Posts Tagged ‘Vintage Reconciliation’

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.

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We have no clue what you are saying.

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money
I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
Cause if you can’t come to Me every day
Then don’t bother coming at all.

Keith Green

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day…” Matthew 7:21

It struck me recently reading the above verses in Matthew that I have never fully understood what they meant. I used to use it simply as a verse for telling people that there were those that claimed to be Christians who would not make the final cut. The other night after reading it, something struck me deeply. I tossed and turned for quite awhile in bed struggling with the thought and its implications for not only myself but for the whole of western Christianity as well.

The definition I use for religion is a simple one. It is the worship of God in His absence. When God is absent, we humans get into big trouble, fast. And usually it is directly related to some misconception that we have involving God. It is so easy to confuse His silence for His condoning of us and our actions, doctrines, beliefs and habits. In fact, many can go years without hearing from God, writing it off as a “wilderness” time and feeling that because He is not directly rebuking them or interfering, that He is fine with who they are or what it is that they are doing.

The rules all change when God is away from the office. Men feel they have a free hand to interpret the scriptures however they like. After all, God is not saying anything so it must be okay, right? Denominations rule the unwashed masses with the iron hand of flesh because God has never said he cared one way or another. And worst of all, we live and act as if God is just pleased as punch with whatever we give Him. He doesn’t expect much; after all, we are only human.

This is especially true in the area of ministry. We act as if a license to preach is a license to do whatever strikes us as being “godly”. We create good programs, centered on quasi-godly ideas. We cleverly market who we are and the “god” we have created in our minds as being the right one, for everyone, across the board. We build big churches and control people who we think God has given into our care. All because God is absent and not really saying anything one way or another about what we are doing. Look across the panorama of the American church system today and you will see a large percentage of those involved in that system doing what they feel is “right” in His name.

Because God is absent, we substitute in His place an image of God that we have created. We use scriptures to build this image, raping them to provide the most one-sided version possible, the version most conducive to what we ourselves have said about God in the past. For the grace crowd, that means ignoring or flat-out lying about large sections of scripture that plainly go against the ideas that they claim to be God’s plan. For the repentance crowd, it means forgetting His grace and love as you batter and beat everyone around you for not being “up to par” with your ideals. Either way, we scream from our ditch that those across the road in the other ditch are wrong.

This holds true whether you are Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Word of Faith or Episcopalian, COGIC, Methodist, African Methodist, whatever. One note sounds clear through all of the posturing and portraits that we paint: God is absent and we are all just guessing.

Read a hundred books; see a thousand preachers. Attend a million churches; sit in a dozen conferences, the song will remain the same. There are a lot of people intrigued by the idea of God but with no practical knowledge of the “god” that they are making all of these assumptions about.

It is interesting to note that Saul listened to the people when he made the decision to keep the best back as a sacrifice to God. They apparently were still going to offer them all to God as a sacrifice. Perhaps they felt it was better to offer it all in a big ceremony than just to simply destroy it where they found it as God had commanded. They were going to do what God said to do; they were just going to alter the way that it was done. After all, the ends justify the means. The sacrifices would be made as God had said, just in an improved way. Here we find the first parallel to the times that we live in.

More and more I hear from the Spirit that this is the age of Saul. First off, it says that on the way back, Saul built a monument for himself along the way. What are many of our ministries and churches if not exactly that? They are monuments to the preachers who built them or the congregations who inhabit them. They offer every convenience for people so that they will return. They put exactly the right light on the minister so that people look up to him, admire him even worship him. If God does not show up, does it matter at all? After all, isn’t God in the still, small voice as well? Isn’t the satisfaction you get from being around friends and family close to his heart? Aren’t the things that we are doing related to God and therefore isn’t He pleased with us?

Saul followed the desires of the common people in making his decision to alter the way he kept God’s command. The way they suggested seemed to be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. You could keep the command of God while keeping the people happy. Sounds good, right? Well, to everyone except for God, it seems. Because God responded, “to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

When God says something, it is not open to interpretation. You cannot take it, perform only the core of what was required and call it good. To obey means to do what he says, how he says. There is no deviation allowed from what God commands, period. But Saul opted to appease the people while trying to obey God. There is another group guilty of this in the bible that not many are aware of, the Laodicean church from the book of Revelation.

When we think of the Laodiceans, we think of the luke-warm church. And that is obviously the case. But ever wonder how they got that way to begin with? You see, we can use archaeology to tell us all about the history of Laodicea but that tells us nothing of the church itself. What does speak volumes is the name itself. Laodicean is a compound word. Laos is found in Strong’s 2992: a people, people group, tribe, nation, all those who are of the same stock and language. This is where we get the word laity, the common people. The last part of the word is Dike, found in Strong’s 1349: custom, usage, self-evidently right or just. Taking those two together would be “what the common people consider to be right or just or the customs and opinions of the common people”. Sounds seeker-sensitive to me.

The Laodicean church probably began like all of the others. Somewhere along the way, however, something happened. They began to do things in line more with what the people felt than what God had said expressly. And as they did so, they created an atmosphere that was luke-warm, comfortable for the people attending. They became so comfortable in who they were that they succumbed to spiritual pride; they actually believed that they had no need of anything at all. They looked around at each other and noticed they were all the same and God was silent. They couldn’t be wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked! They had attained everything that they needed to, there was no need to repent, they had arrived.

But God said differently. You see, the person of God is not open for personal interpretation. Neither is service to God, for that matter. With him, the ends do not justify the means- only the will of God matters. In fact, God starts the letter to the Laodiceans by calling himself the “Amen, the faithful and true witness”. He is the “so be it”, faithful and true to perform what He says. He sees, as a witness, what God requires and no deviation from that is acceptable.

How the sound of the bleating of the sheep can be heard today in our country! How many of us perform what God requires, only in a slightly skewed way, based upon our own culture and ideals or worse, based upon what the crowds want around us? How many blow off what God said to do, justifying it with a million scriptures or the slight of hand of a master illusionist, showing all of what you have accomplished on the right while hiding where you have failed in your left? How many of us are doing a million things in His name and never asking His will in the first place regarding any of it?

How it is done is as important as what is being done. Who reading this letter will stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day with all that we have done in His name fresh on our lips, the smiles falling away as he calls us practitioners of lawlessness, who never considered asking what he wanted while we were busy performing everything we wanted him to ask of us?

Many shall say on that day.

Many. Not a few, not the exception, many will say to him on that day, “Lord, Lord”. And not be known. Because what matters to God is adherence to His will, not only doing His work. But we are all so busy with the “work of the Lord” that we feel we can ignore the Lord of that work.

Churches open 3 times a week, preachers preaching sermon after sermon to empty people in a godless environment. How can we sit in a place built to house the church as they meet God and where God is to meet His church, and never for a second wail at the fact that He is not even present there at our meetings? We can eye the girl ahead of us or think nasty thoughts of the person behind us that we don’t like. We can think about lunch or the ball game the entire time we are there. Because God is absent and none of it really matters, only that those around you see you acting pious and holy. And week after week, year after year, we never ask the simple question that should have been the very first one that we asked, “Where is God?”

