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It's Time to "Restore the Years", Part 1

Insight for Living / Chuck Swindoll
The Truth Network Radio
May 16, 2022 7:05 am

It's Time to "Restore the Years", Part 1

Insight for Living / Chuck Swindoll

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May 16, 2022 7:05 am

The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal

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In the days leading up to Sunday morning, pastors and leaders make deliberate choices about the worship service.

They carefully plan the hour, orchestrating the music and message in such a way that fosters an intimate encounter with the living God. Today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll contends these important questions are best answered not by contemporary experts, but by consulting the Old Testament prophets. Chapter 2.

Will you do that? So I'll give you a little bit of time to find both of those books. They're a little unusual. Ezekiel is among the major prophets, and Joel is among the minor prophets. They're named that not because of the message being more important than the other, but because simply the size of the books.

The major prophets are, for the most part, very sizable in length. And Ezekiel is one of those, so Ezekiel 2 is where we'll begin the message, but I want to read for us from Joel chapter 2. Beginning at verse 21, Joel 2 21. Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has done great things. Do not fear, beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness have turned green. For the tree has borne its fruit. The fig tree and the vine have yielded in full. So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the Lord your God, for he has given you the early rain for your vindication. He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before. The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust, my great army which I sent among you. You shall have plenty to eat and be satisfied. And praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you, then my people will never be put to shame. This is Insight for Living.

For resources designed to help you dig deeper into today's topic, go to insight.org. And now let's continue Chuck Swindoll's message titled, It's Time to Restore the Years. Let's pretend that Rip Van Winkle was a Christian. And he really did love the Lord, and he really did attend faithfully the house of worship, and year after year found himself encouraged and strengthened by the things that were preached and taught. His walk with Christ was deep, and his prayer life devoted and consistent. And then for some strange reason, he fell asleep, and he slept, and he slept.

30, 40 years. And then one day he awoke and stretched himself, and looked around, and realized, of course, three, four decades had passed, and so much had changed, but he never dreamed that his church would have changed. And as he attends this strange arrangement of what is now called another kind of church, another way of doing church, he found his soul hungry. And thinking perhaps that's just true of this church, he he went to yet another one, and still another, and began to say, what's happened to my church? What's happened to the songs? I love new songs, but these are so shallow, and repetitive, and meaningless. And what has happened to the pulpit?

It's gone. What is he doing up there? It's like a show. And old Rip finally realizes that more has changed than just the passing of time. We find ourselves in the 21st century on hard times, and I'm not alone in the observation.

I picked up one of my favorite works recently, Between Two Worlds. John R.W. Stott writes these words, the prophets of doom in today's church are confidently predicting that the day of preaching is over. It is a dying art, they say, an outmoded form of communication, an echo from an abandoned past.

I turned to the front piece of the book and found it was published 1982. There were even then prophets of doom telling us things are not now as they once were, and they never will be. Get over it.

Get in step. We all understand that Jesus predicted that he will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. It's right there in black print on white pages, but he never said that the gates of hell would not attack it, or that the gates of hell would not do their best to silence the messengers of the church.

The imaginary moment with Rip Van Winkle is no imaginary thing at all. While still a pastor, Eugene Peterson, serving Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, Bel Air, Maryland, back in the 1980s also wrote these words as he lamented our times. As he laments our times, American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery, and they continue to appear on Sundays, but they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of 20 centuries. A few of us are angry about it.

We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues, he writes, those who defined ministry for me a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. He continues, the people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started. Being a pastor is difficult work.

We want the companionship and council of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect, share the quest and commitment of pastoral work, and find within 10 minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status.

Matters of God and the soul and scripture are not grist for their mills. The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers' concerns, how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it's still shopkeeping, religious shopkeeping to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs.

While asleep, they dream of the kind of success that would get the attention of journalists. Then he adds, the biblical fact is there are no successful churches. There are instead communities of sinners gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor.

I love that line. Along with all the other sinners, there's a sinner who is the pastor of the group. He's given a designated responsibility in the community.

The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is his responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. And I too am angry. And you ought to be too. Thankfully, there are exceptions. Please remember I said that. There are exceptions, but therein lies the tragedy.

They're the exceptions rather than the rule. One of our long-standing members left our flock to go to another place to live. His responsibilities to home and family required his moving. I said to him, I hope you settle in well, and I hope to hear back from you soon. I heard back from him just this morning from a mutual friend, and he said, I cannot after all these weeks find one place of deep meaningful worship.

It's all entertainment. If I named the place, you would be even more surprised. It is a place many would call almost a resort community, where people flock, you would think, of all places for there to be a citadel of truth. It would be there.

