It was confirmed to me again this week how our reading through the Bible together is a vitally important part of what we do here. God’s word is our food. God shows us the way to live, the way to love, the way to eternal life. Deut. 6 is echoed throughout the Bible, reminding us that we must hear God’s word, believe, obey and share God’s word, meditate on God’s word, embrace and dedicate our lives to God according to God’s word. Impress the next generation with God’s word.
This week we finished Proverbs and began reading the rest of the Psalms as part of our chronological reading of the Bible. But this week began with a brief look at when Hezekiah became king. How he reopened the temple of the Lord, restored the worship of the Lord in Judah, called all Judah and Israel to return to the Lord and restored the Lord’s Passover celebration. It was a restoration, renewal and revival for the people of God. And, did you notice? God blessed their efforts abundantly. It was a time of God’s redemption for His people that continued through the reign of Hezekiah, as long as He was faithful. Revivals come when we put our hope in God and act on that hope in obedient faith. We thrive under hope in God and wither when our hope turns elsewhere. So, how do we put our hope in God?
It was March of 1948 and about four families gathered to discuss planting a church here on Signal Mountain. That meeting marked the beginning of this congregation of the church of Christ. That was 70 years ago. This group wanted to start a congregation that would meet here in their neighborhood and represent the teaching and practices of the Lord’s church worshipping and serving the Lord according to the simple, biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not just true of us. If you visit the churches of Christ in this area and around Chattanooga, almost all of them were planted during a period of less than 30 years.
Most of your surely know that just five miles up the road from here the Taft Highway Church of Christ meets. That church was planted in about 1960 and Jay’s uncle gave them the land to build on for a dollar. Jay told me that in the 1980’s they had an attendance of around 100 people.
Those were days when making disciples and planting churches was part of our DNA in churches of Christ. It was a symptom of our hope in God. Jenny and I moved to New Hampshire in the 1980’s and 90’s to help a new church plant up in Lancaster, NH, just 30 minutes from the Canadian boarder. Within 10 years that church of 15 had grown to over a hundred in attendance. We moved to Concord, NH to work with the church that had planted the one in Lancaster. They had suffered a split and were down to about 65 in attendance. In six years the Lord blessed us to grow to over 120. I remember having several Bible studies going and one time baptizing 7 people in one week. That was a good week!
I was visiting my parents several years ago and went to church with them. In conversations with some of the members Mike McMacken, an elder from Tuscumbia Church of Christ, told me that when they finally got serious about supporting mission works in foreign lands, their own church began to grow. Our hope in God moves us to make disciples and plant new churches.
What has happened since those days? Since the 1960’s most churches and denominations have been in decline in the USA. Where’s our hope in God? Has or nation’s hope shifted away from Him? At the same time, the gospel is spreading like wildfire in Africa and Asia and Central and South America. Their hope in God is growing!
Jenny and I and our family moved here 20 years ago. In the past 20 years I know of several churches of Christ in this area that have either closed their doors or merged with other congregations, just to stay alive. What does that say about our hope? How can that change? Our study of the kings of Judah and Israel gives us some powerful, biblical insights. God’s word gives us the answers from God to address these things and renew our hope in God and revive our hearts to serve Him and save others.
Consider this case study: Hezekiah’s father was Ahaz, king of Judah. Ahaz embraced the culture around him. He took on the ways and practices of his pagan neighbors, hoping that would work for prosperity and peace. Remember? Ahaz was a modern of his times hoping he could turn from those old fashioned, dusty words of Moses and find freshness in the fountains of his powerful pagan neighbors. He put his hope in compromise and the gods of the nations. He did not put his hope in God. How did it work for him?
Look at 2 Chronicles 27:19,22-25.
After all this, Ahaz died and Hezekiah, his son, inherited the mess that was left. Hope in God was devastated. It was a time when God’s word was mocked by the majority. God’s ways were distasteful to the people, and the Temple of God was closed for business. That’s what the Bible tells us. Remember what you read in the prophets Isaiah and Hosea and 2 Chronicles 30:10-12? Does this not sound familiar to today’s culture in our country? How do you put your hope in God in times like this?
Hezekiah did. He took seriously the word of God and determined to put His hope in God. He reopened the Temple of the Lord. He brought together the religious leadership of the Levites and Priests. He declared their problems were rooted in their turning from God. He called the Levites to consecrate themselves and prepare to restore the Temple worship. And he announced his intentions to commit to the Lord and renew covenant with the Lord God. And… he did it NOW. He didn’t wait. He took immediate action. Hezekiah put his hope in God. He did it right from the start. Look at 2 Chron. 29:3-11.