America is in danger today because the church, which lives in her, is asleep at the wheel. We have made ministry a career and the absence of God an excuse for pushing our own agenda. In an age when God is absent, we have made spiritual excuses for this instead of stopping and looking long and hard at who we are and whom we serve. What is his will? Is what you are doing for him his will for you today?

Friend, you better hope that it is. Because God does not like those who do things in his name apart from his will. We are in danger as a country because we don’t pray; we just assume that we know. We are in danger because we sit back and jealously defend what we have said to be true for the last however many years; almost uncaring that God may be saying something different.

To obey is better than sacrifice. To be obedient is more important than what you do to serve Him. It did not matter that they were going to offer the best as a sacrifice; all that mattered was that they were lawless in their actions; rebellious to what God said to do. If rebellion is at the heart of your service to God, is it any wonder that He is absent from our services? Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft to God. And service to Him that is begun or worked out in rebellion is no service at all. It is a placebo, carefully designed to lull you into a state of complacency and eventually, apathy to His will.

To know His will in all things, beyond a guess, beyond reasoning and then to accomplish that revealed will is all that matters. Revival will come when we all make this step, to know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings. To make sure that the cup and His will are the same thing and then to drink it gladly, regardless of its contents.

Then and only then will we be able to find Him. When we stop programs that are needless and human-centered and find out His mind on the subject. When we pray rather than prance, petition rather than posture. When we would rather have nothing and know His will then have everything and be ignorant of it. When we can throw it all away just to find Him or rather, be found of Him. When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds and we know what is that perfect and acceptable will of God in all things, then we will have revival.

What we have today is a Spirit of Saul running rampant in the church. This is one who calls himself a prophet, performing the duties of the office because he once prophesied. Someone who does a part of what God asks and balks that God should be displeased with Him. We have a church system that is busy doing the work of God apart from the will of the God they are supposedly working for in the first place. This is an entire generation that will be crying out “Lord, Lord, did we not…” on that day. Because they assumed they knew the will of God when God was silent. We say we are doing what is right but I hear the Spirit asking, “What is that bleating of the sheep that I hear?”

Because the ultimate proof of God’s being behind a work is God being felt in the work. And for the biggest of us, that presence is awfully small to be Jehovah.

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Jesus

Luke 14:33-35

“Well I’m gonna go then. And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need anything except this. And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

And I don’t need one other thing, except my dog.”

Navin R. Johnson
The Jerk

the Jerk

Selective hearing is amazing, is it not? At some point in the journey of the Christian Church, we lost our ability to take God seriously. I am willing to take a guess that this may have started when the Bible stopped being the Word of God and it became the suggestions of God, and even those have been, in our mind, muddled up in bad translations and social ideals that no longer apply.

But if one part of the book is wrong, how can any part of the book be trusted?

And that is exactly our issue, isn’t it? If you do not believe in the infallibility of the book in the original languages, if whole sections are not for today, then you can be free to pick and choose which parts you like. We have gotten very, very good at this actually.

Throw two rocks hard enough and you will likely hit two Churchians with radically different ideas of God. And in our relativistic post-modern society, that is exactly what you should expect. Since no one has a lock on the truth and all religion is simply a man trying to have some personal religion that suits him, the idea of absolutes makes people freak out. We don’t like the idea that God has:

a.) The power to do as He wishes.

or

b.)The authority to do as He wishes.

We are the stars of this show and He loves us, right? I mean, for God so loved the world that He gave so this whole thing is all about us and His desire to love, bless and snuggle with us if we so choose. We leave churches if we aren’t getting fed, loved, hugged, promoted, adored, called, whatever. We choose churches based on what they can do for us. We engage in endless self-promotion in order to further our ministry and our gifting and our agenda. We build huge monstrosities called “Churches” (imagine if we called Army barracks Armies?) so that the world can gaze in wonder in the rightness and power of us and our calling.

We choose doctrines and pet teachers who tell us exactly what we want to hear. Hyper-Grace Antinomian doctrines are flourishing even though that little bit of heresy was called out a long time ago. We are even starting to see Pelagianism and Universalism make a comeback. All of this is surging in popularity because man wants the Gospel presented to him in a way that lines up with his or her worldview, period.

God is irrelevant; my perception of God is what is important. Besides, if the Bible is only partially true, who cares, right? A good God’s judgment seat is only for rewards, not to ever punish.

And so we heap up to ourselves teachers who tell us that God’s desire is for you to have your best life now. We hang on the every word of Antinomian pimps who tell us that grace is a cover for sin and that nothing that you do matters because God doesn’t care about law, commands or morals. We chase teachers who will give us the 7 secrets of complete selfish happiness, all without the slightest concern that they are teaching half-truths designed to hobble the true church of God and usher in a satanic age such as the world has never seen.

Sin is self-life, period. I want what I want when I want it and no one can tell my heart otherwise. This is the root of all sin, self. And (curiouser and curiouser) it also happens to be the common theme of the Laodicean church.

Let me give you an example; a person’s life turns out to not be what they expect. They are facing some failures and some loss that they do not want to face. A friend suggests that they go with them to ‘Happy Family Fun Church’, who knows; maybe they will hear something that will help them out. Once there, the person sees Happy Family Fun Churchians all acting happy and fun together. They sing happy songs, greet you in a happy way and happily take your money.

Then the motivational speaker takes the stage and explains that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. It wasn’t His will that they are not happy, they chose to be unhappy by not saying the magic words. If they would just say the magic words along with the speaker, why, all will be well. God won’t care if they sin anymore, he will load them with benefits like cars and planes and all of this can be theirs for the happy fun price of ZERO, if they will just simply join us in saying the magic words.

Well, once they do this (who wouldn’t take a deal like that?) they are immediately welcomed into the church and given basic teaching on how to talk like a Christian and look like one (happy and fun). And that person is effectively damned for all of eternity because of the lies being propagated in the name of Laodicean religion. Jesus only saves the lost, you see. If they are comforted and coddled and told that they are just fine, what are the chances that they will ever accept the fact that they are lost and ungodly?

The root of that religion is self and origin will always point to destination, always.

Go ahead and try and ruin a ministry and start your own, hide and watch exactly where you end up. God will not be mocked, friend. Start a church based off a split, fostering a spirit of division, discord and malice. Plan for that church to split and split and split. Steal an idea and start a business, divorce your spouse for a better one, smear and use gossip to ruin someone, choose your poison. Your origin in unrighteousness will always point to your destination.

This holds true for those who come and “accept” Christ in an AMWAY altar call or even those who run to an altar call to avoid Hell, it is all the same. If self is the heart of your origin, selfish destruction will be the destination that you arrive at.

