I made a couple of mistakes this week. First, I read The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin. This book was recommended to me by Pastor Steve Molton. I want to say “thanks” to Pastor. Nothing like having your heart torn apart by realizing how small and petty one can be about serving Jesus! If you are curious, I challenge you to pick up a copy of Ripkin’s work and dive in for yourself. I caution you, be ready to see all the issues of the American church in an entirely different light. My second mistake came in the fact I was working through the message of Jeremiah at the same time as reading Ripkin. Those two combined to really work me over!
I was struck by one powerful word from God’s message to Jeremiah. “Prepare yourself and arise…” (Jeremiah 1:17). It took me back to a Sunday morning many years ago in Mobile, Alabama. Never one to say with any regularity, “the Lord said to me….”, I was, nonetheless, struck with what I was convinced was the voice of the Spirit. I was deeply moved, when seemingly out of the context of the moving worship, the Spirit said to me, “You are not preparing My people for that which is coming.” Since that time, I have preached sermons, written books, and tried to do my little part to help us prepare for whatever was over the horizon. Then, last week, two emotion-laden moments converged to make one powerful event in my life. I read where Jehovah told Jeremiah to “prepare” for what was to come while at the same time reading what is required to endure to the end for Christ when that unpleasant moment lands in our lap. Since I cannot shake what came to me, I thought I would unburden a bit on you. Who knows, this may be another little part of my challenge to help prepare His people for what is coming.
First, we need to examine what “prepare” meant for Jeremiah. Literally, the word means to “gird up the loins.” You know the picture there. Men wore robes and robes required a certain amount of alteration if the wearer was going to enter the fray. Jeremiah was told by Jehovah, “get your clothes ready for action!” He needed to do so because he was being set forth on a dangerous mission where the culture, including the government, as well as the church were not only going to resist his message, but they were also going to attack the messenger.
Welcome to America in 2021! We are witnessing not only the rejection of the biblical message by many within the church, we are now beginning to sense the coming oppression of the messengers by the culture which is, in turn, backed by the government. While we are fighting the good fight of keeping our nation free, let’s not forget to “prepare” ourselves by altering our garments as well. We do this not by weaponizing the church, but by “putting on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18).
That being said, how can we better prepare? Is there anything a local church, a pastor, a parent concerned for their children can do in these days? I believe there are steps you and I can take now. These are the very things which have kept our brothers and sisters who have walked through oppression and persecution over the last few decades around the world. These preparations kept them. They will keep us as well…provided we do something about them before it is too late!
First, go heavy on the Word. Ripken reveals how time after time that which kept people going through prison and torture was their recollection of the Word of God. One gathering of young people who had been raised under intense police persecution revealed an amazing fact. When this group was asked to write from memory all the verses of scripture they could recall they produced between them virtually all four of the complete gospels. They had immersed themselves in the Word of God. The day may well be on the horizon when all the tools we have taken for granted may be absent and we may be called upon to rely on that which we have stored in our heart. Go heavy on the Word. Read it. Study it. Memorize it.
Second, learn Heartsongs to Jesus. I am using Ripken’s term here for what amounts to a song from the heart sung to Jesus. It does not depend on circumstances. It is not buoyed by instruments or a massive choir. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the idea no worship can take place without lasers and smoke machines. To go one step further, don’t allow yourself to be so set in your own preferences you think this kind of worship can’t take place unless there is a quartet or some massive choir on the stage. Heartsongs come about when it is just you and the Master, and you sing to Him of His greatness. It can be done in church, but it can also be done in a cell. It can be done at the beach, but it can also be done while being beaten. We need to prepare ourselves for the day when our favorite “style” of worship service is no longer available.
Third, hold tightly to Jesus, loosely to everything else. If life teaches us anything, it displays the temporal nature of “things.” If Covid has taught us anything it has shown us the fragile nature of our lives. Deep down we know our lives are fleeting, even a delicate vapor (James 4:14). Still, we grow immune to the teachings of scripture and act as if we are permanent residents on this earth. Preparation means I come to grips with the fact I am only passing through and that one day I will inevitably leave behind everything I have accumulated. The only thing to which I can cling and take with me to eternity is Jesus. Everything else diminishes in His holy gaze.
Perhaps some of you were fortunate enough to hear Lanny Wolfe and his singers from decades past. A haunting song which they sang carried this powerful tool for readiness.
It matters so little
How much you may own
The places you’ve been
Or people that you k
For it all comes to nothing
When placed at His feet
It’s nothing to Jesus
Just memories to me
Only one life
So soon it will pass
Only what’s done for Christ will last
Only one chance to do His will
So give to Jesus all you days
It’s the only life that pays
When you recall
You have but one life
It’s time to prepare, to get ready for the coming day when a clear line will be drawn. Many hope it is the rapture of the church. I am in that class! However, preparation calls for more than a blessed hope of escape. We must prepare for an attack of the enemy on all fronts. Preparation today will enable us to be victors tomorrow!