He cannot find it, and he's driven 50 miles in various directions. And so as I look back, I remember those great names of the past. Those are the people, those were the individuals who shaped my thinking. Not one of them is a wild-eyed fanatic.

Not one was out of balance, out of control. But all were deep thinking, serious-minded, competent, gifted expositors who preached the truth and wrote the truth and taught the truth and saw a world in front of them that's lost. And so they shared their lives for the sake of those who had never come to Christ, as well as deepening those of us who had known Jesus and needed to grow in him.

But that was then. Where are they now? You, like I, are in touch with various people who are in churches looking for a senior pastor. I can tell you without your even answering back, every one of those churches has a short list, and many on that list still aren't qualified. There was a time when you had a choice of many. That time is no longer. Tragically, even in seminaries where the Word of God was taught where the Word of God was taught and faithfully communicating how to deliver the message line upon line, verse after verse, chapter after chapter, book following book, those places are rare indeed.

It's all turning to the gimmicks of the 21st century style, and congregations are starving. So I decided rather than interview one of the contemporaries, and I could have chosen some, like I say there are exceptions, I decided to go back a few centuries and interview three individuals whose names are familiar but we've never met them. It may seem an unlikely sort to pick, but after all you've got to say something for their character. And they are models of those who stood for the truth, plus their lives were a benediction to their words.

And speaking of that, their words are inspired. The first will be Ezekiel, and we'll visit with him, chapter two to start with, and then we'll go over to talk with Amos and hear his counsel, and finally we'll listen and talk with Joel as a third interview. Ezekiel chapter two. Ezekiel chapter two. Ezekiel had his work cut out for him, folks. He was surrounded by somewhere around 10,000 Jews in exile.

Stay with me. Babylon has come, has sacked the city of Jerusalem, has wiped out the walls that once protected it, has destroyed the temple, has burned their homes, has taken away their livelihood, and they have marched all the way to the Kibar Canal, C-H-E-B-A-R. That's where this transpires, and they're living there like in a concentration or an interment camp. They are there. They're away from home. As the psalmist puts it, they've hung their harps on the willow trees. They're no longer singing the Lord's song in the Lord's land. They are aliens, exiles, and they have become cynical.

Rather than this experience crushing them, they are a rebellious people. There is no voice for the people to hear for five years, and then finally Ezekiel feels the Lord's tap on his shoulder, and the Lord says, you're my man. You speak. They won't want to listen, but you speak.

They won't care, but you speak. Look at chapter 2, verse 1. He said to me, son of man, stand on your feet, that I may speak with you. As he spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and sent me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. That's the way it is when you are a spokesman for God.

God speaks to you. You then take his message and deliver it to God's people, and that's exactly where Ezekiel is. Then he said to me, son of man, I'm sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against me.

They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. You would have thought losing home, losing family, losing the temple, losing your land, losing your government would humble you, not on your life. These people are fighting against me, says God, speaking to Ezekiel. And so he says to him, verse 4, I'm sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord God. That's the responsibility of the prophet.

He afflicted the comfortable, and he made comfort for the afflicted. He did both, and Ezekiel is to come and to tell them what they don't want to hear. Look at verse 5. As for them, whether they had listened or not, for they are a rebellious house, they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you. Look at the next phrase.

Oh, and you sit on scorpions. Now that's what I call a hard ministry. Here he is ministering to people who are like thorns and thistles, and they have a stinging kind of reproof. They do not want to hear what he has to say. Their heads are wagging, their fingers are wagging, their mouths are moving. They don't want to hear what he has to say.

He says, go ahead and say it. Verse 7. But you shall speak to my words to them, whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.

I get the feeling they are rebellious. Don't you get that? God has a way of saying it over and over again. Look at chapter 3. Then he said to me, son of man, eat what you find. Eat this scroll.

Go and speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth. He fed me the scroll. He said to me, son of man, feed your stomach. Fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you. I ate it.

It was sweet as honey in my mouth. The man who speaks for God takes in the word of God personally. It's as though he is assimilating the truths in his own life.

Not as though. That's exactly what he does, which is illustrated in the symbol of taking this and eating the scroll. I take it that that's exactly what Ezekiel did. Verse 10. Moreover, he said to me, son of man, take into your heart all my words which I shall speak to you and listen closely. Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, thus says the Lord God.

And the Spirit lifted him up, and that's exactly what he did. In chapter 33, I'd like to have you look at next. We're going to cut to the chase, and we're going to find Ezekiel in this very difficult setting, holding forth, and we're going to read how the people responded to him. Years ago, one of my mentors told me that these last four verses of Ezekiel 33 are a pretty good description of my future. So I'm going to tell you I memorized them.