Someone may say that this is not fair, that it was the Preachers who were the ones spreading this false doctrine, why should the people be blamed for it? And I agree to a point but we know the end result of those people, they will be held to a stricter judgment and give an account of what they have done. And those who were wrapped up in the spirit of the age and selfishly seeking the benefits of a Just and Holy God will gain the word of God from The Revelation of St. John; ”He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be”.

The heart of all sin is self. “Selah” right there for a moment and contemplate. When you were offended at a brother and began to maliciously gossip and slander them with self-righteous zeal, what was the root of your offense? Was it not the wounding of your self-life in some way?

When you were alone and looked at pornography on the internet, what was the root of that? Was it not self and its needs and desires and the wishing for what you do not have, coveting something that is not yours?

When you lie to spare the feelings of someone else are you not really lying to save yourself from embarrassment or in order to maintain position with that person?

When you read the words of Christ about taking up your cross and following Him or forsaking all that you have, what is it that rises up in consternation and screams; “That’s not for today!” or “Jesus wasn’t being literal, just be willing to do it!” It is self, friend and it is your mortal enemy and has become in the Laodicean church the enemies’ Fifth Column. It is the hidden underground resistance that undermines your trip to the Celestial City every single step of the way. Because self and Christ don’t mix, they are mutually exclusive, diametrically opposed to one another.

The very heart of the call of God to salvation is a rejection of the self life. In Prevenient Grace, you must accept that self does not know Him, in Convicting Grace; you must accept that you are not pleasing to Him. Then, on the border of salvation and damnation, you must come to the conclusion that you are ungodly and that, not your faith, charm, will, decision, power, money, but that alone is the basis of your salvation. “I am ungodly; take me to Him who justifies the ungodly”. That admission of guilt and your undeserving nature is the death pangs of self-life in you.

But the wrestling match against the sinful selfish nature will continue until complete sanctification is established with Him in glory. And at every moment that it rears its head, we must yell, “Away with Him!” If self is tied up in possessions, give them away, literally. If self is tied up in ministry, quit until you get it fixed. If self is causing you to sin, cut that part of your life off completely. If your self life is so strong that you are compelled to look at porn, throw the computer out, dear heart. If self is at the heart of your business or your job, quit, take a reduction in pay and embrace simplicity in order to find salvation from self.

When the Israelites were given instruction for the Passover, they were told to not enjoy the meal, eat it quickly and in much haste. They were told to bind up their garments to run and eat it with their walking staff in their hand. As Watchman Nee wrote, “The world is to us while we live, a journey, when we die, a tomb”. This world is not your home, you are passing through. And none of these things can give you satisfaction. Live as if you are passing through here, a righteous sojourner.

And your mission while you are on this earth is to daily crucify your flesh, that self-life that ties you to Hell. Deal with it as extremely as you need to, it is your worst enemy. Do things that do your proud heart good. Serve as if you are no one. Be the least as often as you can. Kill that scoundrel by any means necessary.

Jonathan Edwards

One of the best ways that I have found to do exactly this is through the practice of resolutions such as Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley employed. As they lived, when they saw areas of failure and self, they would mark it immediately. Then later, they would make a resolution in their diary and read them every week in an effort to improve upon their condition. Here is an example of Edward’s resolutions (Thank you to A Puritans Mind.)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Carry with you a small notebook and pen. During the course of your day, when you see an area of self-life or sin that keeps coming up, mark it on the notebook. Then prayerfully make a resolution that deals specifically and harshly with that area and keep it constantly until you have the victory.

The Christian life does not end with Justifying Grace but in the process of the Holy Spirit making that justification true in you through Sanctification. This is a forgotten truth in this era of presumptuous faith. So many reject openly the truth that we have to walk worthy of our calling, examine ourselves, prove our own selves and pursue holiness in the fear of the Lord. If we would hate the self-life and embrace His sanctification, using resolutions as our Fathers did, we would find ourselves in a much different state of Grace than we are currently in here in America.

I truly believe that many of us in the Church have only left the world in tears, taking as much of it as we could along with us as we go, just like Navin R. Johnson left his home in The Jerk. This is so contrary to the Gospel message that we have been and will continue to be doomed to failure and ridicule by the world so long as we continue to do this.

The world is, after all, looking for someone to tell them the truth based on a life that looks like the truth as well. But where are the self-sacrificing missionaries today? Where are those who take little but give much? Where are those who would rather be wronged than harm a brother? Where are those who display the true Grace of God to the world in the rejection of the world and the self?

This is true Christianity, the death of self, the Glory of God and the defeat of the world, the flesh and the devil.

And we will never leave Laodicea until we start right here, eating our meal quickly and with bitter herbs, staff in our hands ready to journey into the desert for the sake of the call.

 

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.

I do not believe that anyone who reads this blog would be the sort to say that there is not something rotten in Denmark. So what we are doing is looking for some active solutions, those inspirations from God that reveal His answers to the quandaries that currently beset us on all sides.

Most of us are quite aware that many of the mainline churches are in imminent danger of closing within a 15-20 year period. As the current membership gets older, there are not many young people coming in to carry the torch. I truly pray that in response to this problem, the fallen heads at the top of the ivory towers don’t repeat their mistakes of the past by simply attempting to compromise more with a world system that is inherently Anti-Christ. We saw this flawed reasoning in action in response to Modernism here in North America. Many of the churches felt that their only chance for survival was an all-out surrender to the Modernist mindset. Of course, this has had interesting consequences beyond the immediate fallout of their compromise. Today, in a Postmodern, or Post-postmodern age, Modernism is considered to be the enemy in every way possible, hence the gulf between attendees and non-attendees in those churches. In other words, these churches compromised with a worldview that seemed to be gaining steam at the time in order to save their own tukhus’ and ended up completely alienating a future generation by it. And what appears to be their solution? Get more postmodern!

Compromise with the Zeitgeist will never be the answer of God, ever. As Watchman Nee said; “This world is to us when we are alive, a journey, when we die, a tomb.” That is all that it is, a place that we pass through as strangers and foreigners. To compromise with the ideas of the world only ever landed Israel in trouble and at times, in bondage. It is no different for us today. The seeker-sensitive, positive self-image Gospel has landed us in a much more dire position than we were before it began.

Consider; we have never had bigger churches than we do today. And yet, 90% of the people who make decisions for Christ leave and never follow Him. On top of this, look at the moral condition of our nation at the moment. It seems to be teetering on the brink of anarchy at times and immorality and crime are ever increasing. How do you reconcile these things? We have plenty of bubble gum churches with atriums and amusement parks and yet we have made not a single dent on the moral condition of the world in which we are here to save? I could argue that getting the message out of the necessity of repentance and the mandatory nature of regeneration is the sole reason for the existence of the church, not the tending of the 99 sheep. The church has become the land flowing with milk and money and we simply must just stop all of it immediately.

