examine self

Do I Pass the Test?

This is an entry from a dear friend of mine, Pastor Dale Lewis of Calvary Chapel Bitterroot Valley in Montana. Dale’s a passionate “new covenant” guy. He and I share something special in common: we both love Ray Stedman’s commentary on 2 Corinthians, entitled “Authentic Christianity.”

I was impressed and challenged by this post when I first read it. The more I think about what he shares here, the more I believe it to be a prophetic word to today’s ministers. 


I’m finishing up 2nd Corinthians this weekend and came upon a verse that resonates in my heart as I look out upon the vista that is the Westernized Church.

Paul closes this letter to his critics by saying in 13:5 “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you are disqualified.

R. Kent Hughes makes this observation: “Today the warning stands over the church, and especially those who have transmitted the present cultural values into the church, so that church is little more than a Christianized version of modern culture. The warning stands where leadership is built on the cult of personality—where image is everything. The warning looms where worship is show time—where preaching is entertainment—where God’s Word is muzzled and the pulpit panders to itching ears. The warning echoes where we are the focus of worship—our feelings, our comfort, our health, our wealth—where super apostles are preferred over Paul.”

I find it easy to gaze out my Church window at those “other denominations” as I examine them putting them to the “test.” But Paul didn’t say “examine others,” he said “examine yourself”!

I’ve had the blessing of being saved in a Calvary Chapel 31 years ago, and also going to a Calvary Chapel school. I’ve had the incredible privilege of being a part of two wonderful fellowships. Clearly there needs to be no examination, no test given to my incredible history!

Why we have “balance,” we have authentic work, right doctrine. Our success is evident, as some among us are numerically the largest fellowships in the country, with some of the most popular speakers around.

Yet I cannot escape my own reflection as I look out my Church window at others. Paul’s words speak to my face in the glass, “Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” Would my examination reveal that “my church history” has replaced Jesus on the throne of my heart? Would I fail the test, as now I’m more excited about what I’m doing for God instead what He has done and continues to do for me? Where is my humility and brokenness? Where is my invisibility that He may be all that people look upon? Would I pass the test as Paul before me—who held onto a vision of paradise for 14 years, seeing and hearing things that he no doubt didn’t even know were a mystery.

Paul never published a book, or produced a video of that experience. Would I, like Paul, not mention the five things that Jesus said would authenticate apostolic ministry in Mark 16 even though they were clearly evident everywhere I went? Is what I would speak most about in my Christian experience be my biggest failure: the day when as a minister all I thought about: how gifted, educated, and special I am was flushed down the toilet—kicked to the curb in Damascus (2 Corinthians 12:30-33). Would I, like Paul, commit to prayer for blessings for those false teachers who prayed for my failure?

Looming in Paul’s closing words of 2nd Corinthians is the thrice repeated word “disqualified,” but with it is also the exhortation of becoming complete, mature, or perfect. He wrote those words of personal examination not for destruction but rather for edification. I believe it is high time that I stop looking out my window and start looking in my mirror!

Blessings!

Pastor Dale Lewis,

Calvary Chapel Bitterroot Valley, MT

transfer growth

When Transfer Growth is Healthy

Sometimes we are overly-simplistic in our criticisms and cautions. That’s just part of being human. Still, accuracy and balance (if biblical and true) is something to pursue. And one area in which I think pastors particularly get a little overly-simplistic is that of transfer growth. Transfer growth occurs when someone who is already a follower of Jesus (or at least professes to be so) switches from attending one local church to another.

There is a status quo regarding transfer growth that is understandable, often legitimate, but sometimes overboard. It is frankly taboo to appear to be at peace with Christians coming to your church or church-plant from another local church. As such, pastors who don’t want to be filleted don’t talk openly about it, no matter what the reason someone may have transferred to their church may be. My belief is that, while much of the time (perhaps most) transfer growth is due to unhealthy thinking or behavior, sometime’s it is not. And what I hope to do is shed some light on reasons why sometimes transfer growth can even be a godly, wise, and needed reality.

