Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him ’til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains

-Simon and Garfunkel, the Boxer

Many times over the years I have walked into a church building and felt uncomfortable. There was no single source that I could point at for what I was feeling, just that feeling of discomfort and the overwhelming desire to be out of there as soon as I could.

I had a tough time putting my finger on the problem- everything seemed to be normal. The people were nice enough; there were no obvious signs of something being amiss that I could see right away; only the discomfort and the acknowledgment that for some reason, I just didn’t quite belong.

I have had this feeling in other places as well, sometimes in a home where the income level or manner of the persons living there is way beyond what I am used to. Or, maybe it was in a store or restaurant with successful businessmen in suits sitting just across the way from me in my steel-toed boots. Anyway that you look at it, it boils down to the fact that I was different somehow than my surroundings and had become painfully aware of that fact.

There must be a class somewhere that I missed. I remember missing a day in school and looking at the assignments that were handed out upon my return and thinking to myself, “I get this that was taught the day before yesterday and I understand that assignment from today. The middle one, I have no clue what that is about.” Like being the one “who should have been there” when you hear an inside joke, I have always felt a little uncomfortable around those people who made the class that I obviously missed.

I imagine that somewhere in the discipleship process, there was a workshop given detailing how to act in church. The teacher (who happens to look an awful lot like Martha Stewart) would stand very erect in front of the class, her posture speaking in great volume, teaching in proper English how to dress, how to smile just right so that you give no clue to those around you as to your real thoughts or intentions, how to emote all of the right things to all of the right people. Perhaps included in that workshop is a lecture on the art of small talk as well; I also seemed to have missed that one.

More than the way the people around me are acting though, it is the feeling of being somehow different that gets me every time. Like when I first entered ministry, I actually tried to dress up when I preached. I saved all of my money so I could buy a few cheap suits at JC Penney’s. I had a black one and a blue one. I also bought a shiny pair of shoes because all the other preachers that I saw wore shiny shoes. And I felt transformed. I had been a Skinhead, a punk rocker, and an all-around screw-up. My hairstyles ranged from the bald uniform cut of a skin to the 9-inch purple Mohawk. And now, here I was, a citizen. I wore the same clothes that they all did; I was obviously the same, right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong and I should have known that better than anyone.

You see, when I was in the world, we had a term we used quite frequently to describe someone who dressed the part but was something different than the façade they were displaying; a poser.

There were very few things worse than being named poser, honestly. Anyone who was seen to be a poser knew then that everything they were projecting about themselves was a lie. You were acting or dressing differently than the person that you really were. It was the lowest of the low. Back then who you really were inside was more important than what you appeared to be to others. Anyone could cut their hair funny or shave it off. Anyone could don the apparel and act out a role. To the real skins, punks and Goths, the outside display was just a manifestation of an inner working. And if you didn’t feel what you were doing then you just needed to go away.

So there I was with my black suit and blue suit (and shiny shoes) and I tried to do street ministry with all the “street cred” that my apparel afforded me. And I found that the ones that I identified with the most – identified with me the least. Without meaning to, I was preaching a message before saying a single word. And that message was “all that I was before I became a Christian was an act- I was just a tourist”. Needless to say, not many listened to what I had to say.

I went home dejected utterly. God finally illuminated something to my spirit that I will never forget- He did not call me out of everything that he did just so that I could be like every other Christian. I got rid of all of those things that were not really me almost immediately. I made a call that has influenced everything in my life ever since- I will be myself, be that good or bad, ugly or beautiful, right or wrong. I will never pretend to be something that I am really not in order to please you or to be seen as “safe” by the Churchian community.

So I have become an iconoclast of sorts. I am not safe to bring in to preach because I will do what God tells me regardless of how people feel about it or if I will get invited back or not. I am not safe to be friends with because I will put God first before you. I am not safe to have in your clique because I will not adhere to your rules just because everyone else does. I will reveal things about myself that are not acceptable if I feel that God wants me to because I value his approval way more than yours.

And so on and so on. But thanks be to God, I may be ugly but at least I am real.

I believe that this rampant posing has impacted the church in one area more than any other- with our men. The Word tells us that we must have our hearts circumcised and I could not agree more. That must not have been enough for the church though because we seem to have skipped right past circumcision of the heart and went right for a total neutering. The churches read books like “Wild at Heart” and then they say to themselves, “I AM wild at heart, by George! I want adventure and to be dangerous again- maybe we should make a focus group and share how we all feel inside about it.” And so the neutering is revealed even as the heart shows the slightest stirring of recapturing what was lost.

My friend once had a cat that was a real tomcat all the way. He did what he wanted, prowled the neighborhood, and picked some fights with other cats (and occasional dogs as well). He was so ornery that we had to contain him under a laundry basket sometimes because he would attack anything that came in reach. The vet told my friend that the cat needed to be neutered in order to settle him down a bit. So he took him up and got the job done on him. From that moment on, he was a different cat. All he did was sit on the windowsill and look out the window at a world that he no longer saw the adventure in.

So it is with our men in the church. Somehow after a very short time of being saved, we no longer have any fight left in us. We become little hippy Gandhi Christians, de-neutered, de-clawed, de-odored and disinfected, safe for inclusion in the white suburban neighborhood church of our choice. Like the lion at the zoo who yawns instead of roars, we have become sad shells of what God intended us to be. And this is applauded by the church, even considered to be virtuous- especially for preachers.

No wonder our young people are not lining up to take on the challenges of ministry any more. They all want to be rock stars, leading praise and worship when they start out but graduating to real Christian rock stars later on. Forget laying your future at the foot of the cross and heading out to a foreign mission field, that is not really needed anymore. Why suffer to spread the Gospel or lay your life on the line for the cause of Christ when you can be idolized by adoring fans who will listen intently as you talk about God for two minutes at the end of your hour long set?

We want to be cool, not Christ-like and it is showing in our utter failure to reach the current generation.

It is not really their fault though if we are to be honest. They are this way because when we look around for heroes of the faith we can find none among our contemporaries. When I want to get edified myself I have to find sermons preached 30 years ago from men who are dead because there are very few that I would listen to today. The mold for today’s minister is safe, funny, inoffensive and relevant to a hip 30-something society.

But that kind of man does not speak to the heart of who I am. I have a roar in me; a roar that I know is meant for the hoards of Churchians who have my savior as a hobby in their life. It is a roar that is meant for a world that mocks God and rushes headlong into an eternal hell. A roar that is sent with all of the ferocity of someone that was left beaten, robbed and raped on the side of the road of life all of those years ago, and is aimed directly at an enemy that figured that no one would take the time to rebuild what was so obviously ruined.

And though I have oftentimes tried to bury it in the past, that roar always rises to the surface because it is not my roar alone but it is the raw sound of the frustrated heart of an entire generation.

We must be ourselves, no matter what it looks like. We must learn to hate the Churchian mask with every fiber of our being. We must discover the fighter that the enemy has tried to emasculate before it is too late and the battle that we were meant for is over and the looting begins.

Find your war cry, church. Then scream it with all of your heart no matter who approves or disapproves. Cast off Saul’s armor and find your stones and run to the battle. Who cares what everyone else is doing or what is considered appropriate Christian behavior at the moment? That is nothing but a spiritual flavor of the month club and is utterly useless in real application.

We are a generation that could not see who we really were in any of the Christians that were around us and so we figured that it was us who were wrong. So we bought the clothes, the bumper stickers, donned the hairdo that we saw everyone else wear and became Christian posers. When that failed to satisfy or when the utter hypocrisy ate at us too much, we just quit.

But who you are inside is tailor made for the hell you live in today. You are God’s answer for the enemy’s advances. But the fake can never make the cut. Only the genuine heart roar has a place on the battlefield of today.

So get saved, get real or get out.

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Luk 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

Luk 4:19  To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

It's this or lamb chops, Fluffy...

What is ministry success? Simple question, isn’t it? And no doubt the answers would roll off of our tongues readily and without much thinking involved.

But I have really had to put some thought into this lately and I am not sure where it is taking me. See, here’s the deal; we have the “Churchian Correct” answers, then there are the real answers that you may think but wouldn’t actually say out loud and then somewhere out there is the truth. I am after number three on that list; what is the truth?

For most Pastors and Itinerants (Evangelists, teachers, etc.) the Churchian Correct answer would be “To glorify God”, “To see people saved”, “To impact the world for the Kingdom”. All of those are nice answers and admirable “CC” answers as well. No one can give you the Pharisee stare over those answers, for sure. And yet, how do we really quantify success?

This is important, not only so that we can begin to view everything that we do through God’s viewpoint but also for our own sanity as the Churchians, the flesh and the enemy all jockey for position in order to be the one who takes us out of the game.

The questions that everyone has (and few ask out loud) in regards to a church or ministry are like these:

“How many people do you have coming?”

“How much money is coming in?”

“How well are you known?”

“Who do you know and who knows you?”

“What projects do you have underway?”

Here is the very bottom line for much of the American church. To glorify God, see people saved and be able to impact the world are wonderful ideals but all of those must fall at the feet of what we truly worship: American success and American exceptionalism. Numbers and money are the failsafe way of telling whether or not God is with you. The other things are nice, even noble, but what is really important are numbers and money.

Imagine if they ran Missionary Societies that way. The Society sends a couple to the Bukuvu, deep in the jungle. After awhile they start to get concerned about a lack of “fruit” and so they place a call from Headquarters:

“Hi Brother Todd, we were just calling down there to check up on you and the work, how are things going among the cannibals of the Buvuku? All of the people here are praying for you, you know.”

“Well, it’s the Bukuvu, sir, and things are going really well spiritually, we added a few headhunters and have been adapting our methods in order to really impact this region”.

“Great! How are your numbers?”

“Well, numbers aren’t high. We get some in and then don’t see them again. Then we had quite a few that came in and were involved but then they tried to eat my face off. You know, they are cannibals and biting and devouring each other is how they are used to living. That’s why we are adapting our methods. But we have some here that are wonderful stories of how God has impacted their lives…”

“Numbers aren’t high, huh? Well, how are the offerings? I mean, you haven’t been able to send much back to the home office here. We are getting a little tired of sending money down there and not seeing a real return.”

“Well, like I said, we have some that have been really impacted and we have quite a bit of hope for what God is starting to do around here. Plus there is this enemy tribe that attacks almost constantly, especially me and the family. Then we put the call out for the church to come and defend us and most of them fall asleep. So, it has been tough, you are fighting the “Eat your face off” culture on one hand and the enemies on the other.”

“Well, you need to get the cannibal attendance up and speak to them about the importance of giving as well. Remember, sheep are only good for two things: for meat and to be sheared.”

“Uhhhh…yeah… Well, something about that just doesn’t sound right to me. I was under the impression that ministry is its own reward and that we are doing this to ‘seek and save those that are lost’. And as far as the sheep go, they are coming along but I will certainly not use them just to shear or for… meat.”

“Well, that is idealism. In public we will say that these things are what are important but in reality we all know that a ministry must produce. See, it’s like a cow, if the milk production runs low, you need to kill it. Or else it’s just a waste of resources. So, we need you to produce real results or we will have to conclude that you are bad and that God doesn’t want you here.”

“Because I don’t have high numbers and we aren’t producing money?”

“Yes, those are the very best ways of determining if God is with you- numbers and money.”

