‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ {13} Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. {14} Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing– grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. {15} Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. {16} Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. {17} Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?”(Joel 2:12-17 NIV)

This time last week I was in Washington D.C., one day after the “Stand In The Gap” sacred gathering sponsored by Promise Keepers. Words cannot describe the glory of the Lord that He showered upon all of those who gathered there on the Mall in Washington. I came away humbled like I have never been humbled before. I experienced the deepest sorrow for my sins that I have ever experienced as Almighty God exposed me for who I really am. I will never forget those six hours.

This past week I have felt the Lord speaking to my heart. What He has been saying is this: “Mike, there is nothing special about the Mall in Washington. Wherever there are men, women, boys, or girls who are willing to come before My presence and humble themselves before Me — I will move upon their hearts. I will expose the sin of their lives that is enslaving them. I will break their hearts. I will fill them with My Spirit. I will restore to them the relationships that have been broken. I will heal their open wounds. I will reveal My glory to them in such a manner that they will never be the same again. Mike, call My people at Britton Christian Church to a sacred assembly.”

God is right. There is nothing special about a plot of ground unless the Lord occupies that plot of ground. The grass in Washington was conducive to repentance and renewal because there were hungry hearts, ready, yearning for the Lord to touch them in a deep and real way.

Evidently there is at least one person here this morning who is experiencing that deep need to come before the Father in brokenness. There is someone here who is ready to allow the Father to expose the sin of their heart in order that He can heal them, restore them, and reveal His glory to them in a way they are yet to experience. Because you are here yearning for the Father, He is calling us to a sacred assembly this morning.

Before we begin you need to know that even if you did not come to this place yearning for more of the Father, He can still touch you in a deep way. I am a prime example. I have a confession to make to you this morning. I was one of those men in Washington D.C., but I went for all of the wrong reasons. You have to understand. I have been to several Promise Keeper’s gatherings. I have been to so many worship services, retreats, camps, and opportunities to worship God that I had arrived at the conclusion that I was immune to the emotion and the breakthroughs that had been promised. I study the Bible all of the time. I teach four Bible studies a week in addition to studying for and teaching a Bible lesson in worship twice each Sunday morning. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t be moved any more than I had been moved in the past. I have heard all of the sermons. I have heard the best sermons by the greatest preachers in the world. There was nothing that could be said that I had not heard already and after you hear it several times then it is old hat.

I took this mindset with me to Washington D.C. I went for all of the wrong reasons. The reasons that led me to Washington weren’t evil, they were simply not the reasons the Lord wanted me to have. I went for my sons. I went to be able to pray for my boys and to ask God to touch their lives. I went to be able to show them our nation’s capital and the rich history that we have as Americans. I went for all of the wrong reasons!

In spite of my sin, in spite of my arrogance and pride, Almighty God broke through to me and I experienced some things that I have never experienced before. If God is willing to reveal Himself to me, an arrogant man who was not open to the Lord moving upon my heart in a new and fresh way, then He is willing to move upon your heart this morning. I am believing that what happened for me can happen for some of you this morning. Let’s prepare our hearts for the coming of the King into our presence this morning.

In the Book of the prophet Joel, the Lord called His people by saying,=20

Even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:12 NIV)

THE HOLINESS OF ALMIGHTY GOD

Throughout the Scriptures, those who have sought the Lord have asked, “Who is like you O Lord?” God is splendor wrapped in majesty. He is holy in all of His ways. He is righteousness beyond our comprehension. He is Almighty God and there is none like Him in all of creation. That is why the Psalmist has written,

The heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. {6} For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? {7} In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. {8} O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. (Psa 89:5-8 NIV)

In the Book of Revelation, John was seeking the Lord when Jesus appeared to him in all of His glory. Listen to John’s account of what took place.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, {13} and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. {14} His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. {15} His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. {16} In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. {17} When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. (Rev 1:12-17 NIV)

For you and me to begin to understand who we are, we must first begin to understand who God is in all of His glory, majesty, and holiness. If we will but be still He will reveal Himself to each of us in all of His glorious might. I want to invite you to join me in seeking the Lord in prayer.

