, you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

‘So, you shall observe My statutes, keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. (New King James Version)

Our continual well-being and rest are not optional; it is absolutely essential.

If a car is driven day-after-day and never gets an oil change, the engine will eventually seize and die. And if a person insists on driving their life every day with continual work, and never practices a Sabbath rest, that person will inevitably burn-out and die an early death. 

In this busy world, far too many persons are putting the pedal-to-the-metal with no thought to the consequences, and no plan for any kind of Sabbath rest. Many people throughout the modern world are slowly draining their souls, causing themselves physical harm, and are on the precipice of emotional and spiritual death.

Perhaps you raise a Mr. Spock eyebrow and wonder if I am being too dramatic. Yet, if we are to take today’s Old Testament lesson seriously, we will see that all of life is to be governed by a healthy rhythm of life which benefits both the individual and the community.

Yes, I fully understand that neither the contemporary person nor the Christian is currently living under ancient Israelite law. However, every single law in the Old Testament is grounded in the character of God. 

This means that, although we may not be obliged to hold the detailed specifics of the seven years system and a year of Jubilee, we are still beholden to observe a Sabbath rhythm of rest because God rested. And we ignore this built-in rhythm to our own peril.

Sometimes I watch the news, see all the upset people at one another and think, “Dude, you really need to sit down, relax, and have a sandwich. Just take a breath, man!” I sometimes wonder if God looks down from heaven at all the world’s conflicts and sees the people involved as a bunch of toddlers who simply need a snack and a nap.

Just as God loves, we are to love. As God is holy, so we are to be holy. And the same holds true for a Sabbath rest. Just as God rested from all the work of creating the world, so we, too, are to rest from our work. Laboring 24/7 will only give us regrets, not results.

If I haven’t been explicit enough, I will say it plainly: We are commanded by God to rest.

It is high time we begin building into our weekly planners, smartphone calendars, and long-range goals, a deliberate and purposeful inclusion of Sabbath rest. 

That means not just doing this biblical rest thing once-in-a-while, that is, if I can fit it in somewhere. A complete Sabbath rest entails making it a real actual event on a regular basis in our life, on our calendars. No excuses, no fudging of appointments, and no lame *sigh* about how busy we are. 

Set aside time today to build a Sabbath into your schedule for the rest of the year, and maybe beyond. I’m not saying this is at all easy; in fact, it is terribly hard for me to get this practice into my own life. 

Because I am a church pastor, hospital chaplain, husband, father, and grandfather, my times of scheduling meetings, events, and visits looks more like a Sudoku puzzle than a calendar. Engrafting some serious biblical rest into my life sometimes feels like hacking through a jungle, looking frenetically for some time.

But, without that rest, I am much less the person I need to be for all the people and responsibilities I care for. The people in my life deserve better than that. They don’t need my leftovers. And I suspect the people in your life want you to rest, too, because you matter to them.

Creator God, you formed the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh. Help me not to put Sabbath on some wish list of things to do someday but enable me to practice it with courage and without apology, through the name of Jesus, I live and pray. Amen.

Psalm 80:1-7 – Restore Us

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved. (New Revised Standard Version)

Restoration is a beautiful thing. I don’t often watch makeover shows on television. But if I’m channel surfing and see an old house, appearing ready for the wrecking ball, getting restored to its original charm and beauty, I’m hooked. We resonate deeply with things being repaired and rejuvenated, as if it is brand new.

For that to occur, someone needs to have a vision to see the old become new. If not, then the drab discouragement of a gray and dreary environment can easily take over. We then forget the original shine of how things once were to the point where we cannot even imagine that it’s worth salvaging. 

In the context of today’s psalm, God’s people once enjoyed the covenant and the promises of God. But over time, the relationship was not maintained and cared for. So, the people gradually slid into disrepair. Centuries of sheer neglect brought a situation where it seemed the only recourse was to raze everything and begin again.

The psalms have been the prayer book of God’s people for over three millennia. Suffering and hard circumstances provide the backdrop for many of them. Sometimes the difficulty is external – another nation oppressing the people. Yet other times, like in today’s psalm, the problem is internal – sheer neglect of God’s commands over time. It went on to the point that God’s longsuffering ran out.

I would much rather enjoy God’s favor than God’s disappointing anger. To begin addressing any sort of spiritual neglect, the work of prayer becomes the tool we need. Restoring broken lives and broken communities to their original beauty starts with prayer and praise, offered daily and often. 

Seven times a day I praise you
    for your righteous laws. (Psalm 119:164, NIV)

What’s more, our tears, which seem, at times, to be our daily bread, are a kind of baptismal offering to God – prayers coming through groans which words cannot express. Even with our prayers, the Lord is gracious to help us with the requests themselves and not just the answers.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. (Romans 8:26, NLT)

God is waiting for us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. And we must keep coming to the Lord, again and again. 