Where do we as a nation put our hope today? Government? Education? Economy? Ourselves? The majority in our nation has turned away from hope in God. How would people see us if we openly, publicly declared this? Abraham Lincoln did. Listen to a US president’s words. Why can’t today’s president talk like that? Because our hope is not in God. Ahaz read the tea leaves of his time and followed the will of the people away from hope in God. The pressure Ahaz caved into was to warm up to the world and cool off to the Lord. It took a while, but he eventually completely gave up any hope in God. Ahaz died. Hezekiah becomes king at 25 years old. Hezekiah faced huge obstacles, but determines to take action based on this principle: Put your hope in God. He called the people to return to the Lord. Now that’s good leadership! Do we have an Ahaz hope or a Hezekiah hope?
Today’s churches face several obstacles too. I will give you three: 1. Aggressive secularism is a growing threat to all denominations. The Bible is mocked. Christian morals are considered not simply out of date but bigoted, hateful and fanatic. To claim that Jesus is the only way to God is cultural heresy. We have yet to see just how far reaching this will become. So far, as long as we keep our faith isolated and indoors in the church, we still have some peace. By the way, since when is the churches mission limited to meetings for worship? When did Jesus commission us to meet and worship? Where’s that verse? I thought He told us to go make disciples.
- The sister of aggressive secularism is theological liberalism that basically embraces the immorality of the culture. It feels heady and hipster to turn the grace of God into a license for sin but it’s actually blindness and abandonment of hope in God. Theological liberalism isn’t about whether you clap in church or raise your hands in praise or listen to Christian music, etc. Theological liberalism is about letting go of the Bible as God’s word, putting faith in secular sources for spiritual guidance, and embracing worldly values over God’s values. It talks about social justice, but it’s only hope is in government and money. Theological liberalism cares about the poor, but compromises Christ like character. Theological liberalism turns hope from trust in God’s word by subjecting scripture to “higher criticism” and academic literary tools invented not by dedicated people of faith, but by scholars who’s hope is not in God but in supporting their own philosophies. These liberal theologians take great joy in castigating Christians of the past. They tend to support whatever threatens historic Christian faith and replace it with secularism’s message. It’s clever, it’s popular and it’s false. It can feel like fresh air to those trapped in the next challenge.
- (And closer to home) on an opposite pole, traditionalism and isolationism has been choking the conservative churches to death. The simple call to return to New Testament Christian faith and practice began to erode into internal conflict and debates. A form of legalism grew that drew tighter and tighter circles of fellowship arose among us. What once was a growing and thriving movement of making disciples and planting new churches became stagnated by infighting and strife. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” The fruit of this traditionalism and isolationism is not “Love God and Love your neighbor” above all else, but a way of looking at the Bible that causes division and disrespect where mercy and grace are all but missing. These churches will strain out a gnat of doctrine while completely neglecting the great commission of Jesus Christ to go make disciples. As Jesus said, “when they do make disciples, they make them twice the sons of hell that they are.”
These three challenges we must face and overcome. How? By putting our hope in God. Not in this world. Not in criticism of historic Christianity. Not in Pharisaic traditionalism that ends up setting aside the word of God for traditions. We put our hope in God. It’s a bit messy. Making disciples tends to bring in stuff that takes time and work to clean up. Planting new churches takes sacrificing members to be sent to help start up a new congregation. It’s not easy putting your hope in God and following His way. But it has the potential of changing the world for God’s glory and saving a nation that is lost.
Will we, like Hezekiah, put our hope in God and face the challenges NOW? If not now, when? If not us, who? If not this, what?
What has happened over the past 70 years with us in this congregation and the past 58 years with Taft Highway as far as making disciples and planting churches? We’ve been supporting mission works in the US and abroad and that’s good. Our recent shoe drive, where God blessed us to gather 10,724 pairs of shoes to send to Africa where, by God’s grace, they will bless needy brothers and sisters in Christ as well as be an outreach for the gospel of Jesus Christ… this is a wonderful thing to celebrate with praise and thanksgiving to God. I thank God for all the workers and time and efforts that went into this and other good works of this church.
God has certainly helped us with this shoe drive and He will help us in our saving mission too. Jesus told us to make disciples and plant new churches. We can trust Him to help us and be with us to do this. I want to start by inviting as many of us as will to do an outreach together. One Saturday morning a month, I want to gather here at 10:00 a.m., have a prayer and in groups of two or more, go door to door and ask three things: 1. Ask them to visit our church services, giving them a pen and invitation. 2. Ask if there is anything we can pray about for them or their family. If they say yes and tell you something, ask to pray with then and there. 3. Ask: What do you think churches need to do to help this community? Write down whatever they tell you. At 11:30 a.m. we go meet at El Metate and share our experiences and pray for those we’ve invited.
I hope we will take our kids along and start them on the path of making disciples.
(Many thanks to David Young for his book New Day which motivated and guided this message)