In the opening sermon of this new teaching series I took us on a ride back in history as we had a brief look at the establishment of the Church and the phenomenal impact this new movement had on the world in those first few hundred years. All of that changed when the Church was lured into a new paradigm by the Roman Emperor at the time and we adopted the ways of the world and let go of the very things which brought success in those early days. That unbelievable growth rate together with the unprecedented influence the Church had on the world was sacrificed and we have been paying the price ever since. The experience of Church we have known in our lifetime is radically different.
So why is that such a big deal? The Church is still here and we still have people coming to faith and embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ, albeit not at the same rate they were in the beginning. Surely it’s a good thing that the Church has not disappeared all together. Is it really a big deal that we don’t have the influence we once had in the world? That is an excellent question and I am so glad you asked it! I look forward to providing an answer in today’s teaching and this new series. I guess it all depends of what you think the Church is here for and what you think God expects of the Church in any age. What is our purpose? Is growing the Church an end in itself? Or does God have a much higher and broader expectation for the disciples of Jesus Christ? Well you may need to brace yourself for what I say next. God’s expectations for the Church Jesus promised to build are far greater than most of us would ever imagine. In fact, God expects His people to be the means by which He solves ALL the problems of the world. When you look across the earth today and see the level of dysfunction, moral decay, corruption and evil, do you realise that God is expecting His people to rise up and fulfil their calling so He can solve all those problems through the Church?
I would like us to read a verse which I believe is perhaps the most important verse in the Bible for the Church of today. Even though it was written over 2,400 years ago in a very different setting to that in which we find ourselves today, it is one of those verses which transcends time, culture and location. That’s because it contains a promise from God which has never been withdrawn and is even more relevant today than when these words were first uttered.
2 Chronicles 7:14 “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, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”
I have never seen a time in my life, when there was a greater need for the healing of nations, the healing of cities, the healing of the land. This verse has never been more in our face than it is today. Now, as I am sure you know, there are certain words from the Lord that are so inconvenient that they’re easy to ignore, or just bypass. They are so demanding that they are easy to downplay or relegate to a specific group of people other than ourselves. This verse is such a word: “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, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” Please note that God did not say, “If the pagan sinners would just stop sinning, I’ll heal the land.” Note that God also did not say, “If those in authority who are making ungodly decisions and infecting the mindsets of the people, if they would repent, then I’ll heal the land.” He didn’t say that. He actually said, “If my people … will do what only they can do … then I will heal their land.”
It almost sounds as if God is saying the fate of the whole world rests in the hands of His people. Surely God is not suggesting that we are responsible for other people’s actions. Someone else’s sin is not my sin, so why should I take responsibility for what other’s have done? I must confess my sin and repent of my bad choices and actions but surely I cannot be held accountable for what others do. Well that kind of thinking and reasoning is so typical of the modern, enlightened mindset and therein lies one of our greatest problems. Let me remind you of someone who didn’t think this way. Nehemiah was a righteous man, but he prayed as though the sins of the people were his sins.
Nehemiah 1:5-7 “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”
It is so hard for us to understand Nehemiah’s actions here. We have grown up in the modern western world where individualism is almost worshipped and any sense of communal responsibility has long been forgotten. ‘You do your thing, I do my thing, others do their thing and I am only responsible for my actions.’ Strictly speaking, that is true. I am not going be arrested for your crime and nor does God hold me directly responsible for the sins of my fellow human beings. However, in our day and individualistic culture we have lost sight of any sense of being ‘a people.’ Communal or corporate responsibility is a term rarely used and almost never accepted.
2 Chronicles 7:14 begins, “If my people, who are called by my name …” and when God says those words He is not thinking individually. When He says ‘my people’ He means all of His children. Nehemiah understood this and that is why he took ownership of the sins of others and confessed them before God and cried out for mercy on behalf of all the people who had strayed from God. This is such a powerful image of this righteous man confessing the sins of his people as his own. Nehemiah understood that he was part of this community of lost children of God and so he identified with them personally in this prayer.
