Jump Start # 1966
Nehemiah 13:1 “On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God.”
Today is significant for two reasons. The obvious one is that it is Halloween. Children will dress up and go house to house getting candy. That’s been a tradition for generations. But today marks an important anniversary that mostly will go unnoticed because of trick or treating. Five hundred years ago (500), a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of grievances against the Catholic system to the door of the Wittenberg church. Little did Luther realize that those things would be reprinted and circulated and spark a movement that today is known as the Reformation Movement. Luther had problems with selling of indulgences and what indulgences supposedly did spiritually to help a dead person’s soul. Luther never intended to break from the Catholic faith. He never realized the trouble he would be in, including having his life threatened. But with the availability of printing presses, Luther flooded the German world with writings that led to a major break from the Catholic faith and the beginning of the Protestant reform. Luther wasn’t the first. Seeds of reform had been spread for a few generations, he had captured the heart of the people and that led to major changes. Luther never intended to start a church that carries his name and the modern Lutheran theology has moved well past Luther’s thinking.
Five hundred years ago today, a paper was nailed to the door of a church. Our verse today, one of many throughout the O.T., that speaks of reforming changes in the people of God. The word of God was read and people realized that things needed to change.
Here are a few thoughts for us:
First, the spark that leads to reform ought to come from God’s word. Looking around at what is going on and looking in our Bibles and seeing that the two do not match, is a cause to get back to the Biblical pattern. Reform. Change. Return. The Biblical word for this is, “repent.” The American Restoration movement is another example of the call to return and do things based upon the Bible. This must always be the drive and the heart of reform and change. Just changing for the sake of changing has no direction nor foundation. Just throwing away tradition, without any thinking or purpose only produces new traditions.
Second, reforms begin within the individual. A person realizes that they are not doing what the Bible says and they make changes, reforms, restorations, to become more Biblical. It is in that process that a person realizes others are just like he is. Word spreads. Others look in the Bible. Sometimes things have been done without much thought, evidence or reason. Sometimes things started well, but became corrupt, oppressive and even wrong.
Third, it usually takes a few brave souls to begin a change. Josiah was one in the O.T. who did that. Others may feel the need to change, but they don’t know how or are scared of the consequences. Many tolerate and go along with wrong just because they fear what will happen to them if they raise a voice of opposition. Possibly they saw what happened to others, so they remain quiet. Those that lead the spirit of change most often see the principle and the cause as being far more important than their own lives. They don’t want to invite trouble, but they are willing to be sacrificed if it brings the rightful changes.
Fourth, the powers that oppose change will do all that it can to squash, silence and destroy the spirit of change. Attention turns to gathering up the leaders of change and stopping them. In Acts, as salvation was being preached in the name of Jesus, Jewish leaders arrested the apostles. Later, Stephen was murdered. Then James, one of the apostles, was executed. The strong arm of control often stops change. People run in fear. This is the story of the Catholic church in the sixteenth century. This is the story of wicked elderships today who refuse to answer honest questions or consider better ways.
Fifth, reform survives when it becomes larger than the leaders. The leaders may be persecuted, silenced and even killed, but when the cause has caught the hearts of others, new leaders rise up and the movement for change grows.
It is amazing that five hundred years ago, a paper was nailed to a door and it sparked a world wide movement. From that there are two final thoughts for us:
First, if there is another five hundred years left, most of what we do and most of us will not be remembered. There are just a handful of names remembered from Luther’s days, and that is mostly known only by historians. Our work will be remembered through eternity by the Lord.
Second, there are things that need to be changed today. Too many congregations are drifting without leadership, going no where. Week after week. Year after year. They meet, but there is little movement, growth, life, hope. It is time to awaken up. It is time to repent, reform and be the people of God. Why are churches existing for decades without godly shepherds? The fast answer is that no one is qualified. To that, one must ask, why are people not being qualified? Why are they not being taught? Why are they not being developed? Why is there no movement in that direction? Some congregations are stuck in a 1960’s mindset. Times have changed. The message hasn’t, but how it’s presented, made effective has. Look around at the print media. There has been many changes in the past decade. Look at how the world receives information today. It’s time to catch up. It’s time to use God’s money better. It’s time to find ways to reach people that work today.
There are some elderships that operate more like hands-on deacons than shepherds. The elders are consumed with cleaning the building, mowing the church yard, counting money, paying bills, while the members drift, die and are lost spiritually. There is no thought into what classes are taught. Little thought is given to where each member is at spiritually. Out of touch and clueless to what is going on, churches crash among the rocks of life because no one is at the helm. It’s time for change. It’s time to let deacons be deacons and elders shepherd the people of God. It’s time to know what’s keeping people up at night. It’s time to know what is bothering people. Those are the things that need to be addressed. It’s time to know where the green pastures and still waters are to lead the people of God. God’s people need to be moving. They are given shepherds not baby sitters. It is a time for reform, change and restoring God’s way of leadership in the church.
There are things happening all around in many congregations. People are opening their eyes to what should be and are seeing Biblical patterns return. The business model of corporate America doesn’t work well in the church. A reform is taking place in many congregations. Things are looking up. Things are healthier and better. There is a real hope among many folks today.
What a great time to remember all of this.