Now, that seems farcical but it’s not. Why are so many church plants done in suburbs? Of course, the suburbs need saved too, we would all agree on that. What’s amazing to me is how many of us get “called” there when there are so many places that desperately need us and are ignored. What about Evangelists that you know who focus only on jails? When I have done prison ministry, there is almost a 100% rate of success. But the offerings aren’t all that high, unless you count cigarettes.

Can success be reckoned by numbers? As David Platt said in his recent book, “Radical”, Jesus was the world’s youngest Mini-Church Pastor. In fact, He seemed to go out of His way to discourage people from following Him. By John Chapter 7, he was left with a handful of people after He preached what Platt referred to as His infamous “Eat Me” sermon.

So, Jesus wasn’t exactly into numbers as a gauge of His success. For that matter, neither was Jeremiah, Paul, Ezekiel or Daniel.

All Church planters sow in tears that they may reap in joy. And most of the time, that season of reaping can seem so terribly far off that they no longer live with it before their face. When the markers for success are money and numbers, is it any wonder all of our kids want to be in Christian rock bands and not missionaries, either to the world or right here in the U.S.?

Adoniram Judson was the first missionary to India. I am including His story here to begin to give you a peek into what God deems as success:

His conversion not only saved his soul, it smashed his dreams of fame and honor for himself. His one pressing purpose became to “plan his life to please his Lord.” In 1809, the same year he joined the Congregational church, he became burdened to become a missionary. He found some friends from Williams College with the same burden and often met with them at a haystack on the college grounds to earnestly pray for the salvation of the heathen and petition God to open doors of ministry as missionaries to them. That spot has been marked as the birthplace of missions in America.

Three years later, February 19, 1812, young Adoniram Judson, and his bride of seven days, Ann Haseltine Judson, set sail for India, supported by the first American Board for Foreign Missions. But on that voyage, Judson, while doing translation work, saw the teaching of immersion as the mode of baptism in the Bible. Conscientiously and courageously, he cut off his support under the Congregational board until a Baptist board could be founded to support him!

The Judsons were rejected entrance into India to preach the Gospel to the Hindus by the East India Company and after many trying times, frustrations, fears, and failures, they finally found an open door in Rangoon, Burma.

There was not one known Christian in that land of millions. And there were no friends in that robber-infested, idolatry-infected, iniquity-filled land. A baby was born to alleviate the loneliness of the young couple, but it was to be only for a temporary time. Eight months later, Roger William Judson was buried under a great mango tree. The melancholy “tum-tum” of the death drum for the thousands claimed by cholera, and the firing cannons and beating on houses with clubs to ward off demons, tormented the sensitive, spiritual souls of that missionary couple, too.

And there were no converts. It was to be six, long, soul-crushing, heart-breaking years before the date of the first decision for Christ. Then, on June 27, 1819, Judson baptized the first Burman believer, Moung Nau. Judson jotted in his journal: “Oh, may it prove to be the beginning of a series of baptisms in the Burman empire which shall continue in uninterrupted success to the end of the age.” Converts were added slowly — a second, then three, then six, and on to eighteen.

But opposition came, also. Finally Judson was imprisoned as a British spy — an imprisonment of twenty-one months. Judson was condemned to die, but in answer to prayers to God and the incessant pleadings of his wife to officials (one of the most emotional-packed, soul-stirring stories in evangelism), Judson’s life was spared and finally British intervention freed him from imprisonment.

So, follow me here. Judson goes to India as a loose cannon. Then, amidst horrible poverty, they have a baby who dies. Six years into the work, there is not a single convert. When his church grows to 18, he is thrown in prison. This is not sounding like he was called at all. No doubt He was told to quit- unless he was having awesome offerings there in India. God was obviously not with Him, if He was, the baby wouldn’t have died, He would have seen numbers go up and the offerings would be there.

The end of the story is telling:

The work progressed and gospel power began to open blind eyes, break idolatry-shackled hearts and transform the newly-begotten converts into triumphant Christians. On April 12, 1850, at the age of 62, Judson died. Except for a few months (when he returned to America after thirty-four years from his first sailing), Judson had spent thirty-eight years in Burma. Although he had waited six years for his first convert, sometime after his death a government survey recorded 210,000 Christians, one out of every fifty-eight Burmans.

Now, one of you out there just thought to yourself, “Yeah, but that was in Heathen India, this is the U.S. of A and so it’s not the same”. So, there is an American Hell then for the lost sinner? Those in India who don’t know Jesus are more lost than an American who doesn’t?

So, what is the measure of ministry success? I have come to the conclusion that it simply cannot be either numbers or money. That fits the American mindset but not the Biblical one nor historical precedence.

I have often seen ministry as if God has this huge map up in the throne room spread out before Him. And in every place where there is a dedicated servant, He can put a push-pin there. It is covered; He has someone there to work with and to carry on Kingdom business. And what is that business? I think that Jesus’ opening salvo at Nazareth is a pretty good indicator:

Are you preaching the Gospel to the poor, helping those who cannot repay you?

Are you healing the brokenhearted? Is your ministry personal, hands-on and compassionate?

Are you preaching deliverance to the captives? Are people getting free of the world, the flesh and devil under your ministry?

Are those who cannot see, seeing for the first time?

Are those who are bruised being set free? Are the oppressed, those who are held in bondage and tyranny, coming into a new Kingdom?

Are you proclaiming Jubilee? Are debts forgiven, slaves being set free and are people coming out of the world and into God’s way of Sabbath Economics and freedom from Babylon?

All of these things are worth putting money into. Because as my co-author Nate says, we have an intangible product. We don’t produce cars or accounting papers or stocks or bonds. We are in a spiritual business and so you can’t determine the value of what we do by using physical things, like money or big numbers.

But even using those standards, we still have to embrace what I call “Endgame thinking” in our ministry efforts. At the end of your life, after all of the die have been cast and all of the changes have been made in you that God wanted to make, what are you left with?

I think that if at the end of my days, there are more Christians in our churches who have been saved, trained and sent out than there was when I began, then I am a success in the Kingdom, because I would have multiplied my talents. Those who would have known the terror of an eternal Hell are now walking along the Highway of Salvation to the Celestial City.

And what price can you place on one soul?

If there is a church there where truth is being preached, we are a success. This is true in world missions: to get a church in place and place someone there who loves Jesus. That there is any fruit at all is a vast improvement over what would have been there if there was no church at all.

And we simply must begin to adapt these same standards to what we do here in the States.

Let those churches with an excess of money redistribute that to places where money is tight. This was what they did in the book of Acts and I see no reason to change it today. We should begin to applaud church planters and support them just as we do foreign missionaries. We need to start to have a big picture approach to what we do.

The moment you being to judge Gospel effectiveness by the flesh, you will never succeed because you will forget God and compromise everything to accommodate the world system and its way of thinking.

30,000 kids die daily from starvation.

Here at one of the churches where I serve, we have a food pantry. We have given out the food to people from the community who needed help but tried to limit it to church members who were struggling. This is due, in part, to professional pantry vultures that actually schedule their lives around when various charities are giving away stuff. We always want to help when help is needed but we also want to be sure to adhere to the biblical idea of “if you do not work, you do not eat’.

Now, this last week we decided that we must meet the needs of the poor, wherever they are but we didn’t think Jesus would wait around in a big building and have the poor come to Him. So, we decided to take the food to them, the voiceless, lonely lurkers out there who may very well be convinced that no one cares anymore. Now, we have a pretty sizable population of illegal immigrants here, they mostly work in the cheese factories. They also happen to be both the poorest section of the community and also the most unreached. So, we had a little hand-out printed up in Spanish, then loaded up an SUV and headed out.

Along the way, we stopped at a new tattoo parlor in town and I introduced myself to the owner. Turns out he is an ex-punk, ex-Skinhead like me and around the same age. I explained that I was a Pastor and had come to see him and to tell him to either repent or perish. I joke, I kid.

Actually, I explained that I was a Pastor and then showed him my sleeves (for you squares out there, sleeves are full arms done in tattoos, I didn’t show him my shirt sleeves, that would be strange.) he was of course really taken back by this and told me that he had never met a Pastor with tattoos. He noticed some of the tats that I have right away, like the Exploited screaming skull and the Doc Martins.

Soon, we had a great conversation going on in which he told me how he used to be a Catholic and really didn’t have a problem with the church, just church people. I told him that I agreed with him and felt the same way. In fact, I told him about how Jesus dealt with the religious leaders of His day and how he had told them that whores and tax collectors would go into the Kingdom before them. Anyway, I offered to come and hang out with him and he seemed to really want me to, which was cool. He doesn’t know it yet, but God is finding him.

Then we were off to find some poor folks. We would go to places where we knew that someone was struggling. We knocked on the door, introduced ourselves (if they spoke English) or handed them the Spanish hand-out if we had to. We explained that we couldn’t eat ourselves without them having enough and that Jesus cares about them even if Christians don’t.

At one place, there was a young Mexican girl who answered the door. The front room was very, very cold (this is Wisconsin in January). She let us know that she couldn’t find work and had three small kids. She didn’t heat the front room and just heated the bedroom with an electric heater. She was out of diapers and food and very far from home. Can you imagine what that must be like? My wife asked her if she needed potatoes and she was very excited, then she noticed two small potatoes wrapped in Saran-Wrap on top of the fridge, they were only eating small bits at a time.

I ran to the store and bought some diapers and we gave her food and asked if she needed blankets. This was repeated over and over that afternoon. I told my wife that if that were us, to have someone come and offer the things that we needed so badly, when it seemed that no one cared- that would be a miracle in my book.

There is all of this desperation, all of this need, right outside our doors. And how will we face God? I have the answer for it and it is quite simple; we will face Him exactly like the Rich man from Luke chapter 16, who fared sumptuously and those outside his gates got the scraps.

We give God the extra and keep the bulk for ourselves, so self-satisfied that if we give anything at all, that is more than most people do. But you are not called to be slightly better givers than most people, you are called to live a life of consecration and giving all that you have to meet the needs of those that Christ called “blessed”.

Isn’t that amazing? When you or I call someone or something blessed, we do so with the full (mis)understanding of Jewish covenant that Jesus railed against. The notion that to be rich is to be blessed while to be poor is the markings of God’s displeasure or even His curse is from the Old Covenant. When Jesus detailed who the blessed truly were, He named off the poor, the hated, the sorrowful, the persecuted. And it is to these same people that the sheep were applauded for serving and the goats were rejected for overlooking. Which one are you?

Someone once said that “if a child dies from hunger while a Christian sits full, that person is guilty of murder” and I can see where they are coming from. We have separated ourselves from the hurting and the poor by so many degrees of separation that it no longer affects us as it should. We do this, like the rich man with his walls and gates, to protect us from the inconvenience of giving. And like him, the dogs have more mercy than we do so many times. And in a world where we spend more on dog food than missions, the irony of this is overwhelming.

What would it look like if we practiced real community? What if our first job in the church was remembering the poor and way down at the bottom of that list were new buildings and padded pews? What if we set ourselves to the practice of seeking and saving the lost, regardless of where they fall on the income scale? What if we stopped planting so many churches in Suburbia and began reclaiming the abandoned and dilapidated areas of our communities. And from there, we walk and meet needs and provide services to those who cannot repay us?

I will tell you, we would begin to look like the church.

What if we stopped all the singles programs, recovery groups and movie nights geared towards keeping a lethargic church interested and began instead to use the wisdom and skills found in our membership to train people how to balance checkbooks, fix an engine, clean a home, apply for school? What if we made it our business to save the lost and completely eradicate poverty all around us?

