Presence

The Story of God’s Presence (Part 1)

The Bible is a story, not an encyclopaedia. To find a topic in an encyclopaedia, just turn to the letter “G” to read about God, turn to the letter “M” to learn about Messiah. The Bible doesn’t work this way. By story, I do not mean fiction, but rather an unfolding message. The Bible isn’t about God. It’s about God’s purpose and interaction with people. This grand narrative is a fabric of many threads, but lets look at one of the major threads in the Scriptures – God’s presence.

Now that we’ve threaded the needle, lets follow the stitch in the fabric as we look at Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, Jesus, the Church, and the New Jerusalem.

Eden

The Bible begins with an idyllic description of the world we all desire. It’s a place of incomparable beauty, peace, and blessing – the place of God’s presence. God created man to be in relationship with him. In fact, God walked with Adam in Eden (Genesis 3:8). Adam, being in harmony with his Creator, wasn’t laden down with fears; his relationship with his Maker was free from inhibitions. There was no pain or death, simply the joyful pleasure of life lived in God’s presence.  Something as wonderful as this ought to be shared, and so God blessed Adam with the joy of extending the Garden through fruitful expansion (Gen 1:26-28). He called Adam to work and keep the Garden (Gen 2:15-17). The very nature of the Garden itself yearned to cover the earth as a river flowed outward from it dividing into four other rivers (Gen 2:5-9). God’s purpose was to multiply this place of his presence throughout the earth.

This wonderful relationship between man and his God is the joyful life that everyone longs for, but like us, Adam began looking for a way to have the fruit of God’s presence without God himself. Adam and his wife ate from the tree that actualized life lived under self-rule. Choosing to distrust God and God’s Word, man could no longer enjoy the very presence of God. Man became an exile, and lest Adam try to re-enter the Garden, the Lord set cherubim, heavenly beings, with a flaming sword to guard the entrance (Gen 3:23-24).

Tent

God’s purposes hadn’t changed. He still wanted his creature to enjoy and know his presence, but sin now stood in the way between God’s blazing glory and man’s now frail existence. Although Eden, the place of God’s presence, was sealed off from people who rejected God’s goodness, God’s mission hadn’t changed. God called a man named Moses to establish a place of God’s presence that people could come near (Exo 25:8-10). God would meet with Moses and speak with him “face to face” in this tent often called the Tent of Meeting (Exo 33:7-11).

But man’s sin still stood in the way. Although Moses was graciously allowed to enter into God’s presence, God’s glory was veiled in a cloud (Exo 34:5). Moses was unable to actually see God. Reminding us of Eden, the tent’s inner chamber, known as the Holy of Holies, was separated by a veil, and on it were embroidered cherubim (Exo 26:31-33), reminding us of the certain death of sinners standing before a holy God. Access was restricted. There was an occasion in which one man could enter into the Holy of Holies. The high priest, on the annual Day of Atonement, was permitted entry after he offered a sin sacrifice for himself (Lev 16:2-3). His entry was granted only to make atonement for the sin of the people. The high priest did this with great fear, fully aware of his own sin. As with Moses, a cloud covered the presence of God to shield the high priest from death.

God created man to enjoy his presence, but the bitter fruit of sin beckons people to rule their own life in opposition to God. The message of this Holy of Holies is that God is still in pursuit of us. In spite of our rejecting him to be self-made gods, our Maker still pursues us. God had Moses make this tent seeking to multiply his divine presence on the earth. Why a tent? A tent is mobile (Exo 40:24-28). God was moving. He was extending his presence.

Temple

Later in Israel’s history, to show the permanence of his presence, a temple was established in Jerusalem, which God called the place of his Name (1Ki 8:29). The Temple was the epicenter from which the message of God’s presence could echo forth throughout the world. The Temple extended the presence of God, which he said would be a place for all nations to communicate with him (Isa 56:7, 1Ki 8:41-43). Like the tent, access into the thirty-foot cube of the Holy of Holies was only permitted on the Day of Atonement and only by the high priest. Sin still prohibited people from being able to enter in and enjoy God’s Eden-like presence.

The people of Israel didn’t keep God’s good Word, even though they had the reminder of God’s presence in temple form. Ultimately, the Babylonians, as a judgment of God on his people, would destroy this Temple (2 Chr 36:18). The article of furniture symbolizing God’s presence (the Ark) would also go missing. The new temple to be built seventy years later would be a ‘presence-less’ shell, housing a hollow Holy of Holies. Had God ceased from his mission? No. God’s mission is still active.

God is at work in the world. His mission of making himself known is always underway. This is what we see God doing in the Old Testament, but it doesn’t end there. The New Testament brings yet more clarity to God’s purpose and presence. We will look at this in my next post.

 


[1] John 1:16-17 reveals that grace had been given in the giving of the Law of Moses (which include the building plans for the Tent), but when Jesus came, a whole new dimension of grace was given. We have received the grace of God’s presence directly in Jesus, above and beyond the grace of God’s presence in the tent.

[2] Joh 14:16, the word another here means “another of the same kind”.

justice

Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

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

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?

baby

Circumcision Saturday – What are your thoughts?

I received this question after teaching of about the Sign of the Covenant. An interesting way to look at it.

What do you think?

Please tell me is you think i’m pressing the bible text with these thoughts. I think the Holy Spirit was impressing upon me that 1) Abraham was, in circumcision, making himself a living sacrifice in that in response to God’s directive he and his chosen people were offering themselves to the covenant promise wholeheartedly. They were self-purifying before there was a sacrificial system, but using their personal body as a foreshadowing of what Jesus would later do. Abraham was preparing himself to beget God’s chosen seed in Isaac. And he and his household were in faith and deed commiting an act in belief that set them apart as God’s chosen. I realize that Jesus was the first and only man to offer His body to God to show personal dedication to the will of God, and the initiation of the New Covanant started as a response to that (Heb. 5,10,16-20, esp. 20). Do you think circumcision could be an OT foreshadowing of Jesus offering His body to establish God’s chosen people?

small-vs-large

Big Church, Small Church = Same Church

As many of you know, I am a blogging veteran. It dawned on me recently that I have been blogging for over 10 years at this point. But is also interesting is that I find myself interacting on them less and less (although ironically, this article is on a blog). Why? Well because I have little bandwidth these days for incessant arguments. When I think about some of the most common arguments about church on blogs (whether ministry-minded blogs like CrossConnection or other Christian blogs), it is the church size preference argument. Most of the arguing, as I have thought about it, is actually from people who prefer smaller churches and then vilify larger churches. Although I don’t know of any larger church pastor starting a blog argument over church size, it is far to common to hear a mega church pastor speak down about a smaller church. I once stood in horror as a large church pastor asked a faithful brother of a smaller church, “How is your little work going?”. The work of God in salvation and in His people is never little. It is always huge.

But, for me, I feel that I have a unique vantage point on this because of how the Lord has led me. I have been involved pastorally in 4 churches (3 as the church-planter and senior pastor). The three churches I planted were turned over to other pastors with less than 100 people. Now I pastor a very large church. Here’s what I have learned. Simply stated, the church is the church. Whether large or small, the church is the people of God together in community. Every church is flawed in some way, yet being grown up into her head, Jesus. All churches have budget problems, building (or lack thereof) issues, committed members and folks who just come and go. On every level, the church is the church.

This was brought into stark focus for me recently as someone asked me how it was to teach at a large church. I said simply, it’s exactly the same, just more people hear the message at one time. I haven’t changed, the only difference is that now, if I look to the left or the right when I’m teaching, I’ll see myself amplified on jumbo screens (a terrifying sight). I still study the same, deliver it the same, pray that God uses it the same. After service, just like in a smaller body, some folks head for the doors and other folks want to spend time and talk. There are all the same people issues. In any church, large or small, most people have 10 truly close friends. That doesn’t change. A large church is not any less intimate than a smaller church. Why? Because intimacy is a heart issue not a size issue. Again, it’s all the same church.

So why do I write this? Well maybe it is my hope that people will be okay with simply stating their preference for church size and dynamics instead of seeking to justify the preference by vilifying the other side. I also say this because as a church planter and smaller church pastor, I also tried to vilify larger churches. It don’t think I did it maliciously. I did it naively. But my experience has taught me that the church is the church, no matter how many people are gathered together. We are all one big family in Jesus. I, for one, am grateful for that.

motivation

MOTIVATION AND MISSION

Recently I’ve been reconvicted all over again on the issue of motive in mission.  I’m not generally one of those guys who struggles to have joy in ministry.  My problem is that I don’t always do ministry from a place of having joy in enough of the right things.  I love studying the Word, preaching the Word, training up leaders, designing discipleship processes, and so on.  My joy can terminate on those things in and of themselves.  It isn’t inherently wrong to enjoy those kinds of things.  But I need to do what I do in response to more than the joy I experience over performing those functions alone.  What is the great motive from which all my activities should flow?  How about love for God and love for people!  Take it from the Bible:

 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This [is] the first commandment. And the second, like [it, is] this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

 There it is!  Love for God and people must be the motive for everything I do.  If my motive for doing what I do isn’t love for God and people (even if my activities are amoral) they are of no credit to me in the perspective of God.  My problem is that I can enjoy building systems, preaching sermons, counseling people, and raising up leaders, while thinking and feeling next to nothing for God or people.  I simply enjoy the processes inherently.

So let’s be honest with ourselves today.  God knows the truth already, so hiding is of no value.  Why are excited to preach that message this week?  Why are you looking forward to that meeting with those leaders?  Why are you looking forward to that upcoming ministry opportunity?  Why are you buzzing with zeal on the inside over expanding the scope of your mission?  Is the foundational motive of your mission love for God and people, and the knowledge that these other things merely facilitate the expression and expansion of that love?  Or is the foundational motive of your mission and activities simply an enjoyment of the processes, roles, and opportunities themselves?

Let’s take a love test.  If the verses were expressing your motive for mission, how would Mark 12:30-31 read?  Would it be, “My motivation for the mission comes from loving the ministry my God (processes, sermon, study, counseling, opportunities, prestige) with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul.  And I don’t think much of my neighbor, but I love myself.”?  Or would it read, “My motivation for the mission comes from actually loving THE LORD MY GOD and MY NEIGHBOR as myself.”?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Respond appropriately.

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Pronouncing Blessing – A Lost Art?

For about the last five years, I have ended nearly every worship gathering that I have had the pleasure of leading by doing a Benediction.

May the LORD bless you and keep you
May the LORD cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May the LORD lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
And the love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all now and forevermore.

This benediction is simply the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 with 2 Corinthians 13:14 added to the end of it. I have always enjoyed putting these two Scriptures together as the Blessing of Numbers 6 is focused on the Yahweh, the true and living God. Those capital letters show that LORD is God’s personal name, in the Hebrew, YHWH. By adding 2 Corinthians 13:14 to it, we get the full Biblical revelation of who YHWH is: Father, Son and Spirit, the blessed and glorious triune God.

It is simply the speaking forth of two Scriptures. But for some reason there is tremendous power and comfort in hearing the God’s blessing proclaimed on and over a group of people. In many ways, this speaking of blessing is a lost art in post-liturgical Protestantism, as this practice is often not the norm. We often forget that words are creative (both in Genesis 1 and James 2). Yes, we believe in the priesthood of all believers, but there is also something powerful and special when the pastor of a congregation will stand in the midst of the assembly and pronounce God’s blessing.

It is my hope and prayer that we will all grab hold of the tremendous opportunity to pronounce blessing upon people. I pray that pastors would bless their congregations publicly and often in Jesus’ name. Would to God that husbands will share the benediction with their wives and vice versa. Would to God that parents would share it with their children. Would to God that brothers would bless their sisters and vice versa. That employers would bless their employees and the employees would return suit. That blessing would be proclaimed across party lines, denominational lines, socio-economic lines, across international boundaries and unto the ends of the earth.