We have found some solutions that genuinely seem to work. For us, we have very few people over the age of 40 and so if there were ever a suitable mouse maze, this is it. The churches where I serve are primarily Gen-X/Y Churches. I see this as only increasing as we go along and that suits me just fine. So, what solutions has God led us to so far?

If we are to reach this world, let us first take advantage of the desire for anchoring among the current generation. As everything around them spins off into confusion and disorder, people are hungry for something solid and reliable. There has possibly never been a time in the church when people were more desperate for the old paths than today.We have implemented several things here that serve this end.

First, we distribute index cards at the start of service when people are coming in. They are encouraged to write down any prayer requests that they may have on these. The very first thing that we do in the service is to pray for these problems so that people can focus on the message and have their needs taken before God. Now there are other branches of the local church who do this and the prayers are different from church to church, to be sure. The Baptists pray for the people to have the strength to endure their time of trial and the Pentecostals try to lay hands on them directly. Sorry, just a joke, couldn’t help it. At any rate, the needs of the people are taken before God first.

At the Churches where I serve, we have temporarily taken out all worship songs from the service. I wrote about this elsewhere and so I won’t reiterate it here. Suffice it to say, if you can’t stop gossip, backbiting and not serving widows and orphans, God doesn’t want to hear you sing (Isa 29:13). We need to stop thinking that love is an emotional feeling that we extend towards one another, it isn’t. It is not hugs, smiles or picnics. Love is a verb, an action in laying down your life for others. So, until we start operating in true love, why sing? I know, real Gen-X there, right? Hence the exodus of the Boomers.

Boomers truly desire a meaningful worship service and no guilt trips. The same can’t be said of Gen-X, they want the hard stuff. During service, people are free to ask questions and we always close with question and answer so that no one goes away confused. The service is followed by Communion and a weekly Lovefeast.

Also, anyone who needs some food is taken to our pantry and given food for their family, after every service (and during the week if need be). We have also started a weekly soup kitchen on Mondays where we feed those from the surrounding area who just need a bit of a helping hand through the week. This is one of the most satisfying new things that we do.

The latest addition has been Wesleyan Classes, Bands and Select Societies. I will write more on this a bit later but it is easily the single greatest area of fruit that we have, so much so that people would much rather just do Class meetings than Church meetings, go figure.

We have decided that radical changes must take place if we are to reach this generation of souls on the earth. To this end, we have begun to change our thinking in many, many ways as God has led us deeper down this rabbit hole.

I truly believe that we are in desperate need of the passionate communication of doctrine in these churches. The true and fiery preaching of the fundamentals needs to be restored to the pulpits once again in our mainline churches. Nothing else will do except a genuine revolution among the pastoral corps here because for far too long these pulpits have sat as bleak reminders of the better days of years gone by. They simply must remember what it was that stirred the people originally in their churches and do those things again.

Now, whether you are a bit to the left of the political spectrum, or a bit right, is not the issue. We can learn to operate together and build the Kingdom of God. The right side desperately needs to employ aspects of the Social Gospel in what they do and the left desperately needs to employ the Spiritual Gospel in what they do. We truly can learn from one another and allow our diversity to be our strength.

Here, in the town where we live, we are learning to come to terms with the idea of “Church by Locality”. That in essence, God only has one Church in our town. It is not the Baptist or Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic or United Church of Christ. It isn’t even the Spirit-Filled Churches (curiouser and curiouser). Instead, it is all of us together and each of us is only a branch of that greater system of things in which God is moving. This is a revolutionary idea and in chasing hard after it, I see not just the only solution to the problems currently plaguing the mainline churches but also the only solution to the increasing problem of the marginalized 18-35 demographic.

For us, this is still in its infancy to be sure. We pastors have been meeting together to pray for revival once a week now for the last seven months or so. And though it started off quite awkward at times, it has gelled into a unity among us that I did not know was even possible in 21st century America. We are all very different (major understatement here) and have very different views of ministry, church and God. But we are all passionate about Him and His Kingdom and that has seemed to trump all reservations. Currently, we are starting to take some baby steps towards a more visible “Church at Darlington”. We want the congregations to experience the same unity that we have and for them to become involved in the growth of the Church and serving the Community at large with us.

What are the next steps for us here?

1. I think that ideally we would begin to pray for revival together on a regular basis as a single church.

2. To be able to recognize strengths in each branch of the Church at Darlington and use them towards common goals.

3. To willingly sacrifice members, talents, resources and time from our stronger areas to make up for weaker areas in the other churches.

4. To begin to operate more like a single church with many branches rather than a collection of individuals who are either building our own Kingdoms or extending the reach of our sectarian denominations.

If any of you readers want further information on any of those things or would just like to talk with Nate or myself, please drop an email to us or comment on here. We would love to serve you in any way we can.

J.

The Naaman principle: that if God’s people stop following Him, He will find another people who are obedient to Him.

In this entry we’re taking a look at the ministry of one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, Elisha. God used Elisha to accomplish more miracles than anyone else in the Old Testament; in fact, anyone else in Scripture next to Jesus. Elisha was used to perform fourteen miracles, but our focus is not on him. Our focus is on a non-Israelite, foreign, ungodly man named Naaman. How does this relate to our need to get back on track? You’ve probably figured out the thesis, but read on just to make sure.

The story unfolds in 2 Kings 5. His name means “beautiful or handsome one.” He was the commander of the army of Aram (also called Syria), under king Ben-Hadad I or II.

He was mighty in battle, and God had used him already (whether he knew it or not, we are not told). He came to Israel because he had heard from his servant girl that there was a prophet in Samaria who could cure him of his leprosy.

We’re told that the Lord granted Naaman success in battle. During one of those campaigns, Naaman capture this Israelite slave girl. Sometimes God places His people in positions of lowliness, suffering, humiliation, or forced meekness for His greater purpose. I wonder how many times the slave girl doubted God’s sovereignty. If you’re in a position like this, God still has a purpose for you, just like He intended this unnamed slave girl to direct Naaman towards His prophet, Elisha.

Naaman came from Aram, to Israel, with the blessings of his king. He brought a small treasure to pay to the king of Israel for healing him. King Joram didn’t didn’t see any way for him to be healed, and tore his clothes in distress. Elisha heard of it, and sent word that Naaman should come to Elisha and he would know there was a prophet of God in Israel.

The leader of God’s people, the king, should have known where to find the prophet of God. Instead, he saw Naaman’s approach through his own personal values, namely as a threat to his power. So Elisha texted King Joram just in time, telling him he’d take care of it.

Naaman arrived at the doorway of Elisha’s house with his entourage. Elisha didn’t go out to meet him, but sent a servant telling him to dip in the Jordan River 7 times.

Naaman, expecting to speak with Elisha himself, and expecting more ritual, was furious. His pride was wounded.

(vv. 11-12) “He turned and went off in a rage.”

