[b]The Lord, The Nation, And The Choice[/b]
[i]By Richard Owen Roberts[/i]
Edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival conference April 2004, at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Over the last many years I have been thinking about the heart of God for this nation and the heart of God for the nations of the world. In recent weeks I have been looking up in my Bible one by one the mention of the word "nation" or "nations," and trying to gain something of the heart of God for the nations. Thats what I want to share with you.
I am filled with indignation against those preachers who somehow have the notion that God is always on our side. It would be nice if that were true, but thats a lie. Others feel that God is always near, as if there is never a season when God Himself draws away. If you believe that, you might as well take your scissors and cut out major portions of the Bible. Youve got the psalmist crying out and asking God, "Will You be gone forever? When, O Lord, will You return?" Great saints through the ages spoke with immense earnestness about the springtime of the soul, and the winter season of the soul, and about the day hours and the night hours of the soul.
There was a period in my life when I had a desperate need of a revival experience. God suddenly came to me in a fresh and in a powerful new way, and for months it was as if the Lord and I were going hand in hand. I was overwhelmed with His love. And then one day after the passage of many, many weeks, it dawned on me, "The Lord is not with me like He was," and I was grieved. I went to my closet. "Lord, what wickedness has caused You to depart from me?" And for two or three days I was constantly asking, "Lord, where did I grieve the Holy Spirit? What awful thing have I done to injure You?" And nothing came. There was no sense at all of any help in answering that urgent question.
About the fourth day of asking with great urgency, "Lord, how did I grieve the Holy Spirit?" this question pressed on my heart: "What did you do to gain this awesome sense of My presence?" "Well, Lord, You know perfectly well that I didnt do anything." "Well, if you didnt do anything to gain it, why are you so sure you did something to lose it?"
And I cried out, "Lord, if I didnt do something to grieve the Holy Spirit, why then this loss of the glorious sense of Your presence?" I wouldnt want to imply that I heard an audible voice, but it couldnt have been any more distinct if I had. The Lord said to me, "My plan for you is not that you walk by sight, but that you walk by faith."
And I realized, during those precious weeks and months I didnt need faith. The Lord was so near, His presence so real, His power so awesome, His love so wonderful that I was in danger of taking it all for granted. He reminded me of the apostles of old, who had to learn to walk by faith.
I believe that our fathers who spoke in terms of the night seasons, knew something very deep about the comings and the goings of God in the souls of men. You understand the concept. You know that God is not always near. Sometimes He does distance Himself because of some sin in your life. But apart from sin, there are other times when we cant trace and connect the comings and goings of God.
When God Is Grieved
In Isaiah 63 we read a passage where there is no question as to whether this is an issue of learning to walk by faith or an issue of having grieved God. Isaiah 63:7: "I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses."
Verses 8-10, and I can almost see the tears of God and hear His groanings as He said, "Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely. So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them."
People dont seem to understand why revival is so urgently needed. When God is your enemy instead of your friend, and He has become your enemy because you have grieved His Holy Spirit and rebelled against Him, you better get right! If you dont, woe unto you!
But again, as I read those words, it seems to me that the heart of God is laid bare. I dont get the impression from my Bible that God is just looking for an opportunity to knock us down, that God is full of anger against us at all times, and as soon as we slip He says, "Ah, at last, my chance has come to destroy them!" No, no, God delights in lovingkindness. He is truly long-suffering. When God has to turn Himself and become His peoples enemy, there is a huge cost to God to do that. We have to feel something of the brokenness of our God when He does have to become our enemy.
God has no tolerance for sin, and when His people gain a tolerance for sin, He has no choice. He must stand against it, and when God turns Himself and becomes His own peoples enemy its a wonder to me the Church is not struck down in alarm and that it does not call upon God in repentance and pleading faith. But I suppose the real reason why this doesnt disturb the Church is because it really isnt believed.
I want to read as well a passage out of the book of Jeremiah, chapter 5, beginning with verse 23: "But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, "Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest." Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have withheld good from you. For wicked men are found among My people. They watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap; they catch men.
"Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich. They are fat, they are sleek. They also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people? declares the Lord. On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?
"An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?"
If Jeremiah had been assigned by God to write a commentary on our day, I dont believe he could have come any closer to the truth than this. Many priests and prophets are in it for themselves, and much of the Church seems to love it just this way. Who is despised these days? Too often it is the man of truth in the inward parts, the earnest servant of God who takes the Word of God and lays it out in such a way that the people begin to squirm.