Let me be clear upfront that I don’t think intentionally pillaging the members of a gospel-centered, God-ordained church is ok. The leaders of the church I serve have, and will continue to tell people at times that they need to return to the church they came from when they desire to come to our fellowship in an unhealthy way, with selfish and sinful motivations. But I’ve also seen people come through our doors from other places who I will never tell to go back to where they came from. Here are some reasons why:

 1. The Gospel must be preached

Not all churches that have the gospel correct on their doctrinal statement actually preach the gospel. Some churches are so focused on speaking to people’s felt needs and emotional struggles that they forget to be clear on the problem of sin and how Jesus solved it for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. And in case we forgot, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17), nothing else. Sometimes people come to my church from another, maybe visiting with a friend or something, and they hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, and God convicts them of sin, brings them to faith in the gospel and regenerates them. And as we counsel with them we discover that though they’ve been at a church that has the right gospel on paper, they’ve never heard it preached before. But now they understand it, are broken over it, and put their trust in Jesus in light of it.

The deal is, if you don’t understand and believe the true and simple gospel, you are not born-again. You are not saved from hell. So, for me, when I meet this kind of person at Refuge that last thing I’m going to do is tell them, “Well I’m sorry, but you need to go back where you came from.” I’m going to love them and make sure they have the opportunity to get the discipleship they’ve never had.

 2. Heresy is real

This ties in with the last point, but not every church that names Christ actually preaches Christ. Churches get into weird crap. That’s the bottom line. I remember learning that a local Episcopal church in a town where I used to pastor had started encouraging their Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS) group to start using the Quran and Book of Mormon for their studies in addition to the Bible. Because of that kind of thing, I was more than happy to welcome a few transfers to our church who knew there was something wrong with that. They voiced their concerns, called for a change and repentance, and were unheard. So, I was happy to welcome them to a place they could not only be discipled, but invite moms to, knowing that they’d be getting the living water of God’s word instead of the poisonous waters of pluralism.

 3. Seasons in Life Change

We also need to allow for people to grow or transition into different seasons of life. If I were simply looking for a church to plug my family into in a non-vocational ministry sense today, I wouldn’t go to the churches I attended in the past. This isn’t because they are evil or wrong. They’re just not a good fit for where our family is at right now in our relationship with Jesus theologically and philosophically.

4. Sometimes Churches Really do Hurt People

One of the most tragic reasons I’ve seen transfer growth is when people are truly hurt by leaders and churches. A couple years ago a pastor in my area was found to have been having affairs with underage girls in the youth groups he was leading. Part of the fallout from that was that people transferred from that church to other churches, including ours. We welcomed these people to our church as a hospital where they could be cared for and encouraged.

 5. Sharing the lowest theological common denominator isn’t always enough

Generally speaking, if we have the gospel in common with another church I love to promote unity between us. But there are some churches that are involved in things that are just weird enough for me to understand why people would leave them. For instance I know of a church not far from us that began promoting the idea that certain crystals used in worship services can encapsulate the praises of God’s people and project them into the cosmos. This church was encouraging people to give their money and tithes to the people taking these crystals around and doing presentations with them. Then there is the whole prosperity preaching issue that was prevalent. Still other churches who have that “come to us if you don’t want to be held accountable for your sin, in the name of grace” reputation are a problem in our area too. Some of these churches claim (or really do) believe in the same Jesus and gospel we do. But that lowest common denominator isn’t always enough. I would never tell someone they need to go back to that kind of environment because of the way people over-generalize the problem with transfer growth.

I hate unnecessary, flippant, consumeranity, transfer growth. I want people to get saved through Refuge Church. But I also don’t want to be so naïve as to act as if there are no legitimate reasons people may transfer into, or out of the church I lead. So am I saying that all transfer growth is good? No! I’m just saying we need to not be overly-simplistic in the way we talk about the issue.