What is stopping us from being the church right now? What stops us from having less so that others can have more? Why do we recoil at the idea of emptying our barns of all that we have stored up and instead, emptying them onto those who have nothing so that they have enough? Friend, we must go into all the world, that is a command. But don’t go empty-handed, take your wooden trophies that the world has bestowed on you for being such a productive member of it with you as you go. Real Christianity is not about having more and more for yourself, it is about giving more and more to others in the name of your Lord who gave all for you.

After all, charity is nothing more than giving back what you have stolen.

 

The road out of Laodicea.

 

One of the main motivations that I feel in this current drive towards vintage reconciliation is my deep desire to help correct what I view as fundamental flaws in the churchian system and to provide genuine alternatives for those who feel trapped inside of it. As this generation gets older, I see that we are less and less willing to just accept the spiritual hand-me-downs of our predecessors. The armor doesn’t fit us, the system is all wrong and we just can’t get used to it. Like being in a bed when the sheets are too short, after awhile, you just want to replace them all and start fresh.

Personally, I have always been a bit marginalized, counter-culture, non-conformist, give it a name. When Christ found me all those long years ago, I was not a poster child for Christian virtue, anything but. I was a real mess in every possible way. And yet, He was pleased to find me and to lavish upon me a love and concern that frankly I had never truly experienced in my life, who has?

When He did this, He bought someone who loves Him back, viciously. The scripture that reads, “Zeal for your house consumes me” (John 2:17) certainly has always applied to me, as my entire being has been focused on God and His work ever since. Now, my zeal has been imperfect at times (let the reader sense understatement here) even damaging to myself and others in particular. In other words, I have never done everything right but everything that I have done, I was sure was right at the time. Selah.

I have always been quite sure that God was somehow amused by my awkward attempts at zealously pursuing what I felt that He wanted from me. Like a teacher who gives children hand-outs of perfect cursive and tells them to copy it exactly, what do they feel when they view the awkward and imperfect attempts at carrying out their wishes? Not anger, to be sure, unless they are a tyrant. So, I have always felt God smile when my baby deer legs didn’t quite hold me up or when I picked fights too big for me, certain of His bigness.

My sureness of His hand on my life stems primarily from the fact that He doesn’t let me get away with much. God always lets me know when I have been or am wrong and that has become one of those things that I genuinely fear, I really don’t want to be wrong because I really want Him to be pleased with me. This being said, I always find that I doubt, above all things, the sincerity of my own heart. I know myself, that is, my flesh, and am convinced as to its reckless and selfish nature.

And so I am generally the first to apologize, even when the other person’s wrong far exceeded my own and they have never apologized for what they did. I do this, not because I am über but because I fear God. I want to make sure that He is pleased with me and I will let Him deal with the others, He is after all, really good at that.

What bothers me most, therefore, is not the fact that men can be wrong, even grievously. What bothers me is that they never see it, repent for it, make amends or even apologize.

For instance, ever since I first came to the “church”, I have been shocked at the deluded and Christless state of many in the Church both systemically and personally. I have traveled and preached all over and it never ceases to amaze me that so many could never question or care that what they promote or do is contrary to the truth of the Word. It is actually quite scary when you think about it; how many of those who name the name of Christ can do things that are humanistic at best and downright satanic at worst, all without ever seeming to even care?

Some are loyal to “you four and no more” above all else, believing that God is interested in you in particular and so it does not matter what you do or whom you do it with or to. Some shamelessly build their own Kingdoms using gimmicks and humanist programs. Some think that their “calling” gives them the right to get to where they are going all on their own, even trampling ministers and ministries along the way. Some “serve” Christ while fostering satanic ideals of division, rebellion, selfishness, self-centeredness, gossip, malice, character assassination, bitterness and despising authority. Talking about Christ while hating and trying to destroy ministries in His Body is not a mistake, it is satanic.

The concept of community, Body life and brotherly love has all but disappeared in our every-man-for-himself culture. We have equated love with emotion and lost the notion of love as an act of volition. We have mistaken community for pot lucks and movie nights and missed the entire point of New Testament community.

The laundry list of faults goes on and on.

To understand how we got here, you must understand that the main focus of what we do is first of all numbers and secondly, self advancement.

This is how we judge our own success and other’s as well. If you have numbers, God is pleased. If you do not have numbers, God is obviously not pleased with you or even “with” you at all. This flies in the face of both the Gospel and history and has been one of the main causes for the declension of the modern Laodicean church. Because the proclamation of truth searches hearts and the motivations of the heart, something Laodicean Larry and Laura do not want. They want their best life now, justification of sin without justification of the sinner, prosperity without divine purpose and no guilt trips to bring them down.


Moo.

In the clergy’s pursuit of the American dream, we are happy to give them what they want. We want numbers, they want Jesus-Lite (all of the taste, none of the guilt!) and so we fashion them whatever God they wish. They hand us their gold, we get to building them an idol that they can sing about, feast to and fornicate in front of without fear. Big churches want to hold onto their power and money, middle churches wish to get more money and power and little churches dream of having money and power and we sell our souls to satan for it.

Gone is all talk of sin, the depravity of man, the sovereignty of God, the wrath of God, Hell, the atonement, regeneration as mandatory, repentance, sacrifice, martyrdom, consecration and the judgment seat of Christ. In their place are self-help, practical lessons on life, prosperity without purpose, greasy grace, antinomianism, Pelagianism, egalitarianism, seeker-sensitive non-religion, no cost, no discipleship, no guilt, no works, and humanist propaganda.

For those of us who feel that something is rotten in Denmark, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the problem. In this culture, size makes right and so if you have numbers, it must be God. Subsequently then, if you don’t have big numbers, you really cannot speak on issues until you have proven that God is indeed with you by big numbers.

So to cry out that you feel that something is amiss when you are not on Christian television (a sure sign of the favor of God) is frowned upon. Small town local pastors should not have a say in the state of the church because that right is reserved for certain special leaders. I imagine many of the same arguments were made in Luther’s day; how can the whole church be wrong? Why would God give you an answer? Aren’t there good things that are going on to outweigh the bad? Why would God reveal truth to a little nobody monk?

And we, like Him, only know what we know. Namely, that this monstrosity looks nothing like the First Church, Geneva, Herrnhut, The Foundry, Red River, Ulster, Northampton, Wales, Hebrides. And our current crop of Adonijah leaders look and sound nothing like Knox, Calvin, Augustine, Luther, Edwards, Whitefield, Zinzendorf, Wesley, Moody, Spurgeon, Tozer, Reidhead, Paisley and most importantly, Yeshua Ha-Mashiach.

So, regardless of numbers or popularity, we hear the voice in the middle of the night telling us to  “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee”. We only know that something is deeply flawed and we have to leave. Like Abraham, we travel from Ur not knowing where we are going but certain of the call to go anyway.

God’s natural law states that a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force and the force that acts upon it must be an unbalanced force. In other words, in order for us to make a difference to the church at large we must hit the problem as hard as we can from one direction and at a different trajectory than what it is currently on.

So, here we all are. We are stuck on a bus with no driver, heading as fast as it can towards a destination that we want no part of. And yet, we feel helpless because all that we know is on that bus.

We want to continue mostly worthless worship services because we don’t have any better ideas. Never mind that particularly in the Charismatic circles, it is all emotionalism, humanism and flesh. We just don’t have any better ideas and besides, our flesh really likes to sing and imagine that God is listening, he is, of course, so desperate for any affection that he breaks down and weeps when even the biggest hypocrite, who denies His name six days out of seven, sings along with our worship leader.

We want to continue with all of the Laodicean 21st Century inventions because that is what we are comfortable with. And as that revolutionary war guy said, “Give me comfort or give me death”! We know, deep down that something is wrong but we are afraid to make the changes to something better because we don’t really know what that is.

And so, like the people who do wrong, consistently, even brazenly, sowing discord, division and character assassination and so on, we never think of repentance or reconciliation because we want what we want. God will get over it, right?

One of the best ways to understand the concept of sin is that sin is rebellion against deity by saying that you want what you want, regardless of what deity says. Alternatively you can say that Christianity therefore is the practice of saying that you want what God wants, regardless of what your flesh wants. This is basic elementary everyday normal Christianity.

Using this simple bit of truth, when we know that changes must be made and yet we do not do them, that must be sin, at least as much as those who seek their own and curse, bite and devour others on their way. We want our way with the church, we want society to be pleased with us and we don’t want to rock the boat. It all starts, continues and ends with self.

I have seen this particularly with charismatics. They are fine with all manner of heresy, heterodoxy, error, sin, humanism, self love and narcissism. But don’t change their changes. Whatever little “advances” and modifications they have made generationally to the church are off-limits. You can rant and rave all day about religious people (everyone not charismatic), but don’t you dare change their changes.

So here after a few months of pursuing vintage reconciliation, we find ourselves not really looking very charismatic at the moment. But we are feeling a whole lot more like Jesus. I suspect the same can be said for all of the churches here locally that have been undergoing real transformation.

It has been hard, we have lost some people that we loved, have seen numbers fluctuate. But we know that God is the wind in our sails and so we press on. We do this because it is better to not be safe than to be silently wrong. To leave Ur and head out, even not knowing where you are going feels a whole lot better than sitting there and complaining about all of the wrong that is around you.

So, Pastor Abraham, wherever you are right now just get up and go. Sure, numbers may drop, people may hate you for rocking the boat, fleshy Christians high on greasy grace may bite and tear at you but shouldn’t you follow your own conscience? You know that something is amiss and in order to change it, incrementalism simply will not work now. We are too deep into the Humanist age; the consumer-based Churchian mob rule of Laodicea. No, what it is going to take to awaken the sleeper out of their slumber is a full on carpet bombing mission of shock and awe. And no one else can do it except you.

What it takes is simply stepping off of the bus, period. Just get off and stop the madness altogether. Nix everything in your service that has been contrived in the last hundred years for starters, you have to go back before Laodicea. I would counsel not trying to go back to the Apostolic age, even they were rebuked in the Book of Revelation. Instead, go back to the Philadelphian Age, brotherly love and missions. Just start there. Kill the lights, close the computer, shut down the PowerPoint and the tragically hip praise team. Then, kill your suit, kill your sermon, kill the altar call, kill the offering.

After it is all gone and the room sits silent, just the sheep and yourself, talk to them and let them talk to you back. Talk about Jesus and talk about discipleship. Serve communion, feed some hungry people once a week. Actually help people who come by your church, get involved in your community and fight for what is right and for those who can’t defend themselves.

Chuck the show and the entertainment and just demonstrate what Christianity is. Then begin to add again what people have forgotten from that wonderful Philadelphian era. Our services have begun to look like services again but with a major difference; they don’t look like we are living in Laodicea. And by the Grace and favor of the Lord, we won’t ever wake up in Laodicea again.

And so, my dear Pastors and leaders out there, do you really want another day at the Laodicean Christian Center, Inc.? If you don’t change now, you may die right there. You were meant to be a preacher, to exemplify Christ, to reach out to a lost a dying world, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. You were not created to be a religious CEO but a prophet. Leaving Laodicea doesn’t take a five year plan or a twelve step program, it takes just simply leaving Laodicea and being true to what God has called you to be, even if it is true by yourself in the desert heading to a future that is uncertain.