Jesus understands every weakness of ours because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. (Hebrews 4:15-16, CEV)

Like the continual routine of using the hammer, pounding nail after nail, so we must offer our prayers morning, noon, and night, day after day, crying out to God with the great cry of the church: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

May the hope of Advent, the love of God in Christ, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit restore your soul and enliven your spirit, now and forever. Amen.

O loving and gracious God, bring restoration to my life, to my church, to my family, to my workplace, and to my community.  Things are not as they once were.  Send your Holy Spirit so that we might enjoy seasons of blessing again.  Restore, renew, revive and rejuvenate our disordered churches.  May your face shine upon us once again through the mighty name of Jesus.  Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-9 – A Vision of Hope and Peace

The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, 1826

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea. (New International Version)

In some quarters of Christianity, the church exists as a mere stump of its former existence. In many Christians’ daily experience the Spirit has been supplanted by individual ingenuity, hard work, and getting ahead through accumulation of more and more. Basic Christian spirituality is a mere shadow of its former influence. If Christians desire the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon them, they will seek Christ as of foremost importance.  

Indeed, it is when we are worn down to a stump and have no ability to grow or sustain life anymore that God enters, specializing in giving hope to the hopeless, justice for the poor, wisdom to the confused, and peace to all who desire a harmonious world.

In the awful feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, a faint sign of life can be seen. A fresh shoot becomes discernible. Could there be possibility amidst impossible circumstances? Can there be life again? Do I dare hope again? Will things really change, and do so for the better?

The answer is “yes.” For where the Spirit of the Lord blows there is the force of resurrection power, spiritual energy, and fresh courage. Where others see only the impossible, the believer has a capacity of faith to see the possible. The Spirit’s force generates possibility where none existed before. When the breath of God whispers to the sprout in the stump, pessimistic despair turns to optimistic hope, even joy.

Christ is the Christian’s hope. In Christ, there is security, well-being, and life. With Jesus, there is a vision of justice in which all persons receive what they need to live, thrive, and flourish in God’s world. Christ works for our benefit without the personal greed and indifference of so many earthly rulers. The weak and vulnerable have a champion in Jesus Christ. Renewal and restoration are possibilities.

I have taken a liking to a show called “The Repair Shop,” a British television series in which family heirlooms with sentimental value are restored by experts for their owners. What captivates me about the show is how a few people can take old broken-down items (and by all appearances now a piece of junk) and restore them to their once glorious newness.

Yet, there is more to my captivation. I am struck by the sheer pleasure the restorers take in handling the old object, enjoying the process. Just by the looks on their faces, I can tell they consider it a privilege to be restoring a precious object of the past.

I am sure this is precisely how God feels with us. Rather than envisioning the Lord as some reluctant deity who feels put out with having to rescue a bunch of dumb and wayward people, God is One who takes delight in taking this old stump of fallen damaged humanity and restoring people to their original luster and beauty.

Transformation is God’s specialty, and the Lord goes about the process of restoration with great care and delight.

The Peaceable Kingdom by Malcah Zeldis

The impossible possibility of God’s new creation is poetically described in Isaiah as the peaceful co-existence of animals who are inconceivably together without fear or violence. There is a time coming when death will be no more, and so, the necessity in this life of hunter and prey will be forever negated. No more snakes terrorizing women and children. No more big fishes eating little ones. No more human fat cats preying upon and striking poison on the small and vulnerable.

The presence of the godly Ruler means the world will be governed rightly, detoxified of its sinful impurities – a place where the poor, the weak, and the little lambs will indeed be safe and secure forever. There will be peace because of the Prince of Peace. All creation will be full of God, and so, free of all malice.

Isaiah envisions a deep, radical, limitless transformation in which there will be no more desire to injure another; no need to dominate another; and no motive for selfish power over others.

The Lord will bring about a metamorphosis of human hearts and institutions, a renovation of the animal kingdom, and a radical change down to every blade of grass in creation. The Apostle Paul had this grand prophetic vision of God in mind when he wrote to the Church at Rome:

I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25, CEB)

The implication for us as humanity was voiced by Paul to the Colossian Church:

Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.

Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful. (Colossians 3:10-15, CEV)

The transformation is all-pervasive, thoroughly public, and intimately personal. It is a gift from God; it is the impossible made possible. And it is this precise thing which we acknowledge, celebrate, and long for in the season of Advent. When the angel came to Mary and communicated that Isaiah’s vision was coming to reality through her womb, Mary astonishingly retorted:

 “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel, with supreme confidence, answered Mary as a matter of fact:

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…. For no word from God will ever fail.”

Mary’s response gives voice to our own desires and longings for the new order of things:

“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:34-38, NIV)

This is our confession, too. We are the Lord’s servants.

May God’s word to us about the coming of Christ be fulfilled, just as Isaiah said. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus on a starry night so many years ago.

Soli Deo Gloria