I did. I memorized them. Every minister of the gospel ought to have memorized Ezekiel 33, 30 to 33. It wouldn't hurt Christians to learn them as well. Now the Lord points his finger at his prophet, and he says, but as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, come. Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord. So here is a man who's been speaking the truth, and the word is out, and if you want to hear somebody speak well in public, you need to hear Ezekiel. I mean, the man is speaking for his God.

You're not going to hear anything like this. Come on with us. Come on. So the people came. They came apparently in large numbers, and verse 31 makes it look like a pretty good church service. They came. They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words.

That's the way it is, isn't it? People come. People sit. People listen. They hear the words, but Ezekiel, they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth. It's all about them, Ezekiel. You think this is writing to ancient days? This is 21st century stuff, folks.

The people gather from all around. Tell me what I want to hear. Tell me how great I am.

Tell me a lot of self-help stuff so I can feel better about myself. No, don't talk about sin. I heard an interview on television where the man said, who happens to think of himself as a spokesman for God, I never used the word sin. People already know that. Well, how easy we forget it. So, we need to keep saying it. Keep reminding ourselves, but these people will do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain.

You know what that means? Hey, church is good business. Hey, you're a salesman. Look at all these possible folks that are ready to buy your stuff. Well, you ought to get this mailing list.

Whoa, how great is this opportunity for you to, you know, build your business. A little social contact. This is a perfunctory spirit toward worship.

Goes on all the time, all the time. And Ezekiel, they're going to do this right in front of your face. Well, Ezekiel could think, well, what are they thinking about me?

I mean, why would they come here? Well, I'll tell you, Ezekiel, verse 32. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument. One of the paraphrases says, you're like a good old country singer with a guitar backed up by banjo and drum traps. And they come to hear you sing. They hear your words.

But they do not do them. You understand worship is like an electric conduit. It's constantly on the move, and it's constantly moving back and forth, back and forth.

Otherwise, the circuit's broken. If it winds up as a dead end street, the purpose of worship is lost. It isn't about just taking in or being entertained or impressed. It's about a changed life.

But they do not practice them. And look at the, verse 33 lands like a gavel on a judge's bench. So, when it comes to pass, comes to pass as surely it will, then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst. You're listening to Insight for Living, and this is message number nine in Chuck Swindoll's nine-part series called The Church Awakening.

There's much more teaching ahead, and I strongly encourage you to listen through the end of this teaching series. To learn more about this ministry, be sure to visit us online at insightworld.org. And if you're inspired to learn more, or perhaps you're motivated to ignite the conversation with your friends at church, I'd recommend you request the book that parallels this series. It's called The Church Awakening. Chuck's book will help you find the right church, strengthen your current church, and guard against the gimmicks that degrade the bride of Christ. Bear in mind, this is one of the very last times we'll mention this book on the program. So, take a minute to reach out while it's fresh on your mind. To purchase a copy, give us a call right now.

If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888, or it may be quicker to place your order online at insight.org slash offer. Again, the book is called The Church Awakening. We're grateful to those who give above and beyond the price of resources because it's your partnership that allows us to inspire healthy churches beyond our own borders. For example, even during immense persecution, Christians in Eastern Europe are pulling together and drawing strength from one another.

We know that's true because the Bible teaching you enjoy on insight for living is translated into numerous languages, including Polish and Romanian. And these ministries are made possible in part when you give. It's all under the umbrella of Vision 195, our mission to make disciples in all 195 countries of the world. To give a gift today, call us.

If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. You can also give online at insight.org slash donate. Travelers who want to take a tour to Israel have lots of choices, but few measure up to the thoughtful journey prepared by Insight for Living Ministries. With a proper mix of historical information and biblical context, we provide ample opportunities to pause and let the wonder in.

Our goal is to create special moments when you deepen your love for the Bible and draw closer to your Lord. Experience an unforgettable 12-day tour to Israel with Chuck Swindoll and Insight for Living Ministries, March 5th through the 16th, 2023. To help you grasp the significance of each site, you'll be accompanied by handpicked Israeli guides and we choose the best along with seminary trained pastors and professors to enhance your spiritual journey. No organization I know of offers this level of exceptional in-depth instruction and personal care for Holy Land travelers.

To learn more, call 1-888-447-0444. Just imagine walking along sacred sites and watching the Bible come to life. Make your reservation by calling 1-888-447-0444 or go to insight.org slash events. Insight for Living Ministries Tour to Israel is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer inviting you to join us again tomorrow when Chuck Swindoll continues his important series called The Church Awakening on Insight for Living. The preceding message, It's Time to Restore the Years, was copyrighted in 2008 and 2010 and the sound recording was copyrighted in 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-18 11:15:25 / 2023-04-18 11:24:46 / 9

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