 

Separating wheat from chaff

 

These are strange days.

It seems like the Lord is requiring more and more from us with each passing day. All of those things that are not pure must go from our lives and from our churches. These are the days of the solemn assembly, where the people of God gather themselves together and are purified by Him.

Those things that have been in our church services that are man-made have been required of Him. That is not to say that they are bad, they are just flesh.

The worship service with its 3 fast songs and 2 slow songs had to go. And God showed how real worship was you laying yourself upon that altar, caring for widows and orphans and remaining unspotted from the world. And until we do those things, we can no longer offer to God the lies that we sing to Him week after week. Because our lives showed our love, our real love. We sing “I Surrender All” when we surrender nothing but that which we can easily do without. We sing “He Touched Me” when at the very moment His hand touches us to be sanctified or sacrifice, we recoil and beg for mercy. And here at these churches, we were no longer allowed to sing, but rather, to show the poiema of what God has done in our lives. Someday we will sing again as congregations and on that day, by the grace of God, our lives will be sung first, a sweet sacrifice, pleasing unto God.

The altar call and ‘sinner’s prayer’ that has been used for so long has been required of Him. Because it became form and we have worshipped it as a third sacrament in the church. But what prayer can you pray without the inner witness that you have been brought from death to life? When did we stop the altar, the time when you sought God with your whole heart until the ‘strange warmth’ of Wesley filled your heart and you knew, beyond any contestation, that you had been born again? How long have we taught people to bear the false witness of salvation, your own witness without any corroborating evidence?

“Are you saved?” we have asked.

“Yes, I am saved.”

“How do you know that you are saved?”

“I just know. I prayed a prayer and accepted it by faith.”

“Have you repented of your sins and made restitution where it was possible?  Have you been humbled by His grace and now your life has become a repayment of a debt to God that you have no hope of ever repaying?”

“No.”

“Then have you become aware of your inner sin and been filled with the knowledge that it is no longer your master but that you have been given mastery over it, that you no longer have to obey it?”

“No.”

“Well, do you have the joy of lowness? Are you hungry to go lower and lower for God, to be spent, wrung out for Him? Do you aspire to be the lowest of all, to serve, to reckon others better than yourself, to give up all? Is your constant prayer, ‘Lower, Lord, lower’?”

“No.”

“Then surely you have the joy of instant, literal obedience to God with no consideration of the personal cost, right? You are prepared to sell all that you have, distribute to the poor, to travel far from hearth and home to serve God in a remote village or foreign land, if the call should come? When you see a need, do you sacrifice what you have to fill that need? Do you live with only the necessities so that you have more to give into the Kingdom and for the care of those who are hurting and needy?”

“No. But I prayed a prayer and I believe that Jesus died and rose again”.

“So do the devils, and tremble at the thought.”

We have sacrificed conversions for decisions and disciples for numbers. We have lowered the bar until nothing is required and nothing has a cost and then sat back and wondered why we have no disciples, no missionaries and no sacrifice.

God help us.

Here, we have been asked to give up self-importance and to become aware of the myth of fingerprints. To look and see that we are fascinated by the world and all that it has to offer us, the clothes, the homes, the stuff that we surround ourselves with. The desire and hunger for things that we consume upon our own lusts, new this, better that. We are sanctified consumers, spending our lives in service to Wal-Mart and mortgages, television and the internet, our cell phones and text messages. We are surrounded by the world on every side and live with a constant hunger for more. We live as if we are defined by what we possess, the amount of money in our bank account, the success of our fleshly lives.

We need new clothes, fashionable ones, the trendiest haircuts and the expensive gadgets.

We are so busy worshiping at the Cult of Me, a religious order built upon the foundation of the life of the individual and all that defines you in this world (that looks strangely like a great golden calf) that we have utterly forgotten about body life and the servant’s heart.

“Pastor, I can’t give much for the poor or evangelism or for your food or even to keep the lights on at the church. You see, I have a mortgage, two car payments for our new cars, a cable bill so I can watch my shows, internet, insurance, the grocery costs; the kids need haircuts and new clothes. Little Jimmy has soccer and Susie has Ballet. We have to put away for retirement and get a new TV (ours is so old now, it’s practically an antique). I like to have some spending money for hair, nails, tanning, hobbies, and to shop a bit on EBay. So you see, Pastor, we just don’t have much. Believe God with us that we will get better jobs so that we have more to give. And pray that we will have better hours so that we can be at the Church more without cramping our lifestyle. And by the way, if you could do a series on having your best life now, that would be great. I really wish we could help the poor or help support a new church plant or a mission but we just have nothing left after our flesh is completely sated.”

The true life for a Christian is the life found in the body and the joy of spending and being spent in service to the King. Nothing that this world has to offer can compare with the feeling of sacrificing what comfort you have so that others do not experience lack.

1Ti 6:7  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

Shouldn’t the question be “How little do I actually need surrounding me in order that I can give to others and serve God with my time”, rather than, “God can have the tiny bit left over after I have all I want.”? And we thought this pleased Him, that we gave anything at all. Why not rather have far, far less? Friends, I think that the world has us lock, stock and barrel. This I believe is what Jesus meant by ‘the deceitfulness of riches’.  Is this world our home or isn’t it? Are we passing through or residing permanently?

God has required all of these things from us as we have progressed; He has asked for a sacrifice of the pride of life and the satisfaction of conformity that you gain from the world. To sit back and have very little and give what you do have has brought great joy and great freedom to our hearts. Will it last forever? I am not sure. I have told the people that I am growing a big bushy beard until I learn to stop being so self-important and begin to love it. But it is more than that.

Revival is coming and God has called for a sacred assembly, a fast and a time of sanctification from His people. These are the days of purification, sanctification and consecration. To put feet to our faith and show God that we are serious about drawing near to Him. We desire Him so much that anything in our lives that does not tend to godliness must go.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not  lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

These are strange days but they are days of cost and fire and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

Dear Saul,

Posted: August 19, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
Tags: , , , ,

Dear Saul,

I am writing this to inform you that I am leaving your church system. I know that a letter is not the best way to do things but I figured that without my informing you, you may not have even realized that I had left.

It is really no surprise that you would not have noticed my being gone- I was not one of those that you seem to prefer for a member. It was hard for me to just accept everything that you said and my endless questions and idealism seemed to bother you from the start.

Although you may never notice my absence, I wanted to let you know why I am leaving your system because in my heart, I always find myself hoping that somehow you will turn things around.

1. For continuing to stay in position even when the bleating of the sheep can be heard. (1 Samuel 15: 13-14)

Performing part of what the Lord tells us to do while ignoring the rest of His command is not acceptable, Saul. I guess that you do this in order to please the people who are following you. But the Lord does not care about your good intentions towards the people- He cares about your obedience to Him. Have you forgotten that the word says that if you seek to please men, you cannot be a servant of God?

I see you so many times worrying about what the people want to hear. I see you providing every conceivable program and entertainment in order to draw them. But what happened to telling them the whole truth? You can’t exclude the cross from your teachings because the people don’t like to hear it, unless of course you have excluded the cross from your own life. If that is the case, you really have no right to teach it anyway.

The bottom line is that I cannot stay involved in a system where those that lead are doing it after their own imagination and not following the will of the Lord. Have you asked what His will is lately, Saul? Or have you just sought more power for your program from Him?

2. For bringing us into your churches as a novelty, so long as we pleased you. (1 Samuel 16: 17-23)

It took us awhile to figure out that you were doing this to us. We were always so pleased that you had “discovered” us that we just did whatever you wanted us to. We encouraged you, helped you in your ministry and defended you against every foe that we saw.

What we didn’t know is that you viewed us as a novelty that could be thrown away when we lost our “shiny”. Being rejected is not a good feeling for anyone and especially not for people like us. We put our whole heart into trying to help you, Saul. And we never purposefully did anything that we thought would hurt you. It seems that so long as we found favor in your sight, we were allowed to stand just behind you. But any time that your favor ceased- we were sent back to Jesse’s house.

We always found ourselves believing that there was something wrong with us personally when you had no more use for us. We would cry out to God to show us where we were so wrong that we should be rejected. The answer that we finally got from our Lord shocked us, Saul- He said that you were not Him.

No matter how hard we tried, we always seemed to lose your loyalty. Maybe that is because we love Jesus more than the system that you created.

3. For creating an effeminate army and then allowing the world to march out and mock it every day while you do nothing. (1 Samuel 17: 1-11)

Nothing that has been done sickens us quite as much as this one. When we came into your church system, we didn’t do so from some squeaky-clean background. We came up on the rough side of the mountain, so to speak. To be honest, when we came into your system we didn’t really know what a real Christian man even looked like. We had been brainwashed by your generation into believing that our parents couldn’t be trusted and that the “old folks” had been way too rigid and their way of thinking should be done away with.

We came in looking for an answer and for role models to pattern ourselves after but what we found was shocking. We found the “warriors” who were sent to stand against the enemy too afraid to even go to the battle.

We found that all of these “men” had become the products of the spirit of the age and were too soft to fight. They were like the tribe of Asher who abode on the seashore when Deborah called them to fight; everything seemed to be more important than the battle of the ages. These men of yours are more likely to huddle than engage in any meaningful melee.

The world has mocked Christ continuously on your watch, Saul. Every day they march out in public and shower Him and His Church with disdain and ridicule. And you just sat back and watched him do it. Worse that that, you have managed to sin so grievously that God was forced to expose you and distance himself from you so that no one could confuse your lack of holiness with Himself.

We are not of your generation and we hold no soft spot for your social commentary. When you talk of revolution, you mean love-ins and meaningless boycotts that produce nothing. When we talk of it, we don’t mean little token gestures, we mean kicking the enemy full in the face and rooting all of his garbage out of the church.

We have got some news for you, Saul; we are not the kind of men that you approve of. We have a profound intolerance for injustice and we will lay down our lives for the cause of Christ and to alleviate the suffering of mankind. We will run to the battle yelling “Blessed be the Lord who teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight!”

It is a new day and we look far in the past, before you came around, to find our role models. We look to the heroes of WWII, who did not shirk at the possibility of death in order to stop the oppression of the innocent. They did their duty and never thought of burning a draft card or running away. We do not look to your generation and your men that seem to need therapy after every battle and who are more comfortable in slippers than combat boots.

Duck and cover, Saul. David is running to the battle now. And we are taking no prisoners and giving no quarter.

4. For trying to force us to wear your armor when we are going to war to clean up your mess in the first place. (1 Samuel 17: 32-39)

If we were to have listened to you, Saul, we would not have even gone up to the battle. You were doing little, of course, except building ever bigger kingdoms for yourself but you said that we should not go because we were only youths. But when we came to this camp of the Lord, we did so with some past experience under our belt. We came to you full of the understanding that God had saved us from the lion and the bear and any uncircumcised Philistine that stood against God would end up just like these had.

You told us that if we had to go to war, we had to go just like you did. But your armor doesn’t fit us and it never will. You don’t understand why we aren’t content to just do everything exactly the way that you have done them. You say that we can’t even be a Christian if we don’t do Church like you. We must sound like you when we preach and sing like you when we worship. From marketing to altar calls, you dictated the way that we should go to the battle but in the end, we saw that it just did not work for the fight that we faced.

And so we beg to differ with you, Saul.

You have failed to reach our generation with your humanistic Gospel. They are dying by the multiplied millions while you pose and parade and practice the fine art of political correctness.

