Last month’s issue of Forward in Christ [our synod’s magazine] shared some shocking statistics. A recent survey gathered religious beliefs from members in the largest Lutheran church body in America. The survey revealed:
So then, is it any wonder your world behaves so schizophrenically chaotic? Is it any wonder no one can agree on what is morally “right” and what is morally “wrong?” Pastors— those who call themselves “messengers of God”— hold the Bible in one hand, but preach a message found nowhere in that book! They instead create a message meant to scratch itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Is it any wonder droves are fleeing worship? If those same pastors proclaim, “All people go to heaven!” then why attend? When you dump the Bible, you will create your personal set of beliefs based on opinions, ideas, and reason.
Those statistics serve as a grim reminder of Satan at work still. You are a Christian living in an increasingly Christ-less world. That means, you will face the constant temptation to conform your beliefs to what the world expects to hear. Yet, tuck this truth into your memory: God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. Listen to it. Use it.
God is telling Ezekiel the same thing. Ezekiel grows up in a Christian nation. Just recall everything God gives Old Testament Israel. Father Abraham receives— and passes down— the promise of Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:4-5). This Israelite nation, set free from Egyptian slavery, camps around Mount Sinai. God carves out Ten Commandments for them. No, not to restrict freedom. Rather, these commands are meant to keep believers, believers, and to protect against destructive false teaching (Exodus 19:5-6). The nation understands that; they even shout: Everything the Lord has said we will do! (24:3) God sets up kings as shepherds to steer the people away from false teaching and to lead them to trust God.
Do you see how God describes that same nation here? I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.
Obstinate! Stubborn! The people have the Word, but they resist obeying it! Masses skip worship. And those who did attend simply went to church because it fulfilled an obligation. National leaders trust puny mortal men instead of the powerfully immortal God! Judges are bribed; widows are cheated; orphans ignored. God sends out steady streams of prophets to call people back to him, but those prophets are rejected, beaten, and killed. Then, even after God strips away their freedom, the nation scratches its head asking: ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ (Jeremiah 16:10).
Ezekiel is to preach to these people: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says?’ It’s not that they do not know what God teaches. It’s that they reject what God teaches. That makes Ezekiel, a Christian in an increasingly Christ-less nation, a minority.
Do you know that feeling? To feel outnumbered? … to feel as though no one cares about God’s expectations? You urge and plead with your adult-child to worship with you just like they did 40 years ago, but he shrugs off your invite [again]. You chirp up and defend the life of the unborn, but your friend looks at you as though you are a dumb, hateful, and stupid. You make it no secret: “I worship at [Faith/ St. John] Lutheran,” and your friend lists off every fault they have with your church: “It’s too ‘strict,’ too boring, too old, too (fill in the blank).”
You encounter so much resistance that the resistance begins rubbing off on you. Take a moment and ask yourself: Do you feel ashamed when you say out loud: “Marriage is between one man and one woman for life?” Do you think your congregation needs to ask people what they want to hear instead of hearing what God wants them to hear? Do you stand out as a Christian among your friends? Or, is it becoming difficult to see the difference after a night out? … in your relationships? …with the words you use?
The devil lures you, little-by-little, to change with the world, even if it means changing what God has taught you. When you evaluate your thoughts, words, and actions, you will see how successful he has been.
Dear Christian, rebellious hearts will always resist listening to the Word— yours and mine included. The heart does not want to face insults or unpopularity at the expense of God. The easiest way to make sure your life is pleasant is to push God away.
Just look at Jesus’ homecoming. Childhood friends shout, “Carpenter, you are too insignificant to preach to us!” (Mark 6:1-6) Thousands swarm around Jesus. When Jesus does not preach what they want to hear, they leave (John 6:66). Do you know just how tempting it is for Jesus to change the message? To crawl on his knees, hands folded, begging, “Please, tell me, what do you want to hear?” Instead, Jesus shares the truth you (and I) need to hear: You (and I) are a son of man. A mere mortal who will one day be ripped from this planet and forced to stand before the eternal Judge in order to explain why you felt God’s Word could be changed to suit your interests.
For that reason Jesus is born the son to a man named Joseph. Jesus, the Son of Man, does not change the Word to gain popularity. Rather, when asked: “Who do you say you are?” he answers in truth, “The Son of God” knowing full well that answer would bring death (Matthew 26:62-64). He receives the death sentence because you (and I) changed our beliefs to save our lives. Yet, it is Jesus who never changes God’s teachings in order to save your life.
Why Listen to the Word? Well, listen to God call you, “Forgiven.” Listen to God promise you unending life with him in heaven. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts like yours and mine. Listen to it. Then, go out, use it.
That was God’s instruction for Ezekiel. As [God] spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. Who brings Ezekiel to his feet? God. God the Father speaks his Word. God the Holy Spirit gives Ezekiel the courage to speak. The power of the Word rests with God.
The same Word strengthens you to stand out in your world today. One powerful way to preach is by putting the Word into practice in your own life. It’s no secret Sunday mornings have become another Saturday. Families spend Sunday mornings at baseball and softball games. And if you lament that so many choose sports over worship, then use the Word. You see, sports will still be played on Sunday as long as parents let their kids play. If families set worship as a higher priority, it forces organizers to change scheduling. Simply let coaches know, “I would play, but after worship.”
Summer is time spent with family, fishing, and camping. When away, make it clear: “God’s first.” Head out after worship or locate another Wisconsin Synod congregation near your area. Invite your children to come with you to worship or let them know you will duck out for an hour and they can remain home. You, by your example, are powerfully preaching that God (and his Word) take priority in your life.
If you feel out-of-place to say a dinner prayer with your family at a restaurant table, then pray! Make others feel out-of-place that they do not thank God for their daily bread [earthly possessions]. Instead of you changing to meet the ever-changing standards of your world, live in such a way for the world to change to God’s standards.
And yes, will one person really make much of a difference? Well, what does God say? Whether they listen or fail to listen— for they are a rebellious house— they will know that a prophet has been among them. Did you catch that? God does not guarantee Ezekiel that he will have instant success. God even suggests he will face resistance because the nation is rebellious. If people reject the message, it does not mean the message is less powerful. The fault lies with the person. Not the message, not the messenger. God simply tells you: Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Use the Word and let God worry about the results.
God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. All Ezekiel did was preach. Some did not listen. Yet, they did not reject Ezekiel. Instead, they must answer to God why they rejected his prophet. Others did listen. Eventually Israel returned home. They rebuilt the temple and set their hearts back on God. The line of the Savior was handed down from generation to generation. Faithful Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the world. Twelve apostles carried the life-changing Word to the corners of the earth. Through their work and God’s blessing, you have the Word today. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. You get to use it.
Your world will continue behaving so schizophrenically chaotic as long as God’s Word is changed to meet worldly standards. Masses will never agree on what is morally “right” and what is morally “wrong” if they search for answers apart from God. Droves will flee worship as long as pastors proclaim the lie: “All people go to heaven!” Dump the Bible, you will create your personal set of beliefs based on opinions, ideas, and reason.
As a Christian living in an increasingly Christ-less world, you will face the constant temptation to conform your beliefs to what the world expects to hear. You may even feel unaccepted, unpopular, unwelcome. That something is wrong with you.
Stand strong on the Word. Remember that God speaks so that you might listen, apply, and live. Remember that it’s not up to you to make God’s Word more appealing or popular. The message belongs to God. Simply lead others to hear, read, and see it. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. Listen to it. Use it.