REKINDLING THE FIRES OF FAITH
Christianity today is very close to where the people of Israel were in the time of the prophet Malachi. Also, the church is very close to the situation of the first century church in that true believers are giving an authentic witness in a culture that does not accept them. We hear from the doomsayers that the church is no longer a force in our society. But that is not true. The church is alive and well and is getting stronger like a kite rising against the wind.
It is true that certain kinds of Christianity are fading. Those who studied trends at Life-Way say that there are three categories of Christians today.
The first category is Cultural Christians. These are people who believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christians by heritage. They are not a practicing vibrant faith. This group makes up one third of the 75% of people who identify themselves as Christians.
The second category is Congregational Christians. These are similar to the first group except that they have some connection to Congregational life. They have a “home church” they grew up in and perhaps were married there. They may occasionally attend but are not practicing any sort of real vibrant faith. This group makes up another third of the 75% of those who claim to be Christians.
The third category is Convictional Christians. These are the people who are actually living their faith in Christ. He has changed their lives and they are devoted to Him. About 46% of these attend a church of 100 or fewer members.
True Christianity has often been in the minority. Cultural changes over the last 50 years has brought us into minority status. But the church is redefining itself, reorganizing itself, and rekindling the fires of faith for this day. We will always be triumphant as we bear a solid and strong witness for Christ.
The fires of faith had just about gone out when Malachi came on the scene. His name means “My Messenger.” The time was about 450 years before Christ. 100 years before, the Jews returned to Jerusalem from captivity to rebuild the city and the wall. Nehemiah was a prophet at this time. They expected a golden age of prosperity, but when Malachi was God’s messenger to them, they were discouraged. Drought had killed their crops. They wondered, “Did God care about them?”
The occasion of their return was the overthrow of the Babylonian forces by Cyrus under the Persian banner. As the Persians conquered Babylon, they set the Israelites free and said, “Go back to your homeland.” And Cyrus gave a decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. Construction on the temple began in about 520 BC. Because of opposition from surrounding forces the construction stopped for a while but was completed in 516 BC.
When the temple was finished, they found that the blessings of God did not come. They suffered from very poor economic conditions of unemployment, crop failure, droughts, plagues and hailstones. They were forced to mortgage their homes and their fields. Some were even forced to sell their children into slavery. Because the offerings of the Temple diminished, the Priests and Levites who ministered in the temple were forced to leave their ministry to the people and go to work in the fields just in order to have food.
To make matters worse Israel was surrounded at this time by hostile nations who were making life miserable for them. It was during this time of hardship and disillusionment that God sent Malachi with a message of hope.
Malachi pointed out why they were undergoing such hardship. Although they had been freed from slavery and brought back to their homeland, they still did not have the fires of faith. They said, “God, you do not love us anymore. If you loved us you would make our crops flourish, our businesses would flourish, and your blessings would be on our families. The heavens were closed and silent. The people said, “It is vain to serve God.” “Why should we serve God when things are going so badly for us?” “What does it profit us to serve God when such bad things are happening to us. They even came to the point where they advised the religious leaders to just “shut the doors of the Temple.” They said, “We are worse off now than we were in captivity in Babylon, for the Persians are ruling us here in our own land.” Worship attendance died. Their tithes and offerings were used them for their own purposes.
And so, the relationship of Israel to God was about as low as it could get. It was one of those times when they thought that God would bless them, but they weren’t being true to Him, and the blessings did not come. They almost lost their identity that God gave them as The People of The Covenant.
Nehemiah saw what was happening that led up to this condition and said, “In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I admonish them on the day they sold food. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your father’s do the same so that our God brought on us and on the city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:15-18).
The Covenant of the Sabbath day had been violated. Worship diminished and the temple was empty. They were losing their identity as God’s chosen people. They intermarried with the pagan religions and were absorbed by their neighbors. Morality became very lax. Nehemiah describes it like this: “Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, ‘We, our sons and our daughters, are many; therefore, let us get grain that we may eat and live.’ And there were others who said, ‘we are mortgaging our fields, our vineyard, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine…’ Also there were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the King’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. And now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.’” (Nehemiah 5:1-5).
These were the conditions of God’s people when Malachi was sent to them. Although the conditions in our country are not as dire as theirs were, some of the same conditions prevail that are causing a need for the rekindling of the fires of faith.