Of course the greatest example we have of a person identifying with all the people God loves came many years later when a righteous man Who knew no sin, hung on a cross and became sin – giving his life to atone for the sin of the very people who murdered Him! Jesus so identified with all of humanity, that He even cried out to His heavenly Father with His dying breath and pleaded for mercy for those who were executing Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I hear a lot of talk in the Church and in sermons about ‘them’ as opposed to ‘us.’ We so easily point the finger of blame to those people who are outside the Church – the ungodly, unchurched, unenlightened people who are responsible for the state of the world. But if we choose to truly humble ourselves before God and pray and seek His face, something happens deep inside us. There is no ‘them’ anymore – there is only ‘us.’ This is where true intercessory prayer can occur. In the humility of prayer it doesn’t mean that someone else’s sin is my sin, but it does mean I so deeply identify in compassion with the people I’m praying for, that I stand among them in prayer, and I say, “God, forgive US for our sins, for WE have sinned against you.” True Spirit-led intercessory prayer means we stand in the shoes of another and plead their case as though it was our own. Brothers and sisters, that is what we so desperately need right now and God is still calling out to us, “If my people, don’t wait for somebody else to do it, no politician, no leader, no scientist, no billionaire is going to fix this world, but if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.“
Something else we seem to have missed with this verse is the magnitude of what God is promising. God doesn’t just promise to forgive our sin. God is not just calling us to humble ourselves and pray and confess our sin as a people so we can kiss and make up with our Creator and be on good terms with God again. That, in itself is pretty awesome, but this promise is so much greater than that. God has promised to heal our land when His people do what He has called them to do. But God’s intent is far greater than healing the land. He wants the world to know how and why He heals the land. Everything God does is against the backdrop of His mission on earth. His deepest desire is to bring all His lost children home – most of whom don’t even believe He exists! He wants to move in power across the land in response to the humility and prayers of His people in such a way that everyone will notice and everyone will know that God is alive, that God’s people have His ear and God’s power is manifest in our world. Let’s take a quick look at Psalm 67.
Psalm 67 “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”
God doesn’t just want to bless us. God doesn’t just want to answer our humble prayers. God wants His answer and His blessing to be so visible and so amazing that everyone – to the very ends of the earth – will believe and worship their God. Psalm 67 talks about the people of God coming into a place of blessing and the earth itself then responds and yields its produce.
I am not sure if you connected with the work of George Otis Jnr. back in the 1990’s through his ‘Transformations’ videos, but if you can get a hold of those somewhere I would really encourage you to watch them. Alternatively you can watch them on You Tube (see links at the end of this sermon). George has spent most of his life researching mighty moves of God around the world which not only refreshed and revived the Church, but had a transforming impact on the whole community. He looked at specific revivals around the world where there were not only huge numbers of people coming to Jesus, but the impact of that expanding, praying, believing Church was life-changing for those outside the Church – for whole communities and in some cases, entire nations.
One of the most amazing examples of this occurred in a little place in Guatemala by the name of Almolonga. Many are calling it ‘the city of miracles’ or ‘the city of God’ because of the radical transformations which have taken place in almost every aspect of this Mayan community. But just about everything good that can be said about Almolonga is a relatively recent development. Not too long ago their economy was in ruins, the city was plagued with poverty and disease; drug addiction, alcoholism and violence were rampant. Because of these hardships the people of Almolonga looked for help from an ancient Columbian idol named Maximon (pronounced ‘Mashimon’). He is a supernatural spirit being that must be worshiped with offerings of alcohol, tobacco and money. Mayan priests had to be drunk before they could even approach this entity to seek his blessings. As part of the worship ceremony, the priests would give lit cigars or cigarettes to Maximon, and then they would spit out alcohol on the devotees. It was also the custom in Almolonga to get the children drunk in order to teach them at an early age to be faithful to the idol. What the followers of Maximon hoped to get in return was good fortune but what they got instead was an endless cycle of spiritual oppression.
Donato Santiago was the Police Chief of Almolonga for many years. He says there was never any peace. There was a lot of violence towards women. Crowds would gather around the bars every night just to watch the drunks get into fights. Every morning, men who were still drunk or injured from the night before could be found lying in the streets. Santiago needed 12 armed deputies to help him patrol the town. The city had four jails to hold the worst offenders and the jail cells were always full. All this in a small city of less than 20,000 people.