SING A SONG OF PRAISE
“When I Look Into Your Holiness”
PRAYER TIME

OUR FAILURES

I stand before you today a sinner. I have known better and yet I have still chosen to break the heart of God. I do not desire to cover over my sin. I can’t. I have tried and it has always resurfaced to haunt me, to guilt me, and to point out my depravity.

I know there are many in our society who say they have no sin, but they are wrong according to John who said,=20

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:10 NIV)

It was because of the sinfulness of humanity that the Lord God destroyed the earth by the Flood. After the Flood, Noah built an altar and made a sacrifice. We read in Genesis that the Lord God smelled the offering and was pleased. It was at that time that God made a profound statement concerning our hearts. Take a look,=20

…”Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (Gen 8:21 NIV)

“The heart is evil from childhood.” What a horrifying statement! What a terrifying statement! What an unsettling statement! My heart, your heart, every heart — evil, unable to do what is right, what is godly, what is good.

Paul knew the pain of possessing such a heart. He wrote some of the most “right on target” words that I have ever read when in Romans 7 he said,=20

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. {16} And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. {17} As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. {18} I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. {19} For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. {20} Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. {21} So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. {22} For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; {23} but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. {24} What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom 7:15-24 NIV)

We play many games, we are most creative when we are confronted with the many ways that we have failed. We will find someone else who has failed worse with whom we can compare ourselves. We will justify our failures, our sin, by reasoning why we did what we have done. We will negate our sin by saying that it didn’t really hurt anyone. We are wrong! Our sin grieves the heart of Almighty God. God weeps over our sin, our refusal to own up to the ways in which we have hurt those around us, but even more importantly, the ways in which we have hurt Almighty God.

I know more about playing games than anyone because I have been a player. This past weekend in Washington, God pulled back the veil and showed me who I really am. I can tell you precisely when I was confronted with my horrid sin. Some time after the beginning of the time of prayer a man spoke to us. I do not even know his name and his name if unimportant. He was talking about his neediness, his sinfulness, when he said, “I want to invite you to join me in humbling yourselves before God in prayer this afternoon. I am not talking about getting on our knees; we need to humble ourselves as low as we can go — we need to get on our faces before Almighty God. Will you join me?” I laid down on the ground, face first in the grass, and began to pray. In that time of prayer Almighty God exposed me for who I really am. He showed me my sin, the way I have hurt my precious wife, the way I have been less than He desires for me to be for the children He has given me — Dan, Nate, and Annie. He showed me my failure as your pastor and my sin towards those He has allowed me to call my friends. I began to weep before His holy presence and I could not control myself. My sorrow was the deepest sorrow I have ever felt as God revealed to me how He has blessed me and yet how I have destroyed all that He has given me to bless. God’s glory showed me how precious these people He has placed in my life are to Him and how I had come up short in being a blessing to them. Oh, how it hurt so badly to see the real me before the perfect picture of His holiness.

The Good News is that this is where real change began to take place in my life. It was only after God allowed me to see my neediness and my sin that He began to work His glory in me.

Are you willing to be still before Almighty God and allow His blazing holiness to pierce the thin veneer of who you are trying to convince others that you are so that you can see yourself for who really are? Are you willing to allow the Father to pull back of the veil of your sinfulness and begin His work in you this morning.

I want to invite you to be still before His presence for the next few minutes and allow Him to show you the things of your life that you have tried to forget, dismiss, and justify so that He can begin His cleansing, renewing work in you this morning. Won’t you join me in prayer?

SING A SONG OF PRAISE
“Create In Me A Clean Heart”
PRAYER TIME

OUR NEED

Sunday night, the night after the “Sacred Assembly,” I got on an airplane and began my journey back home. I sat next to a guy from Denver, Colorado and we began to talk as both of us had been to the time of prayer on Saturday. He told me that he works as a carpenter doing remodeling jobs in the Denver area. We talked the entire way from Washington D.C. to St. Louis, Missouri. When the plane finally landed, we shook hands, said, “God bless you,” and parted our ways.