Our nation has turned away from God in ignoring the Lord’s day. Even those who worship on the Jewish Sabbath have ignored the covenant. Only about 20%, of American people are in church on any given Sunday. But these are the ones that God will use to rekindle the fires of faith in a spiritual awakening. The Lord’s day has become a sports day with the arenas filled with the fans who gather with strong devotion. The Sabbath has also become a business day. Stores are open, and the crowds rush to do their shopping.
Another reason why the fires of faith needed rekindling in Israel was because they were discouraged at being a minority. We must never let our minority status as true Christians discourage us. God doesn’t need numbers to accomplish his purposes. True believers will be used by the Holy Spirit to do the work of the Lord in proclaiming the good news to whosoever will listen and believe. The way of faith will never be the way of the majority.
Another reason they did not keep the fires of faith burning was that they misinterpreted the waiting period. There are waiting periods in our lives when God says, “I am with you. I am going to answer your prayers. I am going to bless you.” Then there comes the time of waiting. And if we misinterpret the waiting period, we will fall into the trap that Israel did.
Well you say, “Pastor you told us so much, but how do we rekindle the fires of faith in our lives, our families, and our nation?” I want to give you seven brief suggestions:
A FRESH VISION OF GOD.
Israel had a blurred vision of who God was in their lives. They did not see Him clearly, and therefore were not obedient to Him.
Are you tired of going through the motions of religion without any real feeling or emotion? Do you want to have passion in your Christian life again? In the physical world things stay the way they are as Newton’s First Law of Motion says: “An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force.” The same is true in the spiritual life. We will continue in our same direction of spiritual decline unless acted upon from above by the merciful hand of God. He wants to give us a fresh vision of Himself. The Holy Spirit does that in a service like this when he quickens our spirit and turns us again to faith in God.
DISCOVER AGAIN THAT GOD LOVES YOU.
If you ever question that God loves you and is working in your life, you need a fresh vision as to this reality.
In Malachi 1:2, God says to Israel, “I have loved you”, says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” Their eyes were upon their struggles and difficulties and they had lost their ability to see God at work in their lives. We do the same thing. We look at our problems and ask, “God, where is the evidence of your love for me?” It is like four-year-old Martha hugging a doll in each of her little arms looking up and saying to her mother, “Mama, I love them and love them and love them, but they never love me back.”
ACKNOWLEDGE GOD’s CLAIM UPON YOUR LIFE.
Salvation faith produces a claim on us to be God’s people in the world. Alexander MacLaren told of an intellectual that he longed to win to Christ. He prepared a whole series of sermons dealing with intellectual difficulties. To his delight, the man came forward and said he had become convinced to become a Christian and wanted to join the church. Dr. McLaren asked, “And which of my sermons was it that removed your doubts?” “Your sermons? It wasn’t any of your sermons. The thing that set me to thinking was a poor woman who came out of your church beside me and stumbled on the steps. When I put out my hand to help her, she smiled and said, ‘Thank you’ and then added, ‘do you love Jesus Christ my blessed Savior? He means everything to me.’ I did not then, but I thought about it. I found I was on the wrong road. I still have many intellectual difficulties, but now Christ means everything to me, too.”
DO SOMETHING IN SERVICE TO GOD AND OTHERS.
One of the most affirming things in our Christian experience is to serve others in Jesus name. It is in representing Him to someone in need that rekindles and affirms the fires of faith in our souls. The joy in believing is doing something about it.
RESPECT THE LAWS OF GOD.
As the culture changes, God standard remains the same. Wilbur Chapman said, “My rule for Christian living that governs my life is this: anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult is wrong for me, and I must as a Christian, turn away from it.” We live in a culture that promotes concepts that are in conflict with biblical teachings.
PLACE YOURSELF UNDER THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST.
It was Leigh Richmond who dropped a track on the pavement and prayed that a bad man would pick it up. A bad man did pick it up. He carried the track with him to prison and he was converted, and in his second imprisonment for preaching Christ, he wrote PILGRIMS PROGRESS, which turned millions to live under the Lordship of Christ. He was John Bunyan.
RECEIVE A FRESH ANOINTING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
To rekindle the fires of your faith, all that is necessary is to desire and ask for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit upon your life. You will then be able to walk in the Spirit and not in your own strength.
You can have that right now in this moment right where you are.
“This is the secret of the holy, not our holiness, but HIM: Jesus! Empty us and fill us with Thy fullness to the brim.”
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!