Sometimes people are upset at God or God’s mouthpiece because they were expecting something different. You probably have faced this as a Christian before. When I was an Associate Pastor in Dallas, TX, one Sunday morning a lady called our church and asked, “Are women allowed to wear pants there?” We were a Baptist church, but not that kind. One of the greatest compliments I’ve heard was a friend telling me, “Nate, when I’m with you, I can’t imagine you as a pastor.” He goes to our church and is an active leader there. He further explained that he had a preconceived idea of pastor as an aloof, anti-social, stoic fossil who loved crowds but hated people.

I hope I don’t ever see one more briefcase-toting, coat and tie wearing, professional occupying his dust-free office, operating a 9-5 workday, preoccupied with programs and ministries as the solutions for sin. We need no more professionals writing how-to books. We need prophets of God, who will tell people not to promote a mosque at ground zero, or to be ashamed of themselves if they’ve never helped the poor while never missing their favorite TV show. We need people who are willing to be slandered as “friend of tax-collectors and sinners,” not excusing Jesus-style ministry in the name of “above reproach” or avoiding “slippery slope” lifestyles.

Naaman didn’t expect to be talked to by a servant, dismissed to wash on what he considered a dirty river. Sometimes the simple message of “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” is insulting to your pride. Sometimes you expect God to acknowledge your physical, mental, or spiritual eliteness. Sometimes you expect God to come to you on your terms, at your time, in your place, and do things your way.

Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than  your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Today one of the weaknesses of our churches is trying too hard to meet sinners on their terms. God doesn’t even try hard to meet sinners on their terms and offer compromise. All people must meet God on His terms, which necessitates thinking less of self and more of Him.

We must meet God on His terms. Today He says to you, your best righteous works are not valuable to Him. Only the righteous work of Jesus on the cross, Jesus in the tomb, and Jesus resurrected in the air!

Some people have been disappointed in the church because they believe the church needs to come to them and be more seeker sensitive. That is not God’s plan for His church. I recently read a great list of reasons people don’t attend sports events, if the same excuses applied as are used for leaving church. So here are reasons people leave churches applied to sporting events:

1. Every time I went, they asked me for money.

2. The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.

3. The seats were too hard and uncomfortable.

4. The coach never came to see me.

5. The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.

6. I was sitting with some hypocrites–they only came to see what others were wearing.

7. Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.

8. The band played numbers I had never heard before.

9. The games are scheduled when I want to do other things.

10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches anyway.

12. I don’t want to take my children, because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best (Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, s.v. “excuses.”).

God doesn’t want to make a deal with you regarding your cleansing. He doesn’t take bribes, accept acts of penance, or need our offerings in order for us to be healed. It is only by God’s grace—His giving us what we didn’t earn and should not have—that we receive healing.

It is only by God overlooking Naaman’s status as outside the covenant people, that Naaman received God’s mercy. It is only by God overlooking our status as sinful people that we receive God’s mercy. It is only God giving good works, God giving righteousness, God giving all that we are healed. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only good works that can pay for ultimate healing, and God did that for you. Free of cost!

God has a storehouse of treasure and He wants you to withdraw out of His account, freely!

What happens next with Naaman?

For the second time, his healing is influenced by his servants. It was an Israelite servant girl who gave him the idea of going to Elisha, and now God again used the humble to influence the mighty.

Notice what Elisha did and did not do:

He left Naaman alone for God to deal with him. Too many times, when we tell someone about Jesus and the need to follow Him, we break out our spiritual first aid kit and rush like a paranoid field medic to the scene. We believe we will be the influencing force for their salvation. God is the only influence for salvation.

Elisha did not chase Naaman. God did. Pastors, church leaders, those who have family members who reject Christ, and all who have told the Gospel while being mocked and jeered: God is still able to save, and He’s the only one who ever could in the first place. Don’t chase. Let God chase.

As this applies to winnowing out the wheat of our churches and making disciples like Jesus Christ, there will be seed that falls by the wayside, on thorns, on rocky soil, and on fertile soil. The fertile soil seed is what we must focus on. If some drop off and decide to reject the tightening of the screws, and the harder practice so that the chance of winning the game is greater, then we must let God chase them.

Naaman put his pride aside and followed Elisha’s advice.

What was his response? After seeing the results he praised God!

5:15, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

Gehazi, witnessing God work, could only think of the money Elisha was passing up. Gehazi desired the money, and snuck later and lied, taking the money. Gehazi then lied to Elisha about taking the money. God cursed Gehazi with leprosy and all his descendants.

Note: Sometimes the people on the outside understand more about God than the people on the inside

What does this have to do with following Jesus? Jesus gave a commentary on this passage, saying it applied to Himself.

Turn to Luke 4. Jesus told us why God healed Naaman and Naaman came to recognize the One True God, about how God chose to heal a foreigner and be glorified through that man’s healing rather than healing one of the many leprous Israelites. Why did God choose to do this? Jesus said it was because of the very reason Nazareth rejected Him.

Luke 4:22–27 (READ IT)

Part 1 of what Jesus said is this:

If God’s people reject Him, God will go outside and find those who are faithful.

If you tell God “No,” God will find another to take your place who is willing to say, “Yes.”

Romans 11 tells us about this happening to Israel, God’s chosen people:

Romans 11:7–12 (READ IT)

Today we stand at a crossroads, where we have the decision Naaman had.

Are we similar today to the Israel Elisha lived in? Are God’s people today giving into idols and derailed from the mission of the church?

Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation. Are you doing that?

America used to be the most involved in training and sending people for the Kingdom work. Now God is doing that work in Asian churches, and African churches, and South American churches. Before America, it was England who birthed William Carey, Hudson Taylor, and the 1800’s missionary movement that sent thousands all over the world.

Today South Korea has the largest church the Yoida Full Gospel Church which averages 800,000 people in attendance every Sunday. That means nothing, unless there is more. And there is. They purchased a mountain called Prayer Mountain, where anyone can come and pray. They send out missionaries all over the world and send out church planters all over the world.

In China, the underground church is training missionaries to go into Muslim countries that are closed. This is a closed country where Christians are persecuted, sending missionaries to countries where Christians are persecuted.

What are you doing with all the comforts and freedom you have?

We can:

1)      throw away the words of God Who is saying to do something different and possibly uncomfortable

2)      accept what is an unexpected word from God in an unexpected way

We can trust that God really does want you to take seriously Jesus’ requirements for following Him.

Part 2 of what Jesus said about Naaman is this:

Jesus had a habit of stirring the pot. He could have walked out of Nazareth with their lipservice approval. But he knew they were telling him what he wanted to hear. Like where we live sometimes. You and I would have to be foolish to believe everything people say about us, especially what people say to me.

#1 question you need to ask is not “What will people think about me?” but “Am I converted?” If you’re saved, then from what? Do you do those old sinful things? If you do, can you really say God saved you from it? John Wesley wrote after years of ministry, that he was not a Christian, but he desperately hoped to become one. Where are the ones who will consider that part of their salvation is their cross?