And we will wait for your approval no longer to do battle. If all that will stand up to the Goliaths of our day is we few socially questionable radicals than so be it. We will do so with 5 smooth stones and the battle song of the Lord on our lips. We will not look to you when we decide how a church should be run. We will not look to you when we evangelize our generation. We will look to the Lord and to the battles that he has already brought us through.

All of this being said really just boils down to this:

Goodbye Saul, we have a battle to run to. We tried to fit into your system; we tried to build bridges so that you could understand us. But you required more than you gave and in the end, it was always just about yourself and preserving your monument that you constructed. You were so intent on elevating your methods and protecting the changes that you introduced, you never even questioned if they even worked anymore.

And so we will ignore your system completely and seek God on how to build something after his heart so that our generation may worship Him freely without all of your baggage attached. And together we will see that the Ark comes back where it belongs.

See you anon,

David

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:4-5 KjV


“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

In the course of studying about the faith of our fathers I have come to some terrible conclusions.

One of these and perhaps the most important to us right now is the issue of foundations. If we can see that the very foundations of our Christian experience have been compromised, we have a chance to fix it. If we fail to acknowledge that the foundation is faulty, the entire building is in grave danger of collapse. This collapse may not happen when you are ready for it; it may be during the night or in a storm while you sleep.

On a construction television show that I once watched, the homeowner called the show because he couldn’t understand why he could dig out the concrete in his foundation fairly easily. The home was unleveled, the concrete foundation falling apart; the whole of this very expensive house and all of its inhabitants were in great danger. Why? The foundation was not solid enough to do its job of supporting the structure that was built upon it. In order to save on costs, the contractor had cut corners in the solidity of the concrete and after a few years, the damage became evident.

For us, we are talking not about the investment of a home but rather about your eternal security and the health of the church here in America. Nothing could be more important to us.

Do you figure that perhaps the enemy might know this? That all he would have to do is change the composition of the material in a foundation and though it looks decent at the start, the cracks will begin to appear after time? Those cracks would begin to show in times of stress, of danger or in the midst of the storms of life. And it is only then, at the exact point when you realize that you need the stability of a foundation the most, that your true state, and the immediate danger of catastrophic system failure is revealed.

So, here is the question I put to you now: Has our 21st Century Christianity lost something foundational and utterly necessary to producing not mere decisions but rather genuine conversions? And what are the repercussions to us of having a faulty foundation?

As we learned previously, a cheapening has occurred, we have substituted the pearl of great price for cultured pearls meant to look like the real thing. And because we have paid so little for those pearls ourselves, we are quite willing to sell them to others just as cheaply. This has led to our churches being filled to the brim with people who are the product of cheap grace and born out of a need to fill up space with as many warm bodies as possible so that we can be reckoned to be a success.

If our calls to salvation are flawed in this way, could it be because we, like those contractors, have cut corners? Have we weakened the mixture so as to make the product cheaper for those seeking to emulate our own foundation? And if the product that we were given was similarly compromised and we compromised the mixture even further for those who followed us, where does this eventually lead? To entire generations whose houses have been built upon the sand, not upon anything even closely resembling a rock.

The altar call of the 21st Century looks like this; we first grow quiet and contemplative. Then, the minister begins to talk earnestly about salvation. It usually centers around how bad your life has become and how God can make it all better if you give Him a chance. Some brave ministers will mention Hell as being a possibility tonight if you don’t ask Jesus into your heart, most don’t go this far. Then comes the fateful moment; the group is told to “bow their head and close their eyes, with no one looking around”, because we don’t want anyone’s decision to be hampered by the embarrassment of being seen by others.

Then the question is put to the group- who would like to ask Jesus to come into their heart, who would like to be “born again”? They are then told to go ahead and lift their hand if they would like to accept Christ (“I see that hand, thank you.”) and then we lead the entire group in a prayer called “The Sinner’s Prayer”. Again, it has to be the whole group that prays this prayer out loud, we do this because of the potential embarrassment of those who lifted their hands, or just in case someone, being too embarrassed to lift their hand to ask Jesus into their hearts, wouldn’t be shy about praying something that the entire group is praying at that moment.

Whatever gets them to say the magic words is fair game after all; those magic words will save them. This little belief system has led to one “Evangelist” producing cards with the sinner’s prayer written on them. He then had people cover the city, getting people to repeat the magic words written on the cards. If you could get them just to say what was written on the card, they were saved! He would then report inflated numbers of “conversions” and claim that they were in revival.

After everyone says the magic words of the Sinner’s Prayer, the group is then told to open their eyes and clap for those who did so. In some churches, those people are then invited to come up front or follow a person into another room where they will be given their first bit of propaganda on the new subculture they have joined.

And that’s it! After that, they are told to find a church, read their Bible and pray. You are a now a Christian and have in your possession diplomatic immunity for when you sin and the mandatory “Get out of Hell, free” card that is probably the only reason you wanted Christ in the first place. Just in case, you know, you can never have too much insurance.

Are the means of salvation of any importance? Does any of this matter if the ends are the same? If, no matter how you get in, it all leads to the same destination, then no. If all that matters is that you say the magic words, then any port will do in a storm. But what if those magic words are not real, what then? What if there are no magic words and what really matters is something entirely different? And what happens in the lives of those people who climbed up some other way into the sheepfold?

The means that are employed in our initial salvation become the foundation of our walk with God. If we offer a salvation based on Humanism, one that is tailored at making people happy, wealthy or peaceful, the ends of that would have to be self-centeredness, greed and self-indulgence. If we offer cheap grace, the ends would have to be sin, lack of holiness and lack of consecration. If there is no true conviction of sin, they will never be mindful of sin. In short, what they build upon the foundation that they are provided will be as flawed as the foundation itself. God is not mocked and origin determines destination every time.

I have looked carefully at church history, looking for clues as to what our Fathers believed and taught regarding the means of salvation. What I discovered could not be any more different than what our current experience is right now.

Before I talk about that, I want to touch on something else first. I am of the opinion that “normal” Christianity is not the generic experience that we have come to expect to see all around us. Normal Christianity was the life of Christ, the practices of the First Church and the revelation and practices that have occurred in revival history through the centuries. It was here, in times of revival, that the church was normal in the sight of God. Everything else, our compromise and substitutions, only occur in times of declension. We fall away and come back, like the waves of the sea. At the high point of revival, the church sees and acts as it was meant to.

Knowing this, that whatever the church has become in times of declension is not the normal that God intends for us to live in but rather the effects of religion, flesh and compromise on our part, we simply have to reject the current state of affairs as being abnormal. Nothing can be trusted; the entire apparatus has been compromised by a total lack of understanding that we are not what we are supposed to be.

Paris Reidhead once recounted a story that I feel is perfect for demonstrating this. He said, “They tell about a man, out in the western part of Mississippi in a little rural town, way back up the river, that had a large plantation and many, many slaves.

Somebody came around to the slaves and said that the emancipation proclamation’s been signed. So they went to the owner and said, “Now what does that mean?’ He said, “That means I can’t sell you to anybody else. It means that from now on I just can’t sell you. It’s utterly impossible for me to sell you, the government said I can’t sell you.” “Well, what does that mean?”, they asked.

He said, “Well that means you just go right on ahead and work here and you don’t need to be the least bit afraid. You just work for me and go right on working for me and I’ll never sell you, I’ll never sell you. You can stay right here.”

So, one year went on, two years went on. They kept living in the slave quarters, they kept going to the field, and they kept eating the food, taking the lash of the overseer. Just going right on, and they said, “Isn’t it wonderful to be emancipated? We don’t have to be so feared about being sold, our families won’t be broken up and surely we can live right here with our daddy and our mommy all our life. We’ll go right on working for the master here.”

And so they go right out into the field and grovel and serve and they were talking about being emancipated. Cause they couldn’t be sold to anyone else. Then, someone came along and said, “What are you doing here?” “Well”, they said, “we’re emancipated, we don’t need to be afraid about being sold anymore.” “Listen, you don’t understand what emancipation is, you don’t need to serve that man anymore, he doesn’t own you. He not only can’t sell you, but he can’t make you work for him. You don’t have to do his dirty bidding anymore. You can leave here, pack your things and go down the road and go anywhere you want to go.” “Well he never told us that, that’s what it meant to be emancipated. So, we’ve spent four years working here, when we didn’t have to.”

When the very terms that we use in Christendom have been corrupted, how can you walk in any light whatsoever? And if we find ourselves in a position of waking up and realizing that we have been lied to, you can’t make a partial change, you must affect an entire change. If one term has been compromised, all are in danger of being the same.

The life we lead as 21st Century Christians is like those poor slaves in the story. We asked what salvation meant and the devil gave us our definition. We asked what the Power of God was and religious people who had never experienced it for their selves defined it for us. And on and on it goes, everything that we thought we knew was based on a flawed definition, a foundation that is weak and unable to bear the weight of a normal Christian life.

The true state of the normal Christian life then can only be seen in times when the Church experienced revival. Revival being the normal of God destroying the concept of normal gained by defining normal on the downward scale of our group experience. As sin runs rampant, we define our normal by it until sin is considered normal. When divorce is more prevalent in the church than in the world, we define our normal according to it until it is accepted and even expected. When the Church has grown apathetic, lazy and cold, we define our normal by that and accept that God does not move today because surely, if he did, we would have seen it by now.

Even more dangerously, in Charismatic circles, we have actually believed that we were experiencing all that God has for us. We take goose bumps, emotionalism or small spiritual experiences as proof that all is right between God and ourselves. We have shrunk the Spirit of God down to the point where the best He can do is to give you a shiver or knock you down and when we have some sort of experience, we assume that this must be God. This God, whose glory filled the temple until the priests could not minister, this God, who man can not look on or he would die, we say that He is behind our little experiences and go on living in utter rebellion against Him and leaving ourselves wide open for any doctrine and any spirit that comes along.

We cannot bring ourselves to admit that were God to actually show up at a meeting, the results would be markedly different than the puniness of our present experiences. He is Jehovah and is larger than your experience, than all of our experiences!

This is a tragedy!

The very fact that revival is so rare should send us to our knees in travail. Because it is not rare simply due to it being a sovereign act of God that He has chosen to rarely bless the Earth with, it is rare only because we compromise so efficiently and effortlessly that the normal of God can never stay with us very long. But make no mistake, revival is the normal of God, it should be the normal experience of the Church and when we live outside of it, nothing that we take for granted should be. We may, all of us, be in for a rude surprise when we see Him face to face.

In regards to the normal means of salvation then, the common experience both lived and taught in a time of declension is no standard by which we should measure it. Rather, we should look to times of revival to see what it looks like under genuine normal circumstances.

I believe that it is here where we have so often failed. A few years ago, a movement started in the Third Wave circles called “The Repentance Movement”. It was generally believed that repentance was the means of salvation and without it, you could not be saved. And so repentance was sought, preachers railed and blasted and people felt really bad. I half expected to begin seeing self-flagellation at the meetings at some point, everyone being so determined to feel bad and suffer.

And yet (curiouser and curiouser) there was no revival, nothing even close. It seemed that God did not respond to the repentance any more than He did to the Humanistic calls made by the other side. In fact, the entire thing devolved to the point to where it was full of very mean people, full of self righteousness, who, when revival did not come, turned instead to heresy hunting and pointing out errors of doctrine as their form of revival and worship.

