Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
June 28, 2020
Preserved to the end of time
Traditions change. Customs change. Habits change. Morals change. Laws change. Change is constant in every arena. Though some people resist change, to survive and thrive we must all learn to adapt to change.
Rituals of the church change. When I was in seminary 65 years ago, one professor insisted that we memorize the ritual for holy communion, a most difficult assignment. To my dismay, a few years later that ritual was changed. It seems the woods are full of “scholars” who have nothing better to do than update rituals.
In my lifetime the Methodist rituals have been changed several times. It may not surprise my younger colleagues to learn that I have not welcomed some of our ritual changes. At 88, it goes without saying that I am “old-fashioned,” so I continue to prefer the “old” ritual for baptism which, thankfully, is still available. I prefer it mainly because it includes these stirring words:
“The church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time, for the conduct of worship and the due administration of God’s Word and Sacraments, the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline, the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world. All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.”
The phrase, “Will be preserved to the end of time,” says it all. That I believe. It is an important truth for the church to affirm. In the midst of a world that is constantly changing, we need to remind ourselves that nothing can stop the plan God has begun in the world through his church. In Christ God has opened the door to heaven for all who believe. No man can ever shut that door!
If every Christian church building in the world was destroyed today, tomorrow the Christian movement would be stronger than ever! The people whose hearts God has touched are not dependent upon bricks and mortar to finish the work Christ began. God can use buildings but his plan can be fulfilled without them.
Judaism is an example of how God works. Repeatedly the Jews have been crushed, defeated, enslaved and slaughtered. But God has continued to restore them by his mighty power. Israel belongs to God to the present hour.
Those who seek to destroy Israel must first defeat God and that will never happen. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. He has ordained that in the end love wins and hate loses. Those who perpetuate hate and violence can inflict suffering upon millions but the ultimate victory belongs to God. The apostle Paul understood that. He was convinced that nothing, absolutely nothing, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Long ago the ruthless King Nebuchadnezzar confiscated the sacred vessels of the temple. He destroyed the temple. No doubt he thought, “That is the end of Judah and the end of the Judahites. They are finished.” But old Neb was wrong. God always has the last word. God had a plan, a plan that can be assaulted but not thwarted by recalcitrant men.
The prophet Jeremiah understood this plan. He knew God could not be defeated. The prophet was convinced that God’s power was so great that he could even use the pagan King Cyrus to accomplish his purposes – and God did! When Cyrus came to power over Babylonia he gave the exiled Jews the freedom to worship the God of their choice. They began to worship Yahweh more faithfully than ever before. Exile had taught them the foolishness of worshipping pagan gods.
With no temple to use for worship the Jews developed synagogue worship. In these small groups they began to love the Holy Scriptures more than ever. The Jews became a people of the book, and that book was God’s Word. Out of that environment God brought forth his only Son Jesus, the Messiah for whom the Jews had waited so long. God does mighty things with people who meet and study his Word – and then practice its truth.
God used the exile of the Jews for their good and his glory. Slowly they realized that God had a plan and that his plans cannot be ultimately stymied.
The prophet Ezra tells in Second Chronicles of a mighty moment among the Jews. My heart skips a beat when I read it! The priests and heads of families “got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem”! They got ready! Why? Because God stirred their spirits! The power of God was so real that even King Cyrus’ heart was stirred. He returned to the Jews the vessels that King Nebuchadnezzar had desecrated by using them in pagan worship.
We live in a time when God’s people need their hearts stirred again by the Spirit of God. We are prone to forget that God is still on the throne. The evil and violence in the world rob us of hope. Discouragement causes us to take a dim view of the church. Then we become apathetic.
But the good news is that God will not leave us alone. He finds us in the darkness of our disobedience and restores our hope that his plan for the world will not fail. He raises up another Ezra who motivates us to “get ready” to do God’s bidding. He energizes us to do our part in completing His plan.
When God stirs us to action we get busy doing his will – forgiving and loving one another and sharing Christ with our neighbors. We find the divine energy to do our part, no matter how small, to help the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ!
Only then – when almighty God has stirred us out of
our lethargy – will we have the courage to face even the worst of times with
joy and hope. Only then will we find the enthusiasm to sing our faith as George
Frederic Handel sang it: Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
And if we add the word “Glory” to all those “Hallelujahs,” I believe Brother George would offer his approval with a smile! + + +