Summary: This message provides insight on the current crisis in America, then expounds Philippians 2:25-30. Paul's commendation of Epaphroditus supplies criteria for discerning godly New Testament leadership.
During the last few weeks our pattern has been to first address current events; then proceed with our study in Philippians. I will continue with that this morning.
I. We are living in monumental times.
It is a new season with new challenges and new opportunities. Charles Dicken’s line in A Tale of Two Cities seems appropriate: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It is a mistake to see only one side of what is happening. On the one hand, we must not deny reality. We must see it for what it is and prepare accordingly. On the other hand, we must not lose sight of the opportunities that are before us. God is always working. God is always calling people out of darkness into light. God is always calling people to Himself. He is not willing that any would perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). In Ephesians 5:16 we are told to make the most of the opportunities that come our way. Of course, we can only do that if we see those opportunities. So, ask God to open your eyes to the opportunities He is giving you in this season. Be sensitive to His leading. That often comes very gently. We can easily miss an opportunity simply because we’re not paying attention—not listening to what God is saying. That’s why Jesus repeats the phrase in Revelation 2 and 3: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”i
Here is a fuller version of the Dicken’s quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”ii Last Sunday I gave you some statistics about the decline in church attendance in America. Some people are simply drifting away. Research by the Barna Group found that 48% of church attenders did not participate in streamed services during May. Churches are streaming their services; but half the people who attended prior to the pandemic are no longer attending.iii That is an alarming trend. On the other hand, there is an increased interest in biblical revelation among some groups. The dramatic changes that are happening in the world have caused some to ask questions that they never asked before. They want to understand all this upheaval. They are asking what the Bible has to say about it. They are asking what the Bible has to say about end times. While some are falling away, others are inquiring about what it all means.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, I asked the Lord what He was doing in that. He told me that He was giving the church a reprieve—an opportunity to avoid judgment—just like He did to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.iv I would have expected Him to say He was giving America an opportunity to repent. In a sense, that is implied. But the focus was on what the church would do, not on what the sinners would do. In Revelation 2 and 3 His warning about judgment was not to the world; it was to the churches. If the church were right, the evil spirits that are driving abortion, and immorality, and hate, and violence would not have a chance. The church would run over those spirits like a bulldozer. But when the church is lukewarm and backslidden, she does not operate in that kind of power. God does not entrust His power to people who are living in self-indulgence and apathy. So, I knew the future depends first and foremost on what the church does. All the political results will follow—not lead. The battle is first of all spiritual. The wrestling is with principalities, and powers, and wicked spirits in the spiritual realm (dimension) (Eph. 6:12). Even though I advocate asserting you rights as citizens in this nation, I know that turn around must happen first in the spiritual realm before it is manifested in the natural realm.
Even before 2016 God led me to preach repentance using 2 Chronicles 7:14. For the last five years that has been a regular part of our message. In very simple terms it tells the church what we must do for a turnaround in our nation.v With the pandemic and other problems, it takes on even more urgency. In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 God says, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” There are 4 things the church must do: (1) humble ourselves (2) pray (3) seek God’s face and (4) turn from our wicked ways. That’s not hard to understand. It is hard to do. We have to get focused and intentional to do that. It is more than attending a church service for a couple of hours each Sunday.