Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Awake Thou That Sleepest"

   Let’s picture a child sleeping on his bed, and the sun slowly rising to shine through his bedroom window announcing the start of day. From the kitchen, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the smell of sliced bread in the toaster make their way to his nose declaring that breakfast must be ready at any moment, but he does not wake up. Soon, Mother calls for breakfast, but he does not hear. What will it take to stir him up?
   Shortly, older Sister knocks at the door, and comes running into his room to shake his arm.
   “Wake up! Haven’t you heard Mom calling you?”
   “Let me sleep a little longer,” He whimpers annoyed without opening his eyes.
   “No! It’s already time for breakfast.”

   In Romans 13:11-12 we read, “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”
   All throughout the Old Testament, godly men and women rose up to sound wake-up calls among the people. Christ came at the “fullness of time” to preach repentance, and to redeem us from sin so that through him we can “awake to righteousness” (1 Corinthians 15:34). And all throughout New Testament history, there have been faithful believers calling out to people to awaken from their religious drowsiness. What was their fate? They “have suffered like (similar) things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). 

Symptoms of Drowsiness
   What are some symptoms of a dormant spiritual life?
   When we are very knowledgeable and wise concerning the things of this life, but not about the things of God, we are spending too much time in bed. When we always have a ready word for sports or the state of the economy, but are not “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15), it is high time to get up and leave our pillows behind. When we cannot discern between good and evil because we don’t exercise our spiritual senses by studying God’s Word, and aren’t interested in engaging in spiritual conversations with our brothers and sisters in the Lord (Hebrews 5:14), it is time to make up our beds, and begin to dig into our Bibles.
   In some circles, this drowsy or indifferent attitude is displayed, for example, in the strong emphasis on book studies in church, instead of Bible studies. There is a place for study guides if necessary, but these have to be selected carefully. We will not be able to discern evil merely by studying other men’s ideas, because our discernment will be limited to their own discernment. Bible study meetings should be a time to study the Bible, and not other books. Shouldn’t it be? We must “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
   Another sign of sleepy Christianity is when I am approached by a caring brother about an issue in my life, and I don’t consider his concerns. Or if it bothers me when he does it to another brother or sister, and I say to him, “Shh, don’t startle him. Can’t you see he’s having a really good nap?”
   We have already heard it said in the world, “Live and let live.” May it not be said in church, “Sleep, and let sleep”, for it is “high time to awake out of sleep…the night is far spent, the day is at hand”.

Living on the Alert
   What are some dangers we should be looking out for in our world today?
   We are living in a time when the world’s attractions are becoming greater and more pervasive. The things of the world are even becoming the things of the church, and many are not catching on. How is it that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life can be sitting in church, and preaching from the pulpits, and we think they are part of us? When Christians crave sports, music, leisure, and other pleasures instead of God’s Word, the lust of the flesh is sitting in church. When Christians decide they need more elaborate churches and houses, and more expensive cars, and when they think they need to improve on how God made them by piercing their ears, and painting their finger and toe nails, the lust of the eyes is sitting in church. When Christians cannot settle for less than the most prestigious positions at work and at church, the pride of life is sitting in church.
   The apostle John says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Today we hear a lot about peace, love, tolerance, and unity in the world, and also in our churches. Are we sure the world is not sitting in on this one too? When the world speaks of love, what kind of love is it? When the world speaks of peace, what do they really mean? When they push for unity, what type of unity is it?
   In 1 Thessalonians 5:3-6, the apostle Paul says that “when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them…and they shall not escape…. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” The world today is stressing the importance of peace: peace in the home country, and peace abroad, which is commendable. But let me assure you, this is not the peace and safety that comes from Jesus, because He Himself said that His peace is not “as the world giveth” (John 14:27). The world’s peace kills people with machine guns for not being peaceful, and its tolerance persecutes Christians for not being tolerant of sin. When a brother or sister is put down for pointing out what the Bible says, and when he is labelled intolerant or critical for having enough love and compassion (Jude 1:22) to show kindly to a brother that he is departing from God’s Word, saving him “with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (v. 23), the peace of the world is in church!
   We know that the society of this world is completely opposed to God, because Satan is the god of this world. Therefore, though it may contain a great number of high moral values, the very heart of society is evil, and its agenda does not consider the true love of God. Our society, you will observe, will be quick to encourage, accept, and tolerate all voices that do not oppose its political and social values, and will silence all others. That is why we see a rising hostility to Bible-believing Christianity, and great tolerance to most of the other religions and practices, such as Eastern disciplines and religions, occultic practices, Islam and Sharia law, and immoral lifestyles. As in Ezekiel’s time, today we see many in the world, as well as in the church who “with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (Ezekiel 33:31). We cannot afford to have the world’s love and tolerance in church. Today, it seems, many churches tolerate sin and disobedience with patience as a pretext, but will not tolerate members who will share their concerns about the direction of their church’s programs and agendas. This love and tolerance does not come from God, but from the world.
   Furthermore, the world’s unity (ecumenism) has made its way into most mainstream churches, and I’m afraid, it is sleazing its way into many of our conservative Mennonite churches as well. What is the world’s unity? The world’s unity emphasises joining efforts with the opposition or the disagreeing party, and finding common ground at the expense of truth and good morals. It promotes the idea that differences in our beliefs are irrelevant to harmony in society. This “unity in diversity” is not the unity of the Spirit found in Scripture, but merely a spirit of unity. The unity of the Spirit joins the hearts and minds of the believers by the truth of God’s Word as they submit and obey it. The difference between the unity of the spirit and the spirit of unity (unification) is that the one comes as a result of being one in the Word and in the Spirit, and the other is a product of human effort. The unity of the world attempts to unify differences in beliefs not by conforming them to the Word, but by finding a way to make them work together without too much trouble. That is not the unity that comes from God.

   In light of the age we are living in, we are faced with at least two choices. We can listen to the voice that calls, “Awake thou that sleepest…and Christ shall give thee light…See that ye walk circumspectly (with caution), not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:14-16). Or we can “stop our ears” as those in Acts 7:39, and continue in that ever deepening spiritual slumber, where we say annoyed, “let me sleep a little longer”. But let us remember that we have heard the wake up call.  The Bible says that the day of the Lord will come suddenly as a thief in the night. May this day not overtake us unexpectedly. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6).
-Published in Midwest Focus.

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