And so I began to see that perhaps we were confusing the effects of the drawing of God with the means by which salvation occurs. That something else was occurring that was as much of an error in the right ditch as the Humanists were wrong over in the left ditch. And if repentance was not the means of salvation, what was? And was it possible that we had, in our genuine desire to see God move in our day, simply slopped together another mixture and presented it as true and right when in fact, it also could not support us as a foundation.

Upon reading revival history, I discovered something quite profound that had escaped my notice before.

There is only one means of approaching God and anything else added to it will never suffice as a foundation. It is simply this: “I am ungodly, take me to the one that justifies the ungodly”.

We tend to want to add something to it, don’t we? We want to say, “I am ungodly, look at my remorse, look at my tears”. We want to push on God our faith in Christ, our repentance and our desire to know Him. We say “I am a sinner, I have committed sins” but this is mentioned as an aside. We truly feel that the real juice in the sinner’s prayer is, “I believe” and that it is this, your belief that saves you.

But all of those, even your belief, are from us and stink of works. Even the heartfelt tears that come as God reveals your sin are not sufficient to appease him alone. When we make an offering of these things to God and attempt to add to his requirements, we short-circuit the system and create a false foundation for our Christian walk.

If tears saved you, then he would no doubt have required those as payment for salvation. If it took an overpowering sense of Hell, He would have just said that. But all that He requires is this, “I am ungodly, take me to him that justifies the ungodly.” And when we come to the place where we know that being ungodly is all that we are and that nothing else has any value whatsoever to him as a means of salvation, this is when we can begin to repent, to believe.

This is both incredibly simple and at the same time, very complicated. Because we must here ask why it is that this is not being produced in our services. To this, I must say, that it is due to our undervaluing of His worth and overvaluing of our own.

If we understood His value, His holiness, His justice and mercy and if we saw clearly our own worthlessness, our sinfulness, our corruption and our fallen state, we would not dare question His demands from the race of man. If we saw Him as He is, we would simply know that our best is not good enough and that it never can be. We would stop trying to make an offering of our tears at being caught in the act, or of our feeble mental assent as to His nature or our disastrous reckoning of divine love.

If we saw this clearly, we would stand with our head down, hands at our sides, the fight taken out of us completely and just say, “I am ungodly. I know this now. There is nothing good in me. I have no virtue that I can offer to him in trade. When I see myself as He must see me, in His infinite goodness and His perfect justice, I know that I am undone. And so here I stand with nothing to say in my own defense, no offering in my hands to increase my own worth. I know that this is what He requires, that I come to Him on this basis alone. I am ungodly. Would you take me to Him that justifies me based on this fact alone?”

In revival, it is understood that ungodliness is the one thing that separates man from God and yet, paradoxically, it is the one thing that ties man to God. Because it is the simple acknowledgement of this fact, without addition and without excuse that God requires as the means to salvation. And when we come to Him with just this, we can then experience true repentance and true belief as we receive in ourselves the inner witness that we have been saved.

The old Methodists taught that sinners should “pray ‘til they knew they were lost and then pray ‘til they knew they were saved” and this is true. When the true nature of God is preached unapologetically without the defilement of 21st Century mindsets, man can see himself for what He is: ungodly. And when we come to God based on this alone, He responds with genuine salvation. And that foundation will hold and it will produce a normal Christian life that has begun not with our own virtues but with the death that Jesus requires of all who would seek to follow Him.

“I am ungodly” then is the admission of the soul who has accepted his fate at the site of the execution and who knows that he has no defense. He goes willingly to his punishment, knowing that he deserves it. And after the sentence is carried out and he dies, that is when he finds the true life just beginning.

And here lies the difference between the Church of Declension and the normal Church of God; the normal Christian life must begin with your death.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You stand before a just and holy God without excuse. So much of the time we go before Him like a prisoner on death row who says, “Yes, I killed someone or stole, or lied or cheated BUT…” then they proceed to give excuse as to why they did what they did or to attempt to off-set the bad with something else such as “I feel really bad about it”. What would be the outcome of amnesty declared in such a case? Why, that person would go on from there feeling as if they were set free because of some quality that they possessed, perhaps it was their remorse or their good qualities.

But the person who stands there and knows that there are no redeeming qualities to them and that justice demands that the sentence be carried out immediately, to which they agree because they deserve it. What would the outcome be of amnesty in that case? Gratitude from the grave.

Christianity must start with this, the complete admission, without additions of “I am ungodly”. This is the necessary first step in the normal Christian life. We are baptized into this death and the life we live is to be His life in us. The old is to be gone, both the positive and negative qualities of it as well. It is to be executed and then the new life that rises is to be His and His alone.

The atonement did not provide anything for you, you being the old man. Whatever benefits there are to the atonement are poured out on Christ, whose life you are now living by the faith of the Son of God.

And friends, this then is the only beginning to the normal Christian life.

In this preliminary series of writings, “The Start”, I am hoping to give you an overview of the many changes that need to be addressed before any serious attempt at Vintage Reconciliation can be made in a church. Sadly, if we view the ancient faiths and revival history as being the standard with which we gauge a healthy church, the 21st century version of the Church is in sad shape indeed. And so, it becomes necessary for us to deconstruct the elements, view them in the light of Biblical and historical context and change them as needed. As I have discovered, once you do this, the underlying issues that surface as being the root causes of our inability to assimilate into ancient paths seem to be ones of a Humanistic and Modernistic nature. In short, we are lost from the outset due to a worldview that exists in sharp contrast to what should be “the normal Christian life” -JC.

I would like to tell you the price is cheap. Everyone is out for a bargain these days, but God has no bargains. I would lie to you if I were to tell you it comes cheap. You see me walk out on that stage, and you see the glamor of it. That’s all you see. Everybody these days wants something for nothing. You don’t get something for nothing. There’s a price and it depends on what you want most. Just face facts. This generation doesn’t want to face facts. But when you’re dealing with the spiritual, it’s the most important thing in the world. And you’ve got to face the truth.

Yesterday the thousands in this arena only saw these miracles and they saw the glory. But very few of them could see the price that was paid before those miracles took place. He can take everything that I’ve got, He can strip me of everything that I’ve got. Leaving me but the clothing to cover my body, the shoes on my feet and I am willing to go out there and live on bread and water the rest of my life, so help me God. I’ll preach if I have to preach it from the street corner but take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.

Death to self is the hardest thing in the world. But you can get to the place where its none of self but all of Him. I cannot use the Holy Spirit, I can’t do it. The Holy Spirit must use the vessel. Understand something, you can have the greatest talent in the world but it will never accomplish anything for God unless the Holy Ghost uses it. It’s not by might, not by power but by my Spirit says the Lord. And you become so completely dead.

You say, how can you get that way? I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I only know that Kathryn Kuhlman died. You want to know the secret of this ministry? Kathryn Kuhlman died. ~Kathryn Kuhlman

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
Matthew 13:45-46

Carpetbagger

Have you ever stopped the world for a second and taken a long, hard look at what we have become? I have, and what I have seen has shocked me to my core. You see, to conform inside of the Cult of Normal truly is the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, you just go along and get along. Members in good standing shouldn’t question anything that is happening; you just accept that if it appears to be “normal”, it must be right.

In order to break free from the Cult and see things as they really are, you must begin to question with boldness. And the only reason that anyone would have for truly starting to question what they see and feel and do is if they take a chance and contrast and compare what “normal” looks like.

This is true with much of life. A person who is third generation welfare considers this state of affairs to be truly normal. You live on food stamps and are never ashamed because that is what “everyone” does. To get disability when you turn 18 is normal, to equate having babies with a larger check is normal. And to get these people off of the entitlement system is proving to be almost impossible, because why should you go to work and lose the free money, free healthcare and all of the benefits that are gained from your dependence on the system?

In order to free their mind from their perception of normal, you would have to immerse them in a completely different normal and let them learn to begin to see things with a fresh perspective. Sadly, for most who are trapped in a faulty worldview, the only world that they see is the one that has helped define what normal is for them and they can never truly break free from it.

For us as Christians, the journey must start with canceling our subscription to today’s normal Christianity and stopping that world completely in order to take a fresh, clean inventory of all that it is and has become.

Let’s begin this with some very simple questions: what was “normal” to the first church? I said the first church here and not Jesus because it becomes too easy for most people to disbelieve things when it comes to Jesus himself. You want to chock it up to His divine nature, supernatural power and sinless life. So for most people, being like Jesus is nigh impossible and so what He would consider to be normal is too far out for you to start to comprehend, much less empathize with.

So let’s talk about what “normal” looked like in the first church.

1. They continued steadfast in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and prayers. Acts 2:42
2. All that believed were together and had all things common. Acts 2:44
3. They sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Acts 2:45
4. They continued daily in one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house and ate their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Acts 2:46
5. The world expected miracles when they were around the Church. Acts 5: 12-16
6. They were imprisoned for their faith. Acts 5: 17-19, Acts 8:3, Acts 12:4, Acts 16:23
7. They were martyred for their faith. Acts 7:59, Acts 9:1, Acts 12:1-2

Now, let’s contrast and compare the original church with today’s version in America.

1. They follow many different teachers, all teaching something different. You have fellowship with close friends but little with the Church as a whole. Corporate prayer is nearly lost.
2. All that believe are separated by thousands of denominational groups and are expected to fend for themselves. Pentecostal handshakes and care for our own has nearly vanished in practice among today’s churches.
3. We give approximately 2.3% of our paychecks to the church, most of that going to uber ministries and not a local body. No one would dream of selling all that they had and giving it to the church.
4. We generally don’t visit the Church building daily. You attend service on Sundays, it must start at a certain time and finish at a reasonable time and if you are a fanatic, you attend a mid-week service as well. We don’t go around breaking bread from house to house as our private life and church life rarely intersect. We don’t really know what singleness of heart even means.
5. At best, the world expects bigotry, close-mindedness and intolerance when they are around the church. At worst, the world expects scandal and hypocrisy when they are around the church. Very few are convicted of their need for a savior or expect miracles.
6. Not in America, with few exceptions.
7. Again, not in America, with few exceptions.

As you can see, when we begin to contrast and compare what is considered to be normal, there is a wide gulf between experiences. Most will shrug this off as idealistic and simplistic, feeling that due to the age that the first church was occurring and the very nature of society at that time, a comparison would not really be fair to us today.

But we are not talking about society; we are talking about what is considered to be normal. The only way that you should expect output to change is if method and industry were to change. If method and industry remain the same, output would also remain the same. Because method and industry are internal mechanics and outward circumstances can only affect those if they are allowed to.

For instance, a winery that uses the same fields, the same methods of care and harvest and the same storage methods would be expected to produce a consistent product, that product would be considered to be normal for that winery. If on the other hand, the winery changes its fields, methods and storage facilities in order to keep up with the times or the demands of its consumer base, then the product must necessarily change as well. And what would be considered to be normal for that winery would therefore change and its output would be considered to now be inconsistent.

Somewhere deep inside of us, we know this inherently. Having been raised in a plastic world full of substitutes and alternatives, meant to streamline the process and mass-produce product in the name of convenience, we hunger for the real thing.

If you have ever tasted the difference between an organic tomato and one that is raised year-round in a gas filled chamber, there is no comparison. A pineapple picked directly off of the tree is miles removed from one that has been cold-packed and shipped 3,000 miles. The taste of an organic free-range chicken is totally different than the sad product generated from the tragedy of modern processing plants. And on and on it goes; real butter from a churn does not taste anything like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”

And real Christianity tastes nothing like the genetically altered mass-produced and sterilized version that is foisted on us today.