 

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.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

When I survey the Wondrous Cross
Isaac Watts 1707

A Japanese Christian widow was surprised one night by a robber in her home. Upon startling him, she took notice of how hungry he looked, he was obviously starving. So, she calmed him and prepared him a meal. After the man had finished, she handed him the keys to her home. By this act of normal Christianity, he became a believer.

Normal Christianity is not what we would consider to be normal today at all. How a truly normal Christian conducts their self will always be considered to be supererogation by abnormal Christians and the world. We must ask ourselves what can rightfully be considered to be supererogatory as it applies to the Christian life? As we look at who we are and how we conduct ourselves in this world, what is “normal” Christian behavior and what is above and beyond the call of duty?

A recent report concluded that the average Christian gives 2.3% of his or her income to the church. Based on those numbers, giving 10% would be supererogative to today’s average Christian.

Most of us spend our week working a job, taking kids to sports, shopping for groceries and watching television. For these people, going to church twice in a week might be supererogative.

We attend high school, college and amass huge amounts of debt in order that we can pursue the career of our choice. Once there, we try to succeed as much as we can in order to provide for our children and retire comfortably.

For these average Christians today, throwing all of that aside to become a Missionary would certainly be considered to be supererogative.

What about witnessing your faith? Selling your extra to give to the poor? Selling all you have to do the same?

Praying for an hour a day? A half hour? Praying at all?

Cleaning the church? Cleaning the church alone and telling no one that it was you?

Would these things seem supererogative to you?

What did Jim Elliot, the famous Missionary to Ecuador consider to be supererogation? He claimed that “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep for that which he cannot lose”. He later proved that as he was martyred by the Auca Indians on the banks of a river in the jungle.

And what of Elisabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife? What did she consider to be supererogative? After her husbands death, Mrs. Elliot remained among the Indians that murdered her husband in order to win them to Christ.

For Christians, in our service to man, there can only be supererogation. Supererogation is the normal Christian life, everything that falls short of that is flesh, natural and human. We must continually go above and beyond the call of duty in our living example of Christ’s great love and sacrifice.

Watchman Nee relates a story of an event that he witnessed in his native China.

“A brother in South China had a rice field in the middle of a hill.In time of drought he used a waterwheel, worked by a treadmill, to lift water from the irrigation stream into his field. His neighbor had two fields below his, and one night he made a breach in the dividing bank and drained off all his water.

When the brother repaired the breach and pumped in more water his neighbor did the same thing again, and this happened three or four times.

So he consulted his brethren. “I have tried to be patient and not to retaliate, ” he said, “but is it right?” After they had prayed about it, one of them observed, “If we only try to do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right.”

The brother was much impressed. The next morning, he pumped water for the two fields below, and in the afternoon, pumped water for his own field.

After that, the water stayed in his field. His neighbor was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, until in due course he too found Christ.”

As Believers, we must never simply ask, “what is right?” Instead we must ask “What is Christ-like?” For in His earthly life, Christ never did what was required only, he did as His Father wished. His question never seemed to be, “what is right in this situation?” but rather, “what is like my Father?”

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan did not just stop to check on the man who was robbed and beaten, did he? No, he stopped and bound his wounds with oil and wine. Surely, that was doing right, wasn’t it?

But he did not stop there. He then, placed the poor man upon his own beast and he took him to an Inn. Certainly, he had now done right and could walk away satisfied.

But instead of being satisfied with what he had done, after doing all of this, he then handed the Innkeeper two days wages for the care of the man he had rescued. Any one of us would very possibly never go to such lengths in our service to a stranger. And yet, this Samaritan was not quite done.

He proceeded to instruct the Innkeeper that whatever costs he incurred, above and beyond (supererogare) what I have given you already, I will repay when I return. This is the standard of our service to the world. And this is the example that Christ himself gave us in showing the great love of God towards mankind.

The world themselves operate in a basic understanding of simple right and wrong. When disaster strikes, they will begin to deploy aid, raise money and give generously to the cause. They will defend those who are wronged and champion the downtrodden. But simply spending yourself in a just cause and doing right is not a Christian trait.

Over-spending yourself until the world can see the Imago Dei, the image of Christ in your lavish sacrifice of all you are and all you have, that is a Christian trait.

Seeing this then, that all of our dealings with each other and the world must be supererogative, what then can be considered to be supererogative in regards to our service to God? What is enough service, enough sacrifice, enough suffering, enough self-denial? Can you go beyond the call of duty in regards to your service to God?

There can be no such thing, friend.

As it relates to our service to God, there can be no supererogation.

No price, no sacrifice, no struggle can ever be considered above and beyond the call of duty until your sacrifice surpasses that of Christ’s towards you.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.”

I want to write a bit here about Communion. When you deconstruct everything and look at it from a new perspective, everything must be prayerfully considered that you put back into place. We have been working on several other elements of the service and giving the folks a chance to acclimatize to the changes week by week. These are big changes, not just in the structure of services but in our Christian worldview as well. It is a lot to digest.

So this last week we began a new Communion service.

We dimmed the lights as everyone sat on beanbags and slowly began to raise the volume of the soundtrack to the evening, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. We called it the U2charist, you know, we’ve just dressed up the Lord’s Table with a little funky flair, just to keep things relevant…

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. We didn’t do that, put down the pitchforks and torches.

Though I must admit that I had never had all that much use for Communion myself.

Most of those in my circles never had a Communion service either. It was considered to be “religion”. And religion is bad because Pharisees were religious and so if you were religious then you were a Pharisee and not really saved. So, I never had all that much use for Communion because I wanted to be saved and not a religious Pharisee. Get it?

It was just a tradition and as we all knew, Jesus told the Pharisees that “by your tradition you make the Word of God of no effect”.

And so I inhabited a world with no traditions, no ties to the past, no observances and the religion of no religion. I knew more than everyone else and I felt superior that I was so spiritual that I didn’t actually need to be obedient to the commands because in some magical mystery tour way, I appropriated by faith the truth and didn’t need the outward forms.

I mean, I got it and all. I understood the body and the blood and the covenant and whatnot. I just truly felt that so long as you understood the principle, you didn’t need to actually do it. And I am not alone, not by a long shot.

The shift in mindsets can be amazing, can’t it? In the 1600’s, Communion was a four-day event. They all fasted on Thursday, the Pastor would preach a sermon about repentance on Friday, everyone confessed their sins and was questioned on Saturday and then they took Communion on Sunday. What a change from today!

We are all the product of the teaching that Communion is an ordinance to obey, to one degree or another. For most, it is something that you should do once a month or once every six months. For me, it was also one of the driest, most tortuous events in the Church, right up there with board meetings.

To be fair, there were usually those people in the service that really seemed to love Communion and basked in the glow of His love as they went through the forms. And I am not knocking you if you are one of those. I just want you to know that secretly I thought that either you were faking it or that you were a Pharisee, just so you know.

Down to business here, we all know the drill. We get our oyster cracker and teeny little cup of grape juice. The Pastor reads the same Last Supper text that he always has;

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me”.