There was a small group of Christians in Almolonga who wanted to change their community but they didn’t know how. A Pastor by the name of Mariano Riscajché and a couple of others started having a prayer vigil every night. At first, the spiritual warfare was intense, but after a while, people in the town started getting delivered from the spirit they identified as Maximon. Those being set free often coughed up blood or got thrown around the room and some were even flung out into the street. Among those was a Shaman Priest named José Albino Tazei. He was a respected Priest but he was also a violent alcoholic who was abusive to his wife and children. Without saying anything to him, the prayer group started praying directly for José. After one month-long drinking ceremony to honour Maximon, José collapsed against a wall and he could not move a muscle. He cried out to God to save him. Instantly his mind became clear and he was set free from his addictions to alcohol and tobacco. José went home and burned all of his shamanic paraphernalia and the next day he started taking his family to the prayer meetings. This got a lot of attention within the community.
By now new Churches were springing up all over Almolonga but the spiritual battle was far from over. The followers of Maximon began to disrupt Church services and threatened believers with violence. Evangelists were attacked by vicious mobs and beaten with sticks and shovels. Church windows were smashed with rocks and empty liquor bottles. One night a group of masked men kidnapped pastor Mariano and tried to kill him. Three times they tried to shoot him in the face and three times their guns wouldn’t fire. They became so frightened at not being able to kill him that they ran away, leaving Pastor Mariano tied to a chair. At the same time that this violent opposition was going on, God began to heal many desperately ill people in the city of Almolonga. One of them was a lady named Teresa who died after a botched medical procedure but was raised from the dead through prayer. When the news got out that Teresa was alive again, people started flocking to her house to get prayers for healing. As the power of God continued to spread in Almolonga, the Priests of Maximon began to lose all their paying customers. Finally they packed up their idols and left town. When they left, the curse that was on Almolonga just seemed to leave with them. Most of the town’s 36 bars not only closed down, but many of them were converted into storefront Churches that now hold worship services every day of the week. Before this transformation happened in Almolonga, there were three little struggling Churches and 36 busy bars – now there are 33 busy Churches and only three little ramshackle bars.
Police Chief Santiago was amazed at the change. Crime simply disappeared. There was no more unemployment. There was no more violence, no more drunks. Almolonga eventually closed down all four of its jails. The building that once held dangerous criminals was remodelled and is now being used for wedding ceremonies. The city experienced tremendous economic growth as well. When people started turning to God, the farm fields around Almolonga became so fertile, that they began to yield three huge harvests every year, for the first time ever. Before revival broke out, the farmers cooperative of Almolonga exported about four truckloads of produce every month. When God healed their land there were 40 truckloads leaving every week. The carrots being harvested were larger than your arm and the cabbages were the size of basketballs. Some vegetables with a former 60-day growing cycle started to mature in 25 days. Even during droughts in surrounding areas the soil in Almolonga is always moist. Underground springs just opened up right across the region to provide a constant source of water for their farms.
God literally ‘healed the land’ as He promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14. These harvests were so remarkable that agricultural research teams from around the world came to Almolonga to study their farming methods. Local farmers started to get rich with many buying up the land in surrounding communities and hiring people from nearby towns to work the fields. Many new Mercedes Benz trucks were purchased to ship their produce to market. Pastor Mariano’s father, who soon purchased his own farm, was astonished by the progress. He said, “We never dreamed of selling our produce outside of Guatemala, but now we are exporting to other nations.”
Within a couple of years, almost 90% of the residents of Almolonga called themselves spirit-filled Christians. They even erected a sign at the entrance to the city which reads, ‘Jesus is Lord of Almolonga.’ By almost any standards, Almolonga became one of the most thoroughly transformed cities in the world and it all started with a small group of God’s people who are called by His name, who humbled themselves and prayed every day, they sought the face of God and identified with the sin of their whole city. God heard their prayers, discerned their hearts, forgave their sin, demolished a demonic stronghold and healed their land. This was not just a revival of the Church, this was the radical and complete transformation of a whole community and that is what God desires to do through us. There are lots of ways of filling Church buildings with people and running a successful organisation in Jesus’ name – but God’s intent is that through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God may be made known and that whole cities and nations and the earth itself might be completely transformed by the power of God. All of that will happen in response to the humility, repentance, faith and fervent prayers of His people. That is our end game. That is where we are headed and that is why the Church needs to be equipped. We hold the key to every problem on this planet. We live and move and have our being within the only One Who can ever redeem God’s people, transform nations and heal our land. The degree to which you embrace the equipping God is bringing will determine what happens not just in your life and your Church – but in your whole community and nation – as we touch heaven and change earth every day in so many ways.