But again Im asking you to consider the heart of God. Its crystal plain here, isnt it? "On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself? Shall I not punish these people? declares the Lord" (v. 29). And again I say I dont see any evidence that He is anxious to destroy, that Hes just looking for an opportunity to knock us about. But His character is such that He has no choice. How can a holy God be tolerant of an unholy people? How can He make room in His heart for those who violate Him and will not live in subjection to His authority? Jeremiah 6:13 says, "From the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying "Peace, peace," but there is no peace."
When God Blesses
But now turn to Psalm 33: "Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy. For the Word of the Lord is upright; and all His work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.
"By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.
"The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
"Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee."
My focus is on the small portion revealed in verse 12: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance." God is interested in more than the redemption of individuals. Im convinced God has a plan for the nations. Its long past time we developed concern for our nation. Here in America, weve got to have revival or the whole cause of missions that we have been deeply involved in for centuries is going to dissolve. The collective testimony of the American Church is so dreadfully erroneous that the average person witnessed to doesnt believe in Christ because they cant believe in the Christians they know. Hypocrisy! There is an incredible change when the Church is revived and becomes the living, vital body of Christ. The testimony then to the individual is ringing and clear.
Im sure that about all of you admit that America is at a crisis point. I dont have the impression that God is longing for the chance to destroy us. I dont see any evidence whatever that He has set aside His plan for the United States of America. If things go rotten even more than they have already, if God is to become our enemy in a 100% fashion, it wont be because thats His heart. It will be because we are content to maintain a focus in our lives and in our churches that does not represent His heart. We must recognize the corporate aspect of Christianity, and we dare not suppose that because some individuals are being saved, the heart of God is satisfied.
God Has Made America A Great Nation
If you know anything about the history of this land, you know that we did not get where we are at by our strength or by our piety. It was God who put us in the position we are in. Democracy is an outgrowth of Christianity. This nation has been a democracy because of our devotion to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And now we are losing the very core element that made us a democracy and thinking we can go elsewhere in the world and bring democracy to them! If we want to see the nations of the world turn to democracy, we better start sending missionaries who, under the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaim the Gospel that frees men from the love of sin and self and enables them to embrace Jesus Christ and His love for humanity and His respect for the poor and the downtrodden. But like insane men, we toss aside the thing that has made us great. And we think that we can help others to get established when we dont even understand ourselves our own roots. O, may God help us!
I am saying to you that the heart of God is for the nation. And the heart of God was toward these United States because there were men deeply committed to make this a Christian nation. O not completely, but can you name another nation in the modern world that came as close to being a Christian nation as this nation did? I think sometimes somebody has to remind us of some of the basics.
Our young children if you dont have any heart for yourself, how can you refuse to have a heart for the little ones? I look at the little children in our family, ranging from about nine months up to about nine years, and I say, "What hope? What hope is there for these little ones if America does not return to God?" We listen to some of the people who say, "This was never a Christian nation. There never was even the hope of its being so." What liars!
Patrick Henry wrote, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religion, but on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!" He might as well not have lived as far as some of our historians are concerned.
Samuel Adams in a proclamation on a day of fasting in the year 1795 said, "The supreme Ruler of the universe having been pleased in the course of His providence, to establish the independence of the United States of America, we ought to be led by religious feelings of gratitude to walk before Him in all humility according to His most holy law, but with true repentance and contrition of heart we may unitedly implore the forgiveness of our sins through the merit of Jesus Christ, and humbly supplicate our heavenly Father." You cant even get the average preacher to call his church to repentance, to say nothing of political leaders calling the nation to fasting and prayer and confession and repentance and crying out to God to come and save us!
Benjamin Rush, that medical man so vitally involved in the early days of the country, wrote, "I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am perfectly satisfied that the union of the state in its form and adoption is as much a work of divine providence as any of the miracles recorded in either the Old or the New Testament." John Jay, a distinguished statesman in Americas early history, wrote, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and the interest of our Christian nation to select and to prefer Christians for their rulers."
Dont tell me we had no Christian origins. Men did not write passionate words like that without fire burning in their hearts and without a vision of one nation under God. This nation was founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and governed by the commandments of our God.
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance." Obviously Psalm 33 was not written about America. Clearly, it is a passage dealing principally with Israel. But nonetheless the sober fact remains, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." But that other phrase in verse twelve must not be neglected: "
the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance."
Can you explain the incredible growth, the strength, the beauty, the wonder of America apart from Jesus Christ? Do you think it is possible for a nation to move from being a howling wilderness to a great nation in a relatively short span of time, merely on the basis of its natural resources or the imagination of its scientists or the might of its politicians? You cant explain America apart from God.