There is a movement going on in the world today, particularly here in America. We are fed up with the substitutes and something deep inside of us desires the real thing now. We are tired of apartment buildings and cities full of traffic and pollution, we are fed-up with working for a corporation that pays us wages that are equally divided up between the government and other corporations, leaving us with little to nothing of our own.

We buy our food from corporations, spend our leisure time watching a corporate product or using one. We are constantly being bombarded with corporate slogans and offerings. And in the end, as we lay in a corporate bed with corporate covers, watching a corporate commercial, we know that something has gone terribly wrong and we are just not satisfied anymore.

Many of us dream of wide-open spaces and dirt between our toes, raising our own food and placing our own fences for our livestock. We secretly desire to escape to a place where we can raise our families without government or corporate intervention. We want to taste real meat and real vegetables and never again ingest sugar-filled substitutes that we suspect are killing all of us in inches.

But to do that seems too hard for many of us and so we content ourselves with buying something that claims to be organic at Wal-Mart or recycling our plastic bags or wearing a hemp necklace or wool socks. We know that something is wrong in our churches as well, it just feels- wrong somehow. You suspect that what is considered to be church in the 21st century is just another cheap knock-off, a substitute that has been genetically altered so that it can be mass produced for a greedy public.

Real salvation is too hard, try Salvation-Lite! It looks like the real thing but it is easily affordable even for the person willing to pay almost nothing! You can now be a Christian, fill your religion needs and not have to do anything for it at all, don’t change a thing!

You can choose the Church of your choice based on the Pastor’s style, the worship experience, its Children’s Church facilities. I tell you, a world of choices await you out here in the Cult of Normal, individually prepared and packaged for your convenience. If you tire of the product, why just switch, it’s all here for you!

Does it taste like the real thing? Sure it does, all you have to do is change the definitions of the words a little, based on today’s standards and voila, you are experiencing the same product as the first church. Salvation means either belonging to a church or praying a prayer. If you have done one of those things (based on your personal preference, of course) then you are as saved as Peter. Repentance means feeling sorry after you have been caught. Have you ever felt sorry after you have been caught doing something? Then you have repented, just like Paul.

The power of God? Why that is either a feeling of peace, a shiver you feel or being transported to the Third Heaven, as you like. Miracles? Well, life is a miracle after all, isn’t it? We are all surrounded by a thousand little miracles every single day here in the cult of Normal. Fellowship is simply having some friends and unity is when you are all getting along. Evangelism is suggesting that someone come to a church service with you and holiness is best seen through the lens of grace because no one is perfect, right?

And though all of this is considered to be normal and though the spin masters have tried to sell us on the idea that what we have is what they had back then, we all know in our hearts that it is a lie. That Christianity has been imitated and duplicated and sold to us in such a way that all of us can look like we have something that we know we really don’t.

I used to say in church that if we were to have a Jesus altar call, no one would answer it. For him, it was “Come and take up your cross and follow me”, “Sell all your goods and distribute to the poor”, etc. And I would juxtapose this with today’s Christianity-Lite pitch that tells you that if you raise your hand in the air with no one else looking and repeat a prayer under your breath that the whole room is praying, you too can be saved.

Now I understand that it is deeper than just the methods employed, it is a matter of value.

Pleather was created for the clothing and upholstery fields, a cheap mass-produced leather substitute that allowed you to have the feel and look of real leather, at a fraction of the cost. And today’s Christianity is nothing more than spiritual pleather, which looks good from a distance but could never really be confused with the real thing. The reason that it couldn’t comes down to value.

Nate Saint, who was martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in the 1950’s said “People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst, they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted”. The question for Nate came down to value. How could something spent in service to Christ ever be considered to be a waste when the value of obtaining Christ was so much greater than the value of what was being spent for it?

When I contrasted Jesus’ altar calls with modern ones, I thought that the difference lay in the process but I was wrong. The difference lay completely in the perception of the value of the item gained.

The merchant who discovered the pearl of great price went immediately and sold all that he had to obtain it. The reason that he did that was because the value of the pearl that he had discovered was worth far more than what he had to give in trade for it. All that he had and all that he had acquired up to that point in his life was worth less than the value of the pearl that he had found.

No doubt, had he discovered a cultured pearl as he was shopping, he would have been willing to give far less in trade for it. The value of that which was obtained determines the cost that is to be assigned to it.

And we have mass produced Christianity and cheapened it to the point that the only thing that it is worth in trade is the potential embarrassment of repeating a silly prayer in public and an hour of your time on Sunday at the church of your choice. Our salvation that is offered is pain-free, cost-free and hassle-free not because of what someone would be willing to pay for a genuine item of great value but because we assign very little value to it ourselves.

We bought a whole string of cultured pearls at little to no cost and what fool isn’t interested in getting something for nothing? If you can live blessed, happy, forgiven and carry diplomatic immunity in regards to sins that you commit and on top of all of this, have eternal life too and pay exactly nothing for it, I mean, who wouldn’t want that? It looks like pearls, feels sort of like them too, all at a fraction of the cost. Why would you need the genuine article, which is so costly when you can have the exact same thing for next to nothing?

Spiritual pleather- as good as the real thing and at a price you can afford!

We all like something for nothing, friends, but here is the problem, your pearl is a fraud. And you know that it is, why else would you attempt to hawk something of infinite value as a blue-light special? Why would you cheapen it and give it away at bargain basement prices to whoever comes down the street if it weren’t for the fact that you ascribe no value to it yourself? You got yours for nothing and ascribe exactly that value to it yourself. Because what they sold us was a lie, a cleverly marketed spiritual pleather that they spun out of whole cloth.

And you know it and I know it.

This is why the normal of today is so different than the normal of the first church; we aren’t talking about the same item. The pearl that they could gain was so precious that giving up all of your goods to give to the poor was nothing in comparison to what they got. To have all things common and make sure that everyone in the church had enough, that is a bargain! To die a martyr’s death and receive a Crown of Life or be imprisoned for your faith were of such small cost when compared to the Excellency of Christ and knowing Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings that they gladly paid it in exchange.

In the Moravian church, they were willing to accept insult and injury and risk their lives for the sake of Christ and spread the Gospel all over the world.

In the Reformation, they were willing to be burned at the stake by people claiming to know God because it was worth it.

All throughout history, people have discovered the pearl for themselves and the awful prices that they paid in exchange for receiving it paled in comparison to what they got. But here, today, no one wants your pleather Jesus and no one is willing to pay a dear price for it, not because He is any less worthy but because you see no value in him yourself. And though you may get offended at my saying this, check the value you place on Him, dear heart, you will see that I am right.

How can we ever have a return to normal if we don’t even understand the value of Him?

You get what you pay for, don’t you?

What does God say that salvation should mean and how much are you willing to give in trade for that?

What miracles are they that Christ says that we are to expect and what are you willing to give to see them?

What does the Word say that deliverance, freedom from sin, holiness, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, evangelism, fellowship, unity, healing, peace, love and joy and true community all look like both in the Scripture and in the past lives of those who have attained them and told us of their wondrous power and what exactly are you willing to pay to see them for yourself?

The state that we live in of continual disappointment and spiritual excuses for why we don’t see more is a direct result of our unwillingness to pay for it. In fact, climbing up onto your cross willingly is the first step that is required of you. And the refining process continues until He receives you to Himself. We must give up our sins, our self-importance, our pride, our goods and our ties to the world, our virtues, our strengths and our identity to Him in fair trade for the privilege of seeing who He is.

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3: 7-11

Some will no doubt claim that there is no price to pay but these are they, which paid nothing for what they got and are desperate to claim it as the genuine article. Jesus paid it all, they say and to this I say, “all to Him I owe”. There is a price to escape the Cult of Normal and there is still a precious value in the Blood of the Lamb.

It costs everything you are, everything that you have and everything that you will ever have and I can’t think of a better deal. There is something about this Jesus, that when you see Him as He is, when you look into His eyes and see the tenderness and care, nothing is too great of a price to stay there.

So, attention please, all you preachers and pastors, prophets and pimps, you teachers and intellectuals and liberals and conservatives. Listen up you mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and relatives, spouses, lovers and acquaintances, you bosses and co-workers, you sons and you daughters. Everyone, please, if I could get your attention; would you please stop the bus, I’d like to get off.

I don’t like where you’ve taken me and don’t like where you are going. I am sick of the smell in here and I feel like I need to stretch. I see something else out there, out past the finger-smeared window in front of me. I see a vast horizon and an adventure that is waiting to happen. I see freedom of movement, away from my seat and the restricted way that I am forced to endure these cramped conditions like I was just meat being taken to market.
I see freedom out there for my head and my feet, for my heart and my lungs and I simply cannot take this guided tour of the make-believe movie of someone else’s freedom anymore.

I have got to go now and see what is out there for myself. Somewhere, out there, outside of these confines that you have laid out for me, I see a twinkle in the dirt, the light has caught on something and though I don’t see it clearly yet, my heart is stuck in my throat at the thought of what it could be buried out there, undiscovered.

I have a pearl to attain and I know that it will cost me all that I know and maybe it will cost me my relationships with all of you on this bus. It will cost me everything and I don’t really know what life will look like out there but I have heard of it, as a whisper in my spirit, God has told me that it is worth the cost.

So stop the bus, I don’t want your normal anymore, I have a pearl to gain.

The Start part 2: Worship Redux

Posted: August 9, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
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In this preliminary series of writings, “The Start”, I am hoping to give you an overview of the many changes that need to be addressed before any serious attempt at Vintage Reconciliation can be made in a church. Sadly, if we view the ancient faiths and revival history as being the standard with which we gauge a healthy church, the 21st century version of the Church is in sad shape indeed. And so, it becomes necessary for us to deconstruct the elements, view them in the light of Biblical and historical context and change them as needed. As I have discovered, once you do this, the underlying issues that surface as being the root causes of our inability to assimilate into ancient paths seem to be ones of a Humanistic and Modernistic nature. In short, we are lost from the outset due to a worldview that exists in sharp contrast to what should be “the normal Christian life” -JC.

Mike Guglielmucci

At the starting point, the plan was fairly simple: deconstruct the service and discover the fundamentals of different revival periods.

In practice, it has proven to be much harder.

We are currently in what I have been calling the “Moravian Cycle”. Looking back at Herrnhut and the Golden Summer as a model, we have been studying and praying, searching for the heart of the matter as it relates to what God did there.

This is not a simple thing, getting simple.

Much of what we do is rooted in our identity as 21st century beings and it is very difficult to shed those thought processes. I have come to feel that the trappings of the zeitgeist can only really be seen when they are held up in contrast to an earlier age. Juxtaposing 21st century Churchianity to a much earlier time has revealed some fundamental issues that I would never have been able to see clearly before we set out on this adventure.

I have discovered that before we can even begin to gather our twelves baskets full of remnants, we have to deal with ourselves and the repercussions of our adhesion to the spirit of the age. This has proven to be so deep and far reaching that we have barely even been able to start this emulation. To deconstruct must come first; who are we and how did we get here?