This is the part where you eat your oyster cracker after the Pastor says, “Let us partake”. My wife always hated that part when he said that, she always asked who talks like that except the preacher during Communion? I guess they feel like it adds depth to the event. It needs it.

Then the Pastor continues,

“After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

Then we are invited to “partake” of the teeny-tiny grape juice cup.

And then they collect the cups and you have done your bit; you have obeyed the ordinance!

Now, I am not going to wax deep on the mystery of Communion, I will leave that to better men than I to do if they feel so led. Books can, have and should be written on the subject and I can do it no justice here. I will say however that I think that we have cheapened the whole event and by our relegation of it to an ordinance and a tradition that we simply obey, we have made it of no effect.

The key for me in the changeover to the Communion that we practice now lay in the verse; “this do in remembrance of me”. I never fully understood that verse, I mean, I know His story and I am quite sure that I won’t forget it. You know, virgin birth, sinless life, loaves and fishes…?

But I don’t think that this is what Jesus meant.

I think that we do forget Him every single day. I also think that the preparation for Communion is there to help us remember that we have forgotten Him and have followed after our own lusts, our pet sins and the omission of Him from who we are all week long.

We forget Him; we completely forget that He is there; the “resident Boss” that Watchman Nee talks about is neither resident in our thoughts nor boss of what we do.

How else could you explain the fact that the majority of Christian men view online pornography, other than they have forgotten Him? Because if they remembered that Jesus was present in them, do you think that they would subject Him to viewing that? Would they allow their eyes to be used that way, knowing that Jesus was in them at that moment?

How about the liar, who swindles people by small white lies? Has he forgotten?

What about the housewife that has not had an affair yet but peeks out the window at the neighbor and wishes? Has she forgotten? Or the church member engaged in gossip, malice or strife, what about them? How about those who split churches, lie on taxes, betray a friend? What of those who are just self-involved, self-important, self-absorbed? Have those who are so narcissistic as to believe that due to the importance of the call of God on their life that they can sow discord, church hop, destroy relationships, and never submit to any authority but their own as climb to the top, have they forgotten who they are and whom they serve?

You bet they have.

Have we all forgotten that we are supposed to be living in identification with Him, crucified with Him? That we died and the life we live, we live by the faith of Him who died for us?

We have forgotten and do forget Him every single day. And the reason that we do not know that we have forgotten him is because we live in a state of anarchy, apart from the rule of law and the heart of God, with no conviction of sin or desire to conform to His death.

And of course the Communion is stale, it is stale because we have, all of us, forgotten Him and we have become stale ourselves.

And this is what I hated, this idea that though we were so full of sin and selfishness, we still partake as if it is nothing because it IS nothing to us. The whole thing meant nothing to almost all involved. You got quiet, sure. You appeared to be reflecting, yes. But nothing happened, not in you and not in the service either. It was a function that you had to do because you were a “christian” and that is all. But that is a lie and not at all what Jesus intended. I was tired of the shallowness and deeply hungry for something meaningful and so I began to study.

So, of course, for our Communion, we again went back to the faith of our fathers.

We have the Ushers hand out small index cards and pens to everyone present. After everyone gets theirs, we ask everyone present to please take some time and write down every sin that they have committed since their last Communion. If they need to get up and walk around, so that people do not see what they are writing, that is fine. But be honest before God and confess your sins.

We then collect the cards from everyone in a single basket and hand them off to one of the Ministers. He then takes them to the front and using the microphone, begins to read off what is written down. He has been instructed that if the sin is obviously attributable to someone, he can skip it.

Everyone is uncomfortable. And you are bowled over by the sheer volume of sin that is present in the church. No different from the world, not a lick different.

We tell everyone to please bow their heads and close their eyes and then ask a few direct questions of them:

1. Do you understand that what you have committed is sin?
2. Do you understand that sin is not to have power over you as your master?
3. Do you know whom it is that you have sinned against?
4. Have you asked forgiveness from the person you wronged?
5. Have you made restitution for what you’ve done?
6. Do you repent for your sins and resolve to pursue holiness in the fear of God?

After this, we pray the prayer of confession:

Let us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God.

Almighty and most merciful Father, like lost sheep we have strayed from your holy ways, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts as we have disregarded your holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us, as we know that you forgive those who humbly confess their faults, and that you restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to humankind in Christ Jesus our Lord; Grant to us, O most merciful God, for his sake, that from this day forward we live a godly and righteous life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

The Pastor then asks everyone to stand and he reads over the congregation the Absolution:

The Almighty and merciful Lord grant us absolution and remission of all our sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Amen.

Our Communion bread is one loaf of bread, which the Pastor breaks, as Jesus’ body was broken. The people are invited to come forward, beginning with the elderly, after them, whole rows of people, starting with the very back. The Pastor holds out the broken loaf on his right and left for the people to take their piece from. A Minister distributes the Communion cups at the sides, after they have taken their piece of the bread.

As the people return to their seats, a brief word is given about what the Body and Blood is for and an admonishment that Communion is the renewal of covenant and the fresh decision to identify in His death, it is submission to the process of God which crucifies our flesh and conforms us to His life. It is the fresh stamp of the Imago Dei on our hearts.

After this, we begin our Lovefeast.

In all of the changes that have started as we have begun down this path towards Vintage Reconciliation, the Lovefeast was one of the very first ancient church practices to be implemented. We had tried an earlier version of our take on the Lovefeast here almost two years ago and it didn’t really work. The people who were at the church during that time seemed uncomfortable with the idea and the whole thing felt so awkward and strange due to resistance that we allowed it to just fade away. At the start of the crisis that has swung into this movement, I felt strongly that there could simply be no talk of Vintage Reconciliation without it.

What is a Lovefeast, you may ask? The Love Feast, or Agape Meal has been referenced in scripture in several spots, most notably Jude 1:12, 2 Peter 2:13 and some think Paul was referencing them as a common meal in 1 Co. 11.

The simplest definition of the Lovefeast is that it is a common meal and fellowship. In Paul’s day, we know that some ate and drank too much during the Agape Meal. The practice of abuse of the food and drink served during the Love Feast culminated with its banning from use in the church building at Council of Laodicea in 363. It fell out of use somewhere during this time and eventually it took its current form as a bun and coffee during the Moravian revival at Herrnhut. We have opted to keep with this form in our church as it is simple and effective and there is no danger of people overeating or getting drunk.

Within the first few centuries of Christianity, the Love Feast seems to have been practiced by most churches and was as common as all other aspects of communal worship. After the Roman changes began to take hold in the Church, the practice was lost. It was during the Moravian revival at Herrnhut under Count Zinzendorf in the 1700’s that the Love Feast was rediscovered. As they sought together a genuine experience of First Century Christianity, the Love Feast was the best way to express their love towards and unity with one another.