A Final Exhortation

Having a good relationship with the other pastors in your community is vitally important for handling transfer growth in a way that keeps the gospel witness in tact in your area. If the pastors in your area lob grenades at each other behind one another’s back without having face-to-face interaction, we turn into a bunch of squabbling church people. And most lost people don’t want any part of that. Communicate with the pastors in your community about transfer growth. Ask their advice on how to handle it, and follow-up with each other. The witness of the gospel depends upon it.

planting

No Correct Church Planting Model

There seems to be a lot of rhetoric out there on the correct way to plant a church. You have the Missional group which tells you that you have to reach those who don’t go to church and if you have transfer growth you are essentially failing. We are to be missionaries in our community. On the other side you have the Atttactional group which comes in with the slick method to appeal to church shopper in hopes of reaching them with a highly polished system. Of course these two groups go by all kinds of names like Organic, Purpose Driven, Seeker, Relevant, etc. When you start to read all of the resources out there it is easy to get confused and try to adapt one of these methods.

In reality most church plants fall squarely in the middle. Most church plants reach those who are unchurched and those who are transferring from other churches. Don’t feel guilty for having a mixed group. Don’t let someone try to tell you who to reach. If God has called you to a specific city then don’t feel guilty having a mixed group. Stick to your guns and minister to your people.

The fact is that you have little control over who walks through the door of your church. If you are a good Bible teacher you are going to have people come to your church because they are looking for deeper teaching. You also may be great at outreach and are able to bring in tons of people who society and the church has rejected. In all honestly most churches are doing very little outreach into their community.

I get a little miffed by the Missional group. Why should I feel guilty that my church sent me out with a sizeable group of people who all stepped up and helped fund the plant before we even started? Am I supposed to turn people away who are desperate to come and learn the Bible if they come from another church? Call me a trust fund church, call me a transfer church, I don’t care. The fact is that we are reaching people, seeing them transformed by the same Gospel that Missional churches teach, and we are sending people and funds all over the world to plant more churches. I am comfortable in that.

There is no right way to plant a church. You go to the city God calls you to. You work your butt off and whatever God blesses you with He blesses. That’s it. There are church planters out there who are timid and insecure because they feel they are not measuring up to a false reality. That is why I am on the board of Calvary Church Planting Network. Our aim is to identify, train, and support church planters within Calvary Chapels. This is the emphasis behind our ReEngage Conference happening in October. To train and inspire church planters to go with God’s word and do the hard work. We aren’t going to burden you with a model or mold you have to fit into. We are going to build you up so that you can go out boldly proclaiming the Gospel.

Stressed

PLAN OR DIE

Life is busy. Ministry life is even busier. Something I figured out in the first six months of being in pastoral ministry was that I was going to have to plan my week well, or die. And as my ministry load has steadily and dramatically increased over the years I’m more convinced than ever that having a “plan or die” mentality is essential to survival and effectiveness in the ministry. I’m so convinced of this that I not only plan out my schedule to the minute as much as possible every few months, but I also require all pastoral trainees at the church I lead to do the same in cooperation with their family when they start the training process. I figure it is better to learn early to plan by instruction than to figure it out through burnout and floundering ministry endeavors.

Below is a copy of one of my old daily schedules:

 

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-8AM: Sermon Prep

 

8:30-2PM: Church

 

2:30- Evening: Family Time

8-9AM:

Morning Routine

 

9AM-Evening:

Family Day/Daddy Date

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30:

Exercise

 

7:30-8:15AM: Sermon Prep

 

8:15-6PM: Solitude

 

 

 

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-6PM: Leader Follow-up

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-4PM: Counseling Apps

 

4-6PM: Leadership Meeting/Fellowship

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-6PM: Counseling Apps

 

7-8AM:

Morning Routine

 

8-10:

Family Time

 

10-12:

House Chores

 

12-1: Lunch

 

1-Evening:

Family Time

 

 

 

Some will look at that schedule and think I’m too loose with planning. Others will think I’m too extreme.

Here are a few benefits I’ve experienced from learning to plan my schedule this way:

 1. Stuff gets done

If I just try to swing at things “when I get around to it” I frequently find that I never really get around to it. I have to plan for the needed stuff to happen, or it won’t happen. But conversely, if most everything has a spot on the schedule, it gets done.

 2. I have more free time

That’s right, MORE free time. The counterintuitive thing I’ve learned about intensely detailed planning is that having a solid plan actually frees you instead of restricting you. The reason for this is that if I work on everything when I’m supposed to, for as long as I’m supposed to, I end up getting things done much quicker and more efficiently than I would if I did those same things when I felt I had a spare moment. For example, I have 7 hours and 45 minutes scheduled for sermon preparation time because that is an extremely important part of my job. But the reality is that it usually only takes me 2 to 4 hours to completely prepare for a sermon. So as I work diligently on my sermon during schedule times I end up getting it done, and the remaining sermon prep slots become free time to do other things. That is how detailed planning gives me more time instead of restricting me.

 3. My family is informed

The last benefit I’ll mention (though there are many more) is that planning this way blesses my family because it makes it easy for us to be on the same page day-to-day. Generally, my wife knows exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it if she wants. And my family knows that when dad’s working, he’s working. But they trust me with the busy times because they know I’m making scheduled times in which we invest in our family which are just for us a priority as well.

The truth is that our need/desire to plan comes from our being made in the image of God. Our God is an ordered God of planning. Jesus came to earth when “the fullness of time had come.”[1] God is not the author of confusion and chaos, but peace, rhythm, and harmony.[2] No wonder life is draining and unproductive when we approach it chaotically, without plan or intentionality. If you feel like you’re suffocating under the weight of responsibilities and lack of direction in what to do, that alarm in your mind might be the Holy Spirit exhorting you to plan or die.


[1] Gal. 4:4 NKJV

[2] 1 Cor. 14:33

candle-1

Light In The Darkness

“Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”

 

Dark seasons come to us all. This is regardless of where we are or who we are or what we are doing. We are here. We are involved in this thing called “life” and the reality is that we all experience dark times. But there is a marked difference between the darkness that is experienced by the upright and the unjust.

The unjust dwell in darkness, and it a manifold darkness. They are lost in the darkness of sin, of confusion, of ignorance, of pride and stubbornness. Their eyes are blinded by the god of this age, their foolish hearts are darkened, they stumble in the darkness groping for anything solid, yet terrified and held back by fear not knowing what they will find…and they have no light…ever.

The upright have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. They were once in darkness, but now have been made children of Light, in fact, the light of this world. And yet we remain living testimonies in a world of fallen things. And we dwell daily in fallen bodies. These fallen systems love darkness and not light. And God is gracious and has given us His word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths as we walk life’s narrow way. And because we are living epistles and stewards of light, living in the midst of a crooked and lost generation, we find ourselves at times in darkness. At a loss of which way to go, of our purpose, of our goal…and we fret. We become anxious.

But always the upright has hope. The upright has fixed his or her heart upon the One to whom they have cried out to for their salvation. He alone has shown Himself strong on their behalf. He alone has freed them from their prison and set them at liberty from their oppressive labors. And in the times of darkness, there arises a light. In the Lord’s time, there arises a light. Hope is renewed and strengthened, the sails of vision are filled to full strength, the upright begins afresh to be the living extension of the kingdom of God among those lost in darkness…

And he is once again gracious to those around him. He is full of compassion to those who do not know what compassion is. and above all and through it all, he is righteous. Not because of what he has done through the trying time of darkness, but righteous because of the One who has called and redeemed and adopted and made alive by the word of the gospel and the generous, miraculous work of His Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering him.

Inner Struggle

The Lie of the “Good Girl”

“She’s too innocent . . . she doesn’t do that. I don’t think she even knows what that is.”

“She’s a good girl and that’s not like her to do that.”

I believe these can be some of the most harmful words overheard by young girls. I was that oh-so-put-together, organized, on every academic team in school, over achiever, got good grades girl. I overheard as others labeled me by saying things like, “She’s so mature.” “She knows that’s wrong, so she won’t do that.” “Look at that godly girl and everything she’s balancing in her life.” “She doesn’t struggle with that.”

Again, these were some of the worst things for me to have heard growing up and in high school. Since I knew others didn’t recognize me as the struggling sinner that I was, trying to figure out this life and what it means to be sanctified and justified by Christ’s blood, I was not able to be open and honest with my struggles, and seek the help I needed. I was overburdened with my sin: sexual temptation and lust of the mind. I was everything but mature in my walk with Christ, put together, being sanctified, and seeking after God, and hearing that people thought highly of me only added to the façade I had to keep up, and the guilt and shame I was carrying. I was identifying myself more with the list of those who won’t inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) than I was with Jesus and my new life in Him.

God designed a girl’s heart, mind, and body to be protected and pure. When she hears others talking about how well she’s doing at that, even though they are really only referring to the outside, then her only fleshly worry is keeping up with appearances, despite addictions hiding in the closet, in old relationships, on her computer, on her bookshelf, or in any other area of life where idolatry is an issue. It doesn’t matter how filthy her eyes are from the porn she’s watching but can’t tell anyone about, or how disgusting she feels from the boys she’s blamed herself for sleeping with, or how unclean her mind and thoughts are from the unstoppable, lustful thoughts she has, or how broken hearted she is from male after male that can’t fulfill her in her life. Her flesh craves to maintain the perfect image that has been being portrayed to others, despite the common knowledge provided from the Bible that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s level of perfection (Romans 3:23).

I feel like sexual sin is also harder for girls to admit to because of this idea of them always being pristine and holy. In an article on helping women with addictions, author Rob Jackson put is very well when he said, “Female addicts often suffer a greater social stigma and inner shame than do male addicts. Society promotes the stereotypes of ‘boys will be boys’ and “’good girls don’t,’”[1]. The Bible tells us that there is neither male nor female before the Lord (Galatians 3:28), so there is no sin common to just man, or just women (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sin is a human struggle, and a girl is going to feel even guiltier when she’s struggling with something that no other girl seems to admit to struggling with. I saw this in my experience, but I also see it the more and more I talk with girls who are willing to be open about their struggles, and the more I see this as being a barrier to their honesty about their struggles, and their willingness to seek help.

So, how do we fix this problem? Parents, I think it starts with you and your most powerful tool: the gospel. The parents in the church youth group where I serve are no longer surprised to hear me tell them, “Don’t be surprised that your children are sinners.” The shock parents sometimes exert to their children for not upholding Jesus’ level of perfection only breeds more hypocrites into the church. Let your kids be real with you and don’t shame them for their struggles with sin. When your children are sharing their sins and struggles with you, you should view that as a God ordained opportunity for you to actively share the gospel with them, through your words and actions. Shame is not the gospel. There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1), so don’t be a tool in the enemy’s hand to burden your kids with more guilt. Share with them the freedom found in Christ’s love displayed for us on the cross. Their sin is horrific, bad, ugly, and it’s why Jesus had to die, but He also rose again to defeat sin, so that your children can be sanctified in Christ, having access to God’s power living in them, to help them have victory over their sins.

We also need to be warned and aware that girls do actually struggle with porn.  It may start in a more subtle way with women. Virtually every young adult novel these days includes very explicit sex scenes, which is nothing but straight up porn, or erotic literature. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal which shares about the rise in women reading erotica on EReaders due to its easy access, one reader admitted that, “. . . the digital format helped her get over the embarrassment[2].” The Bible says to think on things that are pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8), and I know from experience that reading those things only add to the embarrassment and weight of sin, and the lustful, evil thoughts. It is not lovely and pure to gaze into a fictional vampire’s love life, I don’t care if they waited until they were married. It’s not lovely and pure to worship and idolize the marriage relationship between two characters in your book, even if it has the genre title “Christian fiction” on the side of it. It is not lovely and pure to read pornographic literature, even if nobody else knows that’s what you’re doing because they can’t see the book cover on your new EReader. It’s only lovely to worship the one true God.

The more I talk to girls about the dangers of reading literature that is not only too mature for their age, but also downright pornographic and sinful, the more girls I am finding who admit to struggling with this. For some reason this form of pornography is more tolerated than visual pornography, which girls struggle with as well. Parents need to be aware of this and closely monitor what their young girls are reading. And older girls and women, you need to take it upon yourself to decide if what you’re reading leads to pure and lovely thoughts, or if it feeds your flesh with lustful, adulterous, disgusting thoughts. You need to be able to recognize your responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1), in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

About the Author

Lexy Sauvé grew up on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, and Hans Christian Anderson, pursuing her love of literature and writing since kindergarten. Her love of poetry grew through middle school and is still her genre of choice. Lexy rededicated her life to Christ at the age of 13, and has since been growing to understand and walk in the ministry of reconciliation that she has been entrusted with. In the summer of 2011 she married her high school lovebird, whom she occasionally collaborates with artistically. They enjoy reading, espresso, and old book shops together. In 2012 she graduated from Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah, with a degree in Creative Writing.

Lexy also has some background in journalism. She wrote for Weber State’s newspaper, The Signpost, in the area of Arts and Entertainment, as well as serving as a student editor of poetry for their literary magazine, The Metaphor. She is currently working with Calvary Chapel Magazine, as well as pursuing side projects in editing, publishing, and teaching workshops.

 


[1] Pure Intimacy.org, 2004, “Help for Female Sex Addicts,” http://www.pureintimacy.org/piArticles/A000000574.cfm

[2] “Books Women Read When No One Can See the Cover,” Katherine Rosman, March 12, 2012, The Wall Street Journal

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Ponder the Path

“Ponder the path of thy feet,

And let all thy ways be established.

Turn not to the right hand

Nor to the left:

Remove thy foot from evil”

 

Seems a good a time as any, since many are at the Senior Pastor’s Conference in Murrietta to pause and reflect upon the path we are each treading.

Think about the “Path” you are on today. Think about where you started and where you find yourself today. Look back at the amazing faithfulness of the Lord who has called you out of darkness and transferred you into the Light of the Kingdom life of His Son, whom He loves. What power, what love, what trustworthiness, what faithfulness! Words cannot paint a pleasant or fitting enough picture worthy of the One to who it is ascribed. God has taken us from the dungheap of a vain, empty and damned life because of our rebellion against Him, and has redeemed us from the curse of the law having sent His only Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased to bear the curse for us and vicariously nailed it to the cross for all those who would believe on His Name! What mercy, what grace, what peace, what forgiveness!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

Do not turn from the One who called you and set you on the path your on today. Keep your hands in His. Fix your gaze afresh upon the One who loved you and gave Himself for you. Follow His lead, for His rod and His staff are there to protect, guide, and comfort you. His desire is to restore your soul in the path He has prepared beforehand for you to walk along. Do not be afraid of what lies ahead or how you will be provided for.

“Behold the birds of the air. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Don’t waver, or turn from the path. Don’t meander into the fields of another. Look to the Good Shepherd, let Him know your requests, and you will find the greates clarity and the greatest satisfaction you have ever known.

 

spiritual

Unspiritual Christianity

Today is one of those articles that I am going to try and say something that I don’t really know how to say. I really have struggled over the years to articulate this reality and find myself struggling today again to find the words to express something of value.

My pondering began with a simple question, “How is it possible for Christianity to be perceived as unspiritual?” The gospel is simply the Lordship of Jesus. When a person believes in Jesus, they are indwelt by the Spirit of God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.There is no Christianity without the Spirit. Yet, as I look around the body of Christ, there seems to be way more examples of unspiritual Christianity then there are spiritual ones. Now when I speak about the need for Christianity to be spiritual, I mean “of the Spirit” in the simplest of terms. Not even necessarily the expression of spiritual giftings. I am talking about the basics of love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and self control (Galatians 5:23). I am talking about lives that are lived out in the simplest aspects of agape love and service. I am talking about the ‘shalom’ of God being at work and being outworked through the body of Christ. Concepts such as agape, simplicity, service, unity and peace-making are in my mind.

As I survey much of the Christianity around today, I don’t see much of this. So I started to wonder why. Why is so much of Christianity look so little like the life of Jesus? I see much personal politics, attack-dog disagreements, sin cloaked in religion, bickering, jockeying for position, niches and cliches. It is so common for people to rise up in churches if they are charismatic or sychopantic rather than having a Jesus-formed character.

So I am going to list a few reasons why this may be the case. Instead of commenting on each of them, I will simply list them and let you all have fun with them.

1) When information is king
2) When theology is not translated to the street level
3) Classic Self-salvation plans
4) Cultural Idolatry
5) A lack of any focus on spiritual formation (true biblical discipleship)
6) A western individualistic focus rather than community formation
7) Prayerlessness
8) The Curse of Affluence
9) The Influence of Business Practices upon Church Leadership
10) Tax-exempt status
11) Church as entertainment

cc

Comfortable Christianity?

If there’s one thing my own heart has convinced me of, and my interactions with other Christian’s has taught me time and time again, it is that many Christians in the west expect God to provide us with a comfortable Christianity.  We gauge whether or not God is calling us to serve Him by cost, comforts, and conveniences we may have to sacrifice. If we feel called to something that will cost more money than we’d like to spend, think we have, or can provide, we conclude the feeling must not be from God. If we sense the nudge of the Holy Spirit toward a project or person that would cause us discomfort (physically or emotionally), we back out. If serving some way is just inconvenient, either at church or elsewhere, many Christians conclude God must not be leading, or things would just go smoothly.

Comfortable Christianity Slogans

Here are some of my favorite statements I hear, and some I’ve said, which demonstrate our expectation of a comfortable Christianity:

 “If I’m stressed out, it means I’ve taken too much on and need to let something go.” (Comfort)

 “We want to come to church, but we live fifteen minutes across town.” (Convenience)

 “We want to tithe, but money’s a little tight right now.” (Cost)

 “We’d love to go to a small group, but I have to rush home, eat quickly, and get the family packed up in a hurry, and by that time we’re just stressed.  Going to Bible study as a family shouldn’t be stressful.” (Convenience/Comfort)

 “I meant to come to the once per quarter discipleship event at church, but Saturdays are when I sleep in.” (Convenience)

 “I know those people need help, but my kids can’t miss their nap.” (Convenience/Cost/Comfort)

 “We haven’t been at church in three months because it’s SUMMER!” (Convenience/Comfort)

God’s Not a Kill-joy

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying all of the above statements are sinful every time they’re made.  For instance, sometimes a kid just needs a nap. But too often, these kinds of things become excuses for not wanting to suffer in any way, to be part of the body of Christ, or serve people. The truth is, biblical Christianity includes the call to joyfully suffer. If our Christianity is the Christianity of the Christ, it will mean great cost at times, to us and our families. It will mean inconvenience, and it will mean discomfort. It will include things like only camping two weeks in the summer with your family instead of ten, specifically so you can serve your church and community on the other weekends. It may include kids going without naps, stressful drives to the prayer meeting, spending money you don’t have because God promised to provide, and sacrificing days off on the couch, for days off in the trench serving God.

Jesus and the Apostles

Consider a few verses, and ask yourself if they represent legitimate potential experiences in your life, based on how you live out your version of the Christian life:

Matthew 8:19-20: Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” That’s right. Jesus was telling this dude that he may have to sleep on the street to follow Jesus faithfully. What if following Jesus meant that for you? Would you write off His call to sacrifice as the voice of the Devil? Some would conclude that  Satan was the one speaking if they were merely being asked to give up a spare room to a guest, let alone their entire house.

Matthew 16:24-25: Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” That’s a tough cost to ponder. As John Piper reminded a group of students in regard to this passage, “The cross isn’t some annoying person sitting next to you in history class. The cross is the place where you die with nails driven through your hands and feet, while the crows eat your eyes out.” Jesus’ point is that truly following Him will feel like that spiritually at times for us all. And for some, they will literally be called to die for the faith, as He did.

Acts 5:41- “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” This was the response of the apostles when they were persecuted for their faithfulness to Jesus and His gospel. Most of us would think God was punishing us if He allowed us to suffer for Christ.

1 John 3:16- By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This one is brutally plain, but true, and needs no elaboration.

What about You?

So, does your version of Christianity demand comfort, or is it real and biblical Christianity? Christians worship the crucified Christ, a suffering Savior. If you follow Him, you should expect to meet His experiences. And yet, the mystery of Christ is that He can grant a greater joy in giving, and suffering, than we experience when we avoid such things at all costs. The paradoxical thing is that when we avoid cost, inconvenience, and discomfort, we actually avoid joy, blessing, spiritual maturation, usefulness, and sanctification, which, at some levels, the Holy Spirit only uses the tool of suffering to provide.

I leave you with two quotes to pray over today:

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed– always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”[1] The Apostle Paul

 “We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when His command, His call to absolute discipleship, is appreciated in its entirety. Only the man who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets His yoke rest upon him, finds His burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. ‘His commandments are not grievous’ (1 John 5:3). His commandments are not some sort of spiritual shock treatment. Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it. His commandment never seeks to destroy life, but to foster it, strengthen and heal it.”[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer


[1] 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 NKJV

[2] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Page 38.

