Rip open your hearts!

Repent! Nobody really likes that call. When my children were young, part of my responsibility was to correct, to call them to change their ways. Did they enjoy that? They didn’t and neither did I! I loved recognizing their accomplishments, celebrating their successes. But there were those tense moments of confrontation when Dad had to say, “Stop that! Don’t go there! That ‘friend’ is not a good influence. You have gone beyond the limits of my patience.” My correction was generally well-intended, yet still imperfect.

God, our Father loves to celebrate us but He will correct when necessary, too. This text reflects on the fullness of His love. “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:9-11, NIV)

Christians tend to ignore those little books in the last section of the Old Testament that record the sermons of the so-called ‘minor’ prophets. They are corrective words, hard words that confronted the sins of God’s people. One of those preachers, a man named Joel, lived in Judah about 800 years before Christ. The nation was enduring famine. Many were on the brink of starvation. Social order was in disarray. And, worst of all, the Assyrian army was about to invade. Assyrians were an empire that devastated conquered nations.

Joel was moved by the Spirit, not to soothe the nation, but to call her to turn back to God, to humble and earnest prayer. “Sound the alarm in Jerusalem! Raise the battle cry on my holy mountain! Let everyone tremble in fear because the day of the Lord is upon us. It is a day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick clouds and deep blackness. Suddenly, like dawn spreading across the mountains, a great and mighty army appears. Nothing like it has been seen before or will ever be seen again.” (Joel 2:1-2, NLT)  

In 2020, I believe that God has sounded the alarm and called Christians to prayer, to repentance.  Will we respond so that we can lead the way to back to God? One of the terrible tragedies of our time is that even the Church and many of her preachers are totally compromised by their immersion in the sins of the land to the extent that they are the ‘blind leading the blind and falling into the pit together.’  (Jesus’ words)  

Let’s not confuse true repentance with a return to some ‘old time religion.’  This is not about singing the right hymns or saying some words on Sunday morning. Christian, I believe we need to do some deep soul-searching, to get honest with ourselves and the Lord about the state of our own hearts.

Yes, America is truly sick, intoxicated with Self, consumed with pleasure, and few are ready to radically redefine life around a commitment that makes Jesus Lord of all. Then, too, we sometimes mistakenly thunder condemning words to the culture in which we live while forgetting that real repentance begins with the people of the Lord.

We can condemn abortion on demand, pornography that floods the internet, and wring our hands over confusion of gender issues. But, the greater sin is the worship of the Self, the insistence that each of us must have his own way, live in a way that maximizes his own pleasure without much thought for God. These sins are very much a part of the lives of many of us who claim the Name of Christ. I am concerned, broken-hearted even, that too often we respond with defensive anger when anyone suggests that we ought to pause and reflect, that we could benefit from humility, that God waits for us to repent.

Joel’s words were addressed to another time, but the spirit of them finds us, God’s people, in our own time. Read his cry and hear God speaking. “Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! All the grapes are ruined, and all your new wine is gone! A vast army of locusts has invaded my land. It is a terrible army, too numerous to count! Its teeth are as sharp as the teeth of lions! They have destroyed my grapevines and fig trees, stripping their bark and leaving the branches white and bare. Weep with sorrow, as a virgin weeps when her fiancé has died. There is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the Lord. The priests are mourning because there are no offerings. Listen to the weeping of these ministers of the Lord!

The fields are ruined and empty of crops. The grain, the wine, and the olive oil are gone. Despair, all you farmers! Wail, all you vine growers! Weep, because the wheat and barley—yes, all the field crops—are ruined. The grapevines and the fig trees have all withered. The pomegranate trees, palm trees, and apple trees—yes, all the fruit trees—have dried up. All joy has dried up with them. Dress yourselves in sackcloth, you priests! Wail, you who serve before the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God! There is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.

Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there.” (Joel 1:5-14, NLT)

Joel also preaches with HOPE found in the faithfulness of the Lord Who hears those turn to Him, leaving sinful ways. God will not abandon His people. “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13, NIV)  

Those ancient people, when they were expressing repentance or sorrow, tore their robes as a sign. God, however, wanted more than symbols! He wanted their hearts ripped open before Him.

I love the promise of the renewal of the Spirit’s power that is offered. In 2020, God’s Church needs to be filled anew.  He says through Joel to those ancients and to us – ” ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Joel 2:28-31, NIV)

So, what will it be for us, dear friend? Will we just hope for the best, staggering forward day after day, while hanging onto our own ways, wondering why God is far away, or will we rip open our hearts, waiting humbly, and turning to Him?   

The word from the Word concludes Joel’s sermon. “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14, NIV) “The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. ‘Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her.” (Joel 3:16-17, NIV)

Give Us Clean Hand (a song of humility. Listen and pray)

We bow our hearts we bend our knees
Oh Spirit come make us humble
We turn our eyes from evil things
Oh Lord we cast down our idols
Give us clean hands give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
Give us clean hands give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another

And oh God let us be a generation that seeks
That seeks Your face oh God of Jacob
And oh God let us be a generation that seeks
That seeks Your face oh God of Jacob

Charlie Hall © 2000 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

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