It was at Herrnhut that John Wesley first became exposed to the Love Feast and it so affected him that upon arriving back in England, he began to expose all of his brethren there to it as well. I am of the mind that it was an outpouring of the Spirit that occurred after a Love Feast that began the revival that shook England, America and eventually the world.

From The Rev. John Wesley’s Journal, Volume 1:
Mon. Jan. 1, 1739. Mr. hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our Love-Feast in Fetter-Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”

It seems that the Love Feast was an important part of what happened in the largely Scotch-Irish revivals in Kentucky in the beginning years of the 1800’s. From all that I have read, they usually held a Love Feast each night around ten o’clock and saw wonderful results.

As with everything, the “new” idea of the Love Feast eventually grew into stale tradition and has mostly fallen out of use in the contemporary church. This can be attributed to the acceptance of the Zwinglian understanding of the sacraments as “ordinances”, which has made them relegated to the role of something to obey, not experience. With the rise of the Third Wave movement and Wimber’s Vineyard Churches, most traditional elements of worship, such as the Eucharist, Baptisms and the Love Feast, were considered to just be religion and discarded completely in many circles.

This has helped to create the atmosphere where we find ourselves today in regards to rituals of the Church. As a general rule, some churches will practice Communion, some do not. It has largely become a matter of choice. Usually, when it is practiced, it is something that you do on the first Sunday of the month. We bring out our oyster crackers and tiny cups for grape juice. The Pastor reads the Last Supper and has everyone partake. Then you are done.

Contrast this with Christian life in the 1650’s where Communion was a three to four day cycle. On Thursday, people would fast, on Friday the Pastor preached repentance, on Saturdays the congregation were given the opportunity for public confession and on Sunday, Communion was held for those who were considered to be qualified. This led to the idea of “Communicant” members, those who displayed the evident tokens of salvation in their life and were considered to be genuine Christians.

Today, we have allowed the pendulum to swing far the other way. A recent report stated that at an Anglican Church in Toronto, the Vicar served Communion to a member’s dog during service.

For us interested in Vintage Reconciliation, the recovery of our ancient faith is the mandate of our generation. We do not believe that there is anything inherently mystical in the observance of the Lovefeast or Communion or Baptism by themselves. As I have admonished our people, I have seen too often where people will enter the water dry devils and emerge as wet devils.

But when we take the ancient traditions and practice them with zeal, love and faith, then all of the power that God wished to be demonstrated in these physical acts of faith is revealed.

For us, the Lovefeast has helped to bring about unity, love and forgiveness like no sermon ever did. We have taken the traditional practice used by the Moravians and Methodists and colored it with the history that we read in order to discover what moved those men so.

This then is the Lovefeast that we practice.

My wife makes the traditional Lovefeast buns early in the morning on Sundays. She usually bakes the whole homemade loaves that we use for Communion at the same time and so Sundays can be a very, very busy day for her. But she insists on making them herself as a service to God and I wouldn’t have it any other way (and neither would the needy families that get to take home the extra buns and loaves). If the Pastor or his spouse would be willing to make the buns, this is the very best solution as it allows you to physically serve the congregation.

Also, we discourage people in the congregation from making the buns at home, for food. They are supposed to be a special element of worship, not a common item. So, we have really stressed this in order to keep the taste of the buns as a unique memory of our Lovefeasts together at service.

Traditional Moravian Lovefeast Buns
Makes about 30 buns

2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup hot, dry mashed potatoes, unseasoned
1/2 cup milk, scalded and cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons orange rind
2 tablespoons lemon rind
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon mace
1-1/2 pounds flour

Mix together the yeast and water. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Cream together sugar and butter. Add and mix in well the potatoes, milk, and eggs.

Add the dissolved yeast mixture.

Mix spices into the yeast mixture. Add in enough flour to make a soft dough.

Knead dough on well floured table. Form into ball and place in greased bowl. Cover with cloth and let rise in warm place until double in size (about 2 hours). Pinch down; let rise again 5-10 minutes. Flouring hands well (dough will be sticky), form dough into small (3 oz) balls. Place on cookie sheet. Slash tops with razor blade to release air. Cover and let rise again till double in size. Bake at 350 degrees until golden all over (about 15-20 minutes).

Our Lovefeast is served at the end of the service, after the message and altar call, if there is one.

Our Ministers (people consecrated to Christ who are being trained for ministry by us) bring out the buns in a basket, usually covered with a colorful napkin. Other Ministers bring out the coffee and water. We have a table set up towards the side of the sanctuary that holds cream and sugar for those that wish it.

The Lovefeast buns are set up on a table near the altar in front of the people.

We then explain to them the rules of partaking in a Lovefeast. As we invite the Spirit of God to be present among us, to bring us into one accord and shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, we can have no person present who will not follow the rules. If you cannot abide them, you are asked to go ahead and take your leave in peace so that only those who desire to be knit together are present in the room.

The rules are simple and taken from the ancient practices at Herrnhut.
1. You must endeavor to love every person in the room. No ill will or bad feelings can be present in you during a Lovefeast.
2. You must forgive any wrong committed against you, real or imagined, by the people in the room. If the feelings remain despite your best efforts, you must forgive them by faith, allowing God to change your heart towards them.
3. Any debt owed to you by someone in the room must be absolved, immediately. No debt then can exist between persons in our Church, who participate in the Lovefeast for more than one week, as ancient tradition stipulates. As Christ forgives you of all debts, you must forgive others. As we are to let no debt remain outstanding, but of love, you must not borrow if you cannot repay them within one week. This is a matter of personal honor.

Once the people have heard the rules and we have given time for those who cannot partake to leave, the Pastor then begins to distribute the buns to each person in the room. The Ministers begin to distribute coffee cups to everyone who wants one or a glass of water. After the buns are distributed, the Pastor or the Ministers begin to fill their cups with coffee.

Everyone is then permitted to get up from their seats and to mutually encourage and exhort one another, to talk about the Lord or spiritual things and generally just love and enjoy one another as members of our community of faith. Everyone is encouraged to be led by God and to give “pentecostal handshakes”, money that someone may need and have been praying for in private, to each other.

To talk about fleshy things like sports or what have you, is frowned upon. Not because those things are bad, but this service just isn’t the place for it.

The feeling that we have gotten from the Lovefeast is really hard to describe. When we leave Church service, we leave fulfilled, the presence of God has been sweet and the love that you feel towards each other increases every week.

Church services are a matter of covenant with one another. We are committed to each other, to caring for each other, to fellowship, to prayer for each other, to help one another. And the Lovefeast is an opportunity to allow the Spirit of God to bind us together in faith, hope and love.

After the service, those in the church who are needy are encouraged to come to our little pantry in the Church building and take a box of food home. The congregation have been asked to donate 10 percent of their grocery money each week towards the goods distributed in the pantry. We feel it is important to worship God in this way and to supply towards one another’s needs.

This is the Lovefeast. I hope I have given you enough information for you to begin to hold them weekly in your church.

Blessings,

J.