Faithfulness To The Faith
We are only one generation from extinction. It is vitally important to pass along our faith to the next leaders of the church.
March 2, 2003
23In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. 25So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26"Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. 27"Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?" 28Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. 29Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
30Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, 31and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
Nehemiah 13: 23 - 31 (NASB)
We stand today one generation from extinction. Of course with Sadaam Hussein in the news I could be talking about nuclear annihilation of the human race. (We have enough bombs to render earth a ghost planet many times over).
However, I am not addressing a small thing like atomic bombs and radioactive wastelands. Sadaam Hussein is just a blip on the screen of history. To fear what he can or cannot do is like rearranging the pictures in the living room while the house burns down around us. Rather, we should fear God who is in charge of time and eternity.
28"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10.28
The topic today is much more urgent than war with Iraq - and eternal; we are one generation from becoming the "whore of Babylon". We are one generation from becoming religious in form without righteousness as our force. We are one generation from piousness without true prayer. We are one generation from being a congregation without Christ.
Unless the next generation picks up the challenge to be the body of Jesus Christ, proclaiming the powerful gospel of salvation by grace, bought by the atoning blood of Calvary’s cross, the church will be irrelevant, impotent, a wadded-up pile of useless pomp and ceremony on a Sunday morning spiritual scrap heap! There is urgency today for faithfulness to the faith.
Today in Southern Baptist churches across the land we are slipping - and yet we are doing better than most in terms of giving, going and growing. Second only to the Assemblies of God, the SBC leads the way in growth of attendance, budgets, missions and programs; yet we are not keeping pace with the population increase.
You may ask why - what is the reason we lag behind? The answer is that there is an anemia in the blood of our salvation. In too many churches culture has replaced Christianity. I am not referring to culture as music, manners or art appreciation. I am talking about Americanism, patriotism, tribalism, and all the other "isms" that take the edge off of our loyalty to the King of Kings. Anemia in the blood of the Lamb takes the heat out of Hell, and the disgrace out of sin. It turns churches into social clubs that worship a good time, when we should be training camps for soldiers of the cross.
When culture replaces Christianity we lift high the banner of political correctness, moral relativism and multi-culturalism. We begin to identify what we used to call sin as simply "the expedient thing" or "it works for me at this time in my life."
In the name of that current most sacred cow called "tolerance" we have adopted a big sigh, and allowed for the fact that "anything goes." Sadly, when "anything goes" infects the church, what is "going" is the church - straight into oblivion, irrelevance and total uselessness in the Kingdom of God. Saddest of all is that many in the church do not recognize the signs, and even some who do see really don’t care.
That lack of vision or care can be seen in most churches. Even in our very loving congregation you can see the signs. Fifty or more will gather for chili suppers - a hundred if it’s a picnic! But when it comes time to train for reaching out to the lost for Jesus we consider it a victory if a half-dozen show. Why this anemia in the blood? It is a shortfall of faithfulness to the faith!
What I have just stated is an updated view of God’s people we read about in Nehemiah’s world. Despite revival and renewal the people of God constantly returned to their sinful ways. It is called spiritual adultery, and it is nothing new. We make a vow to God to love Him, serve Him, and be faithful to the faith, and then we slip right back into the same old mold.
Aren’t you being hard with us this morning, Preacher? My friend, it is not harsh for the doctor to tell you that you have a tumor that needs to come out. It is not wrong for the railroad crossing gate to come down to warn you of an oncoming train. I am saying this morning that, as a church, and as individual believers we constantly face the danger of slipping back into sin. We face anemia in the blood, a shortage of faithfulness to the faith. And the consequences are huge…eternal! Peter warned about the judgment that comes on those who default on their spiritual journey:
If they’ve escaped from the slum of sin by experiencing our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, and then slid back into that same old life again, they’re worse than if they had never left. Better not to have started out on the straight road to God than to start out and then turn back, repudiating the experience and the holy command. They prove the point of the proverbs, "A dog goes back to its own vomit," and, "A scrubbed-up pig heads for the mud." 2 Peter 2.20-22 (TMNT)
Strong words, indeed - but a warning we must not ignore! Nehemiah dealt with spiritual adultery from the opening to closing days of his ministry. Preacher, define "spiritual adultery" please. I will try:
Any time a child of God violates his faithfulness to God and God’s call on his life by making a choice against God’s will, he is in a state of spiritual adultery; he is following Satan, not the Lord Jesus. In other days we called it "backsliding".
Specifically we have seen in our study of Nehemiah the inter-marrying of God’s people with heathens. The influence of pagan culture on what should have been Godly homes was devastating. It crippled the concept of worship in homes throughout the land.
Nehemiah knew it - and we should as well - that you cannot mix faith with unbelief and think you’ll come away with anything pleasing to God.
In those marriages to which Nehemiah pointed, the children were so influenced they weren’t even taught the language of their people. How could they worship? When Hebrew was spoken they could only count the tiles on the ceiling. I dated a Catholic girl before I met Elizabeth. It was back in the days when the Mass was only said in Latin. I attended just one service - I thought they were talking in tongues! Needless to say I didn’t understand one thing - I left not having worshiped.
Now, can it happen in our Christian families? Try this: let your daughter bring home a guy who has just joined the Raelians. Who are they? Recall a few months ago the lady with the long blonde hair announcing they had just achieved success cloning a child? Here’s what their published beliefs are all about:
The Raelians teach that human beings are clones of extraterrestrials: the ELOHIM, a word they say Jews and Christians wrongly translate as ’God.’ And just as cloning was the beginning of human life, so cloning is the key to human immortality. First, develop cloning to produce children. Second, speed up the growth process so that an adult can be cloned in a few hours. Third, transfer the mind of an aged or infirm person to the new, youthful clone - a process that we keep repeating forever, thereby giving ourselves eternal life. (1)
When your daughter falls in love with this character and marries him, just what is it that you think he will teach your grandchildren is the way to eternal life?
That is quite a far-fetched scenario, isn’t it? Well, my friends, you might throw out the first Raelian who comes calling on your child, but what about the one who just fall a little shy of faithfulness to the faith? What about the ones who "look good" but suffer that anemia of the blood? Listen to another "courtship story" you find in the life of Mark Twain:
From what I can tell, Mark Twain was not a Christian, nor did he claim to be when he began courting Olivia Langdon. Back in Twain’s day, a man typically had to get permission from a woman’s parents before marrying her. Mark Twain had a problem, however. Olivia Langdon came from a professing Christian family that would not allow their daughter to marry an unbeliever. To overcome this obstacle, Twain took on the guise of a spiritual seeker who needed the support and prayers of Olivia’s family in order to clean up his life.
Twain, influenced by Olivia’s prodding, presumably converted. Twain wrote to his mother after his engagement to Olivia: "My prophecy was correct.…[Livy] said she never could or would love me-but she set herself the task of making a Christian of me. I said she would succeed, but that in the meantime she would unwittingly dig a matrimonial pit and end by tumbling in it-and lo! the prophecy is fulfilled."
Olivia’s family was convinced Twain was a Christian and permitted the marriage. But was Twain’s conversion an illusion? One scholar insists that Twain "was a man in love, wooing a woman he hoped to marry. His ’religious’ feelings at that time, expressed in love letters to Olivia, disappeared as soon as the nuptials were over" (www.yorku.ca/twainweb/filelist/skeptic.html).
After their wedding, Twain ridiculed Olivia’s beliefs and devotion. Soon Olivia’s optimism began to wane, and her fervent faith cooled. Eventually she forsook her religion altogether, and a deep sorrow deluged Olivia’s life. Mark Twain loved her and never meant to hurt her, but he had broken her spirit. He said, "Livy, if it comforts you to lean on your faith, do so."