Some of you are familiar with the words of the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited these United States, and who was so utterly convinced of this that he wrote these impressive words that appeared in his Democracy and America, a two-volume set, the first volume in 1835, the second volume in 1840.
"I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and her boundless forests, and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system and in her institutions of higher learning, and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic congress, and in her matchless constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America did I understand the secret of her greatness and her power. America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
You and I have lived through the destruction of the America that was great because America was good. Would to God we could live through the resurrection of America to greatness because of a return to God and His goodness! When 9/11 occurred, after a few stuttering moments, I said inwardly, "Something has happened that will get our attention and turn us back to God." And for three weeks or so the churches seemed full and everybody was talking about God. It was so difficult to get plane flights in those days. I had meetings canceled and some places I had to drive where I never would have driven before merely to get there, and everywhere I went I was struck by signs that said, "God bless America." Great flags were waving all across the land. But it wasnt very long before my own heart was saying, "God has blessed America. Its about time God got blessed by America." But that flurry of interest and activity lasted only for a period of about three weeks.
And now where are we? Brother Blackaby clearly stated that there is a time of repentance and there is the time when its too late. My dear brothers and sisters, do you understand the concept that God grants to every individual and every entity a measure of sin? When that measure is full, the wrath of God is upon that entity to the utmost.
But Im not ready to give up on America. I havent had any word from the Lord that has said, "Lie down and die." I dont have any message from my Father in heaven that says, "Youve done your piece, now take your rest."
Gods Blessings and His Curses
But I want you to turn now in your Bible to the book of Deuteronomy at chapter 28: "Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth." This passage is obviously dealing with Israel; there can be no question about it and thats precisely what the Lord promised Israel He would do. But I ask you again, how did America get to be such a great nation? I never heard any other explanation that made any sense than simply that God Himself made us a great nation. And I dont say that in a prideful fashion. I say it with amazement in my heart.
"All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out." We can hearken back to the past and say, "Lord, considering the incredibly great investment You have made of Your heart and Your love to America, can You see, Lord, that another investment of that grace and love could bring a great return of glory to You?"
Verse 8: "The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you. The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you will keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord shall make you the head and not the tail, and you only shall be above, and you shall not be underneath, if you will listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully."
Verse 15: "But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be
" Im not going to read all the chapter, but He goes through the list of blessings and He turns them into curses. But notice now, starting at verse 15 and going through verse 68, there are about three times as much devoted to curses as to blessings! I dont believe God wants to curse us. I think our Father in heaven would be thrilled to have the privilege of bestowing upon His people the richness of His grace again. But He absolutely cannot because He cannot bless that which is defiled by sin.
As gross as the adulteries and homosexual behavior are, and which are multiplying among those who claim to be evangelical believers, these are not the great sins. These are the fruit sins. The great sins are pride, stubbornness and rebellion, and unbelief.
And what if our pride was destroyed, and in our homes and our churches we were a broken and a contrite people? Some of you have a very low esteem level. You dont think you have any possibility of being mightily used of God. But you are a child of the King. The same power that made Peter great can make you great, and give you a voice, a testimony and make you an impact. Pride often works in reverse. Sure, there are plenty of arrogant people, but there are a lot of people who seem to be overwhelmed with humility, and its nothing but pride in reverse.
But I ask again, what if our pride were to be destroyed and our stubborn, rebellious spirits removed and we were to have a true faith in God? Is it not possible that even a little group of devout believers, as are here in this little auditorium, if God were to come upon us, would be more than enough under God, to turn the course of this nation?
If America comes under the full brunt of the curses in Deuteronomy 28, it will be because the believers who knew better were willing to let it happen. Any nation that is willing to be doomed, will be. But any people who cannot live without the blessing of God will find God is more than ready to pour out His blessing in a measure so great that it defies the imagination.
"Lord, we do not sense any greatness in us. We do have a deep sense of the awfulness of our own sin. We have a heavy load of a wayward nation upon our shoulders. Some of us have been many hours before Your throne, pleading, pleading, pleading for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And some of us are convinced, absolutely convinced, that You could yet turn America into a great force of righteousness, so that others would write, as was written in 1835, America is great because America is good. We cant turn ourselves that way, but we believe in the Holy Spirit and in the power of Your Word, and we plead together that You will so impact us that America cant continue in its moral and spiritual decline, because our voices raised to heaven turn the nation about to the glory of King Jesus for ever. Amen."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon