Monday, December 15, 2008

Revival Tarries

1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:1-4 (ESV)

These four verses offer a plethora of topics to discuss. I think I'm going to focus on just a line or two. “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Some of you just about stopped reading because you thought “Oh no, another Vending Machine Jesus message.” Keep reading though. This one's about revival.

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine updated his status at Facebook. My friend “is grieved in my spirit...we need revival.” I can't agree more. A Southern Baptist evangelist recently wrote an article that suggested that the lack of revival in America is attributable to churches not bringing in traveling evangelists. Leonard Ravenhill wrote books like “Why Revival Tarries” to explain why we are not seeing a sweeping move of God across this country...and this was written 40 or 50 years ago. To a man, the entirety of American Christianity will tell you that we need revival. If we all agree that we need it, why don't we see it?

There's several reasons, I believe. First, I don't think most Christians are actually praying for revival. That's Mr. Ravenhill's stance. I don't watch much of the TV preachers or the ones on radio but I can't think of the last time I heard one of them preach on either evangelism or revival, let alone tell people to pray for it. I hear requests to give more because the ministry is facing hard times. I hear about praying for the election. I hear about praying to receive that car, house, job, functional savior that will make you life perfect and show God's favor to you.

I also think that the average American Christian has no idea what revival is. I'm not talking about my friend here, just the average church goer in this country. When I do hear someone talking about revival from the pulpit, it almost always seems to involve politics. We need revival so folks will vote the right way next time. We need revival so that gay marriage doesn't get legalized. We need revival so that young girls quit wearing short skirts. We need revival so our taxes will get lowered. We need revival so that God will be pleased and the stock market will go back up and gas will come down to stay.

When we do ask God to pour out His Spirit and bring revival, if we aren't seeking political change, we're looking for a personal renewing. Many people's idea of revival is their church getting excited about Jesus again. It usually involves a traveling preacher stopping in for a few days, preaching some really well delivered and exciting sermons, collecting the offering and leaving. Sometimes it involves someone reading a new book and getting excited. Maybe it's stumbling across an Emerging leader or someone offering different ideas from what their church has been doing for 50 years. Sometimes it is a new “outpouring” of the Spirit. We abandon all Biblical discernment and chase after signs, wonders and miracles. Sure, more often than not that involves manifestations of things long considered to be demonic possession or of men pretending to pee on the church walls, but feels good. It is also ALWAYS temporary. Take the Lakeland circus this summer or the Airport Vineyard thing a decade ago.

The last dramatic revival on this continent took place over a hundred years ago during the Third Great Awakening. Maybe not since the Second. Not even the Jesus people movement of the 60's and 70's or the Charismatic Renewal of the 80's came close. In fact, I would argue that the Charismatic Renewal is exactly the type of revival we want from God; one that blesses us. We seek revival not to spread the word of God and warn the lost to flee from the wrath to come into the arms of Jesus. No, we seek revival so we can feel better, consuming it for our own pleasure. We have sought material gain and labeled it as Godly while trying to criminalize the lost while calling it “family values”.

Can you even imagine a mainstream preacher preaching a sermon like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” now days? Less than 2% of believers have shared their faith with someone in the last year. Of that 2% how many offered God's Plan for a better life instead of warning them that apart from Jesus they are headed to Hell? Is it any wonder we don't see people coming to Christ in the thousands? Does it surprise you that the gifts of the spirit seem to be manifesting less and less? Ask your self when was the last time you saw a true, immediate healing? Mine was in 1994 or 1995 on my knee. Sure, prophesy is still around but it all seems to be political or “encouraging” words. When was the last time you or someone else “read someone's mail”? The gifts of the Spirit are there to give credence to the claims of the Gospel. The power shows that Christianity is not just another man made religion. If we aren't seeing the gifts, is it because we aren't preaching the Gospel.

We have not revival because we ask not. When we do ask, we don't want to share we just want a bless-me club and call it revival. We have to go OUTSIDE of the Church walls if we ever hope to see revival.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Legalsim or Antinominism?

Recently over at the Internet Monk, there was a discussion on how to live as a Christian in the midst of legalistic churches. That's a sticky question on all sorts of levels. First, we have to define what "legalism" is. I would say that any church or person who puts more faith in works, or what your deeds are, to get you into heaven than in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is legalistic. This is doubly true if the deeds that are emphasized are not deeds mentioned in the Bible as being problem areas. If there is any sort of a Checklist of Salvation the chances are pretty good it's legalism. And we are not under the law but under grace.

Shall we sin so that grace may abound? Ahhh, yeah. That part. The most common response to legalism is to go hard the other way and essentially state that there are no rules. Jesus loves you even when you're banging the neighbor's wife and anybody that says otherwise is being judgmental. The war cry for these folks is two fold. The aforementioned "under grace" line and the ever popular "Judge not lest ye be judged." In my experience everyone who has said "Judge not" while discussing sin and the repentance from sin, is currently doing some thing that violates their conscious but would rather ignore it than repent.

Jesus talks about how to properly, and lovingly, correct someone and, if they refuse it, to kick them out of the church. Paul, who stresses unity above almost everything, still says there are times when a person needs to be asked to leave. He even cites a couple of cases. What's this got to do with legalism? Simply, there ARE some "rules" that one needs to follow if he/she expects to remain in the fellowship. Jesus didn't just say "give me your burdens". He also said to take his up. Carry your cross daily. James said faith without works is dead. It's impossible to read the NT and not come away with the idea that if you do indeed believe in Jesus, there will be things you do, and don't do, because of it.

The big danger here for churches and church leaders is knowing what to expect from the congregation. Quite simply, if the Bible doesn't forbid it expressly, I think it's best to leave that up to Christian Conscious. Drinking alcohol is nowhere forbidden in the Bible. Therefore to preach that it is sin to EVERYONE is wrong. Are there those in your church to whom drinking is a sin because God and their conscious has deemed it so? Yes. And your job as a brother or sister is not to drink around them, not to tell stories involving a good drink etc. around them and to encourage them in their own walk. If it's too big of a sacrifice to go out to eat at Perkin's instead of Applebee's when they're with you, maybe you need to examine your own heart. The same is true if they insist that nobody, EVER has a drink.

There are any number of things clearly spelled out in the Bible as "sin". Lying, gossiping, sex outside of marriage, unforgiveness, irrational anger at somebody are among them. If somebody in your church is doing these things, it is our responsibility to bring them up. Not in a finger pointing, AH-HA!!, sort of way but in love, like the way you would tell your children not to play touch football on the four lane street. On the flip side, these things can not be allowed to fester and grow in the church. If the person continues to resist the correction both Jesus and Paul say to kick them out of the body. Like a cancer needs to be cut out before it kills you, people sinning unrepentantly need to be removed from the church body before it catches on.

It's a fine line. Separating the two takes a lot of prayer and a lot of time in the Bible. I was once told "Stupid rules get made because people do stupid things." This is true. It is also how legalism gets started, with the best of intentions to help someone you love. Soon, what started out as a temporary request becomes doctrine that must not be violated.

Pray hard.