I learned more about my brother from Denver in the hour and a half we spent together on the plane than I know about most of the people in my life. I learned that he had been married for eighteen years to a wonderful woman. The two of them had two children, good jobs, and a great church family, when, five years ago he was unfaithful to the wife of his youth. It devastated his wife and she divorced him.

The church didn’t know how to deal with the situation so they chose sides and he wasn’t the one chosen to be nurtured, restored, and reconciled by the congregation. The church abandoned him and he felt all-alone. That wasn’t the most difficult situation that would arise because of his sin.

After his wife divorced him for being unfaithful she became very promiscuous and started using drugs. The drug abuse got so bad that he had to take the two children away from her. Today, their oldest child will not speak to his mother, the mother is trying to stay clean from drugs, and the father is overwhelmed with guilt for what he has done to his family. He can trace all of the heartache and sorrow back to one decision that he made five years ago and the guilt has been eating away at him like a cancer.

As we sat together on the plane he said, “I had to come to Washington D.C. I am so guilty and I am constantly reminded of what I have done to my family. I had to come here just to tell God that I am sorry and to ask for His forgiveness.”

I want my brother from Denver to know that he is not alone. I too am so guilty. I am constantly reminded of how I fall short of God’s calling upon my life. The guilt can eat away at me like a cancer. I bet there maybe someone here this morning who knows what I am talking about.

We have failed our families. We have failed our children. We have failed our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have failed Almighty God. The Enemy is eating us from the inside out by the cancer of guilt, condemnation, and constant accusation. What we need is forgiveness my friends.

I want to invite you to humble yourself before the throne of the Father and express to Him your need this morning. You know what it is that is gnawing at you. Allow the Father to silence the screams that wake you up in the middle of the night. Permit the Prince of Peace to permeate your troubled soul with His presence.

You don’t need to fear when you express your need for forgiveness to the Father. He will hear your cry, He will forgive you of your sin, He will restore what the Enemy has stolen, and He will meet your deepest needs. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 32,

Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. {3} When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. {4} For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah {5} Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (Psa 32:2-5 NIV)

SING A SONG OF PRAISE
“As A Deer” “I Need You”
PRAYER TIME

OUR HOPE

The wonderful thing that happened to me in Washington D.C. is that the Lord raised me up from my despair and my sorrow with a renewed passion to serve Him and to be a blessing to those He has put in my life. I have hope today. My hope is not based upon my ability to overcome the sin that besets me. My hope is not based upon my skills, my genius, my competence, or my possessions — My hope is grounded and founded upon my Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

His love is sufficient for me. His grace sets me free. His compassion lifts me up when I am down. His holiness sets my feet on solid ground. I’m trusting in Jesus to love through me, reconcile through me, heal through me, forgive through me, and call others to a saving and transforming relationship with our glorious King through me.

I’m standing with the Psalmist this morning in proclaiming my glorious hope in the Savior.

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; {5} guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. {6} Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. {7} Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD. {8} Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. {9} He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. {10} All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. {11} For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. {12} Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. {13} He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. {14} The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. {15} My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. {16} Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. {17} The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. {18} Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. {19} See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! {20} Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. {21} May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you. (Psa 25:4-21 NIV)

In God’s great mercy he has given us a new name, a new birth, a new hope that can never be disappointed if you and I will only turn to Him with all our might each and every day.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, {4} and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, {5} who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5 NIV)

Paul, in his first words to Timothy, wrote of his hope in Jesus Christ. Almost two thousand years later our words to one another should echo that joyous hope possessed by the Apostle Paul. Paul said,=20

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, (1 Tim 1:1 NIV)

I want to invite you, as we close our worship service this morning, to confess your hope for today and for each day to come in Jesus, our Risen Savior. Won’t you join me in praising our King.

SING A SONG OF PRAISE
“Think About His Love” “O Lord You’re Beautiful”
PRAYER TIME

A Sacred Gathering
Joel 2:12-13