Article - Josiah

One Last Revival?

I’ve been thinking about and praying for a revival. For years. Specifically, and more so even lately, I’ve been praying and hoping for a Josiah revival.

What’s a Josiah revival? It’s a last ditch kind of revival … one more mighty move of God before judgment falls. And fall it most certainly will.

Consider the sin of Sodom. Usually, we equate the sin of Sodom with overt and aggressive homosexuality. Yet those were only the final symptoms of their sin. God Himself describes what they in Sodom had done:

“Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. {50} And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

First, Sodom was proud. Pride is a reflection of self-sufficiency, that somehow we have accomplished or gained what we have on our own. President Abraham Lincoln ascribed this meaning of pride to the United States, mired at the time in a brutal Civil War which would ultimately take the lives of as many as 750,000 Americans. In his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, Lincoln wrote of the untold blessings that our nation had received. After citing what he called the choicest bounties of heaven, he mourned:

“…We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” 

That is precisely what Sodom had done. They were a successful city-state, rich with agricultural and commercial success, wealthy and prosperous. But they thought they’d done these things themselves. They were proud, fat, and with much discretionary time on their hands. Their work week was short, they were materially satisfied, and so they turned their attention to pleasure and the lusts of the flesh. And because the flesh can never be satisfied, they devolved further and further from Divinely ordained sexual relations between a husband and wife. They ended up with total sexual confusion and perverted expression of their sexuality.

We (in the United States) are much like Sodom. Our lust and will to live without truth and accountability to the God who made us has led us to unimaginable national sin.

At the top of the list of our national sins has been the holocaust of abortion. This holocaust has claimed the lives of at least 54,000,000 innocents since 1973. How large is this number? It represents 1,367 million babies per year that have died. That number is far greater than ALL casualties of war from every war in which the U.S. has been involved since 1775.

President Lincoln believed that the Civil War was God’s just judgment for the sin of slavery. A former professor of mine once queried our class, “If the blood atonement for the sin of slavery was the Civil War, what do you suppose will be the blood atonement for the sin of abortion?”

It is evident to many that judgment is on its way (remember the Billy Graham quote, “If God does not judge America, He owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah”?).

But … perhaps … there can be one last mighty move of God prior to that judgment falling. A Josiah revival.

Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh, and the son of Amon. Manasseh reigned in Judah for fifty-five years, and Amon for two. The spiritual wickedness that accumulated in those years is unimaginable. Even though Manasseh repented and was forgiven, the damage had already been done. The LORD spoke through Jeremiah to say that judgment was inevitable, and that it would be horrible.

Then the LORD said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth. {2} And it shall be, if they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you shall tell them, Thus says the LORD: “Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.”’ {3} And I will appoint over them four forms of destruction,” says the LORD: “the sword to slay, the dogs to drag, the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. {4} I will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.”

After Manasseh and Amon, Josiah became king when only 8 years old. Somehow, by the sovereign grace of God, he was cut out of a completely different bolt of cloth. At age 16 he began to seek the God of his father David, and at age 20 he began to aggressively purge idolatry from Judah and Jerusalem. And at 26 he was exposed to the Word of God through Hilkiah the priest and Shaphan the scribe.

What happened then was amazing and incredible. Covenants were made, purging and repentance continued, Passover was observed, the Word of God spread. All told, Judah experienced the effect of Josiah’s reign from the time he was twenty to the time he died at thirty-nine.  The land which had been so full of sins and idolatry of every kind was now a nation under God. Such a drastic change could only be produced by God Himself, using His Word and anointed leadership.

After Josiah died, they lived once again with no fear of the LORD. It was only a matter of time before the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.

A Josiah revival.

One last time when someone … when many some ones … begin to seek God with all their hearts.

One last time when idolatry and sin is purged.

One last time when the Word of God is discovered, preached, taught, believed, and obeyed.

One last time before the inevitable judgment of God falls upon America.

Can we pray for revival? Should we hope for revival? Is it possible that one last Josiah revival will come?