Stripping away everything from the stage is the first step in this. All of our actions, props and lights that add depth to the stage and by extension, the “performances”, have to be removed so that we can clearly see what we really have before us. It is a raw thing, to be sure. We are so used to hiding in various aspects of our Sunday performance, not wanting to have to deal with the reality that is all around us. We seem to sing, dance, use our multimedia, preach and pray in an almost sterile environment, the preacher being removed from the people and fully insulated in the bubble of “the show”.

When you take away all of this, you are left with what remains; the people and their issues and you.

I discovered something just here at this point. When I removed the whirl of the service progression and deconstructed it down to its most basic elements, everyone was left without something to hide behind. For some, it was music. In the McChurch, you play five songs or more and you have a predictable response. Some dance, some sing, some lift their hands, some don’t budge and just stare straight ahead. When you strip that time away and pose to the people the simple issue of what worship is, they quickly get uncomfortable and even distressed. I think that we have substituted real worship for this thing that we do, this sing-along that allows you to act spiritual without doing anything spiritual.

Let me explain.

Matthew 15:7-9 reads: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

Fair enough, Jesus. So, some folks sing and profess something with their mouth while their heart is elsewhere, I get it. So, let’s stress that the people really must mean every line from the songs that WE chose for them to sing, regardless of where they are or what is happening to them. That may close the issue for good (and has) if it weren’t for the next line, the last bit here that throws everything off: “worship in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”.

Have we done that? The Boomers, who have set the stage here for us in regards to McChurch, love worship. In fact, they demand a satisfying worship experience and to not have one is heresy of the first order. Gen-X could not be more different in this. What we long for is realness, period. I don’t want to go through the motions and follow a pattern that you created for me just so that I can fit in. What I long for is a depth of experience that I have not found in the McChurch pattern. A segment of this generation is also totally burned out on the whole performance aspect of “worship ministry” in general. We have been to so many shows over the course of our lives and coming into the church, we see one more show. And we don’t want our spiritual church service to simply stoop down to the level of filling a missing area of our lives.

That idea is very Boomer; no concerts now that you are a Churchian- we will fill that void with a Jesus concert-lite. No cool festivals- Jesuspalooza is the answer. Can’t watch that cool movie- substitute Christian cinema. The Boomers did this with everything from stupid Christian shirts that played on worldly themes (Lord’s Gym, Jesus: that’s my final answer!) to bumper stickers to mega churches that more resemble malls than places of worship (get a brew at Higher Grounds while you shop at our bookstore). I was, and am, just as guilty as everyone else of subscribing to the Boomers need for customization, substitution and convenience. God help us.

Real worship does not happen in a sing-along. In fact, real worship has nothing to do with singing at all. When the church in the first century heard the word “worship”, their thoughts went straight to the outward elements of sacrifice and the multi-layered facets of Judaism. To worship was equated with sacrifice. To us, we gloss this over with the term “sacrifice of praise” and then demand that everyone assume that we we are doing is right and God ordained.

So what is true worship, in spirit and in truth?

Rom 12:1-2  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Jas 1:27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

When Paul calls presenting your bodies a living sacrifice, your reasonable service, the word rendered service there is the Greek word “latreia”- worship. When James talks about “pure religion and undefiled”, that word rendered religion there is the Greek word “thrēskeia”- worshipping.

Now, let’s get our heads around this. So, Jesus said that people were praising God with their mouths while their hearts were far from him and that they taught for doctrine the commandments of men. Paul and James go on to clarify by saying that dying to self and presenting your life to God in consecration is your reasonable act of worship and that pure worship and undefiled before God is to care for widows and orphans. How has that devolved into a sing along set to the snappy tunes of contemporary music while your life is not presented as a reasonable sacrifice and the only person that you really care about is yourself? I mean, people will actually get angry if you don’t have sing-along time because you are taking away their time to worship… an incredibly selfish statement that is only perceived in its true inglorious state when juxtaposed against the word of God stripped of all the double talk and false references.

Where does singing come in? The Bible does reference it, telling us to make a joyful noise and to sing and lift our hands. So you obviously can’t throw the baby our with the bathwater, right?

A few months ago we had what has come to be called “Fire Church”. It was a little event at one of our member’s farm with just a small group of us present and a visiting minister from out of town. Basically, we all sat around a fire and began to talk about God and spirituality and the differences between Gen-X/Y and the Boomers. For some reason, the conversation took place primarily between myself and the other preacher (curiouser and curiouser). What we experienced was the most spiritual church service that any of us had been a part of in years and in some cases, ever. At the end of the night, the Spirit of God hung thickly around that fire and the other preacher declared that we should sing. He began singing a song that was perfectly in line with the night’s impromptu teaching: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. It was a deeply spiritual moment as all sung together these words that seemed like they were written just after our conversation, you could hardly breathe due to the presence of God that was there. And the song, sung in unity, actually added to the night’s revelation. We all walked away from that night knowing that something had occurred in the spirit that was transformational and powerful.

Juxtapose this with the McChurch service: begin with three songs, uptempo. The Worship leader must talk and cheerlead the people into getting excited. Then, after accomplishing this, we get serious. So begins the “worship set” of two to three slower songs meant to make the people contemplative. After this, we take your money, give announcements and get to the sermon.

I am sorry, I can’t do it. I am past the point of no return, that area that exists in the pilot’s vocabulary that denotes the area where you can no longer turn around, there simply isn’t enough gas, so you either make your destination or you crash. I am there.

The issue is that we have faked it for so long that we don’t know what it means to be real. When we ask ourselves what worship would look like if you took away all of the societal pressures and contraptions, all of the norms and patterns that we have learned from McChurch, you are left with a big, stinking hole that you don’t know how to fill. I mean, if you listened to country, pop, rock, punk, contemporary, is that what we should make our worship services into? If it is accepted by the status quo as “normal”, does that make it right?

What is “normal” to God?

We have found it best to allow my wife (our Worship Leader) to be led by God in regards to what to sing and when. That it should be Spirit-led and in harmony with the revelation, teaching, preaching, Word from God. That it should be simple and valued for the words that are said and not the style that it is in. It doesn’t have a “place” in the order of service as singing is only one small aspect of what true worship is. We should be presenting our bodies as living sacrifices first, dying to self and allowing God to free us from our demands of individuality, consecrating ourselves to God and His service. We should be engaging in Social Gospel activities, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans, first. Then, properly laying upon the altar, we should sing songs in unity and sing to Him and for Him alone.

The Start

Posted: August 8, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
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Over the past few months my wife and I have undergone some incredible changes. The hand of God has been heavily upon us, changing us and causing us to change things in our lives and in the churches that we have the privilege of pastoring. At times it has just been a relentless pressing. That is the very best word that I have for what has been going on. A weight has sat on me accompanied by a despair at the way that things are, not just in me but in the church at large.

Strangely, this all started at a meeting of our town’s clergy. We had concluded the meeting and were sharing a meal as we have done once a month since I first got here 2 years ago. The group is made up of a diverse pool; Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, UCC, Catholic, whatever we are. But we have a very good unity between us and have always gotten along well. On this particular day I was being pressed before the meeting even started. During the meal, I just began to talk about what was laying on my heart; souls and revival. I told the group that I was just so tired of the dog-and-pony show every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. That I felt God was causing my discomfort though I could not say why, it was just that I had to see our region saved. Why should we continue to care for the 99 and never seek the lost one?

Everyone then agreed to begin to meet once a week to join together in prayer for revival.

It has been awkward at times, it really has. We each pray in a much different way than everyone else and no one was really sure how to proceed. The awkward silences at times have been exceedingly awkward. But we are there, every week, asking God to move in our town among the lost and to call back the sheep that no longer attend church.

My own struggles started just before the corporate prayer began and have increased as time went on. The end result of my pressing culminated when I read a story and a quote from John Wesley about a month ago. In it, someone asked Wesley why people came to hear him preach, Wesley replied, “I set myself on fire, and people come to watch me burn.” For some reason, the words dug into me and caused a painful reaction. To this day, I cannot say why exactly. But after reading them, I threw myself into prayer and when I was done, I knew that if I had even one more “normal” service, I would die. I just could not do any of it anymore, and the thought of following the McChurch pattern of ; welcome, 3 fast songs, 2 slow songs, offering, announcements, sermon, altar call produced in me such a despair that it is hard to convey it here.

But what was the alternative? And was it even such a big deal anyway to do things like everyone else? To just follow the McChurch pattern and try to draw people by being a better preacher than others, have better worship, be edgier, have better children’s programs, whatever. My desperation caused me to ask where we got the pattern in the first place and I found no clear cut answers other than the church attempting to play nice with society and just copying what everyone else did around them. I mean, I could not even figure out where we got the idea of worship that we have today or what a sermon is.

Talk about a crisis. I was standing there with 19 years of ministry experience and I didn’t have the first clue as to why we do any of the things that we do.

So, I made an executive decision. I came to church at our second location, canceled worship, moved the pulpit, grabbed a chair and once the people arrived, I just began to share my heart. No outline, no notes, no agenda. I was lost in a wilderness and though I didn’t know why, I did know that it was the Spirit that was leading me there. And something happened that night, what it was exactly, I still don’t know but from that night on, the churches that wouldn’t grow have begun to do just that.

The following week, the pressing that I had been experiencing increased. As I wrestled with the question of “How did the church get here?”, I found myself asking a very odd question; “what did God intend for the church to be?” Now, I know that people have routinely asked themselves that question. And I know that most of the time, the answer that they have come up with has been “The First Church”. This answer has led them to meet in homes, have no discernible leadership, etc. But for me, this answer was imperfect. Mostly because I have always held to the opinion that revelation is progressive. That it is “line upon line, precept upon precept” and that the first would be last and the last, first. So starting at the beginning and just staying there made no sense. Neither did just taking parts and claiming a whole truth, such as deciding that since they met in homes, we should do the same because church buildings are satanic. To me, a house is a building made up of foundation, walls and ceiling, same as a church building.

I felt the Spirit prompting me to ask the same question that I had before; what did God intend for the church to be? But I felt led to look for an answer in revivals over history and what He did when He moved rather than solely at the first church as the pattern. Don’t get me wrong, we have asked about the characteristics of the First Church, what they did, how they acted, etc. But then I began to scan history for those times when God stepped down and changed everything, in short, a pattern of what the church would look like based strictly off of revival history.

This search led me to John Wycliffe, John Hus and the Brethren or the Moravian Church. Why the Moravian Church and not another stream of reformation? Quite simply, the others are not my spiritual ancestors directly. The lineage would be: First Church, Nicea, Wycliffe, Hus, Brethren, Zinzendorf, Moravians, Wesley, Methodism, Pentecostals, Second Wave, today. I have purposefully omitted the Catholic Church and the last 40 years of the Second Wave and also the entire so-called “3rd wave” movements. The wrongs committed by the Catholic church and their error make them impossible to base anything off of for me. Most date the beginnings of the “Fallen Church” to be somewhere between Constantine and the first Pope, I have done the same. In modern times, I have felt that we should look back to the Second Wave and reject the excesses at the end of the Second Wave and all of the so-called “3rd Wave” movement.

Having determined the need to establish lineage and having created an environment of tabula rasa, I began to study the Moravians at Herrnhut and Wycliffe and Hus before them. Not having a pattern is quite daunting, I must say. You feel rather naked and exposed as you grope for answers. It is so much easier to be a McChurch and just do the best that you can.

But this new blog will serve as my journal, detailing what we are doing and thinking during this time. I hope it inspires you as we are inspired.

Blessings,

J.