She replied sadly, "I cannot. I do not have any faith left."
Twain often wished he could restore Olivia’s faith, hope, and optimism, but it was too late. (2)
Byron Harvey is a preacher whose sermons I enjoy reading. In preaching on this passage he offered this advice:
Young people, never for any reason date an unbeliever, that is if you intend to have any seriousness about your walk with God. Emotions will begin to cloud your judgment, overriding your common sense and your witness and in some ways your life will suffer ruin. Wise Solomon couldn’t get away with it, and neither are you likely to. If you plan to marry an unbeliever, don’t bother coming to ole Harvey to perform the ceremony; I’ll not, for the sake of friendship or whatever, join in the mocking of God’s standards. It is a tragic mistake! (3)
When Nehemiah found out about the backsliding through mixing faith and unbelief he sent a startling wake-up call; he had some beaten, pulled the hair out of some "chinney-chin-chins". We might have to modify that approach somewhat, but folks, we just cannot look the other way on this issue. We are not home yet, and therefore none of us is perfect, but there are some things we can control. If not, we pay the consequences, spiritually and sometimes physically - but just as certainly as the sun comes up! Mark it down!
Loss of spiritual vitality doesn’t happen suddenly. It is more like a slow leak in your tire that lets the air out (and you down) gradually. It’s just a little "pin-hole" but eventually it will affect your whole world. The small chunk of insulation that hit the wing on Columbia brought that shuttlecraft and its entire crew down. The "O-ring" on the Challenger shuttle was just a little piece of equipment; tell that to seven families! It is said that good things come in small packages - so do the worst things when it comes to backsliding.
A loss of faithfulness to the faith can happen even when you are a king. David was on top of his game; he was a man after God’s own heart. God had given him a kingdom, riches and success at every turn. But David stepped out of character, and then became tolerant of his own evil, and it destroyed his whole family. Solomon, David’s wise son followed suit. Folks, no human beings are exempt from this temptation to trade power in the blood for anemia in the faith. Faithfulness to the faith is our calling - every one of us!
Nehemiah is most remembered for building the walls of Jerusalem and restoring the city. However, if you look closely, his journal opens with prayer, weeping and fasting prayer - and closes with prayer. His whole aim wasn’t a monument of walls or buildings. Nehemiah was bent on restoring worship of Almighty God to Israel. When he prayed for others, it was "Remember them" - Nehemiah trusted God for the outcome. When he prayed for himself it was "Remember me"; he wanted to be known for his faithfulness to the faith.
So, what are you asking us to do, Preacher? I am asking you to follow the example of Nehemiah. Nehemiah looked around at the state of how things were going in Jerusalem. He measured everything b y how God and His word were being honored.
30Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, Nehemiah 13:30
To purify means that you are going to examine your life and pull out the things that don’t belong there. What things do you look for? Look for those things that tend to pull you away from God in your worship and service. Look for the things that interfere with your quiet time of personal devotion. Look for the things that have crept in to rob you of your joy and those things that weaken your witness for Him. And pull them out like chin hairs - quickly and without retreat!
31and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. Nehemiah 13:31
Nehemiah made sure to provide for the continuing of worship. It is one thing to purify - get rid of those things that pollute your relationship with the Lord; it is just as important to take positive steps to keep your worship of Him vital. That means being ready to daily give Him control of your life.
23And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. Luke 9.23 (NASB)
How are you providing positive steps in your Christian walk? Do you pray? Do you read your Bible? Do you take all the opportunities you can to worship with your church family? Do you tithe? Do you share your faith with lost people? Is your altar full or empty? Can God have whatever you have?
If you have found emptiness on your altar this morning, and there are areas of your life you need to purify, there is a way to set things right with God. He is a loving God, and gracious, quick to forgive. He is a Heavenly Father who always has His ear turned towards those who will pray and repent. He knows you intimately and still chooses to have you close.